What is the Book of John About?

Read this 4-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read John!


Historical Context

John the son of Zebedee wrote this Gospel. He was a Palestinian Jew, one of the 12 disciples, and a member of Jesus’ inner apostolic circle. He was referred to as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 ESV). John also wrote 1–3 John and Revelation.

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote John for your good and to lead you into joy.

Learn more about the Apostle John: We’ve created a page of resources to help you get to know this biblical author.

He likely wrote his Gospel account between AD 70 (the date of the destruction of the temple) and AD 100 (the reputed end of John’s life). It was likely written from Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire at the time. His original audience consisted of Jews and Gentiles living in the larger Greco-Roman world in Ephesus and beyond, toward the close of the first century AD. 

The events of the Gospel of John take place in Palestine, incorporated into the Roman Empire in 63 BC. Appointed by the Romans as king over the Jews in 37 BC, Herod the Great ruled until his death in 4 BC. The Romans divided his kingdom among his descendants. 

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

The Gospel of John by John Piper

This phenomenal message series by Pastor John Piper covers the entire Gospel of John. He preaches verse-by-verse through the book showing us how all of it is written that we might believe in Jesus and find life in him. Jesus is God, and John Piper will help you see this truth in the book of John so that you might worship and love Jesus more. 

John Dictionary

As you read through John, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

Someone who supports, comforts, gives help to, or speaks up for another person. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are advocates for members of God’s family (see John 14:16, 26; 1 John 2:1).

Heavenly beings created by God before he created Adam and Eve. Angels act as God’s messengers to men and women. They also worship God.

To have faith or to trust that something is true. The Bible tells us that we can believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and trust him to keep his promise to forgive sins. We show that we believe that God loves us and wants what is best for us by obeying his commands.

See “high priest”

The Greek word that means “God’s Chosen One.” “Messiah” is the Hebrew word meaning the same thing. Jesus was the Christ.

(1) To find someone guilty of doing something wrong and to declare or pronounce a punishment. (2) To be against or disapprove of something because it is wrong.

To nail or tie a person to a cross until he or she is dead. Crucifixion was a slow, painful punishment the Romans used for their enemies and the worst criminals.

Someone who follows the teachings and example of another. In the New Testament, disciple usually refers to a person who believed that Jesus is God’s Son and loved and obeyed him. Sometimes disciples means the twelve men Jesus chose to be his special friends and helpers. At other times, it refers to all people who love Jesus and obey his teachings.

The northern part of the land of Israel in Jesus’ day. Jesus grew up, preached and did most of his miracles in Galilee. Galilee is also the name of a large lake in this area.

(1) Great beauty, splendor, honor, or magnificence that can be seen or sensed. The Israelites saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud that filled the tabernacle. The shepherds saw the glory of the Lord when the angels told them Jesus had been born. (2) To praise; to be proud or happy; to boast.

The most important priest of all the priests, who served God in the tabernacle and later in the temple. In the Old Testament, the high priest offered the most important sacrifices to God for the people. In New Testament times, he was also a powerful political leader. He was the head of the Sanhedrin—the group of men who governed the Jewish people. He even had a small army. The high priest wore special clothing described in Exodus 28:1-39. Aaron was the first high priest. All other high priests were his descendants. The New Testament says that Jesus Christ is now our high priest, the one who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see Hebrews 8–9).

The most important city of Bible times. Jerusalem was the capital of the united kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. The temple was built in Jerusalem, so many people traveled to the city to worship God. In 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and mostly destroyed by Babylonian armies. The city was rebuilt when the Jews returned after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Jesus taught in the city of Jerusalem, was crucified outside the city wall, was buried near the city, and then rose again. The first Christian church began in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit came to the believers there.

(1) At first in the Bible, anyone who was a member of the tribe of Judah. (2) By the return from exile in Babylon, anyone who was a descendant of Abraham or who was a follower of the Jewish religion.

The Savior whom God promised to send. Jesus is the Messiah. In Hebrew, Messiah means “the Anointed One.” In Greek, the word for “the Anointed One” is “Christos.” Christ is the name used in the New Testament to show that Jesus is the Savior.

One of the Jews’ most important feasts. The Jews celebrate Passover every spring as a reminder that God freed them from slavery in Egypt. The word comes from the way the angel of death passed over the homes of Israelites on whose doorposts the blood of a lamb was sprinkled. In Egyptian homes, where there was no blood on the doorposts, all the firstborn sons died. This terrible disaster convinced the Egyptian Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. At the Passover feast, the Jews eat bread made without yeast (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, and lamb. The unleavened bread reminds them that the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry; there was no time to let bread rise. The bitter herbs remind them of their suffering in Egypt. The lamb reminds them of the lamb they killed for the first Passover. The Passover feast was the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples before he was crucified.

In the time of Jesus, a Jew who tried very hard to obey every part of the Jewish law. Many Pharisees sincerely tried to please God and to be holy, but some of them worried more about keeping every little rule than about caring for people. Jesus commended the Pharisees for what they taught but often scolded them because of what they did. Speaking of those Pharisees and scribes who opposed him, Jesus said on the outside they seemed very holy, but on the inside they were full of lies and hate (see Matthew 23). Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul) was a Pharisee. Many other Pharisees also ended up following Jesus.

The weekly day of rest and worship that God set apart for all people. In the Old Testament, it is the seventh day of the week (Saturday); and today for many Jews and some Christians Saturday is still observed as the Sabbath. For Jews, Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday and lasts until sunset on Saturday. Because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, most Christians set aside Sunday as the day of rest and worship (see Acts 20:7).

To be set apart for God’s use. A Christian’s sanctification is an ongoing process. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is sanctified. The Holy Spirit continues helping him or her become more and more like Jesus, which is the process of sanctification.

Literally, “writing.” The Bible. Before the New Testament was written down, Scripture meant the Old Testament. After the New Testament was written down, Christians began calling both the Old and New Testaments Scripture.

The permanent place in Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped God. The first temple was built by King Solomon and the people by following the instructions God had given Solomon’s father, King David. The temple was a very beautiful place. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice. In AD 64, the temple was destroyed again but was not rebuilt.

What the Bible Is All About NIV Henrietta Mears

Dictionary Source

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?


The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of John.

The Gospel writer gives us a clear and distinct thesis in John 20:30-31: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (NIV).

We can summarize John’s thesis in one word: believe. He says, “I’ve written this book, including these particular accounts, so that you might believe.” John witnessed nearly three years of stories, sermons, and conversations, but he didn’t include them all. He selected certain ones—the ones that would help us believe.

—Matt Carter and Josh Wredberg

Source: Carter, Matt and Josh Wredberg. Edited by David Platt and Dr. Daniel Akin. Exalting Jesus in John. Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2017.

The purpose of this fourth Gospel is to show that the One who was born in a manger and afterward died on the Cross had higher glories than those of King, that he who humbled himself to take the Servant place was, previously, “equal with God,” that the One who became the Son of Man was none other than, and ever remains the Only Begotten of the Father.

Each book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which is peculiar to itself. Just as each member in the human body has its own particular function, so every book in the Bible has its own special purpose and mission. The theme of John’s Gospel is the Deity of the Savior. Here, as nowhere else in Scripture so fully, the Godhead of Christ is presented to our view. That which is outstanding in this fourth Gospel is the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus. In this Book we are shown that the One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary, who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, and the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) 

. . . 

In these days of wide-spread departure from the faith, it cannot be insisted upon too strongly or too frequently that the Lord Jesus is none other than the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

—A. W. Pink

Source: Pink, A.W. Exposition of the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1968.

These opening paragraphs of John’s Gospel announce good news. Note that these first 18 verses contain not a single command to obey, but simply news to believe. Consistent with the overarching story line of the Bible, this Gospel begins with gospel—with the good news that God has taken on flesh to rescue sinners living in a dark world. This is the resounding theme of John: good news. Jesus has come so that we, the undeserving, might receive “grace upon grace” (John 1:16 ESV).

—Justin Buzzard

Source: Content taken from John: A 12-Week Study © 2013 by Justin Buzzard. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

John’s Gospel does not merely present ideas about God, salvation, or a set of ethical principles. To be sure, Christianity does produce a philosophy and a worldview. But unlike every other religion, its truth is grounded in certain facts of history. The word gospel means “good news,” reminding us that Christians have good tidings to tell the world—God’s actions in history to save lost sinners. Something wonderful happened in the coming of Jesus Christ that we want the world to know. The purpose of John’s Gospel, as with the whole New Testament, is to proclaim this good news and tell people how to be saved through faith in Jesus. 

. . . 

As human beings, we are alienated from God because of our sin. God is holy, and the guilt of our sin has placed us under his just condemnation. Meanwhile, the power of sin works evil in and through our lives, so that John could say in his first epistle that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 ESV). If these are our great problems—God’s condemning judgment and the insidious effects of sin—the answer is the Savior whom God sent as a light to this dark world. John’s most famous verse says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). The true answer to the world’s true problems is Jesus Christ, an answer we receive through belief in him.

Richard D. Phillips

Source: Richard D. Phillips in Jesus the Evangelist: Learning to Share the Gospel from the Book of John, Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2007. 

We find many unique features in John’s Gospel that do not appear in the other records of Jesus’ life. For instance, John’s Gospel gives us the most extensive revelation from the lips of Jesus of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, information that is found in the upper room discourse that took place on Maundy Thursday, the day before Jesus’ crucifixion.

—R. C. Sproul

Source: John: An Expositional Commentary by R.C. Sproul © Ligonier Ministries 2019. Used by permission of Ligonier Ministries. All rights reserved.

This opening passage of John sets the stage for the rest of the Gospel. John opens with the words “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV). From his very first sentence, John proclaims that Jesus is the eternal, preexistent Word—the one-of-a-kind Son of the Father, the Son who is himself God. Yet this eternal Word has now become incarnate in history (John 1:11–18). In this prologue, John introduces many of the major themes developed later in the Gospel, such as Jesus as the life, the light, and the truth; believers as God’s children; and the world’s rejection of Jesus. These first 18 verses are the grand entryway into John’s breathtaking account of Jesus Christ.

—Justin Buzzard

Source: Content taken from John: A 12-Week Study © 2013 by Justin Buzzard. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

The Gospel of John plays a unique and influential role in the Christian Bible. In this account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we learn that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God the Father to give eternal life to all who believe in him. Jesus repeatedly shatters people’s assumptions, teaching that salvation is not earned but rather is a free gift received through a miracle of grace—being born again. John’s Gospel also sounds a constant theme of mission. Just as the Father sent Jesus to earth, Jesus sends his followers to continue his mis­sion by testifying that Jesus is the Son of God so that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

—Justin Buzzard

Source: Content taken from John: A 12-Week Study © 2013 by Justin Buzzard. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Many biographies start a generation or two back with the subject’s parents or grandparents. The aim is to build a picture of the kind of family and conditions a child was born into. Not John’s Gospel. As John settles down to write the story of a man called Jesus, he thinks of his earthly parents, and of their fathers and forefathers. But the clock keeps spinning backwards until he draws breath and slowly writes, “In the beginning.” Immediately we understand that this is not an ordinary story of an ordinary person. John’s “in the beginning” is not the start of one person’s life. This is the start and source of all life. This is the story of creation. The words echo the opening words of the opening book of the Bible. Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (NIV). 

. . . 

John wants us to realize that, unlike the story of any other human being, the story of Jesus does not begin with his human conception. It’s true that Jesus was born as a human being in our world. But that’s not when his story begins. His story goes back to the beginning. Indeed the story of Jesus doesn’t even start “in the beginning.” For, as John will go on to say, Jesus already “was” in the beginning. His story has no beginning for he “was” in eternity. He has been for ever.

—Tim Chester

Source: The One True Light: Daily Advent Readings in the Gospel of John by Tim Chester, Copyright 2016, by The Good Book Company, used by kind permission.

The life we need—spiritual, eternal life, delivered from the judgment of hell—comes through belief in Jesus Christ (20:31). But life does not come to us like a UPS package. It’s not a transaction in which we believe in Jesus, then he hands us our life at the front door and walks away. The life he gives us is life “in him”…Life in Christ is not an exchange; it’s being drawn into an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ.

—Matt Carter and Josh Wredberg

Source: Carter, Matt and Josh Wredberg. Edited by David Platt and Dr. Daniel Akin. Exalting Jesus in John. Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2017.

Coming into this marvelous life is a matter of incredible simplicity. Becoming one of God’s own comes by receiving Jesus, which verse 12 explains by saying, “all who did receive him, who believed in his name” (ESV), which means believing on who Jesus is and receiving him as our own. In the language of John 1, the cosmic Christ, the eternal Creator who became one of us, took our sins upon himself and paid for them, was resurrected and now sits at the Father’s right hand. Do you truly believe in his name, in him? That is the question. There is nothing to join, nothing to sign. Simply believe. Oh, the greatness of Christ and his love. Receive it now if you have not done so before.

—R. Kent Hughes

Source: Content taken from John: That You May Believe © 2014 by R. Kent Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Our religion is one of four letters instead of two. Other religions say “Do.” Our religion says “Done.” Our Savior has done all on the cross. He took on our sins; and when he gave up his life, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV). This was the shout of a conqueror. He had finished humanity’s redemption. Nothing was left for people to do. Has the work been done in your heart?  

—Henrietta Mears

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The word believe translates the Greek word pisteuo, which means “to trust” or “to put one’s faith into something or someone.” To believe in Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God requires more than mere intellectual adherence to a set of facts about the life of Christ. It requires trusting one’s whole self into who Christ said he was and what he was sent to accomplish.

Imagine you are on a hike through a beautiful mountain pass, approaching the edge of a cliff that drops a thousand feet to the canyon floor. The only way to continue is to walk across a bridge from one side of the cliff to the other. It’s one thing to say, “I believe the bridge can hold my weight as I walk across this great chasm.” It’s something altogether different to actually start walking across the bridge. The former is a kind of belief based on intellectual adherence to a possible outcome. The latter is placing one’s trust in the bridge. John did not write his Gospel just so we could know facts about Jesus’s life. He wrote his Gospel so we would know facts about who Jesus is and what he was sent to do and in response trust in him completely.

—Matt Carter and Josh Wredberg

Source: Carter, Matt and Josh Wredberg. Edited by David Platt and Dr. Daniel Akin. Exalting Jesus in John. Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2017.

John Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of John.

In the Beginning
by Sovereign Grace Music | Scripture Memory
John 1:1-14
by Matt Papa and Ross King | Scripture Memory
Fullness of Grace
by Keith & Kristyn Getty | Hymn
We Have Seen Your Glory
by Twila Paris | 70s 80s 90s
Behold the Lamb of God
by Andrew Peterson | Indie
I’ve Seen Too Much
by Andrew Peterson | Indie
Son was Lifted Up
by Leeland and Brian Johnson | Praise & Worship
For God So Loved
by Phil Wickham | Contemporary
We Have Seen God’s Glory
by Steve Green | 70s 80s 90s
All I’ve Ever Done
by Michael Card | Folk
Man from Galilee
by Dallas Holm | 70s 80s 90s
Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled
by Scripture Lullabies | Cinematic
The Sower’s Song
by Andrew Peterson | Folk
It Is Finished
by Matt Papa | Praise & Worship
More Songs