John’s Gospel in Jewish Evangelism
The gospel of John was written for the purpose of evangelizing the reader. The author clearly states, …these [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Not only is John’s gospel written for evangelism, it seems to be written particularly for Jewish evangelism. From the beginning, the book of John is geared to Jewish thinking. John 1:1 sounds very much like the beginning of Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures. It would seem that John, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, intended to draw this parallel for Jewish readers of his gospel.
The entire 21 chapters clearly present Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah and this Messiah as more than an ordinary prophet or teacher. John’s straightforward writing about the messiahship and deity of Jesus enables us to be equally direct as we use this portion of Scripture in Jewish evangelism.
John shows the deity of Yeshua
In the very first verses of chapter 1 John declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Immediately this establishes the eternal existence and deity of the one called the Word. Then, if that is not sufficient, verse 3 states that He is the creator of all things: “All things were made through Him; and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
Taken with the Genesis account that Elohim (God) created the heavens and the earth, the gospel of John reinforces the idea of Messiah as the Creator Himself. Genesis 1:26 records Elohim as saying, “Let Us make man in Our image.…” The Hebrew Elohim is a plural noun. It embodies a sense of composite unity which, seen in the context of the gospel accounts, relates to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit working together in creation.
Again, in John 1:1 we see the Word described as being “with God.” Later, in John 17:5, we see Yeshua, the Word, praying to be glorified with God the Father, making it apparent that He was with God in the beginning at creation: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
John 1:14 states that “the Word became flesh.” Understanding the identity of this one called the Word has profound importance. No mere human could ever make a claim like that without being ridiculed or hospitalized for insanity.
John tells us that this Word (logos in Greek) is God in the flesh: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Logos means far more than just the literal “word.” Scholars have defined it as everything from “cause” and “communication” to “saying,” “account,” “matter,” “things,” “fame,” “question,” “treatise,” “intent” and “tidings.”
John is the only gospel writer who used logos in reference to Yeshua, and no other person in the Bible was ever called the logos of God. This is just one more way that John points out the uniqueness of the Messiah.
Besides this use of logos within his gospel, John also makes reference to the “Word” of God as the Messiah in two other places: 1 John 5:7 and Revelation 19:13. In the Revelation passage John notes, “He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.”
One of the common Jewish objections to faith in Jesus is, “How can a man become God?” Perhaps the most difficult matter for an earnest Jewish inquirer to comprehend is this fact that Jesus is God and God is Jesus.
Deuteronomy 6:4, the foremost affirmation of Judaism, is Sh’ma, Yisrael, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad—”Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Jewish people have been taught to misunderstand the nature of the Sh’ma, in that they translate the Hebrew echad merely as numerically one rather than the composite unity that the term implies.
Truly there is only one God, and a man cannot become God. Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus are absolutely right in this. Yet while a man cannot become God, God can become a man if He wishes. The God who created the heavens and the earth can do whatever He pleases. If He wants to “become flesh and dwell among us,” it is His right. He has the ability to do it and He did it!
John addresses this potential objection to the deity of Messiah in the first verse of his gospel. In this first chapter he also addresses other questions a Jewish person might have about Yeshua as Messiah.
John the Baptist as herald of the Messiah
In verses 6 and 7 the gospel writer introduces John the Baptist as the herald of the Messiah. Messianic hopes were running high at that time. Here were two Jewish men, John the Baptist and Yeshua, who appeared to be prophets. The bright hope was that perhaps one of them was the Messiah. The Jewish leaders who came to ask John who he was were dealing with Jewish issues. The inquiry that is continued further in the passage (verses 19 through 28) extends not just to John’s person but to that of Yeshua as well.
John 1:21 makes it clear that John the Baptist is not the promised one but merely the forerunner of that one soon to be revealed. It plainly states that he is not the Messiah or Elijah or the prophet like Moses that was promised, but that he will point the way to this special one. John the Baptist reveals his identity as the forerunner of the Messiah by quoting from a messianic passage of Hebrew Scripture:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).
Yeshua as atonement for sin
At last, in John 1:29 John the Baptist faithfully points to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lamb of God is a concept that has its origins in an entirely Jewish frame of understanding. It goes back to the first Passover sacrifice by which the Israelites were saved from the plague of death and freed from the slavery of Egypt (Exodus 12).
There is nothing more Jewish than Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, giving His life as God’s ultimate Passover lamb. Yet too often Jewish people think that the New Testament is not Jewish and therefore not for them. The gospel of John helps us to show them that this is not so.
John’s gospel witness of Messiah has a Jewish accent and a Jewish flavor—and just as John the Baptist pointed straight to Jesus, God expects us who know Him to be faithful witnesses and do the same. Like John, we are not to waste time talking about ourselves. We are to keep our focus on sharing Jesus because He is the Word made flesh, the only one who saves.
Executive Assistant to the Director, Missionary
Steve Wertheim is a missionary and executive assistant to the executive director of Jews for Jesus. Steve’s father is a Holocaust survivor, originally from Germany. Many of the Wertheim family have come to faith in the Lord and have had a part in the Jews for Jesus ministry. Steve’s wife Janie, who is also a Jewish believer, has written some of the children’s materials used by Jews for Jesus. His son-in-law, Toby, heads up the group’s IT department and his brother, Rob, is a missionary in the San Francisco branch of Jews for Jesus.