Christ's First Miracle
First of all we will give a brief and simple Analysis of the passage before us:—
1. The Occasion of the Miracle: a marriage in Cana, verse 1.
2. The Presence there of the Mother of Jesus, verse 1.
3. The Savior and His Disciples Invited, verse 2.
4. Mary's Interference and Christ's Rebuke, verses 3, 4.
5. Mary's Submission, verse 5.
6. The Miracle Itself, verses 6-8.
7. The Effects of the Miracle, verses 9-11.
We propose to expound the passage before us from a threefold viewpoint: first, its typical significance, second, its prophetic application, third, its practical teaching. It is as though the Holy Spirit had here combined three pictures into one. We might illustrate it by the method used in printing a picture in colors. There is first the picture itself in its black-edged outline; then, on top of this, is filled in the first coloring—red, or yellow, as the case may be; finally, the last color—blue or brown—may be added to the others, and the composite and variegated picture is complete. To use the terms of the illustration, it is our purpose to examine, separately, the different tints and shadings in the Divine picture which is presented to our view in the first half of John 2.
I. The typical significance.
It is to be carefully noted that this second chapter of John opens with the word "and," which indicates that its contents are closely connected with what has gone before. One of the things that is made prominent in John 1 (following the Introduction, which runs to the end of verse 18) is the failure of Judaism, and the turning away from it to Christ. The failure of Judaism (seen in the ignorance of the Sanhedrin) is made plain by the sending of priests and Levites from Jerusalem to enquire of John who he was ( John 1:19). This is made still more evident by the pathetic statement of the Baptist, "There standeth one among you, whom ye know not" ( John 1:26). All this is but an amplication of that tragic word found in John 1:11—"He came unto his own, and his own received him not." So blind were the religious leaders of Israel, that they neither knew the Christ of God stood in their midst, nor recognized His forerunner to whom the Old Testament Scriptures bore explicit witness.
Judaism was but a dead husk, the heart and life of it were gone. Only one thing remained, and that was the setting of it aside, and the bringing in "of a better hope." Accordingly, we read in Galatians 4:4, ‘But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son." Yes, the fulness of God's time had come. The hour was ripe for Christ to be manifested. The need of Him had been fully demonstrated. Judaism must be set aside. A typical picture of this was before us in John 1. The Baptist wound up the Old Testament system ("The law and the prophets were until John"— Luke 16:16), and in John 1:35-37 we are shown two (the number of competent testimony) of His disciples leaving John, and following the Lord Jesus.
The same principle is illustrated again in the chapter now before us. A marriage-feast is presented to our view, and the central thing about it is that the wine had given out. The figure is not difficult to interpret: "Wine" in Scripture is the emblem of joy, as the following passage will show: "And wine that maketh glad the heart of man" ( Psalm 104:15); "And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?" ( Judges 9:13). How striking, then, is what we have here in John 2! How accurate the picture. Judaism still existed as a religious system, but it ministered no comfort to the heart. It had degenerated into a cold, mechanical routine, utterly destitute of joy in God. Israel had lost the joy of their espousals.
"And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews" (verse 6). What a portrayal of Judaism was this! Six is the number of Prayer of Manasseh, for it was on the sixth day man was made, and of the Superman it is written, "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore six" ( Revelation 13:18). Yes, there were six waterpots standing there, not seven, the perfect number. All that was left of Judaism was of the flesh; God was not in it. As we read later on in this Gospel, the "feasts of the Lord" ( Leviticus 23:2) were now only "the feast of the Jews" ( John 2:13, etc.).
Observe, too, that these six waterpots were of "stone," not silver which speaks of redemption, nor of gold which tells of Divine glory. As we read in Isaiah 1:22, "Thy silver is become dross," and again in Lamentations 4:1, "How is the gold become dim?" Profoundly significant, then, were these waterpots of "stone." And what is the more noticeable, they were empty. Again, we say, what a vivid portrayal have we here of Israel's condition at that time! No wonder the wine had given out! To supply that Christ was needed. Therefore, our chapter at once directs attention to Him as the One who alone can provide that which speaks of joy in God. Thus does John 2give us another representation of the failure of Judaism, and the turning away from it to the Savior. Hence, it opens with the word "and," as denoting the continuation of the same subject which had been brought out in the previous chapter.
In striking accord with what we have just suggested above, is the further fact, that in this scene of the Cana-marriage feast, the mother of Jesus occupies such a prominent position. It is to be noted that she is not here called by her personal name—as she is in Acts 1:14—but is referred to as "the mother of Jesus." ( John 2:1). She Isaiah, therefore, to be viewed as a representative character. In this chapter Mary occupies the same position as the Baptist did in John 1. She stands for the nation of Israel. Inasmuch as through her the long promised "seed" had come, Mary is to be regarded here as gathering up into her person the entire Abrahamic stock.
What, then, does the Holy Spirit record here of Mary? Were her actions on this occasion in keeping with the representative character she filled? They certainly were. The record is exceedingly brief, but what is said is enough to confirm our line of interpretation. The mother of Jesus exhibited a woeful lack of spiritual discernment. It seems as if she presumed so far as to dictate to the Lord. Apparently she ventured to order the Savior, and tell Him what to do. No otherwise can we account for the reply that He made to her on this occasion—"Woman, what have I to do with thee?" It was a pointed rebuke, and as such His words admonished her for her failure to render Him the respect and reverence which, as the Lord of Glory, were His due.
We believe that this unwonted interference of Mary was prompted by the same carnal motive as actuated His unbelieving "brethren" (i.e. other sons of Mary and Joseph) on a later occasion. In John 7:2-5 we read, "Now the Jews feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him."
Mary wanted the Savior to openly display His power and glory, and, accordingly, she was a true representative of the Jewish nation. Israel had no thought and had no heart for a suffering Messiah; what they desired was One who would immediately set up His kingdom here on earth. Thus, in Mary's ignorance (at that time) of the real character of Christ's mission, in her untimely longing for Him to openly display His power and glory, and in Christ's word of rebuke to her, "What have I to do with thee?" we have added evidence of the typical significance of this scene at the Cana marriage-feast—the setting aside of Israel after the flesh.
II. The Prophetic Application.
What is recorded here in the first part of John 2looks beyond the conditions that obtained in Israel at that time. The miracle which Christ performed at Cana possessed a prophetic significance. Like so much that is found in Scripture, the passage before us needs to be studied from a twofold viewpoint: its immediate and its remote applications. Above, we have sought to bring out what we believe to be the direct significance of this incident, in its typical and representative suggestiveness. Now we would turn for a moment to contemplate its more distant and prophetic application.
"And the third day:" so our chapter opens. The Holy Spirit presents to our view a third day scene. The third day is the day of resurrection. It was on the third day that the earth emerged from its watery grave, as it was on the third day the barren earth was clothed with vegetable life ( Genesis 1:9, 11). There is an important scripture in Hosea 6:2 which should be placed side by side with John 2:1: "After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight." For almost two thousand years (two Days with God—see 2Peter 3:8) Israel has been without a king, without a priest, without a home. But the second "Day" is almost ended, and when the third dawns, their renaissance shall come.
This second chapter of John presents us with a prophetic foreshadowing of the future. It gives us a typical picture of Christ—the Third Day, following the two days (the two thousand years) of Israel's dispersion. Then will Israel invite Jesus to come to them: for, not until they say "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" will He return to the earth. Then will the Lord be married to the new Israel, see Isaiah 54; Hosea 2, etc. Then will Christ turn the water into wine—fill Israel's hearts with joy. Then will Israel say to the Gentiles (their servants), "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do." Then will Israel render unqualified obedience to Jehovah, for He will write His law in their hearts ( Jeremiah 31:33). Then will Christ "manifest His glory" ( John 2:11)—cf. Matthew 25:31; and thus will the best wine be reserved for Israel until the last.
Having touched, somewhat briefly, upon the typical and prophetic significance of this miracle, we turn now to consider,
III. The Practical Teaching.
"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage" (verses 1, 2). Christ here sanctifies the marriage relationship. Marriage was ordained by God in Eden and in our lesson, the Savior, for all time, set His stamp of approval upon it. To be present at this marriage was almost Christ's first public appearance after His ministry commenced. By gracing this festive gathering, our Lord distinguished and glorified this sacred institution. Observe that Christ was invited to be there. Christ's presence is essential to a happy marriage. The marriage where there is no place for our Lord and Savior cannot be blest of God: "Whatsoever ye do... do all to the glory of God" ( 1 Corinthians 10:31).
"And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine" ( John 2:3). Mary's words seem to indicate two things: first, she ignored His Deity. Was she not aware that He was more than man? Did she not know that He was God manifest in the flesh? and, therefore, omniscient. He knew that they had no wine. Second, it appears as though Mary was seeking to exert her parental authority, by suggesting to Him what He ought to do under the circumstances.
"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee?" ( John 2:4). This is an elliptical expression, and in the Greek literally read, "What to Me and thee?" We take it that the force of this question of our Lord's was, What is there common to Me and thee—cf Matthew 8:29 for a similar grammatical construction. It was not that the Savior resented Mary's inviting His aid, but a plain intimation that she must allow Him to act in His own way. Christ here showed that His season of subjection to Mary and Joseph ( Luke 2:51) was over, His public ministry had now commenced and she must not presume to dictate to Him.
Many of our readers, no doubt, have wondered why Christ here addressed His mother as "Woman." Scholars tell us that at the time our Lord used this word it would not sound harsh or rough. It was a designation commonly used for addressing females of all classes and relationships, and was sometimes employed with great reverence and affection. Proof of this is seen in the fact that while on the Cross itself Christ addressed Mary as "Woman," saying, "Behold thy son" ( John 19:26 and see also John 20:13, 15).
But we believe our Lord chose this word with Divine discrimination, and for at least two reasons. First, because He was here calling attention to the fact that He was more than Prayer of Manasseh, that He was none less than the Son of God. To have addressed her as "mother" would have called attention to human relationships; but calling her "woman" showed that God was speaking to her. We may add that it is significant that the two times Christ addressed His mother as "woman" are both recorded in the Gospel of John which sets forth His Deity.
Again, the employment of this term "woman" denotes Christ's omniscience. With prophetic foresight He anticipated the horrible idolatry which was to ascribe Divine honors to her. He knew that in the centuries which were to follow, men would entitle her the Queen of angels and the Mother of God. Hence, He refused to use a term which would in any wise countenance the monstrous system of Mariolatry. Christ would here teach us that Mary was only a woman—"Blessed among women" ( Luke 1:28) but not "blessed above women."
"Mine hour is not yet come" ( John 2:4) became the most solemn watchword of His life, marking the stages by which He drew nigh to His death. Seven references are made in this Gospel to that awful "hour." The first is in our present passage in John 2:4. The second is found in John 7:30—"Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come." The third time is found in John 8:20—"And no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come." The fourth is in John 12:23—"And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified." The fifth is in John 12:27—"Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour." The sixth is in John 16:32—"Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me." The seventh is in John 17:1—"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Song of Solomon, that thy son also may glorify thee." This "hour" was the hour of His humiliation. It was the "hour" of His suffering. But why should Christ refer to this "hour" when Mary was seeking to dictate to Him? Ah, surely the answer is not far to seek. That awful "hour" to which he looked forward, was the time when He would be subject to man's will, for then He would be delivered up into the hands of sinners. But until then, He was not to be ordered by man; instead, He was about His Father's business, seeking only to do His will.
"His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do" ( John 2:5). This is very beautiful. Mary meekly accepted the Lord's rebuke, recognized His rights to act as He pleased, and left the matter entirely in His hands. There is an important and much neglected lesson here for each of us. How prone we are to dictate to God! How often we are disposed to tell Him what to do! This is only another evidence of that detestable self-will which still operates in the believer, unless Divine grace subdues it. Our plain duty is to commit our way unto the Lord and then leave Him to supply our need in His own good time and manner.
We turn now to consider the miracle which Christ performed here at Cana. And first, a few words upon the occasion of it. The Lord Jesus recognized in this request of Mary's a call from His Father. He discerned in this simple act of furnishing the wedding-guests with wine a very different thing from what His mother saw. The performing of this miracle marked an important crisis in the Savior's career. His act of turning the water into wine would alter the whole course of His life. Hitherto He had lived in quiet seclusion in Nazareth, but from this time on He would become a public and marked character. From henceforth He would scarcely have leisure to eat, and His opportunity for retired communion with the Father would be only when others slept. If He performed this miracle, and manifested forth His glory, He would become the gazing stock of every eye, and the common talk of every tongue. He would be followed about from place to place, thronged and jostled by vulgar crowds. This would provoke the jealousy of religious leaders, and He would be spied upon and regarded as a public menace. Later, this would eventuate in His being seized as a notorious criminal, falsely accused, and sentenced to be crucified. All of this stood out before Him as He was requested to supply the needed wine. But He did not shrink. He had come to do the will of God, no matter what the cost. May we not say it reverently, that as He stood there by Mary's side and listened to her words, that the Cross challenged Him. Certainly it was here anticipated, and hence His solemn reference to His "hour" yet to come.
In the second place, the manner in which the miracle was performed is deserving of our closest attention. "And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare" ( John 2:6-8). Christ was the One to work the miracle, yet the "servants" were the ones who seemed to do everything. They filled the waterpots, they drew off the wine, they bore it to the governor of the feast. There was no visible exhibition of putting forth of Divine power. Christ pronounced no magical formula: He did not even command the water to become wine. What was witnessed by the spectators was men at work, not God creating out of nothing. And all this speaks loudly to us. It was a parable in action. The means used were human, the result was seen to be Divine.
This was Christ's first miracle, and in it He shows us that God is pleased to use human instrumentality in performing the wonders of His grace. The miracle consisted in the supplying of wine and, as previously pointed out, wine symbolizes joy in God. Learn then, that the Lord is pleased to employ human agents in bringing joy to ‘the hearts of men. And what was the element Christ used on this occasion in producing the wine? It was water. Now "water" is one of the symbols of the written Word (see Ephesians 5:26). And how may we His servants, today, bring the wine of joy unto human hearts? By ministering the Word (see Ephesians 5:26). And how may we His servants, today, "servants" Christ's command to fill those six empty waterpots of stone with water, might have seemed meaningless, if not foolish; but their obedience made them fellow-workers in the miracle! And to the wise of this world, who put their trust in legislation, and social amelioration, it seems useless to go forth unto the wicked with nothing more in our hands than a Book written almost two thousand years ago. Nevertheless, it has pleased God "by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe"—foolish, that Isaiah, in the estimate of the worldly wise. Here then is blessed instruction for the servants of God today. Let us go forth with the Water of life, implicitly obeying the commands of our Lord, and He will use us to bring the wine of Divine joy to many a sad heart.
In the third place, consider the teaching of this miracle. In it we have a striking picture of the regeneration of a sinner. First, we see the condition of the natural man before he is born again: he is like an empty waterpot of stone-cold, lifeless, useless. Second, we see the worthlessness of man's religion to help the sinner. Those waterpots were set apart "after the manner of the purifying of the Jews"—they were designed for ceremonial purgation; but their valuelessness was shown by their emptiness. Third, at the command of Christ they were filled with water, and water is one of the emblems of the written Word: it is the Word which God uses in quickening dead souls into newness of life. Observe, too, these waterpots were filled "up to the brim"—God always gives good measure; with no niggardly hand does He minister. Fourth, the water produced wine, "good wine" (verse 10): symbol of the Divine joy which fills the soul of the one who has been "born of water." Fifth, we read "This beginning of miracles did Jesus." That is precisely what the new birth is—a "miracle." And not only Song of Solomon, it is always the "beginning of miracles" for the one newly born: regeneration is ever the initial work of grace. Sixth, observe "this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory." It is thus, in the regeneration of dead sinners, that the "glory" of our Savior and Lord is "manifested." Seventh, observe, "And His disciples believed on him." A dead man cannot believe. But the first movement of the newly born soul is to turn to Christ. Not that we argue an interval of time between the two, but as cause stands to effect so the work of regeneration precedes the act of believing in Christ—cf 2Thessalonians : first, "sanctification of the Spirit," which is the new birth, then "belief of the truth."
But is there not even a deeper meaning to this beginning of Christ's miracles? Is it not profoundly significant that in this first miracle which our Savior performed, the "wine," which is the symbol of His shed blood, should be so prominent! The marriage-feast was the occasion of joy and merriment; and does not God give us here something more than a hint that in order for His people to be joyous, the precious blood of His Son must be first poured forth! Ah, that is the foundation of every blessing we enjoy, the ground of all our happiness. Hence did Christ begin His supernatural works of mercy by producing that which spoke of His sacrificial death.
"When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom" ( John 2:9). This parenthetical statement is most blessed. It illustrates an important principle. It was the servants—not the "disciples," nor yet Mary—who were nearest to the Lord on this occasion, and who possessed the know]edge of His mind. What puzzled the "ruler of the feast" was no secret to these "servants." How different are God's ways from ours! The Lord of glory was here as "Servant." In marvelous grace He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister:" therefore, are those who are humble in service, and those engaged in the humblest service, nearest to Him. This is their reward for turning their backs upon the honors and emoluments of the world. As we read in Amos 3:7—"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto (Ah, unto whom?) his servants the prophets." It is like what we read in Psalm 103:7—"He made known his ways unto Moses;" and who was Moses? Let Scripture answer: "Now the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" ( Numbers 12:3)! Yes, "the meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way" ( Psalm 25:9).
Those who determine to occupy the position of authority (as Mary did here) are not taken into the Lord's secrets. Those who wish to be in a place like the "ruler of the feast," know not His thoughts. But those who humble themselves to take the servant position, who place themselves at Christ's disposal, are the ones who share His counsels. And in the day to come, when He will provide the true wine of the kingdom, those who have served Him during the time of His absence, shall then be under Him the dispensers of joy. Has he not promised, "If any man serve me, him will my Father honor?"
"And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now" ( John 2:10). This illustrates the ways of men and the ways of God. The world (and Satan also) gives its best first, and keeps the worst for the last. First the pleasures of sin—for a season—and then the wages of sin. But with God it is the very opposite. He brings His people into the wilderness before He brings them into the promised inheritance. First the Cross then the crown. Fellow believer, for us, the best wine is yet to be: "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" ( Proverbs 4:18).
One more observation on this passage and we must close. What a message is there here for the unsaved! The natural man has a "wine" of his own. There is a carnal happiness enjoyed which is produced by "the pleasures of sin"—the merriment which this world affords. But how fleeting this is! How unsatisfying! Sooner or later this "wine," which is pressed from "the vine of the earth" ( Revelation 14:18), gives out. The poor sinner may be surrounded by gay companions, he may be comfortably circumstanced financially and socially, yet the time comes when he discovers he has "no wine." Happy the one who is conscious of this. The discovery of our own wretchedness is often the turning point. It prepares us to look to that One who is ready "to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" ( Isaiah 61:3). Unbelieving friend, there is only One who can furnish the true "wine," the "good" wine, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He can satisfy the longing of the soul. He can quench the thirst of the heart. He can put a song into thy mouth which not even the angels can sing, even the song of Redemption. What then must you do? What price must you pay? Ah, dear friend, listen to the glad tidings of grace: "Repent ye, and believe the Gospel" ( Mark 1:15).
And now, we give a number of questions to prepare the interested student for the lesson to follow. Study, then, and prayerfully meditate on the following questions:—
1. Why is the cleansing of the temple referred to just here?—Note its place in the other Gospels.
2. Why did not Christ drive out "the doves?" verse 16.
3. What was indicated by the Jews' demand for a "sign?" verse 18.
4. Why did Christ point them forward to His resurrection? verses 18-21.
5. Did the Lord's own disciples believe in the promise of His resurrection? If not, why? verse 22.
6. What solemn warning does verse 23point?
7. What does verse 25 prove concerning Christ?
Christ cleansing the temple
"After this he went down to Capernaum, Hebrews, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days" ( John 2:12). This verse comes in as a parenthesis between the two incidents of the Cana marriage-feast and the cleansing the temple. Like everything else in this chapter, it may be studied from a twofold viewpoint, namely, its immediate application and its remote. In both of these applications the reference to Capernaum is the key, and Capernaum stands for two things—Divine favor and Divine judgment; see Matthew 11:23.
Taking the immediate application first, this verse tells us that for a short season Israel occupied the position of being in God's peculiar favor. The mother of Jesus (as we saw in our last chapter) stands for the nation of Israel, and particularly for Israel's privileges—for she was the one most honored among women. "His brethren" represents the nation of Israel in unbelief; proof of this is found in John 7:5. "His disciples" were the little remnant in Israel who did believe in Him, see John 2:11. With these, the Lord Jesus went down to Capernaum; but they "continued there not many days." Not for long was Israel to enjoy these special favors of God. Soon Christ would leave them.
But this twelfth verse also has a prophetic significance. Its double application being suggested by the twofold meaning of Capernaum. Capernaum, which was exalted to heaven, was to be brought down to hell. Hence the force of "He went down to Capernaum." So it was with the nation of Israel. They had been marvelously favored of God, and they should be as severely punished. They should go down into the place of punishment—for this is what Capernaum speaks of. And this is exactly where the Jews have been all though this Christian dispensation. And how blessed to note that as the mother, brethren, and disciples of Christ (who represented, respectively, the nation of Israel privileged, but unbelieving, and the little remnant who did believe) went down to Capernaum—the place of Divine judgment—that the Lord Jesus went with them. So it has been throughout this Christian dispensation. The Jews have suffered severely, under the chastisements of God, but the Lord had been with them in their dispersion—otherwise they, had been utterly consumed long, long ago. The statement they continued there not many days" is also in perfect keeping with its prophetic significance and application. Only two "days" shall Israel abide in that place of which Capernaum speaks; on the third "day" they shall be delivered—see Hosea 6:2.
Let us now give a brief and simple Analysis of the passage which is to be before us: the Cleansing of the Temple:—
1. The Time of the Cleansing, verse 13.
2. The Need of the Cleansing, verse 14.
3. The Method of Cleansing, verses 15, 16.
4. The Cause of the Cleansing, verse 17.
5. The Jews' demand for a Sign and Christ's reply, verses 18-22.
6. Christ's miracles in Jerusalem and the unsatisfactory result, verses 23, 24.
7. Christ's knowledge of the human heart, verse 25.
We shall study this passage in a manner similar to that followed in our exposition of the first half of John 2, considering first, the typical meaning of the cleansing of the Temple; and, second, its practical suggestions.
I. The Typical Meaning.
The first of the questions which we placed at the end of the last chapter, and which we asked our readers to meditate on in preparation for this, was, "Why is the cleansing of the temple referred to just here?" The careful student will have noticed that in each of the other Gospels, the cleansing of the temple is placed right at the close of our Lord's public ministry, as one of the last things He did before His apprehension. But here, the Holy Spirit has placed Christ's cleansing of the temple almost at the beginning of His public ministry. This has led the majority of the commentators to conclude that these were two totally different occasions and incidents, separated by a space of three years. In support of this conclusion some plausible arguments are advanced, but we are not at all sure of their validity. Personally, we are strongly inclined to believe that what is recorded in Matthew 21:12, 13is the same incident as is before us here in John 2, and that the Holy Spirit has ignored the chronological order (as is so often the case in the Gospels) for His own good reasons. What these reasons may be we shall suggest below. Before advancing them, let us first state why we regard the cleansing of the temple here in John 2as being identical with that which is described in Matthew 21:12, 13, and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.
The points of likeness between the two are so striking that unless there is irrefutable evidence that they are separate incidents, it seems to us the most natural and the most obvious thing to regard them as one and the same. We call attention to seven points of resemblance.
First, Matthew places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of the Passover week, and John tells us that "the Jews" Passover was at hand ( Matthew 2:12).
Second, Matthew mentions those that "sold and bought" being in the temple ( Matthew 21:12); John says the Lord found in the temple "those that sold oxen," etc. ( John 2:14).
Third, Matthew refers to the presence of those that "sold doves" ( Matthew 21:12); John also speaks of the "doves" ( John 2:16).
Fourth, Matthew tells us that Christ "overthrew the tables of the money-changers" ( Matthew 21:12); John also tells us that Christ "overthrew the tables" ( John 2:15).
Fifth, Matthew mentions that Christ "cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple" ( Matthew 21:12); John declares He "drove them all out of the temple" ( John 2:15). Note, in the Greek it is the same word here translated "drove" as is rendered "cast out" in Matthew!
Sixth, Matthew declares Christ said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" ( Matthew 21:13); John records that the Lord said, "Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise" ( John 2:16). We have no doubt that the Lord made both of these statements in the same connection, but John records the one which expressly affirmed His Divine Sonship. In each case Christ declared the temple was God's.
Seventh, Matthew records how Christ spent the night in Bethany, and next morning He returned to Jerusalem, and was in the temple teaching, when the chief priests and elders of the people came to Him and said, "By what authority doest thou these things?" ( Matthew 21:23). John also records that after Christ had cleansed the temple, the Jews said to Him, "What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?" ( John 2:18).
If, then, our conclusion be correct, that this cleansing of the Temple occurred at the close of our Lord's ministry, the question returns upon us, Why has the Holy Spirit taken this incident out of its chronological setting and placed it by the side of our Lord's miracle where He changed the water into wine? We believe the answer to this question is not far to seek. We suggest that there was a double reason for placing this incident in juxtaposition with the Cana marriage-feast scene. First, it furnished added proof of the abject failure of Judaism; second, it completed the prophetic picture of Christ in the Millenium which John 2supplies. We shall enlarge upon each of these points below.
In the previous chapters we have pointed out how that in the opening portion of John's Gospel two things are noticed repeatedly—the setting aside of Judaism, and the turning away from it to Christ. This was emphasized at some length in our last chapter, where we showed that the giving out of the wine at the Cana marriage-feast, and the presence of the six waterpots of stone standing there empty, symbolized the spiritual condition of Israel at that time—they had lost the joy of their espousals and were devoid of spiritual life.
In the passage which is now before us, an even darker picture still is presented to view. Here all figures and symbols are dropped, and the miserable state of Judaism is made known in pointed and plain terms. Up to this stage, Israel's miserable condition spiritually, had been expressed by negatives; the Messiah was there in their midst, but, said His forerunner to the Jerusalem embassy, Him "ye know not" ( John 1:26); Song of Solomon, again, in the first part of chapter 2, "They have no wine" ( John 2:3). But here, in the second half of John 2, the positive evil which existed is fully exposed—the temple was profaned.
"And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem" ( John 2:13). Here is the first key to that which follows. The "Lord's passover" ( Exodus 12:11) had degenerated into "the passover of the Jews." But this is not the particular point upon which we would now dwell. What we would call attention to, particularly, is the time-mark given here. Two things are linked together; the passover and the cleansing of the temple. Now the reader will recall at once, that one of the express requirements of God in connection with the observance of the passover was, that all leaven must be rigidly excluded from the houses of His people. The passover was a busy time for every Jewish family: each home was subject to a rigorous examination, lest ceremonial defilement, in the form of leaven, should be found therein. "No leaven in your houses" was the requirement of the Law.
Now the center of Israel's ceremonial purity was the temple, the Father's House. Israel gloried in the temple, for it was one of the chief things which marked them off from all other nations, as the favored people of God. What other race of people could speak of Jehovah dwelling in their midst? And now Jehovah Himself was there, incarnate. And what a sight met His eye! The House of prayer had become a house of merchandise; the holy place of worship was now "a den of thieves." Behold here the light shining in the darkness and exposing the real nature of things. No doubt the custodians of the temple would have stood ready to excuse this reproach upon God's honor. They would have argued that these money changers and cattle dealers, in the temple courts, were there as a convenience to those who came to the temple to worship. But Christ lays bare their real motive. "Den of thieves" tells us that the love of money, covetousness, lay at the bottom of it all.
And what is "covetousness?" What is the Divine symbol for it? Let us turn the light of Scripture on these questions. Notice carefully what is said in 1Corinthians . Writing to the Corinthian believers, the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul says, "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." To what was he referring here under the figure of "leaven?" Mark what follows: "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolators" (verses 9, 10). Leaven, then, here refers (among other things) to covetousness, extortion and idolatry. Now go back again to John 2. The feast of the passover was at hand, when all leaven must be removed from Israel's dwellings. And there in the temple, were the cattle dealers and moneychangers, actuated by covetousness and practicing extortion. What horrible desecration was this! Leaven in the temple of God!
But let us turn on the light of one more passage. In Colossians 3:5 we read, "covetousness, which is idolatry." Ah, does not this reveal the emptiness of Israel's boast! The nation prided itself upon its monotheism—they worshipped not the many gods of the heathen. The Jews boasted that they were free from idolatry. Yet idolatry—"covetousness"—was the very thing the Son of God found in His Father's House. Note again, the force of 1Corinthians 5:10, covetousness, extortion, and idolatry are the three things there mentioned under the symbol of "leaven." Here, then, is the first reason why the Holy Spirit has placed this incident just where He has in this Gospel. It furnishes a striking climax to what has gone before. Put together these three things, and see what a glaring picture they give us of Judaism: first, a blinded priesthood ( John 1:19-26); second, a joyless nation (no "wine," John 2:3); third, a desecrated temple. ( John 2:16).
We turn now to consider
II. The Practical Lessons.
1. We see here the holy zeal of Christ for the Father's house. "Worshippers coming from remote parts of the Holy Land, found it a convenience to be able to purchase on the spot the animals used in sacrifice. Traders were not slow to supply this demand, and vying with one another they crept nearer and nearer to the sacred precincts, until some, under pretense of driving in an animal for sacrifice, made a sale within the outer court. This court had an area of about 14acres, and was separated from the inner court by a wall breast high, and bearing intimations which forbade the encroachment of Gentiles on pain of death. Round this outer court ran marble colonnades, richly ornamented and supported by four rows of pillars, and roofed with cedar, affording ample shade to the traders.
"There were not only cattle-dealers and sellers of doves, but also money-changers; for every Jew had to pay to the Temple treasury an annual tax of half a shekel, and this tax could be paid only in sacred currency. No foreign coin, with its emblem of submission to an alien king, was allowed to pollute the Temple. Thus there came to be need of money-changers, not only for the Jew who had come up to the feast from a remote part of the empire, but even for the inhabitants of Palestine, as the Roman coinage had displaced the shekel in ordinary use.
"Cattle-dealers and money-changers have always been notorious for making more than their own out of their bargains, and facts enough are on record to justify our Lord calling this particular market ‘a den of thieves.' The poor were shamefully cheated, and the worship of God was hindered and impoverished instead of being facilitated and enriched. The worshipper who came to the temple seeking quiet and fellowship with God had to push his way through the touts of the dealers, and have his devotional temper dissipated by the wrangling and shouting of a cattlemarket. Yet although many must have lamented this, no one had been bold enough to rebuke and abolish the glaring profanation" (Dr. Dods). But the Lord Jesus Christ could not suffer His Father's house to be reproached thus. Zeal for God consumes Him and without hesitation He cleanses the temple of those who defiled it.
2. "And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables" ( John 2:15). How this brings out the Deity of Christ! First, He identifies Himself with the temple, terming it "My Father's house," and thus affirming His Divine Sonship. This was something which none other had dreamed of doing. Neither Moses, Solomon nor Ezra, ever termed the tabernacle or the temple his "Father's house." Christ alone could do this. Again; mark the result of His interference. One Prayer of Manasseh, single handed, takes a whip and the whole crowd flees in fear before Him. Ah, this was no mere man. It was the terror of God that had fallen upon them.
3. This incident brings before us a side of Christ's character which is almost universally ignored today. We think of the Lord Jesus as the gentle and compassionate One. And such He was, and still is. But this is not all He is. God is Light as well as Love. God is inflexibly righteous as well as infinitely gracious. God is holy as well as merciful. And we do well to remind ourselves of this. Scripture declares "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," as all who defy Him will yet discover. Scripture speaks of "the wrath of the lamb," and our lesson furnishes us with a solemn illustration of this. The unresisting money-changers and cattle-dealers, fleeing in terror before His flashing eye and upraised hand, give warning of what shall happen when the wicked stand before the throne of His judgment.
4. This incident rebukes the present-day desecration of the house of prayer. If the holy anger of the Lord Jesus was stirred when He beheld the profanation of that House which was to be a "house of prayer," if the idolatrous commercialization of it caused Him to cleanse it in such a drastic manner, how must He now regard many of the edifices which have been consecrated to His name! How tragically does history repeat itself. The things which are now done in so many church-houses—the ice cream suppers, the bazaars, the moving picture shows and other forms of entertainment—what are these but idolatrous commercialization of these "houses of prayer." No wonder that such places are devoid of spirituality and strangers to the power of God. The Lord will not tolerate an unholy mixture of worldly things with spiritual.
5. One of the questions we drew up at the close of the last chapter was, "Why did not Christ drive out the ‘doves'?" The answer to this is found in Isaiah 52:13, where God through His prophet, declared of the Messiah then to come, "Behold, my servant shall deal prudently." The "prudence" of Christ was strikingly evidenced by His mode of procedure on this occasion of the cleansing of the temple. The attentive reader will observe that He distinguished, carefully, between the different objects of His displeasure. The oxen and sheep He drove out, and these were in no danger of being lost by this treatment. The money of the changers He threw on the ground, and this could be easily picked up again and carried away. The doves He simply ordered to be taken away: had He done more with them, they might have flown away, and been lost to their owners. Thus, the perfect One combined wisdom with zeal. How differently would Moses or Elijah have acted under similar circumstances. But even in His anger Christ deals in prudence. Christ rebuked all, yet none were really injured, and nothing was lost. O that we may learn of Him Who has left us such a perfect example.
6. "Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us seeing that thou doest these things?" ( John 2:18). This demand for a "sign" evidenced their blindness, and gave proof of what the Baptist had said—"There standeth one among you whom ye know not" ( John 1:26). To have given them a sign, would only have been to confirm them in their unbelief. Men who could desecrate God's house as they had, men who were utterly devoid of any sense of what was due Jehovah, were judicially blinded, and Christ treats them accordingly: "Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (verse 19). He spoke in language which was quite unintelligible to them. "Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But He spake of the temple of his body" ( John 2:20, 21). But why should the Lord express Himself in such ambiguous terms? Because, as He Himself said on another occasion, "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand" ( Matthew 13:13). Yet, in reality, our Lords' reply to these Jews was much to the point. In raising Himself from the dead He would furnish the final proof that He was God manifest in flesh, and if God, then the One Who possessed the unequivocal right to cleanse the defiled temple which bore His name. It is very significant to compare these words of Christ here with what we find in Matthew 21:24-27, spoken, we doubt not, on the same occasion. When challenged as to His authority, Matthew tells us He appealed to the witness of His forerunner, which was primarily designed for the Jews after the flesh. But John mentions our Lord's appeal to His own resurrection, because this demonstrated His Deity, and has an evidential value for the whole household of faith.
7. Another of the questions asked at the close of the previous chapter was "Did the Lord's own disciples believe in the promise of His resurrection?" The answer Isaiah, No, they did not. The evidence for this is conclusive. The death of the Savior shattered their hopes. Instead of remaining in Jerusalem till the third day, eagerly awaiting His resurrection they retired to their homes. When Mary Magdalene went to tell His disciples that she had seen the risen Christ, they "believed not" ( Mark 16:11). When the two disciples returned from Emmaus and reported unto the others how the Savior had appeared unto them and had walked with them, we are told, "neither believed they them" ( Mark 16:13). The testimony of these eyewitnesses seemed to them as idle tales ( Luke 24:11). But how is this to be explained? How can we account for the persistent unbelief of these disciples? Ah, is not the answer to be found in the Lord's teaching in the Parable of the Sower? Does He not there warn us, that the great Enemy of souls comes and catches away the "seed" sown! And this is what had taken place with these disciples. They had heard the Savior say He would raise up the temple of His body in three days, but instead of treasuring up this precious promise in their hearts, and being comforted by it, they had, through their unbelief, allowed the Devil to snatch it away. Their unbelief, we say, for in verse 22we are told, "When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this unto them; and they believed the Scriptures, and the word which Jesus had said." It was not until after He had risen that they "remembered" and "believed" the word which Jesus had said. And what was it that enabled them to "remember" it then? Ah, do we not recall what Christ had said to them on the eve of His crucifixion, "But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" ( John 14:26). What a striking and beautiful illustration of this is given us here in John 2:22!
8. "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all" ( John 2:23, 24). What a word is this! How it evidences human depravity! Fallen man is a creature that God will not trust. In Eden Adam showed that man after the flesh is not to be trusted. The Law had proved him still unworthy of the confidence of God. And now this same character is stamped upon him by the Lord Jesus Himself. As another has said, "Man's affections may be stirred, man's intelligence informed, man's conscience convicted; but still God cannot trust him." (J. E. B.). Man in the flesh is condemned. Only a new creation avails before God. Man must be "born again."
9. "Jesus did not commit himself unto them" (verse 24). The Lord's example here is a warning for us. We do well to remember that all is not gold that glitters. It is not wise to trust in appearances of friendliness on short acquaintance. The discreet man will be kind to all, but intimate with few. The late Bishop Ryle has some practical counsels to offer on this point. Among other things he said, "Learn not to place yourself rashly in the power of others. Study to develop a wise and a happy moderation between universal suspiciousness and that of making yourself the sport and prey of every pretender and hypocrite."
10. "Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man" ( John 2:24, 25). Here we are shown the Savior's perfect knowledge of the human heart. These men could not impose upon the Son of God. He knew that they were only "stony ground" hearers, and therefore, not to be depended upon. They were only intellectually convinced. Our Lord clearly discerned this. He knew that their profession was not from the heart. And reading thus their hearts He manifested His omniscience. The force of what is said in these closing words of John 2will be made more evident if we compare them with 1Kings 8:39: "Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and forgive whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of all men.)"
It only remains for us to point out how that there is a series of most striking contrasts between the two incidents recorded in the first and second parts of this chapter—the making of water into wine at the Cana marriage-feast, and the cleansing of the Temple 1. In the one we have a festive gathering; in the other a scene of Divine judgment 2. To the former the Lord Jesus was invited; in the later He took the initiative Himself 3. In the former case He employed human instruments; in the latter He acted all alone 4. In the former He supplied the wine; in the latter He emptied the temple 5. In the former, His fact of making the wine was commended; in the cleansing of the temple, He was challenged 6. In the former Christ pointed forward to His death ( John 2:4); in the latter He pointed forward to His resurrection ( John 2:19, 21). 7. In the former He "manifested forth his glory" ( John 2:11); in the latter He manifested His "zeal" for His Father's House ( John 2:17).
Let the student prayerfully study and meditate upon the following questions in preparation for the next lesson, when we shall give an exposition of the first portion of John 3.
1. Why is Nicodemus referred to in this connection? verse 1.
2. Why are we told he came to Jesus "by night?" verse 2.
3. Was Nicodemus' conclusion justifiable? verse 2.
4. Why cannot a man "see" the kingdom of God except he be "born again?" verse 3.
5. What did Nicodemus' ignorance demonstrate? verse 4.
6. What does "born of water" mean? verse 5.
7. In what other ways is the blowing of the Wind analogous with the activities of the Holy Spirit in regeneration? verse 8.
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 2". "A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany