John’s Unique Picture of Jesus
John stands out on the gospel landscape like a Claude Monet painting in a gallery of Realists. It is different, but wonderfully different. John’s masterful depiction of Jesus captures some truths in brighter colors than the other inspired writers.
John’s Perfect Picture of Jesus
One of John’s unique methods is to picture Jesus through collections of seven. John carefully hangs his picture of Jesus on seven miraculous signs and seven meaningful names. This is not surprising from the writer who also gave us the book of Revelation in which the number seven plays a significant role.
The importance of the number seven is rooted in Creation. God created the cosmos in six days and on the seventh day He “rested.” His work of creation was complete. Therefore, throughout Scripture, seven stands for perfection, completeness, and fullness.
With this in view, the genius of John’s method is breathtaking. Through his collections of seven he shows us the perfection of Jesus, as one in whom the fullness of the godhead dwells, and he gives us a complete picture of Jesus to stir belief within our hearts. John can lay down his pen and say, “I rest my case!”
The Meaningful Names of Jesus
Of particular interest is how John uses names to picture Jesus. He uses some unique names like, “The Word,” “The Savior of the World,” and phrases like, “My Lord and my God,” to clearly capture Jesus’ nature. But, most notably John records Jesus’ “I AM” statements, which clearly identifies Him as the covenant making, promise keeping Yahweh who formed Israel (Ex. 3:14).
However, any examination of John’s presentation of Jesus must first be seen through the lens of his purpose statement:
“Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but 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.” (John 20:30-31)
The content of John’s gospel is draped over the structure of miraculous signs and is intended to reveal Jesus as “Christ” and “God” (see parallel with Thomas statement, John 20:28). Therefore, the names of Jesus in John’s gospel do not stand in isolation. They blend together to display the mission and the divine nature of Jesus.
Any investigation of John’s presentation of Jesus must be done by looking through the eye-piece of his purpose statement. When this is done three key elements are clearly seen.
John wants us to see “Jesus.” The subject of his writing is not a myth or a ghostly figure from the spirit world. Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He could be seen and touched (1 John 1:1). He became thirsty (John 19:28) and ate food (John 21:13). He got tired (John 4:6) and wept (John 11:35; 13:21). Jesus lived in the flesh. Perhaps this is why John uses the name “Jesus” 237 times, vastly more than any other gospel writer, because Jesus was a flesh and blood person. Confessing that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” is an essential element of gospel truth (1 John 4:2).
Yes, the names Jesus wears in John’s gospel radiate His glorious divinity, but the fact that He spoke them in the lowliness of the flesh declares the wonder of His incarnation! One as glorious as Jesus humbled Himself to share in our flesh that we might share in His glory. What love!
In addition, John wants us to see Jesus as “the Christ,” the One through whom God chose to fulfill His redemptive purposes for humanity. This is why the names Jesus wears in John are so grandiose. He is indeed, “The King,” the “Savior and Light of the World,” and He alone has the ability to sustain life as, “The Bread of Life,” and restore life as “The Resurrection and the Life.” Jesus is the Christ, and all of God’s purposes have their “Alpha and Omega” in Him (“Beginning and End” “Author and Finisher”).
John paints Jesus as “the Christ” by the use of two methods. First, through the testimony of witnesses. On several occasions the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ teachings and works declare, “We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ” (John 6:69; see 1:20,41; 4:25,29; 7:26-ff; 10:24-25; 11:27; 17:3).
Second, John shows Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament types. He is like the Patriarchs, yet greater in His ability to provide life giving water (John 4:12). He is like Moses, yet superior in every way. Through Moses God provided manna, but Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Through Moses God provided water from a rock, but Jesus gives “rivers of living water” within our hearts (John 7:37-39, spoken at the Feast of Tabernacles). Through Moses God lead the people by a pillar of cloud and fire, but Jesus leads all people as “The Light of the World” (John 8:12; 9:5). David may be called the shepherd of Israel (1 Sam. 16:11; Psalm 78:72), but Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” of Jew and Gentile (John 10:16; Ezek. 34:23). Israel was a corrupted vine with bad fruit (Isaiah 5;), but Jesus became the True Vine with living branches bearing fruit (John 10:1-5).
The titles Jesus wears in John’s gospel are verified by consistent testimony and deepened by their Biblical background, and reveal Jesus to be the Christ. How faithful is our God!
Finally, John colors his portrait of Jesus with the glowing hues of deity. Jesus didn’t just come in the flesh as the centerpiece of God’s eternal purpose. Jesus is God. John boldly copied the opening words of the creation account, “In the beginning God…” and then defined God as being Jesus! (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1-18).
Jesus’ deity is what enables Him to be the “Light of the World,” “The Way, The Truth, and The Life,” and “The Alpha and Omega.” He did not achieve these titles by effort or talent. They are His by divine right as the Creator. Jesus’ deity allowed Him to turn water into wine (John 2:1-11); Heal with a word (John 4:46-54); suspend the laws of gravity (John 6:16-21); and reverse death (John 11:1-44). The witnesses all agreed that through word and deed Jesus was “making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18; 19:7).
This truth gives Jesus’ words all authority. The Word that spoke the universe into existence will speak again and every person will be judged (John 5:25, “voice of the Son of God,” 28-29). Therefore knowing Jesus is the one necessity for every soul. There is no way to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
Another way John shows Jesus to be the Son of God is by using the word “glory.” Looking back to the glory of God that filled the Tabernacle in Exodus 40:34, John said, “We see that same glory in Jesus.” “The Word became flesh and dwelt (“tabernacled”) among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).
Yet, Leon Morris asked an interesting question, “What glory did people see? They saw the lowly man from Nazareth, who spent his life in humble service and died a felon’s death to save his people. When he speaks of seeing “glory,” he can scarcely mean the kind of glory that was manifested in the Transfiguration, for he does not record it. For John, real glory consists in the willing acceptance of a lowly place in order to bless others” (New Testament Theology, pg. 233-234).
However, Jesus’ glory was not just that which radiates from moral excellence. It is a glory that sprang from His divine nature. Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). It was that glory that flashed in His miracles (John 2:11; 11:4); caused the soldiers to fall to the ground (John 18:6); was intensified by every magnificent name (John 11:25,40), and which He graciously shares with those who believe (John 17:22). How praiseworthy is our God!
That We May Have Life
The purpose of John’s portrait of Jesus is not just to magnify the subject, but to change the observers. His picture of Jesus can take those who are dead and give them “life in His name” (John 20:31). Names can teach us some wonderful things, but only the name of Jesus can give us life. Seek to know His name!
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
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The following may be a flight of fancy, or it may contain some facts that could deepen your appreciation for the gospel of John.
Jesus In John: The Fulfillment and Architype of Biblical History
The gospel of John is universal gospel… (John 1:9-10, use of “world” in John 1:29; 3:16-19; 4:42; 6:33, 51; 7:4; 8:12; 9:5; 11:27; culminating with the Pharisees’ assessment, “Look, the world has gone after Him!”) …with an apologetic purpose (John 20:30-31).
Questions: In light of John’s purpose, does he present Jesus as the fulfillment and architype of Biblical history?
If so, this accomplishes John’ universal purpose in showing Jesus as the ideal personification of human history; Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic.
In addition, it accomplishes John’s apologetic purpose by presenting Jesus as the goal of human history and the answer to human weakness.
If this is John’s method then Jesus is truly the Alpha and Omega of creation. He is the one from whom, to whom, and for whom all things exist. Consider the following development of John’s gospel.
The Movements of Biblical History Fulfilled by Jesus in the Gospel of John
The History: God creates all things by the word of His mouth and pronounces them “good.”
- Jesus is the agent of creation as “The Word” (1:1-ff)
- Jesus’ creative abilities are showcased in the first sign of turning water into wine The result of His creation was a product that was “good,” in fact “better” than the result of fallen creation (2:1-12)
Flood – Renewal
The History: God renews a corrupted world through the waters of the Flood.
- Jesus finds a corrupted temple (John 2:13-25)
- The corruption story is bracketed by stories where water is used to make things better (2:1-12; 3:1-8)
- Nicodemus is told entrance into the kingdom requires new birth, which involves water and the spirit (3:1-8)
- The effects of sin are therefore reversed by the presence of water.
The History: Jacob (and other patriarchs) dig wells to sustain them in Canaan and establish their families. In addition, God provided Jacob with a dream of a ladder that reached from heaven to earth (Gen. 28:10-17).
- Jesus finds a corrupted temple (John 2:13-25)
- Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who asks Jesus, “Are you greater than our Father Jacob, who gave us this well?” Jesus is indeed greater, and is able to provide a water that will give eternal life. (4:1-42)
- Jesus presents Himself to Nathanael as the fulfillment of Jacob’s ladder dream, where Jesus becomes the ladder bridging heaven and earth (John 1:51)
Exodus – The Moses-Like Leader and Prophet
The History: Moses is the prototype leader and prophet for Israel (Deut. 18:15-22)
- Jesus affirms that “Moses wrote about Me” (5:45-47)
- Jesus is the Moses-like Prophet who was promised (6:14; 7:40)
- Jesus provides the Bread of Life, compared to Moses’ manna (6:1-13, 22-66, consider “twelve baskets of left-overs” representing the twelve tribes, also at the end of the story most of the people “walked with Jesus no more” just as those who fell in the wilderness stopped walking with Moses)
- Jesus walks on water, compared to Moses walking through the sea (6:15-21)
- Jesus offers “rivers of living water” to those who thirst, as God used Moses to provide water from the rock (7:37-39, an imagery intensified by the Feast)
- Jesus is rejected by the people, as Moses was (7:45-52)
- Jesus is the guiding light of the world, as Israel was guided by the pillar of cloud and fire (8:12; 9:5, an imagery intensified by the Feast of Tabernacles)
- Jesus is the “I Am” that called Moses to lead the Exodus (8:58)
The Kings – David
The History: King David was God’s prototypical king. He is introduced as “tending the sheep” (1 Sam. 16:11) and he “shepherded Israel according to the integrity of his heart” (Psalm 78:72).
John’s Gospel: Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” not only of Israel, but also to “other sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:1-18) So, while David was a shepherd to Israel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd to the world.
The Prophets – Elijah & Elisha
The History: After the fall of the United Kingdom Israel, and later Judah, slid further away from God toward the death of the nation. Yet, God graciously sent prophets to resurrect the faith of a spiritually dead people. Both Elijah and Elisha stand at the head of the prophets and literally showed God’s ability to revive the dead faith of God’s people by raising people from physical death (1 Kings 17:17-22; 2 Kings 4:32-35; 13:20-21). Later God sent Judah away from the land into Babylonian exile, but then demonstrated His ability to restore them (Ezra; Nehemiah)
John’s Gospel: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb, demonstrating His ability to reverse the effects of death and restore Lazarus to the land (John 11:1-44). By doing this He fulfills the prophet model set by Elijah and Elisha and proved His ability to reverse spiritual death and restore a dead people back to life.
The Cross – Story of Salvation
At this point the purpose of John’s gospel shifts. The first eleven chapters (John 1-11) form a strong apologetic purpose, and explain what John means by, “these signs are written that you might believe” (20:31), and therefore this section includes most of the signs and public addresses.
However, John 12-21 have a strong practical purpose, and explains what John means by the phrase, “that you might have life in His name” (20:31). This section contains long, private discourses with His apostles. These discourses accomplish two purposes for the church at the end of the first century.
First, they provide comfort for a church in the midst of turmoil. Jesus speaks of His own rejection (12:20-50), predicts the church’s persecution (15:18-25; 16:33; 17:14), and then faces His own death with a peaceful (18:36-37, a non-violent response to persecution), submissive faithfulness to His Father. The persecuted church needed this forewarning and example. Like the apostles before them “their hearts were troubled” and they needed to know how to endure it, and the reward that awaited those who remained faithful and fruitful (14:1-3; 15:1-25).
Secondly, the discourses in John 14-16 provide a strong statement about apostolic authority. By the end of the first century some were questing the apostle’s authority and proposed new teachings to add to the gospel. Yet, the private conversations John records in these chapters show how Jesus promised the apostles the Holy Spirit. Their words came from Jesus, and the words they spoke were all the truth Jesus wanted revealed. These chapters would hush the talk of continuing revelation and rebellion against the apostle’s inspired message.
John’s gospel has this wonderful summary statement in John 20:30-31, and the reader expects the story to end there. Yet, John surprisingly tacks on another story of Jesus going to Galilee to “show Himself” (20:1-25). His unexpected arrival during the common activities of the day shocked the apostles, and they proclaimed, “It is the Lord!”
Then Jesus restores Peter by allowing him to express his love for Jesus three times to match the three denials he shamefully made earlier. Jesus then calls Peter into fellowship with Him by saying, “Follow Me,” and into service to Him by adding, “Feed My sheep.” Can we not see ourselves in Peter’s place? We need restoration with the Lord we denied, and we need to find our purpose in His service.
Finally, John ends the gospel with a discussion about when Peter and John would die. During this discussion Jesus twice makes the point that He is coming again (20:22-23). This is a clear reference to Jesus’ second coming.
John’s portrayal of Jesus is a full panoramic picture that spans the horizon of human history. John begins with Jesus existing before the creation of the world, and ends with Jesus returning when the world comes to an end (John 1:1; 20:22). In between, Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment, perfection, and purpose for every period of history.
Later John ends his Revelation of Jesus by showing Jesus as the purpose and ruler of history. Jesus declares His name, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Rev. 22:13). Yes, that is how John saw Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment and purpose of all history. May He be the purpose of our personal history.