The Character of Jesus in the Gospel of John

John describes Jesus several times using the words “light” and “life” in the first chapter (1: 1-9), establishing references to Jesus’s identity as the (Eternal) “Word” (1: 1- 2, 14), the “Messiah” (1: 41), the “Christ” (1: 17) and the “Son of God/the Father” (1: 14, 18, 49).

A series of “signs” directly related to Jesus’s significance, influence, power and mission then transpire throughout the first seven chapters, most of which involve water. John the Baptist along with his disciples and the disciples of Jesus baptize with water (1: 33), water is made wine at Cana (2: 1-12), Jesus’s baptism discourse with Nicodemus (3: 1-15), Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (4: 7-30), the curing of the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda (5: 1-15), Jesus walks on water (6: 16-21), Jesus begins the Bread of Life discourse in a boat (6: 22), Jesus makes reference to “Rivers of living water” (7: 37-39), and Jesus restores the blind man’s sight at the Pool of Siloam (9: 7); all revolve around the symbol of the life-giving element of water.

Along with the symbols of the multiplication of the loaves and fish and numerous “I am” references to bread in the Bread of Life discourse (6: 36, 48, 51, 58), John uses basic elemental necessities like light, food, wine, water, and, of course, bread – universal symbols every reader and hearer can understand – to convey Jesus’s teachings about who he is, specifically, the very source of life as the Eternal Word who was with God at the beginning and is God (1: 1-4).

In Chapters 8-14, John presents Jesus as a man who is experiencing (and, perhaps, intentionally antagonizing) an increasingly growing hostility between himself and the religious authorities of his time. Jesus does not hesitate in clarifying his existence to the Jews and the Pharisees who ask him who he is and where he comes from by repeatedly referring to himself as “I AM” in relation to God the Father. Simultaneously, he points out that those questioning his authenticity and authority are sons of the devil. Jesus confronts them; his interaction with them is clearly, fearlessly and unapologetically contentious, informing them he knows they seek to kill him. He is a man who incontrovertibly knows he is who he says he is.

Interspersed throughout these chapters are John’s references to Jesus describing himself with additional various “I am” statements. “I am (the light) of the world” (8: 12; 9: 5; 12: 35-36), “I am the gate…” (10: 7), “I am the good shepherd” (10:11), “I am the Son of God” (10: 36), “I am the resurrection and the life;…” (11: 25), “…you may believe that I AM” (13: 19), “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14: 6), “…I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” (14: 10-11). It would most certainly be, in one sense, clearly offensive, and, in another, blasphemous to the Pharisees of his day that Jesus was saying these things, taking God’s revealed name (“YHWH”/“I AM WHO AM”) by referring to himself in the “I am” context, making himself equal to God.

Chapter 17, the “priestly prayer of Jesus,” is a complete monologue, a fervent, intimate prayer of the Son to the Father on behalf of his disciples. This chapter demonstrates the great love Jesus has for his followers. Similar to the first three-quarters of John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks freely, at length, and his words encompass most (or in this case, all) of the text. After Jesus is arrested in the garden in Ch. 18, John’s account makes an abrupt stylistic shift in relating the relatively few words Jesus used thereafter during his passion and, instead, relies on narrative to tell the remainder of his story until after his resurrection.

John’s Jesus is God’s Son from the beginning to the end of his gospel, the Christ who told his contemporaries exactly who he was (and is) in words, signs and images, some of which they could comprehend, others of a more mysterious nature, all of which encompassed the elements of light and life and love.

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David La Mar is a Candidate in the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa. David has been married to his wife Mary for ten years. He is the father of five children, a teacher, a business owner and an avid cyclist.

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