Per the NAB’s Introduction to the Gospel according to John, this gospel is quite different in character from the three synoptic gospels [i.e. Matthew, Mark and Luke]. It is highly literary and symbolic. It does not follow the same order or reproduce the same stories as the synoptic gospels. To a much greater degree, it is the product of a developed theological reflection and grows out of a different circle and tradition.
It was probably written in the 90s of the first century with the final editing of the gospel and arrangement in its present form probably dates from between A.D. 90 and 100. Traditionally, Ephesus has been favored as the place of composition, though many support a location in Syria, perhaps the city of Antioch, while some have suggested other places, including Alexandria.
The Gospel of John begins with a magnificent prologue, which states many of the major themes and motifs of the gospel, much as an overture does for a musical work. The prologue proclaims Jesus as the preexistent and incarnate Word of God who has revealed the Father to us.
The rest of the first chapter forms the introduction to the gospel proper and consists of the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus (there is no baptism of Jesus in this gospel—John simply points him out as the Lamb of God), followed by stories of the call of the first disciples, in which various titles predicated of Jesus in the early church are presented.
The gospel narrative contains a series of seven “signs”—the gospel’s word for the wondrous deeds of Jesus. After the account of the seven signs, the “hour” of Jesus arrives, and the author passes from sign to reality, as he moves into the discourses in the upper room that interpret the meaning of the passion, death, and resurrection narratives that follow.
The whole gospel of John is a progressive revelation of the glory of God’s only Son, who comes to reveal the Father and then returns in glory to the Father.
The gospel contains many details about Jesus not found in the synoptic gospels, e.g., that Jesus engaged in a baptizing ministry before he changed to one of preaching and signs; that Jesus’ public ministry lasted for several years; that he traveled to Jerusalem for various festivals and met serious opposition long before his death; and that he was put to death on the day before Passover.
Instead of organizing historical events into a chronology, John presents Jesus in all of his theological grandeur. The gospel of John is a delightful book, full of theological insight and spiritual life.
Christians can benefit immensely from a prayerful reading of Scripture led by the Holy Spirit. John, more than any of the evangelists, leads his readers to the deep waters of the mystery of God. (10:9)