Many scholars opine that John’s Gospel was written in the late first century CE, at a time when Christians were continuing to live as Jews, albeit Christian Jews, as a denomination within Judaism. John’s writing place is often linked with Ephesus, a large city for its time in Roman controlled Asia Minor, one of the seven cities where Christian churches had already been located. (Rev 1:11)
Some 20 years after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, the Jews reorganized their shattered community at a council held in Jamnia, Galilee. By this time, the Pharisees had regained control, and other Jewish groups such as the Sadducees withered in their influence. As for the Christians, they had been decisively excluded from what had been the broad church of Judaism. The Gospel refers to the Jews putting followers of Jesus “out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22.16:2) This is not mentioned in the three Synoptic Gospels, and considering the time frame of their writing, it is unlikely to have occurred during Jesus’ ministry.
The first three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, often referred to as “Synoptic Gospels,” present a similar or common view. John’s Gospel, often referred to as the “Fourth Gospel” has distinct differences. The purpose of John’s Gospel is succinctly stated “…so that you may come to believe…and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) At a time when Christianity was under attack from Jews, Romans, sceptics, and others, John wanted to present the essential truth of the Christian faith, to overcome the objections of its critics.
John’s distinctive language and imagery, his focus on independent traditions, and the theological and philosophical milieu of his time, lend support to the view that he wanted to expand his audience to a broader religious world with a more universal appeal—to prove conclusively that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and that all who believe in him will have eternal life.
An overriding theme throughout John’s Gospel is the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (Jn 1:11-12) The “Good News” is God’s action in Christ, and that “everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
Interestingly, John only uses the phrase “Kingdom of God” twice (Jn 3:3,5), whereas he continually talks about life and eternal life. It is as though the tables are turned completely: with the “Kingdom of God” being the dominant theme in the Synoptic Gospels, and “eternal life” being very dominant with John. Scholars speak of John’s realized eschatology (that is the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind). Furthermore, John lived at a time when the church was having to adjust to Jesus’ failure to return (the so-called failure of the Parousia) or the Second Coming. And that he chose to emphasize Jesus’ spiritual presence in the church through the Holy Spirit rather than on his future return. Jesus did promise to come again, but did so in the person of the Spirit.
John’s Gospel gets underway with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1) The Word became flesh and dwelt among people in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. John sees Jesus as the new Spirit endowed leader, bringing the universal experience of the Spirit to all believers, and John viewed eternal life as fellowship with the Father and the Son, since it is precisely through the Holy Spirit that the Father and Son come to dwell within the believer. This approach to the meaning of eternal life can be thought of as accessible, even to us in the here and now.