Why was the Gospel of John written? We have a statement from the author himself saying,
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
John wrote this Gospel to tell his readers (and us!) who “the Christ” is. Notice that he said Jesus is “the Christ,” and not simply “Jesus Christ,” as if this were his first and last name. “Christ” is not our Lord’s last name in the same way my last name is Davis. Jesus Christ is actually his name and then his title.
This was the way of saying to a Jewish audience that Jesus was “the Messiah”—he had come to fulfill many prophecies that they long expected and awaited. Jesus is the “Anointed One,” and this term is loaded with Old Testament meaning.
The New Testament is rooted in the Old Testament scriptures. Understanding what happened in the pages of the Old Testament helps us to make better sense of references and themes that we find throughout the New Testament. In many ways, reading front to back—and back to front—is how we are supposed to read the Bible. We see each part as a piece of a greater whole.
The Christ That Nobody Wanted
Of course, John’s real purpose is not just to tell us that Jesus is the Messiah or Christ but to persuade us to actually believe in Jesus. We need to be convinced of this because a lot of our messianic expectations are way off. The Jews expected that the Messiah would come to overthrow the Roman Empire and give them supreme rule over the ancient world, but that’s not the kind of Messiah they got.
Instead, they got a crucified Lord and a dead King.
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:10–11a)
Jesus was the kind of Christ figure that nobody wanted. The whole Gospel of John is written in such a way as to show us that God’s plan from the beginning was to go straight to the cross. It tells us why Jesus came.
Jesus as Messiah came not to fulfill Jewish expectations for earthly conquest but to meet his heavenly Father’s expectations for eternal salvation.
In other words, he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The reason Jesus came was to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus came to die so that we might live.
Now to some people this probably sounds like nonsense. A suffering king? Who wants that? A dying leader? Why would we want that?
Jesus is the antithesis of the kind of president or world leader we all long for. We want a powerful, wealthy, strong leader, but Jesus comes to us powerless, poor, and weak. We want a God who glories in the great and mighty in the highest of places; we don’t expect him to choose the small and scrawny in the lowliest of places.
We’re ready to elect Saul as our mighty king, but God selects the ruddy shepherd boy named David.
Don’t you see? It’s actually through weakness and suffering that God is bringing about redemption! He came to save us not in the way that we wanted but in the way that we needed.
The Gospel of John forces us to reckon with the event of the cross. Jesus died, was raised, is exalted, and is now offered to us as our only means of salvation.
The Christ Everybody Needed
This is what Christianity is all about. It is about God’s descent from heaven—his acting on our behalf to do what we could not do. Christianity is not like other religions of the world where we are told to climb up into heaven by doing or being good.
Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, Mormonism, and all of the other world religions boil down to being about us—our ascent to God, our goodness, our good deeds to earn our rightful place at God’s table. We are told to keep trying, and hopefully, we’ll make it in the afterlife. Or maybe we try to claim entitlement—for whatever reason, we try to muster up, we deserve to be there.
Yet, Christianity tells us something different. Not only is it the only religion in the world that is honest with us about the fact that we can’t get everything right and we aren’t who we should be, but it tells us something far better.
In the person and work of Jesus the Christ, God has come down to us.
In the person and work of Jesus the Christ, God has gotten everything right for us that we got wrong. In Christ, God became the human we all longed to be and hoped for. He came down in order to raise us up.
The Christian message—the gospel or “good news”—is not that we can clean ourselves up, that we just need an extra push to get everything right, or that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
None of our good deeds or efforts will ever be good enough because God demands perfection from us. None of our claims based upon birth into a privileged family or promises to be a better person will be enough. The news of God’s holiness and his righteous standard comes to us as bad news, because we are unrighteous and undeserving. We know that we haven’t kept God’s law.
But Christianity, as set forth in John’s Gospel, is not about climbing up a ladder to God. It’s about God’s descent to us from the manger to the cross. God has descended to us in the words and works of Jesus, the Incarnate Word.
All who believe in the Jesus whom this Gospel of John offers us, these are the children of God.