The Good News of Eternal Life
Philippe R. Sterling
The Gospel of John presents eight signs Jesus performed so that anyone may believe His promise of eternal life and thus have everlasting life in His name. In essence John’s message is faith alone in Christ alone for everlasting life.
The first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a discipleship focus telling believers how to follow Jesus. The Gospel of John has an evangelistic focus telling readers to believe in Jesus for eternal life. The author states his reason for writing, “these [signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31).
Early church tradition ascribes the book to John. John does not directly name himself as the author but he does refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) and states that “this is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things” (21:24). Only the apostle John fits all these statements.
Internal evidence suggest that John wrote the book before 70 AD. John does not mention the destruction of the Temple when Jesus speaks of His death and resurrection in terms of “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (3:19). John also speaks of the pool with five porticoes by the sheep gate in the present tense (5:2).
John organizes the book around eight signs so that his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who gives eternal life to all who believe (20:30-31). The eight signs are Jesus turning water into wine, healing the royal official’s son from a distance, healing a crippled man, feeding five thousand, walking on water, giving physical sight to a man blind from birth, raising Lazarus from the dead, and Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those who believe simply on the basis of the factual report of the acts of Jesus and His promise of eternal life are blessed (20:29).
Literary Structure and Content
I. Preamble: The eternal Son of God (the Word) who created all things became incarnate to give eternal life to all
who believe in His name (1:1-14).
A. The Word who was with God and who was God created all things (1-3).
B. The Word became flesh and brought us life, light, grace and truth (4-5, 14).
C. Many reject the Word but those who receive Him by believing in His name become children of God (9-13).
II. Eyewitnesses: John the Baptist and three eyewitnesses testify that Jesus is the Christ (1:15-21).
A. Testimony of John: John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the incarnated Son of God who came to take
away the sin of the world (1:15-34).
B. Three Further Testimonies: Three Initial believers testify that Jesus is the promised Messiah (1:35-51).
1. Andrew testifies that Jesus is the Messiah (1:35-42).
2. Philip testifies that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, is the one of whom Moses and the prophets
3. Nathaniel testifies that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel, simply on the basis of
Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of him (1:47-51).
III. Eight Signs: Eight signs bear witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who takes away the sin of the
world and gives eternal life to all who believe in His name (2:1–20:29).
A. First Sign: Jesus transforms water into wine and develops its implication by cleansing the temple,
teaching about the new birth, and teaching about living water (2:1–4:42).
1. Water into Wine: At a wedding in Cana of Galilee Jesus transforms water into wine which is the beginning
of His signs (2:1-11).
2. Cleansing the Temple: Jesus cleanses the Temple and in interaction with the Judean authorities points
to His death and resurrection as the culminating sign of His identity and authority (2:12-22).
3. New Birth Conversation: In a nighttime conversation with Nicodemus (a closet believer) Jesus explains
the new birth that results from belief in Him for eternal life and then John the Baptist (an open believer)
gives his final testimony concerning Jesus and the eternal life He gives to the one who believes in Him
4. Living Water Conversation: In a conversation with a woman of Samaria Jesus reveals that Samaritans
as well as Jews can be born again through believing His promise of eternal life — the Samaritans
believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world (4:1-42).
B. Second and Third Sign: Jesus by His spoken word heals the royal official’s son and the crippled man
which arouses the hostility of the Judean authorities to whom Jesus then asserts His unity with God the
Father and the validity of His words supported by the testimony of John, His works, the Father and
the Scriptures (4:43–5:47).
1. Jesus goes to Galilee and is received by the Galileans (4:43-45).
2. Healing Royal Official’s Son: While in Cana of Galilee, Jesus by His spoken word heals a royal official’s
son from a distance (4:46-54).
3. Healing Crippled Man: In the Temple in Jerusalem on the Sabbath Jesus by His spoken word heals a
man who has been crippled for 38 years (5:1-9).
4. Judean authorities respond with hostility (5:10-15).
5. Jesus responds to the Judean authorities by asserting His unity with God the Father and the validity of
His words supported by the witness of John, His works, the Father and the Scriptures (5:16-47).
C. Fourth and Fifth Sign: Jesus exhibits His control of the natural world in feeding five thousand and walking
on water and clarifies the significance in the bread of life discourse which results in the departure of
some disciples (6:1-70).
1. Feeding Five Thousand: The feeding of thousands of people from five barley loaves and two fish elicit
the recognition of the people that Jesus is the Prophet like Moses who was to come into the world --
Jesus is actually the Christ (6:1-14).
2. Walking on Water: Jesus walks on the sea and calms the disciples fear bringing them instantaneously
to land (6:15-21).
3. Bread of Life Discourse: Jesus as the Bread of life gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him which
is symbolized as eating His flesh and drinking His blood causing some disciples to stumble and
D. Sixth Sign: Jesus as the Light of the world opens the eyes of the blind but some remain in darkness
1. Conflict with the Spiritually Blind: Jesus exposes the spiritual blindness in His family, among the people
and among the leaders of the nation — they are blind to Him as the Light of the world, blind to their
spiritual need, and blind to the Father (7:1–8:59).
2. Giving Physical Sight to a Man Born Blind: Jesus gives physical sight to a man blind from birth (9:1-7).
3. Spiritual Sight and Spiritual Blindness: Those who have spiritual sight believe in Jesus for eternal life
while others willfully remain unbelieving in darkness (9:8–10:30).
E. Seventh Sign: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead which results in the belief of some and the plot of others
to kill Jesus (10:31–12:50).
1. Unbelieving Judeans seek to kill Jesus for making Himself out to be God while others believe in Him
2. Raising Lazarus: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him
— “Do you believe this?” (11:1-44).
3. Many believe including some Gentiles who seek access to Jesus while others among the Judeans plot to
kill Jesus (11:45–12:50).
F. Eighth Sign: Jesus after preparing His disciples for their witness in the world by teaching in the Upper
Room and Garden, is arrested, tried, crucified, and buried, and rises from the dead which is confirmed by
His appearances to the disciples (13:1–20:29).
1. Teaching: As an expression of His love to the end, in the Upper Room and in the Garden Jesus
prepares His disciples for the coming events and for their witness in the world (13:1–17:26).
a. In the Upper Room Jesus washes the disciple’s feet as an example of humble service, predicts
the coming events, and calms the troubled disciples with the promise of His return for them and of
the sending of another Helper in the person of the Holy Spirit (13:1–14:31).
b. In the Garden Jesus teaches the disciples about bearing fruit, loving each other, the hostility of
the world, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, their post-cross experience, and intercedes in prayer for
them and all those who will believe in Him through their word (15:1–17:26).
2. Dying and Rising: Jesus is arrested, tried, crucified, and buried, and rises from the dead (18:1–20:18).
3. Appearing: The risen Jesus appears first to the disciples without Thomas who when told expresses
his doubt, and then He appears a second time to the disciples with Thomas present who then affirms
Him as Lord and God — Jesus calls blessed all who believe without seeing (20:19-29).
IV. Purpose of the Book — That You May Believe: The Gospel of John is written so that people may believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing have everlasting life in His name (20:30-31).
V. Postscript: The risen Jesus reveals His power in the miracle of catching fish and reveals His love in the
restoration of Peter (21:1-23).
VI. Closing Testimony: As the writer, John testifies to the truth of all he has written which is but a small selection of
all that Jesus did (21:24-25).
Theological Reflection and Application
We are fascinated with courtroom drama. Note the interest in celebrity trials like that of O. J. Simpson, courtroom TV, and trial lawyer shows. The climax of a trial occurs with the verdict. The Gospel of John presents the evidence for Jesus and asks us to give a verdict. The desired verdict is that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we have life in His name. There are many people who are open to Jesus and will believe in Him for eternal life. Take part in the harvest (4:35-38). Whoever believes has eternal life (6:47).