The Gospel of John has many hidden beliefs and ideas in its chapters. John did not deliberately set out to hide these beliefs and ideas, but rather such things are always present when anyone writes or says anything.
Many of them are what can be called ideological presuppositions. An example of these is when someone, more often than not in the West, says ‘you cannot prove the existence of God’. Hiding behind this statement is the assumption that the most reliable form of knowledge are the five human senses.
Other reasons why some of his beliefs and ideas seem hidden include the fact that as John was writing his Gospel at a particular time and place in history, many of the things which would have been meaningful to his readers at that time, might not be meaningful to us today.
This section therefore is to give brief details about what the main hidden beliefs and ideas in his Gospel are. Hopefully this will save you the time of having look through lots of books yourself, like the person illustrated on this page, and so make the Gospel easier for you to understand.
For convenience sake, the hidden beliefs and ideas are referred to simply as ‘Hidden Beliefs’ and are given (HB) numbers which you can see at the end of some of the questions on the Questions Pages.
HB1 – Names given to Jesus
As the illustration shows, knowing the identity or name of someone is important for security and other reasons. Knowing the real identity of Jesus therefore is also important. In his Gospel, John reveals the identity of Jesus by referring to his many different names. The main ones that John gives Jesus are;
the Word (1; 1), Son of the Father (1; 14), Jesus Christ (1; 17), Lamb of God (1; 29), Messiah (1; 41), Son of Man (1; 51), the Son (3; 16), Son of God (3; 18), Messiah (Christ).
All these names have very specific meaning and they give important information about the identity, origin and character of Jesus. Details of these names can be found by looking them up on the internet or elsewhere.
HB2 – Baptism
John the Baptist in Chapter 1 was baptising people in the river. He was also telling everyone ‘to repent’. This was because a special person sent by God was soon to appear on earth. ‘To repent’ literally means to ‘do an about turn’ as a soldier would during a drill exercise and as shown in the illustration in this section. To ‘repent’ therefore means to stop what you are doing and go in the opposite direction.
John the Baptist was saying that because this special person sent from God was soon to appear, everyone should prepare themselves for this event by giving up their old selfish and sinful lives and start a new one according to the will of God.
To show that they were willing to do this, the people would be baptised. That is, they were taken down to the river and either dipped or submerged in the water. This was to show that they were willing to ‘wash away’ their old lifestyle, willing to receive the grace (goodness/power) of God, and willing to start a new life lived according to the will of God.
HB3 – The concept of God
The idea of God is not easy to illustrate. The illustration shown here is meant to give a feeling of ‘power’. This is because in the Gospel of John Chapter 1, it refers to God (the Word) being the creator of all things and hence of supreme power.
Overall however, the idea of God as shown in the Gospel of John is that of mono-theism. That is, there is only one God. This God however is like a triangle. That is, God has three ‘sides’ or aspects which work together as one. These three aspects of God are, God the Father, God the Son (the Word) and God the Spirit (Holy Spirit or Counsellor). The Gospel of John makes constant reference to these three.
These three aspects of God are particularly active in relation to God’s activity here on earth. Hence the Father sends the Son (Jesus) into the world (17; 18). When the Son (Jesus) returns to the Father at the end of his earthly work, both the Father and the Son (Jesus) then send the Spirit into the world to continue the work of Jesus (14; 26). The Father, Son (Jesus) and Spirit (Counsellor/Holy Spirit/Spirit of God) are often shown as working together in relation to the purposes of God (Father, Son and Spirit) on earth (15; 26).
HB4 – Sin
The Gospel of John refers to ‘sin’ on many occasions. (1; 29, 5; 14, 8; 34.) ‘Sin’ literally means, to fall short of a standard set by God. The Gospel assumes that the whole of humankind is guilty of sin. The Gospel suggests that sin has two main consequences and these are shown in the illustration, namely, that sin i) creates a barrier between God and man, and sin ii) restricts the freedom of human beings:-
i. Sin creates a barrier between humankind and God and hence there is a break in the relationship between the two. As God is the Creator of all things and hence the source of all human life (1; 3), this break in relationship inevitably result in the eventual death of human beings because humans have become separated from their ultimate source of life and existence. (8; 24). This is why Jesus constantly repeats the message in the Gospel, that he has come to restore the relationship between man and God in order that they may have their eternal life restored (3.16). ( HB6)
ii. Chapter 8 also suggests that ‘sin’ has another consequence, namely that in complex ways, it enslaves people and takes over their lives, such as in addictions and other things we cannot control. That is, sin takes away the true freedom that God intended people to have. Jesus however offers freedom from various forms of enslavement through belief in him. (8; 34-36). (HB9)
The idea of sin is also connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is discussed in the next section.
HB5 – The Death and Resurrection of Jesus
The illustration in this section refers to the resurrection of Jesus. Both the death and resurrection of Jesus are a central theme in the Gospel, and both have special significance. This is indicated by the fact that almost half of the Gospel is related to them in some way.
The list below outlines the main issues connected to it:-
- was known in advance (6; 30, 8; 27, 18; 4)
- was according to ancient prophecies (18; 9, 19; 24, 28, 36)
- Jesus accepted his death willingly (10; 17, 12; 27)
- was according to the will of God (18; 11)
- is the means whereby Jesus returns to the Father and is ‘glorified’ (7; 33, 9; 4, 12; 32)
- was necessary for the sending of the Spirit (14; 1, 12, 26 ; 16; 8, 13)
- is part of the preparation for a ‘new place’ for believers (14; 2)
- is a means of ‘giving life’ (3; 14, 6; 54, 10; 11, 11; 25)
- was a means of Jesus demonstrating his power and authority over death (2; 19, 11; 25)
- was a means of over-powering the Devil (12; 31)
- is to take away sin (1; 29, 36, 10; 15)
In regards to the last point, ‘to take away sin’, it is a shared idea in many cultures that one of the most effective ways of removing sin is through some sort of sacrifice, often animal sacrifice. In John’s Gospel, Jesus himself becomes the sacrifice, and removes sin by his own death. By removing sin, Jesus thus removes the barrier which separates people from God who is their ultimate source of life and existence. ‘Eternal life’ (HB6) then becomes available to those who believe in Jesus. (HB9)
HB6 – Eternal life
John’s Gospel constantly refers to ‘eternal life’, for example in chapter 5 verse 24. Eternal life differs from ‘everlasting’ life, in that ‘everlasting life’ does not necessarily mean a good quality of life. That is for example, an ‘everlasting life’ could actually mean an everlasting life of pain. ‘Eternal’ life on the other hand, means an ‘everlasting’ life with God which is of the best possible quality (14; 2).
John’s Gospel suggests that the ‘eternal life’, which is received through Jesus (3; 16), actually starts now rather than after death (6; 54) and hence it can give our life an immediate sense of meaning, hope and happiness despite the present difficulties and problems in our earthly life. The illustration in this section is trying to show that.
The idea of eternal life as starting now on earth, is connected with the work of the Spirit (HB8). That is, the Spirit will come and live in those who believe in Jesus whilst they are here on earth (14; 17). Life for the believer will continue to have its problems and imperfections, but by receiving the Spirit, the individual obtains as it were, a guarantee or ‘ticket’ for an unspeakable quality of life which will be fully experienced after physical death. (10; 10).
HB7 – The Kingdom of God
Jesus refers to the Kingdom of God in chapter 3 verse 5. The Kingdom of God seems to have two inter-connected dimensions. One is i) a spiritual dimension. The other is ii) a physical dimension;
- To enter the spiritual dimension, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he (and others) needs to be ‘born of water and spirit’. That is, he needs to have his sins forgiven, be baptised, be willing to live a new life according to the will of God, and receive the Spirit (7; 38). In this sense, anyone can enter the Kingdom of God here and now. John Chapter 3 verses 5 to 17 is the best section to read about this.
- The physical dimension of the Kingdom of God seems to be more of a process that Jesus has begun by his time on earth. This he has done by challenging the powers of sickness, death, and the destructive powers of nature by showing he has power of them through his various signs and miracles. This process will only be fully completed and the Kingdom of God fully established at an unspecified time in the future. This time will be according to the will and purposes of God.
John does not actually explain why the world that God has created (1; 3) has so many problems and imperfections. Rather, like a doctor of medicine, he is more concerned with the solutions to the problems rather than the explanations of them. Overall he wants his readers to know that the present unsatisfactory nature of earthly existence will at some future time be changed into a new perfect creation.
John states this very clearly in the other book which wrote, namely the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation). There he states;
“…I saw a new heaven and a new earth…he will wipe away tears from their eyes. Death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain. The first things have passed away….all things will be new…” (Chapter 21 verses 1 to 6).
This sense of an overall ‘victory’ is suggested in the illustration in this section which shows the earth ‘celebrating’ using fireworks.
Although the present world is imperfect, nevertheless, it is still the means whereby God choses to reveal himself to humanity. The imperfections of the world actually become the very means that Jesus uses, through his miracles and signs, to reveal who he really is (10; 38) and to reveal God.
HB8– The Spirit (Counsellor, Spirit of God)
As indicated in the section called ‘The Idea of God’ above (HB3), God in John’s Gospel is presented as having three ‘aspects’, that is, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. The Spirit is mentioned many times in the Gospel and so this section will give more details about that.
Overall, the Spirit in John’s Gospel is shown to have two main functions, namely to i) continue and extend the work of Jesus, and to ii) support and strengthen the disciples in the mission which Jesus had given them, and to give ‘life’ and support to the believers who would come after them. These two issues are set out below;
i) To continue and extend the work of Jesus.
From the start of his mission on earth, Jesus, seemed aware that his mission would have two major (self-imposed) limitations;
- The first is limitation of time. That is, he would at some point have to return to the Father, and so his work on earth would be for a limited period of time only. (9; 4, 16; 5).
- The second is limitation of place in that physically, Jesus had limitations on being in more than one place at once.
Both these limitations meant that his activities and message of Good News (12; 20-24) were mainly restricted to the place where he was at any given time. Consequently, the Spirit, who would come after Jesus had returned to the Father, would transcend these limitations and so his message of Good News and eternal life, could be delivered to an unlimited number of people in an unlimited number of places. Chapters 14, 15 and 16 are important in this respect.
ii) The Spirit will support and strengthen the disciples and give ‘life’ to the new believers who would come after them. The illustration in this section reflects this. Details of this are given below;
- The Spirit is an internal life-giving force in the believer (14; 17).
- The Spirit is necessary for entering the Kingdom of God and receiving eternal life (3; 6-8, 7; 38)
- The Spirit is a teacher who will remind the disciples what Jesus has taught them (14; 26).
- These reminders will enable them to carry on his work after he has returned to the Father (15; 26).
- Through the Spirit, the disciples and believers will be ‘fruitful’ and through their work, new believers will be added to the Kingdom of God. (17; 20, 20; 21).
- The Spirit enables the believer to achieve and do things which are over and above normal expectations. (14; 12-14).
- Receiving the truth from the Spirit is not simply to receive new teaching about God and Jesus, it also gives the believer the power to act on that teaching and enables them to overcome the things which might prevent them from bringing it about. (8; 32 f).
- Above all, the Spirit is God living with and in the believer (14; 17)
The Spirit also has several other functions:-
- The Spirit is closely connected to the idea of finding knowledge and truth, and as such is a teacher and revealer of things which are beyond human comprehension (14; 16– 26, 15; 26, 16; 13).
- The Spirit is the one who acts as a witness in the world and who creates a sense of sin in people in preparation for the coming judgement (16; 8).
- The Spirit satisfies a deep spiritual ‘thirst’ or need in human beings (4; 13, 7; 37).
- The Spirit will reveal things that are to happen in the future (16; 13).
HB9 – ‘Believing’ in Jesus
Jesus, in the Gospel, constantly repeats the need for his hearers to ‘believe in’ him. It is the first thing he says, (1; 12) and it is the last thing he says (20; 31). He repeats this message many times in-between (3; 15, 5; 24, 6; 29, 7; 38, 10; 38, 11; 25, 12; 36, etc).
The need for ‘believing’ in Jesus is important as it closely connected to the idea of receiving eternal life (3; 15, 5; 24, 11; 25). To emphasise the point, the Gospel makes it clear that there are grave consequences for not believing in Jesus (8; 24, 12; 47-48, 16; 8-9).
In general, the idea of ‘believing in something’ has different meanings in different cultures. For example it can simply mean believing in certain facts, such as one plus one equals two, or that Romans came to Britain. For others however, to ‘believe in something’ can mean a commitment to a specific way of life, that is, it has a moral dimension and consequences for every-day living.
Overall, in the Gospel idea of ‘believing in something’ or more specifically, ‘believing in Jesus’, includes both the above two things. That is, it means i) the acceptance of certain facts about Jesus, and ii) the commitment to a specific way of life. These two are detailed below;
i) This is summed up in Chapter 20 verse 31 where John says that he has written his Gospel in order that the reader might know the facts about Jesus, and then ‘believe’. These facts can be found in the 20 chapters he has written.
ii) The main aspects of being willing to be committed to a specific way of life are set out below;-
- Be baptised (‘wash away’ past sins, and receive the grace (goodness/power) of God), and then start a new lifestyle lived according to the will of God (3; 5, 12; 26)
- Receive the Spirit (3; 5, 20; 22)
- Keep to the teaching of Jesus (8; 31, 51, 13; 17, 14; 23)
- Reflect the character of God (17; 26, 13; 36)
- Love one another (13; 34)
- Produce fruit for the Kingdom of God (15; 16, 17; 20)
Like the illustration in this section suggests, the Gospel indicates that both the acceptance of certain facts about Jesus, and being willing to have a commitment to a specific way of life are necessary for ‘believing in Jesus’. That is, believing is not simply what we say, but also what we do. That is, what we do on a regular basis, is the real evidence of our true belief.
Overall, the Gospel takes the view that you can tell what a person genuinely believes not simply by what they say but also by the manner in which they habitually act or regularly live their lives.