A Commentary on the Gospel of John Two
Jesus' First Miracle and Trip to Jerusalem
by Cooper Abrams
All rights reserved
Jesus Performs His First Miracle at the Wedding at Cana
This was the third day since Jesus had returned to Galilee and met Philip. (John 1:43) There was a marriage in the town of Cana and Jesus' mother was attending. Cana was a town in Galilee about six miles northwest of Nazareth. John 21:2 says that Nathanael was born in Cana. The name "Cana" means a "place of reeds." The location of the ancient city is not known. There are four possible sites that could be the ancient city. The modern city of Cana is Kefr Kenna a Palestinian populated city.
Geographically the city is located in the highlands west of the Sea of Galilee. John 2:12 says that when Jesus left Cana He "went down" to Capernaum. Capernaum was to the north and east of Cana and lower in altitude.
Jesus and the disciples with him were invited to the wedding probably because Mary was invited. With Jesus were Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael and possibly John. Nathanael was most likely known to the family having the wedding, he being born in Cana. The others with Jesus lived in Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee which was nearby.
John records that Mary simply states that the wine (grape juice) had run out. It could be that the parents of the groom were not rich people and had not anticipated the number of guests that attended. It is interesting that Jesus' mother turns to Him to remedy the situation. Jesus had not at this time performed any miracles. John 2:11 states that his was the first miracle He performed.
It seems that Mary was being presumptuous in hinting that Jesus was to solve this problem. Jesus' response was to say, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" He does not call Mary, "mother," which is an endearing term, but rather simply "woman". This was not a sign of disrespect. Mary may have thought that because she was His mother she had some special hold on or control of Jesus as a miracle worker. She may have seen this as an opportunity for Him to reveal Himself, she knowing in her heart who He truly was. Jesus however, mildly corrects her. No man or woman has any special position to manipulate the Lord. This event shows that Mary, although a godly woman and Jesus' earthly mother, had no special position with Him. This contradicts the Roman Catholic deification of Mary and the false assumption that she was the Mother of God. The practice of praying to Mary and exalting her, as the Roman church has done, has no precedent in the Scriptures. Mary served the Lord like many others, but she was just an ordinary person.
Jesus further responded saying, "Mine hour is not yet come" meaning that He would conduct His ministry in His own time. Jesus was affirming that He would not be manipulated by men. He would conduct His life as directed by God's plan.
In John 2:5, Mary responded by telling the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. It seems she did not understand that Jesus had rebuked her. She anticipated that Jesus would respond to the need. The word "servants" is exactly the same word transliterated in other passages in our English Bibles as "deacon."
Jesus Turns the Water into Grape Juice
John records that there were "six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews." These were six water pots that would be used in the Jewish home for washing, drinking, use in feasts and normal uses of water. Water used in washing and feast was not well water, but water collected from rain or from running streams or springs. Water was at times scare in Israel and rain water was collected and stored in jars. John specifically states that these were stone pots that would contain about seven and a half gallons of water each. Archaeologists have recently discovered pieces of broken stone vessels in several sites in Galilee.
Jesus instructs the servants to fill the water pots with water. Some of the pots may have been only partly filled so Jesus had them fill the pots completely to the brim.
Following Mary's instructions they did as Jesus told them and drew out the contents and took it to the governor of the feast. The "governor" of the feast was the one who was directing the wedding.
The director of the feast then tastes the water that was made wine and immediately recognizes that it was not of the quality that had been previously served. He calls the bridegroom and explains that in most such occasions the best wine is served first and then when the palates of the guests are less sensitive, the poorer quality wine is served. The director asks why the best wine was saved until later.
The words "well drunk" does not mean that the guests were intoxicated, but had drunk enough that their tastes buds had been dulled. This happens when a person drinks or eats anything in sufficient quantities.
Was the "wine" Jesus made alcoholic?
There is an endless debate as to whether the "wine" that Jesus created was alcoholic wine or simply grape juice. The confusion arises because of ignorance of the meaning of the Greek word used for "wine" and also the customs of biblical times. The matter is further complicated by those who seek to justify drinking alcoholic beverages.
The Greek word that is translated "wine" in this passage is oinos and is a generic word that refers to the juice of the grape whether to unfermented grape juice or the fermented alcoholic beverage. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word is "yayin." In the following two verses it is clear that the verse is addressing the alcoholic drink. "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright." (Proverbs 23:31) "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." (Proverbs 20:1) Our King James Bible translators produced an accurate translation of the word "yayin" and "oinos," but did not produce a clear translation.
Deuteronomy clearly refers to grape juice, "That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil." (Deuteronomy 11:14) You do not "gather" alcoholic wine, but rather manufacture it. The same is true in 2 Chronicles 31:5, "And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly." (2 Chronicles 31:5) Note that Isaiah also uses the word "yayin" to refer to new grape juice that is being pressed: "And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine (yayin)in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease." (Isaiah 16:10)
It is diffidently seen the word "yayin" that is translated "wine" can mean grape juice or fermented grape juice. The context and usage of the word in the sentence tells you which meaning applies.
The same is true of the Greek word "oinos." We have extra biblical evidence of this in that Aristotle, the Greek scholar, in his book Meteorologica, 384.a.4-5, considered the word "oinos" as referring to fermented or unfermented grape juice. The Septuagint (LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament consistently translates "yayin" as "oinos."
The Bible condemns drunkenness throughout. Drunkenness is the state of being inebriated. Some refer to Philippians 4:5 which says, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" as condoning drinking in moderation. However, that verse is referring to being over emotional, living one's life in excess. Being inebriated is a sin whether to a large or small degree. Not to even look on the alcoholic wine is the prohibition, and this allows for no tolerance with one's contact with the alcoholic beverage. God warned that, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1) and further stated that, "Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps." (Deuteronomy 32:33)
To make alcoholic wine and then give it to others to add to their drunkenness would be sin. Jesus was not capable of sin, being our Holy God and Creator. Jesus has no sin nature and therefore would never do anything that was sinful. God plainly states that it is a serious sin to give wine to one's neighbor and make him drunk. "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" (Habakkuk 2:15)
David Cloud suggests this illustration will help us to understand what Jesus did at Cana:
This was a miracle of Jesus Christ and all miracles were signs which brought glory to the Savior and set forth some truth. Clearly, Jesus would not have contributed to the drunkenness of those at the wedding which would have been sin and brought dishonor on Himself and His ministry. John 2:11, states by this miracle Jesus manifested His glory.
The situation can be better understood when we interpret the passage within the culture of that day. Grape juice, left alone and without refrigeration, will ferment, begin to break down and sour causing a foam to come to the top. As the process continues and the foam comes to the top, a liquid forms under the foam and the dregs settle to the bottom of the container. The bacteria in the grapes break down the natural sugars as the fermentation proceeds. In a short time the grape juice will turn to vinegar. However, if the grape juice is boiled the bacteria are killed and the juice becomes a concentrate and can be stored for long periods of time. This was the practice in Bible times. When a meal was served the servants or women of the house would go to the storage jars and dip out some of the concentrate and then add an appropriate amount of water. Thus this healthy drink of grape juice would be drunk by the whole family including the children. The Psalmist refers to the health benefits of grape juice, "And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart." (Psalms 104:15) This method of preserving grape juice was attested from extra biblical sources such as Pliny, Columella, Virgil, and others. The pulp of grape juice is called "must." The grape juice concentrate was reduced to a fraction (perhaps a half or a third) of its original volume.
The only legitimate use of alcoholic wine is as a medicine. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more" (Proverbs 31:6-7). Scientists explain that each time a person drinks, the alcohol causes harm to message-carrying dendrites on neurons in the cerebellum. Drinking over a long time period of time causes the risk of making detrimental changes to the brain and destroys the ability of brains cells to function properly. This damage affects the cerebellum, the part of the brain that is involved in learning and coordination. However, God has made the brain able tolerate small amounts of alcohol without causing any noticeable damage. New research has shown that abstinence after chronic alcohol abuse enables brains to repair themselves.
The Beginning of Jesus' Miracles
This was Jesus' first miracle. It shows that Jesus had the power over the elements. John had declared that Jesus was our Creator and God. (See John 1:3) Jesus' first miracle showed without question that He had control of nature itself. No man could change the elements in water into grape juice. By this miracle Jesus "manifested forth His glory." Jesus did not use his disciples to fill the pots with water. There was no chance of deception by using the servants of the household. It was not ordinary practice to put wine into water pots. The water pots were important in providing storage for vital water supplies. The grape juice that was made was judged by the governor of the feast before he knew where it came from. There was left no doubt that Jesus exhibited divine power.
The disciples that were present had already believed on Jesus as the Messiah, but this miracle showed them that He was God. There could be no question that He was the Messiah and the Christ was God come in the flesh. Thus, their belief was increased in understanding more fully who Jesus truly was. The disciples upon seeing the miracle and understanding what Jesus had done, now put their trust wholly in Him.
Jesus Travels to Capernaum
Upon leaving Cana, Jesus, with Mary, his brothers and disciples, traveled east about 16-18 miles to Capernaum. Capernaum is mentioned in each of the Gospels and is located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee near a main ancient highway that connected the lake with Damascus about 75 miles to the north. Capernaum was an important city in the life of Christ. Jesus remained for a short time in Capernaum and then journeyed south about 90 miles to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. All male Jews were required by law to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. The Passover was observed on Nisan 14th, which falls within the time frame of March-April. The Passover was a supper on Nisan 14th and was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread that lasted seven days until Nisan 21st.
Jesus Drives out the Money Changers
Upon arriving at the Temple in Jerusalem Jesus witnessed the pilgrims who came for the Passover being robbed by the money changers in the Court of the Gentiles of the Temple. The money changers were men who were working for Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas who was the official high priest. Annas was the real power in the Temple. According to Numbers 3:10, the high-priesthood was held for life; and although Annas had been deposed by the Roman procurator, the Jews may still have regarded him as legally the high priest. The money changers were cheating the people by changing their Roman money into Jewish coins that could be given as an offering in the Temple. The exchange rates offered by the money changers was grossly unfair. If the pilgrim brought his own animal to be offered as a sacrifice in the Temple, the priest would turn it down as not being acceptable. The worshiper would then have no choice, but to take it to the money changers who would trade them for an animal that the priests would accept. If the worshiper needed to purchase a sacrifice he was charged inflated prices. The whole operation was devised to rob the people and make exorbitant profits from the Temple sacrifices.
Jesus, upon seeing these thieves stealing from the people, made a scourge of small cords and drove them out of the Temple. A "scourge" was a lash or whip used for public punishment. It was used by the Romans on slaves and those sentenced to death. We do not know exactly how the Lord used the whip He made, but whether He threatened the money changers or actually hit them, they heatedly left the Temple. In His righteous indignation the Lord turned over the changers tables and poured out their money. Clearly, He presented to them a threatening figure and they retreated before Him. Certainly, the money changers reported this incident quickly to the high priest which incensed them against Jesus.
His words too certainly would have been a powerful rebuke of these thieves making merchandise of the Temple. This was no ordinary man who rose up against them, but it was Jesus the Christ, God incarnate in flesh. It was God who was driving these wicked men from His house. Surely, His very demeanor would have brought fear to their hearts Therefore in Jesus' second act of His ministry, He purged the Temple of the money changers and showed His authority to do so.
Jesus' disciples were well versed in the Scriptures and when they saw His actions remembered the passage in Psalm 69:9 which says, "For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me." The word "zeal" refers to a hot righteous jealousy for the things of God and His honor. This event gives us a small insight into the mind of God. God is jealous for righteousness and is incensed when sinful men trample on His holiness.
Jesus is Questioned by the Jews
The Jews were probably greatly offended by Jesus' actions and immediately challenged Him. He was acting as a prophet of God and they asked by what authority He purge the Temple of the thieves. The Jews had just witnessed a great sign in that this Man had shown by His very presence His power and authority. Yet, these men blinded by their supposed favor with God and religious fervor demanded that Jesus show them a sign!
Jesus' Prophetic Reply
They were certainly not ready to hear the Lord's reply for He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." His reply was predictive in that as verse 21 states, Jesus was referring to His body. It is interesting that Jesus gives a response that reflected the fact that many of the Jews would hate Him and seek His life. Jesus knew their hearts and the hatred that they had towards Him for rebuking their sinful conduct. This was especially directed toward the Jewish leaders who supposedly were leading the people in the worship of God. They knew the depth of their sins against God and had nothing but contempt for Jesus because He publicly revealed their evil ways.
The present Temple in Jesus' day was referred to as the "second temple." Solomon's Temple was destroyed and razed to the ground by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Seventy years later a new Temple was built in Jerusalem which is called Zerubabbel's temple. It was a poor replacement for the splendor of Solomon's Temple and when the returning Jews from Babylon saw it many cried. This temple, called Herod's Temple, was renovated over a period of forty-two years around 20 B.C. by Herod the Great who was the Roman puppet king of Israel. The high priests and leadership of the temple were corrupted.
Even Jesus' disciples did not understand what He was saying to them. Jesus was saying that they would most certainly see a sign. The sign He would give them that would authenticate who He was would be His resurrection from the dead. Sadly, most of the Jews rejected the miracle of Jesus' resurrection and refused to believe and receive Him as their Messiah.
As schooled as they were in the Old Testament scriptures the Jews completely ignored Daniel 9:26 that prophesied that the Messiah would be cut, "but not for Himself." They seemed unaware of Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 53 which said the Messiah would be led like a lamb to the slaughter and would be "cut off from the land of the living, for the transgressions of my people was he stricken." (Isa. 53:7-8)
Many Believed Jesus When They Saw His Miracles
Verse 23, seems to imply that Jesus cleansed the Temple of the money changers before the Passover. He then, during the subsequent seven days of the feast (Feast of the Unleavened Bread), did many miracles and many people on seeing His miracles believed on Him. The actual miracles that Jesus did are not recorded, but many who were in Jerusalem for the feast surely witnessed them. The belief of these who believed because they saw His miracles seems to be suspect. Theirs was a belief of seeing a sign. It is not likely their belief was saving or justifying faith, but merely a superficial belief in Him as a miracle worker. There is no record of any of these people later following the Lord. To savingly believe on Jesus Christ is to believe in who Jesus is, which is the Messiah, God incarnate in man. Further saving faith comes from conviction of one's sin. True faith comes upon realizing that Jesus is God, that truth sheds a revealing light on our sinful condition and that brings genuine conviction and repentance. Saving faith is more than believing that Jesus did a miracle, but more in that we believe in Him as our Savior. Verse 24, sheds more light on the matter.
John says that Jesus ". . .did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men." The word "commit" is the word "pisteou" which means "to trust." It is the same word that in verse 23 is translated "believed." Jesus knew their hearts, that their faith was only superficial and that a faith born of seeing some sign has no depth and does not come from the heart. The Jews wanted a secular savior, one who would deliver them from Roman oppression. In their hearts they did not understand that true salvation is a spiritual matter. True salvation addresses one's sins and reconciles the sinner to his God and Creator. True salvation seeks God's forgiveness for sin and in repentance turns one from his wicked ways. Saving faith begins a change of heart in which the former sinner now shuns sin and seeks God's righteousness. It does not appear that these "believer's in miracles" were having a spiritual awakening.
John's statement that Jesus knew the hearts of all men plainly shows that Christ was God and omniscient. Only God knows the heart and thoughts of man; thus John testified to the Deity of Jesus Christ. Jeremiah proclaimed the truth, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:9-10) 1 Kings 8:39 also proclaims this important truth, "Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men" (1 Kings 8:39).
God inspired the Apostle John to write this Gospel to clearly assert the deity and majesty of Jesus our Savior. Truly, He is Almighty God, come to earth incarnate in man, and who demonstrated His all-consuming and gracious love in suffering and dying for the sins of all men. We have the testimony of God's very word and we who believe on Him have His abiding and eternal presence. Oh, what a wonderful Savior is our God!
We need to recognize that there were no chapter divisions when John wrote this Gospel. John Chapter 3 followed without a break in the thought of verses 24-25. It helps us to better understand if we read John 2:25 and 3:1 together: "But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews" (John 2:24-3:1). John follows his statement in verse 25 by presenting Nicodemus as an example of the mindset of the Jews concerning Christ's ministry.