Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
Purpose for John’s Gospel
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30, 31).
Each of the four gospels beginning the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — provides an overall account of events occurring during Christ’s first appearance to the nation of Israel, concluding with accounts in each gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of the One who had been spoken of in various and sundry ways throughout all of the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 32, 44, 45; John 5:39-47; Hebrews 1:1, 2). In this respect, the four gospels simply form a continuation of the Old Testament, providing additional light for and commentary on an incomplete revelation.
The four gospels are divided into two main categories — the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the one gospel that stands separate and alone in this respect (John).
The term “synoptic” in relation to the first three gospels has to do with two things: (1) a common arrangement of events and (2) a synopsis of events covering the whole of Christ’s earthly ministry.
Though each of the three synoptic gospels has its own peculiar structure and was written for a particular reason, all three are classed together in the preceding respect. Most of the same material found in any one of the three synoptic gospels can be found in the other two. For example, more than ninety percent of the material found throughout the gospel of Mark can be found in both gospels, Matthew and Luke. Then each one of these three gospels presents a similar overall synopsis covering numerous events that occurred throughout the three to three and one-half-year ministry of Christ.
The gospel of John though is completely different in both respects. More than ninety percent of the material found throughout John’s gospel is peculiar to his gospel. Even while covering events surrounding Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, John provides numerous details not seen in the other gospels. And, as well, John does not cover events after a manner that provides a synopsis of Christ’s overall ministry, as seen in the other gospels.
Thus, the gospel of John contains these two distinctive features when compared to the synoptic gospels. But there is an additional distinctive feature, which has to do with the revealed reason surrounding the purpose for the existence of John’s gospel, governing the manner in which this gospel is structured. And this is something that would evidently necessitate a gospel structured quite different than the other three.
Central Message in the Gospels
Revelation in all four gospels centers on events occurring during the time when the kingdom of the heavens was being offered to Israel, and each gospel has its own peculiar structure in this respect. The offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel began with the ministry of John the Baptist, and it was continued by Christ and His disciples — first the Twelve, then Seventy others (Matthew 3:1-12; 4:12-25; 10:1-42; Luke 10:1-24; John 1:15-36; 3:22-24).
The message, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand,” was proclaimed to the Jewish people alone (Matthew 3:1; 4:17; 10:5-7; 15:22-24). It was a call for Israel’s national repentance, with a view to the nation coming into possession of that which lay under the control of Satan and his angels — delegated regal power, from a heavenly sphere, over the Gentile nations.
In keeping with the subject matter of the gospels, numerous signs (miraculous works performed by Christ, directed to Israel) can be seen in each. There are thirty-six separate signs recorded in the four gospels, with many of them repeated in each of the three synoptic gospels.
John, in his gospel, records eight signs. But, even in this respect, the gospel of John is again markedly differently. Five of the eight signs that John records are peculiar to his gospel alone. And, along with this fact, the stated purpose for recording these previously performed signs occurs near the close of his gospel — something also peculiar to John’s gospel.
According to John 20:30, 31, Jesus performed numerous signs during His earthly ministry (far more than the thirty-six recorded in the four gospels). And the Spirit of God singled out eight signs from among the numerous signs that Christ had performed and moved John to record them in his gospel, for a stated purpose: “. . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (v. 31b).
Thus, the Spirit of God, after He had moved John to record these eight signs, then moved John to provide the reason why this had been done — something stated in such a manner that it should not be missed by anyone.
These eight signs were originally performed and later recorded in order that those requiring a sign, the Jewish people (1 Corinthians 1:22), might “believe that Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah, the One who was to rule and reign], the Son of God [God’s Firstborn Son, the One whom God recognized as possessing the rights of primogeniture].” And through believing the preceding, resulting from the manifested signs, the Jewish people “might have life in his name [not eternal life (which they already possessed) but life in keeping with that to which the signs pointed — life in the kingdom].”
The recipients of and the subject matter surrounding the appearance of “signs” in Scripture are always the same. Without exception, “signs” in Scripture always have to do with two things: (1) Israel, and (2) the kingdom.
The signs in John’s gospel were recorded for and directed to the same people for whom the signs had been previously performed and directed — the Jewish people. And these signs, in both instances — both during Christ’s earthly ministry and following His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension — had to do with the subject matter at hand. These signs had to do with the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel.
(The first of only two manifestations of signs in the Old Testament occurred during Moses and Joshua’s day; and it had to do with Israel and the kingdom. [cf. Exodus 4:29-31; 7:10ff; Deuteronomy 6:22, 23; Joshua 3:7ff; 10:12, 14]. This established an unchangeable, first-mention principle concerning signs. And the only other manifestation of signs in the Old Testament occurred during Elijah’s and Elisha’s day; and, because of the way in which the matter had been previously introduced and established, these signs could only have had to do with the same thing [cf. 1 Kings 17:1ff; 2 Kings 2:13ff].
Thus, in the New Testament, both during and immediately following Christ’s earthly ministry, the manifestation of signs, of necessity, had to surround exactly the same subject — in this case, a message to Israel pertaining to the kingdom.)
Both Israel and the kingdom must be present for “signs” to exist. If either is absent (Israel, or the kingdom), “signs” of the nature seen in the four gospels (where there is an offer of the kingdom to Israel) or the book of Acts (where there is a re-offer of the kingdom to Israel) cannot exist.
And knowledge of this fact will provide a window for dating the time John would have had to write his gospel. Because of the stated reason for writing the gospel, it would have had to be written during the time when the re-offer of the kingdom was still open to Israel (a period covering about thirty years, from 33 A.D. to about 62 A.D.).
(Some expositors over the years have sought to date John’s gospel as early as 45 A.D., though most today contend for a much later date — closer to 90 A.D. However, with its structure and stated purpose, writing the gospel at a time following the close of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel could not possibly be correct. And there is really no valid reason for assigning a late date to John’s gospel.
In keeping with the subject matter and content of John’s gospel, of necessity, it had to be written sometime prior to about 62 A.D. Note the prevalence of “signs” in the book of Acts, which historically covers the period from 33 A.D. to about 62 A.D. [cf. 2:43; 5:12-16; 6:8; 8:6-8; 9:36-41; 14:3, 8-18; 15:12; 19:11, 12; 20:9-12; 28:3-9].)
Also, viewing John’s gospel in its correct setting — calling specific attention to eight previously performed signs, signs now directed to Israel during a time when the kingdom was being re-offered to the nation — will, for the most part, do away with the numerous textual problems that often surface through viewing the gospel in an incorrect setting. The eight signs, forming a framework around which this gospel was structured, were recorded for a stated purpose. And that purpose, as previously shown, clearly had to do with Israel and the kingdom, not with salvation by grace (as is so often erroneously read into the text). Ignoring this fact and seeking to read salvation by grace into John 20:30, 31 can only result in confusion when seeking to properly understand different parts of John’s gospel.
The recording of past events, forming John’s gospel, as previously stated, was directed to a people who were already saved (as were the events when they had previously occurred during the original offer of the kingdom). It is exactly the same message proclaimed to exactly the same people, at a later time, referencing the same signs previously performed.
An offer of this nature could never be extended to the unsaved. The unsaved are in no position to be the recipients of such an offer. That is to say, spiritually dead people could never be expected to understand that which is spiritual, dealing with life (i.e., the things to which these “signs” pointed), whether in that recorded in the four gospels or in the book of Acts (1 Corinthians 2:9-14).
(The gospel of John, as often erroneously taught on the basis of an incorrect understanding of John 20:30, 31, is not the one gospel written to tell a person how to be saved — a thought completely out of line with the revealed purpose for signs. It is no more the one gospel written to tell a person how to be saved than Romans is the one epistle written for this purpose [a parallel erroneous misconception concerning Romans in relation to the remainder of the New Testament epistles].
John, in his gospel, deals centrally with exactly the same overall message seen in the other three gospels, though from a particular and peculiar perspective [which includes the reason for recording eight previously performed signs, around which the gospel is structured]; and Paul, in Romans, in like manner, deals centrally with exactly the same overall message seen in the other twenty epistles, though from a particular and peculiar perspective [which includes numerous verses relating the subject matter at hand (cf. 1:1-4; 2:5-10, 16; 3:23; 5:2; 8:14-23; 16:25)].
All four gospels belong together in one respect, all twenty-one epistles belong together in another respect, the book of Acts forms a bridge between the two, the book of Revelation forms the climax to the matter, and the whole of the New Testament is simply a continuation of and conclusion to the Old Testament.
For more information surrounding different things dealt with in the several paragraphs preceding this indented material — the central message proclaimed throughout the four gospels and the book of Acts, the true nature of signs in this overall section of Scripture, the saved status of the Jewish people at the time of Christ’s first coming — refer to the author’s book, From Acts to the Epistles. All thirteen chapters in the book, after some fashion, deal with this overall subject.)
Israel and the Kingdom
Old Testament, New Testament
With the call of Abraham in Genesis, the nation emanating from his loins through Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons was made the repository for both heavenly and earthly promises and blessings (Genesis 13:16; 14:18, 19; 15:5; 22:17, 18; 26:3, 4; 28:14; 32:12; 37:5-9; Exodus 32:13; Hebrews 11:12). And both are brought into full view in relation to Israel in Scripture — the latter in the Old Testament, the former in the New Testament.
The earthly promises and blessings were brought into full view in the Old Testament theocracy. Israel was called out of Egypt under Moses in a dual capacity — as both God’s firstborn son and the wife of Jehovah.
The first (God recognizing Israel as His firstborn son [Exodus 4:22, 23]) was necessary for the nation under Moses to exercise the rights of the firstborn in a national respect. Israel was called into existence to be the ruling nation among the nations of the earth. Israel was to exercise the rights of primogeniture within God’s house. And exercising these rights, Israel was not only to rule within the house but was to be the nation through which blessings would flow out to all the surrounding Gentile nations.
And the second (God recognizing Israel as His wife [Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:8-14; Hosea 2:19, 20]) was necessary because of the way God had established matters in the opening two chapter of Genesis. Man had been created to rule the earth, in Satan’s stead. But, for revealed reasons, the man could not rule alone. The man and the woman must rule together, he as king and she as consort queen.
And God having established matters in this respect in the beginning could rule in the kingdom of men only in accord with that which He Himself had previously set forth. He could rule, with man exercising the rights of primogeniture, only through a Husband-wife relationship, else He would violate His own Word.
(For more information on the preceding, refer to the author’s books, Salvation of the Soul, pp. 24, 25; Ruth, p. 31; Esther, p. 20.)
After the Old Testament theocracy had been established, with Israel in the land, problems began to emerge because of Israel’s actions. Israel, the wife of Jehovah, rather than remaining faithful to her Husband and doing that which He had commanded, became unfaithful. The wife of Jehovah began to commit harlotry by having illicit and forbidden relationships with the surrounding nations (cf. Isaiah 1:21a; Jeremiah 3:1b, 3b).
Time after time Israel went astray in this manner, and time after time judgment befell God’s people. The people would then repent, with deliverance following; but it was never long before the cycle, beginning with Israel going astray, would be repeated all over again (cf. Judges 2:16-19; 3:7-15).
Continued cycles of this nature — disobedience, judgment, repentance, and deliverance — relate the story of the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament theocracy. And though God, in His longsuffering, allowed these cycles to continue for centuries, He could not allow them to continue indefinitely.
God is longsuffering as He deals with mankind (His people, et al.) relative to disobedience, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (cf. 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:9, 15). But once one’s cup of iniquity becomes full (whether an individual, a nation, or nations [cf. Genesis 15:16]), God invariably steps in and often moves swiftly in definite and particular ways, always in complete accord with that which He has revealed in His Word.
And this is exactly what occurred when matters reached the state vividly revealed to Isaiah in a vision (Isaiah 1:1-15). With the nation’s cup of iniquity having become full, God allowed the Assyrians to come down in 722 B.C. and take the northern ten tribes into captivity and the Babylonians to come over slightly more than one hundred years later, about 605 B.C., and take the remaining southern two tribes into captivity.
In Leviticus chapter twenty-six and Deuteronomy chapter twenty-eight God had both issued His promise concerning that which would result from obedience (Leviticus 26:3-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and His warning concerning that which would result from disobedience (Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-68). And at the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, God began to bring about the full force of that which He had warned would result from disobedience on the part of His wife (though 2,600 years later, during the present day, God has yet to complete His announced judgment surrounding His warning to the Jewish people).
Following the Babylonian captivity about 605 B.C., God brought the Old Testament theocracy to an end. And, with the dispersion of the nation and the theocracy brought to an end, that period known as “the Times of the Gentiles” began.
Because of disobedience, the Jewish people found themselves scattered among the nations. But this dispersion was for a purpose — to effect repentance through Gentile persecution in order that God’s wife might eventually be restored, with His complete purpose for the nation’s existence then being realized.
Israel remains scattered among the nations even today, as Gentile dominance and rule continue (as the Gentile nations continue ruling the earth under Satan and his angels [cf. Ezekiel 28:14; Daniel 10:13-20; Luke 4:5, 6; Ephesians 1:20, 21; 3:9-11; 6:12]). But God’s purpose for that which He brought to pass over two and one-half millennia ago is about to be realized. The Times of the Gentiles is about to end. God is about to once again step into the affairs of man and complete a last and final cycle of disobedience, judgment, repentance, and deliverance surrounding Israel.
The conclusion to the matter will be brought to pass during the closing seven years of Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy — during the remaining seven unfulfilled years of the prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27), with the completion of judgment surrounding God’s warning to the Jewish people being brought to pass at this time.
God will view His unfaithful wife in that coming day — occupying a forbidden place among the nations in Antichrist’s kingdom, in dire need of cleansing and forgiveness — as “the great whore” (cf. Revelation 17:1, 15).
(For information on Israel in the preceding respect, particularly as the nation is seen in Revelation chapters eleven through eighteen, refer to the author’s book, The Time of Jacob’s Trouble.)
Then, God’s adulterous wife, through the severity of judgment brought to pass as Daniel’s prophecy is fulfilled, will find herself at the long-awaited place of repentance. And when repentance occurs, in complete accord with that which has been promised, God will remember His covenant with His people; and, exactly as in Moses’ Day (and numerous other succeeding times), God will send a Deliverer, with the fullness of His promised blessings then being brought to pass (cf. Exodus 2:23-3:10; Leviticus 26:40-46).
Thus, the completion of God carrying out the full force of His warning will be followed by a manifestation of the fullness of His promised blessings, after Israel has been brought to the place of repentance. Judgment surrounding God’s warning to His people will ultimately be completed, and blessings surrounding God’s promise to His people will ultimately be brought to pass.
This complete story of Israel — past, present, and future, revealed in its entirety in the Old Testament Scriptures — sets the stage for the manner in which the New Testament begins. The ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus, the Twelve, and the Seventy occurred during the closing years of Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy. The call went forth for Israel’s repentance. And, in line with Daniel’s prophecy, the time for the establishment of the kingdom was at hand. Thus, the message seen beginning with John: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand [or, ‘has drawn near’]” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7).
Then, in line with the preceding and the content of John’s message, the kingdom, in its fullness, could not have been established apart from the Seed of Abraham occupying both heavenly and earthly spheres in the kingdom. The earthly was seen in the Old Testament theocracy, the heavenly was seen in both the New Testament offer (in the gospels, beginning with John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-12]) and the re-offer (in the book of Acts, beginning with Peter [2:14-40]); and both will be realized by the Seed of Abraham, at the same time, following Israel’s future repentance — both heavenly and earthly promises and blessings, in heavenly and earthly spheres of the kingdom.
(Note that the Seed of Abraham that will occupy the heavenly sphere of the coming kingdom — aside from Christ and certain Old Testament saints — will not be the lineal descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Rather, the heavenly sphere of the kingdom, in that coming day, will be occupied by the “nation” spoken of in Matthew 21:43, following both Israel’s rejection of the proffered kingdom and the kingdom subsequently being taken from the Jewish people, exactly as stated in this same verse in Matthew’s gospel.
The “nation” spoken of in Matthew 21:43 is that “holy nation” referred to in 1 Peter 2:9, 10, comprised of those forming the one new man “in Christ” [cf. Ephesians 2:11-15], those comprising “Abraham’s seed” through being in Christ [who is Abraham’s Seed; Galatians 3:16, 29]. And this new nation, brought into existence on the day of Pentecost in 33 A.D. [comprised of individuals who become “Abraham’s seed” after a different fashion — whether Jew or Gentile — which allows them to be “heirs according to the promise,” i.e., inherit the heavenly promises and blessings taken from Israel] was the entity that God used to proclaim the message surrounding the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel.)
and the Proffered Kingdom
As previously shown, the gospel of John has to do with both the offer and the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel. That is to say, the gospel records events occurring during the offer (directed to the Jewish people alone) but could only have been written during the re-offer (again, directed to the Jewish people alone).
The offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel in the gospel accounts occurred during a time when the message was to the Jew only (cf. Matthew 10:5-8; 15:22-24; John 1:11). And the re-offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel, which occurred during the time covered by the book of Acts, was “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (with “signs” still to the Jew only [cf. Romans 1:15, 16; 2:5-10, 16]).
Beyond the time covered by the book of Acts (33 A.D. to about 62 A.D.), once the generation of Jews living on both sides of Calvary had passed off the scene, the priority held by Israel in relation to the proclamation of this message, of necessity, ceased. Beyond that point, for about the past nineteen and one-half centuries, the message has been strictly to the one new man “in Christ,” where a distinction between Jew and Gentile does not, it cannot, exist.
These things must be understood and kept in mind, else the gospel of John cannot be seen in its proper perspective in relation to the New Testament as a whole, as the Spirit of God intended when He moved John to pen this account.