The Global Message of John
The Gospel of John presents Christ as the longed for Messiah and Son of God, who comes to earth as a Jew to restore God’s covenant people. Yet the very people who ought to have embraced their Messiah rejected him: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). But many people did believe in him, and “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12).
By believing in him, all people everywhere in the world, whatever their ethnic background, may enjoy life—true life, eternal life—in the name of Jesus (20:31).
John and Redemptive History
At the beginning of time, the word of God brought light and life out of nothing as the created order sprang into being. Writing his account of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the apostle John uses precisely these themes. “In the beginning,” John writes (John 1:1), using the same opening words as Genesis 1. John then speaks of the Word of God, in whom is light and life (1:4–5). Yet this Word was not simply God’s uttered speech but the Word that “became flesh” (1:14). God came to earth to dwell with us so that we could one day dwell with him.
Indeed, this Word has “dwelt” among us, John says—using a Greek verb that means, literally, “tabernacled” among us. Jesus, in other words, is the true and final temple (see John 2:18–22). He is the one in and through whom God once more dwells with mankind—making possible the very restoration between heaven and earth that the tabernacle and the temple anticipated.
In Christ, the entire Old Testament drama is summed up and fulfilled. Jesus is not merely one more wise prophet or godly king. He is the Prophet and the King whom every preceding prophet and king foreshadows. All of redemptive history climaxes in Christ. He is the true bread from heaven, not the temporary manna that rots away (John 6:31–51). He is the good shepherd, unlike the many shepherds who failed to lead Israel as they should have (10:1–18). He is the fulfillment of the Jewish festivals and other institutions (1:29, 36; 2:21; 4:23–24; 8:12; 9:5; 19:14). He is the one who reveals the Father, so that to see him is to see God himself (1:14; 14:6–11).
Jesus brings eternal life to all who receive him, not just to ethnic Israel (John 1:11–13). Although he didn’t realize what he was saying, Caiaphas the high priest uttered prophetic words about Jesus: “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (11:50). The irony was that Jesus would in fact die in place of the people. And as John goes on to explain, Jesus would die not only in place of the Jews but in place of his own people from all the nations of the world: “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (11:51–52). The gospel is for any who believe in Christ (20:23).
Universal Themes in John
The surprising welcome of Gentiles. Right from the start of John’s Gospel we learn that the Jews generally rejected Christ and that God was extending his grace to any who would receive him (John 1:11–13). Then, early in Christ’s ministry, John tells about Jesus extending grace to a sinful Samaritan woman, who was obviously an outsider. Thereafter in John’s Gospel we see hostility toward Jesus on the part of the very people who ought to have understood and embraced him—his own fellow Jews (5:16–18; 6:41; 7:1; 8:59; 9:22; 10:31; 18:12). Instead, it is mostly Gentiles who love and trust Jesus (4:28–29, 39). The free gift of eternal life is for the whole world (3:16). Jesus will draw “all people” to himself (12:32).
Christ’s extension of his worldwide mission through his disciples. Jesus was sent to earth on a mission by God the Father, and in glad response Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission to the world, empowered by the Spirit: “As you sent me into the world,” Jesus prays to his Father, “so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18; compare 4:38; 15:16; 20:21–23). Christians from that time on, down to the present day, have acted as the hands and feet of Jesus as they have proclaimed the good news of salvation throughout the world.
God’s concern for the world. The word “world” (Greek kosmos, from which we get our English word “cosmos”) occurs 186 times in the New Testament, and 78 of these occurrences are in John’s Gospel. The meaning of this word in John’s Gospel shifts slightly from one passage to the next. Sometimes it refers to the realm of darkness and sin (John 7:7; 12:31; 14:30; 17:16; 18:36). More often, however, the “world” in John simply refers to all the people who live on this planet. John tells us many times of God’s loving, saving attitude toward the whole world (1:29; 3:16–17; 4:42; 6:33; 12:47).
The Global Message of John for Today
The Gospel of John awakens Christians around the globe today to the cosmic scope of salvation in Christ, and the eternal scope of God’s work in accomplishing this salvation, beginning in eternity past (John 1:1–3; 8:58).
In John we see Christ reversing the curse of the fall as, for example, he heals the lame (John 5:1–9) or the blind (9:1–7). Jesus cares deeply about the physical results of living in a fallen world. Indeed, when his friend Lazarus dies, Jesus weeps (11:35). As those who have been entrusted through his Spirit with carrying on the work of Christ, we as the global church likewise seek to help those who are suffering. Such compassion is the only appropriate way to respond to the compassion we ourselves have received from God in Christ.
Yet the deepest result of the fall is not the woundedness of our bodies but the woundedness of our souls. The great apostolic commission was not to bring physical comfort but to bring forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name (John 20:22–23). Jesus gives living water, water that becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). He is the bread of life—the nourishing sustenance that all people most deeply need (6:35). In him is life itself (1:4).
The global message of John for today’s church is to trust in Christ. Believe in him. Nourish yourself in him. Find life in him. And spread that life to everyone around you in your own little corner of the world.