When you finish this session you should be able to:
- Understand the general background of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation
- Comprehend the flow of the content of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation
- Interact with the theology of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation
- Review the theological considerations of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation
The Gospel of John presents the longer discourses of Jesus for the ecclesiae at the close of the first century. First, Second, and Third John demonstrates that truth will win over the false teaching being offered to the ecclesiae. Revelation is a book of comfort for the church in the fray of the war between this present evil age and the age to come. In each of these books we will follow this pattern: First, we will review the book’s background. Then, we will overview its content. Finally, we will consider its theology.
Where We Are Going
A Quick Look at John
A Theological Glance at John
About 1 John
A Quick Look at 1 John
A Theological Glance at 1 John
About 2 John
A Quick Look at 2 John
A Theological Glance at 2 John
About 3 John
A Quick Look at 3 John
A Theological Glance at 3 John
About 2 Revelation
A Quick Look at Revelation
A Theological Glance at Revelation
Ladd. New Testament Theology, pp 669-683
One of the first disciples and a fisherman by trade, John, the son of Zebedee, was the writer of five Second Testament books. They are the Gospel of John, 1,2,3 John, and the book of Revelation. During the persecution by Domitian, John was exiled on the isle of Patmos off the coast of Ephesus. Upon his return to Ephesus after his exile he penned all five of his books. He was probably in his nineties when he wrote these books. He had waited for almost 60 years before he wrote any of his memories about the ministry of Jesus in his Gospel.
A Quick Look At John
From eternity past to eternity present to eternity future, Jesus is presented as God’s eternal word. In all of the Second Testament, this section is often held as the most profound.
Public Ministry of Jesus: John 1.19-12.50
John told many stories about the public ministry of Jesus: John the Baptist, the calling of the twelve disciples, the cleansing of the Temple, the water turned into wine, the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, the resuscitation of Lazarus, and the decision of Israel’s leaders to destroy Jesus.
Private Ministry of Jesus: John 13.1-17.26
In this section of his Gospel, John turned to the private ministry of Jesus to his disciples. He tells many stories including the washing of the feet of the disciples, the betrayal prediction. He comforted his disciples and told them that he was the way through which they could relate to the Father. He taught them about the connection they have with him in the story of the vine and the branches. He prays for himself, for all his disciples, and for all believers.
Passover | Crucifixion | Resurrection. John 18.1-20.31
In the third section of his Gospel, John told the story of the passion week of Jesus. He begins with the arrest of Jesus and his series of trials. Peter denied him as Jesus said he would. Pilate, the Roman governor, sentenced Jesus to be crucified. The stories of the dark day of the crucifixion, death, and burial are told, followed by the bright day of the resurrection and appearances to Mary Magdalene, his disciples, and Thomas.
Conclusion. John 21.1-25
After the denials of Peter, Jesus reinstates his ministry.
A Theological Glance At John
The Purpose of the Gospel
John’s Gospel differs from the earlier three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). The ecclesiae was in its second generation and John wrote to it with the specific intention of urging Jesus followers to continue to follow in the steps of Jesus. It is held that the Gospel of John was written as an evangelistic work. This is highly unlikely. From the beginning of his Gospel to the end, John presumes that the readers have a considerable sophistication and maturity. His purpose was to make the life and ministry of Jesus a reality to his present generation. John wanted his readers to deepen their followership of Jesus so that they might appreciate the unique relation of Jesus to the Father. There is a parallel in the writings of John which says I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5.13). The Gospel of John and 1 John for that matter fell from the pen of John together. It could be that he has the same intended audience for both works.[ref]Tom Wright. “What John Really Meant: The Gospel of the New Temple”[/ref]
Implicit and Explicit
John makes explicit what the Synoptics made implicit. John viewed that the miracles of Jesus as “signs” revealed the mission of Jesus in the world. John writes with rich symbolism in his stories. As an example, Judas left the upper room (13.10) at night. As a reader, you can sense that John is suggesting that Judas was leaving the real light and going into darkness. This might also apply to the story of Nicodemus in John 3.
The Discourses of Jesus
John spends more time presenting the longer teachings of Jesus as compared to the three Synoptics. Discourses like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew are collections of sayings of Jesus found in other places in the other two Synoptics.
The major discourses in John are:
- New birth: John 3.1-21
- The water of life: John 4.4-26
- Resurrection and life: John 5.19-47
- Bread of Life: John 6.29-59
- The deity of Jesus: John 8.12-59
- Good Shepherd: John 10.1-21
- The deity of Jesus: John 10.22-38
- The role of Jesus: John 12.20-50
- The departure of Jesus: John 13.31-14.31
- Union with Jesus: John 15.1-16.33
- The glorification of Jesus: John 17.1-26
Common words in John’s Gospel are often filled with deep theological meaning. Here are some of the keywords:
- Belief. An active, enduring trust (John 3.16, 18; 8.31-32) based on a personal appropriation of Jesus (John 1.12).
- Night, Darkness. The domination of evil (John 3.2, 19; 8.12)
- Death. The spiritual condition of those who are separated from God (John 5.16-26)
- Falsehood. Deceit in contrast to reality as God reveals it (John 8.44)
- Glory. The splendor of God, beauty, power, love, goodness (John 1.14; 17.4-5)
- Know. A term indicating both a personal relationship with God established through belief in Jesus and continuing fellowship with God maintained by obedience (John 8.31-32; 10.4, 14-15)
- Life. A spiritual dynamic which enables a Jesus follower to live righteously now, and guarantees future resurrection (John 3.15-26; 5.21-26)
- Love. A conscious choice to care for God and others (John 3.16)
The First Testament background for logos is that of the creative and revelatory word of God. The questions that are often raised by the use of the word logos are: where does the idea of the logos come from and what use does John make of it? In Stoicism, a Greek philosophy, logos stood for a metaphysical principle of the cosmos and is another name for God. It is obvious that John’s interest is not metaphysical but historical (John 1.14). The stoics equated logos and theos as synonymous terms, John does not (John 1.1). Rabbinic Wisdom literature is another possibility (Prov. 8.22-31; Wisdom of Solomon 7). Logos is wisdom in its creative and revelatory capacities in and its use as a guide for practical affairs. The most promising line of investigation begins with the concept of the divine word in the First Testament in creation (Gen. 1.1; Ps 33.6) and revelation through the prophets (Isa. 55.11). John picks up the idea of creation and revelation and gives it a Christological sense in his prologue (John 1.3, 10, 14, 18). While the prophets came with fragmentary and incomplete revelation, Jesus as the incarnate logos embody the full and final discourse of God (Heb. 1.1). It is the claim of being the last word of God and the perfect mirror of God that reflects the contextual meaning of logos.
It is apparent from the way John uses paraclete that he intended his readers to understand personality by it. The idea of paraclete may be best expressed by the title of Continuator.[ref]D. A. Carson, R. T France, J. A Motyer, G. J. Wenham, (Eds.), New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1023. [/ref] The thought is that the Holy Spirit is the substitute for Jesus and continues the work and ministry of Jesus.
Opposites that Reveal Truth
John uses many opposites to reveal his theological points. Here are some of them: life vs. death, light vs. darkness, belief vs. unbelief, truth vs. falsehood, and love vs. hate.
The Seven Signs
Often called signs, these miracles point beyond themselves. They were not seen by John as ends in themselves. These miracles signified that there was transforming power in the ministry of Jesus.
- Turning water into wine (John 2.1-11): This miracle symbolizes the sterility of Judaism and the new wine of the messianic age which was occurring in the ministry of Jesus.
- Healing the Official’s son (John 4.46-54): The restoration power of the message of Jesus.
- The man at the pool healed (John 5.1-9): In God’s kingdom weakness is replaced by strength.
- Feeding the 5,000 (John 6.1-14): This signifies that only Jesus can satisfy spiritual hunger.
- Walking on water (John 6.16-21): The ministry of Jesus is not incapacitated because of realities like gravity and time.
- Healing the man born blind (John 9.1-12): The ministry of Jesus brings individuals from spiritual darkness into light.
- Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11.1-44): Resurrection power of the age to come can bring individuals from death to life.
The spiritual implications of these miracles do not mean that they did not occur in history or that God does not perform such today. Their real significance is that they point to the powerful ministry of Jesus in transforming the ecclesiae into God’s children.
The Seven “I AM” Sayings
Each of these seven emphatic statements of Jesus suggests an important aspect of the person and ministry of Jesus.
- I am the bread of life: John 6.35. Jesus is the food that nourishes our spiritual life.
- I am the light of the world: John 8.12; 9.5. Jesus is the root source of our illumination. There is no light apart from a relationship with him. To have light is to have Jesus.
- I am the door of the sheep: John 10.7. Jesus is the only passageway. There is only one door to a sheepfold. It was the only entrance for the sheep. There is no other way into God’s salvation, only Jesus.
- I am the good shepherd: John 10.14. Jesus was a shepherd willing to lay down his life for the lives of his sheep.
- I am the resurrection and the life: John 11.25. Jesus does not give resurrection and life to those who believe; he is resurrection and life. The linking of resurrection and life points to the truth that the life Jesus brings is the life of the age to come.
- I am the way and the truth and the life: John 14.6. Jesus not only shows individuals the way to salvation, he is the way, the path to take to enter into salvation. Way speaks of a connection between two things—you and God’s salvation. Jesus is the reality of God which was occurring in the person and ministry of Jesus. Jesus is life, not mere physical existence.
- I am the true vine: John 15.1. Jesus is the root of life.
- Jesus is the logos and is God’s answer to man’s religious quest.
- Serious consequences result from unbelief.
- The work of the Holy Spirit is to continue the work of Jesus in the world.
Questions John Answers
- Who is Jesus?
- What is the work of the Spirit?
Community Discussion Questions
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- Can the world see Jesus at the center of the life of your community of faith and your personal life? How?
- Where does the Holy Spirit continue the ministry of Jesus in your life?
- After reading these seven signs that John presents, choose one and make a change in your life based on its historical meaning.
- After reading the seven I AM sayings of John’s Gospel, choose one and a change in your life based on its historical meaning.
- Jesus came to reveal God to us.
- The Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus through us in the world.
- John was written to bring us to maturity.
Thoughts To Contemplate
- Jesus can restore any part of your damaged life.
- Jesus is the only one who can satisfy your spiritual hunger.
- Jesus can bring you from the darkness of your depression to the light of his glorification.
- Jesus is the food you need to nourish your life.
- Jesus is the reality of God’s presence in your life to help you through the struggles of life.
About 1 John
By the end of the first century, Christian doctrine was still being corrupted by false teachers in the ecclesiae. John wrote to the followers of Jesus suggesting that they test everything that they were being taught. The basic problem that was creeping into the church was incipient Gnosticism. The major point of this aberrant teaching was the belief that you could participate in any form of experience in your body because it did not affect the spirit of your humanity, which was of most value. This budding Gnostic belief suggested that Jesus was not really physical, because physical was sinful and God could not live in a physical, sinful form. John reflected in the first few verses that this belief system was wrong. He wrote using vivid contrasts: light and darkness; the love of God and the love of the world; the children of God and the children of the devil; the spirit of God and the spirit of the antichrist; love and hate, to name a few. He also addressed the areas of eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and fellowship with God and each other.
A Quick Look At 1 John
John writes with certain topics in mind. The outline below is to assist the reader in following the flow of the author in his writing. His inspired flow may suggest that complete joy for the believer is the foundation on which conduct, love, and Jesus living in the believer is built.
Complete Joy: 1 John 1.1-4
Conduct: 1 John 1.5-2.6
Christian Love: 1 John 2.7-17
Christ in Believer: 1 John 2.18-28
Conduct: 1 John 2.29-3.10
Christian Love: 1 John 3.11-24
Christ in Believer: 1 John 4.1-6
Christian Love: 1 John 4.7-5.12
Conduct: 1 John 5.13-21
A Theological Glance At 1 John
These final three letters from John come at the close of the first century. Compositely, they picture the grave danger that faced the ecclesiae in the last decade of the first century. False (fake) teachers had come in this decade to harass the ecclesiae with its false teachings. John labels the false prophets (1 John 4.1) and a counterfeit Christ (1 John 2.18 see 4.3). Jesus followers are urged to distinguish the truth from the spurious claims that were being taught. Even though the false teachers had been unmasked (1 John 4.4) and expelled (1 John 2.19), their influence remained. One can determine the claims of the false teachers by any sentence that begins with, “if anyone says….” These teachers boasted of their superior knowledge of God (1 John 2.4; 4.8), an incipient form of Gnosticism. Their braggadocio about their love of God (1 John 4.20) and fellowship with him (1 John 1.6; 2.6, 9) was simply lying in the eyes of John. These false teachers boasted about their unique spiritual experiences (1 John 4.1f). They taught a Christology (1 John 4.2) that denied the true humanity of Jesus, which in turn cast doubt on the redemptive power of his death.
- Jesus was (and is) real.
- Our conduct should display our beliefs.
Questions 1 John Answers
- • Was Jesus real or only a figment of the disciples’ imagination?
- • Is physical equal to sinful?
Community Discussion Questions
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- In what way is the present ecclesiae in grave danger of following the path the early ecclesiae was being warned to abandon?
- Jesus is the eternal sinless Son of God who was perfect in every sense.
- We are not bound to sin. We have a choice not to have a continual practice of sin.
Thought To Contemplate
- We must be aware of peoples’ false beliefs about Jesus by being well-informed about our own beliefs about who he is.
Question 2 John Answers
- Is there really such a thing as a new revelation?
- Avoid at all costs these two statements: Jesus was only a man, and Jesus was not a true man.
- Jesus was truly God and man at the same time.
Thought To Contemplate
Having a difficult time loving a brother or sister in the ecclesiae community? Maybe your Jesus followership system has been altered. Dancing with false teaching always leads to the dislike of brothers and sisters.
About 2 John
When a Jesus follower followers false teaching, often their love for the Christian community is diminished. John was trying to solve this very problem in this small letter. Christians should be alert to what they believe. True love will keep your perspective correct. Love does not accept or condone wrong. Love segregates itself from heresy and wrong.
A Quick Look At 2 John
Introduction 2 John 1-3
Love One Another 2 John 4-6
Followers of Jesus are exhorted to love one another.
Look Out For Error 2 John 7-11
Jesus followers are exhorted to be aware of the errors that false teachers champion.
Conclusion 2 John 12-13
A Theological Glance At 2 John
See 1 John
- The teaching of Jesus must be followed.
- Jesus was truly a man.
About 3 John
John contrasted behavior in this small letter by looking at the service of Gaius as good behavior and a model to follow, and Diotrephes and his wrong behavior which caused strife in the local ecclesiae. He told the ecclesiae to remove Diotrephes from the community.
A Quick Look At 3 John
Introduction: 3 John 1
Service of Gaius: 3 John 2-8
Gaius and his service are exposed to the congregation.
Strife of Diotrephes: 3 John 9-12
The ecclesiae is told to excommunicate Diotrephes and not to imitate him.
Conclusion: 3 John 13-14
A Theological Glance At 3 John
Tension, dissension, and debate was the climate into which this tiny but powerful letter came. The conflict over which the debate arose was about the relationship Christians should have with visiting Christian teachers. While Gaius and Demetrius had been faithful to receive the visiting teachers (3 John 5, 12), Diotrephes had not (3 John 9). Because of his determination, malicious gossip, nonacceptance of other Jesus followers, and excommunicating those who accept the visitors, John will face him off when he arrives. The ecclesiae is not to imitate this useless model of one human’s rejection of those who are truly brothers and sisters.
- Follow positive examples, not negative ones.
- The authority of Jesus should be followed by those in the ecclesiae.
Questions 3 John Answers
What is real hospitality?
What does the ecclesiae do with those who are malicious?
Community Discussion Questions
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- How is the hospitality shown as a part of the Christian faith in your community of faith and in your personal life?
- Faithfulness to the truth of the gospel is of supreme importance.
- Christian hospitality is a valuable commodity.
- Gossip has no place in the ecclesiae.
Thought To Contemplate
Ecclesiae discipline is necessary if the ecclesiae is to survive.
Interpreting Revelation can bring more heat than light into a community of faith. Its interpretation is widely disputed among modern Jesus followers. There are only four major ways of interpreting the book (see below). The historic ecclesiae through the centuries appear to have viewed the book through the lens called the Moderate Futurist View. When seen from this point of view, the book was written within a first-century historical context and could have been perfectly understood by its first hearers/readers. When this view is adopted, it diminishes much of the speculative stargazing that other views indulged in today. The theme of the book is comfort and all its major themes are salted with such an understanding. Here are some of those themes:
- Christ and his ecclesiae
- God’s redemptive purpose in history
- God’s presence in his ecclesiae even in tribulation
- The triumph of the saved
- The wrath of God
- The judgment of God
When being persecuted for the faith, receiving comfort is very important. This is the foundation for a correct understanding of the book of Revelation.
The Four Views of Revelation
Preterist (In That Time)
The book must be understood within the history of the first century. All its prophetic words were fulfilled during the first century and are only good in the following centuries for teaching what happened.
Historical (All of Time)
This view presents history as a timeline that begins in the first century and continues till the end of time. If the readers can discern where on the timeline they are living, then they can discover when the coming of Jesus and the end of time will occur. Today this view is held by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. This view often sees the Beast as the Roman Papacy and the False Prophet as the Roman Catholic church.
Idealist (Above Time)
Futurist (End of Time)
There are two basic belief systems within this view.
Dispensational Theology interprets the book as a guideline for the future. The seven letters which make up chapters 2 and 3 are seen as seven successive ages within the history of the church. They are:
- Apostolic Age: the Ephesus ecclesiae
- Persecution Age: the Smyrna ecclesiae
- Patronage Age: the Pergamos ecclesiae
- Corruption Age: Thyatira ecclesiae
- Reformation Age: the Sardis ecclesiae
- Evangelism Age: the Philadelphia ecclesiae
- Apostasy Age: Laodicea ecclesiae
Dispensational Theology believes in a literal seven-year tribulation period before which the ecclesiae will be raptured. The nation of Israel will be judged by God. The Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed. Jesus will come and the final days of this world will play themselves out.
The Moderate Futurist view does not take the seven letters as a literal representation of seven successive church ages. This view believes that the message of Revelation must be understood within the light of its first hearers, while the fulfillment of the seven letters can now happen within any ecclesiae. God’s people are the ecclesiae, not the Jewish nation. The ecclesiae will go through the tribulation but will be saved from destruction by God. The temple will not be rebuilt and God will not deal with Israel as a nation.
A Quick Look At Revelation
Introduction Revelation 1.1-8
Vision One: Revelation 1.9-3.22
John presented a message to each of the seven ecclesiae in Asia Minor. There are words of praise, criticism, and promise.
Vision Two: Revelation 4.1-16.21
Regardless of who one believes is in charge of the world, this vision presented a message that God is ultimately in control of the world (Revelation 4). There is a scroll opened by the Lamb (Revelation 5). The scroll is opened with the breaking of the seals (Revelation 6).
Interlude One: Revelation 7.1-17
This first break in the action is a literary style that John will use again. He gave a small respite of comfort to the reader before continuing the story. This interlude assures the readers/hearers that no followers of Jesus will be eternally lost during the tribulation. John presented a before and after view of the ecclesiae. The 144,000 is the view of the ecclesiae before the tribulation and the great multitude is the view of the ecclesiae after the tribulation.
As the Seventh Seal is opened, the picture of the end expands. The Seventh Seal is the Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8-9).
Interlude Two: Revelation 10.1-11.13
John now breaks the story again with a second interlude. In it, he told the story of the angel and the little scroll and the two witnesses. Both stories are to bring comfort to the reader/hearer.
The Seventh Trumpet is blown.
Interlude Three: Revelation 12.1-14.20
The third interlude told the story of the woman and the dragon, the beast from the sea, the Lamb, the 144,000, the three angels, and the harvest of the earth. All of these stories are told for the comfort of the hearer/reader. The Seven Bowls of Wrath are now poured out. This is also an extension of the Seventh Trumpet (Revelation 15-16).
Vision Three: Revelation 17.1-21.8
Revelation 17 tells the story of the mystery of Babylon. Revelation 18-19 record the fall of Babylon. The marriage supper of the Lamb, the coming of Christ, the battle of Christ and the Antichrist, the binding of Satan, the Resurrection, and the millennial kingdom stories are recorded. The final destruction of Satan and death and the story of the new creation is told (Revelation 19.1-21.8)
Vision Four: Revelation 21.9-22.5
In the fourth and final vision, there is an expansion of the last part of the third vision. This vision shares in more explicit detail the story about the New Jerusalem and a final word about the coming of Jesus.
Conclusion Revelation 22.6-21
A Theological Glance At Revelation
The main purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort the ecclesiae in its struggles against the forces of evil during this present evil age. The battle of this age and the age to come is played out in Revelation. The ecclesiae is the battleground. She can take comfort from its words. God will win! No matter how dark and desolate it looks. God is always in charge. The symbolic language which breathes life into the book should not be taken with literalness, which often causes its expression of faith to be missed.
The Rule of God
No other book in the Second Testament pictures for the ecclesiae the sovereignty and rule of God so eloquently as does the book of Revelation (Rev. 4.1f.). While the historical clash between the church and the emperor cult of Domitian’s time was real, it is a picture through which we can view the clash of the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God, between the Dragon, a mythological concept for personified evil, and God. As with Mark 13, the historical fall of Jerusalem provides the immediate foreground behind which the eye of faith can perceive the larger judgment of God.
- God is in control.
- Amid the fray, the ecclesiae can take comfort.
- God’s children will finally live in paradise.
The Question Revelation Answers
- What does the ecclesiae do during times of persecution?
Community Discussion Questions
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- How is the rule of God worked out in the life situations around your community of faith and your personal faith that still demonstrate a historical root for future fulfillment?
- Read Revelation with an eye toward its message of comfort.
- God brings comfort in times of stress.
- Heaven awaits the faithful.
Thought To Contemplate
- Paradise awaits Jesus followers.