John, Gospel of the Incarnation

Karen H. Jobes

There is more than one way to tell a story—even the most important story of all. The Gospel writers crafted their individual stories of Jesus using genealogies, prophecies or narratives of historical events to convey His identity and mission. While Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is the heir of the covenant promises of David and Abraham and the fulfiller of ancient messianic prophecies, Mark emphasizes that Jesus is the Messiah of a kingdom even greater than Rome. In his Gospel and Acts, Luke shows that Jesus is the Christ of all nations, whose gospel breaks down barriers between Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, and male and female.

While the Synoptic Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—tell the story of Jesus from within the perspective of human history, John takes a different approach. He writes from a viewpoint that transcends human history and time.

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John establishes Jesus’ divine nature and His eternal significance before he records any of His words or actions. The opening words of John’s Gospel echo Genesis 1:1, taking us back before creation, before the fall or the first prophecy, and before the star of Bethlehem appeared: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John proclaims that this Word “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:14). The narrative then swoops down into first-century Palestine and places the incarnation within human history.

Signs of Glory

When telling the events of Jesus’ life, John selects those that reveal His divine identity and the purpose of His incarnation. He records only seven miracles, six of which are not told in the Synoptic Gospels. John describes Jesus’ acts not as “miracles” (dynamis, δύναμις) but as “signs” (sēmeion, σημεῖον), inviting us to see what Jesus’ actions reveal about Him.

John’s descriptions of the signs connect Jesus to the fulfillment of Old Testament promises and point to the significance of His crucifixion. He records Jesus’ first miracle—changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (2:1–11)—as a symbolic act that reveals His divine nature and the purpose of His incarnate life (2:11). In the Old Testament, a wedding banquet and the abundance of wine symbolize the joy of the messianic age, when death itself dies and God rights all wrongs (Isa 54:5; 61:10; Jer 33:10; 31:12–14; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). John shows that this promised age dawned with the coming of Jesus (2:11). He reports that this miracle revealed Jesus’ “glory,” pushing His disciples to believe in Him (2:11). He also invites us to believe this revelation, become a disciple of Jesus, and cross over into eternal life (20:31).

Jesus as the Son of God

All of the Gospels demonstrate Jesus’ identity as Son of God by showing His power and wisdom. Yet such an identification can be difficult to reconcile with the concept of monotheism: How can God the Father and God the Son be one? John identifies Jesus as God by explaining that not only did the Word—Jesus—exist “in the beginning,” but the Word was God, through whom all things were created (1:1).

John further demonstrates Jesus’ identity by showing His involvement in the covenants that God made with the Israelites. While Jesus was in Jerusalem speaking with Abraham’s biological descendants, He exclaimed, “Very truly I tell you before Abraham was born, I am!” (8:58). In addition to reasserting Jesus’ pre-existence, this statement alludes to two Old Testament covenants. The first is the Abrahamic covenant established with Abraham and Sarah as the parents of a great nation through whom all others would be blessed (Gen 12:1–3; 17:1–22). Jesus also refers to Himself as “I Am,” the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush and set into motion the redemptive plan that led to the exodus and Sinai covenant (Exod 3:14).

Tragic Irony

Those who heard Jesus’ statement in John 8:58 understood Him as claiming to be God, and they picked up stones to kill Him (John 8:59). This scene is repeated in John 10 after Jesus declares, “I and the Father are one” (10:30–31). When Jesus questioned why He deserved such punishment, they answered, “We are not stoning you for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (10:33).

And that is the power of John’s perspective on Jesus. For if Jesus truly were a mere man claiming to be God, He would have been a liar or a lunatic. The tragic irony of John’s message is that Jesus was executed for being exactly who He claimed to be: the eternally pre-existent Son of God who stepped into human history to bring God’s saving love to us. John’s hope is that you would read his account, believe this report of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and have new life in Him (20:31).

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4