John wrote his gospel to rouse faith in his readers for their reception of the divine life. Right at the end of his gospel, John lays bare this motive. But he also reveals something else, his method—John doesn’t record everything Jesus did, but makes selective use of certain events that function as signs.
Many other signs also Jesus did before His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these have been written that you may believe… –John 20:30-31a
The Gospel of John is a book of signs. This is an important difference between the Synoptics and John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke write, more or less, continuous narratives interspersed with parables and teachings. John’s gospel doesn’t have a single parable in it, while the other gospels contain over 30 unique parables. Instead of parables, John uses signs (2:11). We can think of John’s gospel as a collection of snapshots of Jesus, where the events themselves are symbolic and have a spiritual significance. Take for instance the feeding of the 5,000. All four gospels contain this story, but only John expounds the symbolic import embedded in the event. John spends 15 verses on the actual story, but then 50 verses expounding it. It’s clear that John has a bigger motive here than merely recording what Jesus said and did.
The result is that in the grand scheme of things, in the structure of the gospels, this story functions very differently in John than it does in the Synoptics. The event no longer functions primarily as a plot element to develop the storyline. It is detached from the immediate before-and-after (the previous chapter occurs a year earlier and the next chapter occurs roughly six months later) and it is developed for its semantic value. What this looks like in terms of the story’s length in the different gospels is telling:
- Matthew—8 verses
- Mark—13 verses
- Luke—7 verses
- John—65 verses
The key to this gospel is understanding John’s motive and his method.
The way to get the extract of each chapter is to pay attention to the signs in this mysterious book. The Gospel of John is a book of mysteries and also a book of signs. A mystery points to something that is beyond our natural understanding, and a sign points to something deep. Therefore, I would emphasize the importance of these two matters—mysteries and signs… In every chapter of the Gospel of John there are signs that point to the divine mysteries.
Chapter 6 is typical of John’s method—an event or dialogue gives rise to a theological discussion. Rather than lots of parables and events, John uses a small number of events to expound on very big theological points.
John gave us theology. John specially points out the reality behind Christianity, which is the life of God.
The point in John 6 is that Jesus is the bread of life. The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is a sign of this spiritual reality (6:30). The feeding of the 5,000 gives rise to a discussion of the manna in the wilderness which fed 2,000,000 which then is interpreted as typifying Jesus as the bread of life who will feed the world. As if this weren’t enough John then embeds in the ensuing conversation the full experience of the historical Christ from incarnation to ascension resulting in the life-giving Spirit and the life-embodying word.
In a nut shell then, what John gives us through this sign is a major revelation of Christ in the economy of God. This is exactly what R. R. Reno means when he says (as I quoted him last time):
Scripture is the semiotic medium in which God encodes the pattern of the divine economy.
All the points that John makes are related to our reception of the divine life (remember his ending, “that you may have life in His name”). That is because this IS the economy of God. John is “encoding” in signs God’s economy to dispense Himself as life into the believers. In fact, the summary statement that John provides of why Jesus came centers on our reception of the divine life, not the removing of sin—”I have come that they may have life and may have it abundantly” (10:10). The stories that John selects are chosen for their ability to do what signs do—point. Signs point to a deep reality about the divine life. All the signs in John point us to this. Thus, right in the middle of John 6 we have, “He who believes has eternal life” (6:47). The sign of feeding points to our reception of the divine life.
Since John’s motive is the believers’ reception of the divine life, his entire gospel is focused on life. John uses the Greek word for God’s life (zoe) 36 times, twice as much as the other gospels combined (Matthew 7x, Mark 4x, Luke 6x). The Gospel of John is a treatise on the divine life. Or even better, a gospel of the divine life.
John reveals that the Trinity, Christ’s process, and the believer’s salvation are all matters of life. The following verses are representative:
1. The Father is the source of life.
The Father has life in Himself… –John 5:26
2. The Son is the embodiment of life and is life Himself.
In Him was life… –John 1:4
Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life… –John 11:25
3. The Spirit is the giver of life.
It is the Spirit who gives life… –John 6:63
4. Christ’s incarnation is life-oriented.
I have come that they may have life… –John 10:10
5. Christ’s death is life-releasing.
Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. –John 12:24
6. Christ’s resurrection is life-imparting.
Jesus said to her, Do not touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, I ascend to My Father and your Father… –John 20:17
7. The believers’ salvation is the experience of abundant life.
That they may have life and may have it abundantly. –John 10:10
Life in His name—this is a good summary of God’s economy and this is the focus of the Gospel of John. If this is God’s focus, shouldn’t it be ours?