The Big Picture of John's Gospel
July 30, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Ever hear the saying “Missing the forest for the trees”? It speaks about getting caught up in details, minutiae, and losing sight of the bigger picture. This is a very real danger in many situations, even in our study of Scripture. That’s why I was taught in seminary to study a passage in light of its immediate context, the context of the book, and the context of all Scripture. The Bible is a unity; while it has many human authors, Scripture has one divine author.
As we work our way through the Gospel of John, it is easy to get caught up in the details of individual miracles and teaching sections and miss the bigger picture of the Gospel itself. And every week, I’m wrestling with the clock: what do I include and what do I pass over in my sermon. I want to use this opportunity to highlight some of the wonders of the bigger picture of John’s Gospel.
John has a unifying purpose for what he writes. He makes this explicit in 20:30-31. “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.” I have referred back to this almost every Sunday, because this inspired statement shapes how we should listen to each individual part of what John records. Everything that John writes is aimed at drawing out a faith response from his readers.
John uses a simple, yet powerful, outline to organize his material. There is the Prologue (1:1-18), the Book of Signs (1:19-12:50), the Book of Glory (13:1-20:31), and the Epilogue (21:1-25). The designations of “Book of Signs” and “Book of Glory” come from John’s use of language. John uses the Greek word for “sign” 17 times in his gospel. 16 of those uses are in the first 12 chapters, the 17th use coming in his purpose statement in 20:30. These signs reveal who Jesus is and call for a faith response.
A transition occurs in chapter 12. The signs are complete (the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11 being the last). John levels the indictment in 12:37, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.” In fact, a growing hostility toward Jesus festers under this unbelief, ready to boil over in his crucifixion. Jesus knows this; he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (v. 23). Jesus’ hour to be glorified is the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus completes the work assigned to him.
John uses the words “glory” and “glorify” to speak explicitly of the work of Christ on the cross. That’s why this later section of the Gospel is called the Book of Glory. The goodness and magnificence of Christ are highlighted in his sacrificial death.
John uses the pattern of seven to help his readers remember his material. Seven is a special number in Scripture, emphasizing completeness. It seems to be John’s intention to use the pattern of seven to not only help his readers recall the stories and teaching, but also to communicate the completeness of his presentation. He chooses seven signs/miracles to record, out of the numerous miracles he could have shared (water into wine, healing the official’s son, the healing of the lame man, feeding the 5,000, walking on water, healing the blind man, and raising Lazarus). And he records seven metaphorical “I am” statements from Jesus (“I am… the bread of life, the light of the world, the door of the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way and the truth and the life, and the vine”). These seven signs and seven statements provide an excellent summary of what John communicates about Jesus. They are easy enough to remember and recall.
I continue to marvel at Scripture. John was a young fisherman when he began to follow Jesus. He grew to be a pillar in the early church. God used him to record Scripture so that we can hear the words of Christ twenty centuries later. And he wrote in a masterful manner. We are blessed by such riches of God’s Word!