Those of us involved with Jewish missions are familiar with Paul’s words in Romans 1:16. This is our God-given priority, our mandate to take the Good News of Jesus to our blood brothers.
The Gospel of John is unique among what are known as the Synoptic Gospels. In the first place, it includes unique narratives and events not mentioned elsewhere, while some of those recorded in the synoptics are not mentioned by John. Secondly, some of the main themes in the synoptic gospels are completely missing from the Gospel of John, such as the temptations of Jesus, the transfiguration, or the institution of the Lord’s Supper. John often uses Jewish feasts to set the background and the time of his narratives. John begins his Gospel with VEn avrch/|, the same two words used by the Septuagint in Genesis 1:1. While there is certainly continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New Testaments, it seems as if John is more concerned that his Jewish audience will recognize that he is not bringing a new teaching and message, but a familiar and old one (I John 2:7). John structures his Gospel very carefully with the aim that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name (20:31). Without going into the details of the structure of the whole gospel (that would take far more space than this paper can afford) there is an interesting treasure hidden in the structure of chapters three and four.
In chapter three John narrates the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus. He introduces Nicodemus as Dza man of Phariseesdz, and Dza ruler of the Jewsdz (3:1). The conversation is full of Old Testament images, with which Nicodemus should have been familiar. The new birth from water and the Spirit, the ascending and descending of the Son of Man, the Serpent that Moses lifted up, should all have made Jesus’ point very clear to Nicodemus. This obviously was not the case as we see by the kind of questions Nicodemus asks.
The well-known verse, John 3:16, comes at the end of the conversation with Nicodemus, though commentators have a hard time determining when the dialog with Nicodemus ends and when the public is being addressed. For instance, the first Dzyoudz in verse 11 (truly, truly I say to you) is singular, but the second Dzyoudz in the verse, (but you do not receive our testimony) is plural. But, more importantly, the following chapter begins with the conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman, following which many from her town come to faith.
Does John emphasize Jesus’ priority in mission by recording the conversation with Nicodemus the Jew first, and then John 3:16, and from there to the Samaritans? Can it be that John, who introduces Jesus in the first chapter as Dzthe Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”(1:30), also gives us the order of priority in world mission? After all, the world at that time was basically made of “Jews” and “everybody else”. John, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, places this well-known verse right between the conversations with first a Jew, and then a Samaritan.
If this is the case, perhaps Romans 1:16 and Acts 1:8 are not the only passages in the New Testament that emphasize the priority of the mission to the Jews.