52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #1. Signs, Belief, and Eternal Life
by Travis Bookout
I’m beginning a project. I’m going to do it publicly so that my pride can serve to keep me from failure. Once I get pride working for me, I can accomplish almost anything. So, here it is: Once a week this year I want to post something related to the Gospel of John. It may be one of the major themes throughout the Gospel, or just a thought on one particular character, or passage, or verse. But my hope is that at the end of this year, these 52 reflections will serve as a helpful introduction to some of the major ideas presented by John.
To start, let’s discuss John’s stated purpose: “Therefore, many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so 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).
Don’t you just love that? When you’re reading and trying to figure out the occasion or purpose of a book in the Bible and you come across a verse like that? It does all your thinking for you. He doesn’t leave it ambiguous. John just comes right out and tells you why he wrote this book, why he included the signs that he did, and what his goal is for the reader. He lays his biases and motivations right out on the table.
That means John was written with an end goal already in mind. A person is supposed to be able to pick this book up, read it through, and at the end be able to attain eternal life. John does this by recording “signs.” We’ll talk a lot more about signs over the next 52 weeks, but always remember that John’s signs have a purpose. They are to bring about belief:
After miraculously turning water into wine, John records “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11). The first sign recorded produced belief in the disciples. A little later Jesus says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe” (John 4:48). Then, He heals a Nobleman’s son, “and he himself believed and his whole household. This is again the second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee” (John 4:53-54). Notice that you are being invited to count the signs and see that when honestly observed they each result in belief.
There is a constant connection between the “signs” of Jesus and “belief” in His name. In fact, if you look up the word “signs” in the Gospel of John there is a pretty good chance you’ll find the word “belief” somewhere next to it in the context. How did Nicodemus come to know that Jesus came from God as a teacher? Because “no one can do the signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Jesus convinced the crowds that He “is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world” because “the people saw the signs which He had performed (John 6:14). “Many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, ‘When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?” (John 7:31). But sadly they did not convince everybody, “Though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37). You can continue to see this connection throughout the entire Gospel (John 6:30; 11:45-48; 20:20-29).
The goal of the signs is to produce belief and the goal of belief is to produce life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That kind of sounds like John’s goal: “That believing, you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
All of this (signs, belief, life, etc.) will be discussed in much more detail in the ensuing weeks. But I want to close with this thought: If John’s goal was to write a book that would cause people to have faith in Jesus and eternal life; do you think he reached it? Do you think he still can? This question shifted the way that I do personal evangelism.
I honestly believe that John is both a competent writer and inspired by God. If he thinks this book can bring someone to eternal life, then I bet he’s right. If John were the only book in the Bible, we should still be able to have eternal life. So, one of the ways that I like to study with people is just go through the Gospel of John. You don’t have to flip to 400 verses throughout the Bible. You don’t even need to leave the book. People can see everything in context and appreciate how seriously we take the words of Scripture.
John is structured in such a way that all the information you need about Jesus to receive eternal life is there. If interpreted properly, this book leaves nothing out that is essential to life. Rather than me coming up with my own way of telling the story of Jesus, I’ll let the inspired writer do it. I’ll just follow his lead. And at the end of the book I can be confident that there has been enough given “that you may believe.”