Opening Verses of John Chapter 2

There is an important flow of thought of the previous section, from Jn. 1:19–51, that impacts one’s understanding of the upcoming material. In Jn. 3:22–30 the author records an interaction between John the Baptist and some of his disciples concerning Jesus and the fact that everyone was going to Him rather than coming to John. In 3:30, John states, “It is necessary for that one to increase, but for me to decrease.” This is exactly the flow we see between 1:19 and 51 and the beginning of chapter 2. In verses 19–28 of chapter 1, the focus is on John who is being interrogated by the religious leaders. Throughout this section John denies any independent authority and identifies himself as the forerunner prophesied in Isaiah. In the section from 29 to 34, the focus shifts slightly as John points to Jesus and identifies Him as the Lamb of God. In 35–42 the focus shifts even more as some of John’s own disciples leave him to follow Jesus. In verse 43–51, John is out of the picture altogether, and Jesus is not calling His own disciples.

D. A. Carson attempts to make the case that the miracle of the transformation of the water into wine takes place on the seventh day. He argues that another day should be added to John’s sequence: “This is achieved, not by appealing to the variant at 1:41 but by observing that when the Baptist’s two disciples attach themselves to Jesus it is already 4:00 p.m. on the third day—and they spent the rest of that day with him (1:39). That means Andrew’s introduction of Simon Peter to Jesus takes place on the next day, the fourth; the Nathanael exchange occurs on the fifth; the changing of water into wine on the seventh” (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), 168). It seems very unlikely that John, having explicitly identified the series of days by specific markers: Th’/ ejpauvrion (te4i epaurion) in verse 29, Th’/ ejpauvrion pavlin (te4i epaurion palin) in verse 35, Th’/ ejpauvrion (te4i epaurion) in verse 43, and finally Kai; th’/ hJmevra/ th’/ trivth/ (kai te4i he4merai te4i trite4i) in 2:1. For John to introduce an additional day without a specific marker, and to do so with such subtlety that it would inevitably generate a question, seems completely outside the theme of this material. As Carson himself notes, “Only here does John provide a careful record of a sequence of days” (Ibid.). To conclude that this careful record is interrupted by the introduction of an additional day so carelessly  unmarked simply does not fit.

Rather than concluding this week on the seventh day, John seems to conclude it on the sixth day. This seems to place the events in the setting of the sixth day, the day when man and woman are created. The symbolism depicts Jesus as the last Adam who successfully obeys God’s commandments and fulfills all righteousness. By the time we get to chapter 2, Jesus is the focus. John has done his job well. He has pointed us to the Messiah that is coming, who will release His people from captivity and bring them the new wine of the kingdom.

1. The Time – Notice the time is the third day. If day one was 1:19–28, day two 1:29–34, day three 1:35–42, and day four was 1:43–51, then 2:1 is probably the sixth day of that first week.

There are at least two features that make this significant. First, if we remember the association we made with the creation week, we think of what happened on the sixth day of the creation week. Man was created. As Jesus was there at the creation of the first man, so He is here at the creation of the new man. Secondly, when we think of the “third day” we think of the resurrection. This is the event that brought about the possibility of becoming a new creation in Christ.

2. The Situation – Cana was a very small town somewhere near Nazareth of Galilee. A wedding was being held and Jesus and His disciples were invited. The way the statement is made seems to indicate that Jesus’ disciples were invited because they were with Him, but that the wedding had not been planned with them in mind. Perhaps the extra men was the cause of the early depletion of the wine resources.

3. The Sign – Mary came to Jesus and told Him that the wine was depleted (v. 3). Jesus’ answer was not disrespectful. Mary probably assumed that Jesus could use this event to show His supernatural power. Jesus said to her, “What do we have in common? My hour is not yet come!” Jesus was telling her that she must not continue to function as if their relationship was the same as always. Jesus was embarking upon His earthly ministry and everything must progress according to the Father’s plan. It was not His hour to reveal Himself openly.

John points out that there were 6 large water pots capable of holding about twenty gallons each. Verse 7 notes that they were filled to the brim. This is important to indicate that there was no room to add anything to these pots. Also, these were pots that kept water for various ritual washings, so there would be no residue of wine in the pots to account for the wine taste. John points out that the water pots were made of stone rather than earthenware. Stone was not capable of becoming ritually unclean. The water was used to cleanse the hands and various utensils from ritual uncleanness. Following the Babylonian captivity, such practices were extended to things that were not formally included in the Mosaic law. “The laws of purity prescribed that vessels, clothes or persons which had been defiled by contact with something unclean should be washed in water (Lv. 11:24–15 (sic), 28, 32, 40; 15 passim; 22:6). But water was also used to wash things which had been in contact with something sacred: meat what had been offered in sacrifice was a most holy thing, and therefore the metal vessel in which it had been boiled had to be scoured and rinsed in water; it was an earthenware vessel, it was to be broken (Lv 6:21)” (Roland de Vaux, Religious Institutions, vol. 2,  Ancient Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965), 461.).

When the headwaiter tasted the wine which Jesus had created from the water in the pots, he remarked that this wine was the good wine. The custom was to serve the best wine early, and to serve the poorer quality wine later when the guests would not be as discerning about the taste.

4. The Significance – By this sign, Jesus presents Himself as Messiah, King of Israel.

For the Nation of Israel this meant;

a. The kingdom of God is often presented in terms of a banquet, and especially a wedding feast. Matt. 8:11; 22:1–14; Rev. 19:7–9.

b. The kingdom age was often pictured as a time of abundance symbolized by the new wine. Gen 49:11–12; Joel 2:19. The depletion of the old wine during this wedding feast symbolizes the obsolescence of the Judaism that was prominent in Jesus’ day. The old was replaced by the new, which was even better.

c. By supplying the good wine, in a sense taking over the responsibility that was the bridegroom’s, Jesus is depicted as the Bridegroom who will supply the new wine of the kingdom. Wine was not only symbolic of the joy of the kingdom, but became associated with sustenance and life. Wine was also a symbol of covenant blessing. The warnings in Deuteronomy 28–29 include the curse, “You shall plant and cultivate vineyards, but you will neither drink of the  wine  nor gather the grapes, for the worm will devour them.” However, the repentance and restoration of Israel included the promise of an abundance of new wine (Hosea 2:22; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). Israel was depicted as God’s wife. Jer. 31:32 depicts God as Israel’s husband: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,  not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.” It is interesting that the metaphor is used in the announcement of the new covenant. In Isaiah 62 the ultimate restoration of Israel is couched in terms of marriage

It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” And your land, “Married”; For the Lord delights in you, And to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, So your sons will marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you (Isa. 62:4–5).

For the Christian this means;

a. The joy of salvation is frequently symbolized by wine in the OT (Ps. 104:15). Jesus provides an abundance of joy. The Lord made between 120 and 150 gallons of wine. It is interesting to note that when God instructed Israel to tithe to the LORD, He also instructed them to take a tenth and have a feast (Num. 14:22–27). Even in John Jesus is presented as the Bridegroom

b. The New wine symbolizes a new life in Christ. The old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. This is why the author makes the note that this wedding feast took place on the third day.

This sign was designed to prompt faith in His disciples that He is the Messiah of Israel, and it functions in accord with the basic theme of John to present Jesus as Messiah, the God-Man who brings the Kingdom of God to the earth.

There is an interesting hint of an Old Testament relationship indicated in the opening verses of chapter 2. The structure of this section which began at 1:19 certainly seems to indicate an intent to present this material as the first week of Jesus’ ministry and to link this with the creation week. If this is accurate, there seems to be an effort to link the concepts of the first creation and the new creation—the first kingdom, in a sense, and the new kingdom; the garden and the millennial kingdom. Consequently, there may be an effort to link Jesus and Adam. Adam was, of course, the first man. Jesus is designated by Paul as the second man (1 Cor. 15:47), and the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus is the second man because He is the progenitor of a new humanity. Jesus is the Last Adam because we have had at least three Adam’s prior to Jesus— Adam, Noah, and Israel—and each new beginning ended in failure. Jesus is the Last Adam since the New Beginning in Jesus will never end, and Jesus will not fail. We will not need another Adam. We will not need to start over again.

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About Tom Howe

Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages at Southern Evangelical Seminary
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2 Responses to Opening Verses of John Chapter 2

  1. Doug VG says:

    Tom, I don’t know if you remember me but this is Doug. I used to work with you at Liberty University. I hope you can drop me a line sometime. I like your blog very much.
    Thanks.

  2. browjan says:

    Would like to see more of your John study published.

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