The Good News from John
There are four Gospels in the Brit Hadasha. The fourth and final one, the Gospel of John, is our focus this month, since the author of John is also the one who wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
While all four Gospels show in some way how Yeshua of Nazareth fulfilled the promises of Messiah in the Tanakh, expressing the “Good News” (Hebrew: Besorah) of salvation through the atoning death of Yeshua the Messiah, each Gospel presents a different picture of the Lord. They each focus on a special aspect of the One God sent into the world. Matthew presents Yeshua as King and Son of David, and is written primarily for the Jews. Matthew can be said to look back. Mark depicts Yeshua as Servant, and documents more miracles than any other Gospel account. Mark looks around. Luke presents Yeshua as the Perfect Man, with a genealogy going back to Adam, the first man. Luke looks in. John portrays Yeshua as the Son of God, writing to all who will believe. John focuses on Yeshua’s divine relationship with His Father. John looks up.
I like what Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas says about the four Gospels: “Matthew is concerned with the life of a Promised Savior. Mark is concerned with the life of a Powerful Savior. Luke is concerned with the grace of a Perfect Savior, and John is concerned with the possession of a Personal Savior.”
The Gospel of John is different from the other three Gospels. It is not one of the three “Synoptic Gospels,” which give a synopsis of Messiah’s life, His miracles, His parables, and His ministry to the multitudes. The Gospel of John is more contemplative, with deeper discourses, prayers, and conversations. One could say that this Gospel is more cosmic, universal, even heavenly. The first three words in John repeat the first words in Genesis: “In the beginning” ( b’ray-SHEET). Jewish readers would have immediately seen that John was taking them back to the creation of the world. Messiah was there. He is presented as God in the Gospel of John.
Who Wrote the Gospel of John?
It is traditionally believed that the Apostle John, also referred to as John the Evangelist, wrote the Gospel according to John. (There are other views, including one that says a close disciple of John’s was the book’s author.) However, many verses seem to indicate that “the disciple whom Yeshua loved” was the author. This would refer to John, the son of Zebedee and Salome, the brother of the Apostle James, a close companion of Peter and a contemporary of the events of the Gospel. This John also wrote three epistles (1 John, 2 John, 3 John) and the Book of Revelation.
John’s name in Hebrew was Yohanan (Yo-kha-NAHN), which means “YHWH (God) is gracious.” The Apostle expressed his special relationship with the Messiah in five verses: “Now there was leaning on Yeshua’s bosom one of His disciples, whom Yeshua loved” (John 13:23). “When Yeshua therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!‘” (John 19:26). “Then she [Mary Magdalene] ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Yeshua loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him‘” (John 20:2). “Therefore that disciple whom Yeshua loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!‘” (John 21:7). “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Yeshua loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?‘” (John 21:20).
John knew that Yeshua loved him. A. W. Tozer in a recently published book, No Greater Love: Experiencing the Heart of Jesus through the Gospel of John, echoes this sentiment. Tozer said about himself: “I am the most important person in God’s eyes.” By this he meant that God loves individuals. He sees the individual and treats them as though they were the only one in the world. Can you believe this? Can you receive it personally?
It makes perfect sense that the disciple of Yeshua who wrote the most about His divine love would have experienced this love the most. While the key word in the Gospel of John is “believe” (98 times in the book), and other important words are “life” and “light,” the underlying theme that runs through John’s writings is “love.” The words “love” and “loved” are found 11 times in Matthew, 6 times in Mark, 13 times in Luke, and 49 times in John.
The purpose of John’s Gospel is found in John 20:31, “…But these are written that you may believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” What draws us to believe in God’s name? What causes us to repent of our sin? Isn’t it the goodness of God, His love? John can help us get there, and then continue in the faith.
The Apostle of Love, as John is sometimes called, illuminates an important truth about love: You must know love yourself, and experience it, before you can explain or express it to anyone else. This is why John could beautifully express the deep love relationship between God the Father and Yeshua. Your spirit will be greatly edified as you read what he said in John chapters 5 and 10: John 5:19, 20, 22, 23, 30, 37, 43. John 10:15, 17, 18, 25, 29, 30, 36, 37, 38. I also love what Yeshua said in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
John focuses on the unconditional aspect of God’s love in chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The verb in Greek that is used is agapao (a-GAH-pah-oh); the noun would be agape (ah-GAH-pey). This type of love is an act of the will, a decision, seeking the highest good of another, regardless. Always. No matter what. According to a commentary in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, agapao is a word that exclusively belongs to the Christian community. “It is a love virtually unknown to writers outside the New Testament.”
Tozer makes some insightful comments on God’s unconditional love: “Nothing can ever happen in my life that will ever surprise God. And because of that knowledge, He has offered to me His unconditional love.” God’s love is not dependent upon the choices we make because He did not come into the world to condemn us (John 3:17), but to save us. Tozer continues with his thoughts on that salvation: “Salvation is not to save us from something. It is to save us unto something. We are to be saved unto Christ and to encounter His unconditional love in our lives.”
Messiah’s love, being unconditional, is the same for everyone. I have tried so many times over the years to explain and convince women of this truth. The ability to receive God’s unconditional love is very often related to our life circumstances, especially to our pasts. But God. He is not like us. If you are a child of God, you are totally accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6). God does not see your past, but rather the reflection of His Beloved Son in you. This is why Yeshua can say to His bride, “You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you” (Song 4:7).
Love longs for the whole world to be saved. That is why Love was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice—God giving His only Son to die for all mankind. It is our choice to receive the love of God through receiving Yeshua as Lord and Messiah. God never forces anyone to love Him. When we choose Yeshua, we choose a love that never changes and never ends. A perfect, pure, and holy love.
Yohanan’s Gospel is the only one that mentions the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh (ROO-akh Ha-KO-desh), as “Comforter” and “Helper”: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
Yeshua was reassuring His talmidim (disciples) of His continued presence with them even at His departure from this earth. He would not leave them as orphans (John 14:18), but His Love would be with them through His Spirit. That love would even indwell them!
I have personally experienced this dimension of the love of God this past year. The Ruach HaKodesh has truly been my Helper and Comforter since my beloved husband, Neil, was promoted to glory. Many of you have prayed for me for this very thing, and the Lord has answered your prayers. Thank you.
Anti-Semitism in John’s Gospel?
You may find this hard to believe, but the Gospel that is infused with the love of God has historically been seen as anti-Semitic among multitudes of Jewish people. Why? Because of one word, and the way that word is used in John’s Gospel. The word is “Jews.”
As Dr. David Stern mentions in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, the charge of antiSemitism concerns statements about “the Jews” that are not only negative, unfriendly, misleading, and false, but are intended to induce dislike and hatred of “the Jews” as a class and as individuals. Consider the following verses in John: “For this reason the Jews persecuted Yeshua, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16). “The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven‘” (John 6:41). “After these things Yeshua walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him” (John 7:1). “However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:13). “Then the Jews said to Him [Yeshua], ‘Now we know that You have a demon!‘” (John 8:52). “But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight” (John 9:18). “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him” (John 10:31). “The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God‘” (John 19:7).
If you were Jewish, reading these verses, how would you feel? A book published in 2001, Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John by Adele Reinhartz, gives us some insight into the traditional Jewish conceptualization of John’s Gospel. To quote Ms. Reinhartz: “I am deeply disturbed and even repelled by the Gospel’s representation of the Jews. Of the 70 or so occurrences of the term hoi Ioudaioi, often translated as ‘the Jews,’ many, perhaps even the majority, occur in the context of hostile or negative statements. Jews are associated with unbelief, the execution of Jesus, and the persecution of His followers. Their self-understanding as the children of Abraham and of God is denied. Their festivals and their institutions are replaced, usurped, or undermined. The most difficult verse is 8:44, in which Jesus accuses the Jews of being liars and murderers and declares: ‘You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.’ This image of the Jews as children of the devil has echoed through the centuries, in theology, art, literature, and anti-Semitic invective, and most recently, on the websites of neo-Nazi groups.”
The enemy of God certainly knows how to twist the truth and corrupt the Word of God to serve his purposes. How do we counter the lie that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic since it has indeed been used over the centuries to vilify the Jews and label them “Christ killers”? I went to the scholarship of Dr. David Stern and Dr. Michael Brown for answers.
Who are “the Jews” in John?
Mistranslation is at the root of the problem. Dr. Stern, in agreement with the analysis of Malcolm Lowe, sees three distinct meanings possible for “Ioudaioi,” and its Hebrew precursor “Yehudim“: 1. Members of the tribe of Judah, 2. Followers of the Jewish religion, that is, Jews, or 3. People living in or originating from Judea. Dr. Stern says that throughout all four Gospels and Acts 1-8 “Ioudaioi” in nearly all instances means “Judeans” and not “Jews.” This distinguishes Judean Jews from Galilean or other Jews. When Jews of this time period wanted to refer to Jews in the religious sense, they spoke of the “people of Israel.”
The festivals “of the Jews” (Ioudaioi) identified by Yohanan are specifically Judean festivals because they are the Pilgrim festivals during which all Jews were required to go up to Jerusalem (Pesach/Passover at 2:13, 6:4, 11:55, and Sukkot/Tabernacles at 7:2).
According to Dr. Brown, author of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Volume 1: “When John speaks of ‘the Jews’ in the New Covenant, he is generally referring either to the Jewish inhabitants of Judea in general (who were divided in their opinion about Jesus), or, in particular, to the Jewish religious leaders who are hostile to Jews. Thus, the negative comments in the Gospel of John against ‘the Jews’ are not meant to apply to all Jewish people but rather to specific Jewish leaders in Judea. Therefore, the issue is primarily one of improving our translations and interpretations as opposed to one of removing anti-Semitic statements.” The term Ioudaioi needs to be examined in its specific context.
Dr. Brown points out an example in John 9:22 where the Jewish parents of a Jewish blind man, whom Yeshua had miraculously healed, were afraid of “the Jews.” He cites Dr. Stern, in the Jewish New Testament, who translates the verse as follows: “The parents said this because they were afraid of the Judeans, for the Judeans had already agreed that anyone who acknowledged Yeshua as the Messiah would be banned from the synagogue.” “The Jews” in this verse refers to the Judean leaders or religious authorities. Dr. Brown quotes another biblical scholar, Urban C. von Wahlde, who said that “even the instances with the most hostile connotations are used in a way that is intended to refer to religious authorities rather than the entire nation.” Judean leaders—not “Jews.”
“The Jews” did not kill Christ. We did. The sins of each of us nailed Yeshua to the tree of sacrifice. Yeshua was a Jew. All of His first followers were Jews. As Yeshua declared to a Samaritan woman at a well, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
Conclusion: The Gospel of John is not anti-Semitic. On the contrary, it is pro-love, pro–abundant life, pro-light, written by one who, craving intimacy with the Messiah, had learned to lean close to His heart (John 21:20).
P.S. Yohanan’s Gospel, if falsely perceived as anti-Semitic, is especially problematic today, since anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout the world, including within the United States. The devil is spewing out this vile, evil poison, which has resulted in deadly attacks on Jewish people in our country this past year (synagogues in Pittsburgh, PA, and Poway, CA), as well as at least 50 instances of vandalism against Jewish institutions.
As believers in Messiah, we must take a stand against anti-Semitism in any form. We should be pro-Semitic. God is still in covenant with His Jewish people (Rom. 11:26-27). The Messiah Yeshua loves the Jews. He said to a Gentile Canaanite woman: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). The cry of His heart is still “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks…” (Matt. 23:37). Our confession must line up with what the Bible says about all Israel: “Concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:28-29). God’s promise to bless those who bless his people Israel still stands (Gen.12:3). His message to Israel today is: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer. 31:3).