Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
Feeding the Multitude
After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.
Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs that He performed on those who were diseased.
And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.
Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”
But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.
. . . Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him,
There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish . . .
And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.
So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.”
Therefore they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves that were left over by those who had eaten.
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:1-6, 8b, 9a, 11-14).
The first three signs in the gospel of John are peculiar to this gospel. The fourth and fifth signs though are not. Events surrounding the fourth sign (6:1-14) are found in all of the other three gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17), and events surrounding the fifth sign are found in both Matthew and Mark (Matthew 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-56). Then the sixth and seventh signs are peculiar to the gospel of John; and the eighth sign, the resurrection of Christ, as the fourth sign, is found in all four gospels.
The fourth sign in John’s gospel has to do with supernatural provision rather than supernatural healing, as seen in the second and third signs. The fourth sign foreshadows that which Israel will experience at God’s hand once supernatural healing has occurred.
A healed nation will be restored to a healed land; and, once in the land, the same God who will have previously both healed the nation and the land will then provide for the nation in the land. All will occur through supernatural intervention, at the time that God has determined and revealed in His Word.
Because of the signs being performed in Israel’s presence — pointing to different facets of that which could have occurred relative to the nation at that time (and one day will occur) — a multitude of people began to follow Christ as He traveled about the country (John 6:2; cf. Matthew 4:23-25). And the multitude following Christ in this manner resulted in Israel’s religious leaders doing the same, but for a different purpose entirely. Israel’s religious leaders (centrally the Pharisees and Sadducees), as they followed Christ with the multitude, directed their efforts toward discrediting the Messenger and His message in the eyes of the people.
Those forming the multitude were Jews who looked to their religious leaders regarding spiritual matters. They looked to the scribes and Pharisees as the keepers and teachers of the Law; and they looked to the Sadducees concerning things surrounding the temple worship (for the priests were mainly followers of this sect).
In this respect, it would have only been natural for these religious leaders to appear among those forming the multitude, to observe what was happening, and, if necessary, to provide instruction for the people concerning the matter at hand.
But this was not at all the course of action followed by these religious leaders as they appeared among the multitude. Rather, they acted in a completely opposite manner. They, instead, sought to counter everything Christ was doing; they sought to bring reproach upon both the Messenger and His message; and, through this means, they sought to bring about rejection and unbelief rather than acceptance and belief on the part of the people.
Note Jesus’ statement and sharp rebuke when the Pharisees approached His disciples early in His ministry, questioning His actions after a manner in keeping with the preceding:
When Jesus heard that [the Pharisees questioning His disciples about His actions], He said to them [the Pharisees], “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
But go and learn what this means . . . .” (Matthew 9:12, 13a).
The allusion was to Israel’s sickness, the message being proclaimed, the signs being performed, and the fact that the One who could bring about Israel’s healing — actually, the only One who could do so (cf. Hosea 5:13-6:2) — was present, in Israel’s midst. This was Christ’s way of capsulizing the whole of the matter, along with telling the Pharisees exactly what they needed to do rather than continuing with that which they had been doing.
The Pharisees, rather than following Christ about the country in a disbelieving manner, were told to do something completely different. In essence, they were told to take their own Scriptures, go aside, study the matter out, and come to an understanding of the truth surrounding that which was occurring in their midst. Then, they would be in a position to follow Christ about the country with the multitude and fulfill their calling in a proper manner.
But, Christ’s admonition went unheeded. The Pharisees, throughout the course of Christ’s ministry, continued to follow Him about the country in the same unchanging manner. And those forming the multitude following Christ, over time, began to be swayed in a negative manner by their religious leaders.
Note the work of the Pharisees in this respect and the resulting attitude of the people toward Christ in Matthew chapter twelve. The Pharisees had raised questions concerning that which Christ and His disciples were doing on the Sabbath, and when Christ performed a sign on the Sabbath (healed a man on the Sabbath, pointing to Israel’s future healing on the Sabbath, at the beginning of the seventh millennium), the Pharisees “plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him” (vv. 1-14).
Then, when Jesus performed other signs (other healings), climaxed by healing a man possessed with a demon who was blind and deaf (vv. 15-22), the record reads:
And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David [lit., ‘Possibly this is the Son of David, but we really don’t think so’ (ref., chapter 11 of this book)]?” (Matthew 12:23)
This question by “all the people,” leaning more toward the negative than the positive, undoubtedly resulted from the previous actions of Israel’s religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees. And the end result can be seen in a fruitless nation (Matthew 21:18, 19), rejection rather than acceptance (Matthew 21:42), the kingdom taken from Israel (Matthew 21:43), Christ’s stinging rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees because of that resulting from their actions (Matthew 23:1ff), and the crucifixion of Israel’s King (Matthew 27:35ff).
This negative work of Israel’s religious leaders is seen in the gospel of John in connection with the third sign (5:10-18), the sixth sign (9:14-34), the seventh sign (11:47-53), and the eighth sign (19:5-15; cf. Matthew 27:62-66). And, though this may have been the case in connection with the other signs as well, the record is silent concerning the matter. Rather, revelation centers on the signs themselves, providing the reaction of the different people involved, apart from any record of opposition from the scribes and Pharisees.
(Actually, the actions of the religious leaders, misleading the people, is not something that occurred just at this particular time in Israel’s history. Rather, this is something that had been occurring over centuries of time. And, with the people to whom Christ came not having previously been properly taught by their religious leaders, they were left in a very vulnerable position. The people were left in a position where they could easily be misled by the very ones who should have but hadn’t properly taught them, which is exactly what occurred.
And an exact parallel can be seen in Christendom today. The leaven permeating the three measures of meal [Matthew 13:33], over centuries of time, has resulted in exactly the same present condition in Christendom as that seen in Israel 2,000 years ago.
When someone comes along proclaiming the truth concerning the Word of the Kingdom today, Christians generally have little to no understanding of that being proclaimed. And the reason is the same as that previously seen in Israel. The people, over decades, extending into centuries, have not received proper instruction from their religious leaders, with the end result being the same as that seen in Israel. The people have been left in a very vulnerable position. And in this position they can easily be misled by the very same religious leaders responsible for teaching them — those who have forsaken their high calling, failing to teach the people.
Thus, that which is seen in Christendom today is nothing new. It happened in Israel preceding and at the time of Christ’s first coming, and it has happened and continues to happen in Christendom during past time and the time immediately preceding Christ’s return [cf. Acts 20:28-32; Ephesians 4:11-14; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; 1 Peter 5:1-4].)
A Mountain, The Passover
One part of the backdrop for events surrounding the fourth sign in the gospel of John has to do with Jesus taking His disciples aside and going up into a mountain. The other part of the backdrop has to do with the subsequent mention of the Passover being at hand.
1) A Mountain
“A mountain” in Scripture signifies a kingdom (cf. Psalm 2:6; Isaiah 2:2-5; Ezekiel 28:16; Daniel 2:35, 44, 45; Matthew 16:28-17:5). And this is something seen and established very early in Scripture, in the opening chapters of Genesis. Note the symbolic use of the word “mountain” the first four times that the word is used in Scripture (Hebrew: har), during the Noachian Flood (Genesis 7:19, 20; 8:4, 5).
The typological teaching surrounding Noah and his family going through the Flood has to do with Israel going through the Tribulation yet future. Enoch was removed preceding the Flood, as the Church will be removed preceding the Tribulation; Noah and his family passed safely through the Flood, as Israel will pass safely through the Tribulation; worldwide destruction occurred then, as worldwide destruction will occur during the Tribulation; and there was a new beginning following the Flood, as there will be a new beginning following the Tribulation.
This entire sequence, as it relates to the government of the earth, is seen through the manner in which the Hebrew word har (“mountain”) appears initially four times in Genesis. The first appearance, in Genesis 7:19, shows the Flood waters covering “all the high hills [Hebrews pl. form of har, ‘mountains,’ ref. NASB] under the whole heaven.” The next use of the word shows the same thing — “. . . and the mountains were covered” (v. 20b).
These two verses (Genesis 7:19, 20b) depict the scene at the end of forty days, showing the depth of the Flood waters in relation to the mountains (the highest points on earth). Then, a scene one hundred ten days later is depicted in Genesis 8:4, where the word is used a third time.
Throughout the first one hundred fifty days of the Flood, water came up from below the earth’s surface and fell from above the earth’s surface. At the end of forty days, all the mountains on earth were covered. Then the accumulation of water on the earth’s surface from these two sources continued for another one hundred ten days (without apparent change).
At the end of the entire one hundred fifty days, God stopped both the subterranean waters from coming up and the torrential rain from falling. Then, on the same day, God began the process of restoration; and, at this time, the ark, with Noah and his family inside, is seen resting at a place above the Ararat mountain range (Genesis 7:24-8:4).
(The Hebrew word translated “on” in Genesis 8:4 — “. . . on [Hebrew: al] the mountains of Ararat” — can also be understood and translated “above” or “over;” e.g., this is the same word translated “over” back in v. 1. The textual or contextual use of the word would determine how it is to be understood. And the context of v. 4 would necessitate that the word be understood and translated “above,” not “on.”
For further information concerning the preceding, refer to the author’s book, Seven, Ten Generations, pp. 27-33.)
The whole scenario, from a typical standpoint, has to do with the destruction of Gentile world power during the Tribulation, with Israel then seen in the same position as Noah and his family at the end of one hundred fifty days — above the mountains, above the destroyed kingdoms.
Then, just as the mountains were later seen emerging from the Flood waters as the waters subsided (where the Hebrews word har is used a fourth time), the nations will emerge from the judgments of the Tribulation. But Israel will retain the position seen in the typology of Genesis 8:4, resting above the mountains, resting above all the kingdoms of the world.
Note Isaiah in this respect:
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. (Isaiah 2:2)
2) The Passover
The Passover, also mentioned in connection with the fourth sign in the gospel of John, is the first of seven festivals that God gave to the Israelites during Moses’ day (Leviticus 23:4ff). These festivals, kept year after year by the Israelites, foreshadowed future events surrounding Israel that will occur following the Tribulation, beginning with Christ’s return and extending into the establishment of the millennial kingdom. In this respect, these seven festivals could be referred to as the prophetic calendar of Israel.
The thought of “the kingdom” is first brought to the forefront by the mention of Christ taking His disciples aside and going up into a mountain. Then, before anything about the sign is dealt with (having to do with Israel and the kingdom), the nearness of “the Passover” is mentioned.
“The Passover” had to do with the Israelites, death, and shed blood. It had to do with the Israelites slaying lambs, with the blood of these lambs being shed, and with the Israelites applying that blood to the door posts and lintel of the houses in which they dwelled, according to God’s instructions (Exodus 12:1ff).
“The Passover” had to do with substitutionary atonement, something that first began to be opened up and revealed in Genesis chapter three (v. 21). Death had been decreed upon the firstborn in every household; but God provided a substitute, a lamb from the flock that could die in the stead of the firstborn. And the proper application of the blood of this lamb on the doorposts and lintel of the house in which the firstborn lived showed that the firstborn in that house had already died. A substitute had died in his stead, something that God recognized (cf. Genesis 22:8-13).
God, through Moses, had told the Israelites:
. . . the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it [the paschal lamb] at twilight.
And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses . . .
For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt . . .
Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you . . . . (Exodus 12:6b, 7a, 12a, 13a).
When the Lord passed through the land of Egypt at midnight, He looked for one thing alone. He looked for the blood of a slain lamb on the doorposts and lintel of the houses.
If the Lord saw the blood, He knew that the firstborn had already died in that house. And the Lord passed over that house, for He was satisfied. If there was no blood, there was no indication that the firstborn had died. And the Lord then slew the firstborn, for death had been decreed upon all the firstborn. The firstborn must die, either via a substitute or apart from a substitute.
“Christ” is the Passover Lamb, and Israel has slain this Lamb. But the nation, God’s firstborn son, has yet to apply the blood. The Passover, the first of the festivals, points to that future day when Christ returns, the nation looks upon the One whom they slew, they recognize that which has been done, and they then, through faith, appropriate the blood (cf. Exodus 11:4, 5; 12:3ff; Isaiah 53:4-6; Zechariah 12:10-14; 13:6).
The Passover foreshadows Israel’s national conversion at the time of Christ’s return. Only after a nation has been born in a day (Isaiah 66:8) can those things foreshadowed by the remaining six festivals occur. Only after the Passover has been fulfilled (and, in reality, the subsequent six festivals as well) can that which is foreshadowed by the fourth sign in the gospel of John occur.
The Loaves and Fish
The fourth sign in the gospel of John has to do with a miraculous multiplication of five barley loaves and two small fish that a lad had in his possession. And the multiplication of this small quantity of food was enough to feed both the disciples and the multitude, with twelve baskets of food left over after the remaining fragments had been gathered.
Key information necessary for properly understanding the sign, within its contextual setting (as it is introduced through referring to a mountain and to the nearness of the Passover), is given later in the chapter when inquiry pertaining to the sign is made by some comprising the multitude.
Note verses twenty-six and twenty-seven in this respect:
Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to everlasting life [contextually, ‘age-lasting life’], which the Son of Man will give you . . . .” (John 6:26, 27a)
Then in verses thirty and thirty-one, the people requested another sign, calling attention to the manna provided in a supernatural manner during Moses’ day. But Jesus, remaining within the framework of the sign already given and their mention of the manna, drew a parallel between that bread (the manna) and the Bread that had been provided from heaven (He Himself [vv. 32, 33]). The former foreshadowed the latter. A partaking of bread to nourish and sustain the physical body foreshadowed a partaking of bread to nourish and sustain the spiritual man.
The people then said to Christ, “Lord, give us this bread always” (6:34). Then Jesus said to them,
I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. . . .
For I have come down from heaven . . .
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever [for an age]; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh . . .
. . . Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life [age-lasting life]; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:35b, 38a, 51a, 53b, 54).
The previous multiplication of the loaves and fish foreshadowed partaking of Christ Himself, as the provided bread during Moses’ day had foreshadowed as well — eating of the Bread of Life, eating His flesh, drinking His blood.
But how can this be the case? How can one partake of Christ Himself in such a manner? The answer is simple, and it was given in the introductory verses of John’s gospel.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . . (John 1:14a; cf. vv. 1, 2).
The Old Testament Scriptures — which, in their entirety, are about the person and work of Christ, revealing the Son — became flesh (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 39-44). The written Word, which is alive (Hebrews 4:12), became flesh, in the person of the Son, the living Word. And the Two are so inseparably related that partaking of One is synonymous with partaking of the Other.
Thus, one eats of the Bread of Life, partakes of Christ’s flesh and blood, by partaking of the written Word. And Christians must partake of Christ today, in this manner, if they are to have a part with Him in His kingdom (ref. chapter 4 of this book, “The Word Made Flesh”).
But the sign itself has to do with Israel. The sign has to do with the nation through whom the written Word was given and to whom the living Word came, the nation that will be in possession of both during the Messianic Era.
There will be an abundant supply for the nation in that day, above and beyond their every need. The twelve baskets of food remaining in the sign (“twelve,” the number of governmental perfection) not only foreshadows this abundant supply, but these twelve full baskets also foreshadow Israel being placed at the head of the nations, in the position of the one through whom an abundant supply will flow out to the Gentile nations.
The One upon whose shoulders the government will rest (Isaiah 9:6, 7; cf. Luke 1:31-33) will be in Israel’s midst (Joel 2:27); and the government of the earth, with this abundant supply, will flow from David’s throne through the twelve tribes of Israel out to the nations of the earth.