John's Perspective On Jesus (Part 2)

So I loved 80s hair bands.


I saw so many of them in concert. I wish I had that money now.

I'm well aware that most of them really didn't stand the test of time. I eventually realized most of them were more than a little misogynistic. But now and then I still find myself listening to Tesla. Call it a guilty pleasure.

At the perfect time in their career, Tesla put out an album called Five Man Acoustical Jam, and it was glorious.

Glorious, I tell you. Just glorious.

The album was a live acoustic set of some of their well known songs and some covers. The album had a big hit with their cover of a song called Signs. Before you click that, the lyrics aren't always PG. Nothing misogynistic, just some adjectives you may not use. You've been warned.

Here are some of the words from the original recording in 1970 by a band called Five Man Electrical Band.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs

I think of this song whenever I think of the gospel of John. John doesn't include as many miracles in his gospel as Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but he takes a very unique approach to Jesus' miracles. He calls them signs. The other gospels don't do that. Matthew, Mark, and Luke prefer to call them dynamis, which means something like "demonstration of power." John prefers semeion, which means "signs." Specifically for John, signs of who Jesus really was. For John, that was the purpose behind the miracles of Jesus. To show us Jesus was more than human.

There are seven "signs" in John:
  1. Changing water to wine in John 2 (Great idea for a first miracle, Jesus. Are you available for my daughter's wedding?)
  2. Healing the official's son in John 4
  3. Healing a paralytic in John 5
  4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6
  5. Walking on water in John 6
  6. Healing a blind man in John 9
  7. Raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11
To get a better understanding of how John handles signs/miracles, scholars have compared miracle stories from Matthew, Mark, or Luke with sign stories from John. A good comparison is the raising of Jairus's daughter in Mark 5 and the raising of Lazarus in John 11.

There are lots of similarities:
-someone is ill and a family member goes/sends a message to Jesus for help
-Jesus can't get there right away
-when he finally gets there the person is already dead and is being mourned
-Jesus refers to the person as sleeping
-those who are there think he has come too late and can do nothing now
-Jesus approaches the dead person, speaks some words, and raises the person from the dead
-Jesus gives instructions to care for the "recently raised"

But it's the differences that are important.

In Mark 5, Jesus is delayed because he has an encounter with another person (Mark 5:25-35). In John 11, Jesus seems to intentionally stay away even though he knows Lazarus is sick (John 11:6). Jesus even hints at this before the death of Lazarus (John 11:4) and makes it abundantly clear after the death of Lazarus (John 11:15).

But there's more. In Mark, Jesus raises the girl from the dead in private. In John, well.... it's kind of a big deal. Jews follow Mary when she approaches Jesus and questions him about his absence (John 11:31), and eventually, Jesus cries out in a loud voice for all to hear, "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43). In Mark, it's not yet time for people to know that Jesus is the Christ. In John, the miracles of Jesus convince people who he is, and as far as John is concerned, that's a good thing.

Jesus says this very thing in John 4:48 (NRSV), "Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe."

You may have noticed all these signs show up in the first 12 chapters of John. John is a lot longer than that, with 21 chapters in all. For this reason, folks like to call John 1-12 "the book of signs." If you read the end of John 12, there's even a summary statement of Jesus' ministry thus far (check out John 12:37-43). Then, something happens with John 13:

"Now, before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart
from this world and go to the Father." John 13:1 (NRSV)

You see, the first 12 chapters are are all about Jesus coming from the Father and revealing himself to humanity through signs. But the rest of John is about Jesus returning to his Father. See for yourself. John says so in John 13:3.

Because of the change in focus, semeion never shows up again in John, until near the end when John explains why he wrote his gospel in John 20:30-31 (NRSV):

"Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book.
But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the messiah, the son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name."

John tells us there were many more signs he didn't even include. John also tells us why he wrote the book. He wrote it to persuade readers that Jesus is much more than just a man. As far as John is concerned, Jesus is the anointed one. He is God's son. He is the bringer of abundant life. And all signs point to just that.


  1. ''John'' is probably the worst gospel of the lot, but in all likelihood the one loved by Christians the most, as it is the only one where the character, Jesus of Nazareth , apparently declares himself. However, John 5: 18 is believed by many scholars to have been rewritten, and very likely changed.
    And the woman taken in adultery? Fraud.

    A great many more educated scholars have taken this gospel to pieces far better than I, a rank amateur, ever could. On saying this it is clear even to the casual reader it is riddled with antisemitism - the writer uses the term ''the Jews'' as a pejorative 60 times, which is odd to say the least as he was also a Jew was he not?
    John extends Jesus' ministry from one to three years, he can't agree with the other writers when Jesus was crucified - he has the Last Supper on Thursday!
    And of course we mustn't forget the Johannine comma?
    Interpolation (fraud), and a text that clearly shows the Jews were considered responsible for the death of the Messiah (sic) (odd when you read how he was mobbed much in the way Michael Jackson was every where he went) and the stage is perfectly set for Church-sanctioned slaughter for centuries, if not millennia to come.
    The perfect ''Inspired Word of God'' for people such as Luther, bless his cotton socks, to give full vent to their antisemitism.
    Isn't Christianity just so wonderful!

    1. Hi Pearce. Thanks for reading.

      To be sure, John has some fascinating chronological problems, more than those you've mentioned here, and I would never pretend there's an easy solution to them. And yes, John lays a whole lot of blame on the Jews of the early 1st century. Christianity (like much of the world, to be fair) has a long, terrible history of anti-Semitism. I don't excuse that, but I also can't erase that. What I can do is simply point out literary motifs in his gospel, like his use of signs. No one disagrees with this, Pearce. No one. That's really all I'm saying with this post. Nothing more.

      Yep, a lot of Christians like John. It's not my favorite... ok it's my least favorite, but I've noted that in other posts. Nevertheless, I'm respectful of others' tastes. Honestly, I've never met a Christian who said to me, "I just love John because it's so damn anti-Semitic!" I would also disagree with you in that I actually think most casual readers don't pick up on it.

      Frankly, Pierce, you're barking up the wrong tree. As I've noted to you before, this blog isn't about apologetics. It's about learning how to read very old books written in languages that most readers don't understand. I approach the text from a literary and philological viewpoint, not from a devotional viewpoint. I'm happy to continue the conversation with you and I'll continue to reply to your initial comments, but I'd prefer you not shame my Christian readers or their faith. If they belittle you, then feel free to belittle them back, and I will offer them the same counsel I've offered you (that is, respect other readers).

      Also the Johannine Comma is irrelevant here. That's about 1 John 5:7-8. Not John, but 1 John. Wrong book. But that's an excellent idea for a blog post.

    2. I'm sorry I misspelled your name the second time, Pearce. No disrespect intended.


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