Of the four Gospels, John’s Gospel focuses most heavily on Jesus’ deity. John states his purpose for recording the words and works of Jesus was so that people might “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31)[1]. Although John placed great importance on Jesus’ messianic mission, he emphasized Christ’s deity to ensure that his readers knew this was not the work of just any ordinary human, but the Word made flesh (1:14). To this end, he offers eight signs of Jesus’ deity.

John was not arbitrary in the selection of miracles to be used as his evidence. Rather, he chooses those events and actions which “authenticates God’s messenger and message, and befits his Son, showing that he is from the Father, and that the Father is with him.”[2] In order to do this the signs selected must reveal the glory of Jesus (2:11). As Pratt rightly states, “It must be a supernatural and a superhuman work to be a sign of God.[3]” John was very much concerned with the supernatural aspect of the signs he chose.

The first sign selected occurred at a wedding in Cana (2:1). While little is known about the wedding itself, what is known is at some point the wine gave out. The reason for this is speculative at best; although the unexpected attendance by Jesus and his six disciples may have been the cause.[4] Whatever the cause, Mary, the mother of Jesus, became aware of the problem and asked her son for help (2:3).

Jesus initially responds, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (2:4). When taken in light of what is about to occur, this response seems to emphasize Jesus’ humanity by highlighting his lack of omniscience. Yet John is quick to return to the aspect of deity by recording Mary’s orders to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:6). For Mary certainly was aware of who Jesus was and where He came from (Luke 1:26-28).

Toussaint, however, offers a different perspective on the conversation between Jesus and his mother. From his study of the use of the term “hour” in relation to Jesus in John’s Gospel, he concludes, “It describes the Lord’s “hour” from His crucifixion to His coming reign on earth. Evidently Mary expected Christ to manifest Himself supernaturally in such a way as to bring about the kingdom age.”[5] Either way, John is attempting to get his readers to understand that what is about to happen is no mere conjuring trick. John clearly wants his readers to realize that his mother expected a supernatural event. Jesus then directs the servants to pour the wine from the water pots which John tells us is for the purification ritual (John 2:6). His purpose in this specific identification is to demonstrate Jesus’ Godly authority over the created world to administer Grace. As Keener observes, “Preventing a social affront to his host or the dissatisfaction of the guests was more critical to the Johannine Jesus than the affront offered to the tradition of water purification.”[6] In essence, for John, grace and love define God (1 John 4:8).

The next sign that John uses as evidence of Jesus’ deity is the healing of the royal official’s son. Apparently, this man, who was an official in the king’s court, had heard Jesus was back in Cana. He makes the journey from Capernaum to come see Jesus concerning his dying son. He asks Jesus to come back with him and heal his son. Jesus’ response to the request is not an answer, but rather the probing statement, “Unless you people see signs and wonders,… you will never believe” (John 4:48) Although this statement was meant for everyone who could hear the conversation, the fact that Jesus speaks it while conversing with the official provides an interesting insight into the official himself.

It would certainly seem as if the official has some measure of belief. As Clarke points out:

“Our Lord does not tell this man that he had no faith, but that he had not enough. If he had had none, he would not have come from Capernaum to Cana, to beg him to heal his son. If he had had enough, he would have been contented with recommending his son to our Lord, without entreating him to go to Capernaum to heal him; which intimates that he did not believe our Lord could do it at a distance.”[7]

This is exactly what John wanted his readers to observe also. John was demonstrating Christ’s power over distance. This can be understood by the lack of defense to Jesus’ accusative statement of wanting signs by the official. Instead, he continues to plead for his son’s life (4:49). Jesus finally answers the pleas for healing, not by going with the royal official, but by speaking a word from the distance. According to John, Jesus is God because he has power over distance.

The next sign used by John to demonstrate Jesus is God is the incident of the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. It was believed that under certain circumstances that the pool’s water held miraculous healing properties.[8] Although, John never specifically says what ailment the man has, he does say that the man has been lame for 38 years (5:5). Some, such as Towns, have suggested John’s purpose in selecting this miracle is to demonstrate Jesus’ dominion over time.[9] While this most certainly may have been a secondary intent, It seems more likely that the command to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (5:8) was directed more at Jesus’ authority over the Sabbath. Morris views the sign as “Jesus’ assertion that he could do on the Sabbath things that the Pharisees could not do.”[10] This is also confirmed within the Gospel, itself, as John records the reaction of Jewish leaders who confront the man for doing what they believed to be unlawful on the Sabbath (5:10). It is therefore more likely that John’s purpose aligns with that of the synoptic gospels in declaring that Jesus is over the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5)[11]. In John’s thinking, Jesus was deity not only because He had power over time, but more importantly, he had dominion over the Sabbath.

The fourth sign offered by John is the feeding of the five thousand. At this point in time, Jesus’ fame is beginning to avalanche. The people are beginning to see Jesus as a miracle worker and a possible political and national messianic figure. They are looking for someone to lead them in independence from the Roman regime under whom they were under rule. This is evidenced by the readiness of the people to crown Jesus king after the completion of the miracle (John 6:15).

Jesus begins by recognizing the need of the crowd gathering. He knows that hunger is a powerful force within the life of humanity, both physically and spiritually. John wants us to see Jesus as the God of provision. This is not to be taken as merely that God provides, but relates more importantly to the Old Testament idea of God as the provision (Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27). For the Jewish people, nothing represented this idea more than the giving of manna in the desert (Exodus 16:13-36). As Morris points out, “In any case there was a Jewish expectation that when the Messiah came the miracle of the manna would be renewed…”[12] This expectation almost certainly would have belonged to Jesus’ disciples as well.

In feeding the five thousand, Jesus reveals that He is the source of sustainment. It is only through His intimate relationship with the Father that people live (John 6:35-51). In recording the feeding of the multitude, John directs the reader’s attention to the follow up discourse where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). In this way, John is emphasizing Jesus’ Heavenly origin and reminding us that God “tabernacled” among them (1:14). For just as the manna came from Heaven so did the “Bread of Life,” Jesus the Christ.

Immediately following the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, John describes Jesus walking on water. Despite the fact that John’s record of the event only encompasses five verses, it is packed with spiritual lessons. However, we are only concerned with John’s use as evidence to the deity of Christ. John highlights three essential points:

  1. It was dark (6:17).
  2. Based upon their own decision, they headed towards extreme danger while in the darkness (6:17).
  3. In the middle of darkness and danger God showed up (6:19-20).

The significance of these three points of evidence should not be overlooked. As Morris observes, “Jesus seemed absent at a time of hardship and danger. But in a striking demonstration of his sovereignty over nature, Jesus came to them where they were.”[13] This is exactly what John wants his readers to understand. The deity Jesus, the light of the world, appeared in the darkness during the time of the most danger and announced himself as the great I AM. He did all this in order to rescue those who needed him; going so far as to supernaturally suspend the natural laws. In John’s estimation, Jesus walking on the water to save his disciples points to the Old Testament, Jehovah, i.e., The Faithful One. It is this title that John hopes his readers will associate with Jesus as they read his account.

The sixth miracle selected by John as a sign of Jesus’ deity is the healing of the blind man. This man, blind since birth, prompts the disciples to ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2). This question stemmed from several Old Testament scriptures that indicate that one’s own personal sin or the sin of a person’s parents could result in physical deformity (Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:8). In the disciples mind, only sin could account for such a trial.

Jesus’ response answers that age old question of why God would allow such horrible afflictions to come upon his people. As He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). The emphasis on the “works of God” is key to understanding John’s use in establishing Jesus as God. This is especially true in light of how Jesus performed the miracle, using a salve made of spit and clay.

It was believed that spittle, i.e., spit mixed with clay, could cure eye infections. Towns denies the idea of Jesus using it for this reason on the basis of limited prior use. [14] Another suggestion as to the use of spittle is for the man healed to demonstrate his faith by washing it off.[15] While both of these suggestions are plausible, the true answer may be more basic and simplistic. The healing of the man’s blindness was demonstrate the power of God. Jesus had healed using speech or touch. The uniqueness of the use spittle demonstrates a lack of a healing formula. The Jesus of John’s Gospel was not tied to any ritual or superstition. He was God, who came so “[T]he blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5)[16]. In John’s way of thinking only God can suspend physical laws and heal; since Jesus was healing, Jesus must be God.

Continuing his endeavor to point out the deity of Jesus, John records an account unique to his Gospel. The resurrection of Lazarus is not found in any of the synoptic gospels. Edwards comments on the importance of miracle, “It is also not only the last but the greatest sign of his earthly ministry, for according to an ancient text, the raising of the dead is the only feat that cannot be counterfeited by the Antichrist (Apocalypse of Elijah 3.6–11).”[17] It is this great miracle which not only points to the deity of Jesus, but points to the assurance of His own resurrection as well.

From the outset of the account, Jesus intends on raising his friend, Lazarus from the dead and expresses this to his disciples. The disciples, however, do not understand their teacher’s statement that Lazarus’ illness won’t end with his death. (John 11:4). They assume that Jesus will heal from a distance like he did the Royal Official’s son. This is evident by their concern for Jesus’ decision to return to Judea (11:8). This foreknowledge combined with his statement to his disciples that He was glad not to be there with his disciples, have led some to conclude that his delay was intentional (11:14).  Yet, John is quick to emphasize his knowledge of Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his family early in the account (11:5). This emphasis makes it unlikely that Jesus would needlessly place such a suffering upon those involved. Towns asserts, “In reality Jesus was right on time.”[18] He bases this on a number of factors, such as distance, time it took travel, and the tradition that friends would arrive to mourn only on the fourth day.

Upon Jesus’ arrival, Martha naturally informs Him of Lazarus’ passing and expresses her disappoint in Jesus for not coming sooner to heal him. Jesus discourse to her of “I AM the resurrection and the life” is not an easy one to comprehend as Morris notes: “Jesus does not say simply that he will give resurrection and life, but that he is resurrection and life.”[19] The giving of life is not a matter of an unattached being performing an everyday activity. No, for John, presenting Lazarus exciting the tomb still wrapped in his burial linen demonstrates the intimate involvement of deity. From his perspective, Jesus’ power over the supposed finality of which all must succumb underscores those invisible qualities which belong only to Jehovah.

The final miracle recorded in the Gospel of John is the miraculous catch of fish. Seven of the disciples had gone fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Despite their background as fisherman, they were unable to catch a single fish all night. Jesus commands them to through the fishing nets in a certain spot. When the disciples act in obedience to the command, they catch a hundred and fifty three large fish.

Towns sees this event as an eighth sign of Jesus’ deity. In his view, the miraculous catch of fish represents the summation of the previous seven. He contends the earlier experiences of the disciples allowed John to perceive Jesus’ identity.[20] Morris, however, challenges this view. In his opinion, since the miracle was not a part of Jesus’ public ministry it does not serve as a sign of deity. He points out that most scholars think the chapter acts more as appendix to the rest of the book. In addition, he notes that there is debate as to whether John or someone else penned the final chapter.[21]

Whether a person finds seven or eight signs of the deity of Jesus; they cannot deny the emphasis that John places on such an identification. His account leaves no middle ground in terms of belief. The reader either accepts John’s claims or they deny it; the state of being unsure is not allowed. John’s stated purpose for writing was that his readers might “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  For those who have read his gospel and taken him at his word, John certainly achieved his goal.

Bibliography

[1] All scripture NIV unless otherwise noted.

[2] S.W. Pratt, The Deity of Jesus Christ According to the Gospel of John (Philadelphia: Sunday School Times, 1907), 28.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Towns offers this explanation as well as poor planning and lack of finances as plausible hypothesis as to the lack of wine. Elmer Towns, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2002), 18-19.

[5] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Significance of the First Sign in John’s Gospel,” Bibliotheca sacra 134, no. 533 (1977).

[6] Craig S. Keener, Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Academic, 2010), 513.

[7] Adam Clarke, “Commentary on John 4:1” http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/view.cgi?bk=42&ch=4. (accessed April 19 2015).

[8] The NIV footnotes that some ancient manuscripts add, in whole or part, and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.

[9] Towns, xii.

[10] Leon Morris, Jesus Is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 28.

[11] It must be noted that in the synoptic gospels the New Testament writers were establishing Jesus, the man, as Lord of the Sabbath. John differs by establishing Jesus, the deity, as Lord of the Sabbath.

[12] Morris, 31.

[13] Ibid., 33.

[14] Towns also offers authority over the Sabbath and symbolizing man’s creation from clay as explanations. Towns, 91.

[15] New Illustrated Bible Commentary, ed. Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1336.

[16] John, the author of the Gospel, most certainly would have been present when Jesus gave this message to John the Baptist’s disciples.

[17] Mark J. Edwards, John through the Centuries (Williston, VT, USA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 112.

[18] Towns, 106.

[19] Morris, 117.

[20] Towns, 216.

[21] Morris, 22.

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