Notes on John (Pt. 8): Believers, Unbelievers, and Temporary Believers

[Notes on John (Pt. 7)]

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

– 1 Corinthians 2:14

“What Sign Do You Show Us?”

John 2 presents us with three sign-instances:

  1. Turning water into wine [vv. 1- 12]
  2. Resurrection [vv 13-22]
  3. Undefined “Signs” [vv. 23-25][1]

In each sign-instance, we are presented with the reactions of the people who have witnessed the signs performed. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, those disciples who had already believed the Word preached to them, witnessed the glory of Christ and continued believing on Him; after His resurrection, the disciples believed the Word which He had spoken to them concerning His resurrection; and those who had watched Him performed various “signs” during the time of the Passover feast believed in Him. Here we see both believers (i.e. the disciples) and temporary believers (i.e. those who had a shallow profession of faith in Christ that was no faith at all but, it would seem, an attachment to Christ for the sake of gaining from His ministry (in some strictly material and not at all spiritual sense).[2]

The unbelievers are not explicitly shown to be so by John, but by virtue of their blindness as to the work and person of Christ they are clearly shown to be unbelievers. We see this as John juxtaposes the responses of the Lord’s disciples and those who sold sheep and doves, etc when He cleansed the Temple. We read:

13The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”

– John 2:13-18

When the Lord cleansed the Temple, it is the disciples – i.e. those who had believed John the Baptist’s testimony[3] and who had witnessed the revealed glory of the Lord Jesus in Cana of Galilee – who “remembered that it was written,”[4] while the unbelievers demanded of Him: “What sign do You show us for doing these things?”

Between those who had believed and those who did not believe there stood this vast difference: Those who believed could truly see that Jesus is the Christ, needing no sign to validate His actions, for His actions were themselves the fulfillment of Scripture; whereas the unregenerate men could not see, did not remember the testimony of the Scriptures with regard to the Person of the Messiah, and demanded a sign of the Son of God!

The contrast that John draws for us is very sharp. Those who believed in Christ saw Christ as the fulfillment of the Scriptures and remembered the Scriptures; those who did not believe in Christ could not see that Christ was in their very plain sight fulfilling the Scriptures and, ironically, demanded a sign that would validate His actions; and, those who were merely temporary believers did not see Christ as the fulfillment of the Scriptures, but as a means to an end, a way of getting what they wanted, a means to material prosperity.


[Notes on John (Pt. 9)]

[1] There are many who believe that this reference to the “signs” which the Lord performed include the Temple cleansing.

[2] We see this occur again in John 6:14-15 & 22-26, which more shows this truth in greater detail as the crowd dwindles down from a large number of people to only eleven disciples after the Lord rebukes the crowd for their purely carnal interest in Him. Temporary conversion is given the following definition by Louis Berkhof:

“The Bible also refers to conversions of individuals that represent no change of the heart, and are therefore of only passing significance. In the parable of the sower Jesus speaks of such as hear the word and at once receive it with joy, but have no root in themselves, and therefore endure but for a while. When tribulations and trials and persecutions come, they are speedily offended and fall away….”

-Systematic Theology (p. 483, Eerdmans 1996)

[3] John 1:35-37

[4] This remembrance is not a later remembrance of what Scripture had prophesied of Christ, as is the case with the Lord’s words concerning the destruction of “this Temple” (which is a later event, as John notes in v. 22), but a present remembrance contemporaneous/simultaneous to the act of cleansing the Temple.


2 thoughts on “Notes on John (Pt. 8): Believers, Unbelievers, and Temporary Believers

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