The Gospel according to John has, of course, a different perspective than the synoptic Gospels, and is theologically rich. But much of the theology in John is often found in the synoptic Gospels as well. What I’ve done in this post is categorize Jesus’s theology in John, starting with what is unique (or more unique, if that’s a permissible phrase) to John, and then turning to what is well-documented in the synoptic Gospels, too.
Faith and Eternal Life
The famous sentiment of John 3:16 is stated repeatedly by Jesus in this Gospel. Consider:
John 3:16-18: “’For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. The one who believes in Him is not judged; the one who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.'” [The verses preceding this discuss the necessity of being “born again” of the “water and the Spirit” if one is to “see” and “enter the kingdom of God” (3:3, 5).]
John 5:24: “’Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.'”
John 6:27-29: “‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.’ Therefore they said to Him, ‘What are we to do, so that we may accomplish the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”
John 6:35-40: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; the one who comes to Me will not be hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have indeed seen Me, and yet you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of everything that He has given Me I will lose nothing, but will raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.’”
John 6:47-51: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down out of heaven, so that anyone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world also is My flesh.’”
John 7:38: “‘He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From this innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”‘”
John 8:24: “‘Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.’”
John 11:25-26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’”
And see also John 20:29: “Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you now believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’” Belief is also stressed in 17:20-21.
Jesus discusses eternal life in other passages as well. See, for example, 6:27 (“eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you”); 10:28 (“I give eternal life to [My sheep], and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand”); and 14:2 (“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you”). And, with regard to faith, He also says, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (14:14).
Jesus and the Holy Spirit
Not only does Jesus acknowledge and assert His own divinity, but He often of course invokes God the Father and, in the last third of John, He also makes numerous references to the Holy Spirit. So, as a matter of theology, Jesus endorses the Trinity. The pertinent verses follow.
John 3:5: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'”
John 14:16: “‘I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever; the Helper is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him; but you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you.'”
John 14:26: “‘But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you.'”
John 15:26-27: “’When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, namely, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you are testifying as well, because you have been with Me from the beginning.'”
“But I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I am leaving; for if I do not leave, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgment: regarding sin, because they do not believe in Me; and regarding righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you no longer are going to see Me; and regarding judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them at the present time. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take from Mine and will disclose it to you.”
John 20:22: “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”
Jesus affirms His divinity both by direct statements and also by performing miracles and prophency.
In John 10:30, He says simply, “I and the Father are one.” He elaborates a few verses later:
“Has it not been written in your Law: ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be nullified), are you saying of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”
Similarly, He says this in 14:9-13:
“Have I been with you for so long a time, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? The one who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Jesus likewise is almost certainly referring to Himself as the Son of God in 5:20-27.
When someone else calls Jesus the Son of God in front of Him, and He doesn’t dispute it, that is significant; apparently it was considered blasphemy to accept such a designation if it were not true (see Acts 12:21-23). So see 1:49-51 (Nathaniel calls Jesus the Son of God, and Jesus accepts this); 11:27 (Martha tells Jesus that He is the Son of God). Some Jews apparently understood Jesus to be making this claim in 5:17-18.
Perhaps even more pointedly (and, here again, the Jews hostile to Jesus had no doubt what He meant), at 8:58 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Earlier in this chapter, He had said, “My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and He [many ancient manuscripts read “the Father” here] who sent Me” (8:16); “I am He who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me” (8:18); “You know neither Me, nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (8:19); “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (8:23); “He who sent Me is true” (8:26); and “He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (8:29).
John’s Gospel is replete with Jesus’ statements regarding His mission on earth. Consider:
5:36: “‘But the witness which I have is greater than that of John [the Baptist]; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.'”
So then the Jews were complaining about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” And they were saying, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop complaining among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down out of heaven, so that anyone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world also is My flesh.”
There’s more, all quotations from Jesus: “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (7:15, responding to Jews marveling at the learned teaching from an uneducated man); “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. I know Him; because I am from Him, and He sent Me” (7:28-29, while teaching in the temple); “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. You shall seek Me, and shall not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come” (7:33-34, to the Pharisees). And:
14:6: “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.'”
17:1-5: “Jesus spoke these things; and raising His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, so that the Son may glorify You, just as You gave Him authority over all mankind, so that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth by accomplishing the work which You have given Me to do. And now You, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world existed.'”
18:11 (Jesus to Peter, who has drawn his sword upon Jesus’ arrest): “Put the sword into its sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
18:37 (Jesus to Pilate, who has asked if He is a king): “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
20:17 (Jesus to Mary Magdalene after He has been resurrected): “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”
Jesus’ divinity is also manifested in the numerous miracles He performs, starting with turning water into wine at a wedding (2:1-11). The miracles “manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him” (2:11). Note that, in His prayer before raising Lazarus, He says that He is praying out loud so that those standing there with Him “may believe that Thou didst send Me” (11:42).
Jesus performs a healing miracle at 4:46-54 (belief is tied to the miracle, though here it seems more effect than cause); 5:1-18 (another healing miracle; no apparent connection to belief); 6:2 says that Jesus performed numerous healing miracles; chapter 6 also includes a loaves-and-fishes event; chapter 9 is devoted to a healing miracle (here again, belief seems to follow the miracle rather than the other way around; Jesus says that the purpose of this healing “in order that the works of God might be displayed,” 9:3).
Jesus’ knowledge of things outside His time and space are additional manifestations of His divinity. For example, He knew what Nathaniel had said about Him even though He wasn’t there to hear him (1:47-48). He foresees Peter denying Him three times before the cock crows (13:38), and Judas’ betrayal of Him (6:69-71 and 13:21). And He foretells the Resurrection (2:19-22).
Crucifixion and Resurrection
The Resurrection has double power, as both a miracle and as evidencing eternal life. In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” It’s clear from what Jesus says in the run-up to the crucifixion and Resurrection that they are a big deal. Afterwards, He confirms that the Resurrection is physical (20:20, 27). See also 21:14 (“This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead”).
Of course, Lazarus is resurrected, too (11:41-44), and that was astonishing, but Jesus’ own Resurrection has significance beyond that. As for the Crucifixion, is it spelled out in John that Jesus’ dying is what cleanses us of sin? Well, maybe: See 8:21 (“I … shall die in your sin”) and see also 12:32 (“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself”). And then there’s 10:14-18:
“I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice; and they will become one flock, with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it back. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it back. This commandment I received from My Father.”
Jesus and the Law
While Jesus in John stresses faith, He does not denigrate the law.
He warns one man He has healed, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you” (5:14). Later in that chapter, He declares that, when the tombs open, “those who did the good deeds [shall come] to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (5:29; “deeds” is supplied in the translation); see also 8:39-40 (distinguishing good “deeds” and bad “deeds”). The famous incident of the about-to-be-stoned adulteress ends with, “From now on, sin no more” (8:11; it might be argued that Jesus isn’t following the law here, since that would have required stoning, but it’s clear in context here that following the law this way was not really possible, since only the Roman authorities could administer the death penalty). Later in the chapter, He says, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
In chapter 14, He warns, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (14:15). Later in the chapter, He says (14:21, 23-24): “The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him…. If anyone loves Me, he will follow My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him. The one who does not love Me does not follow My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” Verse 16:9 seems to equate sin and nonbelief (see also 15:22-24). And in between, in chapter 15, He demands that we “abide” in Him — if we do, we bear fruit, and if we don’t, we are cast into the fire and burned — and this seems to require not just faith simpliciter but actions, especially loving Him and one another. See 15:10 (“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love”); 15:12 (“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you”); and 15:17 (“This I command you, that you love one another”).
As in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus brushes off the criticism of His healing on the Sabbath (see chapters 5 and 9) as pretextual; see also 7:22-24.
Jesus’ theology was expressed not only in what He said but also in what He did. The most dramatic example of this is, of course, the Resurrection. But consider also His washing of His disciples’ feet in chapter 13, which would teach us about humility and service, even had He said nothing about it. Consider also the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:25, “Jesus wept.” It must mean that we, too, are called upon to be compassionate, and that there is nothing wrong with human emotion, at least of that sort.
I also noted at least two critical junctures where Jesus prays in John’s Gospel. He prays when He raises Lazarus from the dead (11:41-42). And chapter 17, which is the last chapter before Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, is all one extended prayer.
Regarding prayer, see also 15:7 (“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you”); and 16:23-24 (“Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full”).
Odds and Ends
- Where did John’s famous prologue (1:1-14) come from? There are echoes of it in Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17: “And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (17:5); “may be one, even as We are” (17:11); “Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world” (17:24).
- Jesus’ famous meeting at the well with the Samaritan woman in the first part of chapter 4 combines several of the themes discussed above. Jesus speaks not only of “eternal life” (4:14) but makes clear — because of the person to whom He is speaking — that it is universally available. We also see again that Jesus is a seer (He knows about the woman’s checkered personal life), and He confirms that He is the Messiah (4:25-26) and that He “is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (4:34).
- 18:1-4 — In John there is no discussion of the Gethsemane prayer (but see 18:11; see also 12:27). Nor is there discussion of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (but see 13:26-28; and see 6:53-58). Jesus forgives sins in synoptic Gospels but not here (but, as for the adulteress in John 8:1-11, “Neither do I condemn you”).
- It’s interesting that Jesus did not want to be made king (John 6:15).
- I saw very little about predestination or election in anything said by Jesus, with perhaps 6:65 coming closest: “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
- I have to admit that I found John 12:44-50 to be opaque, and was amused and reassured that the John MacArthur study Bible has nothing on it.
- Jesus refers to “the evil one” in 17:15.