The unique value and benefit of the Gospel of John has been described by Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “In [the Gospel of John] is the most persuasive testimony of the Divine Sonship; in it is the most elaborate imagery and symbolism; in it are many of the more mature doctrinal concepts” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 3:371).
As the prologue to the Gospel of John, the first chapter teaches about the premortal divinity of Jesus Christ, emphasizes His role as the messenger of the Father, emphasizes that He is the only way to return to the Father, and highlights the impact of personal testimony in bringing others to follow Jesus Christ. John introduced the Savior as “the Word” (John 1:1), the Creator of this world (see John 1:3), “the life” (John 1:4), and “the Light” (John 1:7). He testified that Jesus Christ is “the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14), and that Jesus gives power to all who receive Him “to become the sons [and daughters] of God” (John 1:12). John also recorded other disciples’ testimonies of Jesus’s divinity. John the Baptist testified that Jesus was “the Lamb of God” sent to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Andrew testified that Jesus was “the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:41). And Nathanael spoke to the Savior Himself, saying, “Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).
Be sure each student has a copy of “Why study John” and “To whom was John written and why?” under “Introduction to the Gospel According to St. John” in chapter 21 of the student manual. Before class begins, write the following question on the board or prepare copies to be given to the students:
What circumstances in John’s day are similar to those in our day?
If possible, divide the class into pairs and have them alternate reading paragraphs aloud to each other from the assigned student manual sections, looking for answers to the question on the board. When they are finished, invite a few students to share their answers with the class. Students should see how John’s testimony of the divinity of the Savior was relevant in his day and is still relevant today.
Point out to students that in the Joseph Smith Translation, the Prophet Joseph Smith changed the title for this book from “The Gospel According to St. John” to “The Testimony of St. John.” Ask students to explain how this change might affect how they view and study this book. Then have students turn to John 20:31, and ask:
According to this verse, what was John’s main purpose in writing his Gospel? (To help his readers “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” so that “believing [they] might have life through his name.”)
You might invite the students to highlight these words in their scriptures and write in the margin: “John’s purpose.” Make sure that as a result of this discussion they understand this principle: As we prayerfully study and apply the teachings in the Gospel of John, our faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of Heavenly Father can increase.
To help students understand that throughout his Gospel, John emphasized Jesus’s divinity as the Son of God, invite them to find one of their favorite chapters in John. (If your students are not familiar with this Gospel, have them select a chapter after previewing the “Outline” under “Introduction to the Gospel According to St. John” in chapter 21 of the student manual.) Ask students to study their chapter for two or three minutes, looking for passages that strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God. After students have studied, ask them to share their findings with the class.
Invite students to compare John 1:1 with Genesis 1:1 and identify similarities they find in these two verses. Ask students what advantages and additional insights they feel can be obtained by studying the Savior’s life from “the beginning.” (Insights could include an understanding that the Savior was a God in the premortal world, a knowledge of His premortal roles, and an appreciation of His condescension in descending from Godhood to mortality.)
Ask students to read John 1:1–14, looking for the premortal attributes and roles of the Savior. After allowing sufficient time, invite the students to write on the board what they found. The following are examples of what they might write:
What do the roles and attributes listed on the board teach you about the Savior’s premortal existence? (One doctrine students should identify is: Jesus Christ was a God in the premortal life and the Creator under the direction of Heavenly Father.)
Invite students to read the following scriptures and commentary and identify truths about Jesus Christ: the student manual commentary for John 1:3, 10 and for John 1:14; Doctrine and Covenants 38:1–3; and Abraham 3:24. You might ask the following questions to help students explain what they discovered:
What roles did Jesus Christ have in the premortal life?
What was His relationship to the Father?
Give the students a few minutes to write about what they have learned about the Savior’s premortal life and how these truths increase their faith in Him and reverence for Him. (Depending on the needs of your students and if time permits, you may also want to use the supplemental teaching idea “John 1:1. Jesus Christ Is the Word of God” at the end of this lesson.)
Invite the students to read John 1:19–21 and look for who the Jewish priests and Levites thought John the Baptist was. Read with the students the statement by President Howard W. Hunter from the student manual commentary for John 1:6–8, 15–18, 23–34, as well as the student manual commentary for John 1:19–28. Then invite the students to search John 1:15, 23, 26–27 to find what John said about his relationship to the Savior. Ask questions like the following:
What do these declarations made by John the Baptist show that he knew about Jesus Christ?
Why do you think John was looking forward to the Savior’s coming with such anticipation?
Invite students to search John 1:26–34 and mark in their scriptures or list on a piece of paper the main points of John’s testimony concerning the Savior. Invite students to share what they discovered. For example, they might share:
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God.
Jesus Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
The Holy Ghost descended upon the Savior when He was baptized.
What might John’s announcement that Jesus of Nazareth was “the Lamb of God” have meant to the people in his day?
How does President Russell M. Nelson’s statement help you better understand the role of Jesus Christ as “the Lamb of God”?
Ask the students to share why these main points of John’s testimony of the Savior are meaningful to them.
Ask students to think about a time when they heard someone bear a powerful testimony of the Savior. Invite them to share with the class the effect this experience had on them, or you could share an experience of your own. Share with the students the following statement from President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Never hesitate to bear your testimony with sincerity and love. The power of personal testimony cannot be denied and often ignites in others the interest to know more” (“Faith, Family, Facts, and Fruits,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 27).
To help students identify how this principle is taught in John 1, invite them to search verses 35–42 and look for examples of how one person’s testimony “ignites” an interest in others. To help students see the influence that John the Baptist’s testimony had on his disciples, consider having a student read the quotation by Robert J. Matthews in the student manual commentary for John 1:35–51. Then draw the following diagram on the board to illustrate how sharing testimony influenced others:
Invite students to read John 1:43–51 and then draw their own diagram on a piece of paper that shows a similar process. Their diagram might look like this one:
Help students state a principle found in these passages by asking them what influence the testimony of a friend had in the lives of those discussed in John 1:35–51. Students will likely see these principles: Those who gain a witness of Jesus Christ desire to share that witness with others. Sharing one’s personal testimony can have positive, far-reaching effects on others.
Ask students to read John 1:50, and then ask:
What did Jesus tell Nathanael he would see? (“Greater things than these.”)
Explain that Jesus gave this promise to Nathanael upon their first meeting. Nathanael later became one of the Twelve Apostles and accompanied Christ throughout His ministry. Have students suggest what “greater things” they think came into Nathanael’s life because he heeded the call to come unto the Savior. (Possible answers: As a disciple of the Savior, he learned Jesus’s teachings, experienced spiritual rebirth, and witnessed many miracles. Nathanael also received baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, and additional revelation—as alluded to in John 1:51.) Point out that all these blessings are among the far-reaching effects of Philip sharing his testimony with Nathanael (see John 1:45).
To help students think about how the experience of Philip and Nathanael might apply to them, ask them to share an example of how the sharing of testimony can yield similar results in our day.
Read with the class Doctrine and Covenants 88:81 and the statements by Elder David B. Haight and President Dallin H. Oaks from the student manual commentary for John 1:41, 45. Ask students to discuss the responsibilities that those with testimonies have toward those who do not have that knowledge. Invite students to share experiences that illustrate how sharing our testimonies with others can help them come unto Christ, while also helping us draw closer to the Savior.
Help students summarize and remember what they have learned from John 1 by asking questions like the following:
What was the most important truth you learned from your study of John 1?
How do these truths increase your faith in Jesus Christ?
How do these truths strengthen your desire to share your testimony with others?