Johannine Theology


The Gospel of John was written for the common man. It uses the least number of vocabulary words of any of the Gospels. Yet, it is perhaps the deepest and most profound of them all.

Some scholars have criticized the Gospel of John for not being in agreement with the three synoptic Gospels in certain matters. It includes lengthy dialogues with Jesus, unlike the others. John records the whole prayers of Jesus. How could he be privy to events that the other Gospel writers did not cover?

John was very close to Jesus. He was said to be the disciple that Jesus loved. He was the only disciple who stood at the cross. Jesus asked John to consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, as being John’s own mother. John obeyed and took Mary into his home. He must have heard many stories from the Mother of Jesus that the other writers did not hear.

John’s Gospel covers two very important ministries of the Christian Faith: The ministry of the Holy Spirit and the sacrament or grace of Holy Communion.  The synoptic Gospels do touch on them:  John expounds upon their underlying theologies Sadly, many churches do not provide teachings about these ministries.

The Giving of the Holy Spirit

Let us begin with the Spirit. In his dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus hints at the work of the Spirit:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:3-8)

In this passage, John links the born-again experience with the work of the Holy Spirit. The evangelical church and the pentecostal church should not be in opposition.

Jesus clearly teaches that Christian believers should have an experience of the Holy Spirit that will profoundly affect their lives. He does so when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well:

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  (John 4:9-14)

To receive the gift of living water believers need instruction. They must be taught who Jesus is and what living water is. Then they must ask Jesus for the gift.

What is living water? It is the Holy Spirit that was poured out on Pentecost. Before that could happen Jesus had to settle the problem of our sin. From John:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

This is the promise that Jesus, the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit, makes to us:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[h] you.   (John 14:15-17)

If we love Jesus, we will try to keep God’s commandments. Jesus will give us his Holy Spirit who will help us to do just that:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.   (John 14:26)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.   (John 16:13-15)

The Spirit will teach us, guide us, strengthen us, and seal us from all evil.

Partaking of the Holy Communion

Now let us look at Holy Communion. John does not cover the institution of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. He does lay out the meaning and theology of Communion, more than any other place in the Bible. The teachings concerning Communion come from Jesus himself:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.   (John 6:35)

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”   (John 6:48-51)

We cannot overstate the importance of Communion in our Christian lives. From what Jesus has said, Communion does not appear to be optional.

“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”   (John 6:53-58)

Notice that Jesus implies that Communion actually contains his very essence. When we take Communion we take on Christ. We abide in him and he abides in us. The evangelical church and pentecostal church should not be in opposition to the liturgical church. The sacrament of Holy Communion is more than just a memorial service. It is a large part of the process of sanctification and our guarantee of eternal life. For this understanding, we give thanks for the depth and clarity of the Gospel of John.