In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John we read “Whenever the Christ comes, he won’t perform more miraculous signs than this man did, will he?” (7:31b) The immediate context is provided by “Yet many of the crowd believed in Him and said…” (7:31a) So here we have “miraculous signs” linked with “belief.” Thus, we must consider the overall movement of this presentation of Jesus, in that God’s love for the world (John 3:16) is bound up with belief in Jesus. By this, additional credence is lent to the linkage between the repetitious appearance of “miraculous signs” here in John (the only Gospel where such are to be found, save one usage in Luke), and the obvious Johannine predilection towards love, clearly rooted in God’s love for the world, as the operative Christian ethic. The words of the thirty-first verse also force us to consider the wider context of the statement, which are questions about Jesus’ identity as the messiah, though as we situate ourselves within the original and intended audience for the narrative, we do so with the pre-supposition that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ), and hear the development of the Gospel presentation from that position.
Whereas Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, His walking on water, and His discourse about Himself as the bread of life took place in Galilee, these words from the seventh chapter are lifted from His being situated in Jerusalem. Presumably then, Jesus has a new audience, differing quite significantly from the audience that He has had in the region of Galilee. The season of the year is the Feast of Tabernacles, which is one of the fall feasts of Judaism. The setting is presented in the fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter, where we read “When the feast was half over, Jesus went up to the Temple courts and began to teach.” A back and forth between the Jewish leaders and Jesus stems from the commencement of the aforementioned teaching. As would not be unexpected by the hearers of the story at this point, at least according to the structure of the story, Jesus brings a reference to Moses into play. Eventually, the back and forth leads to what is reported to be an open discussion on the part of the residents of Jerusalem as to whether or not Jesus is the Christ (7:25-26), which also results in some words from Jesus that lead to an unsuccessful attempt to seize Jesus.
In all of the back and forth, and in all of the reports within this Gospel about what Jesus has done since venturing back into Judea and Jerusalem, we do not stumble upon anything that seems like it would prompt the people of Jerusalem to mention Jesus in the same breath as “miraculous signs.” Nevertheless, this is the very thing that is reported to have taken place. In fact, though we can reasonably presume that word of the large-scale feeding has made its way around the countryside, the only miraculous signs that Jesus has performed before reaching Jerusalem in the Johannine narrative are the turning of water into wine in Cana and the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum.
Those two, which could be supplemented by the walking on water, would not be prone to massive dissemination. To this point, the only miraculous sign that Jesus has performed in Jerusalem is the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. In this story (John’s Gospel), the remainder of Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem, so far, is confined to teaching and speaking about Himself. We find little reason to wonder, then, that the story informs us that there is not an outright acceptance of Jesus’ claims about Himself. At the same time, we also find ourselves wondering at the paucity of miraculous occurrences to be found in the very Gospel that is loaded with references to miraculous signs. However, we must always consider the over-arching/underlying context of love and the love of God for the world as it is being expressed through Jesus, that seems to inform every aspect of this presentation of the life of our Lord.