Story of the New Testament - Lesson 3

By Curt Niccum

Jesus in John: The Giver of Life

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student can list the seven signs in John and note that they build upon each other, climaxing with the seventh sign.
  2. The student can state the reason John wrote his Gospel (John 20:31).
  3. The student can identify how John associates Jesus with the Creator and the act of creation.


  1. Each student will need to have a complete Bible.
  2. You may want to use a handout (provided below). The handout leaves room for notes. You may want to have the students take notes on one or more of the three topics given for each sign in the lesson plan: 1) pointers to the seventh sign, 2) Jesus' superiority over the old, and 3) the theme of life. Because of time constraints, however, it is suggested students take notes only for one of these three areas, probably one of the latter two. In teaching the class, you also may want to highlight only one of these three themes. In order to make teaching and note taking easier, important points have been marked with an asterisk.


John's Gospel, more than any of the others, seeks to reveal how Jesus provides eternal life. The Jews had many different ideas about the Messiah, but none expected him to impart life everlasting. For John, Jesus is the Messiah, but even more than that, he is the agent of creation. As Creator, he now offers new life that death cannot touch.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (10-15 minutes)

  1. Organizational matters (taking roll, etc.)
  2. Evaluation of previous lesson: Remind the students about the Italian Renaissance painting (or whatever image was used) last week and how the painter interpreted the scene from his own vantage point. Have the students then recount examples they saw the previous week of people creating Jesus in their own image.
  3. Prayer and/or song: The song "Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone" would be appropriate to the theme. Prayer topics could include thanksgiving for the sending of Jesus and appreciation for eternal life.
  4. Read John 1:1-5 and ask the students which Old Testament passage John imitates. Have the students wrestle with why John does this. What message is he trying to convey? Ultimately Jesus' role in creation will be the answer, but addressing some of the related issues like creation language (1:3), including life (1:4) and light (1:5), and the power of God's word at creation would be helpful (1:1). (You may want the students to read Genesis 1:1-27 and have them look for parallels.)

Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)

  1. John writes in order to assure his readers that they have been saved and that they have eternal life. "Indeed Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of the 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 by believing you might have life in his name" (20:30-31).
  2. At stake is how Jesus can grant life. John begins his gospel associating Jesus with creation (1:1-5). Just as God created physical life and light through Jesus in the very beginning, God now creates spiritual life and light. All that was shadow before, Jesus now makes into reality and truth. What Jesus now creates supercedes the previous order. This applies foremost to life, but also to the previous religious system (the old covenant) for "the Law was given through Moses but grace and truth through Jesus Christ" (1:17). Jesus can grant eternal life because he is God's agent of creation.
  3. Just as Jesus created physical life in Genesis 1, the fourth gospel records how Jesus created spiritual life. Similar to the creation of physical life in seven days, the creation of spiritual life is revealed in seven signs. Just as each of the days of creation builds up to the seventh, each of the first six signs in John builds toward the last and greatest sign, Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. Also each sign has at least one accompanying narrative that helps explain the importance of the sign as it points to life created in Christ. All together, the signs and the narratives prove that Jesus alone is the Christ. If you desire the students to take notes, the handouts should be distributed at this point. The following portion of the lesson plan is unusually full. You have several options. Depending upon the time allotted for class, the best solution is probably to take one theme all the way through the lesson. Since the focus of the lesson is on Jesus as the creator of spiritual life, the theme of life is recommended. Any of the other themes, though, could be stressed instead. Under this scenario, you would have students make notes only on the one theme being studied. Another option is to take two themes or even all three, but to discuss them briefly. You would then choose one or two points from each theme for each sign and have the students note these on their handouts. To make this process easier, important points have been marked with an asterisk.
    1. The first sign - water to wine (John 2:1-11). Jesus is invited to a wedding banquet. During the celebration the wine for the party runs out, a serious insult to the guests and a matter of serious shame to the groom and his family. At the prompting of his mother, Jesus aids the family in their need by taking jars filled with water for religious purification and turning the water into wine.
      1. Pointing to the seventh sign: Note the mention of "the third day" (when no other days have been mentioned, 2:1), the issue of Jesus' "hour" or "time" (2:4), the presence of Jesus' mother (she only appears again at the cross, 19:26), and *"revealing his glory" (2:11). In the following narrative Jesus tells the authorities the sign of his authority will be his death, burial, and resurrection (2:18-19).
      2. Jesus supercedes the previous order: Note that John specifically mentions the jars held water for purification rites. *Jesus' purification replaces the old with something much better. In the following narrative Jesus cleanses the temple and offers himself as the new temple. Jesus also tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be lifted up (3:14).
      3. Jesus is the source of life: Nicodemus, a representative of the old order, approaches Jesus. Jesus informs him of the new, better form of purification. *"Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (3:5). The language of rebirth also points toward creation. Humanity is not truly created in the image of God unless it shares the essence of God (His Spirit). Thus, to belong to the heavenly sphere of existence one must be born according to the heavenly sphere, i.e., born "again" or "from above" (3:3-12). This is all possible only through faith in Christ (3:14-21).
    2. The second sign - the healing of the official's son (John 4:46-54). A royal official implores Jesus to heal his dying son. Jesus merely states that his son loves, and the official trusts Jesus' word. He returns home to find his son healthy as of the seventh hour, the exact time Jesus said, "Your son will live."
    3. The third sign - the healing of the lame man by the pool (John 5:1-17). A man, lame for thirty-eight years, sits near a pool believed to have healing powers. To that point, he had been unsuccessful in seeking healing. Jesus commands him to get up and take his mat, and he is instantly healed. Carrying his cot on the Sabbath, however, gets him and Jesus in trouble with the religious authorities. The second and third signs probably go together. Each deals with the creative power of Jesus' word (as with God's in Genesis 1). (Jesus merely speaks and the son is healed that instant. The healing of the lame man is similar, but tied even more closely to creation because of the "sabbath." The discourses on either side of the miracle accounts focus on the saving power of Jesus' word, 4:42 and 5:24.) This is connected to the creative power of God's word in the discussion following the healing of the lame man (5:16 and 21). Also, the dialogue with the woman at the well speaks of the water that gives true life (4:13-14). This gets visibly displayed in the third sign.
      1. Pointing to the seventh sign: In Jesus' response to the Jewish leaders after the healing of the lame man, *He claims that God has given him the authority to give life, even life to the dead (5:20-29).
      2. Jesus supercedes the previous order: Jesus provides water more beneficial than that of the patriarchs. *Jacob's well will quench thirst for a time, but Jesus is the source of eternal life (4:13). This idea becomes clear with Jesus healing the lame man, something that the water of the pool in Jerusalem did not do.
      3. Jesus is the source of life: Just as God's word created life, so also does Jesus' word. The miracles support this (the son lies at the brink of death and the man has been lame for a very long time). The Samaritans upon hearing his word recognize him as the savior of the world (4:42). *Those who hear Jesus' word will rise to everlasting life (5:24-26).
    4. The fourth sign: Feeding the Five Thousand and Walking on the Water (John 6:1-25). Large crowds, impressed by his healing, come to Jesus. Jesus, testing his disciples, asks how they are to feed so many people. Andrew finds a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus has the people sit down. He blesses the bread and begins distributing the food. All 5,000 are filled. The disciples then collect twelve baskets full of left over pieces of bread. The similarities to Moses and the manna in the wilderness do not go unnoticed by the crowd, and they decide they want to make him king.; Jesus, instead, retreats by himself. Later, he walks on water, another Moses-like miracle, to catch up with his disciples whom he had sent away on a boat earlier. (Both the feeding and the walking on the water are considered to be one sign since there is no break in the narrative, "sign" is not used to indicate the walking on water as separate [see 6:14 and 30-31], and they together point to Jesus as better than Moses.)
      1. Pointing to the seventh sign: The following discourse speaks of eating Christ's flesh and drinking his blood (6:53-58), the flesh that he will "give for the life of the world" (6:51). *Jesus also states three times that he will be the one who offers resurrection at the last day (6:39, 40, and 54).
      2. Jesus supercedes the previous order: *Jesus provides the true bread from heaven that provides eternal life to the world (6:32-35 and 47-54). This contrasts sharply with the bread of Moses that offered life temporarily and only for Jews (6:49).
      3. Jesus is the source of life: *Jesus' "flesh and blood" provide true life (6:53-54). "Flesh and blood" refers to partaking of his words (6:63),
    5. The fifth sign - the healing of the blind man (John 9:1-34). A man blind from birth is healed by Jesus when Jesus applies a mix of saliva and dirt to his eyes and tells him to wash in the Siloam pool. The following investigation by religious leaders makes it clear that the blind man can see and the religious leaders are truly blind. (The healing of the blind was considered to be one of the miracles that would clearly point to the Messiah. It was prophesied in the Old Testament, but no account of one receiving sight occurs in the Old Testament. Therefore, some Jews expected this to be accomplished by the true Messiah, the one sent by God to fulfill prophecy.)
      1. Pointing to the seventh sign: The Jews are truly blind. They will look for Jesus but not find him (7:34 and 8:21). *While Jesus is in the world, he is the light of the world (9:5). The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (10:11 and 15-18).
      2. Jesus supercedes the previous order: Jesus' statements about "streams of living water" (7:37-38) and being the "light of the world" (8:12) probably represent Jesus' spiritualizing of the rituals associated with the festival of Tabernacles. With the healing of the blind man, true light is gained with the washing of water only through Jesus (9:7). Again the water Jesus provides proves effective. It gives life and light. In the telling of the miracle the name of the pool is given (Siloam="sent") and almost certainly points to Jesus as the one "sent" from the Father. *Thus Jesus is the true teacher of Israel because he is the source of light. The other leaders are blind (9:35-41). The other leaders are thieves or hired help (10:7-13).
      3. Jesus is the source of life: *Life and light are connected with this miracle just as at the beginning of the gospel. The giving of sight (or "light") to the blind, therefore, foreshadows the giving of "life" to the dead. In the surrounding dialogues Jesus' words again provide life (8:51; 10:3 and 27-28).
    6. The sixth sign - the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). Although Jesus is informed of Lazarus' failing health, Jesus delays responding in order to reveal God's glory. Finally arriving, Lazarus' sisters have trouble dealing with the tension between their future hope in Jesus' teachings about resurrection and life and their present reality in Jesus himself. Going to the tomb, Jesus calls for Lazarus who comes out of the tomb still wrapped in his burial shroud.
      1. Pointing to the seventh sign: *The raising of Lazarus proves that Jesus is the resurrection and life (11:25-26). Lazarus' resuscitation reveals the glory of God (11:4 and 40) in preparation for Jesus' own act of glorification (12:23-33). The sister of Lazarus anoints Jesus with oil in preparation for his burial (12:7).
      2. Jesus supercedes the previous order: Before, the Jews held resurrection to be a future hope (11:24), but Jesus makes it a present reality (11:25-26). *The Jewish leaders gather together to conspire against Jesus and cannot help but prophesy about his ability to save the nation while they remain ineffective (11:48-53). Jesus also grants salvation beyond the Jewish nation. He saves the world (12:20-26).
      3. Jesus is the source of life: *This miracle reveals that Jesus offers the gift of life. He is also the source of light (12:35-36).
    7. The seventh sign - Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. (This is the greatest of the signs and receives the most attention in the book, chapters 13-20.)
      1. Pointing to the seventh sign: The Gospel of John now centers on Jesus' words, the command of God (12:47-50). Since Jesus' word imparts life, must be believed, and must be kept, the content of his message finds expression in the account of the hours preceding his death. There is now a dramatic shift away from the topic of life to that of love. *Jesus gives eternal life to those who believe, and those who believe are characterized by love (13:34-35).
      2. Jesus supercedes the previous order: Jesus speaks as the one who gives life (17:1-5). *He is the way, the truth, and the life (14:6). After Jesus' departure he will send the Holy Spirit that will live within the believer (14:16-18). Whereas the world cannot see Jesus, his believers will and therefore will live (14:19).
      3. Jesus is the source of life: *Jesus' resurrection proves that he has life in himself and that he can lay down his life for others and take it back again.
  4. It is Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection that vindicate his claims to be the creator of true life. "When you have lifted me up, then you will know who I am." This calls for the greatest confession of faith, "My Lord and my God" (20:28). That confession is greatest, however, when those who have not seen believe in "the light of the world" (20:29). As resurrected Lord Jesus offers everlasting life to everyone who believes in him and keeps his word (20:30-31).

Applications: (about 10 minutes)

  1. Help the students memorize the seven signs and John 20:30-31 (see handout).
  2. Discuss why John ties Jesus to the Book of Genesis and relies on only seven signs. (Jesus is pre-existent and creator.)
  3. Discuss ways Jesus' disciples keep Jesus' word. (If students seem blank, share with them or have them read some of the following passages.)
    1. John 3:5 (baptism)
    2. John 13:14-17 (service)
    3. John 15:12-13 (love)
    4. John 17:11 and 20 (unity)

Assignment: (about 1 minute)

Assign Matthew 17:1-17 to be read the following week. Ask the students to come to class next week with an answer to this question: Which Old Testament character comes closest to having the same experiences as Jesus?

Evaluation: (next class meeting)

Since love marks those who have been given life by Jesus, have the students look for acts of love demonstrated by Jesus' disciples throughout the next week. Tell them to be prepared to share at the next class meeting some of the examples of true discipleship that they observed. You might also tell them you expect them to have the seven signs and John 20:30-31 still memorized the following week.

Further Resources:

The following may be useful in further study of John's message: C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1953). R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).

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