Today we begin the gospel of John, and thanks to B2Y’er for preparing this useful introduction to the book. If you have fallen behind in your readings, consider rejoining the group with today’s readings: take note of the bits you’ve missed and set a catch-up date in the next week or two.
Introducing John’s account of the gospel of Jesus the Christ
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31
Apologies if you’re the sort of person who hates skipping pages in a book, but when it comes to getting our heads into John’s account of Jesus there is no better place to turn than this summary at the end of the book. In these two verses we have the authors’ (that’s not a typo!) desire for us as we read John over the coming weeks. Specifically, we should be looking out for the central themes of first evidence, then faith and then life* (have another look at these two verses and see if you agree that these three are explicitly identified). Life is the ultimate goal, but the only road to this life eternal is through faith in Jesus as God’s only Son. And the only way to genuine Christian belief is through the first hand testimonies which present evidence. Let’s consider each of these briefly.
Clear and indisputable evidence is what John wishes to provide for his readers. Faith, for him, is no leap in the dark, rather its a step out of darkness in to the blinding light that exposes the world as it really is and us for who we really are (Jn 3:19-21). John’s gospel claims, with great clarity, to be verifiable history: an account of things that really happened. These ‘evidences’ don’t just include the seven carefully chosen illustrative ‘signs’ that Jesus performs in John (look out for them!), but honest testimonies of honest men and women: testimonies to what they both saw and heard, touched and handled. Add to this Jesus’ own self-aware testimony about himself on behalf of the Father, and we have firm grounds for placing our trust in Jesus.
True faith, according to the above verses, involves believing certain things about Jesus, namely that he is none other than the promised Messiah, God’s only Son, our Lord. Fundamental to John’s aim from start to finish is to ascribe to Jesus the fullest deity. Look out, for instance, for what the seven ‘signs’ show about Jesus’ nature and the seven ‘I am’ claims Jesus makes. But faith is much more than merely a clear conviction of truth. We are called to believe in Jesus, to put our whole trust in him, to come to him, to put our confidence in his word of promise. John’s great focus throughout the Gospel is on faith and unbelief as provoked by encounters with Jesus himself.
But faith is the road to life: to eschatological life, eternal life, the life of the new age, the life of the world to come, yet anticipated now by life in the Spirit, a theme that John expounds so fully. Life, the only true life, is the great goal.
For John, then, to bring to birth real knowledge and experience of this life among his readers and hearers is his overriding purpose. But such life is found in one place only: it is ‘life in his name’ (20:21). So belief, personal faith in the one and only God as made known in Jesus Christ, is the matter of crucial importance. And belief is firmly grounded on evidence, the first hand testimony of those who saw, heard and touched God the Saviour himself.
As you read through John over the coming weeks, perhaps keep a wee note of what each day adds to your understanding under these three headings: evidence, faith and life.