The Seven Signs of John’s Gospel

April 19, 2024
Bob Upton

As I was driving up the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, I saw a green road sign pointing to a scenic overlook off the highway. I had driven past that sign for years, but never stopped to see the view. I would even tell others that I saw the sign, yet I never took the time to visit the scene itself. One day I finally decided to follow the sign and it brought me to a short, winding road up a steep hill. The scene opened into a magnificent overlook of Lake Superior with rocky cliffs over 1000 feet tall.

     This was a good lesson to make one realize how often we can see a sign but miss what the sign is trying to reveal to us. The sign itself is not the important thing; what is important is what it points us to.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

     John focuses specifically on seven signs in his Gospel, and at the end he summarizes his purpose for these signs: 

     “And Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)

     He writes a singular message to convince you of one thing: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He wants you to believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. The word Christ means “anointed.” There were many anointed ones in Scripture: prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed; they were all sent by God. The important distinction is that this is the Christ, the only Messiah. He is the only one who fulfills all three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. John says that if you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, then by believing in Him you have eternal life within you. To help you believe, John gives seven signs that happened before the Cross.

What is a sign?

     The idea behind a sign is what is commonly known as a miracle. There are three words in the Bible that are used to describe these types of events and they are contained together in one verse. Peter says:

     “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22).

Signs. Wonders. Miracles.

     Scripture uses three words to focus on different aspects of the same thing:

• A “miracle” was the actual event. It was a work of power. It was supernatural. For example, someone who was blind can suddenly now see.

• A “wonder” was the reaction of the people. When the Lord Jesus did these miracles, it says the people “were amazed,” “they marveled,” “they wondered.” 

• A “sign” was the meaning of the miracle. The Greek word is “semeion,” correctly translated as “sign.” 

A sign gets us to look beyond the miracle that happened and to see the real significance behind it. For example, a road sign is not the destination, but it is pointing you toward the destination. The signs in John’s Gospel are just like that; each one of them is revealing a bigger truth about who Jesus is. The signs were not done just to display His power, they were showing us who He truly is. For instance, in the first sign when He turns water into wine, it shows us that He is the Creator. This proves that Jesus is divine, since only God is the Creator.

Seven Signs in John Before the Cross:

1. Turning water into wine

2. Healing the nobleman’s son

3. Healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda

4. Feeding the 5000

5. Walking on the water

6. Healing the blind man at the pool of Siloam

7. Raising Lazarus

    (Some also see an eighth sign in the great catch of fish by     

    the disciples after the Lord’s resurrection).

Many Other Signs

     “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:25).

     John says he had a world full of other things to prove his point, but he chose to be very selective. By the Spirit of God, he wrote down just a few of the many signs that Jesus did, and he chose those specifically to show us exactly who Jesus is. Therefore, the study of the signs in John’s Gospel is a wonderful way to see the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

How Do We Know It Is a Sign? 

     John often specifically calls them signs, as in the turning of the water into wine. “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11). John says this “beginning of signs…manifested His glory.” The signs revealed who He truly is. How did they see His glory? By the power manifested in these signs. Every one of these signs was designed to make His glory obvious. John says, “we beheld his glory” (John 1:14).

Did it Work? Did People Believe on Him? 

Andrew: “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41) 

Philip: “We have found Him” (John 1:45) 

Nathanael: “You are the Son of God” (John 1:49) 

Samaritan woman: “Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29)

Peter: “You are the Christ the Son of the living God” (John 6:69) 

Martha: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God” 

   (John 11:27) 

Thomas: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) 

     John shows us that while many did believe, there were many others who did not. Even though the crowds saw the miracles, they did not see the signs. They did not see who Jesus really was. We often sing at the remembrance meeting the stirring hymn “Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands” by Charles Spurgeon containing the following lines:

If now, with eyes defiled and dim, we see the signs, but see not Him;
O may His love the scales displace and bid us see Him face to face!

     Many of the crowds asked to see a sign, but may we be like those who said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).

     The signs in John are important for two groups of people. They are important for those who do not believe, so that they may put their trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior; they are also important for those of us who already believe, that our faith may grow. That was the case with Thomas who really wanted to see a sign that Jesus was alive. “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29).

     Today, we are not looking for signs, we are to simply believe what He has already revealed in His Word. As we read John’s Gospel, let us not miss the point of the signs—to see Jesus for who He truly is: the Christ, the Son of God.