As John begins to recount Jesus' ministry, he emphasizes Jesus' deeds. There is mention of Jesus' teaching (4:41), but apart from private discourses (3:10-15; 4:7-26) John does not relate the public teaching until 5:19. The significance of this early activity is made clear by Jesus' statement that "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working" (5:17).
These stories form a coherent section, as the link between 2:11 and 4:54 indicates. A common theme in 2:1—4:42 (cf. Dodd 1953:297) is the replacement of the old with the new: wine in place of water (2:1-11), a new temple (2:14-19), a new birth (3:1-21), a new well of water (4:7-15) and new worship (4:16-26). Thus, these stories reveal the fulfillment that has come in Jesus, providing grace upon grace (cf. 1:16).
As we progress through these stories we see the glory of God, which is his grace (cf. 1:14), shining ever more brightly. It shines first in kosher Jewish settings, both in the Galilean countryside (2:1-11) and in Jerusalem (2:12—3:21). At the end of this kosher section, John the Baptist returns to the stage to bear witness, setting his seal to what has been revealed (3:22-36). Then the glory shines among various despised people who are less than kosher, including a Samaritan adulteress and a Herodian official (4:1-54).
In the transitional section that follows, grace is given to one who betrays Jesus (5:1-15), bringing to a climax this opening series of stories and initiating the conflict that follows. As God's scandalous grace is offered not just to the kosher but to the unkosher, the glory is revealed with increasing intensity until it provokes a reaction (5:16-18). At this point Jesus delivers his keynote address (5:19-30), provides a list of witnesses to the truth of what he is saying (5:31-40) and adds his own accusation against his opponents (5:41-47). Thus chapter 5 brings to a head the opening revelation of the glory and introduces the conflict that will then dominate the story.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.