Read John 4:43-54
Jesus left Samaria and finished his journey back to Galilee where he came back into the town of Cana where he had turned water into wine. His popularity was apparently growing as many people recognized him from Jerusalem because of the signs and wonders he had done there. A man from Capernaum – a days journey at least – sought him out in Cana asking Jesus to come to his home to heal his dying son. Jesus then addresses the crowds that had come to him (the verbs translated “see” and “believe” in John 4:48 are second person plural, meaning he is addressing more than one person) saying they would not believe unless they are shown a sign. In contrast, Jesus speaks to the man who believes him merely on words and the man departs to find that his son was healed at the same hour that Jesus said he would be healed. This was the second sign that Jesus did in Galilee, the first being the changing of water into wine.
The demand for a sign was a common among Jews. They had demanded a sign from Jesus in John 2:18 when he cleansed the temple. Nicodemus recognized the signs Jesus was doing too (John 3:2). Signs were commonly perceived as a way to authenticate a messenger (John 7:31, John 10:24-38). John wrote about the signs of Jesus so that people might believe too (John 20:30-31). Right before John declares his intent on writing is the story of Thomas (John 20:26-29), often called Doubting Thomas. The fact that Jesus was among them even though the door was locked was not enough evidence to convince him that Jesus was alive. He had to have tangential evidence for Jesus. Jesus declares that those who do not see him are “blessed”.
While signs are not inherently bad, signs can be misleading. The Bible contains several warnings against false prophets who will be able to perform signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22, 2 Thessalonians 2:9). Likewise, there will be many who performed signs and wonders even in the name of Christ that will not enter heaven (Matthew 7:22-23). What is necessary to steer the course through false signs is sound doctrine accordingly because false prophets can lead one astray by dazzling one with signs. In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul charges young Timothy to preach the word because there will come a time when people will not endure sound doctrine for one reason or another. Earlier in the letter (2 Timothy 2:2) Paul says that Timothy should teach what he received from Paul to others men who will teach it to others. One chapter earlier (2 Timothy 1:5) Paul talks about the faith that his grandmother and mother possessed, and Paul was sure that Timothy possessed it. This procession of doctrine was not done in the context of signs, but in the context of faith being handed from one generation to the next. Also, Paul says that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:10-17). Jesus’ last command in Matthew before ascending was for the disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). There is a progression here to: Jesus made disciples, who are commanded to make disciples. There is even some of this going on in the early parts of John too with the early disciples hearing and bring others to Jesus (John 1:35-50) and the Samaritan woman hearing and then going to tell her village (John 4:28-42).
Signs are by no means dead and God still uses signs to draw people to himself. But in any case, signs should always be in conjunction with a message of salvation that is from Jesus, as this is sound doctrine. The plan from scripture for the propagation of the gospel is for the faithful to train up others to be faithful who will do the same. The progression has spanned 2 millennia and reaches Christians today. Part of the Great Commission is like what Paul was doing to Timothy – teaching others to obey the things Jesus commanded. Rather than looking for signs and wonders, Christians should be searching out words of Christ that teach sound doctrine and contain the commands of Christ and trusting in these words rather than some sign.
Lord, help me to trust and obey your words because your words is truth!