John 2

John 2:1-11.

The second chapter opens with a striking miracle-the water turned into wine. It is only given here. Jesus is God, the God of creation. He had shown His omniscience to Nathanael, now His omnipotence to others. It was “the third day,” possibly the third since He had first seen Nathanael.46 But the passage is so significant that one does not feel disposed to question the thought that the Spirit may here have meant figuratively the type of a day yet future when glory will appear, as distinguished from the day of John the Baptist’s testimony, and that of the Lord and His disciples. For as the light shone in despised Galilee when He came in humiliation, so will it shine on the poor in spirit when He appears in glory; and judgment fall on the proud and lofty, on Jerusalem in its religious pretensions, so big and so hollow, till grace makes even her lowly before Him.

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee,47 and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited and His disciples unto the marriage.” It is the figure of things on earth: there is no picture of the heavens opened here. Hence we find the mother of Jesus48 brought forward prominently as one at home in the scene. “And when the wine fell short, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine.” The first Adam always fails, and fails most where most is wanted. But Jesus will meet all wants, though His time is not yet come. Faith, however, never looks to Him49 in vain, and “Jesus saith to her, What have I to do with thee, woman? mine hour is not yet come.” It is a remarkable answer, which Romanist theologians find very difficult to square with their doctrine and practice. He does not say, Mother. It is no longer a question of the first Adam: not that there was disrespect, but that Mariolatry is unfounded and sinful. Jesus was here to do the will of God. Blessing, He would show, comes down from the Father through the Son. Flesh and its relationships have nothing to do in the matter. All must be of grace.

“His mother saith to the servants, Whatever He shall say to you, do. Now there were six waterpots of stone set there according to the purification of the Jews, holding each two or three measures.” The Jewish system was a witness of defilement; and its ordinances could do no more than sanctify to the purifying of the flesh.50 This was human. Jesus was here for Divine purposes, then in testimony, by and by in power. “Jesus saith to them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And He saith to them, Draw now and carry to the master of the feast. And they carried. But when the master of the feast tasted the water that had become wine (and he knew not whence it was, but the servants that had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and saith to him, Every man at first setteth on the good wine, and when they have drunk freely, then the worse; thou hast kept the good wine until now.’’51

So will Jesus do on the richest scale in the day that is coming. He will reverse the sorrowful history of man. The wine will not fail when He reigns. There will be joy for God and man in happy communion together. Jesus will furnish all to the glory of God the Father. In that day, too, He will be the Bridegroom and the Master of the feast; and the joy of that day will find its root not only in the glory of His Person, but in the depth of that work of humiliation already wrought on the cross. There will be no secrets then. It will not be the servants only who will then know, but all, from the least to the greatest. “This beginning of signs52 did Jesus at Cana of Galilee, and He manifested His glory, and His disciples believed on Him.” Faith grows where real (2 Thess. 1:3).

It will be noticed that our Gospel gives us most important particulars, unnoticed by all the others, which took place before His Galilean ministry commenced when John was cast into prison.53 Thus we have John’s testimony suited to the Lord’s personal glory, about His earthly work for the universe even to eternity, and His heavenly work in baptizing with the Holy Spirit. We have had Christ’s testimony “on the next day” after John’s; and here “the third day.”

The hour of Jesus is not yet come. The marriage at Cana was but a shadow, not the very image. For the true bridals here below, as well as on high, we must yet wait. The mother of Jesus, of the true male Son, will be there when the feast arrives. What has been is but a testimony, a beginning of signs, to manifest His glory. Jehovah’s day for Israel will come.

John 2:12.

“After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brethren and His disciples; and there they abode not many days.” It may be noted that Joseph does not appear anywhere since the end of Luke 2 when the Lord was twelve years old. Doubtless he had fallen asleep meanwhile. Mary is again seen with Him. His absolute separation to the will and work of His Father in no way interferes with the earthly relations He had graciously taken. And so will it be with that which He represents.

But the marriage is only part of the display of His glory in the kingdom by and by; and of the judgment to be executed, He gives a token in the scene that follows, and this at the first Passover noted since that of His childhood. Our evangelist is careful to mention this feast throughout our Lord’s course (John 6:4; John 11:55). Alas! how little the Jews entered into its meaning.

John 2:13-22.

“And the passover of the Jews54 was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple the sellers of oxen and sheep and doves, and the money-changers sitting; and having made a scourge of cords (or ropes), He drove them all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and poured out the change of the money-changers, and overthrew their tables;55 and to the sellers of the doves He said, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s50 house a house of merchandise. (And)22 His disciples remembered that it is written, The zeal of thine house will eat me up.”23

Not only is this clearing of the temple distinct from that which the Synoptic Gospels relate on His last visit to Jerusalem, but it is instructive to remark that, as they only give the last, John gives only the first. It is a striking witness by a significant fact, as we have already seen doctrinally in his introduction, that he begins where they end, not in a barely literal way, but in all the depth of what Jesus is, says, and does. The state of the temple, the selfishness which reigned there, the indifference to the true fear and honour and holiness of God while there was the utmost punctiliousness in a ritual show of their own invention, were characteristic of the ruined state of a people called to the highest earthly privilege by God’s favour.

Solomon had acted at the beginning with a vigour which drove out the unworthy high-priest in his day; when the kingdom was divided, Hezekiah and Josiah, sons of David, had each sought to vindicate the glory of Jehovah. Nehemiah, alas! under the protection of the Gentiles, had not been lacking, when the returned remnant so quickly manifested that the captivity on the one hand and God’s mercy on the other had failed to lead them to repentance. Now the Son gives a sign as solemn for proud religious Jerusalem, as the miracle of the water changed into wine was full of bright hope for despised Galilee.

He does act as the Lord with Divine rights, yet as the lowly sent One and servant. Nevertheless He does not withhold the testimony to the glory of His Person in the very command not to make His Father’s house a house of merchandise. He was the Son of God, announced as such, even as Nathanael had already owned Him, judicially dealing not merely on moral grounds, such as might be open to any godly Israelite, but openly as the One Who identified Himself with His Father’s interests; and this was His house. So too, the Spirit of prophecy spoke of the rejected Messiah, as the disciples remembered at a later day.

“The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, What sign showest Thou to us that Thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple ( ναὸν), and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said, In forty and six years was this temple built,57 and wilt Thou raise it up in three days? But He spoke of the temple of His body. When, therefore, He was raised from among (the) dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus said “ (verses 18-22)

The sign that He would give was His own Resurrection-power, raising not others merely but His own Body, the true Temple in which alone God was (for the Word was God).58 That of which they boasted had but a name without God, soon to be formally pronounced “their” house (Matt. 23), and given up to destruction (Matt. 24). It is resurrection that defines Him Son of God in power; and when He was raised, the disciples remembered His saying, as they yet more found the strongest confirmation of their faith in both Scripture58a and His word. His Resurrection is the fundamental truth both of the Gospel and of our distinctive place as Christians. No wonder that the Jews were jealous of it, and that Gentiles mock or evade it. May we ever remember it, and Him Who thus gives Scripture all its grace and power.

We arrive now at a new division of the Gospel introduced by the prefatory verses as to man and his state, which conclude John 2. The coming and the inquiry of Nicodemus give rise to our Lord’s testimony to the necessity of birth anew for the kingdom of God, to the cross, eternal life, the love of God, and the world’s condemnation, closing with the Baptist’s testimony to the glory of His Person.

“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, at the Feast,24 many believed on His name, beholding His signs which He did. But Jesus Himself did not trust Himself to them,59 inasmuch as He knew all (men), and because He needed not that any should testify of man, for Himself knew what was in man.”60

It was at the city of solemnities; it was a feast of Jehovah, nay, the most fundamental of the sacred feasts; and the Messiah was there, the object of faith, working in power, and manifesting His glory in appropriate signs. And many believed on His name accordingly. It was man doing and feeling his best under circumstances the most favourable.61 Yet did not Jesus Himself trust Himself to them. Certainly it was from no lack of love or pity in Him; for whoever did or could love as He? And the reason, calmly given, is truly overwhelming: “inasmuch as He knew all men, and because He needed not that any should testify of man, for Himself knew what was in man.”62 What a sentence; from Whom; and on what grounds! We do well to weigh it gravely: who is not concerned in it? It is the ordained Judge of quick and dead Who thus pronounces. Is it not all over with man?

One great fact, one truth, accounts for it; the total evil, the irremediable ruin, of man as such. The ways of the Lord are in the strictest accord with the words of the Spirit by the apostle Paul: “the mind of the flesh”-and this is all that is in man-”is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither, indeed, can it be.” (Rom 8:7.) Hence, “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Its doings and its sufferings are selfish and worthless Godward. Its faith as here is no better; for it is not the soul subject to God’s testimony, but mind judging on evidence satisfactory to itself. It is a conclusion that Jesus must be Messiah; not submission to, nor reception of, Divine testimony. For in this case the mind sits on the throne of judgment, and pronounces for or against, according to its estimate of reasons favouring or adverse, instead of the soul setting to its seal (in the face of all appearances it may be, yea, of the most real difficulties) that God is true. For what ground to expect the love of the Holy One to the vile and rebellious? Christ received according to God’s testimony, Christ in grace to the lost dying for the ungodly and the powerless, He it is accounts for, as He displays, all; miracles or signs not in the least. They arrest the eye; they exercise the mind; they may touch and win the affections. But nothing short of God’s word judges the man, or reveals what He is in Christ to man thus judged; and this only, as we shall see, is of the Spirit, for He only, not man, has before Him the true object, the Son of God’s love given in grace to a ruined and guilty world.

The truth is that our judgments flow from our affections. What we love we easily believe; what makes nothing of us we naturally resist and reject. As long as Jesus was deemed an ameliorator of humanity, there seemed to be the readiest, warmest welcome. Man would accredit Jesus if he thought Jesus accredited man. But how could he receive what makes nothing of himself, what condemns him morally, what keeps before him the solemn warning of eternal judgment and the lake of fire? No, he hates the testimony and the Person Who is the central object of it, and truth connected with it and Him. When broken down before God and made willing to own one’s utter and inexcusable sins and sinfulness, it is a wholly different matter; and He Who was dreaded and repugnant is turned to as the only hope from God, even Jesus the Deliverer from the wrath to come. This is indeed conversion, and grace by quickening power alone effects it.

So it is when Christian doctrine is made to suit the world by being emasculated and changed to build up what in truth it judges. Then indeed it is no longer a seed that takes root and grows and bears fruit, but a mere leaven that spreads and may assimilate largely to itself. Such is Christendom, when human will was engaged on its side, and the religion became traditional.

But here it is the holy and awful witness of Jesus to man at his best estate, when no enmity had appeared, but all looked full of human promise. Here, again, we see John beginning where the other Gospels close. It is not Messiah rejected, but Jesus the Son of God, Who knows the end from the beginning, treating man as altogether vanity and sin, and this, because God is in none of his thoughts, but self without real sorrow or shame about his opposition to God, without any due sense of sin or consequently a serious care about it. He gathered from the evidence of the signs before him that none but Messiah could have wrought them; but such an inference did not affect his moral state either with God or with man. He was just as he had been with any other object for his busy mind to work on, but his nature unjudged, God no better known, and the enemy with just the same power over him as ever. As yet, it was man and not God; for there is no work of God till the word is received as it is in truth His, revealing His grace to man consciously needing it. Here was nothing of the sort, but a simple process of man’s own mind and feelings, without a question of his sins or state before God, without the smallest felt need of a Saviour. Jesus knew what it was worth and trusted not Himself to man, even when he thus believed on Him. It was human faith of which we have instances not infrequently in this Gospel as elsewhere, whilst as clearly we have the divinely given faith which has eternal life: this having to do with God, as that, being of man, rises not above its source. “Beware of men,” said He to His apostles at a later day, Himself about to prove in the cross how truly from the first He Himself knew what was in man.

21 Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 429-431.

22 BLTX Memph. [Syrsin] omit δὲ, which AEP Δ with some cursives and versions insert.

23 [ καταφάγεται: so W. H., and Weiss and Blass, after Syrpesch hier, etc. Srysin has “hath eaten,” as Ps. 69:9 in Heb. LXX, κατέφαγεν.]

24 Syrsin has “in the days of the feast of unleavened bread.”