Matthew, Mark, and Luke offer a more or less chronological account of Christ’s life, including different details and different perspectives: Matthew, as we have seen, focuses on a new King, Mark on a straight forward Servant, and Luke on a promised Deliverer.
John, on the other hand, is more thematic, an extended essay selecting anecdotes to illustrate a central truth—that Jesus is God and has come to bring life and light. He doesn’t take long to get to this point (1:2-4):
He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Everything else John writes is to support this claim, that God has come into the world in the person of Jesus and life—eternal life, in fact—is found in Him.
The enumerated signs, in the first 5 chapters, are turning water into wine (2:1-12) and healing an official’s son from a distance (4:46-54). But He also sees Nathanael under a fig tree (1:50) and tells a Samaritan woman about her sordid past (4:17). These are the ways he “manifested his glory (2:11).”
However, the emphasis on healing and miracles is much less in John than in the other Gospels—just enough to support the claim of deity. He heals a lame man on the Sabbath (5:1-17), for example, to assure us he is Lord of the Sabbath.
But there are other witnesses, too, such as his older cousin John the Baptist, who says: “he ranks before me because he was before me (1:15).”
“This is the Son of God,” he says (1:34).
John the author also affirms Christ’s claims (3:31-36): “He who comes from above is above all,” he says. A Jesus “utters the Words of God” and the Father “has given all things into his hand.” “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” he writes (1:12-13). And “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Even Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, says “No one can do the signs that you do unless God is with him (3:2).” But Jesus pushes this idea further. Life and light have come into the world, in the Son whom the Father has sent(3:19). In Jesus. For this reason, by the time we get to chapter 5, the religious leaders are seeking to kill him, because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (5:18).”
The signs and witnesses are not the most convincing proofs this Gospel offers, however. The real proof is what Jesus says about himself, which, as C.S. Lewis observed, leaves us few options:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Here are just some of the things Jesus said about himself in the first few chapters:
- Destroy this temple (my body) and in three days I will raise it up (2:19).
- No one has ascended into heaven except he who has descended from heaven, the Son of Man (3:13).
- Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again (4:14).
- My Father is working until now, and I am working (5:17).
- Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father (5:23).
- Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life (5:24).
- The Scriptures bear witness about me, but you refuse to come to me that you might have life (5:39).
“I say these things,” Jesus says, “that you might be saved (5:34).”
Because in Him was life.
And the life was the light of men.