Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
Structure of 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)
Signs were performed in the presence of the Jewish people during Christ’s earthly ministry, during the time when the kingdom of the heavens was being offered to Israel. And, following Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, eight of these signs were singled out and recorded in John’s gospel for the Jewish people, which could only have been during the time when the kingdom of the heavens was being re-offered to Israel.
The original offer (during time covered in the gospel accounts) was made by Christ, the Twelve, and the Seventy; and the re-offer (during time covered in the book of Acts) was made by individuals comprising “a nation” separate from Israel, the one new man “in Christ” (cf. Matthew 21:43; Ephesians 2:11-15; 1 Peter 2:9).
The entire history of Israel, beginning with Moses leading the people out of Egypt and continuing throughout the remainder of Man’s Day, can be summed up in four words: disobedience, judgment, repentance, and deliverance. The people would disobey that which God had commanded, and judgment would then follow through God using the surrounding Gentile nations to subjugate and persecute His people. God’s use of the surrounding nations in this respect was to effect repentance; and, following repentance, God would then deliver His people.
This cycle was repeated time after time, particularly during the days of the judges (cf. Judges 2:16-19; 3:7-15; 4:1-4; 6:1-14; 10:6-18; 11:1ff; 13:1ff). And the culmination of the matter — a closing and final cycle, still to be completed — began during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, over two and one half millennia ago (2 Kings 17:4ff; Daniel 1:1ff; 9:24-27).
Christ’s First Appearance
When Christ came the first time, past disobedience on the part of the Jewish people, which had lasted for centuries, had resulted in the existing state of affairs. God’s people found themselves under Roman rule, the Gentile world power of that day. And the reason and purpose for this state of affairs was the same as it had been numerous times in the past. God was again using a pagan Gentile power to judge His people in order to bring about repentance.
The Deliverer appeared before repentance, calling the people to repentance. Deliverance was at hand, for the Deliverer Himself was present, proclaiming a message of deliverance, based on national repentance.
Though the Deliverer was present before repentance, calling the people to repentance, deliverance could not come until the people had repented. This was the order that had previously been set forth in the book of Judges — disobedience, judgment, repentance, and deliverance — which, of necessity, would have had to remain the same, for this was a divinely established order that could never change.
The matter surrounding the time of the appearance of the deliverer whom God sent is seen both ways in the book of Judges. Throughout the repeated accounts in this book concerning disobedience, judgment, repentance, and deliverance, God sent the first eleven of the fourteen judges following repentance (3:7-9, 12-15; 4:1-4; 6:1-14; 10:6-18; 11:1ff). But, after the death of the eleventh judge (12:15), when the same sequence began again with disobedience on the part of the people and judgment on God’s part, God, prior to repentance, sent a twelfth judge — Samson.
The angel of the Lord had revealed to Samson’s mother, prior to his conception, that she would bear a son and that this son would be the one to begin a deliverance of “Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (13:5). But full deliverance could not be brought to pass until the Israelites had repented, something not seen until the days of Samuel the prophet, the fourteenth and last judge (following Eli, the thirteenth judge [1 Samuel 7:1ff]).
Thus, Christ appearing before deliverance, calling the people to repentance, was not something new in God’s dealings with His people; nor was it a break in the divinely established order of things, for, though the Deliverer was present before repentance, deliverance could not come until the people had repented. Christ’s appearance to Israel followed exactly the same order seen through the appearance of Israel’s last three judges, with that foreshadowed by Israel’s repentance during Samuel’s day still awaiting a future fulfillment today.
Thus, in keeping with Israel’s refusal to repent during the days of the twelfth and thirteen judges, there was no repentance when God sent a Deliverer 2,000 years ago. But repentance and deliverance are ultimately seen in both instances — one in history under the fourteenth judge, and the other yet future under the same Deliverer whom God sent 2,000 years ago one day returning to His people.
When Israel’s Deliverer, Jesus the Christ, appeared the first time, the Jewish religious leaders — mainly the Scribes and Pharisees, the largest of the religious sects, the keepers and teachers of the Law — continually followed Him about the country, seeking at every turn to find fault with both the Messenger and His message. And, resultantly, the scribes and Pharisees were the ones directly responsible for the nation rejecting both the Deliverer and His offer of deliverance, resulting in His crucifixion at the hands of the only nation that could slay the Paschal Lamb, the nation of Israel.
(The preceding is why Christ, near the close of His earthly ministry, singled out the “scribes and Pharisees” — the fundamental religious leaders in Israel, the ones occupying Moses’ seat — for a rebuke of a nature unlike anything seen at any other time in His ministry (Matthew 23:1ff). They were the ones who had “shut up the kingdom of the heavens against [‘before,’ ‘in front of,’ ‘in the presence of’] men.” They had no interest in entering the kingdom, and they had been doing everything within their power to prevent others [the general populace in Israel] from entering as well [v. 13].
Christ pronounced one “woe” after another upon these religious leaders because of that which they had done. He referred to them as “hypocrites,” “fools,” “blind guides,” individuals likened to “whitewashed tombs that indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.” Christ stated that these individuals were “the children” of them which had “killed the prophets.” And, because of that which the scribes and Pharisees had done — bringing about rejection on the part of the Jewish people — “all the righteous blood shed on the earth,” beginning with “the blood of righteous Abel” and extending to “the blood of Zechariah” over three millennia later, would “come upon this generation” [vv. 13-36].)
Then, following Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, a re-offer of the kingdom was extended to Israel. A message surrounding repentance and baptism, attended by signs, exactly as previously seen in the gospels, marked the re-offer of the kingdom, seen in the book of Acts (cf. Matthew 3:1-12; Acts 2:37-43).
The Deliverer had returned to His place in the heavens, seated at the Father’s right hand (Psalm 110:1). And, in relation to Israel, He was going to remain there until the Jewish people repented.
As stated in Hosea 5:15, He was going to remain there until the Jewish people acknowledged their offense, and sought His face. Only following this would the Deliverer be sent a second time (Acts 3:19-21).
(Note in the previous respect that Jesus is seen standing at the right hand of the Father in Acts 7:56 rather than being seated, as in Psalm 110:1. This is what God allowed Stephen to see, through the opened heavens, following his address to the Sanhedrin [comprised of Jewish religious leaders from both the Pharisee and Sadducee sects]. The address [vv. 2-53] was evidently of such a nature — drawing from a number of Old Testament types that dealt with the whole panorama of Jewish history, but climaxing with an emphasis on the crucifixion — that it moved Powers in the heavens to the extent seen in v. 56 [Jesus standing, rather than seated, at His Father’s right hand], awaiting Israel’s reaction, with a fulfillment of that stated in Acts 3:19-21 in the offing.
But Israel’s reaction toward Stephen’s message was exactly the same as it had previously been toward Christ’s message — rejection, followed by the death of the One who brought the message. Thus, since there was no repentance, there could be no deliverance; and the Deliverer, consequently, remained in heaven, at His Father’s right hand, evidently no longer standing but seated in accord with Psalm 110:1 [cf. Hebrews 1:3].)
The preceding forms a picture of the unchanging mind-set among Israel’s religious leaders at the subsequent time when the Spirit of God moved John to write a gospel built around eight signs, with a declared purpose near the end of his gospel (20:30, 31). This gospel was directed to a people whom Stephen, immediately before his death, had described as “stiff-necked [‘hardened’] and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51) and could only have been another means that God used to reach the Jewish people during the time when the kingdom of the heavens was being re-offered to the nation.
John’s Opening Chapter
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. . . .
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” . . .
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.
And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
(John 1:1, 2, 29, 35, 36).
The gospel of John opens in a manner quite different than the other three gospels. It opens in a manner very similar to the way Scripture as a whole opens in the first four chapters of the book of Genesis. In both instances, Scripture takes the reader back to a beginning point in time, prior to creation itself (cf. Genesis 1:1ff; John 1:1ff); and, again in both instances, Scripture then quickly moves to events or statements that have to do with matters surrounding Calvary (cf. Genesis 3, 4; John 1:29ff).
And the purpose for the gospel of John beginning in this manner is evident. It can only be to call attention to and reveal, at the very outset, particularly to the Jewish people — the ones to whom the signs about to be set forth were directed — the eternality of the Son, along with the treatment extended to the Son by the Jewish people. It can only be to call attention to and reveal, at the beginning of the gospel, before introducing the eight signs, that it was God Himself, in the person of the Son, whom the Jewish people had crucified.
Reference is made to this beginning point in the opening verses (vv. 1-28, 30); and then following a reference to Jewish rejection in the midst of the verses dealing with the true identity and eternality of the Son (vv. 11-13), the crucifixion is brought into full view (vv. 29ff).
This is how John begins his gospel, something not seen at all in the three synoptic gospels. John begins His gospel by paralleling the manner in which Scripture as a whole begins in Genesis. And the reason John begins his gospel in this manner, as previously shown, is evident.
Also, note that the manner in which books begin in Scripture is all-important. The foundation for that which follows is invariably set forth at the beginning.
During the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, particularly up through the time covered by the first seven chapters of Acts, that which Israel had done to the One whom God had sent to deliver them (crucified Him) forms the central point to which messages proclaimed to the religious leaders of Israel is built. Messages during this time built into and called attention to the apex toward which all past disobedience had led — Israel’s crucifixion of Messiah Himself, who was God manifest in the flesh. And a call for national repentance (either directly stated or inferred) followed in each instance.
Note how Peter brought the crucifixion to the forefront in his message on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23, 36), prior to answering the question asked by the Jewish religious leaders (v. 37), telling them exactly what they must do to rectify the wrong that had been done (vv. 38-40; cf. v. 41). Then the same thing can be seen in a subsequent address by Peter on Solomon’s porch, outside the Temple (Acts 3:12ff). Then note the same thing in Peter’s address before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8ff). The same sequence is again followed by Peter and others in another address before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:28ff). And exactly the same thing is again seen through the manner in which Stephen concludes his message before the Sanhedrin, resulting in his death at the hands of the religious leaders whom he addressed (Acts 7:51-60).
And this fact, so evident during the opening years of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, would have had to be the reason that the Spirit of God moved John to begin a gospel directed to the Jewish people in the manner seen. It was simply another way of saying exactly the same thing seen in the opening chapters of the book of Acts.
It was the blood of God shed at Calvary (Acts 20:28). It was the blood of “God, and [‘who is’] the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 4:1). “Who is” in brackets in the preceding verse denotes the manner in which this verse, because of the way in which it is structured in the Greek text, must be understood when translating into English — “God, who is the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Note also Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 where the structure in the Greek text is the same in both verses and it should be understood the same way as in 2 Timothy 4:1, “God and [‘who is’] our Savior Jesus Christ.”
(Refer to the following material for an exegesis from the Greek text of parts of John 1:1 and an explanation of that part of Greek syntax governing the correct understanding of how verses such as 2 Timothy 4:1, Titus 2:13, and 2 Peter 1:1 must be understood when translating them into English.)
1) John 1:1
John opens his gospel with one of the most profound and succinct statements concerning the deity of Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture; and it is little wonder that certain cults, seeking to deny the deity of Christ, have centered their attack upon this verse, for this verse deals with Christ’s deity in more than one manner.
(The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, seek to use John 1:1 as a mainstay in their erroneous teaching along the lines of Christ’s deity, which would be in line with an interlinear Greek-English translation that their publishing house controls the rights to and prints — Benjamin Wilson’s “The Emphatic Diaglott” [registered by the U.S. Congress in 1864 and in print long before the Jehovah’s Witnesses came into existence (thus, “The Emphatic Diaglott” is really not one of their books per se)].
In “The Emphatic Diaglott,” there is both an interlinear translation [the English directly under the Greek] and another English translation in a side-column by itself. In the interlinear translation, Benjamin Wilson translated John 1:1:
“In a beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and a god [small ‘g’ for God in the English text] was the Word.”
The part of the interlinear translation in question was not carried over into the side-column translation though. Here Benjamin Wilson translated:
“In the Beginning was the Logos [Greek transliteration for ‘Word’], and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God [capital ‘G’ for God in the side-column translation].”
Though Benjamin Wilson may have sought to clarify matters in his side-column translation, the Jehovah’s Witnesses ignore this and use his interlinear translation in their futile efforts to do away with that which cannot be done away with — something which they, in reality, cannot touch.
The Greek text does not contain indefinite articles [a, an] as in English, only definite articles. And definite articles appear or do not appear in the text for reasons.
The definite article has to do with identity. It is used to point out or draw attention to something or someone. And the lack of the article, on the other hand, is used to call attention to quality or character.
For example, the word for “God” appears twice in John 1:1. The first time there is a definite article before the word, calling particular attention to identity; but the second time there is no article before the word, calling particular attention to quality or character.
A question surrounding Christ’s divinity is not an issue in this verse. Christ’s divinity is an established fact, established in this verse and elsewhere in Scripture. Rather, the word for “God,” preceded by the article, has to do with divine personality [identity]; and the same word not preceded by the article, has to do with divine essence [quality or character].
Placing an indefinite article before the second use of the word for “God” in the English translation does more than reflect negatively on Christ’s deity. In reality, it does away with the reason for the omission of the article. Thus, leave the verse exactly as the Spirit of God moved John to pen the verse as he began his gospel, understanding the verse in accord with established rules of Greek grammar.)
John 1:1 deals with the deity of Christ two ways: (1) The Word, who became flesh (v. 14), is seen as God Himself becoming flesh; and (2) the Word, seen as both God and His Son, was with God in the beginning.
The first has already been dealt with in the preceding indented material, and the second has to do with the Greek word eimi, translated “was.” This Greek word appears three times in verse one and once in verse two. The word is used in a timeless sense in these verses — a sense with respect to an existence without a beginning or an ending (e.g., note “I am” in John 8:58, a translation of eimi [cf. Exodus 3:14]).
To contrast, note verse three where a different word is used three times in the Greek text — ginomai — though translated twice the same way eimi was translated in verses one and two (translated “were” once and “was” twice, KJV [“came” twice and “has come” once in the NASB]). This Greek word ginomai is used where definite beginnings and possible endings are in view.
Then, to further contrast, in verse four, the word “was” appears twice in the English translation again, though this time the word eimi is used in the Greek text, as previously seen in verses one and two.
That which is conveyed by these two Greek words is something that can be seen only contextually in an English translation. And the same would apply concerning things about to be shown in 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter.
2) 2 Timothy 4:1; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1
In Greek syntax, there is a grammatical rule that states that when the Greek copulative kai (and) connects two nouns in the same case form and the first noun is preceded by an article but the second is not preceded by an article (the first articular, the second anarthrous), the second noun must always relate to the first noun, providing a further description of the first noun.
This is easy to see, even in English, in verses such as 1 Corinthians 15:24 and 2 Corinthians 11:31, where the structure is in line with the preceding and the verses read “the God and Father.” “Father” (the second noun) relates to and is a further description of “God” (the first noun).
This is the structure seen in relation to the Father and the Son in 2 Timothy 4:1; Titus 2:13; and 2 Peter 1:1. In each instance, the Greek copulative kai (and) connects two nouns in the same case form. The first noun with its adjective is preceded by the article (“the great God”), and the second noun is not preceded by the article (“Lord” in 2 Timothy 4:1 [some Greek texts have “Jesus” or “Christ” as the second noun] and “Savior” in both Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, referring to Jesus Christ). Thus, following this particular rule of Greek syntax, “Lord Jesus Christ” or “Savior Jesus Christ” must be looked upon as a further description of “God” in His person and work. The same individual is in view throughout.
An application of this grammatical rule to another part of Titus 2:13 will also clarify what is meant by “that [or, ‘the’] blessed hope.” In this case, “blessed hope” (a noun with its adjective) is preceded by the article, the copulative kai follows, and “appearing [no article] of the glory . . . .” then follows. Thus, following this rule of Greek grammar, “the blessed hope” is clearly stated to be the appearing of Christ in all His glory (which is not the appearing of Christ for the Church preceding the Tribulation but the appearing of Christ, with His angels, following the Tribulation [cf. Matthew 24:29-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Jude 14; Revelation 19:14]).
In this respect, “the blessed hope” for Christians is not, in any way, connected with what is commonly called the rapture, preceding the Tribulation. Rather, “the blessed hope” has to do with events following the revelation of Christ at least seven years later, when He is revealed in all His glory, following the Tribulation. It has to do with the hope set before Christians of having a part with Christ in His kingdom in that coming day.
A proper English translation of Titus 2:13 should reflect this rule of Greek grammar in both instances:
Awaiting that blessed hope, even the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (reference: Wuest, Weymouth, NIV, NASB)
As salvation in that coming day is referred to as “so great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3), the hope set before Christians, to be realized in that coming day in connection with “so great salvation,” is referred to as “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13. And this hope is to be realized with the Word who became flesh, with God, who is the Lord Jesus Christ.