I personally believe John wrote his gospel between the years A.D. 65 and A.D. 70. I think John went to Ephesus to pastor the church in that city after Timothy left to assist Paul who was awaiting execution in Rome (2Ti 4:21; Heb 13:23-24). While in Ephesus John wrote this gospel, even though evidence suggests that the other three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) had already been written. And certainly he would have known they existed and been shown them if possible, and may have even possessed a copy. But in spite of the existence of those gospels there was a growing confusion about Jesus that alarmed John. People were saying all sorts of wrong things about who He was. Some taught that He was just a man, so He should be thought of as no more than a great teacher or prophet. Others taught something that was opposite from this: They believed He was an angel (Heb 1:4-14). In other words He was a spirit-being of some sort who merely appeared to be human, but He was not really a human. And in addition to the debate about the nature of Jesus there has always been confusion over how God could have a son. So by the late A.D. 60s there were growing groups of people who believed in a very different Jesus than the one the Apostles had taught. By that time most or all of the original twelve had died (Heb 2:3-4), most during Neros persecution (A.D. 64-88) and some in distant lands, so there was almost no one left with the authority to correct such distortions. I think thats why John, who by then was probably in his late 50s or early 60s, gathered his own notes of Jesus sayings and refreshed his memory of those precious years when he walked beside Him. Then he sat down and wrote an account that emphasized the things Jesus said about Himself. The other gospels had been written earlier, in a different spiritual climate, so they had not focused on those sayings to the same degree. They focused on Jesus miracles and His wonderful teachings. Though frankly, everything a person needs to know about Jesus is in all the gospels. All present Him as both the divine Son of God and an incarnated man, yet somehow the statements in those gospels were being ignored by those determined to distort this truth. So John wrote his own and opened it with an absolutely clear declaration about the divine origin and human incarnation of Jesus (Jn 1:1-18). Then he went on to describe certain signs Jesus performed that fulfilled Old Testament prophesies about Him. But above all, John was careful to report exactly what Jesus said about Himself.
It is this emphasis on the nature of Jesus that makes Johns gospel not only different from the others but such a gift to those who want to understand the truth about Jesus. If its possible to ignore the statements about Jesus true nature in the other gospels, it is impossible to do so in Johns, which is why this gospel has been attacked so viscously over the centuries. It is a target for criticism because John has presented with crystal clarity the most important truth of all, the truth that offends so many: that God the Father begot a Son and sent Him from heaven to become a man.
In the synagogue (Jn 6:41-47)
Logic and revelation
Something can be logical but false. Something can seem illogical but be true. When humans try to comprehend spiritual realities we have to begin by understanding our own limitations. We are dealing with a subject that is far too great for us to discover by reasoning our way to it. There are too many unknowns, and our own soul isnt clean enough to accept the painful truths we dont want to see. We prefer to invent spiritual worlds that fit our own desires. So logic is a good thing but very limited when it comes to spiritual truth. Even the best logic cant lift us up to the point where we can peer into heaven. For us to discover the truth about God someone from heaven must come to us to explain it to us. This is called revelation. When God chooses to reveal a truth we couldnt know any other way, He declares it to someone who is humble and fully yielded to Him, and then that person speaks it or writes it down, or both. Thats how we got our Bible. God revealed mysteries to people, and then they wrote them down. Because He picked those authors very carefully what they passed on to us was completely accurate. We can trust the Bible and believe what it says. It presents the truth that can save us.
The Word became flesh
But at no time in history has God revealed Himself to the degree that He did by sending His Son to earth. Suddenly the revelation of the spiritual world took a gigantic step forward. Someone who had actually seen God face to face came to earth and told us what Hes like. And the One who came not only spoke the truth about God; He showed us the deeds and character of God, for He was exactly like Him. In fact He said He only did what He saw the Father do and only said what He heard the Father say. So by watching and listening to Him, it was as though we humans were at last able to step into heaven and behold the Father Himself. This makes Jesus vastly different from every other prophet or teacher or miracle-worker, and it means that when He says something our job is to hear what He says and then believe it. We would never want to challenge what He taught simply because it didnt make sense to our human logic. Such pride would immediately lead to deception.
What did Jesus say?
He called God His Father (Jn 5:17-18) and said the Father sent Him from heaven to become a man. He said He became a real man, not a spirit (Lk 24:39). He said He would die for us and then rise from the dead on the third day (Mt 16:21). He said everyone who believes these things will have eternal life (Jn 3:15; 6:47).
What He said is actually fairly simple. Its easy to understand; its just not easy to explain. The facts are clear. Its the unanswered questions, the unrevealed information that frustrates us and starts us logically speculating. Something inside each of us wants to fill in the gaps, to understand things God has not explained.
Why does it matter?
What difference would it make if Jesus had been only a prophet or a teacher? Couldnt He have died for us anyway? Or what if He were an angel who took on the form of a man and walked among us? If He had, it wouldnt be the first time an angel appeared in human form (Ge 18:1; 19:1). Would being an angel have meant He couldnt be our Savior? The answer to both questions is yes, it does matter because neither a good human nor an angel could save us. Lets try to understand why.
Fully human/fully God
Throughout the Old Testament God taught human beings about His mercy and His justice. We learned that He is merciful and wants to forgive people, but Hes also just and will punish sin. And we watched Him accomplish both purposes by the principle of substitution. Substitution means this: God will allow the guilt of one persons sin to be transferred to another. Since the penalty of sin is always death, when sin is transferred the one who receives it must die. Thats the painful truth God was revealing through animal sacrifice. Human sin was symbolically transferred to an animal, and then the animal died in our place. Such sacrifices began with Adam and Eve and continued on until it became the foundation of Israels worship in the tabernacle and the temple. In this way God mercifully made a way of escape for us without ignoring the evil that had been done. But the blood of bulls, goats and sheep could never be the actual substitute for human sin (Heb 10:4). Why would a dead animal pay the moral debt owed to God by a human? The animal was never meant to be anything more than a symbol, a promise if you will, that someday God would provide the one great sacrifice to which all the other sacrifices pointed (Gal 22:13-14). But what could that be? What single death could substitute for the enormous weight of sin committed by the human race? Who could bear the horror of it? Who was so worthy that their death would outweigh it? Who would love us enough to do it?
Once we ask those questions the importance of the nature of Jesus becomes glaringly obvious. Death is the price for sin, but who is holy and good enough to be the substitute for the entire human race? Only God. Yet God cant die. So He sent His Son to become a man, so He could really die. And since our substitute must be spotless, sinless, the Father subjected His Son to temptation and testing (Heb 2:14-18). He needed to experience what we experience. But unlike every other human who has ever lived, He must remain perfectly holy, so death could not keep Him in the grave (Ac 13:34-37).
The most important truth
So do we see why the One, whose death is able to substitute for the death of every other human, could never be just a man? No other man is sinless, and no human life is worth the accumulated weight of human guilt. Each persons death can only pay for their own sin. And do we see why He couldnt be an angel? How could a spirit that has no flesh be tempted like a human being? How could an angel die? Why would an angels death make any difference at all? By trying to solve mysteries that God hasnt explained, human guessing has come up with solutions that make no spiritual sense. They ignore the great principles that God has been trying to teach us for thousands of years. But the most tragic result is that they cause people to put their faith in something that cant save them. Only Gods Son, who became a man, who died for our sins and rose from the dead, can do that. Thats why its the most important truth of all. Lets sit in that synagogue and listen to Him once more:
Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life (Jn 6:46-47).
1) What holiday do we celebrate that remembers the miracle of Gods Son becoming a man? What do we know about that miracle? What dont we know and must simply believe by faith?
2) What would you say to someone who said, I think Jesus was just a great teacher? What would you say to someone who said, Jesus never claimed to be God?
3) Whats the most important truth of all?