Ever wondered why John’s Gospel has such different feel than the other three, which we call “synoptic” or “same view”? For one, Matthew, Mark and Luke record many more of Jesus’ miracles without necessarily drawing lessons from them. In contrast, John says what he’s recording are signs, actions that symbolize some element of Jesus’ nature or mission or power. His account of Jesus’ three teaching and ministry years is a crescendo of miraculous events that culminates in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Let’s take a look at all seven signs and what they say about Jesus.
First, in John 2, Jesus is invited to a wedding and, to the embarrassment of the host, they run out of wine. Jesus gets the servants to fill six large jars with water. They are the kind used for ceremonial washing that hold 20 to 30 gallons, or 75 to 115 litres. Water goes in, and to the amazement of the master of ceremonies, the best wine of the night comes out. John makes the point “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory” (John 2:11)
So what does the sign point to? What comes out of the purification jars? Wine. All the Gospels make it clear that wine is a symbol of Jesus’ blood. This miracle is a sign that points to the blood of Jesus Christ being the new means of purifying men. Jesus’ glory, or substance, is revealed in his power to cleanse people of sin.
Second, Jesus is on his way back home to Capernaum from a preaching circuit and he stops off again in Cana. This time there’s no big party. Instead, he’s interrupted by a royal official from Capernaum who’s heard he’s back in the region and wants him to come heal his dying son. Jesus’ answer is almost brusque. “Go, your son will live.” (John 4:50) But the man takes Jesus at his word and when he gets back home the following day, he finds out his son was healed at the exact time of day Jesus spoke the words. Not just another miracle, says John, a sign. (John 4:54)
A sign of what? Very simply, Jesus has power over sickness from wherever he is.
Third, Jesus, unsolicited, heals a man on the Sabbath who has been disabled for 38 years. Since John has already shown Jesus’ power over bodily ailments, what is the sign here? The clue is in Jesus’ statement to the outraged Jewish leaders. They aren’t thrilled this poor invalid has recovered the use of his legs. No, they’re furious he’s breaking the Sabbath by carrying his mat. Jesus defends his actions with these inflammatory words: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
This third sign points to Jesus’ position as the Son of God, equal with, though obedient to the Father.
Fourth, Jesus feeds the crowd of five thousand. John is careful to record, “Now there was much grass in the place,” drawing a picture of sheep settling down to graze. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the fourth sign is Jesus feeding a hungry, tired crowd, and the fourth metaphor is “I am the Good Shepherd”. This is a picture of the Good Shepherd providing for his flock.
Fifth, that same night, Jesus walks on water. In John’s writings the sea symbolizes humanity in rebellion against God. For instance, in Revelation, one of the angels stands on the sea, the beast comes up out of the sea, and in the new heaven and earth there is no longer any sea. Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee is a picture of his authority over those who do not want to obey God.
Sixth, Jesus performs another Sabbath healing, this time restoring the vision of a congenitally blind man who has been begging for a living. From the second and third signs, we know Jesus could simply have spoken this man’s healing, but this time, he spits on the ground, makes mud, and rubs it on the man’s eye. Yes, kind of gross, but this sign points to Christ as re-Creator, the mud an allusion to Adam being formed from the dust of the earth. After the newly-seeing man is kicked out of the synagogue by the Sabbath-police, Jesus catches up with him and asks if he believes in the Son of Man. In need of a new object of worship, he replies, “Who is he, that I may believe in him?” Jesus is inviting him and us to have a new relationship with God through him, healing the broken relationship Adam caused.
Seventh, John ends his series of signs with the big one. Jesus, though he knows his friend Lazarus is sick and dying, delays going to his bedside. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha are devastated. They had been banking on Jesus rushing in and healing him, as he had healed so many strangers. But, inexplicably, Jesus doesn’t show up until his friend has been in the tomb four days. Still, death is no obstacle. Having just affirmed, “I am the resurrection and the life,” to Martha, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb and when he emerges, instructs those around him to unbind his hands, feet and face. This is a sign of Jesus’ power over the chains of death.
So to sum up, John says:
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, because
Looking at this list, I think I see another chiasm structure, but that’ll be for another day.
Instead of compiling a collection of more or less chronological events in Jesus’ life, John is crafting an argument: “Now Jesus did many other signs… but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
For a lot of people, the Bible is either art or truth. For me, it's both, and I hope to persuade readers in both camps to see the other perspective.