The Gospel of John: An Overview

The plain bows into the Sea of Galilee where families of fishers settled and built their homes. The villagers prospered and, with the help of a centurion, built a synagogue. The settlement became known as Capernaum, “Village of Comfort” or perhaps “Village of Nahum,” though there is no clear association with the Old Testament prophet by that name. Since the settlers built no wall to defend themselves, their lives must have been peaceful until the teacher from Nazareth arrived.

Crowds followed Jesus into Capernaum, which became the hub of His travels throughout Galilee. He stayed at the home of Simon Peter and gathered about Him other fishermen as His disciples. Among them was John the son of Zebedee, who most likely wrote the fourth Gospel in his old age, while ministering at distant Ephesus.

This blog post is adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 2: Intertestamental Era, New Testament, and Bible Dictionary.


The central and controlling purpose of the Gospel is stated by the evangelist himself: “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” (Jn 20:30–31). Yet the book is not a missionary appeal; it addresses people who are already Christians, and it seeks to deepen and strengthen their faith in Jesus as the Christ. It does so by interpretatively recounting the words and deeds of Jesus, His “signs,” or significant actions. It is, therefore, like the first three Gospels, teaching in the sense of Ac 2:42. Like the other Gospels, it no doubt had behind it a long history of oral teaching; it is, as ancient tradition also indicates, the final precipitate of John’s many years of oral apostolic witness to Christ in the churches of Asia Minor.


John knows the distinctive coloring of the various Jewish parties, but the distinction between Pharisees and Sadducees is no longer of importance to him or his readers. John speaks of Judeans simply as the people who rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and “Jew” is practically equivalent to “unbelieving Jew” (2:18, 20; 5:10, 16, 18; 6:41, 52; 7:13; 9:22, etc.). Unlike the Galileans, who are somewhat open to Jesus (4:45), the Judeans are the opponents of Jesus—blind and stubborn in their refusal to recognize Him—persecuting Him with an ever-mounting hatred. They deny that He is the Son of God (5:18; 8:40–59); they seek His life (5:18; 8:40, 59; 10:31, 39; 11:8, 50), and in all things show themselves not as true children of Abraham, but as children of the devil (8:39–44). Jesus predicts that this hatred will persist; they will deem it a service rendered to God if they kill Jesus’ disciples (16:2). The Spirit whom Jesus will send will enable His disciples to continue the struggle that He had in His lifetime carried on against them (16:2–4, 7–11).

Summary Commentary

1:1–18 By taking on human flesh, God the Son comes into the world He created. He graciously brings deliverance from spiritual darkness and authorizes believers to become God’s children.

1:19–51 John the Baptist testifies to Jewish leaders that he is not the Christ but was sent to prepare the way for Him. John then testifies that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world—the very Son of God, on whom the Holy Spirit rested at His Baptism. When Jesus calls the first disciples, He reveals Himself to be the Messiah—the Son of God and Son of Man—the way to heaven.

Chs 2–4 Jesus, through whom all things were made (1:3), performs His first miracle (“sign”) at a wedding at Cana in Galilee, manifesting His glory by turning water into wine. With holy zeal, Jesus cleanses the temple, which Judeans had turned into a marketplace, and He predicts His resurrection to those questioning His authority. In Jerusalem, many come to believe in Jesus with a superficial faith based mainly on the miracles they see. . . . 

Jesus then graciously reaches out to a Samaritan woman, leads her to recognize Him as the Messiah, and through her brings other Samaritans to receive His life-giving blessings. An official, whose dying son Jesus heals in Galilee, comes to a genuine faith in Him before the sign, the wonder, is done.

Ch 5 After Jesus heals an invalid, Jewish leaders accuse Him of breaking Sabbath law and begin to persecute Him. The Jews plot to kill Jesus for what they understand to be a blasphemous claim: equality with God. Failure to acknowledge Christ’s deity despite Scripture’s clear testimony places one in opposition to the Lord. Equal to the Father in deity and honor, God’s Son makes people spiritually alive through His Word and raises believers from the grave at the hour of His coming to judge. Those who refuse to believe in God’s Son will come under judgment, and their evil deeds will become known. The Father gives binding witness to His Son’s true identity, which is revealed in the works He performs and in the Scriptures that everywhere speak of Him.

Ch 6 Jesus’ feeding of 5,000, the next sign recorded in John, reveals Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (20:30–31). By walking on the storm-tossed sea, Jesus also shows His disciples that He is the eternal King, ruler of all creation. Unlike the perishable manna God gave to Israel through Moses, Jesus comes down from heaven as the true bread to give life to all who believe in Him. Faced with Jesus’ true identity and the necessity of faith in Him, many stop following Him, and even one of the Twelve aligns himself with Satan against Jesus.

7:1–52 Despite growing opposition from Jewish leaders and unbelief within His own family, Jesus enters Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths as the time of His death draws near. Because Jesus does not fit their preconceived notions of the Messiah’s identity, residents of Jerusalem reject Him and join in the effort to kill Him for blasphemy. Jesus teaches that when He dies, He will return to His Father and become inaccessible to His enemies. Yet, He remains gracious toward all. On the final day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus promises that believers will receive the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost) after His death. . . .

7:53–8:11 This is the famous story of the woman taken in adultery, which was likely added to John’s Gospel. The scribes and Pharisees fail to trap Jesus by requesting a hasty judgment against a woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus reveals the hypocrisy of His detractors and calls them to self-examination, even as He calls the sinful woman to consider her error.

8:12–59 Jesus claims to be the light of the world, through whom people may have life, which prompts the Pharisees to question His authority. Jews with a weak faith in Jesus balk when He says that true freedom comes through Him and His teaching. Jesus then traces the people’s refusal to believe in Him and His Word to their spiritual “father,” the devil himself. The confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees reaches a climax when the Pharisees attempt to stone Him for claiming to be the preexistent Son of God.

Ch 9 Jesus gives physical and spiritual sight—faith—to a man born blind, though the Pharisees accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath and remain spiritually blind to who Jesus is.

Ch 10 Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd to describe His intimate relationship with His followers and the love that moves Him to lay down His life for them. . . .

Ch 11 Jesus, the Son of God, will raise Lazarus from the dead so that He might be glorified. When Jesus comes to Mary and Martha’s house and sees great mourning, He is moved to tears over the situation and because of love for His friends. Yet Jesus assures Martha that all who believe in Him, though they die physically, will live forever. By raising Lazarus, Jesus reveals God’s glory and that He is truly the resurrection and the life. After Jesus raises Lazarus, Jewish leaders become hardened in their opposition to Him and plot to kill Him before the Passover.

Ch 12 In humble devotion, yet with extravagant expense, Mary anoints Jesus, while Judas the betrayer and thief covers his greed with seemingly pious intentions. . . . Riding on a donkey, Jesus enters Jerusalem on the Sunday of Passion Week. Leaders of the Jewish nation react with frustration and fear. When some Greeks want to see Jesus, He uses the occasion to proclaim His death and the fruit it will bear. Jesus faces the moment of His glory, confirmed by His Father’s voice from heaven: the hour when He would be lifted up on the cross so that He could draw all people to Himself. . . . As Jesus concludes His public ministry, He reminds His hearers that He has come to save the world.

Chs 13–16 Jesus teaches His disciples privately on the night He will be betrayed. He washes His disciples’ feet, thereby showing His willingness to serve them. Jesus then predicts that one of His disciples will betray Him. He gives Judas a morsel of food, a gesture of friendship, but Judas leaves to carry out his plot. The disciples cannot follow Jesus to the cross, but He asks them to imitate His love for them as they love one another. Peter thinks he is fully ready to follow Jesus, but Jesus says Peter will only deny Him. Peter’s boldness was not due to faith but to egotistical bravado. In the end, Peter did offer his life for Jesus, but only because Jesus first offered His life for Peter.

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He goes to prepare a place for us in heaven, where we will dwell with God forever. . . . Jesus predicts that His disciples will face hostility from the unbelieving world.

Jesus then comforts the disciples by promising to send them the Helper (the Holy Spirit), who will guide them into a deeper understanding of His Word. He promises to return after His resurrection and turn the disciples’ sorrow into joy. . . .

Ch 17 Knowing that He is going to the cross, Jesus prays for His disciples and asks that they be united by faith in Him. He likewise prays for future believers, including us today.

Ch 18 Jesus powerfully confronts those who come to arrest Him in the garden, even while He voluntarily accepts the suffering that lies before Him. Jewish officials arrest Jesus with the assistance of soldiers and lead Him to the high priest Annas for questioning. Despite Peter’s brave promise to lay down his life for Jesus (13:37), Peter denies that he is Jesus’ disciple because of his concern for self-protection. . . . Pilate tries to dismiss the case before him by accommodating a Jewish custom calling for the release of a prisoner at Passover—in this instance, an insurrectionist called Barabbas.

Ch 19 Pilate succumbs to political pressure exerted by Jewish leaders and delivers Jesus over to death by crucifixion. As Jesus is crucified on the Place of a Skull near Jerusalem, He entrusts His mother Mary to John’s care. Jesus the Christ dies, finishing the work of salvation that His Father sent Him to accomplish. His death fulfills John the Baptist’s earlier description of Jesus, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). . . .

Ch 20 The first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection see an empty tomb bearing all the signs of the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and Jesus’ own declaration that He “must rise from the dead” (20:9). . . . Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene, who is led to recognize Him and goes to tell the disciples she has seen the Lord. The once-crucified Jesus appears to His disciples, commissioning them for their work and equipping them with the Holy Spirit. Jesus then appears before a skeptical Thomas, who upon seeing Jesus is moved to confess Him as Lord and God.

Ch 21 During Jesus’ third appearance after the resurrection, He performs another miracle and serves as host at a meal for the disciples. In Jesus’ threefold exchange with Peter—who in pride and weakness failed to confess His Lord on three occasions—Jesus restores His disciple for service to Him and His flock. In the closing exchange between Jesus and Peter, Jesus kindly reminds Peter that God is in control of matters related to his future.

Martin Luther on John

“From the very beginning the evangelist teaches and documents most convincingly the sublime article of our holy Christian faith according to which we believe and confess the one true, almighty, and eternal God. But he states expressly that three distinct Persons dwell in that same single divine essence, namely, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Father begets the Son from eternity, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, etc. Therefore there are three distinct Persons, equal in glory and majesty; yet there is only one divine essence. . . . The first man to attack the doctrine of the divinity of Christ was the heretic Cerinthus, a contemporary of the apostles. . . . It must be viewed as a manifestation of divine grace that Cerinthus assailed this article during the lifetime of the apostles; for this is what prompted John, the foremost of the apostles still living at the time, to write his Gospel. In it he proves this article conclusively: that Christ, our Lord and Savior, is true, natural, and eternal God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. . . .” (AE 22:5, 7)

Blog post adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 2: Intertestamental Era, New Testament, and Bible Dictionary © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture: ESV®.

Quotation marked AE is from Luther’s Works, American Edition, volume 22 © 1957 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.


Continue your study of God’s Word, including and beyond the Gospel of John with Lutheran Bible CompanionVolume 2: Intertestamental Era, New Testament, and Bible Dictionary.

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