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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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John 2

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-25

Chapter 2


2:1-11 Two days after this there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee; and Jesus' mother was there. And Jesus was invited to the wedding and so were his disciples. When the wine had run short, Jesus' mother said to him: "They have no wine." Jesus said to her: "Lady, let me handle this in my own way. My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants: "Do whatever he tens you to do." There were six stone waterpots standing there--they were needed for the Jewish purifying customs--and each of them held about twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them: "Fill the waterpots with water." They filled them up to the very brim. He said to them: "Draw from them now, and take what you draw to the steward in charge." They did so. When the steward had tasted the water which had become wine--he did not know where it came from, but the servants who had drawn the water knew--the steward called the bridegroom and said to him: "Everyone first sets before the guests the good wine, and then, when they have drunk their fill, he sets before them the inferior wine. You have kept the good wine until now."

Jesus did the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee, and displayed his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

The very richness of the Fourth Gospel presents those who would study it and him who would expound it with a problem. Always there are two things. There is a simple surface story that anyone can understand and re-tell; but there is also a wealth of deeper meaning for him who has the eagerness to search and the eye to see and the mind to understand. There is so much in a passage like this that we must take three days to study it. We shall look at it first of all quite simply to set it within its background and to see it come alive. We shall then look at certain of the things it tells us about Jesus and his work. And finally we shall look at the permanent truth which John is seeking to tell us in it.

Cana of Galilee is so called to distinguish it from Cana in Coelo-Syria. It was a village quite near to Nazareth. Jerome, who stayed in Palestine, says that he saw it from Nazareth. In Cana there was a wedding feast to which Mary went and at which she held a special place. She had something to do with the arrangements, for she was worried when the wine ran done; and she had authority enough to order the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. Some of the later gospels which never got into the New Testament add certain details to this story. One of the Coptic gospels tells us that Mary was a sister of the bridegroom's mother. There is an early set of Prefaces to the books of the New Testament caged the Monarchian Prefaces which tell us that the bridegroom was no other than John himself, and that his mother was Salome, the sister of Mary. We do not know whether these extra details are true or not, but the story is so vividly told that it is clearly an eye-witness account.

There is no mention of Joseph. The explanation most probably is that by this time Joseph was dead. It would seem that Joseph died quite soon, and that the reason why Jesus spent eighteen long years in Nazareth was that he had to take upon himself the support of his mother and his family. It was only when his younger brothers and sisters were able to look after themselves that he left home.

The scene is a village wedding feast. In Palestine a wedding was a really notable occasion. It was the Jewish law that the wedding of a virgin should take place on a Wednesday. This is interesting because it gives us a date from which to work back; and if this wedding took place on a Wednesday it must have been the Sabbath day when Jesus first met Andrew and John and they stayed the whole day with him. The wedding festivities lasted far more than one day. The wedding ceremony itself took place late in the evening, after a feast. After the ceremony the young couple were conducted to their new home. By that time it was dark and they were conducted through the village streets by the light of flaming torches and with a canopy over their heads. They were taken by as long a route as possible so that as many people as possible would have the opportunity to wish them well. But a newly married couple did not go away for their honeymoon; they stayed at home; and for a week they kept open house. They wore crowns and dressed in their bridal robes. They were treated like a king and queen, were actually addressed as king and queen, and their word was law. In a life where there was much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions.

It was in a happy time like this that Jesus gladly shared. But something went wrong. It is likely that the coming of Jesus caused something of a problem. He had been invited to the feast, but he had arrived not alone but with five disciples. Five extra people may well have caused complications. Five unexpected guests might provide any festival with a problem, and the wine went done.

For a Jewish feast wine was essential. "Without wine," said the Rabbis, "there is no joy." It was not that people were drunken, but in the East wine was an essential. Drunkenness was in fact a great disgrace, and they actually drank their wine in a mixture composed of two parts of wine to three parts of water. At any time the failure of provisions would have been a problem, for hospitality in the East is a sacred duty; but for the provisions to fail at a wedding would be a terrible humiliation for the bride and the bridegroom.

So Mary came to Jesus to tell him that it was so. The King James Version translation of Jesus' reply makes it sound very discourteous. It makes him say: "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" That is indeed a translation of the words, but it does not in any way give the tone.

The phrase, "What have I to do with thee?" was a common conversational phrase. When it was uttered angrily and sharply it did indicate complete disagreement and reproach, but when it was spoken gently it indicated not so much reproach but misunderstanding. It means: "Don't worry; you don't quite understand what is going on; leave things to me, and I will settle them in my own way." Jesus was simply telling Mary to leave things to him, that he would have his own way of dealing with the situation.

The word woman (gunai, G1135) is also misleading. It sounds to us very rough and abrupt. But it is the same word as Jesus used on the Cross to address Mary as he left her to the care of John ( John 19:26). In Homer it is the title by which Odysseus addresses Penelope, his well-loved wife. It is the title by which Augustus, the Roman Emperor, addressed Cleopatra, the famous Egyptian queen. So far from being a rough and discourteous way of address, it was a title of respect. We have no way of speaking in English which exactly renders it; but it is better to translate it Lady which gives at least the courtesy in it.

However Jesus spoke, Mary was confident of him. She told the servants to do as Jesus told them to do. At the door there were six great water jars. The word that the King James Version translates "firkin" (metretes, G3355) represents the Hebrew measure called the bath ( H1324) which was a measure equivalent to between eight and nine gallons. The jars were very large; they would hold about twenty gallons of water apiece.

John was writing his gospel for Greeks and so he explains that these jars were there to provide water for the purifying ceremonies of the Jews. Water was required for two purposes. First, it was required for cleansing the feet on entry to the house. The roads were not surfaced. Sandals were merely a sole attached to the foot by straps. On a dry day the feet were covered by dust and on a wet day they were soiled with mud; and the water was used for cleansing them. Second, it was required for the handwashing. Strict Jews washed the hands before a meal and between each course. First the hand was held upright and the water was poured over it in such away that it ran right to the wrist; then the hand was held pointing down and the water was poured in such a way that it ran from the wrist to the finger-tips. This was done with each hand in turn; and then each palm was cleansed by rubbing it with the fist of the other hand. The Jewish ceremonial law insisted that this should be done not only at the beginning of a meal but also between courses. If it was not done the hands were technically unclean. It was for this footwashing and handwashing that these great stone jars of water stood there.

John commanded that the jars should be filled to the brim. John mentions that point to make it clear that nothing else but water was put into them. He then told them to draw out the water and to take it to the architriklinos ( G755) , the steward in charge. At their banquets the Romans had a toast-master called the arbiter bibendi, the arranger of the drinking. Sometimes one of the guests acted as a kind of master of ceremonies at a Jewish wedding. But our equivalent of the architriklinos ( G755) is really the head-waiter. He was responsible for the seating of the guests and the correct running of the feast. When he tasted the water which had become wine he was astonished. He called the bridegroom--it was the bridegroom's parents who were responsible for the feast--and spoke jestingly. "Most people," he said, "serve the good wine first; and then, when the guests have drunk a good deal, and their palates are dulled and they are not in much of a condition to appreciate what they are drinking, they serve the inferior wine, but you have kept the best until now."

So it was at a village girl's wedding in a Galilaean village that Jesus first showed his glory; and it was there that his disciples caught another dazzling glimpse of what he was.

THE NEW EXHILARATION ( John 2:1-11 continued)

We note three general things about this wonderful deed which Jesus did.

(i) We note when it happened. It happened at a wedding feast. Jesus was perfectly at home at such an occasion. He was no severe, austere killjoy. He loved to share in the happy rejoicing of a wedding feast.

There are certain religious people who shed a gloom wherever they go. They are suspicious of all joy and happiness. To them religion is a thing of black clothes, the lowered voice, the expulsion of social fellowship. It was said of Alice Freeman Palmer by one of her scholars: "She made me feel as if I was bathed in sunshine." Jesus was like that. C. H. Spurgeon in his book, Lectures to My Students, has some wise, if caustic, advice. "Sepulchral tones may fit a man to be an undertaker, but Lazarus is not called out of his grave by hollow moans." "I know brethren who from head to foot, in garb, tone, manner, necktie and boots are so utterly parsonic that no particle of manhood is visible.... Some men appear to have a white cravat twisted round their souls, their manhood is throttled with that starched rag." "An individual who has no geniality about him had better be an undertaker, and bury the dead, for he will never succeed in influencing the living." "I commend cheerfulness to all who would win souls; not levity and frothiness, but a genial, happy spirit. There are more flies caught with honey than with vinegar, and there will be more souls led to heaven by a man who wears heaven in his face than by one who bears Tartarus in his looks."

Jesus never counted it a crime to be happy. Why should his followers do so?

(ii) We note where it happened. It happened in a humble home in a village in Galilee. This miracle was not wrought against the background of some great occasion and in the presence of vast crowds. It was wrought in a home. A.H.N. Green Armytage in his book, A Portrait of St. Luke, speaks of how Luke delighted to show Jesus against a background of simple, homely things and people. In a vivid phrase he says that St. Luke's gospel "domesticated God"; it brought God right into the home circle and into the ordinary things of life. Jesus' action at Cana of Galilee shows what he thought of a home. As the Revised Standard Version has it, he "manifested forth his glory," and that manifestation took place within a home.

There is a strange paradox in the attitude of many people to the place they call home. They would admit at once that there is no more precious place in all the world; and yet, at the same time, they would also have to admit that in it they claim the right to be far more discourteous, far more boorish, far more selfish, far more impolite than they would dare to be in any society of strangers. Many of us treat the ones we love most in a way that we would never dare to treat a chance acquaintance. So often it is strangers who see us at our best and those who live with us who see us at our worst. We ought ever to remember that it was in a humble home that Jesus manifested forth his glory. To him home was a place for which nothing but his best was good enough.

(iii) We note why it happened. We have already seen that in the East hospitality was always a sacred duty. It would have brought embarrassed shame to that home that day if the wine had run done. It was to save a humble Galilaean family from hurt that Jesus put forth his power. It was in sympathy, in kindness, in understanding for simple folk that Jesus acted.

Nearly everyone can do the big thing on the big occasion; but it takes Jesus to do the big thing on a simple, homely occasion like this. There is a kind of natural human maliciousness which rather enjoys the misfortunes of others and which delights to make a good story of them over the teacups. But Jesus, the Lord of all life, and the King of glory, used his power to save a simple Galilaean lad and lass from humiliation. It is just by such deeds of understanding, simple kindliness that we too can show that we are followers of Jesus Christ.

Further, this story shows us very beautifully two things about Mary's faith in Jesus.

(i) Instinctively Mary turned to Jesus whenever something went wrong. She knew her son. It was not till he was thirty years old that Jesus left home; and all these years Mary lived with him. There is an old legend which tens of the days when Jesus was a little baby in the home in Nazareth. It tells how in those days when people felt tired and worried and hot and bothered and upset, they would say: "Let us go and look at Mary's child," and they would go and look at Jesus, and somehow all their troubles rolled away. It is still true that those who know Jesus intimately instinctively turn to him when things go wrong--and they never find him wanting.

(ii) Even when Mary did not understand what Jesus was going to do, even when it seemed that he had refused her request, Mary still believed in him so much that she turned to the serving folk and told them to do whatever Jesus told them to do. Mary had the faith which could trust even when it did not understand. She did not know what Jesus was going to do, but she was quite sure that he would do the right thing. In every life come periods of darkness when we do not see the way. In every life come things which are such that we do not see why they came or any meaning in them. Happy is the man who in such a case still trusts even when he cannot understand.

Still further, this story tells us something about Jesus. In answer to Mary he said: "My hour has not yet come." All through the gospel story Jesus talks about his hour. In John 7:6; John 7:8 it is the hour of his emergence as the Messiah. In John 12:23 and John 17:1, and in Matthew 26:18; Matthew 26:45 and in Mark 14:41 it is the hour of his crucifixion and his death. All through his life Jesus knew that he had come into this world for a definite purpose and a definite task. He saw his life not in terms of his wishes, but in terms of God's purpose for himself. He saw his life not against the shifting background of time, but against the steady background of eternity. All through his life he went steadily towards that hour for which he knew that he had come into the world. It is not only Jesus who came into this world to fulfil the purpose of God. As someone has said: "Every man is a dream and an idea of God." We, too, must think not of our own wishes and our own desires, but of the purpose for which God sent us into his world.

THE NEW EXHILARATION ( John 2:1-11 continued)

Now we must think of the deep and permanent truth which John is seeking to teach when he tells this story.

We must remember that John was writing out of a double background. He was a Jew and he was writing for Jews; but his great object was to write the story of Jesus in such a way that it would come home also to the Greeks.

Let us look at it first of all from the Jewish point of view. We must always remember that beneath John's simple stories there is a deeper meaning which is open only to those who have eyes to see. In all his gospel John never wrote an unnecessary or an insignificant detail. Everything means something and everything points beyond.

There were six stone waterpots; and at the command of Jesus the water in them turned to wine. According to the Jews seven is the number which is complete and perfect; and six is the number which is unfinished and imperfect. The six stone waterpots stand for all the imperfections of the Jewish law. Jesus came to do away with the imperfections of the law and to put in their place the new wine of the gospel of his grace. Jesus turned the imperfection of the law into the perfection of grace.

There is another thing to note in this connection. There were six waterpots; each held between twenty and thirty gallons of water; Jesus turned the water into wine. That would give anything up to one hundred and eighty gallons of wine. Simply to state that fact is to show that John did not mean the story to be taken with crude literalness. What John did mean to say is that when the grace of Jesus comes to men there is enough and to spare for all. No wedding party on earth could drink one hundred and eighty gallons of wine. No need on earth can exhaust the grace of Christ; there is a glorious superabundance in it.

John is telling us that in Jesus the imperfections have become perfection, and the grace has become illimitable, sufficient and more than sufficient for every need.

Let us look at it now from the Greek point of view. It so happens that the Greeks actually possessed stories like this. Dionysos was the Greek god of wine. Pausanias was a Greek who wrote a description of his country and of its ancient ceremonies. In his description of Elis, he describes an old ceremony and belief: "Between the market-place and the Menius is an old theatre and a sanctuary of Dionysos; the image is by Praxiteles. No god is more revered by the Eleans than Dionysos is, and they say that he attends their festival of the Thyia. The place where they hold the festival called the Thyia is about a mile from the city. Three empty kettles are taken into the building and deposited there by the priests in the presence of the citizens and of any strangers who may happen to be staying in the country. On the doors of the buildings the priests, and all who choose to do so, put their seals. Next day they are free to examine the seals, and on entering the building they find the kettles full of wine. I was not there myself at the time of the festival, but the most respectable men of Elis, and strangers too, swore that the facts were as I have said."

So the Greeks, too, had their stories like this; and it is as if John said to them: "You have your stories and your legends about your gods. They are only stories and you know that they are not really true. But Jesus has come to do what you have always dreamed that your gods could do. He has come to make the things you longed for come true."

To the Jews John said: "Jesus has come to turn the imperfection of the law into the perfection of grace." To the Greeks he said: "Jesus has come really and truly to do the things you only dreamed the gods could do."

Now we can see what John is teaching us. Every story tells us not of something Jesus did once and never again, but of something which he is for ever doing. John tens us not of things that Jesus once did in Palestine, but of things that he still does today. And what John wants us to see here is not that Jesus once on a day turned some waterpots of water into wine; he wants us to see that whenever Jesus comes into a man's life, there comes a new quality which is like turning water into wine. Without Jesus, life is dull and stale and flat; when Jesus comes into it, life becomes vivid and sparkling and exciting. Without Jesus, life is drab and uninteresting; with him it is thrilling and exhilarating.

When Sir Wilfred Grenfell was appealing for volunteers for his work in Labrador, he said that he could not promise them much money, but he could promise them the time of their lives. That is what Jesus promises us. Remember that John was writing seventy years after Jesus was crucified. For seventy years he had thought and meditated and remembered, until he saw meanings and significances that he had not seen at the time. When John told this story he was remembering what life with Jesus was like; and he said, "Wherever Jesus went and whenever he came into life it was like water turning into wine." This story is John saying to us: "If you want the new exhilaration, become a follower of Jesus Christ, and there will come a change in your life which will be like water turning into wine."

THE ANGER OF JESUS ( John 2:12-16 )

2:12-16 After this Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother and his brothers and his disciples; and they stayed there for a short time.

The Passover Feast of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money-changers sitting at their tables. He made a scourge of cords and drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep and the oxen as well. He scattered the coins of the exchangers and overturned their tables. He said to those who were selling doves: "Take these away and stop making my Father's house a house of trade."

After the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, Jesus and his friends returned for a short visit to Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee and about twenty miles distant.

Shortly after this Jesus set out to observe the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. The Passover fell on the 15th Nisan, which is about the middle of April; and, according to the law, it was obligatory for every adult male Jew who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem to attend the feast.

Here we have a very interesting thing. At first sight John has a quite different chronology of the life of Jesus from that of the other three gospels. In them Jesus is depicted as going to Jerusalem only once. The Passover Feast at which he was crucified is the only one they mention, and his only visit to Jerusalem except the visit to the Temple when he was a boy. But in John we find Jesus making frequent visits to Jerusalem. John tells us of no fewer than three Passovers--this present one, the one in John 6:4 and the one in John 11:55. In addition, according to John's story, Jesus was in Jerusalem for an unnamed feast in John 5:1; for the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:2; John 7:10; and for the Feast of the Dedication in John 10:22. In point of fact in the other three gospels the main ministry of Jesus is in Galilee; in John Jesus is in Galilee only for brief periods ( John 2:1-12; John 4:43-54; John 5:1; John 6:1-7; John 14:1-31), and his main ministry is in Jerusalem.

The truth is that there is no real contradiction here. John and the others are telling the story from different points of view. They do not contradict but complement each other. Matthew, Mark and Luke concentrate on the ministry in Galilee; John concentrates on the ministry in Jerusalem. Although the other three tell us of only one visit to Jerusalem and one Passover there, they imply that there must have been many others. At his last visit they show us Jesus mourning over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" ( Matthew 23:37). Jesus could never have spoken like that if he had not made repeated appeals to Jerusalem and if the visit at which he was crucified was his first. We ought not to talk about the contradictions between the Fourth Gospel and the other three, but to use them all to get as complete a picture of the life of Jesus as possible.

But there is a real difficulty we must face. This passage tells of the incident known as the Cleansing of the Temple. John sets it right at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, while the other three gospel writers set it right at the end ( Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46). This definitely needs explanation and various explanations have been put forward.

(i) It is suggested that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of his ministry. That is not very likely, because if he had done this staggering thing once, it is very unlikely that he would ever have had the chance to do it again. His reappearance in the Temple would have been a sign for such precautions to be taken that a repetition of it would not have been possible.

(ii) It is suggested that John is right and that the other three are wrong. But the incident fits in much better at the end of Jesus' ministry. It is the natural succession to the blazing courage of the Triumphal Entry and the inevitable prelude to the Crucifixion. If we have to choose between John's dating and the dating of the other three, we must choose the dating of the three.

(iii) It is suggested that when John died he left his gospel not completely finished; that he left the various incidents written out on separate sheets of papyrus and not bound together. It is then suggested that the sheet containing the account of this incident got out of place and was inserted near the beginning of the manuscript instead of near the end. That is quite possible, but it involves assuming that the person who arranged the manuscript did not know the correct order, which is difficult to believe when he must have known at least some of the other gospels.

(iv) We must always remember that John, as someone has said, is more interested in the truth than in the facts. He is not interested in writing a chronological biography of Jesus but supremely interested in showing Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. It is probable that John was thinking back to the great prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. "And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight; behold he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap ... he will purify the sons of Levi ... till they present right offerings to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years" ( Malachi 3:1-4). John had these tremendous prophecies ringing in his mind. He was not interested to tell men when Jesus cleansed the Temple; he was supremely interested in telling men that Jesus did cleanse the Temple, because that cleansing was the act of the promised Messiah of God. All the likelihood is that John put this tremendous incident here to set in the very forefront of his story the great fact that Jesus was the Messiah of God come to cleanse the worship of men and to open the door to God. It is not the date that John is interested in; the date does not matter; his great concern is to show that Jesus' actions prove him to be the promised one of God. Right at the beginning he shows us Jesus acting as God's Messiah must act.

THE ANGER OF JESUS ( John 2:12-16 continued)

Now let us see why Jesus acted as he did. His anger is a terrifying thing; the picture of Jesus with the whip is an awe-inspiring sight. We must see what moved Jesus to this white-hot anger in the Temple Courts.

The passover was the greatest of all the Jewish feasts. As we have already seen, the law laid it down that every adult male Jew who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem was bound to attend it. But it was not only the Jews in Palestine who came to the Passover. By this time Jews were scattered all over the world, but they never forgot their ancestral faith and their ancestral land; and it was the dream and aim of every Jew, no matter in what land he stayed, to celebrate at least one Passover in Jerusalem. Astonishing as it may sound, it is likely that as many as two and a quarter million Jews sometimes assembled in the Holy City to keep the Passover.

There was a tax that every Jew over nineteen years of age must pay. That was the Temple tax. It was necessary that all should pay that tax so that the Temple sacrifices and the Temple ritual might be carried out day by day. The tax was one half-shekel. We must always remember, when we are thinking of sums of money, that at this time a working man's wage was about less than 4 pence per day. The value of a half-shekel was about 6 p. It was, therefore, equivalent to almost two days' wages. For all ordinary purposes in Palestine all kinds of currency were valid. Silver coins from Rome and Greece and Egypt and Tyre and Sidon and Palestine itself all were in circulation and all were valid. But the Temple tax had to be paid either in Galilaean shekels or in shekels of the sanctuary. These were Jewish coins, and so could be used as a gift to the Temple; the other currencies were foreign and so were unclean; they might be used to pay ordinary debts, but not a debt to God.

Pilgrims arrived from all over the world with all kinds of coins. So in the Temple courts there sat the money-changers. If their trade had been straightforward they would have been fulfilling an honest and a necessary purpose. But what they did was to charge one ma'ah, a coin worth about 1 pence, for every half-shekel they changed, and to charge another ma'ah on every half-shekel of change they had to give if a larger coin was tendered. So, if a man came with a coin the value of which was two shekels, he had to pay 1 pence to get it changed, and other 3 pence to get his change of three half-shekels. In other words the money-changers made 4 pence out of him--and that, remember, was one day's wage.

The wealth which accrued from the Temple tax and from this method of money-changing was fantastic. The annual revenue of the Temple from the Temple tax has been estimated at 75,000 British pounds, and the annual profit of the money-changers at 9,000 British pounds. When Crassus captured Jerusalem and raided the Temple treasury in 54 B.C. he took from it 2,500,000 British pounds without coming near to exhausting it.

The fact that the money-changers received some discount when they changed the coins of the pilgrims was not in itself wrong. The Talmud laid it down: "It is necessary that everyone should have half a shekel to pay for himself. Therefore when he comes to the exchange to change a shekel for two half-shekels he is obliged to allow the money-changer some gain." The word for this discount was kollubos and the money-changers are called kollubistai ( G2855) . This word kollubos produced the comedy character name Kollybos in Greek and Collybus in Latin, which meant much the same as Shylock in English.

What enraged Jesus was that pilgrims to the Passover who could ill afford it, were being fleeced at an exorbitant rate by the money-changers. It was a rampant and shameless social injustice--and what was worse, it was being done in the name of religion.

Besides the money-changers there were also the sellers of oxen and sheep and doves. Frequently a visit to the Temple meant a sacrifice. Many a pilgrim would wish to make thank-offering for a favourable journey to the Holy City; and most acts and events in life had their appropriate sacrifice. It might therefore seem to be a natural and helpful thing that the victims for the sacrifices could be bought in the Temple court. It might well have been so. But the law was that any animal offered in sacrifice must be perfect and unblemished. The Temple authorities had appointed inspectors (mumcheh) to examine the victims which were to be offered. The fee for inspection was 1 pence. If a worshipper bought a victim outside the Temple, it was to all intents and purposes certain that it would be rejected after examination. Again that might not have mattered much, but a pair of doves could cost as little as 4 pence outside the Temple, and as much as 75 pence inside. Here again was bare-faced extortion at the expense of poor and humble pilgrims, who were practically blackmailed into buying their victims from the Temple booths if they wished to sacrifice at all--once more a glaring social injustice aggravated by the fact that it was perpetrated in the name of pure religion.

It was that which moved Jesus to flaming anger. We are told that he took cords and made a whip. Jerome thinks that the very sight of Jesus made the whip unnecessary. "A certain fiery and starry light shone from his eyes, and the majesty of the Godhead gleamed in his face." Just because Jesus loved God, he loved God's children, and it was impossible for him to stand passively by while the worshippers of Jerusalem were treated in this way.

THE ANGER OF JESUS ( John 2:12-16 continued)

We have seen that it was the exploitation of the pilgrims by conscienceless men which moved Jesus to immediate wrath; but there were deep things behind the cleansing of the Temple. Let us see if we can penetrate to the even deeper reasons why Jesus took this drastic step.

No two of the evangelists give Jesus' words in precisely the same way. They all remembered their own version. It is only by putting all the accounts together that we get a true picture of what Jesus said. So then let us set down the different ways in which the writers report the words of Jesus. Matthew gives them as: "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers" ( Matthew 21:13). Mark has it: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers" ( Mark 11:17). Luke has it: "My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers" ( Luke 19:46). John has it: "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade" ( John 2:16).

There were at least three reasons why Jesus acted as he did, and why anger was in his heart.

(i) He acted as he did because God's house was being desecrated. In the Temple there was worship without reverence. Reverence is an instinctive thing. Edward Seago, the artist, tells how he took two gypsy children on a visit to a cathedral in England. They were wild enough children at ordinary times. But from the moment they came into the cathedral they were strangely quiet; all the way home they were unusually solemn; and it was not until the evening that they returned to their normal boisterousness. Instinctive reverence was in their uninstructed hearts.

Worship without reverence can be a terrible thing. It may be worship which is formalized and pushed through anyhow; the most dignified prayers on earth can be read like a passage from an auctioneer's catalogue. It may be worship which does not realize the holiness of God, and which sounds as if, in H.H. Farmer's phrase, the worshipper was "pally with the Deity." it may be worship in which leader or congregation are completely unprepared. It may be the use of the house of God for purposes and in a way where reverence and the true function of God's house are forgotten. In that court of God's house at Jerusalem there would be arguments about prices, disputes about coins that were worn and thin, the clatter of the market place. That particular form of irreverence may not be common now, but there are other ways of offering an irreverent worship to God.

(ii) Jesus acted as he did in order to show that the whole paraphernalia of animal sacrifice was completely irrelevant. For centuries the prophets had been saying exactly that. "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.... Bring no more vain offerings" ( Isaiah 1:11-17). "For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices" ( Jeremiah 7:22). "With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him" ( Hosea 5:6). "They love sacrifice; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them" ( Hosea 8:13). "For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased" ( Psalms 51:16). There was a chorus of prophetic voices telling men of the sheer irrelevancy of the burnt offerings and the animal sacrifices which smoked continuously upon the altar at Jerusalem. Jesus acted as he did to show that no sacrifice of any animal can ever put a man right with God.

We are not totally free from this very tendency today. True, we will not offer animal sacrifice to God. But we can identify his service with the installation of stained glass windows, the obtaining of a more sonorous organ, the lavishing of money on stone and lime and carved wood, while real worship is far away. It is not that these things are to be condemned--far from it. They are often--thank God--the lovely offerings of the loving heart. When they are aids to true devotion they are God-blessed things; but when they are substitutes for true devotion they make God sick at heart.

(iii) There is still another reason why Jesus acted as he did. Mark has a curious little addition which none of the other gospels has: "My house shall be called the house of prayer for all the nations" ( Mark 11:17). The Temple consisted of a series of courts leading into the Temple proper and to the Holy Place. There was first the Court of the Gentiles, then the Court of the Women, then the Court of the Israelites, then the Court of the Priests. All this buying and selling was going on in the Court of the Gentiles which was the only place into which a Gentile might come. Beyond that point, access to him was barred. So then if there was a Gentile whose heart God had touched, he might come into the Court of the Gentiles to mediate and pray and distantly touch God. The Court of the Gentiles was the only place of prayer he knew.

The Temple authorities and the Jewish traders were making the Court of the Gentiles into an uproar and a rabble where no man could pray. The lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the cooing of the doves, the shouts of the hucksters, the rattle of the coins, the voices raised in bargaining disputes--all these combined to make the Court of the Gentiles a place where no man could worship. The conduct in the Temple court shut out the seeking Gentile from the presence of God. It may well be that this was most in Jesus' mind; it may well be that Mark alone preserved the little phrase which means so much. Jesus was moved to the depths of his heart because seeking men were being shut out from the presence of God.

Is there anything in our church life--a snobbishness, an exclusiveness, a coldness, a lack of welcome, a tendency to make the congregation into a closed club, an arrogance, a fastidiousness--which keeps the seeking stranger out? Let us remember the wrath of Jesus against those who made it difficult and even impossible for the seeking stranger to make contact with God.

THE NEW TEMPLE ( John 2:17-22 )

2:17-22 His disciples remembered that there is a scripture which stands written: "For zeal for your house has consumed me." Then the Jews demanded of him: "What sign do you show us to justify your acting in this way?" Jesus answered: "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up." Then the Jews said: "It has taken forty-six years to build the Temple so far, and are you going to raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed on the scripture and on the word which Jesus spoke.

It was quite certain that an act like the cleansing of the Temple would produce an immediate reaction in those who saw it happening. It was not the kind of thing that anyone could look at with complete indifference. It was much too staggering for that.

Here we have two reactions. First, there is the reaction of the disciples which was to remember the words of Psalms 69:9. The point is that this Psalm was taken to refer to the Messiah. When the Messiah came he would be burned up with a zeal for the house of God. When this verse leapt into their minds, it meant the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah seized the minds of the disciples even more deeply and more definitely. This action befitted none but the Messiah, and they were surer than ever that Jesus was in fact the Anointed One of God.

Second, there is the reaction of the Jews, a very natural one. They asked what right Jesus had to act like that and demanded that he should at once prove his credentials by some sign. The point is this. They acknowledged the act of Jesus to be that of one who thereby claimed to be the Messiah. It was always expected that when the Messiah came he would confirm his claims by doing amazing things. False Messiahs did in fact arise and promise to cleave the waters of Jordan in two or make the walls of the city collapse at a word. The popular idea of the Messiah was connected with wonders. So the Jews said: "By this act of yours you have publicly claimed to be the Messiah. Now show us some wonder which will prove your claim."

Jesus' reply constitutes the great problem of this passage. What did he really say? And what did he really mean? It is always to be remembered that John 2:21-22 are John's interpretation written long afterwards. He was inevitably reading into the passage ideas which were the product of seventy years of thinking about and experience of the Risen Christ. As Irenaeus said long ago: "No prophecy is fully understood until after the fulfilment of it." But what did Jesus originally say and what did he originally mean?

There is no possible doubt that Jesus spoke words which were very like these, words which could be maliciously twisted into a destructive claim. When Jesus was on trial, the false witness borne against him was: "This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days" ( Matthew 26:61). The charge levelled against Stephen was: "We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us" ( Acts 6:14).

We must remember two things and we must put them together. First, Jesus certainly never said he would destroy the material Temple and then rebuild it. Jesus in fact looked for the end of the Temple. He said to the woman of Samaria that the day was coming when men would worship God neither in Mount Gerizim, nor in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth ( John 4:21). Second, the cleansing of the Temple, as we have seen, was a dramatic way of showing that the whole Temple worship with its ritual and its sacrifice was irrelevant and could do nothing to lead men to God. It is clear that Jesus did expect that the Temple would pass away; that he had come to render its worship unnecessary and obsolete; and that therefore he would never suggest that he would rebuild it.

We must now turn to Mark. As so often, we find the little extra suggestive and illuminating phrase there. As Mark relates the charge against Jesus, it ran: "I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another not made with hands" ( Mark 14:58). What Jesus really meant was that his coming had put an end to all this man-made, man-arranged way of worshipping God and put in its place a spiritual worship; that he put an end to all this business of animal sacrifice and priestly ritual and put in its place a direct approach to the Spirit of God which did not need an elaborate man-made Temple and a ritual of incense and sacrifice offered by the hands of men. The threat of Jesus was: "Your Temple worship, your elaborate ritual, your lavish animal sacrifices are at an end, because I have come." The promise of Jesus was: "I will give you a way to come to God without all this human elaboration and human ritual. I have come to destroy this Temple in Jerusalem and to make the whole earth the Temple where men can know the presence of the living God."

The Jews saw that. It was in 19 B.C. that Herod had begun to build that wondrous Temple; it was not until A.D. 64 that the building was finally finished. It was forty-six years since it had been started; it was to be another twenty before it was ended. Jesus shattered the Jews by telling them that all its magnificence and splendour and all the money and skill that had been lavished on it were completely irrelevant; that he had come to show men a way to come to God without any Temple at all.

That must be what Jesus actually said; but in the years to come John saw far more than that in Jesus' saying. He saw in it nothing less than a prophecy of the Resurrection; and John was right. He was right for this basic reason, that the whole round earth could never become the temple of the living God until Jesus was released from the body and was everywhere present; and until he was with men everywhere, even to the end of the world.

It is the presence of the living, risen Christ which makes the whole world into the Temple of God. So John says that when they remembered, they saw in this a promise of the Resurrection. They did not see that at the time; they could not; it was only their own experience of the living Christ which one day showed them the true depth of what Jesus said.

Finally John says that "they believed the scripture." What scripture? John means that scripture which haunted the early church--". . . or let thy godly one see the Pit" ( Psalms 16:10). Peter quoted it at Pentecost ( Acts 2:31); Paul quoted it at Antioch ( Acts 13:35). It expressed the confidence of the church in the power of God and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We have here the tremendous truth that our contact with God, our entry into his presence, on our approach to him is not dependent on anything that men's hands can build or men's minds devise. In the street, in the home, at business, on the hits, on the open road, in church we have our inner temple, the presence of the Risen Christ for ever with us throughout all the world.


2:23-25 When he was in Jerusalem, at the Passover, at the Feast, many believed in his name, as they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus himself would not entrust himself to them, because he knew them all, and because he had no need that anyone should testify to him what man is like, for he well knew what was in human nature.

John does not relate the story of any wonder that Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover season; but Jesus did do wonders there; and there were many who, when they saw his powers, believed in him. The question John is answering here is--if there were many who believed in Jerusalem right at the beginning, why did Jesus not there and then set up his standard and openly declare himself?

The answer is that Jesus knew human nature only too well. He knew that there were many to whom he was only a nine-days' wonder. He knew that there were many who were attracted only by the sensational things he did. He knew that there were none who understood the way that he had chosen. He knew that there were many who would have followed him while he continued to produce miracles and wonders and signs, but who, if he had begun to talk to them about service and self-denial, if he had begun to talk to them about self-surrender to the will of God, if he had begun to talk to them about a cross and about carrying a cross, would have stared at him with blank incomprehension and left him on the spot.

It is a great characteristic of Jesus that he did not want followers unless they clearly knew and definitely accepted what was involved in following him. He refused--in the modern phrase--to cash in on a moment's popularity. If he had entrusted himself to the mob in Jerusalem, they would have declared him Messiah there and then and would have waited for the kind of material action they expected the Messiah to take. But Jesus was a leader who refused to ask men ever to accept him until they understood what accepting meant. He insisted that a man should know what he was doing.

Jesus knew human nature. He knew the fickleness and instability of the heart of man. He knew that a man can be swept away in a moment of emotion, and then back out when he discovers what decision really means. He knew how human nature hungers for sensations. He wanted not a crowd of men cheering they knew not what, but a small company who knew what they were doing and who were prepared to follow to the end.

There is one thing we must note in this passage, for we shall have occasion to mark it again and again. When John speaks of Jesus' miracles he calls them signs. The New Testament uses three different words for the wonderful works of God and of Jesus, and each has something to tell us about what a miracle really is.

(i) It uses the word teras ( G5059) . Teras ( G5059) simply means a marvellous thing. It is a word with no moral significance at all. A conjuring trick might be a teras ( G5059) . A teras ( G5059) was simply an astonishing happening which left a man gasping with surprise. The New Testament never uses this word alone of the works of God or of Jesus.

(ii) It uses the word dunamis ( G1411) . Dunamis literally means power; it is the word from which dynamite comes. It can be used of any kind of extraordinary power. It can be used of the power of growth, of the powers of nature, of the power of a drug, of the power of a man's genius. It always has the meaning of an effective power which does things and which any man can recognize. (iii) It uses the word semeion ( G4592) . Semeion means a sign. This is John's favourite word. To him a miracle was not simply an astonishing happening; it was not simply a deed of power; it was a sign. That is to say, it told men something about the person who did it; it revealed something of his character; it laid bare something of his nature; it was an action through which it was possible to understand better and more fully the character of the person who did it. To John the supreme thing about the miracles of Jesus was that they told men something about the nature and the character of God. The power of Jesus was used to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to comfort the sorrowing; and the fact that Jesus used his power in that way was proof that God cared for the sorrows and the needs and the pains of men. To John the miracles were signs of the love of God.

In any miracle, then, there are three things. There is the wonder which leaves men dazzled, astonished, aghast. There is the power which is effective, which can deal with and mend a broken body, an unhinged mind, a bruised heart, which can do things. There is the sign which tells us of the love in the heart of the God who does such things for men.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on John 2". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/john-2.html. 1956-1959.
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