The numbers in John's Gospel

Have you ever noticed that John's gospel is ordered by numbers – there are elements of by twos, threes and sevens? This short work explores some of these, and is by no means complete.

The Seven's of John's Gospel

Seven "I Am's" of Jesus - "ἐγώ εἰμι" literally "I, I am"

1.    I am the bread of life (6:35, repeated at 6:48), the bread that came down from heaven (6:41) and I am the living bread (6:51).

The bread of life is spiritual bread – it is required to live in Christ. Christ is to our spirit, as bread is to our body, hence the analogy. This analogy can be taken further – as we eat bread daily, so we require Christ daily. A natural person on whatever he feeds upon will die; in this natural state he is dead in trespasses and sins. Those that feed upon the bread of life have life everlasting. Jesus Christ 'quickens' or better 'brings to life' those that believe in him; he provides nourishment for those that exercise grace, and renews their spiritual strength.

2.    I am the light of the world (8:12, repeated at 9:5)

The natural person is in darkness – spiritual light can only be provided by our Lord and Saviour. A natural person stays in darkness all his or her life unless he or she believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those that faithfully accept Jesus Christ as their saviour are placed into a position of light – they can see the reality of the world, and of eternal life, and they have a Savour in whom they can trustfully follow. As one has put it, it is no good viewing Christ as one would view a light-house, but rather one must be in the light and must follow the light – it is a beacon for our journey in life. In declaring he is the light, Jesus declares he is the Messiah (e.g. the Christ) – Isaiah 42:6, 49:6. "I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth."

3.    I am the door of the sheep (10:7), I am the door (10:9). This is also a theme taken up by John in Revelation 3.

It is only by this door, that is, Christ Jesus, through faith, that we can enter into a relationship with God. There is only one door; meaning there is no other way into heaven. There is only one shepherd, meaning there is no religion; except that of following Christ, that is the Messiah.

4.    I am the good shepherd (10:11).

The image of the shepherd is a recurring theme of the Bible. Our Lord declares he is the head-shepherd of God's people – all others had fallen away: "So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered" Ezekiel 34:5. He was sent to the lost sheep, as the shepherd prophesied of in Genesis 29:24 "But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob. From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel" Genesis 49:24.

a.    The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (10:11)

A good shepherd exposes himself to the dangers of the natural world. David, a type of Christ, did so with the bear and lion for the sake of the flock (1 Samuel 17:34). Jesus Christ is a priest, and is the ransom price of his own sheep. Such a good shepherd (10:12) delivers the flock from the wolf and lion; the idolatrous sexually perverted world.

b.    The good shepherd know my own and my own know me (10:14)

There is a close and intimate relationship between the shepherd (Jesus Christ) and his sheep (those that believe on him). Jesus knows his own personally, and a Christian knows Christ personally. Jesus is a friend that never fails or leaves the one that follows him.

5.    I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)

Jesus has the power to resurrect to life; thus correcting Martha's notion that Jesus was merely a good rabbi, as they both grappled with the death of Lazarus, Martha's brother. Jesus here declares that death came by Adam (hence Lazarus is dead) but life came by the Christ. Only the Divine could say this; thus Jesus declares himself God.

6.    I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)

In response to the question by Thomas: "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?" Jesus provides this provocative response; "I am the way!" Thomas assumed the road to Judah was the way! Jesus' response states: I am the truth – that is the true Messiah, the fulfilment of the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices (Consider the first five chapters of Leviticus in regard the position Christ takes before God the Father). Christ is the beginning of life – the root and foundation of it; the redeemer and giver of our natural, spiritual and eternal life. He is the way of life or "living way". He so by declares there is no other way: "No one comes to the Father except through Me". This complements John 10:7 – he is the door and there is no other way into the Father, except by the Son: "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

7.    I am the true vine (repeated at 15:5)

The last phrase is most instructive in understanding the former: "for without Me you can do nothing". As a branch must be connected to the root to survive, so must one who requires eternal life be connect to Jesus Christ. The habit of a Christian is to have a close association with Christ and his people. This will preclude having a close association with the world. Although some may appear to be doing "something good", no one can do any spiritual good without being in Christ. The sustainability of this 'good' rests with abiding in Christ.

The seven symbols used by Christ

1.    The Word was at the beginning, the Word was with God, the Word is God (1:1), the Word became flesh (1:14)

Here the "Word" is the embodiment of Christ, the Son of God. Christ is declared incarnate, in that he became flesh, and John sets out in his gospel proof he is the Son of God (John 20:31).

The "Word" is much more than the Bible; it is the essence of God and as such the verse declares Christ as being divine in all things; nature, essence and substance very God. It declares the Word is God and then declares this Word became flesh. The only Word that became flesh was the Son of God, who is therefore God. As Colossians declares, Christ is not a lesser god, but the exact divinity of God – the exact expression of the Godhead.

2.    Light versus darkness; Christ was the light (1:4, 3:19 etc.)

Man and woman are naturally in the dark, as they are enemies of God due to the sin of Adam. These verses declare the person of the light prophesied in such places as Isaiah 9:2; "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined." Christ alone provides the light that calls us out of darkness into His marvellous [or most excellent] light (1 Peter 1:19). It is only by light we understand the sinfulness of sin and therefore the need for redemption and the requirement for rebirth – Nicodemus who came in the night could not see this (John 3). Light is also power – darkness is emptiness, consisting of nothing, as is Christ. Sin is practiced in darkness and the "way of the wicked is like darkness" (Proverbs 4:19). We also see Christ displayed as a judge in Revelation 1:16 who is likened to the power of the sun – too great for humans to gaze on or approach.

3.    The body is a temple (2:19)

Seven times in the New Testament saints are called the temple of God. In this verse, Christ refers to himself as the temple: "this temple" is the incarnate body of Christ. Thus the verse paraphrased says: if you destroy my body – this one – the one I am standing in, I will resurrect three days later. The use of the term "body" applies to the church: the wood and stone Temple of day was destroyed in AD 70 because it was no longer needed. Christ's death heralded in the new covenant, where Christ would be the head of the Church. Paul writes: "[Christ] is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18a). Note here the church is the elect of Christ, not some particular group of Christians.

4.    Christ is the fount of living water (4:10,11, 14 & 7:38)

"Living water" is idiom used by Jesus to reflect on everything that flows from the office of Christ to man. He offers redemption, peace, mercy, grace, justification and sanctification. Water was used symbolically of cleansing or to be clean; to be purified, to be refreshed and cooled. The phrase indicates the justification by the blood of Christ which cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7), along with grace that sanctifies with the blood of Christ from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 5:26, Hebrews 13:12).

5.    Christ has food/flesh to eat (4:32)

John highlights the symbolism of Christ being food or flesh to eat. Here in John 4:32 Jesus explains to his disciples, who were urging Jesus to eat, that he had food they did not know about: spiritual food. There is some connection of this to Jesus' declaration that the fields were ready for harvest (4:35) – again a figurative declaration meaning there was a great harvest of souls waiting to be provided with the good news of the gospel.  

6.    Christ is the living bread and the bread is his flesh (6:32, 51, 58).

In keeping with the symbolism of food, Christ is the living bread. In John 6:49 he exclaims to the Jews that their ancestors had eaten manna in the desert and they were all dead. If they were to eat of the bread of Jesus they would live forever; "He who eats this bread will live forever". But this would mean leaving their current wicked lives and becoming disciples of Christ. Jesus' disciples at this point could only comprehend that this meant physical bread. One needs to enter into the reality of the death of Christ to partake of the living bread, not just look upon these elements; we must participate in faith, which Jesus' disciple eventually did. The bread is spiritual food from God i.e. heaven.

7.    Life comes from the eating of the flesh of the Son of Man (6:53)

These verses from chapter 6 were given immediately before Passover. The flesh and blood were the means by which the first born was saved on the day of Exodus from Egypt. Noting these verses has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper, but rather in keeping with the theme of the symbolism that Christ has food to eat (4:32), the flesh and blood is symbolic of the death of our Lord upon the cross, which we need to participate. The eating and drinking is our participation by faith in the sacrifice on the cross and the benefits it brought. Eating is symbolic of following – but not at a distance – it is total emersion in the life of Christ, like a journalist embedded in a battle field with the soldiers, and therefore bears the horrors of war as the solders do.

Seven Miracles

1.    Turning water into wine at a wedding (2:1 – 12)

The entire miracle has many layers of meaning: why the 3rd day? See perhaps Hosea 6:1-3. Why was Mary rebuked? And why is the first miracle of Jesus performed at a marriage? The marriage is comparable to the final marriage of the Bridegroom, when a greater marriage will be made than at Cana. Overall the episode represents Christ in the millennium. R.C. Ryle points us to Ecclesiastes 10:19 "Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life".

2.    Healing the Nobleman's Son (4: 46 – 54)

If the nobleman represents Israel, then words the Lord addresses him apply to the all of nation Israel at this time. "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." And yet a little later we also see: "Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him." (John 12:37) This contrasts with those from Samaria, where there were no miracles, yet the Samaritans believed (see chapter 4).

3.    Healing of the lame man to walk (5:1 - 17) (the rest of the chapter needs to be read with this miracle to understand it).

J.N Darby points out that this "chapter [contrasts] the quickening [living giving] power of Christ, the power and the right of giving life to the dead, with the powerlessness of legal ordinances." We note this takes place at Passover, and in accordance to the Law, Jesus had travelled up to Jerusalem. The Jews therefore persecute Jesus, to which he answers for himself, and reproves them, and shows by the testimony of his Father, of his own works, and of the scriptures, who he is, but they don't believe him. "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me." (John 5:39) The key is repentance and belief: "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:46-47)

4.    Feeding the Thousands with Bread and Fish (6:1 – 13)

Two miracles appear in this chapter as does the first 'I am'. It speaks of the Son of Man becoming flesh, who gives life to the dead; the bread of life that gives nourishment to those in faith. It notably takes place at Passover (v4), which in itself sets out the death of the first-born, required for salvation, with the blood in full display on the door lintels. This miracle emphasises the all sufficiency of the Son of Man – 12 baskets were gathered; meaning there the Bread of Life is sufficient in all things.

5.    Jesus walks on water then calms the disciples during a storm (6:16 – 21)

Jesus is about to will leave those of his own, the remnant, and darkness will fall. There is no need to be afraid, he is well aware of our situation on this earth, however, dark it is. The full blessing of Christ returning is evident in this miracle.

6.    Blind eyes opened (9:1 – 41)

The miracle here is to teach the Jews the truth of sin, contrasted with the perfect works of Christ which becomes a testimony to him. We see grace in its fullness here – the Pharisees are the antithesis of grace. Overall we see Christ is his full embodiment. There is a contrast between what Christ can produce and man. Men produce evil, Christ produces something not before done – the man, who had never seen because he was blind from birth, sees immediately after washing in the pool. The work of Christ produces worship – the man recognises that the Son of Man is indeed God. This contrasts with the evil of the Pharisees, who are able to see, yet are blind – they reject the Messiah as the Son of God.

7.    Resurrection of Lazarus from death to life (11:1 – 45)

The power of resurrection is observed, and the Son of Man is called the Resurrection and the Life (v25). It is the axiom of all life – without resurrection there is only death (which in its fullness is total separation from God). Man is already dead and when grace is brought to bear though faith, life occurs (in old English, one is quickened). It is resurrection that comes first then life. The miracle calls upon the whole humanity of Christ – he suffers as he will short while later when he takes on himself the sin of the world in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Seven times John uses the word "manifest" [φανερόω] in relation to Jesus Christ

Note the Greek phaneroo (Strongs G5319) is translated 'showed', 'showing', 'revealed' or 'manifested' meaning to "render apparent".

1.    "I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed [made manifest KJV] to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water." John 1:31

This is John the Baptist speaking immediately prior to Jesus being revealed to the Jews as the Messiah. John pointed the Jews to their Messiah, and they rejected him.

2.    "This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him." John 2:11

The divine nature of Jesus is made manifest, and hence his glory.

3.    "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." John 3:21

Men are in darkness: it is when the light of Jesus Christ is shone on the works of man, the evil intent of his heart is revealed. That is the deeds of people are tested and shown to be right or wrong.

4.    "Jesus answered, neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." John 9:3

The disciples assumed that in the former state of this man, he had sinned, a philosophy rejected by Jesus, or as commonly held the Jews assumed that someone had sinned leading to this man's blindness, also rejected by Jesus. Death has reigned since Adam sinned (Romans 5:14), thus the point of this man's blindness was not related to sin, but rather, to the redemptive power of the Messiah, Jesus Christ [he was blind because Adam sinned, so have well all]. That is, the focus of this miracle was not the cause, but the outcome; what good was this man's blindness? It was the manifestation of the works of God, demonstrating His grace!

5.    "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word." John 17:6

John 17 perhaps contains the most salient words of Our Lord. It is a prayer of him to his father. Here "your name" is the tetragrammaton – YHWH (יהוה) – Jehovah, whom Christ has revealed to his disciples; not merely his disciples, but all those of the elect. He  gave his disciples the words that the Father has given him, resulting in them enjoying the full blessings of his relationship with the Father.

6.    "After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed [shewed KJV] Himself" John 21:1

Christ the crucified one reveals himself again to his disciples as testimony to his resurrection, in Galilee populated by both gentile and Jew. As JN Darby points out, in like manner we will also observe the work of Christ during the millennial reign, where Peter and John display service of the saints to Christ.

7.    "This is now the third time Jesus showed [shewed] Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead." John 21:14

A full testimony requires 2 – 3 witnesses or pieces of evidence. Here, Christ the third time proves his resurrection to his disciples (the 1st on the day he rose, the second eight days later and about a week later the 3rd time). Therefore, the disciples could at the mouth of two or three witnesses establish that Christ had indeed risen. Therefore John could write: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life". 1 John 1:1

The Three's in John's Gospel

Three times Jesus says "I lay" down my life

1.    "As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." John 10:15

2.    "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again." John 10:17

3.    "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father." John 10:18

Three times the Lord went into Galilee

1.    He finds Phillip (1:43), and he goes to a wedding (2:1)

2.    On a journey to Galilee he comes upon the Samaritan woman at the well (4:3–26) and once at Galilee he heals a man's son (4:52)

3.    He goes to Galilee to escape Judah, where they want to kill him (7:1,2)

The symbolism is evident when the mystery of the Church was revealed to Paul and the world. The mystery was the fact that the Church would be the Bride of Christ, consisting of the elect (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 1:3,4), imputed righteousness (Romans 4:5, 4:11) through faith (Romans 4:24), both Jew and Gentile (Romans 9:24, Galatians 3:28 etc.). Galilee is the border between Jew and Gentile; both are eligible to become Church through faith. Furthermore, the Gentile would be grafted into the Olive tree (Romans 11:17, 19, 23, 24) of which Christ was the nourishing root (compare Romans 11:17 with 15:12). The Jews would not lose their Jewishness (e.g. Paul boasts about his Jewishness, and furthermore, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ does not annul the fact a Jew is a son or daughter of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and the Gentiles would not be alienated from the commonwealth of God; by faith both would be saved into the body, the Church, which Christ is the head. Galilee had a gentile flavour and was despised because of it. Their dialect portrayed the fact they were Galilean, a fact that enabled the link between Peter and Jesus to be made (see Matthew 26). Isaiah refers to the area as "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Isaiah 9;1) a phrase repeated in Matthew 4:13. Indeed the Sea of Galilee was surround on one half by Jews and on the other half by Gentiles.

Three times into Judea; three Passovers are mentioned

1.    First: He goes up to Jerusalem for Passover (2:8) and in anger throws out from the temple those who had turned it in a place of thieves and robbers (2:14 – 17).

2.    Second: He declares he is the Bread of Life (6:1-71)

3.    Third: Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for Passover, knowing the time of his crucifixion had come (13:1).

Jesus not only kept the law, but he became the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Jesus stated who would rebuild the temple after three days if destroyed, speaking of his body

"So the Jews answered and said to Him, 'What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'" John 2:18-19

Here he speaks of his body, in that after death – where the soul is separated from the body, he would return, risen, three days later in power and might and glory.

Three times it is mentioned the Jews sought to kill him

1.    "For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath." John 5:16

2.    "Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God." John 5:18

3.    "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him." John 7:1

Peter denied Christ three times (John 13:33-38, 18:17-27)

[Jesus said] Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, 'Where I am going, you cannot come,' so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward." Peter said to Him, "Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake." Jesus answered him, "Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times." John 13:33-38

1.    Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, "You are not also one of this Man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." John 18:17 

2.    Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, "You are not also one of His disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not!" John 18:25 

3.    Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed. John 18:27 

Jesus asks Peter whether he loved him three times (John 21:15 – 17)

1. Jesus asks Peter "do you agapas me" -> Peter responds: "you know that I phileo you"

Jesus requests: "feed my lambs."

2. Jesus asks Peter "do you agapas me" -> Peter responds: "you know that I phileo you"

Jesus requests: "tend my sheep."

3. Jesus asks Peter "do you philies me" -> Peter responds: "you know that I phileo you"

Jesus requests: "feed my sheep."

The Three Musts of John

1.    "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" John 3:7

One cannot enter the kingdom of heaven without being born again.

2.    'And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." John 3:14

Jesus had to die and all who are saved look upon the pierced one (Zechariah 12:10, Revelation 1:7) for upon the cross he takes away the sin of this world (John 1:29).

3.    "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:24

Worship is not formality: the mode of worship of the Samaritans and Jews was neither in spirit nor in truth. It is the heart the Lord looks upon, and it is the heart that needs to be centred on Christ during worship.

Three ways in which people respond to Jesus (Chapter 6)

1.    "Unbelieving: But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him." John 6:64

2.    "Believing minority: But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'"  John 6:68-69

3.    "Profession apostate: Jesus answered them, 'Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?' He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve." John 6:70-71

The three stages of a believer coming to know Christ – Nicodemus

1.    Night – in total ignorance of the blessed grace of the Father: There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." John 3:1-2

2.    Twilight – Nicodemus rebukes the Jewish Sanhedrim who attacking Jesus and his followers, having seen the truth in Jesus. (John 7:50)

3.    Daylight – Nicodemus recognises Jesus as Christ and comes to the cross in daylight to take the body with others, as he loved and believed him. "And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds."  John 19:39

David L Simon (April 2015, Edited October 2016)
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