The Miracles of Jesus According to John
John, the fourth Gospel of Jesus Christ, provides a new and different account of Jesus' ministry. While the books of Matthew and Luke were based largely on the book of Mark, John does not appear to rely to heavily on any of these materials. The result of this is that while Matthew, Mark, and Luke all seem to support each other as being the true account of Christ, John is left to question. Despite this difference, John is accepted as being legitimate testimony about Jesus Christ. In this last book we get a fresh perspective on Jesus' ministry rather than another recounting of what Mark tells us.
The book of John is believed to have been written in the mid to late first century CE. There is some debate, though, whether this happened around the time of 50 to 70 CE or sometime after 85 CE. The later date is supported by the appearance that the theology of this book is more developed than if it had been written earlier. This basis is questioned, though, because Romans (c. 57) has an equally well-developed theology. The earlier date may be supported by the author's use of the present tense when referring to a pool near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem (5:2), since Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE. However, John uses the present tense in place of the past at other times. (Barker 1588)
The author of this book is believed to be the Apostle John. John was the son of Zebedee and Salome. Zebedee was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and it is believed that Salome was in some way related to Jesus. According to Meyer, Salome was a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. (Meyer 1) This conclusion is based on John 19:25, where the author says that "standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister ". Barnes, on the other hand, suggests that Salome may have been a daughter of Joseph. This idea is based upon the statement of an "ancient father", Theophylact, that Joseph fathered four sons and three daughters by a former wife. (Barnes 169) Whatever relation there was, Salome was a follower of Jesus up to His crucifixion. John is also believed to be the author of the books of John 1, John 2, John 3, and Revelation. One of the twelve disciples, John never names himself in the book but does claim in John 21:20-24 that the disciple "whom Jesus loved" is the author.
In John 20:31 the author states his purpose in writing this book. He states, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (Barker 1634) The book is also believed to be aimed at combating heresy or heretical influence in the early church such as Gnosticism and the belief that John the Baptist was the Messiah.
The Gospel according to John tells of eight miracles of Jesus. Of these eight, only two are found the other gospels. The two shared miracles are Jesus' walking on water and the feeding of the five thousand. John also tells us of three miracles of healing, one raising of the dead, and two other miracles of nature.
The first miracle we find in the book of John is when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. It appears that at this point in time the disciples are not aware of Jesus' ability to perform miracles, but Jesus' mother seems to believe that it must be within his power. Mary says to Jesus in 2:3, "They have no more wine." According to Meyer, Mary may have just been asking Jesus to help by getting more wine through normal means. This could have been the case since Jesus and His disciples contributed to the consumption of the wine. (Meyer 103) Jesus responded to His mother in verse four, asking, "Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come." His time could refer to either the time of His disclosure as the Messiah or the time of His crucifixion. It seems that Jesus' response indicated His willingness to help, since in the next verse, Mary instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus commands. This may indicate that Mary was indeed not expecting a miracle but expected that Jesus would need the servants to carry the wine from wherever they may get it. If Mary was expecting a miracle, she would probably have expected Jesus to create the wine without involving others. Jesus saw this as an opportunity to begin His self-disclosure and instructed the servants to fill six stone jars that were nearby. Meyer points out that the amount of wine given was not the result of Jesus calculating the need, but rather was determined by the presence of only six jars. This was an example that we should not give based on calculation of need but rather to give all that we can. (Meyer 105) I think this provides an example to people that we should never stop giving until we have nothing left to give. According to John 2:11, with this first of miracle of Jesus, "He thus revealed His glory, and his disciples put their faith in him."
The second miracle of Jesus recorded by John took place at Capernaum in Galilee where the son of a royal official lay sick. Through this miracle Jesus emphasized the importance of faith. When the official, apparently an officer of Herod, came to Jesus, he clearly believed that Jesus could work miracles. The official begged Jesus to come down to his son and heal him, but Jesus did not go to the official's house. Jesus instead commented on how people in general would not believe by faith but only through seeing miracles. Jesus then told the official, "You may go. Your son will live." This official demonstrated complete faith in Jesus Christ and took Him at His word. According to Barnes, Jesus was surrounded by people in Galilee who would only believe that Jesus was the Messiah if they saw miracles and continued to see miracles. This bothered Jesus because the Samaritans needed no such proof but were willing to believe by faith. When the official first approached Jesus, He may have figured that the man was just like the others. Jesus quickly saw greater faith in this man and thus told the man that his son would live and that he could go. (Barnes 223)
The next miracle reported by John happened while in Jerusalem. This event lends some question as to the requirements that someone must fulfill before receiving benefit through Jesus. John 5:1-15 tells us of a man who did not know who Jesus was and was instead focused on rumored healing abilities of the pool of Bethesda. This man did not ask Jesus for help and did not expect Jesus to be able to help him, but Jesus cured this man of his ailments anyway. After the man was cured, he did not seem grateful for the blessing that had been given to him. The man reported to authorities that it was Jesus who had commanded him to break Sabbath law. If a person were to take this text alone, and decided based upon it the prerequisites to Jesus' blessing and also of being saved, it would be quite easy to form the hypothesis that people are saved without having any belief in or respect toward Jesus. On close study of the material, Meyer notes that the man was probably not acting against Jesus by telling the Jews that it was He who had healed him. The man had had the faith in Jesus that when he was told to get up, he did. And the man had trust enough in Jesus that even though Sabbath law forbade one to carry his cloth on that day, the man still did. According to Meyer, the man may have seen the Sanhedrim powerless in comparison to Jesus and thus he needn't worry about what they may do to him. (Meyer 177) In this new view, Jesus' comment to the man to stop sinning could be seen as Jesus telling a believer the way to eternal life rather than seen as a threat to a sinner. With this new insight into the scripture we may find a message that even though Jesus can save us without us even knowing who he is, that we are to stop sinning or worse things may befall us.
All of the miracles thus far are unique to John's account of the ministry of Jesus. Now we come across a miracle that is testified by all four Gospels. John tells us in 6:1-15 that shortly after the last miracle, Jesus was back near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was on a mountainside with His disciples when he saw a great crowd approaching. He said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" Philip responded telling Jesus that there was no way they could buy enough bread for all these people. There was a boy who had five loaves of inexpensive bread and two small fish. Jesus ordered that these be distributed among the crowd which numbered 5,000. This was done, and all were fed. When I was in high school, this was explained to my Sunday School class that there were probably more than five loaves and two fish. Our teacher told us that he believes that many among the crowd had food with them, but were unwilling to share until they saw Jesus doing so and they did as well. Some people would argue that this is not the case and that it was by a miracle that the crowd was fed. I was not there so I cannot tell what happened, but either by a miracle of Jesus or by the influence of Jesus that crowd was fed. If the bread was indeed produced by people sharing, then we have an example from Jesus that we should share and care for the needs of one another. If it was purely through a miracle that these people were fed, then we have further proof that Jesus is the Messiah. Either way, Jesus has given us something more. Both Barnes and Meyer note that Jesus had the disciples collect the left over pieces. This is only told by John and both Barnes and Meyer comment on this showing how much Jesus cared that nothing was wasted. Through this Jesus could be teaching us by example that we should give all that we can, but never to allow anything to be wasted because waste takes away from those who need.
The evening after the crowd had been fed another miracle occurred in John 6:16-24. This miracle is accounted by all the Gospels except for Luke. Jesus' disciples were out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee headed to Capernaum. While the disciples were far out in the lake, they saw Jesus walking toward them on top of the water. The disciples were afraid, and according to Matthew 14:26, they though they were seeing a ghost. Jesus said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid." At this point the disciples took Him into the boat and immediately they arrived at Capernaum. Harmon takes note that in addition to this being a miracle (or two), this also can be used to demonstrate how people can often times be frightened by what Jesus is doing for them because they do not understand. This is also used as an example of how futile our efforts may be in comparison to those of Jesus in even such things as a trip in a boat. Harmon quotes Luther as saying, "It is not a shame that we are always afraid of Christ, whereas there was never in heaven or earth a more loving, familiar, or milder man, in words, works, and demeanor, especially towards poor, sorrowful, and tormented consciences." (Harmon 561) This is perhaps one of the most intriguing miracles recorded by John. While the value of being able to walk on water is not as great as that of being able to cure the sick or raise the dead, it is one that humans often wonder if they could achieve. It is an act that seems closer to something that a human could do than any other of the miracles. It is an act that inspires us to wonder if we could do it, and I would imagine that numerous people have tried, just to see if they could do it through faith. Unfortunately, the human mind is too strapped into worldly beliefs and too easily believes that this cannot be done.
John now tells us in 9:1-12 about a man who was born without sight. Jesus addresses the issues of why seemingly bad things happen to people and also he touches on when God's work is to be done. When one of His disciples asks Jesus who sinned that this man should be born without sight, Jesus told him that no one sinned for this to happen, but that this was done so that this man may come to know God. Jesus here dispels common thought that death and misfortune are the result of sin. He tells His disciples that these things happen not because of human acts but because of divine acts and that though we may not understand them at the time, God has a plan and purpose for all apparent harm that should befall us. Jesus also instructed the disciples that all are to do the work of God "as long as it is day." Jesus spoke not of day and night with regards to the light and dark hours of each day, but rather with reference to His time on Earth and our time on Earth. (Meyer 301) Jesus commanded us to do the work of God always while we are here on earth, because if we do not, we will leave this world without making the impact that we could have.
In chapter eleven, John first tells us of Jesus raising the dead. Jesus received word that Mary's brother Lazarus was very sick. Before Jesus comes to where Lazarus lay, he dies. When Jesus arrives where Lazarus has been buried, he commands Lazarus to get up and come out, and Lazarus does. This passage illustrates that nothing is impossible with Jesus. Jesus states in this passage, "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." Through this Jesus begins to reveal part of His purpose on earth. Jesus identifies himself as the way to everlasting life.
Perhaps the most miraculous of Jesus' acts was the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross so that the sins of the world could be forgiven. On the third day after His crucifixion Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus then revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene and then to His disciples. Some of the disciples did not believe at first that it was Him, and others were still hung up on worldly concerns, but Jesus showed them the way to everlasting life so that they could teach others.
John states in 20:30-31 the multitude of miracles performed by Jesus and why he recounted those that he did. John wrote, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." In his final verse, John also testified as to the number of deeds Jesus did on earth saying, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."
The miracles of Christ were performed for the benefit of humankind. The were performed that we may see that Jesus is the Christ. All too often our minds cannot break out of their little molds and see the truth without having it thrown at our faces. This seemed to bother Jesus, though He put up with it anyway. Through these miracles Jesus taught us that we should give until there is nothing left to give. Once we leave this world, our possessions are of no use to us. They are meaningless. Rather than striving to be first in this world, Jesus taught us to give to others all that we can to help them. Jesus demonstrated not to give proportional to the need that we see, but to give in abundance. Jesus showed that even while we are giving, we must be sure that nothing gets wasted, because to waste is to fail to give to those who need. Jesus also commanded us that we are to do the work of God always. Not when it is convenient, or when we feel like it, but always. One person may not have the ability to feed all of the hungry, or house all of the poor, but with each one that is helped a difference is made. There is an old story of a man seen on a beach throwing clams back into the ocean so the would not die. An onlooker said to the man, "There are so many clams on so many beaches in the world. How do you expect to make a difference?" The man just smiled, picked up another one and threw it in and said, "Made a difference to that one." This is a demonstration of how Jesus taught us to help others at all times. Because each person who is affected matters. Finally, Jesus show us that through Him we may have life everlasting and that by His grace we may never die.
I think that Jesus should be an inspiration to us all to try to live as He lived, without hatred and ambivalence. Jesus lived the perfect life that we should all strive for. He gave Himself completely. He lived each moment to do God's work, and He taught us all to become servants with love and compassion.
Barker, Kenneth. Ed. NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.
Barnes, Albert. Notes on the New Testament, Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1949.
Harmon, Nolan B. Ed. The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1980.
Meyer. Commentary on the New Testament. Copyright information unavailable.
Schnackenburg, Rudolf. The Gospel According to St. John, Vol. 1. New York, NY: The Seabury Press, 1980.
All Bible quotations are taken from Barker unless otherwise noted.