Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 23rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
Take our poll

Bible Commentaries
John 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


Beginning here and continuing through chapter 12 (John 2-12) is the first main section of this Gospel, in which seven great signs pointing to the deity of Christ are recounted. The word "sign," used seventeen times in this Gospel, is the term John used for "miracle." The seven signs are:

1. Changing the water into wine (John 2).

2. Healing the officer’s son (John 4).

3. Healing the cripple (John 5).

4. Feeding the 5,000 (John 6).

5. Walking on Lake Galilee (John 6).

6. Healing the man who was born blind (John 9).

7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11).

Of these, Numbers 2, 4, and 5 are also found in the synoptics.

The choice of these particular wonders for inclusion in John evidently was made with regard to the absolute authority by which each was performed, and also with consideration for the deeply spiritual overtones in each. The latter fact may not be made the occasion for denying the true character of these signs as actual miracles, marvelous occurrences of historical events, in which the most circumstantial details are related, the names and identity of participants and witnesses provided, and the circumstances so carefully narrated, that the unbiased reader will invariably receive them, not as mere dramatic illustrations, but as FACTS. The flood of literature stressing the spiritual implications of these wonders to the point of denying the factual events upon which the spiritual teaching is founded is unconvincing and unreasonable.

Verse 1


And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there.

No parable or drama, ever started like this. Cana is distinguished from another village of the same name in the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 16:9), and Mary, the mother of Jesus, was one of the guests.

The third day … is the third day after Nathaniel became a follower of Jesus; and, in this implied connection with Nathaniel, there is the probable explanation of how Jesus and his disciples came to be invited. Nathaniel was a native of Cana (John 21:2); and the small size of the village makes it quite easy to suppose that he was certainly acquainted with the bridegroom, or even a relative. Also, Cana was only eight or ten miles northeast of Nazareth.

Verse 2

And Jesus also was bidden, and his disciples, to the marriage.

See under preceding verse for the possible source of the invitation, which, despite all conjecture, cannot be known; all such irrelevancies were omitted by the inspired writer. It is enough to know that Jesus and his disciples were invited and that they attended. Christ came not as an ascetic, fasting and withdrawing from public contact, but as a person of lovable social grace who adorned and blessed any company by his presence. "The Son of man came eating and drinking" (Matthew 11:19).

Verse 3

And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said unto him, They have no wine.

All Jewish weddings were celebrated with wine for the guests, and such a failure as is recorded here would have been an occasion of sharp embarrassment to the host. Jesus’ mother knew that he had the power to alleviate the shortage and evidently hoped by this remark to enlist his aid in overcoming it.

Verse 4

And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

Woman … This word addressed to his mother seems a little harsh in English; but, as Richardson noted, "It would not in the original. There is no precise English equivalent of this usage; perhaps ’Madam’ comes nearest, but is too cold and distant."Alan Richardson, The Gospel according to St. John (London: SCM Press, 1959), p. 60. Nevertheless, a mild and respectful reproof of his mother cannot be separated from this. The Saviour’s work of worldwide redemption was beginning; and the magnificent dimensions of such a work were not to be prescribed and directed by his earthly mother. Jesus’ words here leave no doubt that Mary’s suggestion was premature and unnecessary; and yet Jesus’ rejection of her words did not violate any of the veneration and respect the beloved Mary was entitled to receive.

These words bring into sharp focus the true status of the earthly mother of our Lord; and, in the sacred text, she never appears as a semi-deity commanding and directing her son to do this or that, but as herself subject to error. At no other point has the Medieval religion erred any more dramatically than here. As Gaebelein noted:

She was not without error and sin, and was not meant to be prayed to and adored. If our Lord would not allow his mother even to suggest to him the working of a miracle, we may well suppose that all prayers to the Virgin Mary, and especially prayers entreating her to "command her Son" are most offensive and blasphemous in his eyes.Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of John (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 47.

Mine hour is not yet come … has been variously understood as meaning: "they are not yet completely out of wine," or "it is not time for me to step in yet," or "it is not yet time for me to show my glory," etc. It was Barnes’ opinion that it means, "the proper time for his interposing THERE had not arrived,"Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954), Volumes of Luke and John, p. 192. and not that it was an improper time for him to work a miracle. Of course, the expression "my hour" was also used to mean the hour of the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection (John 7:30; 8:20; 12:33; 13:1; 17:1, etc.).

Verse 5

His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

This verse shows several things: (1) Mary did not understand Jesus’ words either as a rebuke or as a refusal to meet the need pointed out by her; (2) she evidently anticipated that Jesus’ command might appear unreasonable to the servants; and (3) under normal circumstances, servants might hesitate to carry out the orders of a guest. Thus, her remarks to the servants were needed and timely. That she was in a position to instruct the servants suggests a close personal connection with the family of the bridegroom, and indicating also that Mary, not Nathaniel, might have been the source of the invitation to Jesus and his disciples.

Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it … Mary thus assumed her proper place, no longer making suggestions to the Lord, but leaving everything in his hands. These words are timeless in their application. Whatever Christ commands should be obediently accepted and done. The advice of the blessed Mary to the servants of Cana is appropriate for every generation; and even churches should spare themselves the burden of deciding which of the Lord’s commandments are essential or not and do them all.

Verse 6

Now there were six water-pots of stone set there after the Jews’ manner of purifying, containing two or three firkins apiece.

Here is the vivid description of an eye-witness who, after so many years, could still see the six great water-pots sitting there, precisely in a certain place; nor is the indefinite capacity of the water-pots (two or three firkins) a contradiction of this. After the custom of the times, those water-pots were hand-made of stone; and there is hardly any possibility that they were of any precise capacity in each case. Containers sold in markets today are required by governments to be of an exact capacity, but that was not the case with these water-pots. One can only be astonished at the conclusion of a scholar like Richardson who said:

In view of the vague "two or three" … this consideration alone is enough to convince us that the story is a parable, not an actual historical event.Alan Richardson, op. cit., p. 61.

How strange that a certain school of interpreters can make so much of the indefinite capacity of the pots and so little of their exact number! No eye-witness could have told by looking at them exactly how much water they held; and, therefore, an indefinite statement of their capacity was strictly proper and correct. The parable theory regarding this sign is really hard-pressed for evidence to support it when its advocate will seize upon something like this.

After the manner of the Jews’ purifying … In Mark 7:3,4 is a reference to the extensive washings of hands, cups, pots, and brazen vessels; and the observance of such ceremonies by the Jews required a bountiful supply of water-pots.

Two or three firkins apiece … A firkin was not an exact measurement, being about seven or eight gallons; and thus the capacity of the six water-pots was something between eighty and one hundred and fifty gallons. Again, the water-pots of that day were not precisely machined and uniformly crafted containers with exactly equal capacities, but they were made by hand in diverse patterns and varying sizes.

Verse 7

Jesus saith unto them, Fill the water-pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

The servants obeyed the Lord, and without hesitation filled the water-pots up to the brim. Here in the manner of filling these pots is another factor requiring an indefinite statement of their capacity. The same pot would have held less or more, depending upon whether or not it was filled normally full, or brimming full, as here. The fact that the servants filled the pots to the brim left no room for adding anything else to the water.

Verse 8

And he saith unto them, Draw out now and bear to the ruler of the feast. And they bare it.

Commentators have speculated at length upon WHERE the change took place, whether in the pots, or on the way to the ruler of the feast, etc.; but if the apostle had not intended to imply that the whole supply in the water-pots was changed into wine, it is simply inconceivable that the number and capacity of the pots would have been mentioned at all. One water-pot would have provided at least one round of wine!

Along with C. S. Lewis, this writer receives this miracle as a literal creative act of God incarnate. He said:

Every year, as part of the natural order, God makes wine. He does so by creating a vegetable organism that can turn water, soil, and sunlight into a juice which will, under proper circumstances, become wine …. Once, in one year only, God, now incarnate, short-circuits the process; makes wine in a moment; uses earthenware jars instead of vegetable fibers to hold the water.A. M. Hunter, The Gospel according to John (Cambridge University Press. 1965), p. 30.

Regarding the question of what kind of wine this was, all kinds of irresponsible speculations abound. Even Barnes gave elaborate arguments to prove that the wine here created by the Lord was nothing more than the pure juice of grapes with no alcohol content whatever; but, as Barnes admitted, "The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine."Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 193. And it is precisely this evident truth that rebukes any notion that this wine was merely the unfermented juice of grapes. On Pentecost, the apostles were accused of being full of new wine (Acts 2:3-15), to the extent of intoxication, a charge that Peter denied; but he did not deny that the wine common in those days was capable of producing intoxication; on the other hand, his defense tacitly admitted it. Also, the opinion of the ruler of the feast that the wine Jesus made was superior in quality to that they had drunk earlier, supports the conclusion that it was not merely pure grape juice. This is not to say, however, that the wine Jesus made was supercharged with alcohol like some of the burning liquors that are marketed today under the label of "wine". THAT we emphatically deny; but to go further than this and read WINE as GRAPE JUICE seems to this writer to be a perversion of the word of God.

Verse 9

And when the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants that had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast calleth the bridegroom.

The ruler of the feast … was the person in charge of the festivities, presumably a close friend of the bridegroom honored with the responsibility of organizing and conducting the marriage celebration. Among his duties was that of tasting wine before it was served to the guests; and this accounts for the fact that the ruler of the feast was the first to taste the wine created by the Lord. His pleased and approving remarks are recorded in the next verse.

Verse 10

And saith unto him, Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse; thou hast kept the good wine until now.

First the good wine … then … worse … In these words, the ruler of the feast unconsciously recorded the sordid economy of this world which first entices with that which is beautiful and desirable, and then punishes and frustrates with that which is worse. Of course, the ancient toastmaster was merely stating a commonly known fact, but the perception of John led him to see in that chance remark a universal law with profound applications far beyond the restricted situation that prompted its utterance. As Morrison said:

Why, think you, did this saying so impress John that it lingered ineffaceably in his memory? Was it merely because of the pleasure it evoked to hear his Master’s handiwork so praised? I think there was a deeper reason. John was by nature an idealist, loving to find the abstract in the concrete; and, in the particular instance of that moment, he was quick to see the universal law.G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning (London: Hodder and Stoughton), p. 1.


1. In the history of Adam’s race, first there was Paradise and the garden of Eden; then came the temptation and fall, the curse, the expulsion, and the flaming sword that pointed in every direction.

2. In the progression of physical life on earth, first there are the joys of childhood, the excitement and pleasure of youth; and afterwards there are the labor and strife, weakness, senility, and death. This physical progression to that which is worse is among the saddest and most pitiful qualities of mortal life. Wordsworth captured the full pathos of it thus:

The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose. Shades of the prison house begin to close Upon the growing boy. The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath passed away A glory from the earth. Where is it now, the glow and the dream? At length the man perceives it die away And fade into the light of common day.William Wordsworth, Ode on the Intimations of Immortality.

3. In the enticement to sin, the death’s head is always hidden behind the smiling mask of beauty and delight. The smile of the adulteress ends in blood upon the threshold, and the sparkling cup conceals the poisonous asp at the bottom of it (Proverbs 23:21,32).

4. In life’s arrangements without consideration of God, the progression is ever downward and toward that which is worse. Marriages where God is not a partner move unerringly in the direction of futility and sorrow. Prodigals move invariably in their thoughtless and licentious freedom, not to honor, but to the swine pen. Many an arrangement of business, employment, or pleasure is begun with high hopes and expectations; but, if God is not in the arrangement, it moves inexorably to lower and lower levels to become finally a state of crime and shame. Afterward, that which is worse.

5. In the longer progression of unconsecrated life, as it regards time and eternity, the same wretched deterioration occurs. However glorious or desirable the state of the wicked in this present life may appear to be, it is only for a little while, followed by the terrors of a hopeless grave and the punishments of hell. Some people refuse to believe in any such thing as hell; but intelligent reasoning, as well as divine revelation, supports the conviction that awful retribution is stored up for the wicked after death. Again from Morrison:

I believe in law; I believe in immortality; I believe in the momentum of a life. And if the momentum of a life be downward, and be unchecked by the strong arm of God, how can we hope that it will be arrested by the frail and yielding barrier of the grave? … If sin conceals the worse that is behind tomorrow, may it not also conceal the worse that lies behind the grave?G. H. Morrison, op. cit., p. 6.

6. In the progression of the material universe, all material things being inferior to the great spiritual realities, there is the same downward course. The sun itself will finally become a burned-out star and our earth but a dead speck of dust in space. As Dr. Moody Lee Coffman stated in a lecture on The Origin of the Inanimate:

The universe must be reckoned as becoming more disordered with time. All other known physical laws may be extrapolated backward in time as well as forward, but the second law of thermodynamics insists that entropy monotonically increases. Time cannot be reversed in direction to change this fact. No violation has ever been observed. All the experience of mankind leads us to believe the universe must work its way to a uniform heat sink with no potential for doing useful work. It is the second law of thermodynamics.Moody Lee Coffman, The Origin of the Inanimate (Atlanta, Georgia: Religion, Science, Communication Research and Development Corporation, 1972), p. 75.

This profound observation is but the scientific way of saying, "afterward, that which is worse." The apostles of Jesus warned people to live lives founded upon spiritual principles and unhesitatingly predicted the end of the physical world, as, for example in Peter’s foretelling the destruction of the earth and its works (2 Peter 3:10f).

7. In the corruption and defilement of man’s moral nature, through the ravages of sin, it is always "afterward, that which is worse." Sin always begins with so-called minor departures from the word of God; but the descent of the soul towards reprobacy and debauchery is constant and accelerated in its declension from God. The miserable history of Sodom and Gomorrah has been endlessly repeated by all of the nations that have turned away from God. "Evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13). "Worse and worse" is the law of all sin and turning away from God.

From the above considerations, it is clear enough that the ancient master of ceremonies at Cana uttered a truth far more comprehensive than the primary application of it. No wonder the apostle remembered and recorded it!

And when men have drunk freely … People have gone to great lengths to defend the Lord against any implied approval of excessive drinking; but no such defense is necessary. It is not implied that any of the guests at that wedding had exceeded the bounds of propriety. He merely stated what was publicly recognized as a fact, and there can be no question of the truth of what he said.

Thou hast kept the good wine until now … This is the converse of the proposition stated above. The contrast between the way God does things and the performance of people apart from God is dramatically stated. With sinful men, it is ever "afterward, that which is worse"; but with God in Christ it is ever "the best wine last!" This truth also has a wide application.


1. In God’s great act of creation, the best wine came last. First, the earth was without form and void, and darkness moved upon the face of the deep. Afterward came light, vegetation, lower forms of animal life, and finally man created in the image of God!

2. In the dispensations of God’s grace, the same progressive betterment is observed. The patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations of God’s mercy appeared in ascending order of benefit and glow.

3. In Scriptural revelation, the same progression to that which is better appears. As the writer of Hebrews expressed it:

8. God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2).

4. In the earthly life of our Lord, the wonder of Bethlehem and the angelic announcement of a Saviour born culminated in the far more wonderful event of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the salvation of mankind. The best wine came last.

5. The progression of the Christian life follows the same pattern. The enthusiasm and joy of the novice convert to Christ resolve into a far more wonderful experience of the mature Christian.

The difference in Christ and the devil is just this, that the devil’s tomorrow is worse than his today; but the morrow of Christ, for every man who trusts him, is always brighter and better than his yesterday. Every act of obedience on our part gives us a new vision of his love.G. H. Morrison, op. cit., p. 11.

One of the hymns of the pioneers was "Brighter the Way Groweth Each Day"; and all who have ever followed the Lord have found it so.

6. In time and eternity, we may be certain that God has kept the best until last. Joyful and fulfilling as the Christian life assuredly is, the full glory of it will not be realized until "that day" when the Lord shall provide the crown of life to all them that have loved his appearing. No description of heaven is possible. Language itself, as a means of communicating thought, breaks down under the weight of superlative metaphor employed by the inspired writers who received from God visions of the Eternal City. The throne of God is there, the river of life, the tree of life, the gates of pearl, the streets of gold, the protective wall, and the Saviour’s own face as the light - who can fully understand such things as these? But of one thing we may be certain: when the trials, sorrows, tribulations, heartaches, and sufferings of our earthly pilgrimage have ended, and when we awaken to behold the Saviour’s face in the eternal world, we shall cry adoringly, "Lord, thou hast reserved the best until now."

Note: A somewhat fuller treatment of the spiritual import that may be found in John’s great signs is entered here, with reference to the first of them, than will be undertaken with regard to the others, as an example of the kind of interpretation possible in all of them. That such implications are indeed to be found in these mighty signs is perfectly evident; but the critical device of making the spiritual import of these wonders the basis of denying that they actually occurred is satanic. A lie has no spiritual import of the kind evident in John’s signs; and therefore the very quality of their spiritual application is a proof that the events themselves happened, that they are historical facts.

Verse 11

This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Far from being presented as a mere parable, Jesus’ action in changing water into wine is here denominated the first of his mighty miracles, a positive manifestation of the Lord’s glory, and the event which issued in the faith of his disciples. As the first of those mighty deeds which proved him to be God in the flesh, this sign of Jesus has a breadth of meaning and depth of importance fully compatible with its priority in the time sequence.

Compared with the first great miracle wrought by Moses, in which water was changed into blood, this sign resembles that one, as should have been expected of type and antitype; but it also contrasts dramatically. Moses’ sign impoverished; this one enriched. This was a source of joy, that one a source of revulsion and disgust. That changed water into something worse; this changed water into something better. The superiority of Christ over Moses, so starkly visible here, was to appear in all the miracles that followed. Moses’ miracle was a curse; this was a blessing. As Richard Trench noted:

This beginning of miracles is truly an introduction to all other miracles which Christ wrought, as the parable of the Sower to all the other parables which he spoke. No other miracle has so much of prophecy in it; no other, therefore, would have inaugurated so fitly the whole future work of the Son of God, a work that might be characterized throughout as an ennobling of the common, and a transmuting of the mean, a turning of the water of earth into the wine of heaven.Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1943), p. 105.


Any full appreciation of this wonder must take account of the occasion upon which it was enacted, namely, at a wedding feast. By such a choice of platform from which to launch his world-saving ministry, Christ conferred upon marriage his approval, encouragement, and blessing. Fittingly, the traditional wedding ceremony has the lines:

"… in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate, and signifying to us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee… etc."

Far from having been a capricious or accidental beginning of his ministry, the sign at Cana was part of the Master Plan of the Saviour’s earthly sojourn. How appropriate it is that he who was to become the great Bridegroom of the Church in heaven and upon earth should have begun his ministry with such a wonder as this and upon such an occasion as the marriage in Cana of Galilee.

And manifested his glory … Of some mere prophet, it might have been declared that such a sign manifested God’s glory; but the glory here manifested was essentially of Christ himself, who was God incarnate. As Westcott said:

The manifestation of his glory in this "sign" must not be sought simply in what we call its miraculous element, but in this connection with the circumstances, as a revelation of the insight, sympathy, and sovereignty of the Son of man, who was the Word incarnate.Brooks Foss Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 39.

The enrichment, that came of Christ’s presence at that ancient wedding was a literal endowment of the new family unit with an exceedingly valuable and ample supply of the choices: wine, removing the new couple at one stroke from a status of poverty and embarrassment to a position of abundance and plenty. The literal enrichment of that bride and groom symbolizes the enrichment that always follows the welcoming of Christ into the homes and hearts of people.

Verse 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.

Capernaum … was a principal city on Lake Galilee and a scene of many of our Lord’s most notable deeds. Of this city, he said:

Thou Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades: for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day (Matthew 11:23).

This curse upon Capernaum has been literally fulfilled, the very site of the place hardly being known today. The fact that the mighty deeds and preaching of Christ himself were ineffective there leads to some reflections on the subject of evangelism.


Many evangelists, especially young ones, seem to believe that given the proper methods, reinforced with zealous and attractive personnel, just about any city or province may be taken for the Lord. Such determination and zeal are commendable so long as it is remembered that, in the last analysis, each community, and every person, has the final word on whether or not it or he will serve the Lord, and that no method, personality, system, or anything else can win the whole world for Jesus Christ, bind it in golden chains, and lay it at the Redeemer’s feet, the insurmountable obstacle being what it has ever been, i.e., the stubborn will of sinful and unregenerated people.

Take the case of Capernaum: It must be admitted that Jesus was an effective and powerful evangelist, being himself none other than the glorious Head of our holy religion. Moreover, his helpers had the rank of apostles, being capable, industrious, diligent, and intelligent persons; and they knew the territory, five of them having been brought up in the suburbs of Capernaum. Yes, and Jesus got the community’s attention. He raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead, and Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue (Mark 5:22). He healed the centurion’s servant, and the centurion commanded the Roman military presence in the city and was doubtless the richest man in the whole area, having built the Jews a synagogue (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-5). Also, the Lord cured the son of the king’s personal representative in that town, called "a certain nobleman" (John 4:46ff). If such deeds did not get the total attention of Capernaum, nothing could have done it. Add to all this the impassioned preaching of the Son of God, and one is forced to the conclusion that there is no way that Capernaum could have been won for the Lord. Who can doubt this? The intangible factor in evangelism is the people themselves, every individual one of them, each having the power to oppose the heavenly will if he so decides. Are there such places as Capernaum today? You’d better believe it.

Illustration: A large dog food company had a convention in a great city for hundreds of their salesmen; and, with the great auditorium overflowing with salesmen, the president of the company made his presentation.

"Look at this," he said. "This beautiful golden can with the red label holds thirteen ounces of pure protein; it will make your dog’s coat silky, his teeth white, and his disposition adorable. It has all the vitamins and minerals added and costs only 39 cents a can; why can’t you go out and sell a billion cans of it?"

Pausing dramatically to let the import of his tremendous message sink in, he was dumbfounded and the convention propelled into a near riot, when, from away up in the balcony, somebody shouted, "The dogs don’t like it!"

That is the way it is, alas, with the gospel of Christ. As long as people prefer to commit fornication and drink liquor rather than serve the Lord, many a loving message of faith and salvation shall fail of its intended fruit.

His mother and his brethren … This is the first mention of Jesus’ brothers in John; and it is clear from John 7:5 that they did not yet believe in him. Regarding the question of whether or not these were sons borne by the mother of Jesus, reference is made to my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 13:55-56. It is the conviction of this writer that there is no good reason for understanding "brothers" in this passage in any unusual manner.

Verse 13

And the passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.


The passover of the Jews … Writing near the end of the first century, John no longer referred to the passover as a feast of God, but of the "Jews". Whatever ordinances or observances are undertaken upon man’s initiative only, such ordinances, even though originally commanded by God, become in a special sense the ordinances of men. Jesus’ saying of the temple, "Behold your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38), is in the same vein of thought.

The cleansing of the temple about to be related should not be confused with a second cleansing during the final week of our Lord’s life on earth (Matthew 21:12f; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45). In this cleansing, Jesus made use of a scourge, but none was mentioned in the synoptic accounts of the second cleansing. Far from being any difficulty, John’s relation of this dramatic cleansing gives the explanation of the implacable hatred of the Pharisees and other keepers of the temple concessions, the hatred being evident enough in the synoptics, but this practical reason for it at so early a date appearing only in John.

Verse 14

And he found in the temple, those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting.

These animals and birds were required offerings in the Jewish sacrifices, but the worshipers were required to purchase them from the temple functionaries and were not allowed to bring their own; and even in circumstances where the worshiper might have been permitted to bring his own offering, the element of convenience naturally turned all to the supply provided by the temple. Also, the only money that could be used in such purchases was the coinage or currency controlled by the temple. The denarius and other coins were prohibited, for example, as bearing Caesar’s image. Thus, with the temple concessionaires having the only supply of animals and the only supply of money by which they could have been purchased, the suffering people were gouged unmercifully. No wonder Jesus denounced that crowd of cheaters as "thieves and robbers." It was particularly an act of aggravation that the money-changers had actually moved into the sacred area of the temple itself.

Modern Christians have little reason to be critical of the commercialization of the ancient temple. As Gaebelein said:

So-called churches have become houses of merchandise, places of amusement, theatricals, moving pictures, dancing for young people, etc. …. Evangelistic campaigns led by evangelists who are incorporated, aiming at big collections to which saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles, are urged to give … schemes to raise big sums of money - all these are greater evils than selling sheep and oxen in the temple court of Israel.Arno Gaebelein, op. cit., p. 51.

Of course, Christian houses of worship correspond in no way to the ancient temple of the Jews, being in no sense "the Lord’s house," except in the most accommodative sense; and yet it is still true that in places set apart for prayer and the ministry of the word of God, reverence and spirituality should prevail within them.

Verse 15

And he made a scourge of cords, and cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew their tables.

It is said that Jesus never used force, but this verse proves otherwise. It is a moot question whether or not Jesus actually used a whip on any of the money changers, the usual interpretation being that he did not; but the very existence of such a weapon in the strong hand of the vigorous young carpenter from Nazareth was a threat of force sufficient to deter any of the money-changers from contesting it. The whip was necessary in driving out the animals; but, with regard to the money-changers, the moral indignation of the Holy One crying out against the callous commercialization of the very house of God was far more effective than any physical threat could have been. Needless to say, such action by Jesus was requited by the undying hatred of the godless Sadducees who were the principal operators of the temple concessions. Their financial interests had been jeopardized; and one may be sure that from this day forward murderous schemes were devised for getting rid of Jesus.

This further comment on the meaning of "all" in this verse comes from Hendriksen:

The KJV and RSV favor the idea that Jesus actually drove out all the wicked traffickers together with the sheep and oxen. In the second cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21:12), it is definitely stated that the cattle dealers were themselves driven out. If that happened then, we may take for granted that it took place now.William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), p. 123.

Verse 16

And to them that sold the doves he said, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.

The doves, in cages, could not be driven out, hence the Lord’s command that they be carried out.

House of merchandise … Among the differences in this cleansing and the second is this order of the Lord for them to cease and desist from such practices. At the second cleansing, it was too late to command them to cease, and they were at that time denounced as "thieves and robbers." Their day of grace had passed.

My Father’s house … "My" indicates the unique sonship of Jesus. and focuses on the Messianic import of this event of cleansing. As Hunter noted, "The cleansing is far more than a Jewish reformer’s act; it is a sign of the advent of the Messiah."A. M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 33. In Malachi 3:1f, it is written: "The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple … but who may abide the day of his coming? … and he shall purify the sons of Levi." Also, in Zechariah 14:1, we have, "And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day" (RSV). Thus, very early in his ministry, Jesus laid claim by these bold deeds to his rightful position as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel and head of the Theocracy.

Verse 17

His disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for thy house shall eat me up.

This quotation is Psalms 69:9; and, again from Hendriksen:

The disciples witnessing this manifestation of the zeal of their Lord for the house of his Father, are filled with fear that Jesus may suffer what David had to endure in his day, namely, that his zeal in some way would result in his being consumed.William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 123.

And of course, as noted above, it was precisely this manifestation of the Saviour’s zeal that set in motion against him the murderous animosity of the religious apparatus in Jerusalem, which never relented until a cross arose upon Golgotha.

Jesus never lost sight of the Messianic implications of the temple cleansings; and, in the second instance of it, he reminded the selfish concessionaires that the house of God’s holy religion had never been intended as their private privilege and personal domain, but that "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:17; Isaiah 56:7), indicating that "all nations," including the Gentiles, were intended to be benefited through the coming Messiah. Thus, the sin of the money-changers was not merely against Israel, but against all mankind also. The strong Messianic implications of this bold deed were not altogether lost on the priests, for they immediately demanded a sign that would confirm Jesus’ implied claim of Messiahship. The cleansing itself was an excellent sign, but that they rejected.

Verse 18

The Jews therefore answered and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?

For discussion on the kind of signs the Jews wanted, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 16:1.

Verse 19

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

What Jesus meant by this is plainly given in John 2:21, "He spake of the temple of his body"; but such a simple answer is rejected by some. This pointed reference to his own death, burial and resurrection cannot be allowed by those who would spiritualize every historical fact out of this Gospel. As one has declared:

"Destroy" is a prophetic command meaning, "Go on as you are doing and you will bring this temple down in ruins (at the hands of Rome); but in a brief time (three days) I will raise up another center of worship." Jesus is predicting that through his work there will arise a new spiritual building in which the new Israel, the Church, will worship God!A. M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 34.

Of course, such an interpretation is sheer nonsense. In Jesus’ true words, the same temple envisaged as destroyed is exactly the same one Jesus promised to raise up in three days; and added to that obvious fact is the emphatic statement of the inspired evangelist himself that Jesus "spake of the temple of his body"!

This verse shows that Jesus fully knew the consequences of casting out the money-changers; and, by this prophecy, he clearly foretold that they would indeed put him to death and that he would rise from the dead on the third day. This statement made in response to the demand for a sign is similar in the Lord’s answer to the demand of the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 12:38ff. In both instances, the only sign the Pharisees were promised was the Lord’s own death, burial, and resurrection; but here he used the analogy of the destroyed temple raised again in three days, while there the "sign of the prophet Jonah" had exactly the same meaning!

Verse 20

The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up, in three days?

At this point, it is possible to check the historicity of John’s Gospel; and it is no surprise to find it exactly accurate. Herod the Great began building the temple in 20-19 B.C.Ibid. Adding 46 years to that date brings the time of this first cleansing to 27-28 A.D. and adds strong evidence for the early date of this cleansing. Of course, the Jews construed Jesus’ words in the most literal fashion possible, and with such a lack of perception that they naturally considered his claim ridiculous. At the time of the trials before his crucifixion, Jesus’ enemies presented a garbled version of his words here as "evidence"! It is clear enough why those men could not understand Jesus, but it is disconcerting that some Christians cannot seem to understand him.

Verse 21

But he spake of the temple of his body.

See under preceding verses.

Verse 22

When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he spake this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

As Westcott declared:

John notices on other occasions the real meaning of the words of the Lord not understood at first: John 7:39; 12:33; 21:19; and, in each case, he speaks with complete authority. This trait of progressive knowledge is inexplicable except as a memorial of personal experience.B. F. Westcott, op. cit., p. 43.

And they believed the scripture … The Scripture in view here is John 2:19, above, where Jesus had spoken of raising up the destroyed temple.

Verse 23

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, during the feast, many believed on his name, beholding the signs which he did.

John means by this that a great many other signs had been wrought by Jesus at this first passover, giving the key to the selectivity of his narrative. From the vast number of Jesus’ signs, only seven were selected for this Gospel by its inspired author. There is a sense too in which the cleansing of the temple may be considered a sign. Such a frontal assault upon the entrenched forces of exploitation would have resulted in a sudden burst of popularity, the rabble always being capable of sudden, but not sustained, clamor against authority, especially authority which is abused and exploitive as was that of the temple. A multitude would have gathered quickly around such a defender of righteousness as Jesus showed himself in that episode. However, the view here is that the mention of signs (plural) has reference to many of Jesus’ mighty deeds that were omitted from this Gospel and all the Gospels. The cleansing of the temple, though not miraculous, and thus not reckoned among John’s seven signs, nevertheless was a dramatic and startling announcement of Jesus as the Messiah who had suddenly come to his temple.

Verse 24

But Jesus did not trust himself unto them, for that he knew all men.

The sudden wave of popularity had not deceived Jesus who well knew the fickle and unreliable nature of public opinion. For more on this subject, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 27:20-21.

Verse 25

And because he needed not that any should bear witness concerning man; for he himself knew what was in man.

It will be recalled that Jesus instantly read the character of both Peter and Nathaniel. Our Lord looked right through those people in Jerusalem who, in the presence of his astounding miracles, readily conceded that he was the Messiah, but who discerned none of the moral implications of such a fact. Their first thought was: "Well, good! Let us see if he can throw the Romans out!"

The omniscience of the Lord is stated by the apostle in this verse; and, from the fact of John’s bringing that attribute into the foreground at this particular juncture, it may be inferred that some of Jesus’ disciples were a little disappointed that Jesus did not at once place himself at the head of that great throng of "believers" who had been so easily convinced by his miracles. Only in the true retrospective reflection of the apostle so long afterward would the true reason for the Lord’s refusal become clear. Something more than belief has always been a prerequisite for becoming a true follower of the Lord; and that throng of "believers only" had nothing of that "something more" always required. That fatal lack was the thing Jesus discerned. These were doubtless some of the same people who shouted, "Crucify him!" when the Lord stood before Pilate. One additional thing, over and beyond faith only, required of all who would enter the kingdom of God is the new birth; and, appropriately, John next recorded Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/john-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile