Chapter 21: John 1

“Chapter 21: John 1,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)

“Chapter 21,” New Testament Student Manual


John 1

Introduction to the Gospel According to St. John

Why study John?

During a time of increasing persecution against Christians, political and civil turmoil, growing apostasy, and disputations about the nature of Jesus Christ, the Apostle John recorded his personal testimony of the Savior. Some similar circumstances exist in the modern world, and a careful study of John’s account of the Savior’s life and teachings can strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ and encourage you as you strive to follow Him. Studying John’s Gospel can increase your confidence that, despite contrary pressures and opinions in the world, Jesus Christ is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

The Joseph Smith Translation changes the title from “The Gospel According to St. John” to “The Testimony of St. John.” Thus, the Gospel of John is a firsthand account of one who was eyewitness to the events he recorded.

Who wrote John?

The author of the Gospel of John never referred to himself by name, although he is referred to as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Christian writers as early as the second century agreed that the author was John, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Latter-day revelation confirms that this disciple “whom Jesus loved” was John and that the Savior empowered John to continue ministering on the earth until the Second Coming (see John 21:20–22; D&C 7:1–6). There are a few indications that someone else, such as a scribe or editor, might have assisted with the production of the Gospel of John as it has come down to us. For example, in John 21:24, the word we is used in a way that might refer to someone helping John.

John and his brother James were fishermen who worked on the Sea of Galilee with their father, Zebedee (see Matthew 4:21), and Simon Peter (see Luke 5:10). Before becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, John was apparently a follower of John the Baptist (see John 1:35–40; Guide to the Scriptures, “John, Son of Zebedee”; John served with Peter and James “in the First Presidency in the dispensation of the meridian of time” (David B. Haight, “The Keys of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 74). Accordingly, the Savior regularly included John in some of the more intimate moments of His ministry (see Matthew 17:1–13; 26:36–45; Mark 5:37–43). Tradition indicates that John may have been Jesus’s first cousin. This tradition also indicates that Salome, who is mentioned in Mark 16:1, was the sister of Jesus’s mother, Mary, and the mother of James and John. This could mean that John was especially beloved by the Savior on the basis of a family connection.

When and where was John written?

Early Christian writers of the second century A.D. suggested that John wrote this book in Ephesus, which was in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Proposed dates for the writing of the Gospel of John range from A.D. 60 through A.D. 100. It is likely that John wrote his Gospel after he authored the book of Revelation.

To whom was John written and why?

Because of John’s apostolic calling as one of the “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world” (D&C 107:23), his writings and message, in a general sense, are meant for everyone. However, his message also has a more specific audience, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “The gospel of John is the account for the saints; it is pre-eminently the gospel for the Church, for those who understand the scriptures and their symbolisms and who are concerned with spiritual and eternal things” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:65). John knew that if all the sayings and doings of Jesus were recorded “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25), and therefore he carefully selected material for his record.

The final decades of the first century A.D. were a time of increasing apostasy within the Church and opposition from without—conditions that posed tremendous challenges to the faith of the second- or third-generation Christians living at the time. John’s stated purpose in writing was that his readers “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). “The scenes from Jesus’ life that [John] describes are carefully selected and arranged with this object in view. … He clearly affirms that Jesus is the Son of God, attested to by miracles, by witnesses, by the prophets, and by Christ’s own voice” (Bible Dictionary, “John, Gospel of”).

What are some distinctive features of John?

About 92 percent of the material in the Gospel of John is not found in the other Gospel accounts. This is probably because John’s intended audience—Church members who already had a basic understanding of Jesus Christ—was decidedly different from Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s intended audiences. The miracles of Jesus that John recorded serve as an example of the unique nature of this Gospel. Of the seven miracles reported by John, five are not recorded in any other Gospel. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke presented considerable information about Jesus’s ministry in Galilee, John recorded numerous events that took place in Judea. John’s Gospel is richly doctrinal, with some of its major themes being the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God, the Atonement of Christ, eternal life, the Holy Ghost, and the meaning and importance of belief.

More than any other Gospel writer, John emphasized Jesus’s divinity as the Son of God. John recorded over 100 of Jesus’s references to His Father with over 20 references in John 14 alone. Every chapter in John, with the exception of John 21, has a reference to the Father. One of John’s major contributions is his inclusion of the Savior’s teachings to His disciples in the hours just prior to His death, including the great Intercessory Prayer, offered the night He suffered in Gethsemane. This portion of John’s account (John 13–17) represents over 18 percent of the pages in John, providing us with a greater understanding of the Savior’s doctrine and what He expects of His disciples.

The Gospel of John contains several titles for Jesus Christ that are not found in the other Gospels, such as the Word (see John 1:1–2), the Lamb of God (see John 1:29, 36), the Light of the World (see John 8:12; 9:5), and the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11, 14). More than any other Gospel writer, John recorded Jesus’s own testimony of His divinity (see John 5:17–37; 8:23–59; 10:30–38; 16:27–28) and His identity as Jehovah of the Old Testament (see John 4:26; 8:58).


John 1

John the disciple quoted John the Baptist (see D&C 93:6–18). He testified of Jesus Christ’s premortal divinity and stature and showed how Jesus came into this world to offer salvation to all men. Jesus was baptized, and He called His disciples.

John 2–4

Jesus Christ turned water into wine. He taught Nicodemus about spiritual rebirth and testified to the woman at the well that He was the Christ. He healed a nobleman’s son.

John 5–7

The Savior healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda and proclaimed His divine power and authority. After feeding the five thousand, He delivered the Bread of Life discourse. During the Feast of Tabernacles, He declared that He was the Messiah and that only those who receive Him can receive eternal life.

John 8–10

Through the experience of the woman taken in adultery, Jesus taught about compassion and repentance and explained His divine right to judge all mankind. He healed a man born blind and described Himself as the Good Shepherd, who loves and cares for His sheep and lays down His life for them.

John 11–13

The Lord Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from death as evidence of His power over death. He entered Jerusalem triumphantly and promised to lead those who follow Him to glory with the Father. During the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and taught them to love one another.

John 14–16

Jesus instructed His disciples on the relationship between love and obedience. He promised to send the Comforter (the Holy Ghost) and to minister personally to His disciples. He declared that He is the True Vine and that He has overcome the world.

John 17–19

Jesus offered the great Intercessory Prayer and was betrayed, arrested, tried, and condemned. After suffering on the cross, He died and was buried.

John 20–21

The resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene at the Garden Tomb and then to some of His disciples in Jerusalem. Eight days later, He again visited His disciples, including Thomas. On another occasion, He appeared to seven of the disciples at the Sea of Galilee and commissioned them to minister to others.

Introduction and Timeline for John 1

The unique value and benefit of the Gospel of John has been described by Elder Bruce R. McConkie 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, 3:371).

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).

lesson 21 timeline

Commentary for John 1

John 1:1–34. Joseph Smith Translation Changes

The Joseph Smith Translation contains numerous changes to John 1:1–34. These changes, which can be found in the Bible appendix, provide important clarifications to the scriptural text.

John 1:1. Jesus Christ Is Called “the Word”

“The Word” is a title of Jesus Christ found in several places in the scriptures (see John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1; Revelation 19:13; D&C 93:8–10; Moses 1:32). President Russell M. Nelson explained the meaning of the Savior’s title “the Word”: “In the Greek language of the New Testament, that Word was Logos, or ‘expression.’ It was another name for the Master. That terminology may seem strange, but it is appropriate. We use words to convey our expression to others. So Jesus was the Word, or expression, of His Father to the world” (“Jesus the Christ: Our Master and More,” Ensign, Apr. 2000, 4).

Latter-day revelation provides additional information about the title of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation” (D&C 93:8). The Gospel of John emphasizes that Jesus Christ is the messenger of the Father to the world. As such, He declares the Father’s words (see John 7:16; 8:26–28; 12:49–50; 17:8).

Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:1, reads: “In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God” (in the Bible appendix). These words bear witness of the premortal existence of Jesus Christ, for He was “with God” in the beginning of all things. They affirm that His mission of salvation began in the premortal world, for He was “the Word,” even the messenger of salvation (see D&C 93:6–8), who taught the gospel to us “in the beginning.” Elsewhere in scripture we learn that in the premortal world, Jesus Christ was the great Jehovah (see 3 Nephi 15:5; D&C 110:3–4).

John 1:1–2. Jesus Christ Was “in the Beginning with God”

While all four Gospels testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, John’s Gospel is the only one that teaches about Jesus’s premortal life (see John 1:1–2). Latter-day scriptures affirm numerous truths about the premortal existence and stature of Jesus Christ. The Savior told the Prophet Joseph Smith, “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21). The book of Abraham describes the premortal Christ as “like unto God” (Abraham 3:24). The book of Moses states that Jesus Christ was Heavenly Father’s “Beloved Son, … Beloved and Chosen from the beginning,” who even before this life said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2; see also Abraham 3:27–28).

John 1:3, 10. Jesus Christ Is the Creator under the Direction of the Father

Christ Creating the Earth

Christ Creating the Earth, by Robert T. Barrett

John testified that “all things were made by” the Savior (John 1:3, 10). He created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33), “millions of earths like this” (Moses 7:30), and “all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8). Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote about Jesus Christ’s role as the Creator: “The Father operated in the work of creation through the Son, who thus became the executive through whom the will, commandment, or word of the Father was put into effect. It is with incisive appropriateness therefore, that the Son, Jesus Christ, is designated by the apostle John as the Word; or as declared by the Father ‘the word of my power’ [John 1:1; Moses 1:32]” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 33).

There are, however, “two creative events” that God the Father reserves for Himself. “First, he is the Father of all spirits, Christ’s included. … Second, he is the Creator of the physical body of man [see Moses 2:27]” (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 63).

John 1:6–8, 15–18, 23–34. John the Baptist Was a Witness of the Lord Jesus Christ

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote the following about John 1:1–18: “From latter-day revelation we learn that the material in the forepart of the gospel of John (the Apostle, Revelator, and Beloved Disciple) was written originally by John the Baptist [see D&C 93:6–18]. …

“Even without revelation, however, it should be evident that John the Baptist had something to do with the recording of events in the forepart of John’s gospel, for some of the occurrences include [John the Baptist’s] conversations with the Jews and a record of what he saw when our Lord was baptized—all of which matters would have been unknown to John the Apostle whose ministry began somewhat later than that of the Baptist’s. There is little doubt but that the Beloved Disciple had before him the Baptist’s account when he wrote his gospel” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:70–71).

After quoting John 1:6–8, President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) explained that these passages describe the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry: “The immediate purpose of the mission of John the Baptist was to bear witness that Jesus was the true Light, the true teacher of the way of life eternal, and to invite men to believe in him for the remission of their sins and be baptized. John the Baptist was not the Messiah or the leader of a great movement; he was the herald and witness, bearing testimony to the nature and divine titles of Jesus, and the witness through whom God attested the divine sonship of Jesus” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 141).

The phrase “I knew him not” in John 1:31 has caused some people to question whether John knew that Jesus was the Messiah. In the Joseph Smith Translation, the phrase “I knew him not” is corrected twice. John 1:31 is changed to read, “I knew him, and that he should be made manifest to Israel” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:30 [in the Bible appendix]). In John 1:33 the word not is again omitted to read, “I knew him” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:32 [in the Bible appendix]). These corrections clarify that John knew Jesus was the Messiah, for whom he was to prepare the way. This harmonizes with the clear testimony John himself had just given of Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me” (John 1:29–30; see also verse 15).

For more on the mission and testimony of John the Baptist, see the commentary for Luke 7:24–30.

John 1:9. “The True Light, Which Lighteth Every Man That Cometh into the World”

John’s writings contain the only New Testament teachings about the Light of Christ. The Bible Dictionary explains:

“The phrase ‘light of Christ’ does not appear in the Bible, although the principles that apply to it are frequently mentioned therein. The precise phrase is found in Alma 28:14, Moro. 7:18, and D&C 88:7. Biblical phrases that are sometimes synonymous to the term ‘light of Christ’ are ‘spirit of the Lord’ and ‘light of life’ … The ‘spirit of the Lord,’ however, sometimes is used with reference to the Holy Ghost and so must not be taken in every case as having reference to the light of Christ.

“The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is ‘the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ (D&C 93:2; see John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the ‘immensity of space’ and is the means by which Christ is able to be ‘in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.’ It ‘giveth life to all things’ and is ‘the law by which all things are governed.’ It is also ‘the light that quickeneth’ man’s understanding (see D&C 88:6–13, 41). In this manner, the light of Christ is related to man’s conscience and tells him right from wrong (Moro. 7:12–19).

“The light of Christ should not be confused with the personage of the Holy Ghost, for the light of Christ is not a personage at all. Its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost” (Bible Dictionary, “Light of Christ”).

John 1:12–13. “Power to Become the Sons of God”

Because all men and women are spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents (see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 129), some people may wonder why we need “power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). Numerous scriptures speak of the need to become sons and daughters of God through being born again and entering into gospel covenants with God (see Mosiah 5:7; 27:25). While all people are spirit children of our Heavenly Father, those who make gospel covenants such as baptism and the temple endowment also become God’s covenant children. Elder Bruce R. McConkie further explained how the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ affords us the opportunity to become the sons and daughters of God in eternity:

“When we accept Christ and join the Church, we have power given us to become the sons of God. We are not his sons and daughters by Church membership alone, but we have the ability and the capacity and the power to attain unto that status after we accept the Lord with all our hearts (see D&C 39:1–6).

“Now the ordinances that are performed in the temples are the ordinances of exaltation; they open the door to us to an inheritance of sonship; they open the door to us so that we may become sons and daughters, members of the household of God in eternity” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 12–13).

John 1:14. Jesus Christ Is the Only Begotten of the Father

In the New Testament, John 1:14 records the first use of the phrase “only begotten” to describe Jesus as the Son of God. While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Robert E. Wells described how the title “Only Begotten Son” relates to the mortal mission of the divine Son of God:

Gentle Healer

Gentle Healer, by Greg K. Olsen. The divinity of Jesus Christ is central to our Father in Heaven’s plan.

“The divine Sonship of Jesus Christ … is central to understanding the entire plan of salvation. He is the First Begotten Son of the Father in the premortal existence and the Only Begotten Son of the Father on earth. God the Eternal Father is the literal parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and of His other spirit children (see 1 Ne. 11:18, 21; James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1924], p. 466).

“When we refer to the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ, we are also referring to His role as a God in the premortal sphere. This Firstborn Son of Elohim the Father was chosen and ordained in the primeval councils in heaven to be the Savior of the yet-to-be-born race of mortals (see James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ [1916], p. 4). Jesus was also chosen and sent by the Father to organize and create this earth, our solar system, our galaxy, and even worlds without number.

“Jesus Christ was and is Jehovah of the Old Testament, the God of Adam and of Noah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jehovah appeared to and talked to the ancient prophets. When He spoke He did so on behalf of the Father, and He said what His Father would have said. Jehovah of the Old Testament became Jesus Christ of the New Testament when He was born into mortality.

“The ‘divine Sonship’ also refers to the designation ‘Only Begotten Son in the flesh.’ Ancient and modern scriptures use the title ‘Only Begotten Son’ to emphasize the divine nature of Jesus Christ. This title signifies that Jesus’ physical body was the offspring of a mortal mother and of an immortal Eternal Father, which verity is crucial to the Atonement, a supreme act that could not have been accomplished by an ordinary man. Christ had power to lay down His life and power to take it again because He had inherited immortality from His Heavenly Father. From Mary, His mother, Christ inherited mortality, or the power to die” (“Our Message to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 65).

John 1:14, 16–17. Jesus Christ Is Full of Grace and Truth

The only time in the New Testament when Jesus Christ is described as being “full of grace and truth” is in John 1:14. Latter-day scriptures describe the Savior as being “full of grace and truth” an additional seven times. The Savior shares with us His “fulness,” as described in John 1:16–17—including His grace, which He freely gives to us. The Greek word charis, from which “grace” is translated, can also be understood to mean “loving-kindness, good-will, or favor.” “The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ. … This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (Bible Dictionary, “Grace”).

The Greek word alētheia, from which “truth” is translated, means “fact, reality, or certainty.” The Lord defines truth as “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). Truth is absolute and is not influenced by circumstances. It does not change, just as the Lord does not change (see D&C 93:30; Mormon 9:19; D&C 20:17).

The following references may be helpful for understanding how the Savior is “full of grace and truth”: 2 Nephi 2:6–10; Alma 9:26–27; and Doctrine and Covenants 93:8–17.

John 1:18. “No Man Hath Seen God at Any Time”

In the Joseph Smith Translation, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) added this inspired qualification to the King James Version wording of John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:19 [in John 1:18, footnote c]). This important addition emphasizes that salvation comes through Jesus Christ. It also clarifies that the Father speaks to men on earth in order to bear record of His Son, Jesus Christ.

President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained: “All revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. In all of the scriptures, where God is mentioned and where he has appeared, it was Jehovah who talked with Abraham, with Noah, Enoch, Moses and all the prophets. … The Father has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:27). The scriptures record a number of occasions when the Father has introduced Jesus Christ: Matthew 3:17; 17:5; 3 Nephi 11:6–7; D&C 76:23; Joseph Smith—History 1:17.

John 1:18 can have another meaning as well. In the scriptures, particularly the Gospel of John, the word see can sometimes mean “perceive with our minds” or “understand.” In that light, John 1:18 can be understood to mean that men have not fully “seen” or understood God. Therefore, Jesus Christ came as God’s messenger to “declare” or reveal to men what God the Father is like. This is a theme throughout the Gospel of John (see John 1:1, 14; 8:19; 14:7–9; 1 John 2:23). For more insight on how Jesus Christ came to help mankind understand what God the Father is like, see the commentary for John 14:7–11; 16:25.

John 1:19. What Is the Meaning of the Phrase “the Jews”?

Although the phrase “the Jews” is rarely used in the synoptic Gospels, John used it 71 times in his Gospel. John used this term in several ways throughout his Gospel, and readers should be thoughtful to interpret the term’s meaning within its specific context. For example, in John 2:6, “Jews” refers to the Jewish people as a race or nation. In John 5:10; 9:22; and 18:12, “Jews” refers to leaders of the Sanhedrin, including the chief priests, scribes, and elders. Often in John’s Gospel, “Jews” refers to members of the Jewish nation who felt hostility toward the Savior.

John 1:19–28. The Identity of John the Baptist

In John 1:19–28, John the Apostle recorded information about the identity and ministry of John the Baptist. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that when John the Baptist began his ministry, “the whole Jewish nation was stirred up with anxious expectation, awaiting the momentary appearance of the Messiah and his Elias. With great hosts from Jerusalem and all Judea flocking to John and accepting him as a prophet, and with the banks of the Jordan crowded with his baptized converts, it was natural for the leading Jews—members of the great Sanhedrin, whose obligation it was to test prophetic claims—to send priests and Levites to make detailed investigation” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:129).

The Jewish leaders asked John if he was “Elias” (the Greek name for the Hebrew “Elijah”), who was prophesied to someday return (see Malachi 4:5–6). In the Joseph Smith Translation, the Lord revealed a more complete account of John’s response to the Jewish leaders, which conveys John’s knowledge of his own mission as one who came to prepare the way for the Messiah. To their queries, John “confessed, and denied not that he was Elias; but confessed, saying; I am not the Christ” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:21 [in the Bible appendix]).

John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness

John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, by Robert Barrett. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ.

John understood, as the priests and Levites apparently did not, that there are various meanings for the name-title Elias (see Bible Dictionary, “Elias”; Guide to the Scriptures, “Elias”; John was an Elias, which means a forerunner of the Messiah, but he was not the Elias, who is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. John was also not Elijah the prophet, whose name in Greek is Elias. “I am not that Elias who was to restore all things. … I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as saith the prophet Esaias [Isaiah]” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:22, 24 [in the Bible appendix]). John’s testimony left no doubt that he knew of his own divinely appointed preparatory mission and of the divinity of the “preferred” One who would come after him: “I baptize with water, but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is of whom I bear record. He is that prophet, even Elias, who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose, or whose place I am not able to fill; for he shall baptize, not only with water, but with fire, and with the Holy Ghost” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:27–28 [in the Bible appendix]).

When John denied that he was Elijah, the Jewish leaders asked him, “Art thou that prophet?” (John 1:21). Their question likely had reference to the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” However, by asking John if he was “that prophet” after John had already denied that he was the Christ, these Jews showed that they did not understand the messianic nature of Moses’s prophecy. Many of the Jews in Jesus’s day anticipated the coming of a prophet who would be like unto Moses but who was not the Messiah. This is evident when many in Jerusalem later proclaimed that Jesus Christ was “the Prophet,” while others declared that He was “the Christ” (John 7:40–41; see also 6:14).

John 1:28–34. “These Things Were Done in Bethabara”

Jordan River

The Jordan River near Bethabara

Photograph by Richard L. W. Cleave

Nephi prophesied that John would baptize “in Bethabara, beyond Jordan; … even that he should baptize the Messiah” (1 Nephi 10:9). It is thought that the Savior was baptized near the place where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea. This area is also approximately where Joshua miraculously led the ancient Israelites out of their exile in the desert across the Jordan River into the promised land. Geographically, this is the lowest freshwater location on earth. President Russell M. Nelson explained how the symbolism of this place provides insight into the Savior’s mission and into the meaning of our own baptisms:

“The River Jordan was the site Jesus chose for His baptism by John. … Is it significant that this sacred ordinance was performed in virtually the lowest body of fresh water on the planet? Could He have selected a better place to symbolize the humble depths to which He went and from which He rose? By example, He taught us that He literally descended beneath all things to rise above all things. Surely, being baptized after the manner of His baptism signifies that through our obedience and effort we, too, can come from the depths to ascend to lofty heights of our own destiny.

“To us, the River Jordan is a sacred stream. The Jordan marked the termination of the wandering of the children of Israel. They had journeyed there from the banks of the Nile. Joshua had led some 600,000 Israelite warriors and their families across that roiling river during flood season, when the waters were suddenly stopped and heaped up to allow the faithful Israelites, carrying the ark of the covenant, to cross an empty river bed. (See Joshua 3.)

“… Bethabara in Hebrew means ‘house of the crossing.’ … Could it be that Christ chose this location for His baptism in the River Jordan as a silent commemoration of the crossing of those faithful Israelites under Joshua’s direction so many years before, as well as a symbol that baptism is a spiritual crossing into the kingdom of God?” (“Why This Holy Land?” Ensign, Dec. 1989, 15).

An additional symbolic insight can be drawn from this account. The name Joshua is Hebrew, and it is rendered as Iēsous in Greek, which later became Iesus (later Jesus) in Latin. Thus, Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan River can be viewed as a type or foreshadowing of the future baptism of Jesus Christ (see Joshua 3–4; Acts 7:44–45, footnote a).

John 1:28 in the King James Version of the Bible is moved to become Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:34 (see the Bible appendix). This change makes clear that the baptism of Jesus, which is described in John 1:29–34, occurred in Bethabara.

John 1:29, 36. The Lamb of God (see also Revelation 5:6–12)

John is the only New Testament writer to use “the Lamb” as a title for the Savior. Twice in the Gospel of John, Jesus is called “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36), and the title “the Lamb” appears over 20 times in the book of Revelation, also authored by John. (Elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus Christ is twice compared to a lamb; see Acts 8:32–35; 1 Peter 1:19.) The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi also frequently used the term “Lamb of God” (see 1 Nephi 11–14; 2 Nephi 31). President Russell M. Nelson taught that as the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Mosaic law of sacrifice through His Atonement:

“The Old Testament has many references to atonement, which called for animal sacrifice. Not any animal would do. Special considerations included:

“The Atonement of Christ fulfilled these prototypes of the Old Testament. He was the firstborn Lamb of God, without blemish. His sacrifice occurred by the shedding of blood. No bones of His body were broken—noteworthy in that both malefactors crucified with the Lord had their legs broken [see John 19:31–33]. And His was a vicarious sacrifice for others” (“The Atonement,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 34–35).

John 1:35–51. Jesus Called Disciples to Follow Him

Early in the Savior’s ministry, He called Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael (also called Bartholomew) to be His disciples (see John 1:35–51). At least two of these men—Andrew and another disciple, who was probably John—had been disciples of John the Baptist, but when they heard the Savior speak, they followed Him (see John 1:35–37).

Robert J. Matthews wrote: “During his public ministry John [the Baptist] gathered followers, or disciples, who called him ‘Rabbi’ (John 3:26), and whom he taught to fast (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33) and to pray (Luke 11:1). At John’s own urging, many of his disciples left him and followed Jesus, but some stayed with him even though he made it plain that he was not the Messiah. … Some of those who first followed John are later found among the twelve whom Jesus selected as apostles. One of these is John, the brother of James, and another is Andrew, the brother of Peter” (A Burning Light: The Life and Ministry of John the Baptist [1972], 37–38).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed what we can learn about being disciples from the experiences Jesus’s disciples had as He called them to follow Him:

disciples follow Jesus

Two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus

© Robert T. Barrett. Do not copy

“You will recall that when Andrew and another disciple, probably John, first heard Christ speak, they were so moved and attracted to Jesus that they followed Him as He left the crowd. Sensing that He was being pursued, Christ turned and asked the two men, ‘What seek ye?’ [John 1:38]. Other translations render that simply ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Where dwellest thou?’ or ‘Where do you live?’ Christ said simply, ‘Come and see’ [John 1:39]. Just a short time later He formally called Peter and other new Apostles with the same spirit of invitation. To them He said, Come, ‘follow me’ [Matt. 4:19].

“It seems that the essence of our mortal journey and the answers to the most significant questions in life are distilled down to these two very brief elements in the opening scenes of the Savior’s earthly ministry. One element is the question put to every one of us on this earth: ‘What seek ye? What do you want?’ The second is His response to our answer, whatever that answer is. Whoever we are and whatever we reply, His response is always the same: ‘Come,’ He says lovingly. ‘Come, follow me.’ Wherever you are going, first come and see what I do, see where and how I spend my time. Learn of me, walk with me, talk with me, believe. Listen to me pray. In turn you will find answers to your own prayers. God will bring rest to your souls. Come, follow me” (“He Hath Filled the Hungry with Good Things,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 65).

John 1:41, 45. Disciples of Jesus Christ Share Their Witness with Others

Elder David B. Haight (1906–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recounted the time when the Savior met John and Andrew. The two men followed Jesus to where He was dwelling and stayed with Him for some time (see John 1:35–39). Then Elder Haight explained how this scriptural account can inspire us to share our testimonies of the truth:

“John and Andrew were with the Savior for several hours. Just imagine being in His presence or being able to sit and look into His eyes or to hear Him explain who He was and why He had come to earth and to hear that inflection in His voice in describing what He would have told those young men. They would have shaken His hand. They would have felt of that precious, wonderful personality as they listened to Him.

“And following that encounter, the account says that Andrew went to find his brother Simon because he had to share it with someone. …

“When Andrew found his brother Simon, he said to him, ‘We have found the [Messiah]’ (John 1:41). He probably said: ‘We’ve been in His presence. We’ve felt of His personality. We know that what He is telling us is true.’ Yes, Andrew had to share it with someone.

“That is what we do in sharing what we know and what we understand” (“Gratitude and Service,” Ensign, May 2001, 71).

President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency spoke about why those with testimonies of divine truths should share their testimonies with others:

“Those who have a testimony of the restored gospel also have a duty to share it. The Book of Mormon teaches that we should ‘stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in’ (Mosiah 18:9).

“One of the most impressive teachings on the relationship between the gift of a testimony and the duty to bear it is in the 46th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In describing different kinds of spiritual gifts, this revelation states:

“‘To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

“‘To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful’ (vv. 13–14; see also John 20:29).

“Those who have the gift to know have an obvious duty to bear their witness so that those who have the gift to believe on their words might also have eternal life.

“There has never been a greater need for us to profess our faith, privately and publicly (see D&C 60:2). Though some profess atheism, there are many who are open to additional truths about God. To these sincere seekers, we need to affirm the existence of God the Eternal Father, the divine mission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the reality of the Restoration. We must be valiant in our testimony of Jesus” (“Testimony,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 27).

John 1:42. Peter Was Called to Be a Seer

As recorded in John 1:42, when the Savior called Peter to be His disciple, He also gave Peter another name. The Joseph Smith Translation includes additional information about the name: “Thou art Simon, the son of Jona, thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a seer, or a stone” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 1:42 [in John 1:42, footnote a]). While explaining the significance of the name the Lord gave to Peter on this occasion, Elder Bruce R. McConkie also taught the great value of having seers in the Church:

“Destined to stand as President of the Church of Jesus Christ and to exercise the keys of the kingdom in their fulness, Peter was to be a prophet, seer, and revelator. (D. & C. 81:2.) Foreshadowing this later call, Jesus here confers a new name upon his chief disciple, the name Cephas which means a seer or a stone.

“Added significance will soon be given this designation when, in promising him the keys of the kingdom, our Lord will tell Peter that the gates of hell shall never prevail against the rock of revelation, or in other words against seership. (Matt. 16:18.) Seers are specially selected prophets who are … empowered to know past, present, and future things. ‘A gift which is greater can no man have.’ (Mosiah 8:13–18.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:132–33).

John 1:45. Testimony of the Scriptures

When Philip told Nathanael about Jesus, he said that he had found the person “of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write” (John 1:45). Philip and other disciples were able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah because they had been searching the scriptures for signs of the Messiah. The Law was the first five books of Moses, while the Prophets were books such as Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah. Later in His ministry, Jesus commanded His listeners to search the scriptures—which were the books of the Old Testament in His day—because they testified of Him (see John 5:39).

John 1:46. “Can There Any Good Thing Come Out of Nazareth?”

modern-day Nazareth

Modern-day Nazareth

Photograph by Richard L. W. Cleave

Nazareth was a small village of approximately 200 to 400 residents, situated 15 miles west of the Sea of Galilee and 20 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea. Archaeological remains indicate that no paved roads existed in the village, nor did any significant social, political, or economic activity occur there. While Nazareth was commonly thought of as insignificant by many people during the Savior’s lifetime, it became known later in New Testament times as the hometown of the Redeemer of mankind (see Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:38). Nathanael’s question about whether any good thing could come from Nazareth reflected the thinking of many others. President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) posed an answer to Nathanael’s question:

“From Nazareth came he who made blind men to see, lame beggars to walk—even the dead to live. He set before us an example to emulate. He lived the perfect life. He taught the glad tidings that changed the world. …

“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?

“From Nazareth came example.

“From Nazareth came sight.

“From Nazareth came strength.

“From Nazareth came life.

“From Nazareth came faith.

“From Nazareth came peace.

“From Nazareth came courage.

“From Nazareth came Christ” (“Can There Any Good Thing Come Out of Nazareth?” Ensign, Oct. 1988, 3, 5).

John 1:47. Without Guile

While discussing the Savior’s statement that Nathanael was a person in whom there is “no guile” (John 1:47), Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained what it means to be without guile:

“To be without guile is to be free of deceit, cunning, hypocrisy, and dishonesty in thought or action. To beguile is to deceive or lead astray, as Lucifer beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden. A person without guile is a person of innocence, honest intent, and pure motives, whose life reflects the simple practice of conforming his daily actions to principles of integrity. …

“To be without guile is to be pure in heart—an essential virtue of those who would be counted among true followers of Christ. …

“If we are without guile, we are honest, true, and righteous. All of these are attributes of Deity and are required of the Saints. Those who are honest are fair and truthful in their speech, straightforward in their dealings, free of deceit, and above stealing, misrepresentation, or any other fraudulent action. …

“I believe the necessity for the members of the Church to be without guile may be more urgent now than at other times because many in the world apparently do not understand the importance of this virtue” (“Without Guile,” Ensign, May 1988, 80–81).

John 1:51. Jesus Christ Is the Son of Man

For an explanation of the title “Son of Man,” refer to the commentary for Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40.