Signs in the Gospel of John

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One of the most important components of the Gospel of John are the presence of signs. In what appears to be John’s purpose statement for his Gospel (20:30-31) he states that the signs that have been recorded in this Gospel have been purposely put there to build our faith resulting in eternal life. N.T. Wright describes the meaning of Signs in the gospel of John like this,

The whole point of signs is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other. (That’s what the Jews believed happened in the Temple.) The point is not that they are stories which couldn’t have happened in real life, but which point away from earth to a heavenly reality. – N.T. Wright John for Everyone, 21.

Wright connects Jesus’ statement at the beginning of his ministry in John 1:50-51 with the meaning of the Signs, “Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that…I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” As Wright rightly stated, the signs are moments when heaven and earth are connected. They are moments when the heavenly reality becomes earthly reality. What the Jews believed happened only in the temple, the connection of heaven and earth, Jesus brings in his person. He is now the connection point between men and God. Let’s have a look at the Signs in the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John can be divided into two parts. These two parts have been referred to as the Book of Signs (1:19-12:50) and the Book of Glory (13:1-20:31) with a concluding Epilogue (21:1-25). To show how clear a divide there is in the gospel on Signs initiating belief with the result of life for the people and death for Jesus have a look at the frequency and location of the word “sign” in John. It is used 16 times between John 1 and John 12. It is used only one time in the remaining chapters and that instance being in John’s purpose statement in 20:30-31.

The Book of Signs contains 7 signs that all lead up to the final sign that is contained in John 18-20, the glorification of Jesus on the cross and through the resurrection. There are actually more signs referred to (2:23) but seven that are described.

Book of Signs

  1. Water to wine (2:1-12)
  2. Healing of the official’s son (4:43-54)
  3. Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15)
  4. Feeding 5000 (6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (6:16-24)
  6. Healing a man born blind (9:1-12)
  7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)

Book of Glory

8. Resurrection of Jesus (18-20)

While the initial 7 signs are all connection points between heaven and earth, the final sign is the ultimate as Jesus is suspended between heaven and earth to bring forgiveness from heaven above to earth below. Jesus alludes to this in his speech to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

The first seven signs initiate the final sign, especially raising Lazarus from the dead which infuriates many of the religious leaders and leads to plots to kill Jesus 11:45-57. In these verses the Sanhedrin meets and they say, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation…” (11:47-48). Even they understood how the signs were resulting in belief. We also see the temple come up again. Little do they realize that Jesus himself is performing the function of the temple – God’s presence among his people, the sacrifice, and the connection between heaven and earth. Then Caiaphas unwittingly prophesies of the final sign in John by saying, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (11:50).

I appreciate the Gospel of John because I know how much my faith has been built by it. As Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (20:29). I hope you receive a blessing from having a fresh look at the Gospel of John. Next up, John 1:19-51.

10 Responses

    1. iyya i read your book about seven sighns i am a pastor . iyya in my Bible collage My teacher said that there is only 6 sighns in th gospal of john.Jesus is not walked on the water that is not sighns. I belive that Jesus walked on the water. what is your thought

  1. As a budding theological student, I am writing a report on the Gospel of John to be submitted on February 21, 2011. This information has tremendously helped my understanding of the Gospel. I am blessed that my search produced such an educational gem
    God bless you much much more.

  2. I think you miss one critical point. Your definition of “signs” most accurately describes the definition of “sacraments” of the Catholic Church. And, after examining each of the signs more closely, each can be assigned to one of the sacraments. Beginning with marriage, at the wedding at Cana. You’re on the right track though…..insightful.

    1. If that is the case, can you lay out the 7/8 signs along with which sacraments you think they represent? I can’t really see it off hand.

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