In the movie, The Magnificent Seven, a selection of otherwise unrelated mercenaries prove to be more effective as a group when defending a village against a gang of thieves. These seven people were able to accomplish far more by working together than they would have as individuals. The movie had a promotional tagline, “Justice has a number.” And that number was seven!
In a similar way John, Jesus’ disciple and author of the gospel, organized information into groups of seven. He knew that information grouped into categories accomplishes more working together than the same information randomly presented on its own. For instance, readers may notice that, in his gospel, John includes seven miracles of Jesus. He organizes these into a related group by referring to each of them as “signs” or “attesting miracles”.
- John 2:1-11 – turning water to wine
- John 4:46-54 – healing of a royal official’s son
- John 5:1-15 – healing at the pool of Bethesda
- John 6:5-14 – feeding of the 5,000
- John 6:16-24 – walking on water
- John 9:1-7 – healing of a blind man
- John 11:1-45 – resuscitation of Lazarus from the dead
These are not the only miracles Jesus performed during his ministry. We know from the other gospels that there were many other miracles John doesn’t mention. John mentions only seven… and six of them are unique to his gospel. His decision to cap the miracles at seven is calculated.
Just how calculated is it? It turns out that John uses groupings of seven as a literary tool throughout his writings. It’s not by chance that he does this. It is a strategic technique used to get the reader’s attention, and make the content more memorable.
So, what are some other examples? There are seven times in his gospel that John records Jesus describing Himself with, “I am the…” statements.
- John 6:35 – I am the bread of life.
- John 8:12 – I am the light of the world.
- John 10:7 – I am the door of the sheep.
- John 10:11 – I am the good shepherd.
- John 14:6 – I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
- John 15:1 – I am the true vine.
Does John do this anywhere else? Yes, he organized the entire book of Revelation around groups of seven as well. Consider the following: after the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3), John introduces a scroll with seven seals (Revelation 5-8). Upon breaking the seals there are a series of seven trumpets sounded (Revelation 8-9), then seven bowls of wrath poured out by seven angels (Revelation 15-16). This is just the short list. The number “seven” occurs more times in the book of Revelation than all the other books in the New Testament combined.
John certainly likes his sevens, and it’s important as a reader to recognize the intentionality of this pattern and use that information to look for unique relationships within his groupings. When you see them, and study them, the “sevens” truly become a “magnificent” part of John’s gospel message!
John’s use of “sevens” is just one of the topics I cover in The John Study introduction video lesson. You can watch the video below… or preview other videos (and download chapter lessons) from The John Study by visiting: THE JOHN STUDY VIDEOS page.
Or listen to the Rethinking Scripture Podcast: Episode 2 – Introduction to the Gospel of John