When I was young, I was taught that Jesus’ miracles offered proof of his divinity: after all, who else but the son of God could turn water into wine, heal people, or feed thousands (much less bring someone back to life)?
This is absolutely true; God was working supernaturally through Jesus and his ministry, restoring the people of God and inviting others into the family.
But is there something else going on in the miracles stories as well?
In contrast to the other three gospel writers, John has a very interesting and specific agenda, and he hints at it in the opening lines of his gospel:
“In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God…”
John’s opening words are not mere prose—compare them with way Luke begins: “Many people have set out to write accounts about the vents that have been fulfilled among us.”
John is up to something else here. His opening is less like an account and more like a poem. It’s almost like a song.
And we have seen this before.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning…”
John opens his gospel with a poem. What’s more, he uses the same opening phrase. It’s as if John is intentionally pointing us back to Genesis 1, saying, “this is the filter you need to read this gospel through.” Not only that, but I’d also like to suggest that John pushes this Genesis connection strongly through his gospel.
Especially through Jesus’ miracle stories.
Jesus works a few significant miracles in John’s gospel, and John directs our attention to them in a very unique way. For example, after Jesus has “got the party started” at the wedding feast in Cana, John writes this, “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory.” (2v11)
John uses phrase miraculous sign in a very distinct way. It’s associated with Jesus doing some kind of miracle and associated with a revelation of his glory.
But John is telling another story as well.
Because if you read the whole of John gospel, you’d find that he uses that phrase five more times between chapter 4 and chapter 12.
- After Jesus heals the Roman Centurion’s servant (4v54)
- After Jesus heals the man by the pool in Bethesda (5v9; technically John doesn’t use the word “sign” here but scholars identify this as one of the significant healings in this gospel)
- After the feeding of the 5,000 (6v14)
- After Jesus heals the man born blind (9v16)
- After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (11v47)
For a total of six…
OH, and the sixth one involves giving life to a human being.
Hmmmmm….Where else has there been six of something, with something involving humanity on the sixth?
Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reigh over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’
“So God creed human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them…
Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.
(Gen 1v26-27, 31)
John is telling another story here, one that has to do with creation—new creation, in fact.
In other words, Jesus’ miracles aren’t just cool magic tricks. Something radical and cosmic is happening in Jesus and through Jesus, and John wants us to know it. Through Jesus and his ministry, a newness and a freshness is beginning (“God saw that it was very good!”). Through Jesus, a new reality is breaking into this present reality; a foretaste of what God eventually wants to do everywhere, for everyone.
To restore creation, ultimately and completely.
But John’s not done yet; there were only six miracles, but Genesis accounts for seven days.
“So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” (Gen 2v1-2)
When is John’s “seventh day”?
Before we get there, the sixth day isn’t over yet. John has an interesting account of Jesus’ interaction with Pilate, hinting at where all of this is going. John tells us that Pilate had Jesus beaten, whipped, and mocked. If you’ve read accounts of this, or seen The Passion of the Christ, you know that this was not pretty.
Jesus is bloody; broken.
And in the midst of this scene, John relates a curious phrase by Pilate: “And Pilate said, ‘Look here is the man.”
Genesis 1 (and 2) again.
John is trying to get us to see that Jesus is the “new Adam”, but also that this newness comes with a cost. In order to fulfill Adam’s “commission”, suffering has to happen.
Blood has to be spilt.
And we’re still not done.
When does the “seventh day” come in John? When does Sabbath—which means wholeness, peace, healing, completion—occur?
Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.’ A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted, he said, ‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and released his spirit (John 19v28-30).
“It is finished.”
The six “signs” culminate in this one.
Only at the cross is Jesus truly done.
John’s “seventh day” comes on the cross, with Jesus’ death. Only when Jesus has done what only he could do—to be obedient all the way to death, to defeat evil by letting evil do its worst to him—could he say, along with God in Genesis 1, that this work of New Creation is truly “finished.”
Sabbath is coming: healing, completeness, rest.
Death will shortly be defeated, and the era of the resurrection will begin.
When good news is really good, miracles aren’t just clever magic tricks: they are signs that something cosmic is breaking out all around us. When good news is really good, we realize that God wants to heal the whole world, and every one in it.