Köstenberger, Andreas J. Signs of the Messiah. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2021. 188 pp. Hb; $20.99 Link to Lexham Press
Andreas J. Köstenberger has written extensively on John’s gospel, including an exegetical commentary (BENTC, Baker Academic 2004, second edition forthcoming), a shorter commentary (ZIBBC, Zondervan 2007), a theology (Zondervan, 2009), the notes on John in the ESV Study Bible, and a short introduction (Baker, 2013). This small volume from Lexham distills his work on John into a readable introduction for laypeople and pastors reading through the book of John. He avoids technical academic discussions. As Köstenberger suggests in his preface, the book is a companion that will further illuminate John’s core message. The book originated as a series of lectures given at the “For the Church Workshop” at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Occasionally, Köstenberger says something like “this might be helpful as you teach or preach this passage.”
The introductory chapter presents a traditional view of the authorship and origin of the Gospel of John and a short overview of John’s prologue (1:1-18). The author is “the disciple whom Jesus loved. Köstenberger identifies this disciple as the apostle John, an eyewitness to the events recorded in the Gospel. He briefly mentions a few other options (John the Elder, Lazarus, etc.) He says “sadly, it is virtually impossible in today’s intellectual climate to hold to Apostolic John authorship and be respected and accepted by mainstream academic scholarship” (22). There is a brief note on John community (p. 150, note 15), but otherwise there is only brief engagement with theories of origin or sources.
Regarding John’s relationship with the synoptic gospels, Köstenberger suggests John’s gospel is a “theological transposition” (35). The miracles in the synoptic Gospels become the seven signs, “signs which point beyond what Jesus did to his true identity and purpose” (36). John’s gospel is therefore the apex of revealing the purpose of Jesus’s coming and redemptive work.
Some scholars follow Rudolf Bultmann and outline John’s Gospel in two parts: a Book of Signs (2-12) and a Book of Exaltation (13-20), with a prologue and epilogue (1, 21). Others divide the book into several parts: a Cana cycle (2-4), a Festival Cycle (5-10), the Farewell Discourse (13-17), the Passion (18-20). Köstenberger has it both ways, subdividing the Book of Signs into two cycles, with John 11-12 as a climax and segue.
Köstenberger devotes two chapters to the Cana cycle (John 2-4). Here, John “breaks new ground” by including unique information about Jesus not found in the Synoptic Gospels (37). He argues Jesus cleansed the temple twice and John included only the earlier occurrence. Jesus is acting like an Old Testament prophet, demonstrating the coming judgment of the people of Israel; the physical temple will be destroyed because God is condemning the corrupt worship performed there. In fact, John crafted all seven messianic signs to lead people to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the son of God.
The next three chapters cover the Festival Cycle (John 5-10, although he dispatches John 7-8 on three pages). The festival cycle is characterized by escalating controversy. John presents Jesus at three Jewish festivals where “Jesus reveals himself as the typological fulfillment of the symbolism inherent in these feasts” (118). Jewish authorities become increasingly offended at Jesus’s claim to be God, trying to find ways to accuse him of making himself God. John calls on the reader to decide: is Jesus God in the flesh? Or is he a deceiver and blasphemer?
Chapter 7 focuses on raising Lazarus as a conclusion to the Book of Signs (John 2-12) and a segue to the Book of Exaltation (John 13-21). Raising Lazarus from the dead points to who Jesus is: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Although Köstenberger considers John 11-12 as the conclusion to the first half of John, this chapter only deals with raising Lazarus and says very little about the content of John 12.
The final two chapters cover John 13-21. First, Köstenberger describes the Farewell Discourse (John 13-17) as Jesus’s preparation of his new messianic community. The section begins with Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, symbolically cleansing the new messianic community, and preparing the reader for the passion narrative. Köstenberger covers actual discourse in only five pages. He recognizes this, calling his discussion “all-too-brief” and lamenting he does not have the space to “adequately explore the many spiritual dynamics that are in play in the Farewell Discourse” (152).
Occasional footnotes often point to more detailed arguments in his other works, but also up-to-date articles. There is no engagement with the historicity of John, although there is a brief note on the archaeology of the pool of Bethesda. As an appendix, Köstenberger includes a short list of books for further study (seven of the ten resources are Köstenberger’s other books). The book concludes with a few discussion questions for each chapter useful for a classroom or small group Bible study.
Conclusion. Köstenberger’s Signs of the Messiah is a brief introduction to the Gospel of John, which will guide a layperson or pastor as they read and study John. As he himself observes, the book is occasionally frustratingly brief, but that results from the book’s goals and Köstenberger has written extensively elsewhere for students who want to read more deeply on the fourth gospel. The book has an attractive design and is well edited for the non-specialist. Like most of Lexham’s books, Signs of the Messiah was simultaneously published digitally for Logos Bible Software.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.