And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
The writer of the words quoted above was John, a disciple of Jesus whom He chose to become one of His “Apostles” or what we would call today, “missionaries”. A disciple is one who learns from a teacher but an apostle is one who is sent by that teacher to teach others. During the three and a half years of Jesus’ public ministry, following His baptism in the Jordan by the other John, the apostle John spent much time with Jesus, traveling with Him, listening to Him, observing Him and also going on short missions to serve where Jesus was about to visit or in places Jesus would not be visiting. In other words, John, and the other apostles were Jesus’ apprentices, preparing for the much larger and more difficult mission upon which He would send them following His ascension to heaven.
Professional Bible skeptics and academic nay-sayers have for generations argued that the Fourth Gospel is the work of a later “John” who was not the Apostle. The real reason for this is not hard to determine. They do not want someone that close to Jesus giving a first-hand account of what He said and did. This is particularly because John’s account of Jesus makes absolutely clear that Jesus claimed to be God and that He came to save us from sin and judgment. This does not sit well with those who have imbibed the philosophy of Naturalism. John’s account of Jesus is the most explicitly and unavoidably supernatural of the Four Gospels. They must discredit this Gospel, even more than the others.
It is quite true that the author does not name himself as John the Apostle. But that is all the more reason to believe that he is! All the authentic Gospels are formally anonymous. The authors did not want to put themselves forward. They were humble servants of God. Moreover, the people for whom they wrote their Gospels knew very well who the authors were. It was they who added the titles, “Gospel according to Mark”, “Gospel according to Matthew”, “Gospel according to Luke” and yes, “Gospel according to John”. But each of the authors left clues that show they were the authors and none more so than John the Apostle.
For instance, the Apostle John is not once named in the Fourth Gospel. This is very strange, for Peter and Andrew are named and John was always named with them in the other Gospels. Another interesting fact is that in the other Gospels John the Baptist and John the Apostle are clearly distinguished from each other. But in the Fourth Gospel, John the Baptist is simply called “John”, without the qualifier, “the Baptist”. The author had no need to use that qualifier because, as we have seen, he leaves out any mention of John the Apostle by name. But we do find a disciple whom the author does not name but with this strange qualifier: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20)
Some people would regard this as a boastful thing for the author to say about himself but it is quite the opposite. The author is clearly amazed that Jesus would love him. He marvels at the grace (unmerited favor) that Jesus bestowed: “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law came through Moses but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16) In the first of his three letters, John says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Any love we have comes from knowing and believing the love God has for us. (vs. 16) “We love because He first loved us.” (vs. 19) John was not boasting by calling himself, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” but revealing the personal impact of Jesus’ love for him despite his sin. He was not saying Jesus did not love the other disciples but that this disciple appreciated the fact that Jesus loved him, unworthy though he was.
As archeologists uncovered places that the author of the Fourth Gospel mentions, unbiased scholarship has come more and more to accept the idea that if the author is not John the Apostle it had to be someone who lived when and where he did! For instance, the pool of Bethesda was unknown outside the reference in the Fourth Gospel (5:2) until archeologist uncovered it in the 19th century. The author also is intimately acquainted with the theological and political circumstances of Judea and Jerusalem in the early first century. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls underscored this fact. Another interesting aspect of this Gospel is that its author, while certainly not contradictory to the other Gospels, does not depend upon them as a later writer would have. He gives every evidence of being an eye-witness of the scenes and dialogues he records. For these and many other weighty reasons, we can be confident that the author is none other than the Apostle John, just as the earliest Christian witnesses unanimously attest.
The last chapter of John’s Gospel was probably written by one of John’s disciples while John was still living, as a sort of Epilogue to the Gospel. He added the story, as related by John, of the disciples’ encounter with Jesus in Galilee after His resurrection. It concludes with the following words concerning John: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (21:24) John Himself writes, in his first letter, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life… what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1, 3) John is making it absolutely clear that he, and the other Apostles, personally knew Jesus and testified what they knew of Him. So we see that John was no mere casual by-stander or after-the-fact story-teller; he was a close-up and personal eye-witness of Jesus.
“We beheld His glory” says John, “glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” They saw His tenderness, gentleness and yet lion-like courage in the face of relentless and lethal opposition. They saw His miracles and heard His matchless wisdom. In the end, they saw His unconquerable love for them, even though they were weak and forsook Him in His hour of need. The “glory” that John speaks of is not the world’s understanding of glory but something infinitely greater – the glory of God Himself, the glory of God incarnate!