By Thomas C. Hickey
In the celebrated introduction to his Florida College Bible course on the “Book of Acts,” the beloved and lamented Edgar Srygley used to say: “This is not a study of all of the acts of all of the apostles, not a study of all of the acts of some of the apostles, not a study of some of the acts of all of the apostles, but a study of some of the acts of some of the apostles.”
In a similar way, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as biographers of the life of Christ do not attempt to record all the details of his life. With great economy of words these men, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Pet. 1:21) to do so, gave us brief insights into his life which are calculated to produce faith in our hearts (John 20:30-31).
The twofold purpose of this article is to discuss the character of Jesus, and the import of his miracles.
What kind of man was Jesus? Jesus was the kind of man who could astonish the doctors and lawyers of the temple while having only attained the age of twelve years (Luke 2:46-47). The most learned men of Israel resided in the environs of Jerusalem; they regarded the people of the northern province of Galilee as being ignorant country bumpkins (John 7:15; Acts 2:7; 4:13). By contrast to his evident scholarly credentials, Jesus still had wide appeal to the multitudes of common people who were equally astonished at his teaching (Matt. 7:28-29), and little children sought him out (Matt. 18:1-6; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48). Jesus was also able to command and retain the respect of the fishermen of Galilee from whose number several of the apostles were chosen (John 1:35ff).
He was the kind of man who could subdue the strong-willed John, the baptizer, with the utterance of a simple logical request (Matt. 3:13-15).
His piety or devotion to God was such that he could go into the wilderness of Judea and fast for forty days and nights and still have the strength of character and will power to withstand the temptations of the devil including the temptation to misuse his miraculous powers to satisfy personal physical hunger (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Or, he could teach the multitudes all day long until he was bone weary, then climb into the mountains of Galilee alone and pray to God almost all of the night (Matt. 14:22-23).
What kind of man was Jesus? He was certainly not the Mr. Milquetoast character by which some worldling’s conceive of Christians. Consider this: the area of Galilee has a climate somewhat like central and northern Florida. It is hot and, on the Mediterranean side of the central highlands, it can be humid. Jerusalem’s climate may be comparable to that of Prescott, Arizona. The Dead Sea area has a climate somewhat like that of Death Valley near Hell, California. The accepted mode of travel in Israel was by “sandal power.” Except for the fertile plains of Galilee, much of Israel is arid and the land is steep and craggy, littered everywhere by stones and boulders. (When the devil tempted Jesus to make bread from stones, there was no shortage of raw material [Matt. 4:3]). The central province of Samaria consists largely of sand, sand dunes, and mountains of sand. From time to time Jesus traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, a trip of about 90 miles one way (John 2:13; 4:45, 47; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1, 13; 8:1; 10:40; 11:7, 54. The account of Jesus’ last trip to Judea covering the last week of his earthly life before the crucifixion commences about John 12:1. Jesus’ travels from Galilee down to Jerusalem, or over to Samaria, or up to Caesarea Philippi, or to Cana, or the mount of transfiguration, or down to the Jordan beyond Jericho where John baptized all these were done on foot. No, Jesus was not a milquetoast! I remember one hot September day when these tired bones made the climb from the pool of Siloam up to the temple mount, a distance of about a quarter mile. I have great respect for the stamina of the people of Bible times who traveled everywhere on foot.
What kind of man was Jesus? He was a man of such self-assurance and self-knowledge as the Son of God that he could peacefully sleep through a rough tempest on the sea of Galilee while all around him were wringing their hands in fear and dread (Matt. 8:23-27).
Jesus had the strength of character to do nothing while Lazarus, a close personal friend, grew sick and died in order to establish an important principle (John 11:1-13). On the other hand, Jesus could be, and was, deeply moved to the point of groaning and weeping (John 11:33-35) when he saw the grief of Lazarus’ sisters and friends.
He could discuss the most sublime principles in the simplest of terms (Matt. 13).
He could transcend racial, ethnic, and religious differences (John 4:9; Mk. 7:24-30; Luke 7:1-10).
He could be gentle with children (Mk. 10:13-16), yet stern with adults (Matt. 21:12-13).
He could place the kingdom of God above personal relationships (Mk. 3:31-35), yet he could be tender and gentle toward an aging mother whose tired eyes gazed upon his dying body as he hung upon the cross (John 19:25-27).
He had a large following of women (Luke 8:2-3; Matt. 27:55), yet he was not an attractive man (Isa. 53:2). His drawing power was character, not charisma. Even strong men swore allegiance to him (Matt. 26:33, 35).
He could admire the lilies of the field for their beauty (Matt. 6:28), yet curse a barren fig tree for its impotence (Matt. 21:19-21).
With “strong crying and tears,” he could beg his father to let him avoid the death on the cross (Heb. 5:7), yet he could stalwartly proclaim, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
He could stand by silently while his enemies plotted his death (John 19:8-10), then pray for their forgiveness as he hung dying on the cross (Luke 23:34).
He could endure the railing of the malefactors who were crucified with him, then promise eternal life to the one who expressed remorse and penitence (Luke 23:39-43).
What kind of man was Jesus of Nazareth? He was one who could leave the glories of heaven (Phil. 2:5-11; John 3:16; Luke 19:10) and suffer personal deprivation (Matt. 8:20) in the prospect of eternal glory (John 17:5) that we, through his suffering, might have life everlasting.
What do the miracles of Jesus prove? First we ought to determine what a miracle is. Many people use the word “miracle” loosely to describe almost anything that they don’t understand. For example, childbirth is not a miracle although it is truly an amazing event which defies comprehension by even a rational mind. Nor is childbirth even under the most difficult circumstances a miracle. There have been exceptions to this, however. The birth of Jesus was a miracle because it involved parthenogenesis (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25), or the conception of a virgin. Also, other biblical examples of miracles in connection with human birth would include that of Isaac whose parents, Abraham and Sarah, had both passed the age of childbearing (Gen. 11:30; 25:21; Heb. 11:12).
One of the best working definitions of a miracle that I have seen was given by Harry Rimmer who declared, in essence, that a miracle was an orderly event which occurred on a plain of law higher than that which governed the daily operations of the universe. To illustrate, fish breathe underwater through gills, and birds of the heavens routinely fly, but it would require a suspension or an intervention of the laws of nature for men to do this. Such an intervention would not be difficult for God, but it is impossible for men. R.C. Trench commented that “the miracle is not greater manifestation of God’s power than those ordinary and ever-repeated processes; but it is a different manifestation” (Notes, page 8).’
The Bible uses the terms signs, wonders and miracles to describe these events. Peter taught that God approved Christ among men by working signs, wonders and miracles through him (Acts 2:22). Later, the Hebrew writer taught that God confirmed the preaching of the apostles through signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost (Hebrews 2:4). Since workers of miracles could suspend laws of nature and perform deeds which would have been otherwise impossible, the divine stamp of approval was placed upon their works and words.
The term “sign” translates semion (Greek), and means “sign, mark ,or token.” Thayer comments that it is used of “miracles and wonders by which God authenticates the men sent by him, or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God’s.”2
The word “wonder” translates teras (Greek), and means “a prodigy, portent; miracle performed by any one; in the N.T. it is found only in the plural and joined with semeia” (Thayer).
The term “miracle” (or, power) translates dunamis (Greek), and means “strength, ability, power.” Thayer comments, “universally inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth . . . specifically, the power of performing miracles.”
The apostle John rarely uses any of these terms, choosing instead to use the term works to describe the miracles of Jesus.
Nicodemus, an apparent member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, came quietly to Jesus under cover of darkness and addressed him as “Rabbi,” saying, “We know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, unless God be with him” (John 3:2). To Nicodemus, the miracles of Jesus proved that God was working through him. We have already cited Peter’s statement that Jesus was “a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in your midst . . .” (Acts 2:22).
Near the end of the first century John wrote his gospel, or biography of the life of Christ. From all appearances he chose to write more for the Gentile audience. His approach was markedly different from that used by the synoptic authors; he limited the factual details, and emphasized relationships, thoughts, and feelings of Jesus. Excluding essential references to the birth and resurrection of Jesus, John basically made his case on seven miracles of Jesus which, he concluded, were sufficient evidence to invoke faith in the reader.
1. At the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). Tenney remarked that this demonstrated that Jesus was master over quality3 (because Jesus’ wine was better than the other which had already been drunk, John 2:10). Homer Hailey, who drew heavily from Tenney’s work on this point, added that this demonstrated that Jesus was “Lord of creation” and that he was “master of matter” (That You May Believe, page 110).4 The same Jesus who could speak the worlds into existence was unchallenged by the simple task of turning water into wine (Psa. 33:6-9; John 1:3, 10; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:10-12).
2. The healing of the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54) took place with Jesus at Cana and the son at Capernaum demonstrating that Jesus was master over space or distance.
3. Healing the man who had been lame for thirty-eight years (John 5:1-9) showed that he was master over time. Some modern medical doctor might be heard to say, “If we had only caught this sooner, we could have done some-thing . . .” but this proved no impediment for Jesus.
4. Feeding five thousand people by miraculously multi-plying one little boy’s lunch (John 6:1-14) certainly demonstrated that Jesus was master over quantity. Again remembering Trench’s comment (op. cit.), this was not a greater miracle than takes place every day with the multi-plying of the seed sown millions of times with various plants, but it was a different kind of manifestation of power, and it did specifically identify Jesus as having the endorsement of heaven.
5. Jesus’ walking on the sea (John 6:16-21) certainly demonstrated his power over nature. He defied the law of gravity, calmed the winds and the tempest and miraculously and instantaneously transported the vessel and its occupants a mile or two across the northern end of the sea of Galilee.
6. When Jesus gave sight to a man who had been blind from birth some forty years (John 9:1-12), he demonstrated his mastery over light and the power of darkness. He could conquer adversity and turn misfortune into blessing. Of course, believers are not surprised by this since we already know that he could bring light into the world with the simple utterance, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3)
7. The raising of his good friend Lazarus (John 11:39-44) showed that Jesus was master over life and death. If he could raise this man, why not others as he promised?
Although there were some thirty-five or thirty-six miracles performed by Jesus, John limited his argument to the seven cases cited, and concluded, “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).
John uses various forms of the word “believe” about ninety-eight times in a book whose clear purpose is to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. If John felt that his case was made by the citation of only seven of the miracles, how well, then, is our case proven by citing more than five times that number of miracles in all the gospels to prove Jesus’ identity?
‘ Trench, R. C. (1878). Notes On the Miracles. Philadelphia: William Syckelmoore.
2 Thayer, Joseph Henry (1901). Grimm’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (4th Ed.). Edinburgh: T & T Clark.
3 Tenney, Merrill C. (1951). John: The Gospel of Belief Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Tenney, Merrill C. (1961). New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Hailey, Homer. (1973). That You May Believe: Studies in the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Guardian of Truth XL: 1 p. 8-10
January 4, 1996