"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."

Meet JOHN :

St. John by El Greco

Fisherman, Disciple, Gospel Writer, Christian Elder Statesman

by Timothy Cross

Of the 31,173 verses which comprise the Bible, John 3:16 is probably the most famous single verse of them all. John 3:16 has been well described as ‘The Gospel in a nutshell.’ The description is apt, as this one verse summarises and encapsulates the message of the whole Bible when it affirms that God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not Perish but have Eternal Life. Whilst all the verses of the Bible are important, if we only had John 3:16, we would have enough saving truth to gain us a place in heaven.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the human author of John 3:16 was the Apostle John. John was originally a fisherman. His father Zebedee owned a fishing business on Lake Galilee, and John worked for the ‘family firm’ with his brother James. He did so until He heard the call of Jesus to follow Him. At Jesus’ call, John left his nets and became a full-time disciple. It was the beginning of great things. In time, John was to become a Gospel writer, a Christian leader and an esteemed elder statesman of the Christian Faith. Five of John’s writings are contained in the New Testament - his Gospel, three of his letters and the book of Revelation which brings the divine volume to a close.

The John we meet in John’s Gospel was a young man, quite possibly still in his teens. In John 20:4 we read how he out ran Peter and reached the tomb first on the first Easter morning. When John wrote Revelation though, his dark hair would have turned white, and his body no doubt had lost its youthful fitness and vigour. Yet his love for Christ was, if anything, even stronger.

The Beloved Disciple

Of the thousands of men in Israel at the time of Christ, Jesus singled out just twelve to be his disciples. Of these twelve, three - Peter, James and John - were closer to the Saviour than others. And of these three, John was the closest disciple to Jesus of them all. John was truly an intimate of the Son of God. He has gone down in history as ‘the beloved disciple’ - the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23 et al.).

At the first ever Lord’s Supper, the Bible describes John lying close to the breast of Jesus (John 13:25). Interestingly, John 1:18 tells us No one has ever seen God; the only Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.  So putting these verses together we may say that just as the Lord Jesus is the unsurpassed revelation of the one true God - He came from the Father’s ‘bosom’ to reveal Him - so likewise the Apostle John gives us an unsurpassed revelation of the Lord Jesus, being so close to the Saviour - lying close to the breast of Jesus  - as he was.  When we read John’s Gospel we meet Jesus, and through Jesus we meet God, for Jesus said ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).

The Gospel of Christ’s Absolute Deity

John’s Gospel is pre-eminently a Gospel which emphasises the absolute deity of Christ. Whilst all four Gospel writers describe the same Person, Matthew’s stress is that Jesus is the Sovereign, Mark’s stress is that Jesus is the Servant, Luke’s stress is that Jesus is the Saviour whilst John’s particular stress is that Jesus is the Son of God and God the Son.

John opens his Gospel with the explanation and affirmation In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). And John’s Gospel reaches a climax with Thomas’s wonderful confession of ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28) to the Risen Christ. It is a basic, biblical axiom that only God Himself is to be worshipped. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve (Matthew 4:10). As the Lord Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for idolatry, but accepted the worship he gave, we have here a distinct pointer to the deity of Christ - though the doctrine runs right through John’s Gospel, both implicitly and explicitly, like a golden seam.

The Key to John’s Gospel

John hangs the key to the twenty one chapters of his Gospel near to the back door, for in John 20:31 he gives us the reason why he took up his pen to write his matchless account of the words and works of Jesus. In John 20:31, John explains These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. This key verse is worthy of being unpacked a little.

i. Note the Heavenly Being

John wrote so that You may believe that Jesus is the Christ.  The Jews longed for the Messiah, and in Jesus the Messiah came. Jesus is the longed for Redeemer - the anointed one of God Who came to save His people and bestow on them eternal life - the blessing of God’s eternal salvation. John would have us know that Jesus is the Christ. In John 4:25, a somewhat disreputable woman of Samaria mused ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He Who is called Christ) … In John 4:26 we then read Jesus said to her, ‘I Who speak to you am He.’

But John also wrote his Gospel so that we might believe that Jesus is … the Son of God. The testimony of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is indeed the unique and only Son of God, the second person of the blessed Trinity. It is true that believers become ‘sons of God’ by adoption, when they believe in Christ. To all who received Him, who believed in His name He gave power to become children of God (John 1:12). Christ however is and always has been the eternal Son of God. He was in the beginning with God (John 1:2).

John’s testimony to Christ’s absolute deity - His divine sonship - is both emphatic and cumulative. In John’s Gospel we see attributes which only apply to deity being applied to and by Jesus. For instance, in Exodus 3:14 God revealed His name as the great I AM WHO I AM.  But in John’s Gospel we read that Jesus used the title ‘I am’ of Himself. In John 8:58, for instance we read that Jesus said to them ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’  In 1 John 1:5 we read God is light. Similarly, the Psalmist described God as the One Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment (Psalm 104:2). But in John 8:12 Jesus affirmed of Himself ‘I am the light of the world.’  Likewise, in Psalm 23:1 we read David’s confession that The LORD is my shepherd.  But in John 10:11 we read Jesus’ affirmation ‘I am the good shepherd.’ Truly, Jesus is co-equal with God.

The miracles which Jesus is seen as performing in John’s Gospel - ‘signs’ - are another pointer to Christ’s absolute deity and divine sonship. Jesus performed miraculous acts which are humanly inexplicable - acts which only the omnipotent God Himself could do. Jesus Himself explained that these miracles authenticated His ministry and proved that He was Who He claimed to be:  ‘the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear Me witness that the Father has sent Me’ (John 5:36). Thus in John’s Gospel we see Him turning water into wine (chapter 2); healing an official’s son and a paralysed man (chapters 4:46 ff. and chapter 5); feeding five thousand with just five loaves and two fish (chapter 6); walking on the Sea of Galilee (chapter 6); giving sight to a man blind from birth (chapter 9) and even raising a dead man - Lazarus - back to life again (chapter 11). Thus the words and works of Jesus betray Him. He is the Son of God and God the Son.

ii. Note the Heavenly Believing

Our key verse in John 20:31 also tells us that John wrote his Gospel so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God … ‘Believe’ is a key word of John as it is a key word of the whole New Testament. According to the Bible, salvation is gained by believing.  that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:15). He who believes in the Son has eternal life … (John 3:36). that you also may believe (John 19:35). Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

To ‘believe’ in Jesus means to entrust the eternal well being of our souls to His care, and to rely on His work on the cross so save us eternally. Salvation is gained - according to the Bible - not by doing, but by believing - specifically, by believing in Jesus. According to the Bible, to believe in Jesus and to have faith in Jesus are one and the same. ‘Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the Gospel’ (Shorter Catechism).

iii. Note the Heavenly Blessing

Note next that John wrote his Gospel that we might enjoy eternal life by believing in Jesus -  that by believing you may have life in His name.

‘Life in His name’ refers to a blessing procured by virtue of the Person of Jesus Christ and His finished work of atonement for sinners on Calvary’s cross. Eternal life is the greatest blessing we can or will ever receive. Eternal life is a synonym for salvation - the forgiveness of sins, peace with God and the certainty of a home in heaven when we die. Jesus’ Own definition of eternal life is given in John 17:3: ‘This is eternal life that they know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.’ Eternal life then means knowing God and enjoying fellowship with Him both now and for ever. Our chief end - as the Catechism states - is ‘To glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.’ Such a blessing may actually be attained by faith in Jesus Christ!

Paradoxically, John shows that Jesus died that we might have eternal life. The opposite of life is death.  Death, in the Bible, is more than physical. Death, in the Bible also refers to separation from God. It is the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins which reconciles the believing sinner to God. John himself was right there at Calvary when Jesus died. He noted that when Jesus had given His life one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water (John 20:34). Blood speaks of propitiation - the appeasement of God’s wrath. We are now justified by His blood, much more shall we be save by Him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9). Water speaks of purification. Jesus is able to wash our sins away and make us fit for heaven!

Let the water and the blood
From Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Save me from its guilt and power.

 iv. Note the Heavenly Book : The Gospel of John

These things are written … John’s Gospel is in a category all of its own amongst human literature. John’s written portrait of the Saviour Whom he knew and loved so well is truly beyond compare. The only way of getting to know his Friend and Saviour is to read his Gospel and make its words part of our mind, thinking and very being.

It is obvious, but nevertheless true to state that John’s Gospel consists of words. Words are the audible expression or our inward thoughts. Words are thus essential for communication. It is staggering to think that the God of the Bible is a communicating God. He has revealed Himself to us in words - both the Word in print and the Word in Person. One of John’s titles for the Lord Jesus is the Word.  He opens his Gospel by saying In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). The Lord Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, for in a moment of gracious condescension, John tells us The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father (John 1:14). Truly, there is none like Christ, the One we encounter in John’s wonderful book. Christ is the incomparable revelation of the one, true God. And Christ bestows the eternal salvation of the one true God on all who believe in Him. John’s Christology then can only ultimately lead to Christolatry.  May Jesus Christ be praised, on earth as in heaven.

Thou art the everlasting Word
The Father’s only Son
God manifestly seen and heard
And heaven’s beloved One

In Thee most perfectly expressed
The Father’s glories shine
Of the full deity possessed
Eternally divine!

True image of the Infinite
Whose essence is concealed
Brightness of uncreated light
The heart of God revealed

Worthy, O Lamb of God art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

Read other articles by Timothy Cross:

Meet Matthew: Tax Collector, Disciple, Gospel Writer

Earthen Vessels: God's Pots - Us!

A Great Cloud of Volcanic Ash

Meet Mark: A Man Who Made His Mark

Meet Luke: Physician, Traveller, Christian Historian

Meet Mary: The Earthly Mother of Jesus


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Last Update: 2013-08-12 16:41