How should we interpret “not because you saw signs” (οὐχ ὅτι εἴδετε σημεῖα) in John 6:26?

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (John 6:26, ESV)

Ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ζητεῖτέ με οὐχ ὅτι εἴδετε σημεῖα, ἀλλʼ ὅτι ἐφάγετε ἐκ τῶν ἄρτων καὶ ἐχορτάσθητε. (John 6:26, NA27)

The rest of the verse is clear about people wanting Jesus to keep feeding them physical food. Is Jesus saying he communicated a message in each sign? Jesus’ Bread of Life discourses are clearly associated with feeding the five thousand. Before healing the man born blind in John 9, Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5, ESV) Before raising Lazarus, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live …” (John 11:25, ESV) But, the other four of the seven signs before the crucifixion and resurrection don’t have clear cut connections. The location where the bind man was healed, Bethesda (בֵּית חַסְדָּא, same in Peshitta) meaning house of mercy, might be making a connection. Is John expecting us to make connections about who Jesus is with these seven signs?

1 Answer 1


There is probably not definitive, unambiguous answer to this question - there is probably more than one correct answer. Please take this as a possible suggestion to a very complex situation.

The Gospel of John is far more profound that its simple language suggests. The other synoptic Gospels read like history but John's Gospel is clearly theology and thus, John in ancient inscriptions is often called, "John the Theologian".

One way to try to understand John's Gospel is to recognise its several patterns that include (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • The seven "signs" (miracles)
  • The seven predicated "I am" claims (Bread of Life, Light of the world, Door to the sheep, Good shepherd, Resurrection and life, Way truth & life, Vine)
  • The seven unpredicated "I am" claims
  • The constant allusions to the daily and annual temple rituals as applied to Jesus

Now to the specifics of the question about how to interpret the seven signs - here is a series of suggestions. I am unsure about some of the significance of these marked (?)

  1. Turning water into wine. John 2:1-11. Jesus objected to His mother on the basis that his time had not yet come. However, he then performed the miracle, very discretely, perhaps signalling that his ministry had begun. (?)
  2. Healing the Official's son. John 4:43-54. This was immediately following the declaration to the woman at the well that Jesus was Messiah where Jesus used the first of the unpredicated "I Am" claims as well. The healing was done remotely (ie, not in person) so demonstrated that Jesus' ability was universal. (?)
  3. Healing at the Pool of Bethesda. John 5:1-47. This appears to make a clear distinction between the superstition of the locals about the healing of the waters and the true source of the water of life (John 4:13, 14, Rev 22:1). Judging from the subsequent furore that erupted with the Jews over this healing, it also appears to be aimed at trying to convince the Jewish leadership of the claims of Jesus and his ministry about the true nature of the judgement and resurrection. Thus, Jesus effectively links this miracle to he teaching (later) that He is the resurrection and life. This appears to be part of the early part of John (after the Lamb of God (1:29) associated with water linked to the laver in the temple.)
  4. Feeding of the 5000. John 6:1-15. This miracle appears to have several functions. John is the only evangelist not to have a record of the first communion - but many of noticed that this incident has all of the symbols of communion were present. However, I suspect that this sign had much greater significance. This might include Jesus claim to be the "bread of life", and, in the midst of the chapter on the bread of life, Jesus makes on e of his unpredicated "I Am" claims (John 6:20) where he says, "I Am, be not afraid", and this simple statement reassured the disciples. Thus, Jesus was trying to get people's mind off the temporal and onto the eternal. Note that the word used in the phrase "bread of life" was "zoe" not "bios". Zoe was the usual word for eternal life (1 John 5:11, 12). Jesus appeared frustrated that people only saw the miracle bread and not the significance of the divinity that produced the miracle and its salvific value as associated with the manna of the OT (v26) and the shew bread in the temple.
  5. Walks on water. John 6:16-24. This miracle is closely associated with the above.
  6. Heals the Blind Man. John 9 & 10. This is closely associated with Jesus claim to be the light of the world and the seven branched lampstand in the temple.
  7. Resurrect Lazarus. John 11:1-57. Again, Jesus specifically tells us that he is the resurrection and the life.

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