Miracles are spoken of in the New Testament under three names : --
All three of the above words occur in one verse (Heb. 2:4) : "God also bearing [them] witness by signs (semeion), both with wonders (teras) and various mighty works (dumanis), and distributions of pneuma hagion (See Ap. 101. II. 14), according to His own will". John does not use the first of these words (dunamis) at all. He uses the second (teras) only once (4:48).
In all the other passages he uses the third (semeion), and this 17 times. It is rendered "miracle" in all but four passages (2:18; 4:48; 6:30; 20:30, where it is correctly rendered "sign"). It should, of course, have been rendered "sign" throughout, because it has regard to that which is signified by the work wrought. Out of all the miracles wrought by out Lord, John records only eight; and these are all "signs", not "wonders" or "mighty works".
The number (eight) is Divinely ordered. Of the first we read,
"This beginning of the signs" (2:11); and of the second, "This is again
a second sign" (4:54). We are thus invited to continue and carry
out this important enumeration to the completion of the eighth.
Hence these eight (For the significance of the enumeration of the eight
signs as a whole, see the Conclusion) have been Divinely selected only
on account of their special signification.
The Introversion shows that the first corresponds with
the eighth; the second corresponds with the seventh;
the third with the sixth; and the fourth with the
Thus there are four pairs; the latter sign and signification in each
pair is always an advance on the former : so that, while the former deals
with what is preliminary and partial, it leads up to the latter corresponding
sign, which is permanent and final.
We are now in a position to examine these eight "signs" more minutely; and are able, at once, to see that the points which correspond are intended to emphasize the signification of each.
Two things stand out most clearly : they all manifest ISRAEL'S need, and condition of helplessness and death; and MESSIAH'S glory, and His ability to meet that need and restore Israel's lost condition.
We need not go outside these to learn the signification of these
"signs". All else must be by way of application and not interpretation.
Messiah was baptized and anointed by the Holy Ghost "that He might be manifested
unto Israel" (John 1:31). The first sign is called "the beginning",
and the next is called the "second", to intimate to us that we are to continue
the enumeration, and thus be led on to emphasize the signification of each.
It "manifested forth His glory". This is the signification of the
The Marriage in Cana (2:1-11), and the Draught of Fishes (21:1-14).
The signification is the same in each case, as to Messiah. In the first He "manifested forth His glory" (2:11); in the eighth He "manifested Himself" (21:14, note the same word in each) : as to Israel, it was to manifest the depth of the nation's destitution. He alone could supply that need by becoming "the glory of His People Israel" (Luke 2:32). Apart from Messiah, Israel could have no joy, no supplies, no blessing, no glory.
The first sign signified that need : "they have no wine" (2:3), while the last signified that with all their toil they had "caught nothing", and had "no meat"; but it signified also that Messiah could supply both the one and the other -- sustenance and joy.
Religion with all its punctilious observances could not supply either. Religion grossly corrupted (cp. Isa. 1:22), was in full evidence : the "waterpots" and "the purifying of the Jews" only manifested the truth of the inspired indictment of Isa. 1:10-23; while the next recorded event (John 2:13-16) manifested that they were destitute of all idea of true worship of Jehovah.
The discourses which followed carried the signification further, and showed that this spiritual destitution could be remedied only by the Divine gifts; yea, in spiritual regeneration and resurrection. Nicodemus, who was attracted by the signs (3:2), sought their signification, and was taught the need of spiritual birth from Ezek. 36:24-32. The word "must" of 3:7 and 3:14 enforced and explained it; while the gift of God (v. 16) was the only answer to his question "How?"
From Jerusalem and a ruler He goes to Samaria (4:4), like Peter in a later day (Acts 8:14-25); and again shows to a Samaritan woman, the need of spiritual worship, enforcing it by the same "must" (4:24); and answering her question "How?" by the same "gift of God" (4:10).
When Messiah gives joy to the nation, it will be filled "up to the brim"
(2:7. Cp. Isa. 9:2-7. John 2
1:11); and when He fills the Land
with restored Israel in resurrection, it will be to the last one (Ezek.
37:12-14). For in the eighth sign Messiah was the Caller, signifying
that He will be the Gatherer (Jer. 31:10); while the seven disciples (John
21:2. Ap. 10) signify the spiritual perfection with which Israel
will be gathered, yea, "one by one" (Isa. 27:12) to the last one ("153").
For "though Israel be sifted among the nations, as corn is sifted in a
sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth." (Amos 9:9).
The Ruler's Son (4:46-50), and the Sisters' Brother (11:1-44).
If in the first and eighth the signification was national destitution of all good, in the second and seventh it is destitution of national life. The "sign" in each case was connected with death; and, as in all the other pairs, the latter is an advance upon the former : so here, the son being on the point of death (4:47) in the death chamber, the brother is actually dead and in the tomb. The signification being that in the former which took place during the first period of our Lord's ministry, which was the proclamation of the kingdom, the nation was at the point of death, though not actually dead (see Ap. 119): but in the latter case the "sign" was given in the third period when the King had been already rejected (10:39; 11:8, 53; 12:10), and national life was in God's sight practically dead.
The nation's only hope was in Messiah, the great Life-giver. He
would raise it again from the dead, according to Ezek. 37. There
is a reference here to Hos. 13:14. Can there be a reference also
in the "two days" (4:43 and 11:6) to Hos. 6:1-3?
The Impotent Man (5:1-47), and the Man born Blind (9:1-41).
In both these two "signs" the condition of Israel is "manifested" in another phrase, as being of long standing and hopelessness (5:5; 9:1); and Messiah is manifested in His grace as the only Helper and Healer. In both cases, Messiah is the Seeker (5:6; 9:1), and takes the initiative; while in both the preceding pairs He was the One Who was sought.
Both "signs" were manifested in Jerusalem (5:1 and 8:50 with 9:1), and thus have special reference to Government and its seat. Both are associated with a pool (5:2 and 9:7, 11), and may signify that Pool of spiritual cleansing which in a future day is yet to be "opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness" (Zech. 13:1). In connection with this it is significant that these two "signs" are the only two out of all the eight that have any reference to sin (5:14 and 9:2, 24, 25, 34), as the second and seventh are the only two connected with death.
Sin had been the cause, in the case of Israel, both of impotence and the blindness. (*1). It was the cause of Israel's thirty-eight years' typical and helpless wandering (Ap. 50. VII; cp. 2 and 3) before the nation entered into rest; as it was the cause of the suffering of this impotent man, before he met with the great and only Giver of Rest. This rest is emphasized by the reference to a "Sabbath-Day" (5:9 and 9:14) and by the "sign" that Messiah (the true Joshua) can alone lead them into that true rest and sabbath-keeping that yet remains for Jehovah's People (Heb. 4:4-10).
Messiah is Himself not only the Seeker (5:6; and 9:1), but He is also
the Finder (5:14 and 9:35).
The double reference to Moses' words (5:45, 46 and 9:28, 29),
and to the Father's works (5:17 and 9:4), are both "signs" also,
full of the utmost significance as deepening the sin of Israel, and enhancing
the grace of God Who had raised up Messiah as th
e Prophet, like unto Moses
(Deut. 18:15-19), and sent His Son to seek and to find and to save that
which was lost (Luke 19:9, 10).
The Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:1-14), and the Walking on the Sea (6:15-21).
These are the two central "signs", and are emphasized by being the only "signs" which are recorded in the other three Gospels; thus implying that all four Gospels are needed in order to give us their full signification. Both "signs" are followed by the Lord's own signification in the discourses which manifested the special glory of His Deity. The two "signs" are connected together by the parenthesis of 6:23, which shows that the signification is one, manifesting Messiah as Divine; in the former, as the Creator and the only Supplier of all His People's needs; temporal as in 6:6-13, and spiritual as in 6:32-51; in the latter, as the Creator and Lord of the elements.
The discourse which follows is to signify the enormity of the sin of
His rejection, as shown in 7:1, 11, 12, 25, 30, 32, 43, 44, 45; as the
second and seventh are the only two connected with death.
Thus, these two central "signs" manifest the two central truths which
are common to all the four Gospels: viz., the glory of the Messiah and
His rejection by the nation.
They were connected by His departing from them, and going up into a
mountain (6:3 and 6:15), signifying that He was about to depart from them,
until His return from heaven on the repentance of the nation.
As to the eight "signs" as a whole, they are divided into seven and one; the seven taking place during the ministry of our Lord; and the one (the eighth) after His resurrection; the number eight being symbolical of that fact, the Resurrection having taken place on the eighth day (see Ap. 10). The seven are divided into two, three, and two; the first two occurred in the first period of His ministry, which was the proclamation of the Kingdom (see Ap. 119).
The next three (the third, fourth, and fifth) during the second period of His ministry, which was the manifestation of His Person as Jehovah-Ropheka, the Healer of His People; Jehovah-Ro'i, and Jehovah-Jireh, the Supplier of all His People's needs; and Jehovah the Creator of heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is.
The next two (the sixth and seventh) occurred during the third period of His ministry, the period of His rejection, manifesting the enormity of their sin, in the rejection of Him Who is the Restorer of His People's sight, and the Lord and Giver of life. Both were parabolic and prophetic with reference to His rejection.
The eighth stands out alone, in this connection; occurring as it does
in the Post-resurrection period, and referring to the future gathering
of Israel by the rejected Messiah, Who is seen as the Seeker, the Finder,
and the Gatherer of His scattered People, Israel.
(*1) See v. 2 which shows that they believed the Babylonian "tradition" of reincarnation.
A 2:1-11. THE MARRIAGE IN CANA.
B 4:46-50. THE RULER'S SON.
6:1-14. THE FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND.
D 6:15-21. THE WALKING ON THE SEA.
9:1-41. THE MAN BORN BLIND.
B 11:1-44. THE SISTER'S
A 21:1-14. THE DRAUGHT OF FISHES.