Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 11)

It is then appropriate to take a look at the uses of “miraculous signs.”  In the second chapter of John, this term is used in conjunction with the changing of the water into wine, as the author writes that “Jesus did this as the first of His miraculous signs” (2:11a).  This was said to have been a way in which “He revealed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (2:11b).  Consequently then, the presentation of the signs are often linked to the issue of belief. 

In the twenty-third verse of the same chapter, the author reports that “while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, many people believed in His name because they saw the miraculous signs He was doing.”  Interestingly, this mention of miraculous signs is not specifically connected to any particular account of the performance of miraculous signs.  It is simply an assertion on the part of the author that seems to rely on the knowledge of the miraculous as part of the Jesus tradition in the community for which this Gospel was composed. 

At this point in the record offered by the author of John, all that Jesus is said to have done in Jerusalem was the driving out of those changing money and selling animals (2:15), along with making a statement about the Temple being His Father’s house (2:16).  These would hardly be defined as “miraculous signs” in any respect.  In response to His activity in the Temple, unsurprisingly, Jesus is questioned by the Jewish leaders, with a demand to know why, and under what authority, He had done what He had done.  In fact, as it relates to the purposes of this study at this point, it is even asked of him “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” (2:18b)  Here, the use of “miraculous” is not offered.  Jesus is said to have responded to the query with the highly subversive and quite obviously proleptic “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (2:19), but there is certainly nothing in this story that approaches the level of “miraculous sign”. 

From there, John immediately moves to the story of an encounter between Jesus and a Jewish leader named Nicodemus.  With no chapter breaks in the original composition, and with it most likely designed to be delivered as an oral performance at a single setting, the listener is taken directly from Jesus speaking to a group of Jewish leaders, to Jesus speaking with one Jewish leader.  Presumably then, it is reasonable to understand Nicodemus as coming to Jesus as a direct result of what took place in the Temple.  It is probable then, for the purpose of this Gospel and its author, that the listener is supposed to presume that Nicodemus was himself present at the event in the Temple and heard what Jesus said. 

In his opening statement to Jesus, Nicodemus says “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with Him” (3:2b).  Once again, this talk of “miraculous signs” presumes a shared knowledge within the Johannine community, for there is nothing in the Jerusalem-situated narrative, to that point, that could truly be labeled as such. 

Jesus’ response to Nicodemus contains the first reported use, in the Gospel of John, of the all-important phrase “kingdom of God.”  Jesus said to Him, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3).  This will go on to tie in quite well with Jesus’ talk, within the same conversation, of perishing and eternal life (which, as has already been established, is linked to conceptions of exile and exodus, both of which speak to the nature of the rule of the Creator God over His people, and through them, the whole of creation), and of the salvation and redemption of the world that is part of the Creator’s design and purpose for the Christ.  Naturally, Jesus then goes on to speak about the need for belief (3:12,16,18), thus relating Nicodemus’ use of “miraculous signs” with belief. 

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