In this study of John’s Gospel, pastor and author Justin Buzzard helps readers understand the most theologically and philosophically profound account of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection in the New Testament.
About the Author
Justin Buzzard (MDiv, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the founder and lead pastor of Garden City Church in Silicon Valley. Justin writes regularly at JustinBuzzard.net, speaks widely at conferences nationwide, and is part of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. He is the author of many books, including Why Cities Matter. He lives in Silicon Valley with his wife, Taylor, and their three sons.
J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.
Lane T. Dennis (PhD, Northwestern University) is CEO of Crossway, formerly called Good News Publishers. Before joining Good News Publishers in 1974, he served as a pastor in campus ministry at the University of Michigan (Sault Ste. Marie) and as the managing director of Verlag Grosse Freude in Switzerland. He is the author and/or editor of three books, including the Gold Medallion-award-winning book Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, and he is the former chairman of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Dennis has served as the chairman of the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible Translation Oversight Committee and as the executive editor of the ESV Study Bible. Lane and his wife, Ebeth, live in Wheaton, Illinois.
Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is chief publishing officer and Bible publisher at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Gentle and Lowly and Edwards on the Christian Life. He is an elder at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. Dane lives with his wife, Stacey, and their five children in Wheaton, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
WEEK 1: OVERVIEW
The Gospel of John plays a unique and influential role in the Christian Bible. In this account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we learn that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God the Father to give eternal life3 to all who believe in him. Jesus repeatedly shatters people's assumptions, teaching that salvation is not earned but rather is a free gift received through a miracle of grace — being born again. John's Gospel also sounds a constant theme of mission. Just as the Father sent Jesus to earth, Jesus sends his followers to continue his mission by testifying that Jesus is the Son of God so that "whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (3:16).
Of the four Gospels, John was probably the last one written. It is the most theologically and philosophically profound Gospel account. John does not narrate Jesus' birth. Instead, he begins his Gospel at the very beginning, stating in his opening sentence that Jesus has eternally existed and that "all things were made through him" (1:3). John roots Jesus' identity in eternity past, providing a lofty vision of the Son of God sent to earth as fully God and now also fully man. Other than the feeding of the five thousand, the anointing at Bethany (12:1–8), and the passion narrative, John does not share any sizable blocks of teaching with the Synoptic Gospels. John is organized around carefully crafted narrative strands that highlight both the signs and teachings of Jesus. This gives John's Gospel a sense of depth as the reader is presented with a rich, multi-layered, and cosmic display of the identity, works, words, and mission of Jesus.
John's purpose is to present Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, sent to earth to fulfill all that the Old Testament anticipated: bringing new life — eternal life — to a dark world.
Placing It in the Larger Story
While Matthew focuses on Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, Mark focuses on Jesus as the one who ushers in the kingdom of God, and Luke emphasizes Jesus as the one who welcomes the outsider, John emphasizes Jesus as the eternal Son of God. Through his signs and teaching, through his death and resurrection, and through the mission he entrusts to his disciples, Jesus fulfills all the Old Testament hopes and promises. He inaugurates the long-awaited new age.
"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).
Date and Historical Background
The Gospel of John was written by the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. He was a Palestinian Jew and a member of Jesus' inner apostolic circle. John most likely wrote his account of Jesus between AD 70 (when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans and the temple was destroyed) and AD 100 (the approximate end of John's lifetime). Most likely he wrote his Gospel in Ephesus, one of the most important urban centers of the Roman empire. John's Gospel was aimed at both Jews and Gentiles living throughout the Greco-Roman world. John frequently explains Jewish customs and Palestinian geography to non- Jewish readers. John also presents Jesus as the eternal Word that has now become flesh, utilizing the background of Greek thought familiar to his Gentile audience. Yet John clearly also has a Jewish audience in mind: he reveals Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of many Old Testament themes, and the eternal Son of God sent by God the Father to mediate a new relationship between God and man.
John thus wrote his Gospel about two generations after the death and resurrection of Jesus. At the time of writing, the other three Gospels had been written and the Greco-Roman world was in a state of change. Jerusalem had been sacked by Rome. Jews were increasingly dispersed throughout the Roman empire, causing Jews and Gentiles to come into even more frequent contact. It is to this mixed and dispersed Jewish and Gentile audience that John directed his Gospel.
I. Prologue: The Incarnate Word (1:1 — 18)
II. The Signs of the Messiah (1:19 — 12:50)
A. John the Baptist and the start of Jesus' ministry (1:19–2:11)
B. Jesus' expanding ministry (2:12–4:54)
C. More signs amid mounting Jewish opposition (5:1–10:42)
D. The final Passover: the ultimate sign (11:1–12:19)
E. The Messiah's death at hand (12:20–50)
III. The Farewell Discourse and the Passion Narrative (13:1 — 20:31)
A. Jesus' final teaching and prayer (13:1–17:26)
B. Jesus' arrest, trials, death, and burial (18:1–19:42)
C. Jesus' resurrection and appearances (20:1–29)
D. Purpose statement and epilogue (20:30–21:25)
As you get started ...
What is your general understanding of the role of John's Gospel related to the other three Gospels? Do you have any sense of what John uniquely contributes? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
How do you understand John's contribution to Christian theology? From your current knowledge of John, what does this account of the life of Jesus teach us about God, humanity, sin, redemption, and other doctrines? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
What has perplexed you about John's Gospel? Are there any confusing parts to this Gospel that you would like to resolve as you begin this study of John? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
As You Finish This Unit ...
Take a moment now to ask for the Lord's blessing and help as you engage in this study of John. And take a moment also to look back through this unit of study, to reflect on a few key things that you would like to learn throughout this study of John.
Son of God– Designates Jesus as the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7). This term gathers up many strands of Old Testament expectation about a coming "anointed one" who would lead and rescue God's people.
Sent– John's favorite designation of Jesus is to call him the Son of God "sent" by the Father. This is set against a Jewish background in which a messenger represents the sender himself. Jesus is the ultimate "sent one"; he is the perfect revelation of God.
Eternal life– For believers, the new life that begins with trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and that continues after physical death for all eternity in God's presence in heaven.CHAPTER 2
WEEK 2: PROLOGUE: THE INCARNATE WORD
The Place of the Passage
This opening passage of John sets the stage for the rest of the Gospel. John opens with the words "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (1:1). From his very first sentence John proclaims that Jesus is the eternal, preexistent Word — the one-of-a-kind Son of the Father, the Son who is himself God. Yet this eternal Word has now become incarnate in history (1:11–18). In this prologue John introduces many of the major themes developed later in the Gospel, such as Jesus as the life, the light, and the truth; believers as God's children; and the world's rejection of Jesus. These first eighteen verses are the grand entryway into John's breathtaking account of Jesus Christ.
The Big Picture
John 1:1–18 shows us the good news that Jesus is God and that he has taken on flesh and come to earth as the fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament.
Reflection and Discussion
Read through the complete passage for this study, John 1:1–18. Then think through and write your own notes on the following questions. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 2019–2020; also available online at www.esvbible.org.)
John roots the opening verses of his Gospel in the opening verses of Genesis. Compare John 1:1–5 with Genesis 1:1–5. What parallels do you see, and what do these parallels teach us about the message John wants his readers to hear? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
The Gospel of John has a different starting place than the other Gospels. Look briefly at the opening verses of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. What is unique about the opening of John's Gospel? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
John 1:14 makes clear that when John speaks of "the Word," he is speaking of Jesus. Thus, John begins his Gospel by providing a lofty portrait of Jesus: revealing that Jesus is God, giving glimpses of the Trinitarian nature of God, and teaching that Jesus was crucially involved in the very creation of the universe. List everything we learn about Jesus in these opening verses (1:1–5). ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Continuing to draw upon Genesis motifs, John speaks about Jesus as the "life" and "light" who has come to shine in a dark world. What do John 8:12 and 10:10 teach us about the life and light we receive in Jesus? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
In verse 6 we read that "there was a man sent from God, whose name was John" (this is John the Baptist — not to be confused with the author of this Gospel). According to verses 6–8 and 15, what was John's role and ambition? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
According to verse 11, Jesus came "to his own, and his own people" (the Jews) "did not receive him." From what you know from the rest of Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, what are a few other instances where God's people reject God? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
What do verses 9–13 teach about how to become a child of God? Where do you see God's grace in these verses? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Verse 14 announces the greatest event in human history: the eternal, omnipotent Son of God took on human nature and lived among humanity as one who was both fully God and fully man at the same time, in one person. Before Jesus, who were some others who were sent from God to bring deliverance to God's people? In his mission to bring light and life to a dark and dying world, why is it critical that Jesus be both fully God and fully man? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Verse 14 speaks of the "glory" of Jesus. Read Exodus 33:18–23 and Deuteronomy 5:22–27. What do these passages teach us about what glory is, and about what John is communicating with his words, "we have seen his glory"? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Note verse 17. This verse is not drawing a contrast between law and grace in the sense that the Mosaic law was bad and Jesus is good. Rather, John is stating that both the giving of the law and the arrival of Jesus mark decisive events in the history of salvation. Through the law, God revealed his righteous character and requirements. Through Jesus, however, God reveals himself most fully, displaying his grace- soaked mission to meet the demands of the law for a dark world that has broken his law. What is superior about Jesus' ministry over Moses' ministry? What did Jesus accomplish that Moses did not — could not — accomplish? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Read through the following three sections on Gospel Glimpses, Whole-Bible Connections, and Theological Soundings. Then take time to reflect on the Personal Implications these sections may have for your walk with the Lord.
GOOD NEWS. These opening paragraphs of John's Gospel announce good news. Note that these first eighteen verses contain not a single command to obey, but simply news to believe. Consistent with the overarching story line of the Bible, this Gospel begins with gospel — with the good news that God has taken on flesh to rescue sinners living in a dark world. This is the resounding theme of John: good news. Jesus has come so that we, the undeserving, might receive "grace upon grace" (1:16).
PROMISES KEPT. John shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. We see the grace of God in his commitment to keep his promises to his people, despite their rebellion. "I will be your God, and you shall be my people" was a constant refrain throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 7:23). Yet God's people were consistently faithless, giving God every reason to cancel his promises. Nevertheless, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (1:14). Despite our wickedness, God became flesh — he set up residence in a first-century Middle Eastern neighborhood — in order to be our God and save us. God keeps his promises.
CHILDREN OF GOD. These opening verses proclaim the best news in the world: estranged sinners can become God's children. How does one become a child of God? Not through turning in a resume or an application, or through some process of proving yourself worthy. John tells us we become God's children simply through believing in Jesus as God works in us the miracle of new birth: "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (1:12–13). Anyone can become a child of God. All it takes is trusting in Christ.
IN THE BEGINNING. John begins where the Bible begins. Genesis begins with these words: "In the beginning, God." John is saying the same thing with his introductory sentence: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John makes it clear that the eternal Son of God was vitally involved in the creation of the world. John 1 echoes Genesis 1, showing that Jesus is God and showing that the Son of God's incarnation is as significant an event as the Father, Son, and Spirit's initial creation of the universe.
LIGHT AND DARKNESS. The first thing God creates is light (Gen. 1:3). Thus, human sin and all that is broken in the world is often described as "darkness." One of the plagues God brought upon Egypt was the plague of darkness: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt'" (Ex. 10:21). John announces that, finally, with the arrival of Jesus, there is a true answer to the darkness in the world: "The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world" (1:9).
A BETTER MOSES. Long before sending Jesus to earth, God had been sending his people leaders such as prophets, judges, and kings to deliver them from their troubles. One of the greatest prophets God sent was Moses. God used Moses to deliver and shepherd the Israelites. Through Moses God gave his people the law. Yet Moses was an imperfect leader, a sinful man just like the men and women he was leading, who couldn't provide the deeper deliverance God's people needed. Moses couldn't accomplish the great act of grace that Jesus came to accomplish. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (1:17–18). John 1 taps into this whole-Bible theme of men sent from God, showing us that Jesus is the ultimate man sent from God. Indeed, he is God himself.
DEITY OF CHRIST. Jesus is "the Word," and "the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (1:1). John wastes no time in telling us that Jesus is divine. The New Testament teaches that Jesus is included in the divine identity (Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15–20; Heb. 1:3). While there are distinctions of persons within the one Godhead, Jesus Christ is as much God as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
TRINITY. The opening verses of John make clear that the Son of God — the Word — is also the same God who created the universe "in the beginning." Putting John 1 together with Genesis 1, we see here all three persons of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Spirit. John 1 plays a central role in revealing the doctrine of the Trinity. Broadly speaking, Christian theology teaches that the Father orchestrates salvation, the Son accomplishes salvation, and the Spirit applies salvation.
LAW AND GRACE. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (1:17). Both the law5 and grace are gifts from God. The Psalms are full of exclamations about the delight God's people take in his law. God gave his law to his people through Moses. The law revealed God's righteous character and the righteous requirements God made of his people. The law was and is a gift. But the law doesn't save. This verse from John teaches us that Jesus brings us a better revelation than Moses, for now in Jesus we receive a full picture of God's grace. The essence of grace is the news that God has met the requirements of the law for us through the perfect obedience of Jesus. It is only through this grace that we find the power to follow God's commands.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Knowing the Bible: John"
Copyright © 2013 Crossway.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents
Series Preface J. I. Packer Lane T. Dennis 6
Week 1 Overview 7
Week 2 Prologue: The Incarnate Word (John 1:1-18) 11
Week 3 John the Baptist and the Start of Jesus' Ministry (John 1:19-2:11) 19
Week 4 Jesus' Expanding Ministry (John 2:12-4:54) 27
Week 5 More Signs amid Mounting Jewish Opposition (John 5:1-10:42) 35
Week 6 The Final Passover: The Ultimate Sign (John 11:1-12:19) 43
Week 7 The Messiah's Death at Hand (John 12:20-50) 51
Week 8 Jesus' Final Teaching and Prayer (John 13:1-17:26) 59
Week 9 Jesus' Arrest, Trial, Death, and Burial (John 18:1-19:42) 67
Week 10 Jesus' Resurrection and Appearances (John 20:1-29) 75
Week 11 Purpose Statement and Epilogue (John 20:30-21:25) 83
Week 12 Summary and Conclusion 91
What People are Saying About This
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