In comparison to the portrayal of Jesus in the Synoptic gospels, John’s depiction of him is so unique. He purposefully selects specific episodes from Jesus’ life and teachings that align with His purpose statement about Jesus’ mission:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31, ESV).

John’s genuine desire to provide his readers with a unique behind-the-scenes perspective of Jesus is evident in his writing! In this article, we will explore four aspects that make John’s portrait of Jesus stand out, and reflect on the insights it brings to our understanding of Jesus today.

God in Flesh

The Logos

John’s fascination with the concept of Logos (John 1:1) is truly remarkable. Ancient philosophers like Heraclitus, Aristotle, Hellenist and Stoic groups viewed the Logos as the divine and transcendent force that created and sustained the universe. Many argued that the other worldly, sacred entity couldn’t incarnate, as the flesh was considered impure and evil. Yet, John presents Jesus as the “Word became flesh” (1:14) – a profound challenge to conventional beliefs.

John’s depiction of Jesus as the “Word” who existed “in the beginning,” establishes a direct link between Jesus and the creation of the universe (mirroring the words “In the beginning” in Genesis 1:1). Further, John affirms that the Word was God, closely involved in every aspect of creation (John 1:1-3) but now “became flesh.” John puts Jesus on the same level as God the Creator – God in flesh.

The Great ‘I AM’

In John’s gospel, Jesus fearlessly proclaims Himself as the great ‘I AM.’ While some of his “I am” sayings have a longer description, symbolically describing Jesus as the Bread, Light, Life, and more, in chapter 8, Jesus boldly uses the Greek phrase egō eimi (meaning “I, I am” but usually translated as “I am he,” 8:24, 28, 58) unmistakably declaring his divinity.

One can only imagine the shock and alarm this caused among knowledgeable Jews who recognized Yahweh as the great “I AM” (see Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 25; 46:4; 48:12). A powerful example of this occurred in Gethsemane when Jesus’ captors asked for a Jesus of Nazareth, and upon hearing Jesus’ “I am,” they were so taken aback that they fell to the ground in awe!

Missional Son

John portrays Jesus as Christ, the Son of God who fulfils the Father’s mission. The Jews were so astonished to hear Jesus asserting his unity with God the Father (John 10:30-39) that they wanted to stone Him to death! Functionally, Jesus is the Son who came to accomplish a divine mission. By fulfilling this mission, He brought glory to the Father (John 17:4).

Similarly, all the seven “signs” (2:1-10; 4:46-54; 5:1-9; 6:1-13; 6:16-21; 9:1-7; 11:1-44) declare his identity as the Son of God and serve as active illustrations and fulfil the purpose of Jesus’ mission stated in 20:30-31.

Illustrative Teacher

Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus’ teachings are replete with symbolism, using specific contexts to illustrate profound messages:

  • Fatigued at Jacob’s well, he asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink, and revealed that He is the living water bringing eternal life to those who believe (John 4:13-14).
  • At the annual Jewish Festival of Booths, which included rituals of water, Jesus cried out that those who believe in him would have rivers of living water flowing from within them (John 7:38).
  • After feeding the multitude, Jesus taught his disciples that He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
  • Similarly, Jesus’ “I am” sayings (door, shepherd, vine, etc.) also use symbolic language, hinting at divine realities and deepening his hearers’ understanding.

In Conclusion…

John’s portrait of Jesus in his gospel is nothing short of daring and awe-inspiring. For John, Jesus was God in flesh, the Great I AM, on a divine mission to connect with humanity.

With his ingenious use of language and symbolism, John presents Jesus as a teacher and preacher par excellence, urging people to believe in Him as a sure path to eternal life!

John invites all, regardless of their philosophical and theological perspectives, to encounter Jesus afresh and discover His true identity!

Vadivel Victor is a contributive writer and is based in Chennai.