The uniqueness of John’s Gospel
By Fred Zaspel–
Students of the New Testament have long recognized the distinctiveness of the Gospel of John as over against the other Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “synoptic” (“seeing together”) Gospels, because at least in general terms they view the life of Jesus from a common perspective. Each of the four Gospel writers has his own distinctive perspective also, to be sure, but they also have significant commonalities among them. The Synoptic writers in no way contradict John, of course; they all four together present the very same Jesus in every significant way. It’s just that the perspective of John is distinct from that of the Synoptic writers in some ways.
Part of the uniqueness of John’s Gospel is his overall perspective. As we saw in our last study, John is known as the Gospel of Jesus’ deity. That is, John presents Jesus as God in human flesh.
Now to say this about John can be misleading, so we must be careful. Matthew presents Jesus as Israel’s King, Mark presents Jesus as the model servant, and Luke presents Jesus as the perfect man. But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all very plainly present the deity of Jesus also.
So when we say that John presents Jesus as God in human flesh we are not saying that this in and of itself is his uniqueness. Nor is it primarily a matter of emphasis, for all the Gospel writers emphasize Jesus’ deity. It is more a matter of perspective. The Synoptics all begin with Jesus the man. They may glance backwards to Israel’s history or with Jesus’ human family tree, his genealogy. They may speak of Jesus’ mother and his manger bed or, as in the case of Mark, they may begin with his preaching ministry. Like Luke they may emphasize at the outset the careful scholarly research that went into the writing about this man — the investigative interviews with eyewitnesses, and so on. And so as they progress through their respective Gospels the Synoptic writers present the man Jesus and from that beginning point proceed to show his glory. He who is Israel’s King is the King of Heaven. He who is the servant is the mighty Sovereign. He who is the Son of Man is the Son of God. And so on. As B.B. Warfield has put it, their common perspective is “from below upward.”
The perspective of John, on the other hand, is “from above downward.” John begins in eternity past with “the Word” who was always “with God” and who from eternity “was God,” and then he proceeds to the incarnation — “The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we beheld his glory” — and on to the life of Jesus.
In short, the Synoptics set out to tell us that “This Jesus is God!” John, by contrast, sets out by telling us that “This God became Jesus.” As Warfield comments, the fundamental purpose of John’s prologue is, simply, “to account for Jesus.” From the outset John wants us to know that the words and deeds of this man Jesus are, in fact, the words and deeds of God. And so as we observe his miracles, we should not be surprised — he is, after all, God in human flesh. When we hear him speak, we must bear firmly in mind that here we learn from God. From the outset, as you read John’s Gospel, John wants you to keep in mind that this man is like no other. Jesus is God placing himself on display.
Ultimately, John wants us to be impressed with the fact that our great God has himself come to our rescue. The rejected one on that cross is God is eminently suited to the task — the Savior is God come as man for humanity’s rescue.
Could we hope for anything less? Could we trust anyone else?
Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010); Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.