John as an Author
It is often argued that the writings of John (the Gospel, his three letters, and Revelation) were the last ones to be written, and are to be dated between AD 90-100.1 It is more in keeping with the biblical information to place his writings before AD 70.2 By this time, John was an older man3 who was writing to Christians to warn them about apostasy,4 to remind them to stay faithful,5 to encourage downhearted Christians,6 to remind them about the words of the Lord in regards to the overthrow of Judaism,7 and to comfort them with the knowledge that their persecutors will be overthrown.8
The Gospel According to John
By this point, three other gospel accounts had already been written,9 so there was no need for John to write one unless he had information that needed to be presented that wasn’t in the other accounts.
Matthew wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, and thus focused on Old Testament prophecies, starting with the birth of Jesus. Mark wrote to convince the Roman readers that Jesus was a powerful leader who died for them, beginning with the herald announcing His coming. Luke wrote to show the humanity of Jesus in precise historical terms. By the time John wrote, however, a large contingent of Jewish Christians were leaving the faith, going back into Judaism.10 By doing this, they were denying the power of Christ. So, when John wrote, his focus was to show the origin, power, and authority of Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was [in His very nature] God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and apart from Him, nothing was made that was made. … He came to His own [people] and His own [people] did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become children of God, believers into His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the desires of the flesh, nor of the desires of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us (and we admired His glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.11
John repeatedly stresses the deity of Jesus throughout his gospel account. John 1:1, 14 shows us that the Word which became flesh is, by His very nature, God.12 Several times, John records Jesus applying the words “I AM” (which the Jews would have understood as a reference to Jehovah) to Himself.13 John says an Old Testament vision of Jehovah was actually a vision of Jesus.14 In short, John wrote to prove the deity of Jesus and to show that it is only through Jesus that eternal life can be gained.15 This is quite powerful when you consider that Jewish Christians were leaving Christianity in large numbers at the time it was written—this book would have been quite timely.16
The Letters of John
Like Peter did in his second letter, John stressed the reality of Jesus Christ by appealing to himself as not only an eye-witness, but also an ear-witness, and one who studied and touched Jesus while He was here on earth.17 He also made it a point to remind them of what they possessed through Jesus Christ: (1) the forgiveness of sins, (2) the knowledge of God/Christ, (3) overcoming Satan, and (4) strength.18 He also forcefully stated that just because someone is a Christian doesn’t mean they are incapable of sinning—in fact, far from it:
If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.19
He focuses on the importance of love quite as bit as well, telling them what they are supposed to love (each other),20 and what they are not to love (the world, neither the things of the world).21 And he also shows his care for the faithful,22 while also showing his frustration with and repudiation of false teachers23 and those who tried to rule the church.24
Like Paul, John’s wrote both to individuals and to congregations (with benefit to the universal church).25 And thank God that he wrote these letters, because they contain wonderful comforting information about salvation, both then and now.26
While John was on Patmos, an island which was a “rock quarry…used as a place of banishment for certain types of offenders,”27 he received a revelation from Jesus Christ. It’s generally assumed that he was exiled to Patmos by the Roman Emperor,28 but that’s not explicitly stated. It might be that he was evangelizing.29
In writing the Revelation, John simply wrote what he saw and how he reacted to it. He was overwhelmed by all that he saw, at one point fainting,30 at another point breaking into tears,31 and then worshiping the angel who delivered the message to him.32
This book was written to encourage faithfulness,33 to foretell the vindication of Christ and His apostles,34 to describe the glorious church,35 and to comfort first-century Christians with the promise of the destruction of their persecutors.36
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 See Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1989[?]pages 18-19, and Woods’ A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and James, Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1963[?], pages 206-207.
2 The promise of miracles from God in the church (including inspiration) was limited to the time between the death of Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem (see Zechariah 12:10-14:2, especially noting 13:2), a 40-year period (see Micah 7:15), which would take place during the “last days” of Judah and Jerusalem (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:16-21, Isaiah 2:1-2). When the completed word of God came, the miracles would cease (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Since, according to the Bible, miracles ended in AD 70, then the completed word of God also had to be finished by that time as well. For a much more in-depth explanation of this topic, see the Appendix, “The End of Miracles” in this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.
3 2 John 1.
4 2 John 7-11.
5 2 John 8.
6 3 John.
7 1 John 2:18 (see especially in Greek, where John says “it is the final hour, and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists: therefore we know it is the final hour,” and compare it with what Jesus said in Matthew 24:24 in regards to the signs preceding the final overthrow of the Jews and the Jewish system).
8 See the entire book of Revelation. The persecutors who will be overthrown by God in Revelation are the Jews. Compare Matthew 23:34-39 with Revelation 18:10-19:2. See also Arthur Ogden’s fantastic work, The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets, and this author’s work, Things Which Came to Pass: A Study of Revelation, Class Handouts, Cobb Publishing, 2014 (As of this writing, the commentary/teacher’s guide, Things Which Came to Pass: A Study of Revelation, is still being prepared).
9 Matthew was written first, around AD 40 (see chapter on Matthew for more information), while Mark and Luke were written in the mid to late 50s. Since Luke doesn’t include any of the information from John’s gospel (except that which is also found in Matthew), yet claims that he “traced accurately” (implying that he did much research) the things which he wrote. The only logical, biblical conclusion that can be drawn from this is that Luke wrote his gospel prior to John writing his. Since Acts (Luke’s sequel to the gospel) was written around AD 62, it is no stretch to say that the gospel could easily have been written by AD 58. For more information on the dating of the New Testament writings, see Redating the New Testament by J.A.T. Robinson.
10 See the entire book of Hebrews.
11 John 1:1-3, 11-14.
12 The arrangement of the words in Greek, as well as the lack of the definite article in Greek before “God” at the end of John 1:1 shows that what is under consideration is the nature or character of the Word. Jesus Christ is, in His nature, God. He is distinguished from God, when it is a reference to the Father, but He shares of the same nature. What God is, the Word is. See the New English Translation (NET) at this verse.
13 John 6:35, 48, 51; 8:16, 23-24, 28, 58; 9:5, 9; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:6, 8.
14 John 12:39-41, a reference to Isaiah 6:10 where the word “Jehovah” is used.
15 John 20:30-31.
16 Certainly there are other reasons John wrote, and many other things we could mention that are unique to John’s gospel account, but these will suffice for our purpose. For more study on the uniqueness of John’s gospel, see the introduction to Guy N. Woods’ Commentary on John. Most commentaries on John’s gospel will include mention and elaboration on these points.
17 Compare 2 Peter 1:15-19 with 1 John 1:1-4. Since they are dealing with the same problem (people denying the reality of Jesus Christ), it make no sense to say (as some do) that John’s first letter couldn’t have been written until AD 90 because he is supposedly dealing with Gnostic teachings which didn’t arise until very late in the first century. It’s universally agreed that Peter was killed during the reign of Nero, yet he dealt with the same issues, so this “proof” for a late date for First John is ridiculous.
18 See 1 John 1:12-14.
19 1 John 1:8-10.
20 1 John 2:10, 2 John 5-6. It’s worth noting here that, according to John, the command to love one another also includes walking in the commandments of Jesus Christ.
21 1 John 2:15.
22 3 John 1-4.
23 2 John 7-11.
24 3 John 9-11.
25 3 John was written to Gaius. 2 John was written to “the elect lady and her children,” which is most likely a reference to the church in Jerusalem and the members thereof. It cannot be that John is writing about a specific individual woman, for this “lady and her children” are said to be known and loved by “all them that have known the truth.” There was no woman that well-known. But the church in Jerusalem was known to all Christians (what Christian hasn’t heard about Pentecost and the Jerusalem church in the book of Acts?). It is also possible that this is speaking of the church universal, but that makes John’s closing statement in 2 John very confusing. If the “elect lady” is the universal church, who is her sister?
26 1 John 1:7, 9; 5:13.
27 Burton Coffman, commentary notes on Revelation 1:9.
28 Among the early writings that take this position, there is not agreement about which emperor banished him there. Many claim Domitian, and thus some expositors take the position that it had to have been written around AD 95-96. John A.T. Robinson (in Redating the New Testament) says that Domitian acted as emperor (even calling himself the emperor) prior to Vespasian’s arrival in Rome to take the throne, and so it could have taken place around AD 70. However, there are very early Bible translations (second century) which include in the title of the final book of the New Testament, “…when he was exiled to Patmos by Nero.”
29 Foy E. Wallace argues that John went to Patmos for the purpose of receiving the Revelation and evangelizing. See his The Book of Revelation, notes on Revelation 1:9.
30 Revelation 1:17.
31 Revelation 5:4.
32 Revelation 19:10.
33 Revelation 1:3, 2:10.
34 Revelation chapters 18-19.
35 Revelation 21.
36 The entire book of Acts shows that the primary persecutors of Christianity in the first century were the Jews. It is their overthrow that is pictured in the book of Revelation. For more details, see Things Which Came to Pass: A Study of Revelation by this author.