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Introductory Material


The Gospel according to John was written by John, the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus (Matt 10:2; Mark 3:17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). Like several other followers of Jesus, John was a fisherman by trade and hailed from Galilee, a region north of Judea (Matt 4:21–22; Mark 1:19–20). As one of the Twelve, John witnessed the entirety of Jesus’s three-and-a-half-year ministry. John was seated at Jesus’s side at the Last Supper (John 13:23–24) and was privileged to see several momentous events witnessed otherwise only by his (older) brother James and the apostle Peter, such as the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), the transfiguration (Matt 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28), and Jesus’s prayer at Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion (Matt 27:37; Mark 14:33). He was in the high priest’s courtyard following Jesus’s arrest and Jewish trial (John 18:15–16) and witnessed the crucifixion (John 19:35), the empty tomb (John 20:2–9), and several appearances by the risen Jesus (John 21:7, 20–23).

Relationship to Other Gospels

John was probably the last to write his Gospel, about a generation after Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in the AD 80s or early 90s. While these earlier Gospels (commonly referred to as “Synoptics”) closely resemble each other, John’s Gospel is largely unique. John alone includes lengthy teaching portions of Jesus on the bread of life (6:22–59), the good shepherd (10:1–39), and his farewell to the disciples (13:1–17:26); and John alone includes miracles (messianic signs), such as turning water into wine at the Cana wedding (2:1–11), healing a man born blind (9:1–41), and raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1–44), that are not included in the Synoptics. At the same time, John omits the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, the Olivet discourse, and Jesus’s parables and demon exorcisms. In this way, John complements the Synoptic Gospels and neatly concludes the four-Gospel canon.

Writing Style

John’s approach to telling the story of Jesus is unique in many ways. He conceives of the events surrounding Jesus as a cosmic drama that pits God and his Christ against Satan, the “the ruler of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Rather than Jesus being put on trial by the world (understood as an alliance between the Jewish and the Roman authorities), John casts Jesus’s story as a cosmic trial in which Jesus, aided by seven witnesses, puts the world on trial for rejecting him as Messiah (1:11; 12:36–38). Jesus reveals his divine nature through seven “I am” statements and by performing seven striking signs. The climax of Jesus’s self-revelation is the crucifixion, which John frames as a station along the Son’s return to the Father who sent him. His crucifixion is often referred to as his “lifting up” (3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34), that is, his exaltation as the Word incarnate.

In constructing his Gospel, John uses a dramatic, symmetrical format, opening and closing with a corresponding prologue and epilogue and presenting the story of Jesus in two parts and from two vantage points: Jesus’s earthly messianic mission to the Jews (chs. 1–12), and his exalted mission to his new messianic community, the Twelve (chs. 13–20). On a structural level, John is fond of literary inclusios, that is, corresponding words or phrases that act as bookends of a given unit. This penchant for inclusios is demonstrable in the case of the Cana Cycle (2:11; 4:54), the Festival Cycle (5:18; 10:33), and part one of the Johannine drama (1:28; 10:40). Note also that part two has its own introduction, framing the Johannine passion narrative so that it depicts Jesus’s journey to the cross and return to the Father as the perfect demonstration of love for his own (13:1–3).

In addition, John uses numerous asides (or narrative commentary) to guide the reader into better understanding. These asides include translation of Greek or Aramaic terms (1:38, 41, 42; 19:13, 17; 20:16), cultural or geographical information (5:2; 6:1; 11:18), Jewish customs (2:6; 4:9; 10:22; 18:28; 19:40), and characteristic back references (4:46; 6:23; 7:50; 19:39; 21:20). John also frequently refers to people’s failure to understand (2:9; 5:13; 7:5; 8:27; 10:6; 11:13; 12:16; 13:28–29; 20:9, 14; 21:4) and at times presupposes knowledge of earlier written Gospels, or at least a general knowledge of the story of Jesus (1:40; 3:24; 4:44; 11:1–2). Finally, he frequently highlights ironic twists in the narrative (1:46; 2:10; 3:4, 10; 4:7, 12, 17; 6:52; 7:15, 20, 27–28; et al.).1

John's Worldview

Also highly distinctive is John’s worldview, which presents the world in terms of a series of contrasts or polar opposites. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as Johannine “dualism,” though “polarities” is better, as “dualism” is often construed as denoting equal opposites. In John’s case, the cosmic battle between God and Satan is not cast as a struggle between equally matched opponents. Prominent polarities in John’s Gospel include light and darkness (1:5; 3:19–21), life and death (5:24), flesh and spirit (6:63), above and below (3:31; 8:23), truth and falsehood (1:17; 14:6), love and hate (3:19–21; 12:25), and faith and unbelief (1:12; 20:30–31).

John holds to monotheism, the belief in one God who created the world, delivered Israel at the exodus, and gave the nation the law through Moses (1:16–17; 17:3). He also shares common Jewish messianic expectations and asserts that the divine Messiah, the eternal logos, took on flesh, walked the earth, and died vicariously on the cross. John believes that Jesus revealed God in word and deed, through both lengthy revelatory discourses and messianic signs, and that salvation is found only in Jesus. Humanity is sinful (3:19–21; 8:34–47), and Satan is the ruler of this world (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), which languishes in moral and spiritual darkness from which people can escape only by believing in Jesus as “the light” (1:4–5; 8:39–41; 12:35–36).

John also believes that Jesus came at the climax of salvation history and that he eclipsed all of God’s previous servants and spokespersons, such as Abraham (8:56, 58), Jacob (1:51; 4:12), and Moses (1:17; 5:45–47). John contends that God will hold people accountable for what they have done during their lives here on earth (3:18–19), and judgment will be executed through Jesus Christ (5:22–30). Following Jesus’s exaltation to the Father, believers are to abide in spiritual union with Jesus through the Holy Spirit (15:1–11) and embark on their mission as Jesus’s representatives (17:18; 20:21). Believers are to go and bear lasting fruit (15:16), such as communal love and unity, which not only are essential prerequisites for their mission (17:20–26) but also serve as signs that they are truly Jesus’s disciples (13:35).2


According to Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215), “last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14.7). Most likely, John wrote sometime after the temple’s destruction in AD 70, an event that had far-reaching implications for Jewish worship and piety. Without a temple, the law now needed to be followed without the temple sacrifices or festivals. The effects of the temple’s demise were felt not only in Jerusalem but also wherever Jews, proselytes, and God-fearers lived in the diaspora (dispersion) all across the Roman empire. In the aftermath of this traumatic event, John cast Jesus as the temple’s fulfillment, replacement, and proper center of worship, arguing that he embodied the essence of the various Jewish festivals and institutions (2:18–22; 4:21–26).


John’s purpose for writing was to demonstrate that Jesus is the divine Messiah by setting forth a series of striking signs so that his readers might put their faith in him and have eternal life as a result (20:30–31).

Key Verse

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

— John 3:16 ESV


I. Prologue: The Word’s Agency in Creation (1:1–5)3

II. Introduction: John’s Witness and the Start of Jesus’s Ministry (1:6–51)

A. John’s Witness and the Word-Become-Flesh (1:6–18)

B. John’s Witness and Jesus’s First Disciples (1:19–51)

III. Part I: Book of Signs (2:1–12:50)

A. Cana Cycle: Signs 1–3 (2:1–4:54)

B. Festival Cycle: Signs 4–6 (5:1–10:42)

C. Climactic Sign 7 (11:1–12:36a)

D. Conclusion (12:36b–50)

IV. Part II: Book of Exaltation (13:1–20:31)

A. Footwashing, Farewell Discourse, and Final Prayer (13:1–17:26)

B. The Crucifixion and Resurrection (18:1–20:29)

C. Purpose Statement (20:30–31)

V. Epilogue: The Missions of Peter and the Disciple Jesus Loved (21:1–25)

Prologue: The Word’s Agency in Creation (1:1–5)

Each of the Gospels relates the story of Jesus to the beginning (Matt 1:1; Mark 1:1; Luke 1:2; John 1:1). John, for his part, begins with Jesus’s existence from eternity past. Ancient manuscript evidence suggests that early readers saw the introduction to John’s Gospel as spanning from verse 1 to 5, with a paragraph break separating verses 5 and 6. While a poetic cadence characterizes the opening verses (e.g., 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”), later verses read more like narrative prose (e.g., 1:6: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”). John’s introduction focuses on Jesus’s agency in creation and then sets Jesus’s story within the framework of the Baptist’s witness, with new units starting in verses 6, 15, and 19. This matches the function of Luke’s preface (Luke 1:1–4) and mirrors the Synoptic presentation of the Baptist.

1:1 The opening phrase “in the beginning” evokes reminiscences of the opening of the Hebrew Bible, which states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Thus, the evangelist sets Jesus’s coming in the context of God’s creation of the universe by his powerful and effective word (e.g., Gen 1:3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”). As he continues, the evangelist contends that that Word was none other than Jesus (though the reader is kept in suspense until the Word’s identity is made explicit until 1:17).

While readers of Genesis would be familiar with the effective power of God’s word, readers of John’s Gospel are made to understand that this powerful Word is a person on par with the Creator himself: “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This revelation is truly momentous. The evangelist affirms Jewish monotheism (the belief in one God) while showing there is a plurality of persons within the Godhead: not only is God (the Creator) divine, but so is the divine Word, the agent of creation.

1:2–3 Verse 2 essentially reiterates the message of the opening verse, while verse 3 categorically asserts that Jesus’s agency in creation is all-encompassing: all was created through him and, conversely, nothing was created apart from him.

1:4 In verse 4, the evangelist draws the logical conclusion: if the Word is the agent of all of creation, then the Word, like the Creator, is the Giver of life. The Word has life in himself (cf. 5:26), which also implies he has the ability to give life to others (“and the life was the light of men”). Here, just as in the original creation story, “life” and “light” are closely interrelated, and light is necessary for life to exist and to flourish. At this point in the introduction, the evangelist simply refers to “the Word” globally and universally as “the light of men”; later, he will specify that it is those who “receive him” and “believe in his name” who benefit from the spiritual illumination this light provides (see comments on 1:11–12 below).

1:5 The evangelist adds that “the light shines in darkness, and [better, yet] the darkness has not overcome it.” Moral and spiritual darkness has enveloped this world that is alienated from God due to its rebellion against the Creator, yet the eternal Word stepped boldly into the midst of this spiritual resistance and opposition. What is more, even though the created would crucify its very Creator, it did not thereby overcome him; rather, God would vindicate Jesus and raise him from the dead, and through his crucifixion and resurrection, he would overcome the world. Thus, the light stands in judgment of sinful humanity. Nevertheless, the light’s purpose for coming into the world was not to judge the world; rather, he would willingly subject himself to the world’s rebellion and bear its sins. Just as in the natural realm light always overcomes darkness, so in the spiritual realm, the light would overcome the spiritual darkness and sinful unbelief that hold the world in their grip.

Introduction: John’s Witness and the Start of Jesus’s Ministry (1:6–51)

John’s Witness and the Word-Become-Flesh (1:6–18)

1:6 Following the introduction of the Word, the agent in God’s creation, the narrative commences with the introduction of the forerunner. His name was John, and he was “a man” who was “sent from God.” By calling John “a man,” the evangelist distinguishes him from the Word, who is divine. By asserting that John was “sent by God,” the evangelist makes clear that John was not self-appointed, nor did he carry out a merely human mission. Just as the prophets were sent by God (Jer 1:4–12; 35:15; Matt 23:34–37) and Jesus was sent by God (a common theme in the Gospel), so his forerunner was sent by God as well. Thus, John had a God-given mission to fulfill, similar to the three other missions featured in the Gospel: the missions of Jesus, his followers, and the Holy Spirit.

1:7 What, then, was John’s God-given mission? Verse 7 tells us: he came as a witness to testify to the light. In the other Gospels, John is typically and primarily cast as the Baptizer, the one who called Israel to repentance and immersed repentant Israelites in the River Jordan in preparation of the Messiah’s arrival. In this Gospel, however, John’s baptizing activity, while not ignored (1:25–28; 3:23–26), is subordinated to the way in which John bore witness to Jesus (cf. 1:15; 5:32–36). In doing so, John takes his place among a series of witnesses to Jesus featured in the Gospel: Jesus’s works (5:36), God the Father (5:37), Moses and the Scriptures (5:45–47), the Holy Spirit and Jesus’s followers (15:26–27), and the evangelist himself (19:35; 21:24).

This emphasis on witness, in turn, is part of the Johannine “cosmic trial motif,” by which the evangelist turns the tables: it is the world, not Jesus, that is on trial, and it stands condemned for rejecting the Messiah and Son of God.4 In order that no one can miss John’s primary role as a witness to Jesus, the evangelist writes with obvious redundancy, “he came as a witness (noun), to bear witness (verb).” By producing an abundance of witnesses, the evangelist makes clear that Jesus’s messianic mission is well attested, and anyone who rejects him does so in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting Jesus’s claims. Consequently, the God-given purpose of John’s mission is “that all might believe through him.” The phrase “through him” in 1:7 parallels the identical phrase in 1:3, where it is said that all things came into being through the Word. Similarly, all who are to be brought to faith in Jesus will believe through John’s witness.

The Agencies of the Word and of John (1:3, 7)
“All things were made through him (the Word)” (1:3)
“He came . . . that all might believe through him (John)” (1:7)

1:8 Just as the evangelist took care in his introduction to distinguish God (the Father) from the Word (1:1), he now is careful to distinguish John from “the light” (i.e., the Word) (1:5). John himself is not that light; he only came to bear witness to it as a lesser light. His is a reflected glory; the true glory resides in the one to whom John’s testimony points (cf. 1:14). Later, Jesus would call John “a burning and shining lamp” in whose light people were “willing to rejoice for a while” (5:35). By shining the light on Jesus instead of himself, John exemplifies the humility that should characterize all believers who are called to testify to Jesus and to remain in the background so as not to draw attention away from the one who is the proper object of believers’ faith (cf. 3:30).

1:9 Turning from John to “the light,” the evangelist affirms that “the true light” that “gives light to everyone” was “coming into the world,” a rather indirect way of referring to the Word’s incarnation (cf. 1:14). This declaration needs to be interpreted with care. The evangelist’s point here is that the enlightenment Jesus came into the world to bring is of a universal nature. It is not limited to a special subset of people, or a nation, but to every person (cf. 10:16). This passage does not teach universalism, the notion that everyone will ultimately be saved regardless of whether or not they believe; rather, salvation is conditional upon a person’s faith in Jesus (e.g., 3:16; 20:30–31). As in verses 4 and 5, “life” and “light” are closely related: those who believe in Jesus receive both eternal life and spiritual light.

1:10 While the first nine verses have all been positive with the introduction of major characters such as the Creator God, the Word/light, and John the Baptist, the evangelist now introduces a dark and ominous note that foreshadows the escalating conflict that will lend great drama and suspense to the remaining Gospel narrative. In a bitter and tragic irony, the very world that came into being through the Word (1:3) would fail to recognize him for who he was, the eternal Word and agent of creation. The reason for this was that the world lay in great moral darkness and persisted in irrational preference for darkness over light (cf. 3:19–21). Thus, the battle lines are already drawn: the light is a force for good, while the world practices evil. Not only is the world’s rejection of her Creator deeply ironic and paradoxical, it also reveals the world to be exceedingly ungrateful and morally guilty.

1:11 The world as a whole rejected her Creator, and even God’s own people Israel proved unresponsive and unreceptive. The Word’s appearance is described as a homecoming: He “came home” (own translation; literally, “to his own things”), yet “his own people” (i.e., Israel) failed to receive him. One would have thought that both the world in general and God’s people Israel in particular would have welcomed their Creator and covenant God with open arms. While it is tragic enough that the world failed to recognize its Creator, it is even more inexplicable and inexcusable that God’s covenant people would not recognize the very Messiah they were carefully seeking and eagerly anticipating.

1:12–13 Thus, we move from the world and God’s people Israel to “all who did receive him.” Those who received the Word and welcomed the light, who “believed in his name,” were given the right to become God’s children. In the Old Testament, “children of God” refers to God’s people Israel (e.g., Deut 14:1; Jer 31:20), though not to every individual who is ethnically an Israelite (e.g., Rom 9:6–8). Yet now, in view of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, a new group of God’s children emerges: those who believe in the agent of creation and light of the world. To believe or not to believe, that, the evangelist tells his readers consistently, is the all-important question. Again, the evangelist here strikes a universal note (see already 1:9); he will continue to develop the scope of salvation in the following narrative (see esp. 3:16). The evangelist adds that those who believe have experienced a spiritual rebirth with God as its source (further developed in 3:1–15 below).

1:14 The thought unit closes in verse 14 (an inclusio, or literary “sandwich,” in which a unit begins and ends in a similar way) with the bold affirmation that the Word, first introduced in 1:1, became flesh (unlike in Paul’s writings [e.g., Rom 8:6], “flesh” has no negative connotations here) and took up temporary residence (literally, “pitched his tent”) among us (note the first-person plural, indicating apostolic testimony). The evangelist goes on to affirm that he and his fellow disciples perceived the Word’s incarnate glory as that of “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The attentive reader will recognize the similar theme of apostolic testimony of “seeing his glory” in one of the author’s other New Testament works (1 John 1:1–2). This is the first of four references (all by the evangelist) to Jesus as “the only Son” that stress his unique sonship and filial relationship with God (cf. 1:18; 3:16, 18). “Grace and truth” may allude to the Old Testament characterization of God’s steadfast love and covenant faithfulness (see Exod 34:6).

1:15 At this point, the reader is reminded of John, who is reintroduced into the narrative. John is said to cry out continually and witness to Jesus’s preeminence and preexistence, affirming that, even though chronologically Jesus would follow him, he both outranked and preceded him because he was before him.

1:16–17 The evangelist follows up his earlier testimony that “we have seen his glory” (1:14) with another first-plural reference: “we have all received grace for grace” (author’s translation; cf. the reference to people “receiving him” in 1:12). This declaration continues the characterization of the incarnate Word as “full of grace and truth” in 1:14 (see also the following verse, 1:17). The phrase “grace upon (lit., instead of) grace” is explained in 1:17 in terms of a comparison between the grace given to God’s people through the law of Moses and the grace, and truth, given through Jesus Christ in the new covenant. Now, at last, the veil is lifted and the Word, the light, and the only Son of the Father are finally identified as “Jesus Christ” (cf. Exod 34:29–33; 2 Cor 3:7–18). Perhaps surprisingly, the giving of the law is cast as a gracious gift of God rather than, as in Paul, presented as insufficient to effect salvation due to human’s sin nature (e.g., Gal 2:16; though, of course, both John and Paul are accurate in what they affirm, and their theologies are compatible). Still, the grace given through Jesus is greater and comes at the climax of salvation history. This is the last time “grace” is mentioned in this Gospel, however, and the law of Moses, likewise, does not feature very prominently in the narrative that follows (although cf. 7:23; 7:51).

1:18 In light of the reference to the Son being “full of grace and truth” in 1:14 and to the giving of the law through Moses in 1:17, the declaration that no one has ever seen God in 1:18 likely invokes Moses’s request in Exodus 33:18 (cf. Philip’s similar request in John 14:8) that God show him his glory, a request that God declines, “for man shall not see me and live” (Exod 33:20). By contrast, Jesus, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side,” has not only seen God and is himself God; he also “has made him known.” The striking phrase “only God” combines the characterization of the divine Word in 1:1 with the characterization of the Word-become-flesh as “glory as of the only Son from the Father” in 1:14 (a textual variant has “only Son” in 1:18, but “only God” is likely original). “At the Father’s side” is an expression of great intimacy (literally, “in the bosom of”), indicating that the Son was continually united with the Father throughout his earthly mission. That mission, in turn, is cast in terms of revelation: making God the Father known. In the climactic declaration that concludes the introduction to his Gospel, the evangelist affirms that making God known was the overriding purpose of Jesus’s ministry. Everything, his words and deeds alike, were intended to make God known and to bring him glory. In a derivative sense, making God known and bringing him glory through their lives should be the purpose of all believers. In John’s Gospel, notably, even redemption is subsumed under revelation in that the cross, apart from effecting salvation, also serves to reveal God’s love for sinful humanity.

John’s Witness and Jesus’s First Disciples (1:19–51)

1:19–21 Verses 6–8 obliquely referred to John’s witness “to the light.” Verse 15 recalled John’s witness to one who, though coming after him, outranked and preceded him. Now, the evangelist enters into the historical narrative of John’s witness to “the Jews” who “sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem” to interrogate him as to his true identity. To begin with, John clarifies who he is by a threefold denial, maintaining that he is neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, three end-time figures expected in the last days (1:19–21). While messianic expectations varied (see 7:10–52 below), it was commonly expected that God would send his Anointed One (Heb. meshiah) to unite the nation.5 Based on passages such as Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, it was also expected that God would send his messenger to prepare the way before him, a figure sometimes identified with the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who never died but was taken up to heaven (2Kgs 2:11). A third expected end-time figure was the prophet like Moses, whose coming Moses promised to the Israelites (Deut 18:15, 18). John categorically denied being any of these messianic figures.

1:22–28 The obvious question was, if John was none of these figures, then who was he? It was obvious that he appeared in an important salvation-historical capacity, administering a baptism of repentance and heralding the coming of the Messiah. Just as in the other Gospels, John identifies himself as the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” the anticipated herald of a new exodus to be effected by the one who was to come (cf. Isa 40:3). Failing to make the connection, the Pharisees’ messengers query, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (1:25). John’s answer? He baptizes with mere water, but the one coming after him would be far superior; John is not even worthy to untie the strap of that person’s sandal. All this took place in Bethany across the Jordan (note the inclusio with 10:40; this is a different Bethany than the village where Lazarus was raised from the dead and Mary anointed Jesus; cf. 11:1; 12:1).

1:29–34 Now that the forerunner has been identified, and borne initial witness, the narrative proceeds to recount the first week of Jesus’s public ministry. The evangelist makes this clear by introducing each paragraph as follows: “The next day” (1:29, 35, 43) and “On the third day” (2:1). By organizing his presentation of the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry in this way, the evangelist may be seeking to invoke parallels with creation week. If so, the message is that the first week of Jesus’s ministry is as momentous as creation week (Genesis 1; cf. John 1:1–5). The second chapter in God’s work of creation is now being written; it entails a new creation in and through Jesus (cf. 20:22).

First week of Jesus’s ministry (1:19–2:1)
“The next day” (1:29)
“The next day” (1:35)
“The next day” (1:43)
“On the third day” (2:1)

After John’s initial witness, on the next (second) day, he identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). The expression “Lamb of God” likely refers to Jesus as a sacrificial (Passover) lamb who would die a substitutionary atoning death for sinful humanity (cf. Exod 12:1–11). John also reaffirms that even though Jesus’s ministry chronologically follows his, Jesus outranks him because he existed before him (a reference to Jesus’s eternal preexistence; cf. 1:1–2). The evangelist indicates this by reiterating John’s earlier witness (1:15).

The admission “I myself did not know him” (1:31) seems puzzling at first, because John can hardly bear witness to someone whom he does not know. Also, since John and Jesus most likely were relatives, they would have known each other from an early age. Possibly, then, John here acknowledges that he learned about Jesus’s true spiritual identity as the Lamb of God only through divine revelation (see 1:32–33 below). The reference to the purpose of John’s baptism in 1:31 (namely, that Jesus “might be revealed to Israel”) continues to answer the Pharisees’ original question in 1:25: “Then why are you baptizing . . . ?” There, John simply affirmed that his baptism was with mere water and that Jesus was infinitely greater than he. Here, John adds that his own baptism is designed to disclose Jesus’s true identity to the people of Israel.

Verse 32 further clarifies what John hinted at in the verse prior: He “saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove” and remain on Jesus (cf. Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). The fact that the Spirit did not merely descend from heaven but remained on Jesus indicates Jesus’s permanent possession of the Spirit throughout his public ministry (cf. John 3:34). The one on whom the Spirit descended and remained (Jesus), in turn, would be the one who would baptize, not with mere water as John did (1:26), but with the Holy Spirit (1:33; cf. Joel 2:28–29; Acts 19:1–7). This anointing anticipates the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), which is prefigured at Jesus’s commissioning of the Twelve (John 20:22; cf. 7:39). The day ends with John’s witness that Jesus is “the Son of God” (1:34), though an important and possibly original variant has the reading “Chosen One of God.” If “Son of God” is the original reading, then John is the first among several witnesses throughout the Johannine narrative who testify that Jesus is the Son of God (a messianic title; cf. the inclusios with Nathanael’s confession at 1:49 and with the purpose statement at 20:31; see also 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4, 27; 19:7).

1:35–42 On the following day, John reiterates his witness to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (cf. the fuller description at 1:29), this time by pointing two of his disciples to Jesus, who both promptly follow him. This piece of information is unique to John’s Gospel and furnishes helpful background to the call narratives in the other Gospels, which otherwise might seem abrupt (cf. Matt 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20; Luke 5:1–11). As it turns out, Jesus did not call people to follow him on a whim; rather, many of them came prepared, having heard John’s witness. Such a referral from one rabbi to another (note that not only Jesus [1:38; cf. 3:2] but also John [cf. John 3:26] is called “rabbi”) is unattested in first-century Judaism.6

In the following interchange between Jesus and the two disciples, they ask where Jesus is staying, and he invites them to stay with him, as it was “about the tenth hour” (i.e., around 4 p.m., when preparations must be made for lodging for the night; note that the time of day was counted from sunrise at 6 a.m., so that the “tenth hour” was 6 + 10 = 16 o’clock or 4 p.m.). While “staying with Jesus” is innocuous and refers to staying overnight in Jesus’s lodgings, later in the Gospel the term “stay” (translated “remain” or “abide”) increasingly takes on spiritual overtones and refers to adhering to Jesus’s teachings and sustaining spiritual communion with him (e.g., 8:31; 15:1–10).

In 1:40, Andrew is identified as one of the two disciples; he is called “Simon Peter’s brother,” even though Peter has not yet been mentioned in the Gospel narrative, which suggests that the evangelist here assumes his readers’ familiarity with the Gospel story in general and with Peter in particular. Andrew is shown to lead his brother to Jesus by identifying Jesus as “the Messiah” (Heb. meshiah, translated into Greek as Christos; note that here, as at 1:38 above, the evangelist translates a Hebrew or Aramaic term into Greek for the benefit of his Greek-speaking readers). Jesus promptly calls Simon by the Aramaic term for “rock,” Cephas, or “Peter” (petros in Greek). This practice of renaming a person who is to fulfill an important salvation-historical role is reminiscent of similar renamings in the Old Testament, such as those of Abram, Sarai, and Jacob (Gen 17:5, 15; 32:28, respectively), and is a portent of the spiritual transformation to be wrought in Peter by Jesus. The reader is not told the identity of the second disciple (besides Andrew) whom Jesus called that day; the reader may surmise it was none other than the evangelist (i.e., John the son of Zebedee), though this is only a possible inference.

1:43–51 The following day witnesses Jesus’s summoning of additional disciples. He calls Philip to follow him, who, like Andrew and Peter, was from Bethsaida, a fishing village located at or near the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Following the pattern established by Andrew (1:40), Philip recruits Nathanael (possibly identified with the Bartholomew in the apostolic lists found in the other Gospels), referring to Jesus as the one “of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (1:45; cf. 5:45–47; 6:42). Nathanael’s skeptical response (1:46) is overcome by his personal encounter with Jesus, who says he saw him when he was under the fig tree before Philip called him (the fig tree is an Old Testament symbol for the nation of Israel [1Kgs 4:25] and has end-time connotations as well [Mic 4:4; Zech 3:10]). At this, like John the Baptist before him (cf. 1.34), Nathanael confesses Jesus as Son of God. The reference to Jesus’s prior knowledge of Nathanael likely portrays him as possessing supernatural insight. Jesus promptly promises future “greater things,” including an open heaven (a common apocalyptic symbol), with angels “ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (1:51), a clear allusion to Old Testament Jacob/Israel (Gen 28:12). “Son of Man” is Jesus’s preferred self-designation in all four Gospels, combining an affirmation of his humanity with an allusion to the mysterious figure of “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13.

Part I: Book of Signs (2:1–12:50)

John’s Gospel is evenly divided into two parts: the Book of Signs (2:1–12:50) and the Book of Exaltation (13:1–20:31). The Book of Signs narrates seven messianic signs of Jesus, performed to elicit faith among the Jews. The first three signs are found in the Cana Cycle (2:1–4:54).

Cana Cycle: Signs 1–3 (2:1–4:54)

Inaugural Sign: Jesus Turns Water into Wine (2:1–11)

2:1–5 The wedding at the Galilean village of Cana “on the third day” concludes the account of Jesus’s first week of ministry (in this regard, beginning a new chapter at 2:1 conceals the fact that 1:29–2:11 is one literary unit). At the same time, it commences the “Cana Cycle,” which depicts Jesus’s early ministry starting and ending in Cana (2:1; 4:54). At the wedding, Jesus performs “the first of his signs” (2:11). The fact that, along with Jesus, his mother and disciples were invited indicates a family occasion.7 All characters in the story except for Jesus are unnamed (even Jesus’s mother), presumably to focus all attention on Jesus. The crisis comes when the groom’s family, who hosts the wedding, runs out of wine, a major social faux pas at wedding celebrations, which often lasted an entire week. When Jesus’s mother asks him to help, he pointedly tells her that his “hour” (the time of the public unveiling of his messianic identity, resulting in his death) has not yet arrived (2:4; cf. 7:6; 12:23, 27). Undaunted, Jesus’s mother instructs the servants to do what Jesus would tell them (2:5; cf. Gen 41:55).

Large stone vessels discovered in the Nahum Avigad excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, on display at Israel museum. These jars hold less water than those described in John 2. Image courtesy of www.HolyLandPhotos.org.

2:6–11 Jesus proceeds to direct the servants to fill with water six large stone jars that were originally for the purpose of Jewish purification rites. Then he tells them to draw some out and bring it to the master of ceremonies. With fine irony, the evangelist writes that the master, recognizing the quality of the water-turned-into-wine, calls the groom to rebuke him for saving the best wine for last. Not only did Jesus miraculously turn water into wine, he also produced wine of superior quality (and lots of it: “2–3 measures” in the original Greek equals about 20–30 gallons, an exorbitant amount). At this inaugural sign (“first” means literally “beginning”; cf. 1:1), Jesus “manifested his glory” (cf. 1:14), and “his disciples believed in him” (cf. 1:12). Against the backdrop of the barrenness of contemporary Judaism, epitomized by the reference to Jewish purification rites, Jesus appears as the messianic bridegroom who comes to bring joy and restoration to Israel (cf. 3:29). The new wine bears witness to the reality that in Christ, God was doing a new and better thing (see Isa 43:19; Jer 31:31–32).

Jerusalem Sign: Jesus Clears the Temple (2:12–22)8

2:12–17 After a brief intermission in his hometown, Capernaum, with his family and first disciples (2:11; cf. Matt 4:13; Mark 2:1)—Capernaum is about sixteen miles or a day’s journey from Cana—Jesus travels to Jerusalem for Passover, which annually commemorated the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage in Egypt (Exod 12). This is the first reference to the Jewish Passover in John’s Gospel (2:12); the second has Jesus remaining in Galilee (6:4), while the third and final reference occurs at the outset of Jesus’s passion, with him again traveling to Jerusalem (11:55; 12:1; 13:1). In light of John’s reference to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (1:29, 36) and the fact that Jesus himself embodies Passover (cf. 1Cor 5:7), the reference to Passover signals that Jesus is embarking on his saving mission. Jesus’s actions denouncing the activities of the merchants and moneychangers in the temple courts are explained by Jesus’s statement at 2:16 and the evangelist’s reference to Psalm 69:10 at 2:17: Jesus’s wrath burns against the crass commercialism that prevented Gentile worship for which this area was intended; and Jesus is consumed with zeal for God’s “house,” that is, the temple (which Jesus pointedly calls his “Father’s house”; cf. Luke 2:49).

Fragment from an inscription at the second temple that threatened strangers who entered the temple courts with death. On display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

2:18–22 The Jewish authorities in charge of the temple area promptly proceed to demand a sign of Jesus’s authority (“sign” likely has a double sense, as Jesus identifies the preceding temple clearing as a messianic sign; see below). In reply, Jesus dares them to destroy “this temple” and states that he will raise it back up in three days. As the authorities perceive, literally speaking this is an obvious impossibility; the temple building (naos, in 2:19, 20, 21, in distinction from temple area, hieron, in 2:14, 15) “was built forty-six years ago” (my translation): how can Jesus raise it in a mere three days? The word “raise” (egeirō; 2:19, 20), rather than “build” (oikodomeō; 2:20), already alerts the reader that Jesus is in fact speaking about his own resurrection in three days; as the evangelist notes, Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his body” (2:21), and his disciples remembered his words and recognized the scriptural fulfillment after the resurrection had occurred (2:22; cf. 20:9). The temple clearing, then, was Jesus’s second sign, performed not in Cana but in Jerusalem (cf. 2:23; 3:2). While not miraculous as the other signs (similar to the “signs and wonders” performed by Moses at the exodus), the temple clearing fits the pattern of a prophetic sign symbolizing future divine judgment (cf. Isa 20:3; Jer 7). Jesus would come to restore God’s people and bring them joy as the messianic bridegroom coming to get his bride, while at the same time pronouncing judgment on the corrupt worship promoted by Israel’s leaders.

Model of the second temple’s size difference to modern-day mosque in Jerusalem.
On display in the tours of the tunnels underneath the temple site in Jerusalem.

Jesus and Nicodemus: The Question of Spiritual Rebirth (2:23–3:21)

2:23–25 While in our English Bibles the chapter division occurs after 2:25, the unit 2:23–25 serves both to conclude the preceding narrative (the temple clearing, 2:13–22) and to introduce the next episode, Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus (3:1–15). The reference to Passover at 2:23 constitutes a bookend with 2:13. The reference to many believing in Jesus’s name refers back to the introduction (1:12), and the reference to Jesus’s signs likely pertains to the temple clearing (2:18) and possibly other Jerusalem signs as well (cf. 3:2). “Many believed in his name . . . But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them” in the Greek constitutes a word play, indicating that while many put their trust in Jesus, he did not put his trust in them (2:24–25). This is one of many examples in this Gospel where the narrator/evangelist assumes a stance of omniscience; he knows Jesus’s heart. As the psalmist says, Yahweh “knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath” (Ps 94:11). And so, Jesus needs no one to bear witness about man, because he knows what is in man; he created man. In addition, there is also a likely connection between Jesus not needing anyone to bear witness about “man” because Jesus knew what was in “man” (2:25) and the immediately following references to a “man” of the Pharisees named Nicodemus (3:1). Thus, Nicodemus is presented as one of those “men” to whom Jesus did not entrust himself because he knew his true motives and inner disposition.

3:1–8 Nicodemus, who came to Jesus, was “a ruler of the Jews,” that is, a member of the highest Jewish court, the Sanhedrin (3:1), as well as “the teacher of Israel” (3:10). These titles show the reader Nicodemus’ high standing and position in Israel at the time. He would later urge his fellow Sanhedrin members to conduct a fair trial (7:50–51) and after the crucifixion join with Joseph of Arimathea to give Jesus a proper burial (19:39–40).

Like Jesus’s first two followers, he addresses Jesus as “rabbi,” conveying respect (3:2; cf. 1:38). He also acknowledges that Jesus is “a teacher come from God” and that God is with Jesus on account of the signs he has been performing. And yet, Jesus does not entrust himself to Nicodemus. While it was common in first-century culture to start a conversation with some opening pleasantries, Jesus cuts straight to the point and changes the topic, asserting that Nicodemus lacks regeneration (or, as Jesus puts it, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” 3:3; this and 3:5 are the only references to the “kingdom of God” in John’s Gospel). Such an assertion was sure to startle Nicodemus, as he would have assumed that as a Jew, and much more so as “the teacher of Israel,” his eternal destiny was assured. Here, the evangelist plays off of the fact that the Greek word anōthen can mean either “again” or “from above”; Nicodemus assumes Jesus meant the former (a second physical birth, a clear impossibility, 3:4), but Jesus makes clear he meant the latter: Nicodemus needed a spiritual rebirth. He also makes clear that to “see” the kingdom of God means to “enter” it, that is, be saved and go to heaven when one dies (3:5). Jesus goes on to explain that there is a difference between physical and spiritual birth, again drawing on a possible double meaning, in the present case of the word pneuma, which can mean either “spirit” or “wind.” Just like we cannot trace the movement of the wind, Jesus explains, so we cannot grasp the mystery of spiritual rebirth. For spiritual rebirth cannot be traced by man, because those born of the Spirit were not born “of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:13).

3:9–15 Incredulous, Nicodemus retorts, “How can these things be?” Jesus expresses surprise that “the teacher of Israel” does not understand such a vital spiritual truth (3:10). He goes on to contrast “our testimony” with Nicodemus and others, whereby “our” may be a trinitarian or royal plural or refer to Jesus and John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples, or an entire string of witnesses including Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and his disciples (3:11). In view of Nicodemus’s incredulity, Jesus cannot tell him “heavenly things,” such as that he, “the Son of Man,” descended from heaven and will return and ascend back into heaven (3:13; cf. 8:28; 12:32). Again, the reader finds here an unequivocal affirmation of Jesus’s eternal preexistence (cf. 1:1–2).

In a second illustration (cf. the analogy with the wind at 3:8), this time not from nature but from Scripture, Jesus adds that “the Son of Man must be lifted up” just as Moses “lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” (3:14). This refers to the narrative in Numbers 21:8 where the lives of Israelites who looked at a bronze serpent lifted up by Moses were preserved. Similarly, Jesus asserts, those who were to believe in him (i.e., look spiritually at the raised-up Son of Man) would receive eternal life and not die (John 3:15; note that “believe in him” and “have eternal life” are phrases typically used by the evangelist, so here the narrative likely transitions from Jesus’s to the evangelist’s words).

3:16–17 While Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus was specifically geared toward the “teacher of Israel” and his fellow Jews, the evangelist now extends the application of Jesus’s words to “whoever believes,” whether Jew or non-Jew. Second Temple Jews typically believed that God exclusively loved Israel, his chosen people, and that he would judge the Gentiles (cf. the famous War Scroll at Qumran). Consequently, Jews commonly believed that they were to love their fellow Jew but shun Gentiles and not associate with them. As Jesus noted, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Matt 5:43). This rejection even extended to mixed races such as Samaritans, whom the evangelist will note in the next chapter (“For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans,”  4:9). For these reasons, it would have been deeply counter-cultural to assert that Jews required spiritual regeneration to enter God’s kingdom (3:3, 5), just as it would have been revolutionary to consider that God loves all kinds of people, not only Jews but also Gentiles.

In fact, God’s love is universal. God loves all people, and to demonstrate this, he “gave his only Son” (3:16; cf. 1:14, 18; 3:18). Elsewhere in this Gospel, God the Father is said to “send” his Son; here, he is said to “give” his Son, a likely allusion to Abraham, who did not withhold Isaac, his “only son” (Gen 22:2, 12). In Abraham’s case, God himself provided a sacrificial ram; in Jesus’s case, he gave himself as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (1:29). God, in Christ, took the initiative; all that is left for humans to do is to believe in Jesus so that they will not perish in a Christless eternity but have eternal life (a synonym for “the kingdom of God” in 3:3, 5). The evangelist’s central purpose is to convey this message (20:31). John 3:17, then, states the converse of the preceding verse: God’s purpose for sending his Son was not condemnation but salvation (cf. 9:39).

3:18–21 The one who believes in Jesus is not condemned, because Jesus, as God’s sacrificial lamb, took the sins of the world upon himself. Conversely, those who refuse to believe remain in their condemned state. This teaches the important spiritual truth that all people are born sinners. We don’t become sinners merely when we sin; we sin because we’re sinners. Unbelievers don’t occupy neutral space; they subsist in a condemned state, equivalent to spiritual “death” (5:24). And there are no alternative paths to obtaining eternal life in God’s presence apart from believing in Jesus, God’s “only Son.” He is the only way; no one can come to the Father except through him (14:6).

God’s judgment consists in the fact that sinful people prefer (“love”) darkness and choose to continue to live in sin rather than coming to Jesus, “the light” (3:19; cf. 1:4–5, 8–9). Such people’s “works are evil” because their hearts are evil, sinful, and unregenerated. Not only are their works “evil,” but they also are “wicked”; and not only do they “love” the darkness, but they also “hate” the light for fear that their evil deeds be exposed and brought out into the open. Of course, such efforts to conceal one’s wicked deeds are utterly futile, for God sees everything: “[N]o creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13). Conversely, those who do “what is true” are not afraid to step into the light, for in this way it will be evident that their works were done “in God” (3:21, an unusual phrase).

John the Baptist and Jesus in Judea (3:22–36)

3:22–24 Now the scene shifts from Jerusalem, which the evangelist tells us is the site of Jesus’s clearing of the temple and conversation with Nicodemus (2:13, 23), to “the Judean countryside” (3:22). It is possible that the evangelist here hints at the fact that the early church’s mission “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) is grounded in the mission of Jesus, who moved from Jerusalem to Judea, and later would travel to Samaria (4:3–4) and subsequently go on to heal a Gentile official’s son (4:46–54). John 3:22 reads as if Jesus himself were baptizing; however, as the evangelist makes clear at 4:2, it was not Jesus who was baptizing but his disciples, . While John was previously featured as a witness to Jesus (1:6–8, 15, 29–36), here his role as baptizer is acknowledged (3:23). Aenon near Salim was likely near the Jordan River, and the reference to water being “plentiful” there makes clear that John baptized by immersion. The Johannine aside, “for John had not yet been put in prison” (3:24), presupposes his readers’ knowledge of the Gospel story, if not of one or several of the written Gospels themselves (cf. Matt 14:3; Mark 6:17).9

Modern-day picture of the Jordan River in the Judean countryside. The river has shrunk considerably in size since Jesus’s day, so that water must be pumped into it to keep it alive.

3:25–30 The reference to a dispute between a Jew and some of John’s disciples over purification (3:25; cf. 2:6) is puzzling as it seems to contribute little to the narrative. As such, the inclusion of this event is a sure indication of its originality. Also, John’s disciples point out to him (here called “rabbi”) that Jesus’s baptizing activity (but see 4:2 below) eclipses his own. Rather than take a competitive stance, however, John replies that any such success is God-given. He also refers to his previous acknowledgments that he is not the Messiah but merely his forerunner (1:20; 3:28; cf. 1:8). Jesus is the bridegroom; John is merely his friend (best man). Now that the bridegroom has appeared on the scene, John’s job is nearly done: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). John is merely a “voice” (1:23; cf. Isa 40:3); what matters is not the voice but the one to whom that voice bears witness. Similarly, believers today must realize that, rather than draw attention to themselves, they should direct people’s attention to Jesus. They must decrease, but he must increase.

3:31–36 Similar to the way in which the narrative shifts from historical narrative to the evangelist at 3:15, 3:31 transitions to the evangelist’s commentary. The language here accentuates polarities such as “from above” versus being “of the earth,” or believing versus failing to obey and remaining under God’s wrath (cf. 3:12).

At the heart of the evangelist’s message here are relationships among the persons within the Godhead, what theologians call “the eternal relations of origin”: God the Father loves the Son (3:35) and has given him a boundless measure of the Spirit (3:34). The Gospel’s sending Christology is clearly articulated as well: God sent his Son to bear witness to what he has seen and heard; furthermore, he “has given all things into his hand” (3:35). The Son’s testimony is true, just as “God is true” (3:33); yet “no one” (or at least only very few) receive his testimony (3:32). In this way, the evangelist contrasts the witness borne by Jesus, in conjunction with the Father who sent him and the Spirit who permanently rests on him, with the world’s rejection and resulting confirmation of condemnation. This is contrary to God’s primary purpose, which is one of salvation, not judgment (3:17; though those who reject Jesus bring judgment upon themselves, 9:39); but tragically, the world has lost all knowledge of its Creator (1:10).

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: The Question of True Worship (4:1–42)

4:1–6 The Pharisees’ getting wind of Jesus’s growing popularity occasions his departure from Judea to Galilee. The evangelist writes that Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria (4:4). There was, in fact, a different route many Jews traveled in order to avoid contact with Samaritans. Jesus, for his part, had no such scruples, as the ensuing narrative will shortly reveal. He is the Savior of all peoples.

The location invokes patriarchal history: it was here that Jacob gave Joseph a field (Gen 48:22 has “mountain slope”; cf. Josh 24:32); Jacob’s well was there also. Jesus, weary from his journey (underscoring his full humanity), sat down beside the well. It was around noon, the hottest part of the day.

4:7–15 At this, a Samaritan woman (who, unlike Nicodemus in the previous chapter, remains unnamed) appears at the well alone in order to draw water. Women would typically go early in the day in groups to draw water from the well. For this Samaritan woman to come alone at the hottest hour of the day hints at her undesirable status in the community. The evangelist mentions as an aside that Jesus’s disciples had gone to the nearby city (4:8; presumably Sychar, cf. 4:5) to purchase food. In an act of marvelous, humble condescension, Jesus promptly takes the initiative and asks the Samaritan for a drink. Acknowledging Jesus’s Jewishness, the Samaritan marvels at his request, in view of the fact that Jews typically avoided any association with Samaritans, whom they considered to be an unclean, impure race.10 Jesus’s condescension with the Samaritan, and his willingness to engage someone considered “unclean or impure,” reflect his heavenly condescension in taking on our flesh and engaging this impure race of Adam.

Deftly moving past the woman’s riposte, Jesus responds with a teaser: if she had known God’s gift, and Jesus’s true identity (he was so much more than a mere Jew), then she would have asked Jesus for living water in return. Thus, Jesus’s request turns out to be a mere entrée to a progressing conversation. The woman replies with incredulity and, in an instance of Johannine irony, wonders if Jesus is greater than Jacob, which in her mind would have been highly improbable (cf. 1:51). She asserts that Jacob gave her countrymen that well and adds other details (but note that none of this is recorded in the Old Testament). Again, Jesus draws a sharp contrast between well water, which is able to quench thirst only temporarily, and the living water he alone is able to give that will well up in a person to eternal life (4:14; cf. Isa 12:3). At this, the Samaritan takes the bait and plainly asks Jesus to give her that water. Like Nicodemus, the Samaritan’s mind was focused on earthly realities rather than heavenly ones.

4:16–26 Rather than comply with her request, Jesus introduces another sharp, unexpected turn in the conversation and tells the woman to call her husband. As it turns out, she has no husband, though she previously had five men (more likely than “husbands”; the Greek word can mean either); what is more, the man with whom she lives at present is not her husband. In this way, Jesus exposes the woman’s sinful life, not to shame her, but to reveal his supernatural knowledge of people’s hearts (cf. 2:24). With fine irony, then, Jesus reveals that what the woman had said was true. The woman promptly acknowledges Jesus as a prophet (he had supernatural insight), and this realization emboldens her to ask him a hotly disputed religious question (which would get the attention off of her promiscuous relationships): Where was the proper place of worship: the Jerusalem temple (cf. Ps 122) or the Samaritan sanctuary on Mount Gerizim (“this mountain,” 4:20; cf. Deut 11:29; 12:5)?

As so often throughout his ministry, Jesus transcends the disjunction, in the present case between two rival places of worship. Rather than worship in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim, he startlingly asserts, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:24). The reason is rooted in God’s very nature, for he is spirit (i.e., spiritual) and, thus, worship of him must likewise be spiritual rather than fixated on physical sanctuaries. These sanctuaries merely pointed toward something greater. This was quite obviously too advanced a theology lesson for this simple Samaritan woman, so she moves on to another live topic: the coming Messiah. She notes that the Messiah would explain everything. This was in keeping with Samaritan expectations of a teaching Messiah. Jesus had previously startled the woman with his unexpected answers, but what he says now tops it off: “I who speak to you am he” (4:26). In other words, Jesus declares explicitly that he is the Messiah! This assertion, made to a lowly Samaritan, is one of the clearest declarations of Jesus’s messianic identity in any of the Gospels.

4:27–30 At this, the conversation, which has just reached its climax, is interrupted by the return of the disciples who, as the reader remembers, had gone into town to buy food (cf. 4:8). They were surprised to see him talking to a woman in public, which was considered improper by contemporary Jews, but no one dared challenge him. The woman, for her part, leaves her water jar, thus abandoning the very purpose for which she had come to the well in the first place (cf. 4:7). As it turns out, however, the woman now has a higher purpose: to tell her fellow villagers about the man she just met: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (4:29). In contrast to Nicodemus in the previous chapter, who had been reduced to incredulous silence, the Samaritan turns into an eloquent evangelist who, despite her licentious status, brings her entire village to Jesus. Her progression in understanding Jesus’s identity is evident throughout the narrative: from “Jew” (4:9) to “prophet” (4:19) to (possibly) “the Messiah” (4:29).

4:31–38 The disciples, being more earthly-minded like the Samaritan and Nicodemus, urge Jesus to eat some of the food they bought. But Jesus refuses, referring to other “food” that he has. In an instance of Johannine misunderstanding, the disciples wonder if anyone had given Jesus something to eat. Yet Jesus promptly disabuses them of any such notion and takes the conversation to a spiritual plane: his “food” is to do the will of God. Quoting a Jewish saying,  “There are yet four months, then comes the harvest” (4:35), Jesus asserts that the time for spiritual harvest had already arrived; he was already “gathering fruit for eternal life” (4:36). Citing a second saying, “One sows and another reaps” (4:37), Jesus declares that those who have sown and those who are reaping have different roles, but in the end all rejoice together when the harvest has been brought in. The disciples are sent to reap what others have sown. Those “others” may include Old Testament prophets (among whom John the Baptist would number), as well as Jesus himself (cf. 3:11).

4:39–42 With this, the narrative returns to the Samaritans, who, in the meantime, have come to Jesus. Remarkably, many believe in Jesus on account of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did” (4:39; cf. 4:29). Jesus’s comprehensive knowledge of the woman’s past apparently served as proof of Jesus’s supernatural provenance and identity. At the Samaritans’ request, Jesus stays with them two days, again swatting aside any scruples related to their alleged uncleanness. As a result, “many more believed” (4:41), now not on account of the woman’s testimony, but on account of Jesus’s own message, which led them to conclude that Jesus was not only the Jewish Messiah but indeed “the Savior of the world” (4:42). In this, God’s purpose for giving his only Son was fulfilled, that “whoever” believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (3:16).

Another Cana Sign: Jesus Heals an Official’s Son (4:43–54)

4:43–45 After his two-day stay with the Samaritans, Jesus leaves for Galilee. In another one of his vintage parenthetical statements, the evangelist reminds the reader of a statement preserved in the earlier Gospels to the effect that “a prophet has no honor in his hometown” (4:44; cf. Matt 13:57; Mark 6:4). When Jesus arrives in Galilee, the Galileans “welcome” him, since they have seen what he has done at the Jerusalem Passover (cf. 2:23–25). Doubtless Jesus did not trust such external acclaim; as he was fully aware, appearances can be deceiving (cf. 2:23–25). Interestingly, Jesus here is called a “prophet” (cf. 1:21; 2:19; 4:19; 6:14); the reader knows that, while Jesus is a prophet, he is so much more: he is the Messiah and Son of God (1:41; 4:25–26; 20:30–31).

4:46–54 In what follows, the “Cana Cycle,” which began with Jesus’s turning water into wine at the wedding, comes full circle (4:46; cf. 2:1–11). After recounting Jesus’s interactions with Nicodemus, the Jewish teacher, and a Samaritan woman, John now narrates Jesus’s encounter with a Gentile. While Jesus is in Cana, an official residing in Capernaum comes to Jesus (a journey of about sixteen miles) and pleads with him to come with him to heal his dying son. What a moving testimony to a father’s love for his son! Similar to the first Cana sign, where Jesus initially rebuffed his own mother (2:4), Jesus’s immediate response is a disclaimer: “Unless you [people (plural)] see signs and wonders you will not believe” (4:48). In this way, he discourages clamor for miraculous manifestations not undergirded by a willingness to believe in the one performing them. Again (this time in his own words), the official urges Jesus to accompany him before it is too late and his son is dead. Startlingly, Jesus retorts, “Go; your son will live” (4:50). Putting previous characters such as Nicodemus to shame, the man believes Jesus’s word and is promptly on his way. In this demonstration of active faith, he serves as an example of one who trusts the veracity of Jesus’s message. Confirmation comes when the official is met by his servants on his way back. When asked at what time the son had begun to recover, they tell him 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the exact time Jesus had declared that the official’s son would live. At this, not only the official, but also his entire household believe (believing households will later be a prominent theme in Acts). This was the second Cana sign, concluding the period of Jesus’s early ministry bookended by messianic signs in this small Galilean village.

Festival Cycle: Signs 4–6 (5:1–10:42)

The next unit in John’s Gospel is commonly called the “Festival Cycle,” as it shows Jesus attending a series of Jewish feasts: an unnamed festival (“a feast of the Jews,” 5:1), Passover (“the feast of the Jews,” 6:4), Tabernacles (“the Jews’ Feast of Booths,” 7:2), and the Feast of Dedication (10:22). In each case, these festivals furnish the stage for Jesus’s messianic activities.11

Jerusalem Sign: Jesus Heals an Invalid on the Sabbath (5:1–47)

5:1–9a The scene of Jesus’s first messianic sign featured in the Festival Cycle (and fourth sign to this point in John’s Gospel) is the pool of Bethesda, located by the Sheep Gate in the capital city of Jerusalem. This pool had become a gathering place of various invalids, whether blind, lame, or paralyzed.12 The narrative focuses on one man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. The length of time of the man’s predicament underscores the wonder of the ensuing miracle (it may also allude to Israel’s years in the wilderness; Deut 2:14). Again, Jesus shows supernatural insight, perceiving the man had been there for a long time. He asks the man if he wants to be healed. The man doesn’t respond in the affirmative (though the reader can assume he does) and instead focuses on the immediate problem: he has no one to help him into the pool when the water is stirred, and so by the time he gets there, someone else has already beaten him to the punch. Notice that the man’s mind is set on superstition. He believes the pool contains special water, and when stirring, it confers healing on a first-come, first-served basis. Jesus sidesteps his superstitions and simply tells the man to get up, take his mat (simple portable bedding), and walk. Jesus’s authority is displayed in that natural means such as the water in the pool are completely bypassed; the Word of God heals the man by his mere word. Sure enough, the man is healed. Not having walked for thirty-eight long years, he picks up his mat and walks away.

The Pool of Bethesda today in Jerusalem

5:9b–16 After telling the amazing account of a long-time invalid’s healing by Jesus, the evangelist reveals one important detail he withheld for rhetorical effect: the healing took place on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, when no work was to be done.13 This inclusion appears to implicate Jesus in a breach of God’s ordained creation rest for his people as stipulated in the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:8–11; Deut 5:12–15); however, the “law-observing Jews” who were incensed at Jesus healing on the Sabbath were not truly law-observant, as is revealed in Jesus’s rebuke of them in other places. They were adding Sabbath stipulations that were not biblically grounded and charging Jesus with breaking those stipulations, so, in reality, Jesus never broke the Sabbath, despite the Pharisees’ claims that he did. For them, the healing miracle posed a theological dilemma: while healing a man who had been lame for such a long time was certainly a remarkable act of benevolence (to say the least), could one who, in so doing, broke the Sabbath be anything but a lawbreaker? This surely, at least to law-observing Jews, seemed to be a disqualifying factor. At this, the Sabbath police promptly spring into action. Notice, however, that no one accuses Jesus directly; rather, they take issue with the man who, after having been healed, took up his mat.

While this may seem like a myopic reaction over a trivial detail, man-made Jewish Sabbath rules in the first century, as mentioned above, were stringent indeed. Carrying an object from one domain to another was considered an egregious violation of the prohibition of doing any work on the Jewish day of rest.  Rather than defending himself, however, the ungrateful man promptly passes the blame onto Jesus. When asked where Jesus is, the man says he doesn’t know (nor does he seem to care). Later, however, Jesus encounters the man again in the temple area. He admonishes him to sin no more, lest something worse happen to him, which seems to imply that the man’s suffering was the result of a transgression against God. No response on the part of the former invalid is recorded; instead, he promptly reports Jesus to the authorities who had previously asked him who his benefactor was (cf. 5:12). In yet another inclusio, the evangelist concludes this portion of the narrative by noting that the reason Jesus was persecuted was that he did these things on the Sabbath (5:16; cf. 5:9b).

5:17–24 In what follows, the account of the invalid’s healing becomes a referendum on Jesus’s true identity and his claim of a unique filial relationship with God. To counter the idea that nothing ever happened on the Sabbath, Jesus declares that his Father continues to be at work and that he, too, is working. Thus Jesus, strikingly yet unmistakably, puts himself on par with the Creator. In other words, healing on a Sabbath was permissible, as it was part of God’s ongoing activity. While such an act violated man-made Jewish Sabbath rules that were added later, it did not militate against God’s true original purpose for the Sabbath. After all, God must uphold the universe even on the Sabbath, or it would utterly disintegrate. Jesus’s implicit claim to deity is not lost on the Jewish authorities, who are at once resolved to kill him on account of blasphemy (which was punishable by stoning, cf. Lev 24:13–16). As if it wasn’t enough for Jesus to heal a man (and tell him to pick up his mat to boot) and thus appear to break the Sabbath (though in fact he only violated man-made stipulations added much later), he added insult to injury (or so the Jewish leaders surmised) by “calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God” (5:18; cf. 10:33). In this way, the evangelist makes clear that the true reason why Jesus was hated and subsequently killed by the Jewish authorities (as sanctioned by the Roman overlords) was his claim to deity (cf. 1:1, 18; 19:7; 20:28).

In what follows, Jesus rubs further salt into the Jewish leaders’ wounds, asserting that he does nothing other than what he learned from his Father. A son learning the craft of his father (such as carpentry) was a familiar part of Jewish life (cf. Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3); the same, Jesus maintained, was the case with his mission from the Father. Because the Father loves the Son, he discloses everything to him; in fact, Jesus would perform even greater works than healing an invalid: he would raise the dead, and people would be astonished (cf. 11:1–44). Just as the Father, the Creator, gives life, so he granted Jesus the authority to give life. He also delegated all judgment to the Son. Invoking the Jewish messenger principle (shaliach), Jesus asserts that anyone who does not honor him does not honor the Father, for he is his authorized messenger, just as a Jewish man might send his son, particularly his firstborn, on an important errand or mission (cf. Matt 21:37; Mark 12:6; Luke 20:13). Anyone who hears Jesus’s words and believes in his identification with the Father has eternal life and does not come into judgment. These are truly authoritative words by the one who was divinely sent and himself possessed divine authority. The Jews questioned how Jesus could be identified so closely with God the Father and yet not violate Jewish monotheism (the belief in one, and only one, God). This was a theological dilemma the Jewish authorities were simply not able to solve; instead, they accused Jesus of blasphemy and resolved to kill him.

5:25–29 Jesus’s solemn announcement that a time would come when the dead would hear his voice, the voice of the Son of God, and be raised to eternal life is striking enough; it refers to the final day after Jesus’s return when believers will be raised with a new resurrection body to spend eternity with him in heaven. What is even more amazing is that Jesus here announces not only that the time would come one day in the future but that the hour “is now here” (5:25; most likely, this anticipates the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11). Scholars call this emphasis on the “already” of Jesus’s coming his “realized eschatology” (i.e., teaching on end-time events). What is more, not only does Jesus have authority to give life, but he also has life in himself (5:26; cf. 1:4; 5:21). John 5:27 reiterates Jesus’s proclamation at 5:22 that God has delegated the authority to execute judgment in himself. One day the tombs will be opened (in Lazarus’s case, this would happen very soon), and on that final day believers will be raised to eternal life while unbelievers will be raised to face judgment. This is a sober reality unbelievers will do well to consider, for when they die one day, it will be too late (Heb 9:28).

5:30–40 Jesus continues to enunciate his perfect union with the Father in judgment as in all other things. When executing judgment, he seeks not his own will but that of his Father. At this, he turns to the legitimation of his own authority, acknowledging that self-witness is not legally recognized as valid in view of the Jewish requirement of a minimum of two or three witnesses (Deut 17:6; 19:15; see the more extended discussion at John 8:13–18). But Jesus has other witnesses. To begin with, John (the Baptist) has borne witness concerning him (5:32–35; cf. 1:6–8, 15, 19–36; 3:27–30). Earlier, John called himself the best man (3:29); here, Jesus calls him “a lamp” that burnt and shone for a while (5:35), pointing to Jesus, the light of the world (8:12; 9:5; cf. 1:9). While John administered a baptism of repentance, what is even more important for the evangelist is that he bore witness to Jesus along with a series of other witnesses. In addition, Jesus’s own works bear witness to him (5:36), as do the Father (5:37–38) and the Scriptures (5:39–40). People search the Scriptures in vain while refusing to believe in Jesus; it is not Bible study itself that confers eternal life but only faith in him to whom the Bible points, the God-sent Son (5:39).

Witnesses to Jesus (5:30–47)
Jesus himself (5:30–31)
John (the Baptist) (5:32–35)
Jesus’s works (5:36)
The Father (5:37–38)
The Scriptures (5:39–40)
Moses (5:45–47)

5:41–47 Jesus concludes with a scathing indictment of the Jewish leaders by contrasting himself with them (cf. Matt 23). They love to be praised by others; he accepts praise only from the Father. The Father loves him, but they, despite their claims to the contrary, don’t truly love God. He came in his Father’s name and they rejected him; if anyone were to come in his own name, they would receive him. In fact, it will be impossible for those who care about only the praise of others to believe in Jesus. And yet, it is not the Father who accuses the Jewish leaders but Moses; ironically, while they claim to be his disciples (9:28–29), Moses turns out to be their accuser, for he wrote about Jesus, yet they don’t believe in him. If people don’t believe Moses, how can they believe Jesus’s words? Earlier in this Gospel, Philip told Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (1:45). In Luke’s Gospel, following the resurrection, Jesus told two disciples on the road to Emmaus (a village near Jerusalem), “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” what the Scriptures said about the coming Messiah (Luke 24:27; cf. Luke 16:31; 24:44). Possible specific Messianic passages include those regarding a ruler from Judah (Gen 49:10), the star out of Jacob (Num 24:17), and the prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15, 18).

Galilean Sign: Jesus Feeds the Multitude at Passover (6:1–66)

6:1–4 The evangelist’s setting of the scene at the beginning of chapter 6 is a bit puzzling. We’re told that Jesus departed for “the other side” of the Sea of Galilee, or the Sea of Tiberias, as that large lake had begun to be called after the largest town, Tiberias, on its shores (on the west side; named after the Roman emperor Tiberius, who reigned AD 14–37; cf. 21:1). This seems to imply that Jesus had previously been on the other side of the Sea of Galilee; however, the events of the previous chapter took place in Jerusalem (5:2). Thus, what likely occurred is that Jesus, in the meantime, traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee, and then crossed over from one side of the lake to the other. This is not the only time when movement is implied rather than narrated in this Gospel; at 14:31, for example, we read that Jesus summons his disciples to leave the Upper Room, but no movement is recorded for three more chapters until we find Jesus and his followers crossing the Kidron Valley at 18:1. In any case, it is apparent that the evangelist is highly selective in what he records; at least an entire year has already passed since the last Passover recorded in this Gospel (cf. 2:13, 23).

Unlike the last time, when Jesus celebrated Passover in Jerusalem, he spends Passover in Galilee at the present occasion (6:4). Again, the reader will do well to remember that the present narrative is part of the Johannine Festival Cycle, which previously featured Jesus in Jerusalem at an unnamed festival (5:1) and now finds him in Jerusalem at Passover, the middle of three Passovers recorded in this Gospel (cf. 2:13, 23 and 11:55; 12:1). Not only does this present Jesus as a devout Jew, but it also makes clear that he used Jewish festivals to reveal himself as the one who epitomized the deepest essence these various feasts were meant to represent. The reference to the throngs of people who had witnessed the previous signs he had performed on the sick (6:2) is likely to healings such as that of the invalid in chapter 5, and others not recorded in John’s Gospel. Jesus ascending a mountain (it is unclear which one) and sitting down with his disciples is reminiscent of the description of the setting of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (6:3; cf. Matt 5:1).

6:5–15 The ensuing feeding of the 5,000 men (plus women and children) is one of the rare events to be recorded in all four Gospels (cf. Matt 14:13–21; Mark 6:32–44; Luke 9:10b–17). In this miracle, which is also another Johannine sign (the second one in the Festival Cycle and fifth overall; cf. 6:30), Jesus involves several of his disciples (not heard from since 4:31), Philip and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother (6:5–8; cf. 1:40–46; 12:21–22). Most likely, Jesus’s purpose was to strengthen their faith in him and to train them for their own work after his departure (cf. 6:6). In so doing, Jesus elicits from Philip the acknowledgment that feeding such a large multitude would be terribly expensive, exceeding 200 denarii, an entire year’s wages (6:7; a denarius was a day’s wage, and no work was done on Sabbaths and other sacred days). Andrew draws Jesus’s attention to a young boy with five barley loaves of bread and two fish, but how can five loaves and two fish feed 5,000 people (actually, more, since it was 5,000 men)?

A hill on the Sea of Galilee

Undaunted, Jesus tells the disciples to have the people sit down. The men alone numbered 5,000, so, including women and children, their total number would have been considerably larger. Next, Jesus offers the customary prayer of thanksgiving for the meal (6:11; cf. 6:23) and then passes the food around to the people, no doubt involving the disciples in the process. Everyone eats as much as they want (6:11). After the meal, Jesus has his followers gather the leftovers, twelve basketsful of pieces of bread. This marvelous messianic manifestation convinces the crowd that Jesus is “indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14), a likely reference to the prophet like Moses whose arrival the Jewish people were anticipating (Deut 18:15, 18; cf. John 5:46–47). Jesus perceives that they are going to take him by force and make him their king, but he eludes their grasp (6:15; the reference here to his withdrawal to “the mountain” constitutes another inclusio with 6:3).

6:16–21 Jesus’s walking on the water is also included in two earlier Gospels (Matt 14:22–32; Mark 6:45–51). The linkage between the feeding of the 5,000 and his walking on the water in three Gospels attests to their historicity against any skeptical claims made to the contrary. In the evening, the disciples, without Jesus, go down to the lake, get on a boat, and set off across the lake to Capernaum, which is located on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, near the northern tip (thus they had likely been on the eastern side previously, cf. 6:1). In the other Gospels, Capernaum is called Jesus’s “own city” where he was “at home” (Matt 9:1; cf. Mark 2:1; 3:20), so Jesus was no doubt very familiar with this area. Darkness sets in, and Jesus is still not with the disciples. The lake (called “sea” because the lake is very large) is getting rough due to strong, evening winds, winds for which the Sea of Galilee is known to this day.

After rowing for three to four miles (a considerable distance in rough conditions, rowing against the wind, cf. Matt 14:24; Mark 6:48), they make out Jesus calmly walking on the water and approaching the boat and are mortified. After some reassuring words from Jesus—“It is I; do not be afraid”—they take him into their boat (Matthew tells us they exclaimed, “It is a ghost!” Matt 14:26; cf. Mark 6:49). As if one miracle (Jesus walking on water) is not enough, a second one follows: the moment Jesus gets into the boat, it is at the shore where they were headed. In the Old Testament, God is identified as the one who “treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8 NIV). Elsewhere, it says about God, “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (Ps 107:29–30 NIV). In addition, Jesus’s words to the disciples, “It is I; do not be afraid,” in the Greek original (egō eimi) invoke the Old Testament name of God: “I I AM has sent me to you” (Exod 3:14; cf. Isa 44:6, 8; 45:5, 6, 18, 21, 22; 46:9). This, therefore, is yet another instance in this Gospel of Jesus being unequivocally identified as God.

6:22–29 The next day, the crowd realizes Jesus is no longer at the place where he had fed the multitude, nor are his disciples. So they set out by boat for Capernaum (presumably they knew it was his hometown) in search of Jesus (note that some of those people had apparently followed Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, cf. 6:2). Upon tracking Jesus down, they ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Ignoring their question, Jesus responds, reprimanding them, that they were looking for him not because they saw a messianic sign of Jesus but simply because they had eaten their fill of bread (6:26). Again, Jesus is shown to discern people’s motives with penetrating insight (cf. 2:23–25). There is another kind of food, Jesus tells the crowd, which he will give them, food that does not perish but abides unto eternal life. Similarly, Jesus previously revealed to his disciples that his “food” was to do the will of the Father (4:34). Picking up on Jesus’s instruction that they “work . . . for the food that endures to eternal life (6:27),” the crowd queries, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (6:28). They still think they have to work to obtain eternal life, but Jesus replies in marvelous simplicity, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (6:29, emphasis added). In other words, the only “work” required to receive eternal life is to believe in Jesus (cf. Eph 2:8–9). This is a strong repudiation of the works-righteousness that some, if not many, first-century Jews had embraced (e.g., Rom 10:3; Phil 3:9). What is more, quite possibly the phrase “work of God” here conveys a subtle double meaning: what is required is not work for God, but a work of God, for, ultimately, even belief in his Son is wrought by God (cf. 1:12; 6:44).

6:30–34 Just a short while ago, Jesus had told the crowd that they hadn’t come looking for him because of the signs they had seen. Now they ask Jesus for a legitimating sign that can warrant their belief in him: “Then what sign do you do that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (6:30). Their question makes clear that Jesus’s instruction that salvation (eternal life) is not earned by performing any works has utterly eluded them. Also, Jesus had already performed an incredible sign when he fed the 5,000, so why are they asking him for another sign? If they were sincere about needing a sign in order to believe, then they would have believed on account of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. Their present demand reveals their insincerity and unbelief. Similarly, we may witness to an unbeliever today, and cite multiple pieces of evidence supporting the veracity of Christianity, yet rather than believe, they may instead ask for ever-more evidence to back our claims.

When is enough enough? How much evidence does one need to believe? This is the question lingering in the background of the entire Book of Signs. In fact, the more evidence one is presented with, the more judgment is upon them for rejecting it. Throughout the first half of his Gospel, the evangelist contends that Jesus furnished more than enough evidence to support his claim that he is the Messiah and Son of God. He performed a series of seven startling signs, culminating in the raising of Lazarus (11:1–44). If people are not prepared to believe in view of such overwhelming evidence, what more can be done for them? The evangelist will answer this question in the conclusion to the Book of Signs (12:36b–41). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus concludes the story of the rich man and Lazarus as follows: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Ultimately, people did not believe because they could not believe (John 12:39). As Jesus told the Jewish leaders, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (John 10:26; cf. 17:6).

The crowd specifies the gold standard for the kind of sign they are demanding from Jesus: Moses’s provision of manna for the Israelites in the wilderness during the exodus. In support, they cite Psalm 78:24: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (cf. Exod 16:4, 15). What the people fail to mention is that their ancestors did not welcome the manna with open arms; rather, they complained about it (Num 11:1–9). For their part, the crowd had set up a competition between Moses and Jesus. Can Jesus measure up? In response, Jesus begins by clarifying that it was not Moses who supplied the manna but his Father. What is more, the Father is about to give them “the true bread from heaven,” namely Jesus himself, the one who would nourish people’s eternal hunger and quench their perennial thirst. He is the one who descended from heaven and gives life to the world (6:33; cf. 3:13; 8:28; 12:32). Similar to the Samaritan before them, the crowd responds, “Sir, give us this bread always” (6:34; cf. 4:15).

6:35–40 Jesus responds with one of his vintage “I am” statements: “I am the bread of life.” In his very own essence, he is life-giving, as symbolized by bread. He alone is able to meet our need for eternal sustenance. Later, Jesus would tell Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). Here we encounter the converse: people who have seen yet fail to believe (6:36). Striking a note of divine election and predestination, Jesus goes on to affirm that all those whom the Father gives to him will come to him (cf. 17:6–19), and whoever comes to him, he will most emphatically receive (the import of the double negative, “never cast out”). Sometimes people wonder if God or Jesus will reject them when they want to come to him. Here is their answer: an emphatic “no.” To the contrary, God, in his great love, longs for sinners to come to him and has sent Jesus, his only Son, to give his life for them (3:16). To “come” to Jesus and to “believe” in him are virtual synonyms. Jesus proceeds to declare that his will is perfectly aligned with that of the Father (again affirming that he came down from heaven); this is in keeping with the Jewish messenger principle that a messenger represents not his own interests but those of the one who sent him.14 And the Father’s will is this: that Jesus lose no one the Father has given him (epitomized in the gathering of leftovers at the feeding of the 5,000; cf. 6:12–13); that Jesus raise him (the believer) up on the last day (6:39, 40, 44; cf. 5:19–29); and that everyone who believes in Jesus should have eternal life.

6:41–51 Jesus’s mini-monologue in 6:35–40 is met with characteristic grumbling, which evokes reminiscences of wilderness Israel. Jesus’s contemporaries are no different from their Jewish forebears. Just like the wilderness generation grumbled about Moses, so Jesus’s contemporaries grumble about him (6:41, 43; cf. Exod 16:2; Num 14:2). And just like the Israelites in the wilderness complained about the manna in unbelief, so Jesus’s Jewish contemporaries reject the “bread of heaven” in unbelief. In fact, they take issue with Jesus’s declaration that he came down from heaven, saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (6:42). Essentially they are asking, “How can Jesus assert heavenly origin and descent?” The astute reader, however, will notice that while Jesus’s contemporaries may have known his mother, and his human adoptive father, they did not know his true Father, the one who sent him from heaven on his earthly mission. John has prepared his readership for this objection by beginning his Gospel not with Jesus’s birth story, but with his preexistence with the Father in eternity (cf. 1:1–5). Regarding those who grumble, Jesus reiterates that it is impossible for anyone to come to him unless the Father draws him (6:44; cf. 6:37; 12:32). This is a wonderful gospel truth: rather than people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, or coming to God on their own merit or initiative, God draws them to himself.

Jesus goes on to cite a passage in the Prophets: “And they will all be taught by God” (6:45; cf. Isa 54:13). With Jesus’s arrival, this day has now arrived. Thus, everyone who has learned from the Father comes to Jesus. Of course, Jesus is the only one who has actually seen the Father, as he came from him (cf. 1:18). Jesus reiterates that whoever believes him has eternal life, as he is the life-giving bread akin to the manna in the wilderness, yet infinitely greater. The wilderness generation ate the manna and still died; believers in Jesus will partake of him and not die but live forever (6:50–51). That is, they will die physically but be raised to eternal life at Jesus’s return. In fact, they have eternal life already in the here and now (e.g., 1Jn 5:12–13). Jesus is the embodiment of the heavenly bread. He came down from heaven in his incarnation to bring eternal life to all who believe in him. He is the “living bread,” just like he gives “living water” (6:51; cf. 4:10). Jesus closes his present declaration with another startling claim: “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

6:52–59 Jesus’s teaching in 6:43–51, culminating in his stunning declaration that the bread he will give for the life of the world is his flesh, leaves his Jewish contemporaries utterly perplexed: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52). This is another instance of misunderstanding in John’s Gospel, an occasion where people take literally something that is meant figuratively. In the present case, of course, Jesus is hardly espousing cannibalism, the literal eating of another person’s flesh (the early Christians were, however, accused by some of their pagan contemporaries of cannibalism because they celebrated the Lord’s Supper at which they “ate” Jesus’s body and “drank” his blood). In a figurative sense, though, it is true that believers in Jesus spiritually partake of his body and blood, that is, put their faith in him as their life-giving crucified and risen Savior and Lord.

Rather than backing down, Jesus presses the point further by maintaining that unless people “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” they have no life in themselves (6:53, implying that they are currently spiritually dead). Those who do “feed” on Jesus’s flesh (trōgō, a stronger word than “eat” in 6:53) and drink his blood have eternal life, and Jesus will raise them up on the last day (6:54; cf. 6:39, 40, 44). Jesus’s flesh is true (i.e., real, spiritual) food, and his blood is true drink. Those who partake of his flesh and blood enter into spiritual union with him (by the agency of the Holy Spirit, as he will explain later; cf. 14:17–18). Just as the living Father sent the living Jesus, believers in Jesus will live on account of their spiritual union with him entered into by faith. Jesus’s words at 6:58 reiterate his similar affirmation at 6:49–50.

With this, Jesus’s teaching about the bread of life comes to a close. Only here does the evangelist mention that Jesus taught these things in the synagogue at Capernaum (6:59, an inclusio with 6:17), though it is not entirely clear when the scene transitions from the lakeshore to the synagogue (perhaps at 6:35?). It is sometimes asked whether Jesus’s teaching here pertains to the Lord’s Supper. Answering this question calls for nuance and discernment. On a historical level, when Jesus spoke these words, he had not yet instituted the Lord’s Supper (though he certainly knew he was going to do so prior to his death). On the other hand, by the time the evangelist wrote his Gospel, Christians had been celebrating the Lord’s Supper for half a century. So it seems best to say that the passage is not in the first place about the Lord’s Supper (after all, Jesus speaks of his “flesh,” not his “body,” as at the institution of the Lord’s Supper), though, at the same time, it is hard not to hear overtones of the Lord’s Supper in Jesus’s teaching. Arguably, Jesus’s language here cannot be legitimately used in support of his “real presence” in the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

Remains from the synagogue in Capernaum

6:60–72 Even many of Jesus’s disciples (not just the crowd) find it hard to swallow Jesus’s teaching (pun intended). Jesus knows that his disciples are grumbling (again, this alludes to the wilderness generation) and taking offense at his words. What will they say when Jesus (who descended from heaven as the life-giving bread) ascends back to heaven from where he came? The Spirit is life-giving; the flesh profits nothing. Jesus’s words convey spiritual realities and cannot be understood on a mere natural plane. This was his listeners’ problem: they were not sufficiently spiritually minded but interpreted his statements merely in an earthly sense. Jesus’s words, understood properly, are spiritual and life-giving. He knows that not all, even among his disciples, believe in him. The evangelist makes clear that this pertains foremost to the betrayer, Judas Iscariot (6:64–67; cf. 6:70–71). Yet rather than having misjudged Judas’s character, the evangelist underscores that Jesus is fully aware of Judas’s unbelieving state. Jesus’s statement at 6:65 harks back to 6:44.

Thus, “many” (not just a few) even of Jesus’s “disciples” (not merely the crowd) departed from following him. Jesus’s teaching on the “bread of life” thus turns out to be a pivotal moment in his ministry and in this Gospel. Turning to the Twelve, Jesus asks them, “Do you want to go away as well?” (6:67). Similar to his confession at Caesarea Philippi recorded in the earlier Gospels, Simon Peter affirms their confident faith in Jesus, confessing him to be “the Holy One of God” (6:69). Jesus at once attributes Peter’s confession to the election of the Twelve, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, who in due course would betray him (6:70–71; cf. 12:4–8; 13:2, 21–30).

Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1–52; 8:12–59)

7:1–9 Jesus remained in Galilee, as the Jewish authorities in Judea were wanting to kill him. At the temple clearing, they had pointedly challenged his authority (2:18). At the healing of the invalid, they had charged Jesus with violating the Sabbath and started persecuting him (5:16). What is more, they “were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18). Continuing to track Jesus’s appearances at various Jewish festivals, the evangelist next provides an account of Jesus’s attendance of the Feast of Booths (also called Tabernacles or Sukkot) in Jerusalem, which is celebrated in the fall (September or October) and commemorated Israel’s journey in the wilderness (Lev 23:42–43; cf. Exod 23:16; 34:22).

The Festival Cycle (John 5–7)
Unnamed feast in Jerusalem (5:1)
Passover in Galilee (6:4)
Tabernacles in Jerusalem (7:2)

The account opens with a reference to the unbelief of Jesus’s brothers who urge him to go to the festival to show himself to the world in a public display of his miracle-working power (7:3–5). Just like Jesus told his mother at the Cana wedding, his time to reveal himself publicly as Messiah has not yet come (7:6; cf. 2:4). He knows that if he continues to perform his works in public, he will likely get killed before his time. He is also aware that the world hates him because he testifies that its works are evil (7:7; cf. 3:19–21). Notably, the world includes the Jews, God’s chosen people, who are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from the world that languishes in moral and spiritual darkness and ignorance of God (cf. 1:10–11). Jesus’s brothers, on the other hand, have no such constraints; they can go to the festival any time they want, and are not the target of the world’s hatred (7:6–7). They should go up to Jerusalem to the feast; Jesus would stay in Galilee, at least for now (7:8–9).15

7:10–13 Sometime after his brothers’ departure, Jesus travels to Jerusalem as well, yet does so privately, with no fanfare. Again, this is similar to his discrete working behind the scenes at the Cana wedding. Contrary to his brothers’ assumptions, Jesus does not want to make a name for himself. In the remainder of the chapter, the evangelist skillfully gives the reader a glimpse of the diverse opinions regarding Jesus. Reading his account, one almost feels like he/she is mingling with the crowd and overhearing people’s comments regarding Jesus. “Where is he?” some ask. Clearly, people expect to see him among the pilgrims who have made the trek to Jerusalem for Tabernacles, one of the three pilgrimage festivals. Yet opinions regarding Jesus differ sharply and range from him being a good man to him leading the people astray (this later became standard Jewish opinion: Jesus was a deceiver who sought to sway the masses; cf. b. Sanh. 43a). Yet no one spoke openly about Jesus for fear of the Jewish authorities (the Sanhedrin).

Modern-day Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives

7:14–24 Halfway through the feast (which lasts seven or eight days, hence, on the third or fourth day), Jesus went to the temple area and started teaching there publicly. Recognizing Jesus’s erudition, yet aware of his lack of formal rabbinic training, the Jewish people ask in fine Johannine irony, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” (7:15; cf. Luke 2:47; Acts 4:13). Just like today someone can have deep insight into the Scriptures without ever having been to seminary, so Jesus’s intimate knowledge of the Father far outshone any official scribal expertise. Jesus promptly retorts that his teaching is not his own but that of his Father (7:16; cf. 5:19). Anyone prepared to do God’s bidding will know whether Jesus is speaking on his own authority or from God. This is a tremendous promise for anyone in any age who wonders whether Jesus’s teaching is merely his own. There is a self-attesting truth quality to Jesus’s words that validates their divine origin. Again, Jesus underscores that he is pursuing the interests of the one who sent him.

Moving from defense to offense, Jesus pointedly asks, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” (7:19; here Jesus abruptly changes the topic; it will shortly become clear why he raises the issue of the Mosaic law). The reader is reminded of Jesus’s initial caution at the outset of traveling to Jerusalem for the festival (7:1). Jesus’s opponents, in deep Johannine irony, promptly accuse him of being demon-possessed (cf. Matt 12:24; Mark 3:22). Yet Jesus aligns himself with Moses (John 7:19; cf. 5:45–47), rebuffing the Jewish authorities’ claim that they are the representatives of Moses and guardians of the law. They, Jesus insists, are the true lawbreakers, not he (cf. 5:16). And they have no grounds to kill him; all he has done is teach the truth and heal those who approached him for help. At this point, Jesus resumes the argument that had arisen when he healed the invalid: he did one work on the Sabbath (7:21–22; cf. 5:9b); the Jews themselves regularly circumcise a small part of a boy’s body on the Sabbath. How can they fault Jesus for making a man’s entire body well? Touché.

7:25–36 Some inhabitants of Jerusalem ask, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill?” confirming Jesus’s earlier assertion that drew the charge of demon possession (7:25; cf. 7:19–20). They wonder if the fact that Jesus is teaching openly without any of the authorities laying hands on him suggests that they’ve concluded he is indeed the Messiah (cf. 18:19–21). What makes them hesitate, however, is that they know Jesus’s background, and when the Messiah comes, he will be of mysterious origin (perhaps the enigmatic figure of Daniel 7:13?). Again, we see here that first-century Palestinian Jews held to diverse—and at times conflicting—messianic expectations. Jesus responds, “You know me, and you know where I come from.” This may be thinly veiled sarcasm or a question. In fact, the Father sent Jesus, and him his Jewish opponents do not know; quite an indictment! Matter-of-factly, Jesus asserts, “I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me” (7:29).

Again, the authorities try to arrest Jesus but are unsuccessful, as his time has not yet come (7:30; cf. 2:4; 7:6). Many of the common people, however, believe in him on account of his many signs. Jesus’s growing appeal adds drama and suspense to the escalating plot, so much so that the chief priests and Pharisees send officers to take him into custody. Jesus ominously hints that he will only be present a little while longer; after this, he will go to a place where people cannot come. Again, people are confused, asking where Jesus could possibly go where he cannot be found: will he go into the Diaspora (dispersion) across the Mediterranean where many of the Jews are scattered and teach the Greeks (i.e., Gentiles)? They simply cannot understand what Jesus is saying because he is uttering spiritual truths, while they lack any spiritual understanding and interpret Jesus’s words merely on a human, earthly plane.

7:37–39 At 7:14, the evangelist featured Jesus at “the middle of the feast”; now he moves on to “the last day of the feast, the great day” (Tabernacles lasted an entire week; see the introduction to chapter 7 above). At this climactic moment, Jesus cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (7:37–38). Earlier, Jesus offered the Samaritan woman living water (4:15). He also urged people to “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” so that they might have eternal life (6:53). Here, he issues a universal call for people to come to him and drink, spiritually speaking, to quench their thirst for eternal life. This is in keeping with Isaianic language (Isa 55:1) and identifies Jesus as the source of all life (cf. John 1:3–4; 5:21). What is more, those who come to Jesus will themselves be a source of life for others (it is unclear which Scripture is in view here). As the evangelist explains, this promise refers to the Spirit, who would be given subsequent to Jesus’s glorification.

7:40–52 Jesus’s words don’t fail to make an impact. Upon hearing them, some at the feast surmise he is the Prophet (7:40; cf. 1:21; 6:14); others think he is the Messiah (7:41). Yet others object that Jesus is from Galilee, but the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem in the province of Judea, the city of David. This, of course, is another instance of Johannine misunderstanding, as it reveals people’s ignorance of Jesus’s Bethlehem birth (Matt 2:1–6; Luke 2:4–12; cf. Mic 5:2). So opinion is divided. For the third time in the chapter, futile attempts are made to arrest Jesus (7:44; cf. 7:30, 32).

At this, the chief priests and Pharisees are exasperated. “Why did you not bring him?” they ask the guards (7:45). Yet they reply, “No one ever spoke like this man” (7:46). Even the arresting officers have been captivated by Jesus. The Pharisees promptly hurl verbal abuse at the guards: “Have you also been deceived?” (7:47; cf. 7:12: “he is leading the people astray”). They ask whether any of the authorities or Pharisees have believed in him. Nicodemus is a possible candidate who is more open-minded than other, more hardened members of the Sanhedrin (see also 12:42: “many even of the authorities believed in him”; 19:38–39).

Throughout the chapter, the evangelist skillfully highlights that many of the common people believe in him (e.g., 7:31), while the Jewish authorities are hardened in their opposition and full of contempt for “the people of the land”: “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (7:49). Even Nicodemus, one of their own, admonishes them to fairness: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing?” (7:51). So they hurl abuse at him as well for standing up for a Galilean prophet (7:52; cf. 1:46: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), since no prophet has ever arisen from Galilee (yet note that Jonah was likely Galilean).16

8:12–20 After the brief glimpse of a Sanhedrin emergency meeting at 7:45–52, the narrative resumes with Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles. On the last day of the feast, Jesus identified himself as the source of life-giving water, an emblem of the Spirit who would be given after Jesus was glorified (cf. Ezek 36:26–27). Now, Jesus asserts that he is the light of the world and the source of eternal life for all who follow him. In both cases, these claims continue the themes of light (1:3–5, 9; 3:19–21) and water (4:10–15) found earlier in the Gospel. They also connect with torch-lighting and water-pouring rites commonly practiced as part of Tabernacles observance. The water-pouring ceremony commemorated God’s provision of rain during the exodus, while the torch-lighting rituals commemorated God’s presence with the Israelites in the wilderness in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (cf. Exod 13:21–22).17

Jesus’s main human antagonists, the Pharisees (cf. 7:32, 45–52), at once challenge Jesus’s assertion, contending that his self-witness is invalid. The alert reader remembers that Jesus previously acknowledged that if he were the only witness to his claims, this would be insufficient, but then proceeded to list a long string of other witnesses, including John the Baptist, the works Jesus was doing, the Father, Moses, and the Scriptures (5:31–47). Jesus also maintained earlier in the Tabernacles narrative that he is not seeking his own glory but that of the Father who sent him (7:16–18). He is not self-appointed or self-seeking but sent to bring his sender glory and pursue his sender’s interests. Jesus is the obedient and faithful messenger who is accomplishing the mission with which the Father entrusted him (cf. 4:34).

Here, Jesus corrects the Pharisees’ claim that his self-witness is invalid and counters that his witness remains true because he knows where he comes from and where he is going (cf. 1:51; 6:61–62); he knows both his origin and destiny. His opponents, on the other hand, know neither. They treat him as a mere human, and an imposter at that (cf. 7:47). Their judgment is based merely on externals (cf. 7:24), while, ironically, Jesus judges no one, as he has come to bring salvation, not judgment (cf. 3:17; though by rejecting Jesus, people bring judgment on themselves, cf. 9:39). And yet, when Jesus judges, his judgment is valid, for it is in keeping with the Father’s judgment (cf. 5:19–29). In judgment, as in their overall mission and everything else, Father and Son are united (cf. 10:30). Jesus continues to affirm that in “your Law” is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid (8:17; cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15).

Thus, Jesus’s witness is true because the Father bears testimony to him as well. His claim inexorably induces his opponents to ask, “Where is your Father?” (8:19; interestingly, the question here is not, “Who is your Father?”) Later, Philip, one of Jesus’s disciples, would present Jesus with essentially the same request, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (14:8). Not only does the Pharisees’ question reveal massive misunderstanding, showing that they did not understand Jesus’s heavenly origin and unique relationship with God, it also reveals that they do not truly know the God they claim to worship (Yahweh in the Old Testament).

Thus, Jesus replies that they know neither him nor his Father. If they knew Jesus, they would also know his Father. This reiterates the evangelist’s words in the introduction that Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (1:18). The union between Jesus and Yahweh, between God the Father and God the Son, is at the very heart of the message of John’s Gospel. In Jesus, the invisible God has become visible; he is the true representative of the Father who sent him, both to reveal his own nature—especially his love for humanity—and to redeem humanity by an act of supreme self-sacrifice (the cross).

Again, the evangelist mentions only now the location of Jesus’s discourse (cf. 6:59): the treasury in women’s court in the temple area. And once again, any attempts at arresting Jesus are doomed to futility as his God-ordained hour has not yet arrived (8:20; cf. 7:30, 44).

8:21–30 In another round of conversation, Jesus informs his opponents that he is going away, and while they will look for him, they cannot go where he is headed; and they will die in their sin. This is a stern yet loving warning and entirely true. Unless anyone believes in Jesus, they will die and go to a Christless eternity. Hatefully, Jesus’s opponents ask if he is contemplating suicide, again taking his words on a literal and merely human level, thus proving that they are utterly unspiritual. So Jesus states plainly that he is from above while they are from below (an instance of so-called “Johannine dualism”); they are of this world while he is not of this world. Unless they believe in Jesus’s words “I am he” (i.e., that Jesus is who he claims to be; the phrase egō eimi, “I am,” alludes to the Old Testament name of Yahweh [e.g., Exod 3:14]), they will die in their sins. Thus, they ask him plainly, “Who are you?” Characteristically, John’s Gospel is singularly focused on Jesus’s true identity, which is inextricably bound up with his union with God the Father. This is something his opponents simply cannot understand and refuse to believe. That anyone could be God, on par with Yahweh, is a possibility they will not entertain. Somewhat mysteriously, as well as ominously, Jesus speaks of the future lifting up of the Son of Man (cf. 3:14; 12:32–34; Num 21:4–9), at which they will know that “I am he” (8:28; cf. 8:24), that is, one with God. In keeping with this union, Jesus teaches as the Father taught him (cf. 5:19–20), and the Father is with him, because he always does what pleases him. At this, many believe in him (though, as it turns out, this was not necessarily saving faith; see below).

8:31–38 The evangelist underscores that Jesus is speaking specifically to the Jews “who had believed in him” (8:31; cf. 8:30), assuring them that if they remain in his teaching, then they are truly his disciples (cf. 15:5–11). Knowing the truth will set them free. His listeners immediately infer that Jesus has implied that they need to be set free; are they in bondage? After all, they are Abraham’s descendants and, they claim, “have never been enslaved to anyone” (8:33). This, of course, is hardly true. Not only were the Israelites slaves in Egypt, but more recently they had been in bondage to a long string of superpowers who swept over Palestine and controlled the area, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. True, they had enjoyed a century of self-rule during the Maccabean period (165–63 BC), but then the Romans had taken over their territory and had ruled over Palestine ever since.18 They may not technically have been enslaved, but they were hardly free to do as they pleased. Again, however, Jesus makes clear that he is not speaking literally; he is not talking about political domination but about a deeper reality: bondage to people’s innate sin nature, the proclivity to rebel against God inherited from Adam (cf. Rom 5:12–21). For, as Jesus explains, everyone who sins is enslaved by sin, and slaves don’t permanently remain in the house, while sons do. Therefore, if Jesus the Son sets people free, they will experience true freedom. Jesus acknowledges that his opponents are Abraham’s descendants, but their attempts to kill Jesus prove that they are not Abraham’s true spiritual offspring. Sadly, Jesus’s message finds no resonance with the people; again, he asserts that the source of his teaching is his Father, pitting their true paternity against his and implying that their true spiritual father is none other than the devil.

8:39–47 Characteristically, Jesus’s opponents reply on a merely human level, reiterating that their father is Abraham (something that, on a physical level, Jesus has already acknowledged; cf. 8:37). Jesus retorts that, as Abraham’s children, they should do the works he performed. Yet now they are trying to kill him for telling them the truth from God; this, Abraham did not do. No, they are performing the works of their true spiritual father. With barely concealed hatred and contempt, they reply, viciously, that they were not the product of sexual immorality (porneia; this may be a veiled slur on Jesus’s paternity in light of persistent rumors that Joseph was not his real father [cf. Matt 1:18–25]). Their only spiritual Father, they claim, is God. Jesus simply answers that if God were their Father, they would love Jesus, because he came from God. In fact, their “father” is the devil, and by weaving a murderous plot against Jesus, they are carrying out the devil’s desires. As the fall narrative reveals, the devil was a murderer and liar from the beginning, luring humanity into death and deception. So it is because Jesus is telling the truth that his opponents don’t believe him. Can anyone convict Jesus of sin? Of course not! Why, then, don’t they believe him? The truth is, they don’t believe because they don’t have God as their Father.

8:48–59 At this, Jesus’s Jewish opponents, utterly enraged, renew their charge that Jesus is demon-possessed (8:48; cf. 7:20). Jesus replies plainly that he doesn’t have a demon but that he honors his Father, while his opponents dishonor him. Jesus’s calm in the heat of battle is truly remarkable. Jesus is not looking for acclaim for himself. He reiterates that if anyone keeps his word, they will never experience (spiritual) death, coming full circle in his argument with those who on the surface expressed faith in him (8:51; cf. 8:31). This latest affirmation is too much for his opponents to bear. Now they are sure Jesus has a demon, because Abraham and the prophets died; how can Jesus say that those who believe in him will never die? Who does he think he is? In the end, the plain truth is this: Jesus knows the Father, and his opponents don’t. If he were to claim that he doesn’t know the Father, he would be a liar like them (!). Strong words, but true.

Jesus now affirms that Abraham rejoiced that he would see his day and further provokes his opposition. Jesus was not even fifty years old (in fact, he was about thirty years old), and so was nowhere near the Jewish age of maturity, and he was supposed to have seen Abraham? This appeared to them to be utter lunacy, just like Jesus’s earlier claim that the temple could be rebuilt in three days (2:19–22). Yet Jesus asserts, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Recognizing that Jesus is asserting preexistence, and believing this claim to be blasphemous, his opponents get ready to stone him, but Jesus hides himself and leaves the temple area. For modern skeptics who say Jesus never claimed to be divine, the Pharisees would beg to differ! They understood, rightly, that Jesus was claiming to be God, and so they sought to kill him.

Throughout the entire conversation, Jesus’s Jewish opponents have spoken on a merely human, literal, physical plane, while Jesus was seeking to impress on them spiritual truths which, tragically, they were unable to receive. In this way, the evangelist highlights the stubbornness and lack of spiritual understanding of the Jewish leaders, which ultimately would lead to Jesus’s “lifting up” on the cross.

Another Sign: Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind on the Sabbath (9:1–10:42)

9:1–7 The healing of the man born blind is the third and final sign in the Festival Cycle and the sixth and penultimate sign overall, after the healing of the invalid in chapter 5 and the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter 6. Interestingly, there is no sharp division between chapters 8 and 9, even though it is likely that some time passed between Jesus’s attendance of the Feast of Tabernacles (chs. 7–8) and the healing of the man born blind in chapter 9. However, the evangelist connects this sign with the previous discourser in chapter 8: Jesus is the light of the world who will give sight to this blind man.

The evangelist opens the account with the simple transitional statement, “As he passed by” (9:1). Presumably, Jesus is still in Jerusalem, where he sees a man blind from birth (possibly another instance of divine supernatural insight). His disciples take the opportunity to present Jesus with a theological quandary: who sinned, the man or his parents, causing him to be born blind? As he so often does, Jesus eludes the simplistic dichotomy, answering instead that neither option is correct; rather, the man’s blindness is to serve the purpose of glorifying God.

At this, Jesus spits on the ground, forms some mud with his saliva, and puts the mixture on the man’s eyes, telling him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam (the evangelist remarks parenthetically that Siloam means “Sent,” an allusion to Jesus being the “Sent One” from the Father; 9:7). And, sure enough, the man comes back seeing (cf. 2Kgs 5:1–14; John 1:1–5). Interestingly, Jesus goes through a process of anointing the man’s eyes, in contrast to previous healings where he bypassed all such externals by merely commanding the healing with a word. In the case of the official’s son, he performed the healing long-distance by his mere word (4:50); in the case of the invalid, Jesus simply told him to pick up his bed and walk, bypassing any superstitious healing rituals (5:11). In the present case, he challenges the man’s faith by telling him to go and wash, and as soon as the man obeys Jesus’s word and does as he is told, he is healed. The blind man’s obedience to go and wash foreshadows his courageous obedience in the face of Jewish opposition later.

9:8–17 After some initial confusion as to whether the healed man is the same as the one who used to beg, people turn to questioning the formerly blind man as to how his sight was restored. He plainly credits “the man called Jesus” (9:11) for the healing, but in the meantime Jesus has slipped through the crowd. Thus, they bring the formerly blind man to the Pharisees, who interrogate the man as to how he received his sight. When told that Jesus healed the man by putting mud on his eyes, the Pharisees once again detect a violation of their Sabbath regulations (the alert reader remembers that in the case of the healing of the invalid in chapter 5, they had objected to Jesus telling the man to pick up his bed) and conclude that Jesus cannot be from God. Yet others disagree, asking, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” (9:16). In fact, opening the eyes of the blind was one of the expected marks of the Messiah (Isa 35:5; 42:7). When asked for his opinion about Jesus, the formerly blind man responds, similarly to the Samaritan woman before him, that he thinks Jesus is a prophet (9:17; cf. 4:19). However, he will progressively move from viewing Jesus as a prophet to viewing him as the Messiah (9:37–38).

9:18–23 The authorities remain skeptical, however, as they are biased against Jesus due to his alleged Sabbath violation. They refuse to acknowledge that the healing is genuine and call the man’s parents. When asked to identify their son and explain the healing, the parents identify their son and confirm he was born blind, but, out of fear, they refer the authorities to their son for an explanation of the healing. The evangelist adds that the authorities had already decided to expel anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah from the synagogue. On an institutional level, this was implemented toward the end of the first century (the time the Gospel was written), but apparently on a local level, this policy had already been put in place at the time Jesus healed the man born blind.19 The parents certainly did not want to be put out of the synagogue, which was not only a place of worship but also a community center; to be expelled from the synagogue was tantamount to social ostracism.

Rounds of Interrogation
First interrogation of the formerly blind man (9:13–17)
Interrogation of the man’s parents (9:18–23)
Second interrogation of the formerly blind man (9:24–34)

9:24–34 Thus, the Pharisees interrogate the man a second time (cf. 9:13–17). They reiterate their conviction that Jesus must be a sinner because he keeps breaking the Sabbath (9:25; cf. 9:16). The man refuses to take a position on this matter but reaffirms that he was previously blind but now has regained his sight. It becomes increasingly apparent that no matter how hard the Pharisees try to challenge Jesus’s character, a miracle has taken place. Again, the Pharisees probe, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” (9:26). They cannot dispute that the miracle has taken place; they can only find fault with how it happened. At this, the man becomes impatient; he has already told them once, why do they ask him again? With thinly veiled sarcasm, he inquires as to whether they want to become Jesus’s disciples.

Irate, the Pharisees reply that while he may be Jesus’s disciple, they are disciples of Moses (presumably because of their adherence to the Mosaic law; but note that many of their specific Sabbath regulations were not original with Moses but added by them; see chapter 5 above). That God spoke to Moses was an established fact, they argue. As for Jesus, they don’t even know where he comes from. (They are not quite as ignorant as they claim to Jesus’s provenance, however. For example, they know he was born in Bethlehem and resided in Galilee. They also know that he claims to be God, though they, of course, strenuously deny this.) Emboldened by their exasperation, the man expresses his amazement that, while the Pharisees profess ignorance as to Jesus’s origin, the fact remains that he opened the man’s eyes. What is more, God does not listen to sinners, only to worshipers. The healing of a man born blind is unprecedented. Thus, Jesus must be from God. At this, the Pharisees lash out at the man, charging that he was “born in utter sin,” and he would dare to lecture them? And they threw him out of the synagogue, a fate his parents were able to avoid (9:34; cf. 9:22). The reader is reminded that at the very outset, Jesus’s disciples had asked him whether the man or his parents had sinned so that he was born blind, yet Jesus replied that neither was true; rather, the man’s blindness provided an occasion for the glory of God to be displayed (9:2–3).

9:35–41 When Jesus hears that the Pharisees expelled the man from the synagogue, he approaches him and asks whether he believes in him, the Son of Man.20 After Jesus has identified himself to the man, the man replies, “Lord, I believe,” and worships him, calling Jesus “Lord” and no longer merely “a prophet” (9:38; cf. 9:17). This is the only time prior to his resurrection that worship is offered to Jesus in the Johannine narrative. An amazing miracle, Jesus’s sixth messianic sign recorded in this Gospel, has drawn an amazing response. The account of the healing ends with Jesus’s pronouncement that he came to bring about a reversal: he came so that the blind would see, while those who claimed to see would become blind. This turns the entire narrative into an acted parable. When the Pharisees, in thick Johannine irony, ask Jesus if they are blind (as if it was not already obvious that they were the target of Jesus’s pronouncement), Jesus replies, rather matter-of-factly, that if they were to admit their spiritual blindness, there would be hope for them, but since they claim to be seeing, their guilt remains. Thus, while Jesus’s primary purpose was to bring salvation (3:17), those who rejected Jesus brought judgment upon themselves (9:39).

10:1–6 With no transition (the chapter break notwithstanding), Jesus asserts, in a solemn affirmation (“Truly, truly, I say to you,” 10:1), that the Pharisees are illegitimate shepherds while he is the legitimate “good” shepherd. The lack of transition suggests that 9:1–10:21 is one unit and 10:1–21 serves as a commentary on the illegitimacy of the Pharisees as Israel’s shepherds whose spiritual blindness Jesus denounced at 9:39–41. Scripturally literate readers are reminded of Ezekiel’s indictment of Israel’s faithless shepherds during the time of Israel’s exile and of God’s promise that he would send his shepherd David, for his people are his sheep and he their shepherd (Ezekiel 34; see further below). Tragically, the Pharisees had usurped God’s shepherding role but had failed to protect the sheep. Jesus’s coming and his confrontation with the Pharisees dramatically exposed the Pharisees’ faithlessness and demonstrated the need for God’s coming in the person of Jesus to shepherd his sheep himself (note the repeated first-person singular references in Ezekiel 34).

Modern-day shepherd herding sheep

10:7–21 In another solemn affirmation, Jesus asserts that he is the door of the sheep. If anyone enters by him, they will be saved and “go in and out and find pasture” (10:9; cf. Num 27:17). While thieves come to steal, kill, and destroy, Jesus has come that his sheep may have abundant life. He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. He compares the illegitimate shepherds of Israel to hired hands who don’t really care about the sheep entrusted to them but abandon them when they see a wolf coming to attack. By contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd who sustains an intimate, trusting relationship with his sheep. What is more, Jesus has other sheep as well which he must bring, so that there will be “one flock, one shepherd,” thus fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy (10:16; cf. Ezek 34:23; 37:24). Again, the Jewish people are divided (10:19; cf. 7:43): many reiterate the charge that Jesus has a demon (cf. 7:20; 8:48, 52) and has even taken leave of his mind, while others object that demons cannot open the eyes of the blind (10:21; cf. 9:1–38).

10:22–39 At this point in the narrative, the evangelist mentions yet another festival, the Feast of Dedication (in Scripture mentioned only here), in Jerusalem. This festival commemorated the rededication of the temple during the Maccabean uprising in 164 BC after its desecration by the Greek Seleucid ruler Antiochus “Epiphanes” IV, who erected the “abomination of desolation” on the altar, precipitating a Jewish revolt that led to a century of Jewish autonomy and self-rule.21 For the benefit of his non-Jewish readers who may not have been familiar with the Jewish festival calendar, the evangelist notes that “it was winter” (10:22). Since Tabernacles was celebrated in the fall (September/October, chs. 7–8), a couple months have likely passed, and we are only a few months away from the events of Jesus’s passion.

Even though the setting has changed, the conversation about Jesus’s sheep continues. The Jews’ question, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (10:24), continues to probe what kind of Messiah Jesus is. Is he a merely human figure (the kind some Jews were expecting), or is he the divine Lord on par with the God of the Old Testament who Jesus claimed to be? While many were prepared to accept the former, very few were willing to take the step in belief from human Messiah to divine Lord (cf. 9:38). Jesus responds that he has already told them he is the Christ, but they didn’t believe; he also challenges them to believe on account of his works. Ultimately, the reason why people don’t believe is that they are not among his sheep, which underscores the themes of divine election and predestination that are so prominent in John’s Gospel (10:26; cf. 6:44; 8:47; 12:32, 39–40).

Conversely, Jesus’s followers know his voice and follow him. He gives them eternal life; they will never perish, and no one can snatch them out of his or the Father’s hand—for he and the Father are one (10:27–30; note that in the Greek original, “one” is neuter, indicating that Jesus and the Father are one entity, not one person). At this affirmation of Jesus’s oneness with the Father, his Jewish opponents again pick up stones to execute him on account of blasphemy (10:31, 33, constituting an inclusio with 5:18, bracketing the Festival Cycle; see also 8:59).

Charges of Blasphemy Bracketing the Festival Cycle (5–10)
“This was why the Jews were seeking
all the more to kill him, because not only
was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was
even calling God his own Father, making
himself equal with God.” (5:18)

“It is not for a good work that we are
going to stone you but for blasphemy,
because you, being a man, make yourself
God.” (10:33)

Jesus promptly asks for which of his “good works” they are going to stone him (10:32; cf. 7:21; 10:25), at which they charge him with blasphemy. Jesus replies by quoting Psalm 82:6, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (10:34; cf. 8:17; here, “your Law” refers to Scripture in its entirety), a passage in which non-divine figures are called “gods” or “spiritual beings” (Heb. Elohim). Thus, for Jesus to call himself “the Son of God” need not necessarily be blasphemous. If Jesus is doing God’s work, people should believe on account of these works, even if they are unwilling to accept Jesus’s claims. If so, they would understand that the Father is in Jesus and Jesus in the Father (10:38; cf. 10:30). As at previous occasions, the authorities try to arrest Jesus, but he providentially eludes their grasp (10:39; cf. 7:44; 8:20). The reader knows by now that attempts to seize Jesus are futile; he will be arrested only when, in God’s sovereign providence, the time for his departure has come.

10:40–42 At this, the evangelist brings the reader back to where the narrative started, John baptizing in the region across the Jordan (10:40; cf. 1:28; 3:26; another inclusio providing a bookend for the entire Gospel up to this point and marking off the end of the Festival Cycle). While John performed no sign (in this Gospel, only Jesus does), everything he said about Jesus was true; this reiterates John’s primary function in this Gospel as a witness to Jesus. The present passage is one of several strategic references to signs in the Gospel (cf. 2:11; 4:54; 12:37; 20:30–31). The chapter (and the entire Festival Cycle) closes with the frequently repeated affirmation that many believed in Jesus (10:42; cf. 7:31; 8:30; 11:45; 12:11, 42).

Climactic Sign 7 (11:1–12:36a)

Chapters 11 and 12 occupy a bridge function: they conclude the Book of Signs (chs. 2–12) yet are distinct from the Festival Cycle (chs. 5–10). This section contains the climactic seventh and final messianic sign of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus. This episode foreshadows Jesus’s own resurrection that will occur later in the Gospel (ch. 20) and serves as the lens through which we should view the coming passion narrative (ch. 18–19). If Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, then surely the grave will not hold him down after his own death.

The Raising of Lazarus (11:1–44)

11:1–16 While Luke includes the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38–42), he does not mention Lazarus their brother. So while the evangelist assumes his readers know about the pair of sisters and calls Bethany “the village of Mary and her sister Martha” (11:1), he supplements Luke’s account by introducing Lazarus, the one around whom the present account revolves. Unlike previous major characters, however, Lazarus is silent throughout, as he is dead. Even when he is raised, no verbal response is recorded. Interestingly, the evangelist mentions at 11:2 that “it was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill,” even though he does not record this event until the next chapter, likewise expecting his readers to be familiar with the story from Matthew (26:6–13) or Mark (14:3–9) or oral tradition. The sisters send word to Jesus that their brother is ill, no doubt expecting him to come immediately due to his close relationship with their family. Jesus at once responds that Lazarus’s illness will not lead to death but will be to the glory of God and the glory of the Son of God (i.e., himself; 11:4; cf. 9:3).

Paradoxically, after affirming that Jesus loved Martha, “her sister” (i.e., Mary; presumably, Martha was the older sister), and Lazarus, the evangelist records that upon hearing Lazarus is ill, Jesus remains where he is for two more days. At first, this seems counter-intuitive, as one would have expected Jesus to rush to Lazarus’s aid the moment he gets the message. Later it becomes clear, however, that the delay served the purpose of underscoring that Jesus’s intervention was even more vital. By the time Jesus arrives on the scene, Lazarus has been dead for four days—one day past the point at which conventional reckoning supposed that return from the realm of the dead was utterly impossible. In fact, Lazarus’s body already emits an odor (11:39).

When Jesus summons his followers to go to Judea to attend to Lazarus, they at once object that this would put Jesus’s life in renewed jeopardy; he had just survived an attempted stoning (11:8; cf. 10:31; see also 11:16 below). But Jesus brushes their comments aside and informs them that Lazarus has died (11:11–15). He adds that he is glad for their sake that he was not there when it happened, “so that you may believe” (11:15; cf. 20:30–31). This signals for the reader that Jesus will perform the ensuing sign not just so that his messianic identity is revealed, and God is glorified, but also in order to strengthen his followers’ faith in him. One of Jesus’s followers, Thomas, perhaps sarcastically, tells his fellow disciples that they should go with Jesus so that they may die with him (whereby “him” probably refers to Jesus, though a reference to Lazarus is possible as well).

11:17–27 Upon arrival, Jesus finds Lazarus having been in the tomb already for four days (yet another numerical reference in one of Jesus’s signs). Because Bethany was only two miles outside Jerusalem, many have come to console Martha and Mary. When Jesus gets there, Martha goes out to meet him, but Mary remains in a state of mourning for her brother, as was (and still is) common among the Jews. Martha’s first words to Jesus are a mix of possible mild reproach (Why didn’t you come any sooner?) and faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21; though see the hopeful added words, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you,” 11:22). Interestingly, Mary later greets Jesus with the same words (11:32).

In what follows, Martha serves as a representative of the Jewish view of the two ages—the present age and the age to come—wherein resurrection was generally considered to be an end-time event to take place in the age to come. So when Jesus replies, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha relates this naturally to the end of time (11:24). Yet Jesus points her to his very essence in yet another “I am” statement in the Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). With the one who is life standing right in front of her, what need is there to wait for the last day? Jesus can raise her brother right now! Consequently, Jesus challenges Martha to believe that the one who trusts in Jesus, “though he die, yet shall he live” (11:25). Anticipating the Gospel’s purpose statement, Martha replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (11:27; cf. 20:30–31). Thus, the present narrative lends expression to John’s realized eschatology, which stresses the way in which Jesus’s coming already transforms human experience in the here and now (cf. 10:10) without denying the expectation of Christ’s return and of the final judgment and resurrection (cf. 5:25–29).

11:28–37 Following Jesus’s conversation with Martha, he asks to speak to Mary, and Martha summons her. Meeting Jesus still outside the village where he spoke with her sister, Mary, weeping, tells him that if he had been there her brother would not have died. When Jesus sees Mary and others weeping, he is deeply moved and greatly troubled (11:33; cf. 11:38). This shows the full humanity of Jesus, whom John previously depicted as thirsty and “wearied . . . from his journey” (4:6). The expression “deeply moved” (embrimaomai) in other literature refers to the snorting of horses; as it were, Jesus bristled at the prospect of confronting death itself. He asks to be taken to the tomb and bursts into tears (11:35). It is remarkable how throughout this narrative Jesus acts with both profound compassion and quiet authority. Some naysayers in the crowd remark, in a vintage Johannine back-reference, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (11:37; cf. ch. 9; see also 10:21). However, God is never late; he is always right on time.

11:38–44 The dramatic suspense has become almost unbearable. Deeply moved again (11:38; cf. 11:33), Jesus orders that the tombstone be rolled away.22 Martha, “the sister of the dead man,” cautions Jesus that there will be an odor (11:39). Jesus reminds her of his previous statement that if she were to believe, she would see the glory of God (cf. 11:4, 25–26). They roll away the stone, and Jesus prays to the Father and thanks him for answering him, affirming that what he is about to do is “so that they may believe that you sent me” (11:42). Jesus knows who he is. He is under no compulsion to prove himself; but he wants his followers to grow in their faith in him. Having prayed, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, issuing a terse command, “Lazarus, come out!” (11:43).

The “dead man” obeys and emerges from the tomb, hands and feet still tied with linen strips and a face cloth wrapped around his head. He must have been quite a sight, stumbling and unable to see, stepping from darkness into broad daylight. Jesus simply tells the bystanders to unbind him and let him go. The raising of Lazarus furnishes powerful proof for the truthfulness of Jesus’s words, “Truly, truly I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (5:25, emphasis added). In fact, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (5:28–29).

Response by the Sanhedrin (11:45–57)

11:45–53 While many believe, some report what happened to the Pharisees, and with this, the scene shifts abruptly from Jesus’s climactic messianic sign to another emergency Sanhedrin meeting. Exasperated, they acknowledge that Jesus performs many signs. They fear that if they allow him to continue, “everyone will believe in him,” and then the Romans will take away their “place” (the temple) and their nation (11:48). For the first readers of John’s Gospel, the irony would have been palpable, as by the time John wrote his Gospel, the temple and the city of Jerusalem had already been razed by the Romans, even though the Jewish leaders had had Jesus crucified. Yet Caiaphas, the high priest, speaking better than he knew, maintained that it was better for one man to die for the nation than that the whole nation should perish. Prophetically, he spoke about the substitutionary atonement Jesus would offer not only for the Jewish nation but for all his sheep (11:51–52; cf. 1:29, 36; 10:15, 17–18).

11:54–57 Characteristically, Jesus withdraws to the Judean wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, with his disciples. The third Passover mentioned in this Gospel is at hand (11:55; cf. 2:13, 23; 6:4), and many pilgrims make their way to the capital city. Again, representative voices are heard: will he come to the feast? And once again, orders have been given by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus (11:57; cf. 7:44; 8:20; 10:39).

The Anointing of Jesus (12:1–11)

12:1–11 As Passover approaches (“Six days before the Passover” [12:1] likely designates Saturday, with Passover being celebrated the following Thursday), Jesus returns to Bethany, the village where he raised Lazarus from the dead. A dinner is given in Jesus’s honor. Characteristically, Martha is serving (12:2; cf. Luke 10:38–42), and Lazarus is reclining with him at table. Mary’s act is clearly extravagant (the perfume is expensive and exquisite), and her actions of anointing Jesus’s feet and wiping them with her hair would have doubtless raised eyebrows (it was not considered proper for a woman to let her hair down in public; cf. Num 5:18). The statement, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (12:3), suggests the evangelist vividly remembers the scene. While Matthew and Mark protect the identity of the person objecting (Matt 26:8: “the disciples”; Mark 14:4: “some”), John makes clear that the one protesting the anointing is Judas the traitor. Unlike in the Matthean and Markan accounts (Matt 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; the anointing of Jesus by a “sinful woman” in Luke 7:36–50 is likely a different event), the evangelist shifts the focus from Mary of Bethany (one verse, 12:3) to Judas (five verses, 12:4–8). Thus, he presents the event primarily as the occasion where Judas’s antagonism toward Jesus is revealed. The reference to Jesus’s burial (12:7) provides an inclusio with Jesus’s burial following the crucifixion (19:38–42). The back-reference to the raising of Lazarus ties the account of the anointing closely to the previous messianic sign (12:9–11). Incredibly, the authorities had added Lazarus to the list of people they sought to kill so as to remove any evidence of Jesus’s miracle-working power. Their actions reveal the murderous hearts Jesus denounced during the paternity dispute in chapter 8 (esp. 8:44). Nevertheless, many believe in Jesus on account of that sign (12:11; cf. 7:31; 8:30; 10:42; 11:45; 12:42).

The Triumphal Entry and the Arrival of Jesus’s Hour (12:12–19)

12:12–19 “The next day” is Palm Sunday (12:12; cf. 12:1). Jesus enters Jerusalem and is greeted by a crowd waving palm branches (from nearby Jericho, “the city of palm trees”; cf. Deut 34:3). In the words of the Jewish Hallel (Hebrew for “praise,” Psalms 113–118), people cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (12:13; cf. Ps 118:26). At the beginning of the Gospel, Nathanael, “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit,” confessed Jesus in similar terms: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:47, 49). And yet, palm trees were a nationalistic symbol, and the crowd likely hails Jesus as a national deliverer, not a suffering royal Messiah. Underscoring his humility, Jesus is mounted on a donkey as he rides into the city, in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (12:15; cf. Zech 9:9; note also that Solomon rode on a mule when made king of Israel [1Kgs 1:43–48]). The evangelist candidly acknowledges that only later did the disciples understand what these events signified (12:16; cf. 2:22). The reference to Lazarus “whom [Jesus] had raised from the dead” keeps alive the memory of Jesus’s recent climactic messianic sign (12:17–18; cf. 11:1–44; 12:1–2, 9–11). The Pharisees’ exasperation continues to grow, and in only slight hyperbole they wring their hands, saying, in so many words, “Look, it’s no use. The whole world has gone after him!” (12:19; cf. 11:48). Jesus’s popularity is as its height, and the Jewish authorities are doubling their efforts to plot his demise.

On the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

12:20–26 In another instance of Johannine irony, John mentions the presence of some Greeks among the Passover pilgrims right after the Pharisees say, “The whole world has gone after him!” Perhaps because of his Greek name, Philip is approached and presented with the request of arranging a meeting with Jesus. Along with Andrew, Philip goes to Jesus. Stunningly, Jesus’s answer is that now the hour has come for the Son of Man’s glorification (12:24). This follows a string of assertions in the Gospel that Jesus’s hour or time was not yet at hand (2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20). Clearly, Jesus’s “hour” is the time of his crucifixion, which, according to John, is part of his glorification. As Jesus solemnly affirms with an agrarian metaphor, he is like a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies, and by dying bears much fruit (12:24). Paradoxically, those who cling to their life will lose it, while those who are willing to lose it, who “hate” their life in this world, will keep it for eternal life (12:25; cf. Matt 10:39; Luke 14:26). Jesus’s servants must follow him, and those who serve him, the Father will honor (12:26).

12:27–36a As previously when confronted with Lazarus’s death, Jesus’s soul is troubled, now at the prospect of his own death (12:27; cf. 11:33). And yet, this is the very purpose for which Jesus has come to this hour. Thus, he prays resolutely, “Father, glorify your name,” in a scene reminiscent of his struggle in Gethsemane (cf. Matt 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). A heavenly voice (which some mistake for thunder and others for the sound of an angel) promptly sounds the Father’s approval. In a pregnant, ominous statement, Jesus declares that “now” the world’s judgment will take place, and “now” the world’s ruler will be cast out (12:31; cf. 14:30; 16:11)—another instance of the cosmic trial motif. This statement refers to Jesus’s decisive victory over Satan, the devil, on the cross (cf. 1Jn 3:8; 5:4; Col 2:13–15). And once Jesus has been “lifted up,” that is, exalted on the cross, he will draw “all people,” that is, both Jews and Gentiles, to himself (12:32; cf. 3:14; 8:28; see also 10:16; 11:51–52). This will be good news for the Greeks who had asked to see him. Their wait is almost over. As the evangelist remarks, in this way Jesus indicated “by what kind of death he was going to die” (12:33). As Isaiah had prophesied, “See, my servant . . . will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (Isa 52:13). The crowd, however, does not understand how to reconcile Jesus’s impending death with the notion of an eternal Messiah. In fact, they don’t even know who the Son of Man is (12:34). Jesus simply advises that they believe in the light while they have it so that they may become “sons of light” (12:36).

Conclusion (12:36b–50)

12:36b–43 At this, Jesus leaves and hides himself, an ominous note of the withdrawal of God’s presence indicating divine judgment. The tragic reality is that though Jesus “had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” (12:37). The problem was not lack of evidence; the problem was unbelief. People’s hearts were hardened, and, as a result, they rejected their God-sent Messiah. And yet, even human unbelief served to fulfill prophecy. Just like Isaiah’s contemporaries had rejected the prophet’s message, so Jesus’s contemporaries rejected the message of Jesus (12:38; cf. Isa 53:1). What is more, not only “did” people “not believe in him (12:37, emphasis added), “they could not believe” (12:39, emphasis added), for, as Isaiah also wrote, God blinded people’s eyes and hardened their hearts, so they could not see or understand (12:40; cf. Isa 6:10; see also Matt 13:14–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; Acts 28:26–27; Rom 11:7). This highlights the twin truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, both of which are affirmed in Scripture: God is sovereign, yet we are responsible for the choices we make.

Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’s glory (12:41; cf. Isa 6:1–3: “I saw the Lord, high and exalted . . . the whole earth is full of his glory”). The evangelist notes that even many of the Jewish authorities believed in Jesus, yet secretly, out of fear of the Pharisees, lest they be put out of the synagogue (12:42; cf. 9:22, 34; 16:2). Tragically, they were more concerned about their own reputation than God’s glory.

12:44–50 With this, the curtain closes on Act 1 of the Johannine drama. Only Jesus remains, and he concludes the Book of Signs with a monologue addressed more to the readers of John’s Gospel than to any characters in the narrative. Those who believe in Jesus actually believe in the one who sent him. Those who believe in the light of the world will not remain in moral and spiritual darkness. Jesus came to save, but those who reject his salvation will be judged by his word on the last day. Jesus’s word, in turn, is the message given to him by the Father. And his commandment is eternal life.

Part II: Book of Exaltation (13:1–20:31)

The Book of Exaltation is marked by a shift in perspective. While the Book of Signs narrates Jesus’s seven messianic signs performed to persuade the Jewish people that he is the Messiah, ending in rejection, the Book of Exaltation depicts Jesus’s mission to a believing remnant—the Twelve—from a post-exaltation vantage point. That is, Jesus’s glorification—his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—are anticipated, even though, from a historical vantage point, they are yet to happen. Thus, Jesus is able to instruct his closest followers regarding the time after his departure from this earth. It also sets the passion narrative into a broader perspective: Jesus will not merely suffer, but his very suffering will be the pathway to the glory he possessed with the Father before the world began. As Moses gives his last instruction to Israel in Deuteronomy before they cross the Jordan river into the promised land, so Jesus gives his last extended instruction to his disciples before he dies on the cross and brings many with him into paradise.

Footwashing, Farewell Discourse, and Final Prayer (13:1–17:26)

While some identify the Farewell Discourse as comprising chapters 13 through 17, it is perhaps more accurate to think of the footwashing narrative as a preamble to the Farewell Discourse and as a separate unit. Thus, the footwashing is narrated in 13:1–30, while the Farewell Discourse proper spans from 13:31 to 16:33. Then, Jesus’s final prayer concludes the preparation of his disciples before the passion narrative proper unfolds in chapters 18 through 20.

Footwashing (13:1–30)

13:1–3 It is now Jesus’s final Passover, a feast of utmost significance in Jewish life and worship, a time when the Israelites remembered God’s mighty deliverance through the exodus. Passover symbolism is rife throughout this passage: Jesus, “God’s lamb,” would usher in a new exodus, a powerful spiritual deliverance from the sins of the world at the cross. Yet the evangelist does not dwell on the humiliation, shame, and suffering Jesus would face; rather, he casts the crucifixion as a station on Jesus’s return to the Father: “Now . . . when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. . . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper . . .” (13:1, 3–4a).

Thus, the evangelist shows Jesus in full control of the events that are about to unfold, assured that the cross is not the end but in fact is Jesus’s “lifting up,” his glorious exaltation that marks the completion of his mission as the faithful, obedient Son of the Father (cf. 17:4; 19:30). What is more, the evangelist casts the final events of Jesus’s earthly mission as part of a cosmic battle between God’s Messiah and the devil. In this battle, “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot . . . to betray” Jesus (13:2). Yet Jesus, for his part, is motivated by love: “he loved them to the end” (13:1). Thus, Jesus’s suffering is shown to have a higher purpose: the demonstration of God’s love for sinners (cf. 3:16). What is more, not only does Jesus demonstrate God’s love while giving his life as an atoning sacrifice at the cross, but love is what motivated Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. At the footwashing, he expresses his love particularly to those closest to him, including Judas Iscariot, who will shortly betray him. In this, Jesus sets a powerful example of loving one’s enemies.

13:4–11 Without saying a word, Jesus gets up at the dinner, puts his outer garments aside, picks up a towel, ties it around his waist, pours water into a bowl, and starts washing his disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel. Doubtless the disciples watch in stunned silence as their Master adopts the posture of a menial household slave whose task it normally was to clean the feet of guests who had traveled by foot, typically in sandals. According to the custom of the day, slaves awaited guests at the door and washed their feet so that, when they reclined at table right beside one another, their dirty feet would not interfere with their neighbor’s eating.

When Jesus comes to Peter, the spokesman of the Twelve, he initially protests, but Jesus waves him off. When Peter still resists, Jesus is insistent that Peter let him wash his feet as a symbol of his need for continual spiritual cleansing from sin. Jesus sternly warns him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (13:8). At this, Peter totally changes his position, asking Jesus not only to wash his feet but his entire body as well. Continuing the metaphor, Jesus instructs Peter that once a person has had a spiritual bath (i.e., has been converted and regenerated), all they need is continual confession of and cleansing from sin. Jesus adds that every one of the Twelve is already clean, except for the betrayer, whose heart was never truly regenerated. In this way, the footwashing serves not only as a demonstration of Jesus’s love for his own but also as an object lesson of believers’ need to confess their sins in order to receive ongoing cleansing (cf. 1Jn 1:9).

13:12–20 When Jesus has finished washing his disciples’ feet, he exhorts them to follow his example. If he, their Lord and Teacher, has done this, they should certainly do the same thing to one another. While much in this Gospel focuses on Jesus’s uniqueness as the incarnate Word, the descending and ascending Redeemer, and the messianic Son of God, in this case Jesus has given his followers an example they should emulate (13:15; cf. Phil 2:5–11). As Jesus solemnly affirms, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that they know these things, his followers are blessed if they act on this knowledge.

13:21–30 Like at previous occasions, Jesus is troubled at the prospect of one of his inner circle betraying him (13:21; cf. 11:33; 12:27). This reaction shows that Jesus is not stoic or dispassionate, but emotionally engaged. When Jesus plainly foretells Judas’s betrayal, the disciples are puzzled. Peter motions to “the disciple Jesus loved”—the apostle John—who sits “at Jesus’s side” to inquire of Jesus regarding the identity of the betrayer (13:23; cf. 1:18). To identify the betrayer, Jesus dips a piece of bread and gives it to Judas—an honor bestowed to an invited guest—and promptly Satan enters Judas (13:27; cf. 13:2). Once again, the reader is reminded that the unfolding events do not merely take place on an earthly level, but that a spiritual battle is raging as well. At Jesus’s prodding to act quickly, Judas slips into the night (13:30; cf. 9:4).

Farewell Discourse (13:31–16:33)

13:31–38 The Farewell Discourse is partly a question-and-answer session where Jesus’s followers query him regarding his imminent departure and Jesus instructs them about the implications for them once he is crucified and risen. Note how Jesus speaks with more clarity to his disciples here than he did with the crowds earlier in the Gospel. At the outset, Jesus reiterates that “now” the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him (13:31). The new messianic community, the believing remnant, has been cleansed by the departure of the betrayer, and Jesus can commence preparing his inner circle for the events that lie ahead. From an interpretive standpoint, much of what follows needs to be understood as specific instructions to the Eleven for the time just prior to and immediately following the crucifixion and resurrection, rather than as general truths to be applied by every believer, even though general principles are found herein as well (e.g., the need to abide in Christ and his word).

Now that Jesus has demonstrated his love for his disciples “to the end” at the footwashing (13:1), he issues a “new commandment”: they are to love one another just as Jesus has loved them (13:34–35; cf. 1Jn 2:7–11). While God’s people were already called to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves (the greatest and the second-greatest commandments; Matt 22:36–40; Mark 12:29–30; cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18), what is new about Jesus’s commandment is that believers are to love one another as he has loved them (13:34). But Peter has other things on his mind. He wants to know where Jesus is going, still not understanding that Jesus is about to be crucified. He sincerely tells Jesus he is willing to lay down his life for him. Again, this is profound Johannine irony. Rather than Peter laying down his life for Jesus, it will be the other way around: Jesus will lay down his life for Peter, and for all of humanity. In response to Peter’s claim, Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before the rooster crows.

14:1–3 Jesus is troubled, but his followers need not be, as long they believe in God and also in Jesus (14:1; cf. 14:27; 16:33). There are many rooms (not mansions, as the KJV has it, following the Latin Vulgate’s mansiones) in Jesus’s Father’s house. Rather than referring to the temple (2:17), “Father’s house” more likely involves bridal imagery, especially in conjunction with the reference to Jesus preparing a place for his followers in heaven. According to Jewish custom, a groom would prepare a place for his bride and bring her to his father’s house. After having prepared a place for his followers, Jesus, the groom, will come again to take his bride home with him—the expectation of the second coming.

Question-and-Answer Session
13:36–37 – Peter – “Lord, where are you going? Why can’t I follow you now?”
14:5 – Thomas – “How can we know the way?”
14:8 – Philip – “Lord, show us the Father.”
14:22 – Judas (not Iscariot) – “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”

14:4–14 What follows is a series of questions by Jesus’s disciples and Jesus’s responses to those questions. First, Jesus tells his followers, “And you know the way to where I am going” (14:4). At once, Thomas protests that they do not know the way. Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” adding, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). The way to heaven is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no other way. This may sound exclusive, even intolerant, but this is what Jesus said, and it is true. There is no other way to be saved than to repent and believe in Jesus (cf. Acts 4:12).

Next, Jesus tells his followers that they know the Father. This time, it is Philip who speaks up, asking Jesus to show them the Father. Philip’s request reveals that he has not been paying attention, since everyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (cf. 1:18; 5:20). Jesus and the Father are one (10:30); Jesus is in the Father and the Father in him (14:10). Both Jesus’s words and works are from the Father. Jesus solemnly adds that not only will believers be able to perform the works he is doing, but they will do even greater works than these because he is going to the Father. This likely refers to works done following the crucifixion and resurrection, events after which believers can preach the gospel of salvation in Jesus on the basis of Jesus’s finished cross-work (19:30). Jesus’s ministry, for its part, still took place prior to these saving events and thus was forward-looking in nature. Another new future reality for believers will be prayer offered to the Father in Jesus’s name (14:13–14).

Designations for the Spirit (chs. 14–16)
Advocate, Counselor, Helper (paraklētos) – 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7
Spirit of truth – 14:17; 15:26; 16:13
Holy Spirit – 14:26 (see also 20:22)

14:15–31 At Jesus’s request, the Father will give his followers another Advocate, Counselor, or Helper, the Holy Spirit or Spirit of truth (14:16). While the world cannot receive him, the Spirit will be with, and even in, the disciples. Jesus will not leave them as spiritual orphans; in the Spirit, he himself will come to his followers. Believers will prove their love for Jesus by obeying his commandments, and he will love them and manifest himself to them.

Judas (not Iscariot) asks why Jesus will reveal himself to believers and not to the world (14:22). Jesus replies, in essence, that the reason is that the world loves neither him nor the Father and thus will not be receptive toward them. For now, Jesus is still with them; when the Holy Spirit comes, he will remind them of the things Jesus said and help them understand these things (14:26). Rather than merely look at Jesus’s departure from their own point of view, mourning the loss of his presence, his disciples should rejoice on his account, because the Father is greater than he (14:28). The disciples can also be assured that Satan, “the ruler of this world,” has no claim on Jesus (14:30).

At this, Jesus tells his followers to get up and get moving (14:31), but then, somewhat puzzlingly, no movement is recorded until 18:1. Two possibilities emerge: (1) there was a delay, and Jesus and his followers stayed in the Upper Room a little longer; (2) movement is not narrated but implied, and they did in fact set out toward the Kidron Valley, perhaps passing vineyards on the way, providing the perfect backdrop for Jesus’s discourse on the vine and the branches in chapter 15.

15:1–11 After Jesus’s Good Shepherd Discourse (10:1–18), the discourse about the vine and the branches (15:1–11) is the second major symbolic discourse in this Gospel. Both discourses highlight corporate metaphors for the community of believers, such as a flock of sheep and a group of branches all connected to the vine. Vineyards are a common sight in the Holy Land, and Israel was commonly depicted as God’s vineyard in Old Testament times (see esp. Isa 5). Any branches in Jesus that fail to bear fruit are taken away (e.g., Judas), while those that do are pruned so that they bear even more fruit (the Eleven). The Eleven are already clean (cf. 13:10); now they must simply abide in Jesus, and he in them. Apart from the vine, branches can bear no fruit; neither can Jesus’s followers unless they abide in Jesus. In fact, they will bear much fruit if they abide in him; yet apart from Jesus they can do nothing (15:5). If they abide in him, they can be assured of answered prayer as well (15:7; cf. 14:13–14). Abiding in Jesus also means abiding in his love, which involves keeping his commandments (15:10), and so Jesus’s followers will be filled with joy (15:11). All of this is a new reality for these believers. Once Jesus has departed, and the Spirit has come to indwell them, they will need to learn to abide in Jesus spiritually by being organically and vitally connected to him through the Spirit. The Spirit, for his part, will serve as the primary agent of sanctification in believers’ lives.


15:12–17 Jesus reiterates his new commandment (15:12; cf. 13:34–35) and elaborates that no one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends. This, Jesus is about to do. If they do what Jesus commands them, then his followers are his friends and no longer servants. Jesus has taken them into his confidence and has made the Father known to them. Contrary to common rabbinic practice in that day, the disciples did not choose Jesus, but he chose them and appointed them to go and bear abiding fruit (15:16).

15:18–16:4 Jesus now turns to another relevant topic for the future of his followers: persecution. For now, the world’s persecution is focused on Jesus. The time will come, however, when it will affect his followers (cf. Acts). If they were of the world, then the world would love them, but because they are not, the world hates them. If it persecutes Jesus, it will persecute his followers as well. Whoever hates Jesus also hates God the Father (cf. 1Jn 5:10). In this, Scripture is fulfilled: “They hated me without a cause” (15:25; cf. Ps 35:19; 69:5). When the Spirit comes, he will bear witness regarding Jesus, and the disciples, too, will bear witness, and they will be expelled from the synagogue (16:2; cf. 9:22, 34; 12:42).

16:5–15 Here, Jesus is saying that no one asks him, “Where are you going?” But earlier, Peter asked him precisely that question (13:36), so it is not entirely clear what Jesus is getting at here. In any case, Jesus’s purpose is to encourage his followers, who are doubtless disheartened at the prospect of losing their beloved teacher. Though it may be counter-intuitive, Jesus makes the case that it will actually be better for them if he departs, because unless he does, the Holy Spirit will not come to them. Once he goes away, he will send the Spirit, and at that time, the Spirit will convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment. This is the one work the Spirit performs in the world; most of his other roles relate to helping believers.

Jesus has much more to say, but they cannot understand it apart from the Spirit. Yet when the Spirit comes, he will guide them in all truth (16:13; note: the preposition used here is “in,” not “into,” as in most English translations). He will also declare the things to come (perhaps referring to the book of Revelation, or events related to Jesus’s second coming and the final judgment). In many ways, the Spirit’s role will be to draw attention to Jesus, just like Jesus sought to glorify the Father; as Jesus seeks to glorify the Father, the Spirit seeks to glorify Jesus.

16:16–33 Jesus keeps talking about “a little while” after which his disciples will no longer see him, and then “a little while” after which they will see him again. What is he talking about? Jesus provides an apt illustration (paroimia, 16:25; “illustration” is better than the ESV’s “figure of speech”; cf. 10:6): just like a woman giving birth, they will experience pain when Jesus is crucified, but just like when a baby is born and the mother forgets all about her sorrow and is overjoyed, so they will rejoice when they see the risen Jesus again. Then no one will be able to take away their joy (16:22). It is not only Jesus who loves them; the Father loves them, too, because they have believed in Jesus. Jesus has come from the Father into the world; now he is going back to the Father (16:28, an inclusio with 13:3). The disciples reply that now they understand at last; Jesus is skeptical and predicts that they will soon be scattered and desert him. Yet the Father will be with him. In the world, they will have tribulation; but he has overcome the world (16:33). Here, Jesus is anticipating his victory over Satan on the cross and in the resurrection.

Final Prayer (17:1–26)

17:1–5 While some call this Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer because he is interceding for others (a priestly function), others call it “the Lord’s Prayer” (rather than his prayer recorded in Matt 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4) or simply “Jesus’s final prayer.” Amazingly, this is the only time in all the Bible that we get a glimpse into the prolonged prayer of one person of the Trinity to another. The curtain is peeled back, and we are invited into the intimate fellowship of the Father and Son. In this prayer, Jesus first prays for himself (17:1–5), then for his disciples (17:6–19), and finally for others who would be reached through the disciples (17:20–26).23 In the first part of the prayer, Jesus reports back to his sender, the Father, that he has successfully completed his mission and glorified him by accomplishing the work he had given him to do (17:4). Now, Jesus asks that the Father glorify him as he is moving toward the cross (17:5).

17:6–19 Jesus has made the Father known to those the Father has given him out of this world. He has revealed the Father to them, and they have received Jesus’s message. Jesus is not praying for the world but for his followers, that the Father would keep them so that they may be united as he and the Father are one (17:11; cf. 10:30). As long as Jesus was with them, he guarded them, but now he is returning to his sender. No one was lost except Judas, “which was according to Scripture” (17:12). Jesus’s prayer for his followers is not that the Father take them out of the world, but that he keep them from the evil one (17:15) and sanctify them in the truth, namely his word (17:17). Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus is about to send his followers into the world (17:18; cf. 20:21).

17:20–26 In addition, Jesus prays for those who would become believers through the disciples’ witness. Again, he prays for their unity so that the world may know that the Father sent Jesus and loves them as he loves Jesus (17:23). Jesus has previously told his disciples that he will go to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. Now he expresses his desire that they see the glory the Father has given him because the Father loved him before the world began. While the world does not know God, Jesus knows him, and so do the disciples. Jesus will continue to make the Father known so that the love God has for Jesus may be in them as well.

Completion of Jesus’s Mission (18:1–20:29)

Contrary to the Synoptic passion narratives, the Johannine passion narrative contains a pronounced emphasis on Jesus sovereignly controlling the events. In addition, the Jewish trial before Caiaphas, which is recounted in some detail in the earlier Gospels, is skipped over, while John features Jesus’s appearance before Annas, the high-priestly patriarch, and gives more thorough coverage of Jesus’s Roman trial before Pontius Pilate.24 Finally, John presents Jesus’s crucifixion from the vantage point of his glorification. Rather than focus on Jesus’s suffering and humiliation, the evangelist accentuates more keenly Jesus’s “lifting up,” that is, his exaltation, and the completion of Jesus’s mission as the faithful, obedient Son of the Father (cf. 6:61–62).

Arrest, Hearing before Annas, and Peter’s Denials (18:1–27)

18:1–12 Following the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples cross the Kidron Valley and come to a garden (Gethsemane). Judas the betrayer appears with a group of soldiers and representatives of the chief priests and Pharisees, a motley crowd wielding lanterns, torches, and weapons. But Jesus offers no resistance; to the contrary, he takes the initiative. His life will not be taken from him; he will lay it down of his own accord (cf. 10:18). The evangelist stresses that Jesus knew “all that would happen to him” (18:4; cf. 13:3).

The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem

When he asks those who have come for his arrest whom they are looking for, and they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he identifies himself with a phrase that can mean either simply “It’s me” or “I am,” as in the Old Testament name for God (18:6). Those who came to arrest Jesus draw back and fall to the ground, suggesting that Jesus’s divine presence elicited a response similar to that fit for a theophany (a manifestation of God’s presence). So Jesus asks them again whom they’re looking for, and when they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth” (18:7), he again indicates that it is he and tells them to let his followers go. In this way, Jesus acts as the good shepherd who protects his sheep, in fulfillment of his previous assertion that he would lose nothing God had given him (18:9; cf. 6:39; 10:28–29; Zech 13:7). Peter, however, draws a sword and cuts off the right ear of the high priest’s servant (only John specifies that the man’s name was Malchus; it is puzzling that such an insignificant character would be named in the narrative, perhaps indicating that he later became a Christian). Jesus calmly tells Peter to put away his sword; Jesus must drink the “cup” the Father has given him (i.e., die on the cross; cf. Jer 25:15–17; Psa 75:8; Hab 2:16).

Hearings before Annas and Peter’s Denials
Hearing before Annas (18:12–14)
Peter’s First Denial (18:15–18)
Hearing before Annas (18:19–24)
Peter’s Second and Third Denials (18:25–27)

18:13–27 Thus, they arrest Jesus, bind him (like a lamb led to the slaughter), and take him to Annas, due to his position as the high-priestly patriarch. This was just an informal hearing with no legal force; the official Sanhedrin meeting presided over by Caiaphas would take place later (cf. 18:24, 28). Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.25 The evangelist reminds the reader that it was Caiaphas who said it was better for one man to die for the nation than for the whole nation to perish (18:14; cf. 11:50).

In what follows, the evangelist artfully alternates between scenes of Annas’s questioning and Peter’s denials. Peter and the “disciple Jesus loved” (the apostle John) follow Jesus. The latter is known to the high priest and so is able to enter and bring Peter in as well. When asked by the servant girl at the door about his association with Jesus, Peter vehemently denies it and goes and warms himself by a charcoal fire (18:18; note that Peter’s reinstatement also takes place near a charcoal fire; 21:9).

Meanwhile, Annas interrogates Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus replies that he did nothing in secret and that his teaching is a matter of public record. If anything, it was the Pharisees who acted secretly in plotting Jesus’s demise. At this, one of the officers nearby slaps Jesus and rebukes him for answering the high priest in what he considers to be a disrespectful manner (another instance of Johannine irony, given that Jesus is the true high priest; Heb 4:14–16). But Jesus stands his ground, insisting that he spoke the truth. At this, Annas sends Jesus on to Caiaphas, the rightful high priest.

Peter is still standing by the fire when he is asked a second time about being one of Jesus’s disciples. Again, he denies it. Then one of the high priest’s servants, who was a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, believes he recognizes Peter, but for a third time, Peter denies having anything to do with Jesus, and immediately a rooster crows. Jesus’s prediction has come true (cf. 13:38).

A staircase dating to the 1st century next to the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem, believed to be the location of Caiaphas’s palace

Roman Trial (18:28–19:15)

18:28–32 The evangelist skips the Jewish trial before Caiaphas (18:28; cf. 18:24) and picks up with Jesus being led from Caiaphas’s house to Pilate’s headquarters, the Praetorium. It is now early Friday morning. In deep irony, the Jews who bring Jesus to Pilate do not enter the governor’s house so as not to defile themselves. They are scrupulous about ritual purity so they can observe Passover; they have no scruples, however, about condemning an innocent man to die, more than that the very one who commanded them to observe the Passover (another instance of Johannine irony). The evangelist narrates what follows by skillfully alternating indoor and outdoor scenes, adding dramatic movement to the narrative.

Roman Trial before Pilate
18:28–32 – Outside
18:33–38a – Inside
18:38b–19:8 – Outside
19:9–11 – Inside
19:12–16 – Outside

When asked by Pilate what charges they bring against Jesus, the Jewish leaders first attempt to present Jesus as a common criminal (and ask Pilate to take their word for it, as they give no detail and provide no evidence). Pilate coolly replies that they should judge Jesus by their own law. This elicits the Jews’ admission that they lack authority to inflict capital punishment. What crime could be so severe for Jesus to have committed to warrant the death sentence? The evangelist notes that the Jews’ demand for the death penalty fulfills Jesus’s prediction that he would be lifted up (3:14; 8:28; 12:32).

18:33–40 Pilate goes inside and asks Jesus if he is the “king of the Jews” (18:33). Jesus appropriately asks Pilate whether the question is his or others said that about him. Not in the best mood, Pilate replies that he is not a Jew and thus not an insider to those matters; Jesus’s own Jewish authorities have handed him over. So what has he done? Jesus replies that he does have a kingdom, but one that is not of this world; otherwise, his “servants” (i.e., disciples) would have resisted arrest (though Peter did; 18:10). Pilate rightly infers that Jesus is a king. Jesus responds that those are Pilate’s words, then tells him he came into this world to bear witness to the truth. Those on the side of truth listen to him. At this, Pilate turns on his heels and dismissively asks, “What is truth?”26

Pilate goes back outside and tells the Jews that he finds no guilt in Jesus. Throughout these proceedings, Pilate displays the typical Roman reluctance to get involved in inner-Jewish affairs unless riots threaten the Roman peace. In a Johannine context, Pilate represents the vain effort to remain neutral regarding Jesus; in the end, all people have to make a choice either for or against him. (Unfortunately for Pilate, he ultimately makes the wrong choice and condemns Jesus to die.) Ever the wily politician, Pilate proposes an alternative: what if he invokes the custom of releasing one prisoner at Passover and lets Jesus go? But the Jews choose Barabbas, a notorious robber and insurrectionist, instead.

19:1–11 Still trying to find a way to release Jesus, Pilate has him flogged. Adding insult to injury, the soldiers mock Jesus, putting a crown made of thorns on his head and draping him in a purple robe, calling out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (19:3). Pilate reiterates that he finds no guilt in Jesus. Then why not release him? After all, Pilate is in charge. But the chief priests and officers demand that Jesus be crucified. A third time, Pilate pronounces Jesus’s innocence, but the Jewish authorities are relentless. At last, they reveal the real reason why they want Jesus dead: “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (19:7). Thus, the Roman trial is the culmination of repeated charges against Jesus for claiming to be God and committing blasphemy in the eyes of the Jews who assert that there is only one God (5:18; 8:59; 10:33; cf. Deut 6:4). At this, Pilate becomes even more afraid and asks Jesus where he is from, but Jesus remains silent. When Pilate reminds Jesus that he has the authority to condemn or release him, Jesus replies that Pilate has no authority other than that given to him by God, and that Caiaphas has the greater sin.

19:12–16a Pilate still has not given up, but the Jews go in for the kill: if Pilate releases Jesus, he is no friend of Caesar. Having lost support with the emperor (Tiberius) due to the deposition of Pilate’s advocate, a man by the name of Sejanus, Pilate knows he has to tread carefully, and the Jewish authorities skillfully exploit Pilate’s political vulnerability. The threat works, and Pilate takes the judgment seat on The Stone Pavement. It is about noon. One last time he asks if the Jewish leaders want him to crucify their king, yet they reply, “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15). Incredibly, they deny their messianic hope and pledge allegiance to the Roman oppressors. The Jews sell their birthright for a pot of stew (cf. Gen 25:29–34). So Pilate yields to the inevitable and hands Jesus over to his executioners.

Crucifixion and Aftermath (19:16b–37)

19:16b–27 They take Jesus away and have him carry his own cross to The Place of the Skull, Golgotha. There, they crucify him with two others on either side and post an inscription on his cross that reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (19:19). The soldiers take Jesus’s clothes and divide them among themselves, yet they cast lots for Jesus’s seamless tunic, thus fulfilling Scripture (Ps 22:18). Jesus’s mother is among a group of women standing near the cross, and Jesus entrusts her care to the disciple he loved. (According to church tradition, Mary later stayed with the apostle John in Ephesus.) With the end drawing near, Jesus, to fulfill Scripture, indicates that he is thirsty (Ps 69:21). After drinking some sour wine, Jesus says, “It is finished!” (tetelestai, 19:30), and with this announcement of victory, the Son of God dies.

19:31–37 It is the day of Preparation, that is, the Friday before Sabbath during Passover week. Bodies were not to be left on crosses on the Sabbath, so the Jewish authorities ask Pilate to break the dead men’s legs and remove the bodies. Jesus is already dead, so there is no need to break his legs, a fulfillment of the Scripture that the Passover lamb must not have broken bones (Exod 12:46). However, to ensure he is dead, a soldier pierces his side with a spear. At once, blood and water emanate from his side, proving that he is truly dead. This is vital to prove that Jesus effectively died for our sins and that he really rose from the dead. The evangelist certifies that he saw these things (19:35), just as he witnessed the Last Supper (13:23), Jesus’s arrest and trial (18:15–16), and would later witness the empty tomb (20:8–9) and see the risen Jesus (20:19–21:14, esp. 21:2). In an unusual aside, he writes that he bore witness “that you also may believe” (19:35b), addressing his readers directly (cf. 20:31). He also notes scriptural fulfillment regarding Jesus’s bones not being broken and his side being pierced (19:36–37; cf. Exod 12:10, 46; Ps 34:21; Num 9:12; Zech 12:10).

Burial (19:38–41)

Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and one of Jesus’s secret disciples (cf. 12:42–43), goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’s body in order to give him a proper burial. Pilate gives permission. Nicodemus, who previously paid Jesus a nighttime visit (cf. 3:1), brings a huge amount of myrrh and aloes. They use linen cloths and spices on Jesus’s body as customary, but they must work quickly as Sabbath is fast approaching. A garden tomb is close at hand, so they put Jesus’s body there. Then it is Sabbath, on which no work must be done, and all activities cease. The Gospel is silent about anything happening that day. Jesus’s body is in the tomb. The morning of the third day, by inclusive reckoning (counting any part of the day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), is about to dawn.

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, likely dating to the 1st century

Resurrection Appearances (20:1–29)

20:1–10 The “first day of the week” is Sunday, Resurrection Day (the early Christians worshiped on Sunday, not Saturday; e.g., Acts 20:7; 1Cor 16:2). The ensuing narrative shows that Jesus’s followers, the women included, have no expectation whatsoever that he will rise from the dead, even though he predicted this multiple times (e.g., 2:18–22). Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early, presumably to finish embalming Jesus’s body after the approaching Sabbath allowed only a minimum of preparation. She is surprised to find that the stone covering the entrance of the tomb has been rolled away and at once runs—not walks—and tells Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,” namely the apostle John. Entertaining no thought of a possible resurrection, Mary surmises Jesus’s body was stolen. All she wants is to locate the corpse. So Peter and John set out toward the tomb to investigate. John, likely the younger of the two, outruns Peter and gets to the tomb first. Upon his arrival, he notices something peculiar: Jesus’s facecloth is lying by itself, folded up. Would grave robbers have taken the time to do this? Hardly. By then, Peter arrives, so John also enters the tomb, sees, and believes Jesus rose from the dead, yet still not from a right understanding of Scripture (20:9). At this, they return home.

20:11–18 Mary, however, is back at the tomb, weeping. When she peers inside, she sees two angels clad in white sitting where Jesus’s body had lain (one at the head and one at the feet, possibly alluding to the cherubim that guard both sides of the ark of the covenant). They ask her why she is crying, and she replies that someone took away Jesus’s body, and she can’t find it. She still operates on the assumption that Jesus’s body was stolen, or at least removed, by someone, not that he rose from the dead. Turning on her heels, she suddenly spots Jesus, but surmises he is the gardener. All of this makes abundantly clear that Mary was highly unlikely to concoct the story of Jesus’s resurrection. When Jesus asks her why she is crying and who it is she is looking for, she tells him to tell her if he has taken the corpse and where it is laid, and she will take charge of it, all of which is laced with Johannine irony. At this, Jesus calls her by name: “Mary” (20:16a). Perhaps it is the familiar tone of his voice calling her name, but suddenly, Mary recognizes Jesus and says, “Rabboni!” (Aramaic for “Teacher!”). She runs toward him and tries to embrace him, but he needs to keep his distance now and tells her to stop clinging to him; he must ascend to the Father. But she must go and tell his “brothers” (i.e., the disciples) about their encounter. No doubt overjoyed and excited, Mary goes and announces to the disciples that she has seen the Lord and recounts their conversation.

20:19–23 What follows is three resurrection appearances to the disciples (cf. 21:14): (1) the Eleven minus Thomas on Resurrection Day (20:19–23); (2) the Eleven including Thomas eight days later (20:24–29); and (3) seven who had gone fishing, including Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others (21:1–14).

At the first appearance, the disciples are gathered behind locked doors; they remember well what Jesus had said about them bearing the brunt of persecution once he is crucified (cf. 16:1–4). Surely they believe the authorities will come after them now, and Jesus is no longer there to protect them. Yet the risen Jesus, who apparently in his glorified resurrection body is able to go through walls, suddenly stands among them and utters the customary Jewish greeting: “Peace” (Shalom, 20:19). He shows the disciples the nail marks in his hands and the pierce mark in his side. The disciples are glad, and Jesus says again, “Peace,” and proceeds to commission them as  the Sent One-turned-Sender: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (20:21). Just as Jesus represented the Father faithfully and obediently, so they are to represent Jesus faithfully and obediently and spread the message of forgiveness and salvation in him. At this, Jesus breathes on them (echoing God’s creation of Adam, see Gen 2:7) and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit, likely in anticipation of Pentecost (20:22; Acts 2). And he gives them authority to pronounce divine forgiveness of sins upon confession.

20:24–29 Thomas, however, was not present at the first resurrection appearance on the evening of Resurrection Day and so missed out on seeing the marks on Jesus’s hands and side. Unwilling to take his fellow disciples’ word for it, he insists that unless he gets to put his finger where the nail marks are and put his hand into Jesus’s side, he will never, ever believe (emphatic in the original). A week later, the disciples are gathered again, this time including Thomas, the doors still locked out of fear. Again, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and utters the same greeting, well aware of Thomas’s skepticism. He tells Thomas to examine his hands and side and to believe. Seeing Jesus is enough, however, Thomas says at once, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). Yet Jesus replies that blessed are those who believe apart from seeing. This is important for the readers of the Gospel, since they must believe without having seen on account of the evangelist’s testimony. Thomas’s confession of Jesus as Lord and God forms a powerful inclusio with the description of Jesus as God in the introduction to John’s Gospel (1:1, 18).

Purpose Statement (20:30–31)

The Gospel proper closes with a purpose statement that squarely focuses on Jesus’s signs, his identity as Messiah and Son of God, and the need to believe in order to have life. “So that you may believe” addresses the readers directly (20:30; cf. 19:35). The evangelist makes clear that the signs he selected for inclusion in his Gospel represent only a small fraction of all the signs Jesus performed; nevertheless, he presents them as aids to faith in Jesus. Notably, all signs were featured in the first half of John’s Gospel, while the second half narrates Jesus’s preparation of his new messianic community and his glorification—his crucifixion, resurrection, and imminent ascension, as well as the commissioning of his disciples for the missionary task that lies ahead.

Epilogue: The Missions of Peter and the Disciple Jesus Loved (21:1–25)

The epilogue features Jesus’s third and final resurrection appearance to his disciples as well as his final conversation with Peter and the disciple he loved (the apostle John), plus a concluding reference to the abundance of material at the evangelist’s disposal.

21:1–14 Again, Jesus appears to a group of disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (21:1; i.e., the Sea of Galilee, cf. 6:1). The group includes Peter, Thomas, Nathanael (again, the evangelist mentions that Nathanael is from Cana, perhaps to tie in this disciple with the Cana Cycle in chs. 2–4 and provide an inclusio here), the sons of Zebedee (i.e., James and John, the evangelist, here mentioned in the third person), and two unnamed others. Peter is leading a fishing expedition, and that night they catch nothing. Then, at daybreak, Jesus is at the shore. He asks if they have any fish, and when they reply they do not, he tells them to cast the net on the right side of the boat and they will catch “some.” This turns out to be a massive understatement, as they haul in 153 “large” fish (21:11; cf. 21:6). Again, the disciple Jesus loved recognizes Jesus first; he tells Peter, who promptly jumps into the lake and swims toward Jesus. The familiar sight of a charcoal fire ashore may have triggered in Peter the unpleasant memory of denying Jesus three times (21:9; cf. 18:18). Miraculously, despite the large quantity of fish, the net is not torn (21:11). At this, Jesus invites the disciples to have breakfast. There is an eeriness about the scene, as everyone knows he is the risen Lord, but no one dares to ask him (21:12). Similar to the earlier feeding of the multitude (6:1–15), Jesus distributes the bread and fish (in that culture, people have fish for breakfast). This is already the third time Jesus appears to his disciples after rising from the dead.

The Sea of Tiberias as seen from the shores of Capernaum

21:15–25 After breakfast, Jesus pulls Peter aside and asks him three times if he loves him. Three times, Peter answers in the affirmative, and each time Jesus commissions him to shepherd his flock. Then, he tells Peter that when he is old, he will glorify God by dying a martyr’s death, just as Jesus was lifted up on the cross (21:19; cf. 12:33). With this, he charges Peter to follow him. When Peter turns around and sees the disciple Jesus loved (21:20; cf. 13:23, another inclusio), curiosity gets the better of him, and he asks what that disciple’s fate will be. Jesus, however, deflects Peter’s question and, in so many words, tells him to mind his own business. If Jesus wants that other disciple to live until Jesus comes back, what business is that of Peter’s? He must follow Jesus. This interaction led to rumors that the beloved disciple would not die. This is also the disciple who wrote the Gospel, and his testimony is true. The author concludes the Gospel by stating that if everything Jesus did were written down, “I suppose” the whole world could not contain the books that would need to be written (21:25). In this way, John concludes not only his Gospel, but also the four-Gospel collection at the beginning of the New Testament.

John has taken his readers on a breathtaking journey. He has narrated the incarnation of the eternal, preexistent Word in the person of Jesus, the one and only Son of the Father. The Gospel recounts how the Father sent the Son on his redemptive mission, culminating in Jesus’s cry on the cross, “It is finished” (19:30). Not only did the cross accomplish our deliverance from sin, but it also served as a powerful demonstration of God’s love for sinners. What is more, God revealed himself in everything Jesus said and did (1:18). As the faithful, obedient Son who willingly accomplished his redemptive mission in keeping with the Father’s will, Jesus glorified the Father and set the example for us to follow. We, too, are sent to serve God rather than ourselves and to proclaim the good news of the gospel. We are Jesus’s representatives and ambassadors, saved sinners who are to call people in the world to repentance and faith in Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God (20:21, 30–31). As we embark on our mission, we are promised Jesus’s continual presence with us and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit within us, along with the promise of answered prayer for all the resources we need to accomplish our mission—his mission—in Jesus’s name (e.g., 14:13–18). To him be all the glory and praise forever and ever. Amen.


Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Harris, Murray J. John. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Encountering Biblical Studies. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013.

———. “John.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, edited by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, 952–1001. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2020.

———. “John.” In Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, 415–512. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.

———. “John.” In The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible: The Gospels and Acts, edited by Jeremy Royal Howard, 499–634. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013.

———. “John’s Appropriation of Isaiah’s Signs Theology: Implications for the Structure of John’s Gospel.” Themelios 43, no. 3 (2018): 376–86.

———. The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples according to the Fourth Gospel. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

———. Signs of the Messiah: An Introduction to John’s Gospel. Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2021.

———. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God. Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Scott R. Swain. Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008.

Kruse, Colin G. John. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Rev. ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2017.

Ridderbos, Herman N. The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Endnotes & Permissions

1. For a detailed discussion of literary devices in John’s Gospel, see Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God, BTNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), ch. 3.

2. For a more thorough treatment of John’s worldview, see Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, ch. 6.

3. Most view John 1:1–18 as the Johannine introduction or prologue; however, the ancient evidence points to 1:1–5. See further below.

4. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 436–56.

5. Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Jewish Messianic Hope under Greco-Roman Rule,” Tabletalk Magazine (December 2020).

6. See Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Jesus as Rabbi,” and “The Jewish Disciples in the Gospels,” in A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, ed. Craig A. Evans and David Mishkin (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2019), 178–84, 203–6.

7. Andreas J. Köstenberger, “The Family of Jesus,” in The Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, ed. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 735.

8. Note that the Synoptics recount a temple cleansing toward the end of Jesus’s ministry. Most likely, Jesus cleansed the temple twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of his ministry.

9. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 135–41.

10. See Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Samaritans,” in Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 780–81.

11. See Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Festivals,” in Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 747–48.

12. Note that 5:4 was likely added later and is thus omitted from most English Bibles.

13. Andreas J. Köstenberger, “The Sabbath,” in Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 778–79.

14. As articulated in the Mishnaic tractate Berakhot: “A messenger is like the man himself” (5.5).

15. In some manuscripts, 7:8 reads, “I am not going up”; other manuscripts read, “I am not yet going up.” The latter reading may represent a scribal effort to resolve the apparent contradiction with 7:10.

16. None of the earliest manuscripts include 7:53–8:11, which is why we will move straight from 7:52 to 8:12.

17. For details, see Köstenberger, “John,” in Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 967–68.

18. For a survey of Jewish history during the Second Temple period, see Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 64–89.

19. See Köstenberger, “John,” in Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 975. Contra the scholarly “Johannine community hypothesis,” according to which the references to synagogue expulsion in John 9 are later anachronistic impositions from the end of the first century onto Jesus’s day. For a critique, see Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 55–59. On pp. 59–72, I make a case for the destruction of the temple as a likely background for the writing of John’s Gospel.

20. References in John include 1:51; 3:13, 14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34 [2x]; and 13:31.

21. For background, see Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, 78–82.

22. For background information, see Köstenberger, “John,” in Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 980.

23. 2 See Andreas J. Köstenberger, “The Context of Jesus’ Prayer,” Tabletalk Magazine (December 2020).

24. On Pontius Pilate, see Andreas J. Köstenberger, “John,” in The Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 767–78. On the Pharisees and Sadducees, see Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Pharisees and Sadducees,” in Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, 765–66.

25. Annas was high priest from AD 6 to 15, while Caiaphas held the office from AD 18 to 36, the lengthiest high-priestly tenure during Roman rule.

26. See Andreas J. Köstenberger, “‘What Is Truth?’ Pilate’s Question to Jesus in Its Johannine and Larger Biblical Context,” in Whatever Happened to Truth?, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 19–51.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

John 1


The Word Became Flesh

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life,1 and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,2 and his own people3 did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son4 from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.5 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,6 who is at the Father’s side,7 he has made him known.

The Testimony of John the Baptist

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight8 the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Behold, the Lamb of God

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son9 of God.”

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.10 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus11 was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter12).

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,13 you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”


[1] 1:4 Or was not any thing made. That which has been made was life in him

[2] 1:11 Greek to his own things; that is, to his own domain, or to his own people

[3] 1:11 People is implied in Greek

[4] 1:14 Or only One, or unique One

[5] 1:16 Or grace in place of grace

[6] 1:18 Or the only One, who is God; some manuscripts the only Son

[7] 1:18 Greek in the bosom of the Father

[8] 1:23 Or crying out, ‘In the wilderness make straight

[9] 1:34 Some manuscripts the Chosen One

[10] 1:39 That is, about 4 p.m.

[11] 1:40 Greek him

[12] 1:42 Cephas and Peter are from the word for rock in Aramaic and Greek, respectively

[13] 1:51 The Greek for you is plural; twice in this verse