The apostle John was overwhelmed by the vastness of Jesus Christ. This fourth gospel is a cosmic gospel, but with profound ramifications for us here on earth. It is cosmic, but it is in no way removed from us. No, the ultimate and divine Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The synoptics should be treated as a cluster of similar perspectives. The gospel of John appears to have been written later, with the intention of addressing various things that the synoptics missed. Very few things in John’s gospel overlap with the others.
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30–31).
Some Background on John
Let’s begin with some things that we ought to know about John, but which we usually don’t. John was very likely the Lord’s first cousin on their mothers’ side. John was a son of Zebedee, and his mother’s name was Salome, which we can find out by comparing Mark 16:1 and Matt.27:56. Mark says that the third woman who went to the tomb was Salome and Matthew said it was the mother of Zebedee’s children. And then in John 19:25, it says that four women were present at the crucifixion—two Marys from Mark and Matthew, the Lord’s mother, and the Lord’s aunt. This helps make sense of how the Lord would entrust the care of His mother to John, which on this reading would be her nephew. It also helps explain the particular closeness of Jesus and John (John 21:7).
John was also from a well-to-do family with respectable connections. His father had hired servants (Mark 1:20), and Salome was one of the women who was a financial patroness of the Lord’s ministry (Luke 8:3; Mark 15:40). John was known to the high priest (John 18:15-16), and was able to get Peter into the place where the Lord was being tried.
We also know a great deal about John’s giftedness and related challenges. Jesus named him, together with his brother, a son of thunder (Mark 3:17). He was a fire-eater, and sometimes succumbed to the temptations that come with that—which would be misdirected zeal and ambition. He was one of the disciples who wanted Jesus to torch a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54), and it was Salome who made the request for James and John to sit at Christ’s left and right hand (Matt. 20:20; Mark 10:37). John was not formally trained (Acts 4:13), but was nonetheless a staggering genius. He was a tender and humble man as revealed by all his writings, but it is very plain that this was the result of the Spirit taming a lot of horsepower.
He remained in Jerusalem for a number of years—at least 14 (Gal. 2:9), but then moved to Ephesus, where he wrote his gospel (according to Irenaeus. That was the time during which he was exiled to Patmos. According to early reports, he lived until the reign of Trajan (which started in 98 A.D.)
Outline of John
The gospel of John can be understood as having three basic sections. The first is where Jesus Christ is revealed to the world (John 1:1-12:50). The second is where He is revealed in greater depth, this time to His disciples (John 13:1-17:26). We see this revelation in the Lord’s extended discourses to His disciples. And the last section is where Christ is glorified (John 18:1-21:25)—again, to the world, but with His disciples being the ones who understood how the nature of glory has been transformed, and who declare that to the world.
Features of John
John has an orderly mind, and likes to see things in patterns. For example, he uses three a lot—three Passovers, three condemnations of Christ, three words from the cross, three denials by Peter, a three-stage restoration of Peter. We also see seven quite a bit as well— seven great signs or miracles (John 2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-18; 6:5-13; 6:16-21; 9:1-17; 111-44), seven “I am” sayings followed by a metaphor (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).
Five Were, One Is, One Is to Come
There are many reasons for reading the gospel of John and the book of Revelation together, side by side. Let me mention a handful of examples, and then give one specific parallel in greater depth. If you read the two books in an intertextual way, side by side, you should notice many connections. Here is just a small sampling:
“He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth andheareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29).
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
“…and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
“And from Jesus Christ . . . and the first begotten of the dead . . . to him be glory” (Rev. 1:5–6).
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat” (Rev. 7:16).
But John is not just entertaining himself with mental gymnastics. There is a gospel point to this, a gospel center.
In John 4, Jesus meets a disreputable woman. “For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly” (John 4:18). In Revelation we meet the great harlot who rides the beast. “And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space” (Rev. 17:10).
Here is something a friend pointed out to me. Notice the mathematical pattern—five past, one now, one to come. But what is the point? When the disciples come back with food and find Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, they are amazed (John 4:27). Everywhere in the Bible when you see a man talking with a woman at the well, you know that a wedding is in the offing (Gen. 24:16-17; 29:11; Ex. 2:17-18). How do you know that? The same way you know two things when a movie starts with a cute blonde waking up late, slapping the alarm clock. She dashes around getting ready, runs down the steps of an upscale brownstone apartment building, only to run over a young man who happens to be walking by. Now what two things do you know? First, you know that your wife tricked you into a chick flick, and second, you know that the colliding couple are destined for each other. You know this because motifs communicate.
In John 4, the one that is to come is Christ—the Father is seeking worshipers (a bride) for His Son (John 4:23). The book of Revelation makes the same point in a slightly different way. Revelation is all about the replacement of the old Israel (the harlot) with the virgin bride (the new Jerusalem).
But—and this is key—what is the raw material out of which God assembles this new Eve? That is right, the answer is a rib taken right out of the side of the old corrupt Adam. But there is more. God is able to take this rib out of two Adams at once because the second Adam was dying on the cross suffering the penalty that the first Adam earned (John 19:34-35).
Now John wrote all that he wrote so that you might believe. A strong theme in this book is the glorious future of women with inglorious pasts. The Samaritan woman believes, along with the rest of her town (John 4:39). The woman caught in adultery is told to go and sin no more (John 8:11). Mary Magdalene, out of whom seven devils were cast, met the Lord in the garden. Adam met the woman in a garden of life, with innocence behind her. The second Adam met the woman in a garden of death, a cemetery, and with all her innocence before her (Matt. 20:11-18).
Of course, Mary Magdalene is not the bride of Christ. But she most certainly is the type of the one who is. John told us all this so that we would believe. Do you believe?