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Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

See Back to Galilee (2012)



In beginning Jesus’ Galilean ministry as outlined by John, I will begin where the Synoptics put Jesus at the end of this ministry:

 John 12

12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,


Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—

the King of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

 15        “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.

Look, your king is coming,

sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.  17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. †  18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him.  19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

The reader may be helped, too, by the introduction to John provided in the New Revised Standard Version, making clear the special theological character of this book:

The Gospel According to John

The fourth Gospel explains the mystery of the person of Jesus. Like others among his contemporaries, yet also unlike them, he stands above them in unique, solitary grandeur. Whence this uniqueness? The Evangelist takes us behind the scenes of Jesus’ ministry, giving us a glimpse into his eternal origin and divine nature. He was unique because “he was in the beginning with God,” active in creation, the source of light and life (John 1.2–4). Hence, when he became incarnate in human flesh, he made known the eternal God, whom “no one has ever seen” (John 1.14; John 1.18).

As do the other Evangelists, the author records real events, but he goes beyond them in interpreting these events. He uses symbolically a number of terms drawn from common experience - bread, water, light, life, word, shepherd, door, way - to make the significance of Christ both clear and gripping. After a magnificent prologue (John 1.1–18) he sets forth Jesus Christ as the object of faith (John 1.19–4.54), depicts Christ’s conflict with unbelievers (John 5–12), his fellowship with believers (John 13–17), his death and resurrection (John 18–20), and concludes with an epilogue (John 21). A large part of the Gospel consists of discourses of Jesus. These discourses are not individual sayings (as in the Synoptic Gospels), nor even collections of sayings (as in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5–7); they develop a particular theme. Furthermore, it is characteristic of the Johannine discourses that Jesus is interrupted by questions or objections from the hearers - something that never happens in the other Gospels.

The first half of the fourth Gospel contains accounts of seven miracles of Jesus, though the author knows that Jesus had performed many others as well (John 20.30). John’s word for these wondrous deeds is “signs,” because they are here regarded as symbols of Jesus’ teaching or as a revelation of his glory (John 2.11). Their purpose is to evoke faith on the part of those who witness them (John 2.23), beginning with the disciples (John 2.11).

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees reported in the Synoptic Gospels is given marked attention in John (for example, John 8.31–59; John 10.19–39), and the expression “the Jews” (which should not be understood as a condemnation of Jews in particular or in general) virtually becomes a technical term for those who reject Jesus. These features no doubt reflect the heightened antagonism that developed in the latter part of the first century between church and synagogue, with mutual recrimination arising.

While the Synoptic Gospels preserve the sayings of Jesus in words closer to their original form, the fourth Evangelist employs more freely his own modes of thought and language in reporting and interpreting the teaching of Jesus. The fact, however, that this Gospel was soon placed side by side with the Synoptics indicates that the early church realized that Jesus’ promise, as reported by John (John 14.26), had been fulfilled, “The Holy Spirit . . . will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Who wrote this Gospel? Tradition says it was the apostle John. Many scholars, however, think that it was composed by a disciple of John who recorded his preaching as Mark did that of Peter. In any case, when the Gospel was published near the close of the first century, the church accepted it as authentic and apostolic testimony to Jesus (John 21.24), written that readers might “come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” and thus “have life in his name” (John 20.31). (For the literary genre of the Gospels, see “Introduction to the Narrative Books.”)

As Alfred Edersheim points out, “the fourth gospel became, not the supplement, but the complement of the other three” (39, 1993 Hendrickson Publishers). He goes on to say the following about its clearly Hellenistic flavor:

There is no other gospel more Palestinian than this in its mode of expression, allusions, and references. Yet we must all feel how thoroughly Hellenistic it also is in its cast—in what it reports and what it omits—in short, in its whole aim: how adapted to Hellenist wants its presentation of deep central truths; how suitably, in the report of His Discourses—even so far as their form is concerned—the promise was here fulfilled, of bringing all things to remembrance whatsoever He had said (John 14.26).  It is the true Light which shineth, of which the full meridian-blaze lies on the Hellenist and the Hellenic world. There is Alexandrine form of thought not only in the whole conception, but in the Logos, and in His presentation as the Light, the Life, and the Wellspring of the world.   But these forms are filled in the fourth Gospel with quite other substance.  God is not afar off, uncognisable by man, without properties, without name.  He is the Father. Instead of a nebulous reflection of the Deity we have the person of the Logos; not a Logos with the two potencies of goodness and power, but full of grace and truth… St. John strikes the pen through Alexandrianism when he lays it down as the fundamental fact of New Testament history that ‘the Logos was made flesh’” (39).

Even more strongly, I would argue that John understands the destiny and outcome of realizing the Kingdom of God in the present world; he understands the full impact of Jesus’ new and universalized Kingdom of God.  To read John is to understand what the events in Jesus’ life means for humankind; moreover, the book of John is consciously structured to pronounce upon this meaning.

Given the full significance that the Gospel of John is an interpretation of the acts and sayings of Jesus, I will first provide the reader with chapters from the Revised Standard Version.  I will take some liberty with dividing chapters into sections followed by commentary.