- The introduction (1:1-51)
- Jesus' public ministry: the seven signs (2:1 - 12:50)
- Jesus in the Upper Room (13:1 - 17:26)
- Jesus arrested, tried, and crucified (18:1 - 19:37)
- Jesus' burial and resurrection (19:38 - 20:31)
- The epilogue (21:1-25)
Authorship, date and background
The authorship of the fourth Gospel cannot be determined from the material in the book itself. No author is named directly. But there are enough hints to draw the conclusion that John, the son of Zebedee and Salome (who was probably the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus) was the author. The writer was a Jew, a Palestinian, and an eyewitness who was familiar with Jewish customs and traditions. The early church regarded John as the author of this Gospel and contrary claims have scant evidence to displace this view. John was with Jesus on numerous occasions. The Lord called him and his brother the "sons of thunder" for they were prejudiced, brash, and belligerent. They were ready to reprimand the man who was casting out demons successfully, simply because he was not one of them. Jesus forbade them (Lk 9:49, 50). Moreover, they asked Jesus on one occasion: "Lord, with thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" (Lk 9:52-55). Jesus rebuked them. They had their mother intercede for them with Jesus. She asked that her sons might sit on two thrones next to his throne in His Kingdom (Mt 20:20ff). Jesus refused this request. It was John who sat so close to Jesus at the Last Supper. And it was he who was to become known later as the apostle of love. He also authored 1, 2, and 3 John and the Revelation, which closed the canon of Scripture.
In all probability the book was written in Ephesus (Asia Minor) and can be dated in the last decade of the first century (A.D. 90-95). The date is important because this Gospel is quite different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These have been called the "synoptic Gospels" (meaning having the same or common views). John's work does not fit this pattern. The simplest explanation is the he was familiar with the other Gospels, and the Holy Spirit wanted him to fill in some of the gaps and to stress more specifically what the other Gospels hinted at but did not say explicitly. It was unnecessary for him to repeat what was already known and widely read. Moreover, some time had passed since the writing of the other Gospels, and the theology of the church was developing. John had something to contribute to this development.
Characteristics and content
John presents Jesus as true God and true man. He repeats his witness and that of others, together with the teaching of Jesus about His deity, at least five times: (1) He "was God" (John 1:1, 2); (2) "I and the Father are one" (10:30); (3) "Before Abraham was , I am" (8:58); (4) "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (14:9); (5) Thomas said, "My Lord and my God!" (20:28). He also emphasizes the humanity of Jesus when he speaks of him as tired, , hungry, troubled, loyal to His friends, loving and brave. John shows that Jesus, as the God-man, was functionally subordinate to His Father, who sent Him into this world. He was obedient to the Father and he always did His Father's will, even unto death to the cross. Moreover, He accomplished the Father's work, which was to bring life to sinful men.
John states his purpose for writing the book: "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God ; and that believing ye might have life through His name" (20:30, 31). In these verses John uses three of the words which constitute the dominant motif of the work: (1) miracles or signs; (2) faith or believing on Jesus; (3) and life, which is the result of faith in Him. John thus declares that men need not believe without evidence. He presents seven miracles or signs by way of evidence and expects that as a result of the evidences, men ought to have faith in Jesus.
The seven signs or miracles designed to lead men to believe in Jesus Christ are (1) changing water into wine (2:1-11); (2) healing the government official's son (4:46-54); (3) healing the helpless disabled man (5:1-9); (4) feeding the five thousand (6: 1-14); (5) walking on the water (6:16-21); (6) healing the blind man (9:1-12); (7) raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-46). Five of these seven miracles do not appear in the other Gospels. All seven were performed publicly to help people or were for the benefit of other people.
John also records the seven "I ams" of Jesus: (1) "I am the bread of life" (6:35); (2) "I am the light of the world" (8:12); (3) "I am the gate of the sheep" (10:7); (4) "I am the good shepherd" (10:11, 14); (5) "I am the resurrection and the life" (11:25); (6) "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (14:6); (7) "I am the true vine" (15:1). John's Gospel is probably the most unusual and unique of the four Gospels.