A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In the past I’ve explained the need for 4 Gospels and the tremendous increase in understanding we can gain by comparing events from the different perspectives of each. (Read The Four Faces Of Jesus). Today I’d like to focus on John. Due to his extensive use of symbolism John’s Gospel, written to the church, is many ways the most intriguing. It’s not that John portrayed fictitious events, but that he arranged and described actual occurrences in such a way as to convey additional truth beyond the obvious point of his narrative. Sometimes he even rearranged the order of these events to underscore his point. Placing the cleansing of the Temple right after the wedding at Cana is a good example of how he used contrasting events to illustrate the point that the Lord came to create an intimate personal relationship with His church (as in a marriage) not to fix a broken religion.
The focus of John’s gospel is the Lord’s Judean ministry, and really only the last 21 days of that. Fully 10 chapters (From 13 on) are given to the last week and 1/3 of the gospel’s 879 verses are devoted to one day. The first 11 chapters define the Lord’s ministry through John’s selective use of 7 miracles, 7 “I AM” declarations, and 7 discourses. The use of the number 7, which symbolizes divine completeness, is another good example of John’s style. Besides the miracles, I AM statements and discourses, John highlights 7 occasions where the Lord’s use of a symbolic emblem was misunderstood by His audience showing how completely the leaders of Israel missed the spiritual point of His teaching;
The body is a temple, in 2:19
You must be born again, in 3:3
The living water, in 4:10
Food to eat, in 4:32
Living bread, in 6:32
You will seek me and not find me … where I am you cannot go, in 7:33
Know the truth and be free, in 8:31
Perhaps then, the 7 miracles John chose also contain a hidden message when viewed in the sequence in which they are revealed.
Miracle 1 (Water Into Wine … 2:1-11)
This one is misunderstood by most and yet results in the disciples putting their faith in the Lord. (This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed His Glory and the disciples put their faith in Him, vs. 11). It seems so insignificant when compared the opening miracles in the other gospels, which involved either casting out demons or curing leprosy. 6 empty jars of stone, normally used to hold water for ceremonial cleansing, are filled with water (by unnamed servants) that the Lord turns into wine. The master of the banquet proclaims this wine to be superior to the wine served earlier.
Look at the symbolism: 6 (the number of man) jars, stone, cold and empty (the heart condition of unregenerate man) filled with water (the living water) by unnamed servants (the Holy Spirit) which is changed to wine (the joy of our salvation). The new wine (new covenant) is superior to the old (old covenant). Remember, the jars of water were for ceremonial cleansing, central to Old Covenant practice. From the stone, cold, dead, and empty way of man’s religion into the living, joyful, relationship symbolized by the wedding celebration … this miracle symbolizes nothing less than the Mission of the Messiah.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10)
Miracle 2 (Healing the Official’s Son … 4:43-54).
Here’s an act of God’s Grace, pure and simple. There’s no indication of the official’s nationality or background, his religious conviction or his worthiness … only his faith. Implicit in the narrative is the fact that his conversation with the Lord happened on one day and his journey home took place on the next. The man took Jesus at His word and spent the night there before heading back home, believing his son was already healed and there was no longer any cause for concern…v.50.
For by grace you have been saved, through faith … and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephe. 2:8).
Miracle 3 (The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda … 5:1-9).
Tradition holds that an angel periodically stirred the waters at the Pool of Bethesda. The first one into the water was then healed. Many sick and infirmed waited there by the pool day after day for a chance to be healed. But a cripple can’t get himself to the pool in time. (If he could he wouldn’t need to; since he needs to he can’t … Catch 22.) For 38 years he had tried and failed. 38 years corresponds to the time the Israelites wandered in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. It was there that they received the Law.
I believe this man’s predicament demonstrates the poverty of the Law, which was never intended to heal us of our infirmities (physical and spiritual) but to show us the need for a Savior … that we’re hopeless and helpless without Him. The fact that this healing took place on the Sabbath further underscores the point. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to get well” (symbolically, do you want to be released from the bondage of the Law … do you want to quit trying to achieve salvation by your own futile effort)?
Not by works so that no one can boast (Ephe 2:9).
Miracle 4 (The feeding of the 5000 … 6:1-5).
This is perhaps the best known of all the Lord’s miracles and the only one before the resurrection to appear in all 4 gospels. The fact that it occurs around the time of the Passover, that Mark emphasizes the grass where they sat was green (reference to Psalm 23?), there were 5 loaves, 2 fishes and 12 baskets full left over makes this a particularly Jewish miracle. The Messiah is offering to be the source of supernatural provision for the believing remnant of Israel.
I AM the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35)
Miracle 5 (Walking on the Water … 6:16-25).
The 5th miracle is also well known to everyone familiar with the Lord’s ministry. The disciples had labored all night long to row only about half way across the Sea of Galilee, when the Lord passed by them … walking on the water. In Matthew’s account, Peter asked to come to the Lord on the water. “Come” said the Lord. Peter got down out of the boat, standing on the surface of the sea. While focused totally on the Lord Peter walked toward Him. But becoming distracted by the fury of the storm, he looked down, and seeing where he was, began to sink. “Save me Lord”, he cried, and immediately the Lord was there at his side. “O you of little faith,” He said to Peter, “Why did you doubt?”
Peter being called out of the boat is a model of the Church, called out of Israel and given supernatural power as long as we are focused on Him and unmindful of the distractions of this world. This miracle is as Gentile in its focus as the feeding of the 5000 was Jewish.
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I’ve been doing (John 14:12)
Miracle 6 (Healing The Man Born Blind … 9:1-41).
Another model of Israel is shown here, reminiscent of the words of Moses in the wilderness. “Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear” (Deut 29:2-4.)
While this miracle is accomplished early in Chapter 9, the balance of the narrative clearly shows how much more spiritual discernment this blind beggar had than the learned officials of the religion, who studied all their lives but lacked the supernatural wisdom of the Holy Spirit, given to the blind man at the moment of belief (Ephe. 1:13-14). This miracle demonstrates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the believer, irrespective of intellect, education, position or stature. Reminds me of the opening verses of Isaiah 9 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name will teach you all things (John 14:26).
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
Miracle 7 (Raising Lazarus From The Dead … 11:1-44).
The last miracle before the resurrection shows the fulfillment of Our Lord’s promise to all who believe in His name, as Lazarus is called out of the grave and restored from death to life.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
What’s The Point?
And so by combining the symbolic meanings behind each miracle into a summary statement, we find the complete gospel story.
From the stone cold, dead & empty way of man’s religion into a living and joyful relationship (1), we are saved by grace through faith (2), not by our own futile works (3), into his supernatural care and provision (4). With our eyes on Him not the world we achieve the supernatural (5), receive the wisdom of the Holy Spirit (6), and are restored from Death to Life (7).
One last contrast: It’s free for the asking, but brings wealth beyond measure.