The Courageous and Confident Jesus.

Opening observations: The Gospel According to John differs in several ways from Mark, Matthew, and Luke in style and content. John’s Gospel omits a large amount of material found in the Synoptic Gospels like the temptation of Jesus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the institution of the Eucharist. The sermon on the mount and the Lord’s prayer are not found in John’s Gospel. Nor do we see proverbs and parables. We see, rather, symbolic discourses. John uses the language of symbolic “signs” to talk about Jesus’s miracles because they point beyond themselves to provide insight into Jesus’ identity.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is clearly the Wisdom of God, the source of eternal life, and, very importantly, still continually living with us in the community of faith.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ public ministry appears to extend over a period of at least three years. During that time, he went, several times from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Synoptics, on the other hand, have Jesus making just one journey to Jerusalem — his final one.

The Gospel of John also includes a considerable amount of material not found in the Synoptics. All the material in John chapters 2 to 4, Jesus’ early Galilean ministry, is not found in the Synoptics. Visits of Jesus to Jerusalem before his passion week are mentioned in John but not found in the synoptics. The raising from the dead of Lazarus, in John 11, is not mentioned in the Synoptics, and the extended Farewell Discourse, in John 13 – 17, is not found in the Synoptic Gospels.

The Gospel of John uses a “post-resurrection” point of view. The author looks back on the Jesus events and emphasizes the inability of his disciples to understand the things that were happening at the time they occurred. See for instance: John 2:17-22, where there are obvious references to Jesus’ Resurrection, “He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and after he rose from the dead his disciples remembered.” See John 12:16-17, “At the time his disciples did not understand this but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered…” And see John 20:9, “Until this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Perhaps we today do not always clearly understand? We do indeed, like the early disciples, grow in our faith and understanding.

The Gospel of John’s prologue (John 1:1-18) is most likely an elaboration of an early hymn. Interestingly, the rest of John’s Gospel does not speak of Jesus as the pre-existent, creative Word. Many biblical scholars suggest, therefore, that the prologue was added after the Gospel of John had been completed.

Authorship and locality: The old tradition, from the second century, was that the author of John’s Gospel was the apostle John, son of Zebedee. Most contemporary scholars are not of this opinion. Scholars such as Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998)  believed that the original author of an oral tradition, that evolved into the Gospel of John, was a companion of Jesus. That author was the “Beloved Disciple,” who formed a community, most probably in Ephesus. Scholars call this “the Johannine community.” An oral tradition of eye-witness recollections of the Beloved Disciple evolved in that community and began being written down around 90 CE. The final redaction occurred ten to twenty years later, giving us a gospel composition date of between 90 and 110 CE. We don’t know who the “Beloved Disciple” was. There is quite a variety of scholarly opinions: a truly unknown disciple, the Apostle John, James the brother of Jesus, or even Mary the Magdalene.

Scholars like Pheme Perkins, at Boston College, emphasize, that the author of John’s Gospel presumes that much of the narrative about Jesus and its people and places was already well known to the Johannine audience. They would have been familiar with the various titles for Jesus, with Baptism, Eucharist, and the Spirit. They were already Christians, entering the second century of Christian life and experience.

The Fourth Gospel then is a call to early Christians to re-examine their lives as followers of the Risen Lord. That challenge of course rings true for us today as well.

John 13:1-4 is the big turning point in this gospel. Jesus’s “hour” had come “for him to pass from this world to the Father…he had come from God and was returning to God.” The occasion in John 13 is the Last Supper. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John has no mention of Eucharist, but Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (John 13:15) (Perhaps we forget that people wore simple sandals back then and people’s feet got really dirty. Hebrews did not wear sandals indoors. They removed them upon entering the house and washed their feet.)

Rereading this scripture, I think we sometimes forget that Jesus also said: “Whoever welcomes the one I send, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (John 13:20) This is the key.The author of John’s Gospel did not mention the Eucharistic bread and wine because he wanted to emphasize that Jesus is present in the Community of Faith. Jesus promises that his Spirit (the Advocate) will be with them. (John 14:15-16, 15:26, 16:15)

For centuries, in my Roman Catholic tradition, people have debated about Jesus’s eucharistic “Real Presence.” John’s Gospel is very clear: the primary real presence of Jesus is in the community. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches (John 15); and we are to love one another. The branches cannot survive without the vine. But the vine cannot survive without the branches. The profound mystery of life. No one can do it alone.

In Mark, Matthew, and Luke the stress was on divinity taking on humanity. That is true in John as well, of course. In John, however, we see another emphasis: humanity taking on divinity. God is truly with us: in the very heart of our being.

Some of the old images of God might no longer speak to contemporary people; but God has not abandoned us. We should not abandon God. We simply need to reflect on better ways of conceptualizing and speaking about our experiences of the Divine. We all have a theological task, because theology is faith seeking understanding.

I find it especially noteworthy that John’s account of the crucifixion does not stress Jesus as one who suffers, as we saw for example in Mark 15.25–39. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is the one who is exalted, “lifted up” in his moment of glorification. Jesus in the Gospel of John is courageous and confident.

In John 13 to John 16, Jesus prepares his disciples for his imminent departure, followed by his “high priestly prayer” in John 17. Here we see a very strong and confident Jesus. “I have glorified you on earth and finished the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, it is time to glorify me…” (John 17:4-5)

John’s final chapters contain the accounts of Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The Jesus who stands before Pilate is courageous and strong. On the way to Golgotha Jesus carries his own cross. He does not need the help of a Simon of Cyrene as we saw in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Also in John, unlike the other three gospels, Jesus’ crucifixion occurs on the day of preparation of the Passover (John 19:14) rather than on the Passover holiday itself. Here Jesus prepares himself for the departure to the Father and seems to be in complete control of his destiny, even to the extent of commending his mother to the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26–27).

The Gospel of John concludes with the discovery of the empty tomb by the women and other disciples (John 20:1–10), Jesus’s appearance to them (John 20:11–18), and the narrative of “Doubting” Thomas (John 20.24–29). The last two verses of John 20 contain what many scholars think may have been the original gospel’s ending: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his 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)

Appendix: Many scholars consider John 21 to be a later addition to the JohannineGospel. It not only contains resurrection appearances in Galilee, but it also emphasizes the authority of the Beloved Disciple, who likely died a normal death in contrast to Peter’s martyrdom (see John 21.15–23). Quite possibly, this appendix reflects a controversy among the second or third generation of believers’, who may have considered the Beloved Disciple inferior to Peter. Chapter 21 clearly reinforces the Beloved Disciple’s role as the authorized witness of the Jesustradition for the Johannine community.

I subtitled today’s For Another Voice reflection “Courageous and Confident Jesus.” That is how I perceive Jesus in John’s Gospel. With courage and confidence, Jesus approached the end of his life. And with the same courage Jesus spoke out against the hypocrisy of the religiously self-centered and arrogant. In conflicts with Judean religious leaders he stressed that religiosity is not faith.

Today we encounter the same kinds of hypocrisy. We are confronted with unChristian religiosity from religious and political leaders.

As members of Jesus in the community of faith, may we sustain each other with courage and confidence.

That is John’s message as we prepare for Easter 2023.

  • Jack


Next week, because people have asked me, some brief observations about historical-critical biblical understanding.














  1. Thanks Dr Dick for these four timely articles. They have motivated me to to re-read the four gospels this Lent and I look forward to reflecting on them with the new insights you have given me.

  2. Jack, Ian Paul at “How many times did Jesus visit Jerusalem? | Psephizo” agrees with your statement :
    According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ public ministry appears to extend over a period of at least three years. During that time, he went, several times from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Synoptics, on the other hand, have Jesus making just one journey to Jerusalem — his final one.
    As I quote him below, he makes a good argument in support of “at least three years.”

    This is significant both for our understanding of the relationship between the gospels, as well as for how we read and preach on each of them.
    John’s account actually explains a number of features of the Synoptics which are otherwise hard to account for.
    • Why is there early opposition to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee from the Jerusalem leaders? Because they have met him already when he had visited the city.
    • How is it that the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem are already so hostile when Jesus arrives, if Palm Sunday was his first visit? If John is right, then they have already encountered him numerous times.
    • How can Jesus say in Mark 14.49 ‘Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me’? if he has only been doing that earlier in the week? Because, according to John, this has been his habit (see e.g. John 10.22–23)
    • How could Jesus have made the clandestine arrangements for the Passover in Mark 14.12–16 (and parallels)? Because he has visited numerous times, and has friends who live there.
    This ties in with other points at which John and Mark interlock with one another:
    • How did Peter gain entrance to the High Priest’s courtyard (Mark 14.45)? Because John alone tells us another disciple who was with Peter was well known there (John 18.15–16).
    • Why was Jesus charged at his trial with threatening to destroy the temple (Mark 14.58–59)? Because of his saying earlier in his ministry (John 2.19)
    • Why did the Jewish leaders send Jesus to Pilate (Mark 15.1–3)? John alone tells us that they were not permitted to carry out the death sentence (John 18.31)

    Now back to my comments:
    1. I believe the consensus among scholars is that John had no interest in chronology of events, except for the “last” one; so, in the number of times he makes a J reference, he is referring to the same trip ending with the cross.
    2. With Jerusalem playing such a significant role in the ministry of Jesus, some of us think the three/four times John refers to a Jesus visit to J-town is unlikely due to this apparent inconsistency: How could Jesus EVER be JESUS in earlier trips to town??
    3. Can anyone imagine Jesus going to the Temple at Passover and behave as other worshippers? Figuratively, did he wear a mask to hide his identity, as certainly he would be recognized by someone who would have seen him elsewhere—not to forget how rumors pass around as fast then as today.
    4. I think the Synoptics have it right. Jesus had his eye on the Temple from the beginning, knowing once he entered the city, he would not exit alive.
    5. For this to be true, Ian Paul’s three points must have been some of the many edits to the texts that mark the development of scripture over the centuries. In retrospect, Jesus referring these ways of his “eyes, and tears, looking toward Jerusalem” give us an overall context of his faithfulness to God.
    Please, what think ye?

    1. I suspect the synoptics in general are more historical than John. But John who is also more
      symbolic comes from a different tradition. Can their details be reconciled? Probably not. Just as the differences in the two infancy narratives cannot be reconciled.

  3. As always, a truly fascinating history of the sources, culture,etc behind each Gospel Thank you for sharing the benefits of modern scholarship in accurate interpretation. It has made the Gospels so much more enriching to our faith and understanding.

  4. Dear Jack,
    Thank you for offering your clarifying insights. John’s emphasis on the community of faith struck a resonant chord. We are, indeed, a people of God with Jesus as our head.

  5. Dear Dr. Jack,

    Thank you again, so much to ingest, broader problems to ponder.

    The modeling– the pioneering, the rebellion and vital resistance to status quo that Jesus from Nazareth, a Galileean for Others, showed in all perspectives transmitted to us from the written record of how He was understood– intensifies and activates spiritual energy within us, if we accept it. The Johannine ‘school’ is, to my mind, an initiation, in principio, of seeing-through and perceiving-beyond the usual, ordinary and customary metrological dailiness of our own time, not so different from human life in the time of Jesus, except for science as we know it. However, the cloak of science veils us from a spiritual and very real perception of the meaning [in principio erat Verbum apud Deo] of signs & symbols that are ever-present for us to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” with eyes to see and ears to hear, our hands and feet for Him to use for others, as Mother Teresa once said.

    We are, I think, at a tipping point I hope, prepping for a new structure of consciousness that is a-perspectival, freed from the dimensional, polar, axial dualities and either/or-ness that the tools of perspective, vanishing points, measuring, calculating and reasoning have efficiently served Sapiens technologically and theoretically into this century, but are now deficient for perceiving what is really out there, and in here, in the fleshy-now, beyond and behind what we want to accept as “facts,” which are after all ephemeral. Actually, phenomena are transparent, diaphanous, veiled (as in what was torn in Herod’s Temple at the crucifixion of Jesus, so we are told) over the real origin of an ever-new, ongoing creation, beyond our wildest expectations. Even the Hubble telescope and the JWST images testify that our expectations don’t reconcile with what’s really there.

    So the Johannine school and the synoptic sources can be regarded as testimony, markers for what is happening as Sapiens understands and appreciates creation, metanoia, mutation, and the dignity of differences. As is implicate in your favorite phrase of TS Eliot, we cannot read the words of “scripture” with the understanding of our current language– scripture is a veil to be pierced, torn even, to find what is ever-present and forever, without end, and as yet ineffable, until we find new words. At the risk of offending blog etiquette, sometimes it is OK to be prolix, when our vocabulary so meagerly describes real mystery.

    What I don’t understand, and can’t verbalize yet in my mental metrological brain, is why we should accept certain archaic, magical, mythical terms without questioning their context or translations, such as the following:

    1) Jesus had been glorified… = Is it not so much Jesus as vindicated, not a once-and-for-all victor, but instead an ever-convinced man of rightness, intent on the ‘only-ness’ of The Way, and His messianic mission, as He admitted to the Samaritan Woman Noonday at the Well, in just this past Sunday’s gospel reading? Or, in Dr. Luther’s phrase, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” What is this original sense of “glory”? The Hebrew epiphany of shekinah? The diaphaneity of the Transfigurations that were real to the witnesses, back then, but whose insight came later? “Back then” was NOT so long ago in cosmological, geological, or psychological terms, a spark in the expanse of interstellar space, here on this fragile Earth, our island home.

    2) “Must rise from the dead…” = from dying arises intensification of memory of potent examples, a MUST for us too, in terms of Jesus as The Way, or our ‘model’ to use Frank Skeltis’ term?

    3) Divinity = what does that mean to Sapiens today? It seems to spring from Roman imperial politics, the deification [Hellenically-speaking] of the emperor/king/president whose word is law, whose every human whim and desire is a command for self-aggrandizement, the risky addiction of power. Divinization is not, to my mind, at the heart of the gospels, but humanization is, in the midst of an absurd world of conflict and percussions. So I must pierce that veil of what divinity means, but how? Especially in the time left to me in this fleshy-now: something else is happening.

    [If this is too much for the blog, please reply to my personal email, thanks so much.]

    1. Dan
      I am responding here. You hit the main point when you write: “What I don’t understand, and can’t verbalize yet in my mental metrological brain, is why we should accept certain archaic, magical, mythical terms without questioning their context or translations.”

      We have to question. And on my questioning I remain a believer.


  6. Thank you, Jack. I have so enjoyed your insights into the four Gospels. A worthwhile Lenten journey.

    Pat Squires

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