Why did John write the gospel bearing his own name? What audience was he writing to? What was the purpose for the gospel of John?
Who was John?
John was most certainly a Jew and he identifies himself in this gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:23). John and his elder brother James (Acts 12:2) were known as the sons of Zebedee” (Matt 10:2-4) but were also referred to as the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17) and so there is little doubt that this was the disciple John that is mentioned by name in the other 3 gospels (Luke 6:12-16). In the other gospels, John is usually in the close circle of disciples of Peter and James and is also often reclining on Jesus bosom or near to Him, in particular during the Passover just prior to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion (John 13:23). Most Bible scholars and church historians are comfortable with John as the author of this book. Some of the earliest church fathers seem certain that John was the author which was why it was accepted so easily into the cannon of the New Testament. Irenaeus, who testified on Polycarp’s authority, wrote in the early part of the second century that John was the author. Polycarp was John’s own disciple. Theophilus quoted and taught from the Gospel of John unambiguously (A.D. 181) as did Justin Martyr, Papias, and Claudius Apollinaris, and Tatian who was Justin Martyr’s student.1
Who was John Written to?
John was written to the church, both then and now, but I also believe it was written for unbelievers as well because the Gospel of John focuses more on the divinity of Jesus Christ than any of the other gospels. It is much different than the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These gospels are closely related in material and their narratives even though their intended audiences are different. The Gospel of John focuses on signs and miracles and places unique significance on these and their connection with faith. John links faith with miracles more than all the other gospels combined.
The Purpose of John
If this gospel had a specific purpose statement it would be “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). The word “believe” appears over 100 times and ties in belief with having eternal life. The most famous or at least the most familiar verse in all the Bible may be John 3:16 where belief is open to anyone who chooses to believe and all those who believe can inherit eternal life. This gospel contains some of the most powerful verses in the Bible where belief is necessarily joined with a person receiving eternal life and that this life is irrevocable and cannot be lost (John 6:37, 39; 10:10:28-29).
This gospel begins before Genesis’ 1:1 “In the beginning.” John 1:1 starts out before the creation when there was only God and with God was the Word and the Word was God (1:1-2) and this Word, Jesus Christ, became flesh (Gen 1:14) but did not originate as mankind did…that is by flesh and blood (1:13). Some cults teach that man can become God but the Bible teaches that God became Man in the Person of Jesus Christ. The gospel is both apologetic and evangelistic. John writes with a sense of purpose and intentionality in an effort to convince the reader that Jesus Christ is divine, that He is the incarnate God-Man, being both God and Man.
The Gospel of John has a large amount of material not found in the other gospels and is the only one that has the entire High Priestly Prayer along with Jesus’ extensive farewell message (chapters 14-17). This gospel portrays the Passion in its most intense portrayal. It is noteworthy that John’s gospel also happens to be one of the most theological in content in its description of Jesus and in His relationship with the Father. John almost seems intent on writing to convince the reader that Jesus Christ is divine, that He is the incarnate God-Man, and that He is both God and Man. As such, He is the only One who can take away the sins of humanity.
The gospel of John is my favorite because it elevates the divinity of Jesus Christ and that He is God that humbled Himself and condescended to our level. He was both human and divine…both Man and God. This God-Man was both 100% Man while still being fully 100% God. With the understanding of this being a poor example, it would be like this: I was born in Kansas and so I am 100% Kansan. However, since Kansas is in America, I am also 100% American so even I can be both 100% Kansan and 100% American at the same time without this adding up to 200%. In this same way, Jesus is fully God and fully Man. The main difference is that this Man died for you. His life, being God, was infinitely worth more than any human life could be worth and since He is God and Man, His life was sufficient to take away every human sin that has ever occurred or will occur. This is conditioned on a person repenting, seeing the sinfulness of their sin, seeing the need for a Savior, and then putting their trust in that Savior.
Are you willing to repent and trust in His death for you? If not, you will die in your sins and live with eternal regret without ever having a second chance. While you are reading this, there is still time. Bend the knee, bend your heart, repent and confess your sinfulness, just as I did, and then do what I did…trust in the only Name that can save you…Jesus Christ( Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). There is no other way (John 14:6). Jesus tells anyone who would listen that “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Choose today in whom you can believe. The stakes are as high as they can possibly be. I’m betting everything on the Son of God. What about you?
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.
1 D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2009), 229.