The Theme of "Messiah" in the Gospel of John

Jason Dulle

Nature and Purpose · Identity · People's Perception of Messiah · Themes Found with Mention of Messiah · Conclusion

"Jesus Christ" is a common way of referring to our Lord and Savior. Many Christians think, or have thought in the past that "Christ" was Jesus' last name. The people of Jesus' day did not have last names, but identity-designators. Take for an example, Mary Magdalene. "Magdalene" designates that this Mary was from Magdala. John the Baptist was so called because he was known for his baptizing. Likewise "Christ" was a term applied to Jesus to designate his identity as the Anointed One.

The Gospels have a lot to say about Jesus being the Messiah, or Christ. There were many different terms used in John's day to designate the Messiah. Some were used only by the general populace, some only by Jesus, and some by both the general populace and Jesus. John uses many of these different terms for "messiah" in his gospel: Christ (Greek for Hebrew Messias)1, Messiah (Hebrew)2, Son of God3, Son of Man4, the Prophet5, the One coming into the world6, and I Am.7 In the contents of John's gospel, he attaches meaning to each of these titles, allowing us to see a theology of the nature and identity of the Messiah. By the context, he invests meaning into His identity, nature, and purpose, giving us an inspired perspective of the one known as Messiah. Many of these facets of Christ intersect the major themes presented in the gospel. As we read the gospel, we see the One sent by God in a way which brings Him to life as the One we are to believe in, and find our salvation in.

Nature and Purpose

John allows us to see that the Messiah was no intruder upon the scene to a people who were not desirous of Him. Rather He was anticipated among the people. The priests and Levites thought John the Baptist was the Messiah (1:20, 25), and Andrew told Peter that he had found the Messiah (1:40). The people said, "when Christ cometh..." (7:27); "Of a truth this is the Prophet;" and, "This is the Christ" (7:40-41). Had the Messiah not been anticipated there would have been no reason for the rulers to think John to be the Messiah, or for Andrew to say he had found the Messiah, or for the confessions of the common people.

In John's gospel Christ is seen as another Moses (1:17). Whereas Moses ushered in law, grace and truth are said to have come by Jesus Christ. He is the new Moses, ushering in another covenant, superior to all before it. The Old Covenant only foretold of the Spirit being poured out upon mankind, but Jesus was the One who would actually baptize men with this Spirit (1:33-35).

He is also seen as a miracle worker. The Book of Signs records seven major miracles that Jesus did (3:1-12:43). The people realized by the abundance of miracles that Jesus must be the Christ (7:31). Jesus Himself testified that the Father had given Him these works to finish (5:36). It was part of His purpose as God's Anointed. Through the miracles, the Son of God would be glorified (11:4).

The Messiah did not speak of His own accord, but was the bearer of the very words of God, the bearer of truth (8:40-43; 14:6; 18:37). Jesus claimed that he spoke what the Father taught Him, even plainly declaring, "He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God" (8:28; 3:34). Peter thought the Son of God to have the words of eternal life (6:68-69).

The Son of God was confessed by Nathaniel to be the King of Israel (1:49). Pilate suggests the idea, and in no way did Jesus refute it (18:36-37).

Besides being king, the Messiah was also Savior/Redeemer (1:33-36; 3:13-15, 17-18; 4:42; 8:24; 12:32, 34). Besides being almighty, He was also a suffer on behalf of the people of the world (3:13-14; 8:28; 10:11; 12:32-34). His suffering would result in the salvation of those who would believe upon Him. He is called the Savior of the world (4:42), the Lamb of God (1:36), and the One who must be lifted up (3:14; 12:34). Jesus said, "For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (8:24), but "whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (11:25).


John, most notably of the four gospel writers, presents the Messiah as divine. He stresses that Jesus is no ordinary man, simply anointed by God to work miracles and teach doctrine, but is YHWH himself made flesh. He is divine (3:13-14; 5:23-24; 6:62; 7:29; 8:24, 42, 58; 9:35-38). He claims things that no ordinary man could ever claim without committing blasphemy. There are many facets to the Messiah that John presents under this theme: The mediator between heaven and earth, the source of everything for believers, judge of men, giver of life, raiser of the dead, and the One sent by the Father.

Jesus made an exclusive claim that the Messiah was the connection between heaven and earth when He said, "Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (1:51). An even more explicit statement was made when He declared, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (14:6).

As pertaining to who we are to identify ourselves with, Jesus taught that He was the True Vine and we the branches (15:1-16). We could not do anything apart from Him. He is the source for all we do, and the strength by which we do it.

In the Old Testament YHWH is the judge of mankind. In the New Testament the Son of Man is given this authority because He is Messiah (5:27). Jesus explained it by saying, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and they which see might be made blind" (9:39).

Probably the most notable aspect of the Messiah is His authority and power to raise the dead and give eternal life. No ordinary mortal could do such a thing. Jesus said the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God and would live (5:25). To Martha He said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die (11:25-26; See also 6:39-40). The Son of Man gives eternal life to those who seek it through Him (6:27, 53; 11:25-27; 14:6; 20:31).

Finally, John portrays the Messiah as the One sent by God. Jesus made this claim again and again (3:34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36, 38; 6:29, 39, 44,57; 7:29; 8:42; 11:42; 16:27-28; 17:3, 18, 21-25; 20:21). These statements made by Jesus go hand in hand with the designator for Messiah, "the One which is to come into the world." He did come into the world, being sent by the Father. Of the four gospel writers, John alone bears this idea. John the Baptist is said to be sent by God (1:6), and Jesus told His disciples that He was going to send them into the world as He also was sent (17:18; 20:21). Would this mean that Jesus was sent just like any other human being can be sent by God? Jesus seemed to indicate otherwise when He said, "I proceeded forth and came from God; neither cam I of myself, but he sent me" (8:42; See also 3:31; 8:23). Jesus' origin was from the Father while ours is from the earth. Jesus considered it important that people believe He was sent by God to do the work of God (11:42; 17:21). As He was sent into the world from the Father, He was also to return to the Father (16:28; 17:11).

People's Perception of Messiah

Not only does John show us the true nature, identity, and purpose of the Messiah, but interspersed throughout his gospel he also shows his readers what the people thought of the Messiah. He did so by recording comments made by others in regards to their concept and ideas about Christ. Some thought that no one would know the origin of the Messiah when He came (7:27), while others thought He would come out of Galilee and from the seed of David (7:42). Apparently the Jews expected the Messiah to be a miracle-worker when they asked, "When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?" (7:31). At one point the Jews condemned Jesus because He broke the Sabbath, saying, "This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day" (9:16). They did not see the Messiah as one who would usher in a new covenant, but one who would obey and enforce the Law of Moses.

Themes Found with Mention of Messiah

In the context of each mention of the Messiah, ideas are conveyed and connected with Messiah that are also major themes emphasized in the gospel of John. "Believe" is the most frequent theme appearing with mentions of the Messiah (3:15, 17-18; 5:23-24, 38; 6:29; 9:35-38; 11:25, 27, 42; 13:19; 17:21, 28; 20:31). John also focused upon the responses of faith/confession and unbelief/rejection. These are also found connected with mentions of Messiah (4:19; 6:14; 7:40; 9:22; 11:27). Jesus, being the giver of life, follows on the heels of John's theme of eternal life (6:35; 8:12; 20:31).


The Messiah, with all of the various other verbiage coinciding with the same concept, is not a simple individual. Rather He is many-faceted. He has many purposes, all of which could only be accomplished through His divine person and abilities. John shows us the identity of the Messiah in order to display to us His ability to perform His many purposes and roles. All in all, the Messiah is God's Anointed One Who came into the World, being sent by God, anticipated by the world, working miracles and speaking the words of God, suffering to redeem His people and give them life as they are raised from the dead, connecting heaven and earth, baptizing with the Holy Ghost, being the source for everything for the believer, and returning to the Father in heaven from which He came.


1. 1:17, 20, 25; 3:28; 4:25, 29, 42; 6:69; 7:26-27, 31, 41-42; 9:22; 10:24; 1:27; 12:34; 17:3; 20:31 <back>
2. 1:41; 4:25 <back>
3. 1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 9:35; 10:36; 11:4, 27; 19:7; 20:31 <back>
4. 1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31 <back>
5. 1:21, 25; 4:19, 44; 6:14; 7:40, 52; 9:17 <back>
6. 4:25; 5:43; 6:14; 7:27; 9:39; 11:27; 16:28; 18:37 <back>
7. 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5-6 <back>

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