You are currently viewing The Jewish Setting of John’s Gospel

The Jewish Setting of John’s Gospel

When we consider the Jewish setting of John’s Gospel it helps us to understand John’s purpose for writing. John wrote that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that believing you might have life in His name. In his era, various groups represented respective Jewish interests including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians and Zealots. Geographically there was also the Judeans, Galileans, and the Samaritans. Much like today, many of these groups had differing Messianic hopes and expectations.

John commenced his gospel by grounding it in the context of a literal creation from Genesis 1. He explains that Jesus the Messiah existed from eternity past, and He was in the beginning with God and created everything. Jesus gives life and light. John the Baptist was the witness of the true Light and importantly he was the messenger preparing the way for the Messiah as prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.

John emphatically declared that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Abraham obediently took Isaac and prepared to sacrifice him though the Lord provided a ram as a substitute in place of Isaac. Isaac is a type of Messiah. The Lord Jesus willingly gave His own life to make atonement for sin and to reconcile humankind to God. It is of course no coincidence that Jesus was crucified at Passover.

Nathanael, one of Jesus’ talmidim (disciples) recognised Him for who He was, since Jesus saw him under the fig tree before He arrived and his response was “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel (John 1:49)!”Though Jesus had seen Nathanael under the fig tree He assured him that he would see far greater things; even heaven opening and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (Genesis 1:51).” Jesus was speaking of Jacob’s ladder, and He would later explain that He is the Son of Man and the only way to the Father (John 14:6).

The Jewish feasts feature prominently and throughout John’s Gospel. When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus the Teacher of Israel, that occurred during Passover (John 2:23ff). In John 7 through to John 9, the setting is the Feast of Tabernacles. Amongst the great water ceremony and giant menorahs lighting Jerusalem, Jesus said that He gives living water and is the light of the world.  In John 10:22 when Jesus walked in Solomon’s porch that event happened at Hanukkah. In John 12 when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with costly perfume, that occurred six days before Passover.

The Last Supper coincided with Passover which is confirmed by the other gospel accounts and Jesus rose from the grave on the Feast of Firstfruits. He was sinless and the Feast of Unleavened bread (leaven almost always represents sin) pointed to that also. All the feasts point toward His first coming and second coming. The context of communion is rooted in the Passover.

There are seven miracles mentioned in John’s Gospel. The performing of miracles was and is important to prove His identity as Messiah, since Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah who would enable the lame to walk, blind to see and deaf to hear (Isaiah 35:5-6). In addition, Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, multiplied food, and rose from the grave which is the greatest miracle and was also foretold by King David (Psalm 16:10).

There are seven I AM statements in John’s Gospel. Remember that God revealed Himself to Moses instructing him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt sent by “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Jesus claimed He was the bread of life, light of the world, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life and the vine. In John 5, John 8, and John 10 there were certain Jews that tried to kill Jesus since they claimed that he was blaspheming by calling God His Father making Himself equal with God.

We must be careful here and consider the Jewish context as set out in the opening paragraph. Let us remember that Yeshua (Jesus) was Jewish, His disciples were Jewish, and the setting was Jewish with various groups represented. The fact that some Jewish people wanted to kill Him does not mean that all the Jewish groups and individuals did. This Gospel confirms that salvation is of the Jews, that Yeshua (Jesus) was buried in the custom of the Jews and that Jesus was the King of the Jews.

It is vital to remember that some Jewish people believed and trusted in Jesus as the Messiah, and some did not. If we fail to recognise that, we are in danger of understanding John’s Gospel as an antisemitic text, though it is anything but! When Jesus fed the five thousand some acknowledged Him as truly the Prophet like Moses (John 6:14; c.f. Deuteronomy 18:15-22). At Tabernacles when some sought to harm him, many of the others believed in Him (John 7:30-31). When Jesus invited people to come to Him to drink from His life-giving water; again many from the crowd were convinced that He was that same Prophet (John 7:37-40). Some said this is the Messiah whilst others questioned whether Messiah would come from Galilee (John 7:40-41). Isaiah 9:1-7 clearly speaks of Messiah from Galilee.  Clearly there was divided opinion in an intra-Israelite context.

When Jesus was buried, Joseph of Arimathea (a prominent council member) and Nicodemus (the teacher of Israel) respectively asked for the body of Jesus and took it to his unused tomb and brought a great quantity of myrrh.  This signifies what Jesus meant to them and demonstrates that learned and notable leaders came to faith and trusted in Him.

When Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to His disciples, He greeted them three times saying “Shalom Alachem”, (peace be with you- John 20:19, 21, 26). Messiah is of course supposed to bring peace. At His first coming, Jesus through His sacrifice, brought peace with God by giving Himself to make atonement for our sin and to satisfy the wrath of God. When he returns, He will come as the Prince of peace and will return from where He departed, the Mount of Olives and will reign as King Messiah in His Messianic Kingdom. The peace that He gives is a lasting peace and something that only Messiah can bring. The question remains, are you trusting and following Him, have you asked Him to forgive your sins, and will you be ready for when He returns?