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PART II. (B.)
II. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE GLORY OF THE WORD IN SIGNS AMONG HIS OWN PEOPLE IN THE REGION OF HIS HOME, AND AMONG MANY OF HIS COUNTRYMEN IN JERUSALEM
1. At Cana of Galilee.—The water made wine. Jesus manifests His power in the realm of nature (John 2:1-11).
2. In His public ministry at Jerusalem.—
(1) In the temple He shows His supremacy as the Son in the Father’s house (John 2:12-17);
(2) in a prophetic sign (John 2:18-22);
(3) in miracles of beneficence (John 2:23-25).
First Year of Public Ministry
John 2:1 to John 4:54.—Place in Synoptic history: follows Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:13-15; Luke 4:13-30.
Chap. 2—To 14th Nisan—i.e. end of March, A.U.C. 781, A.D. 28.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 2:1. τῃ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ—This note of time refers to John 1:43-44. He was evidently in Galilee when He found Philip; thus the third day will mean the third after His arrival in Galilee. Κανᾶ.—There are two modern sites which dispute the title to be the Cana of St. John. Robinson, rejecting the traditionally accepted Kefr Kenna (about an hour and a half from Nazareth), fixed on a village lying to the north-east of Nazareth, and about two hours distant, called Cana El Jelîl, i.e. Cana of Galilee. But recent exploration is tending to vindicate the claims of Kefr Kenna. Probably further careful investigation will be needed before a final decision can be arrived at. It was called of Galilee to distinguish it from other Canas—notably one in Asher’s territory (Joshua 19:28). The mother of Jesus was there.—There was evidently close friendship, if not relationship, between Mary and the family in which the marriage was to take place. Mary was evidently more than a guest merely (John 2:3). She may have been resident in the village at this juncture, as she seems to have left Nazareth at the time of the incident recorded in Mark 6:1-6, see John 2:3 especially.
John 2:2. And both Jesus was called, etc.—Probably they were invited after all the other invitations had been made. Their arrival was therefore likely unanticipated. But as Nathanael was of Cana, and Mary was either resident there or intimately acquainted with some of the people, it is easy to understand how the little company were asked to be present, though late. The disciples were the five mentioned in chapter 1.—John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.
John 2:4. τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί.—What is there to Me and to thee? What is common to us in this matter? (מָה לָנוּ וָלָךְ—2 Samuel 16:10; 2 Samuel 16:10; Judges 11:12, etc: Wordsworth, Greek Testament.) γύναι.—Woman. The word indicates no want of esteem, nor does it even imply reproach (see John 19:26; John 20:13; John 20:15; Luke 13:12); but, taken in connection with the preceding words and with what follows, it means less than μήτηρ, mother. Here our Lord implied that He stood now in a different relationship to Mary than the old one (Luke 2:51). He had assumed His Messianic office, and must now be thought of first and foremost as the Lord of Mary. She, as all others of humankind, must now honour and obey Him. Thus He says, οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μου.—Mine hour, etc. Even Mary will not be permitted to direct His activity. “The times and seasons” are for Him to determine in accordance with His Father’s will, οὔπω is more than no. It implied the possibility, and more, of Jesus doing something in His own time. Mary seized on this; and whilst realising that her request would be granted otherwise than as she wished, yet this word announced that help would be forthcoming. Therefore she confidently said to the servants (John 2:5), “Whatsoever He saith,” etc.
John 2:6-7. Six waterpots, etc.—Large stone jars, containing two or three firkins (μετρητής). The metrçtçs is used for the Hebrew “bath” (2 Chronicles 4:5), equal to nearly nine gallons. Thus each waterpot would contain somewhere between 18 and 25 gallons, and the whole six about 130 gallons. Purifying.—The ceremonial injunctions as to which were strictly attended to by pious Israelites (Mark 7:3-4; Matthew 15:2; Luke 11:38). The jars were apparently wholly or partly empty. The Servants, not the disciples, were employed. Thus there could be no suspicion of collusion.
John 2:8. The Governor (or Master) of the feast.—He was probably one of the friends of the bridegroom, appointed to see that the guests were served, etc. This is evident from his familiarity with the bridegroom (John 2:10).
John 2:9. τὸ ὕδωρ οἶνον γεγενημένον.—“The water which had become wine.” Luther: “The wine which had been water.” This is evidently intended as a definite statement of a fact.
John 2:10. When men have well drunk.—The phrase does not refer to the company at the marriage feast. We cannot imagine Jesus remaining among drunken people, and even ministering to their folly. The remark seems to have been a kind of “saw,” referring to a mean custom practised by stingy people. It serves to call attention to the fact, and for that purpose is introduced here.
John 2:11. This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana, etc.—A clear definite sentence marking out this as the first of His miracles—not the first wrought in Cana merely.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 2:1-11
Three stoops of faith.—Shortly before our Redeemer had gathered round Him a small company of disciples. To them it was truly advantageous that they were witnesses of this first miracle. They had believed Christ’s word, but now that they saw His glory manifested in miracle it was like oil on the fire of their faith, so that they began more earnestly to trust Him. Their reverence for Him was strengthened, and they were more fully convinced that He was the Redeemer sent of God. It is truly a blessed result which the Holy Ghost records as the outcome of this history. It is an indication to us how we may thereby permit the same blessed fruit to be produced in us. The great end of this miracle is that we should be led to faith in the Saviour, who in it showed forth His glory. Jesus shows forth His glory by many signs and wonders—does that which far surpasses the power of mortals. He calls into being what is not; changes water into wine; changes the stony heart of the sinner. He shows that His counsel in many ways is wonderful, and carries it through gloriously. He gives us more than we ask for—blesses us in time of need. This He does not generally and universally only. He does it in the case of the individual. To what should this prompt us? To faith, etc.
In our consideration of this gospel history we shall find three immovable stays of faith in Christ, as we see in it proofs of the—
1. Absolute omnipotence;
2. Divine Wisdom
3. Unspeakable goodness of the Lord Jesus. Faith in Christ stands on no sandy, insecure foundation: it rests on many great and irrefragable proofs, which remain unshaken. If we attend to those in our gospel to-day, therefore, we find—
I. The absolute omnipotence of Jesus.—This He proved in the miracle. There is a considerable period of time elapses in the order of nature ere the fruitful moisture of the earth circulates through the vine-stem and the branches, is distilled in the grapes by the sun, and thus by degrees is transformed into wine. Days, weeks, months go by often whilst the husbandman waits. But the Lord who works as He pleases (Psalms 115:3) “speaks and it is done” (Psalms 33:9), etc. Through sin we are among the number of those creatures who are most feeble. Want, trial, misery touch us. Now wine fails; now even water. Now we fail within; again without. Now we are in want ourselves; anon those who are ours. Now grace is needed; then forgiveness, humility, peace of conscience, heavenly power in the struggle against temptation. Sometimes a Christian father regards his children sadly, and sighs that they have no bread—not to speak of luxuries—perhaps not even needful clothing for the body, etc. In view of such trials the faithful cast themselves on the care of Him who created the heavens and earth, of Christ the almighty Saviour—a faith like that of the centurion (Matthew 8:5-10). This is trust in Jesus as a Redeemer who has power over all things, and who needs but to speak the word in order to relieve the spiritual or temporal misery of any of humankind. The believer flees to Him and says, Speak but the word, and my spiritual and material cares and troubles will pass away, etc. The omnipotence of Jesus is a prop and support on which faith rests. But, again, faith rests also on the firm ground of—
II. The divine wisdom of Jesus.—Mary sought to forestall the Saviour, and thought He should either give help at once, or quickly take His departure with the disciples, so that the lack of wine might not be made known, to the shame of the hosts. But Jesus traversed her plan, and answered: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” etc. Mary, however, was contented to wait in faith for that hour which the Lord in His wisdom had appointed. This, then, is a great help to faith when men look at the Lord Jesus, not only as the almighty Saviour who has power and means to do what they need, but as the all-wise Redeemer who well knows how and where and when He should help them. The wilful heart of man, however, is often inclined to seek to control the divine wisdom, and considers that whatever help is needed for the supply of men’s wants must be rendered without delay. It will often demand from the Saviour that He should immediately bring all His power to bear for the relief of necessity. Even men of sincere soul are swayed sometimes by this wilfulness; in their spiritual experiences they think there must be a set time when peace and assurance will fill their souls, doubt and fear vanish, the liability to temptation pass away, etc. Not so will it be with the experienced Christian. He hears in faith this word of Jesus: “Mine hour is not yet come.” My thoughts are not yours, etc. Let Me act. I know what is needful for you. “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). “Fear not, only believe, and ye shall see the glory of the Lord.” He says, Let Me watch, care for, rule, plan, and all will be well. Thus faith rests and confides in the wise guidance of the blessed Saviour. As St. Paul says, “God is faithful,” etc. (1 Corinthians 10:13; Romans 8:28); and as God Himself says in the Psalms, “Why art thou cast down?” etc. (Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11). Yet another stay of faith is found in—
III. The boundless goodness of the Lord Jesus.—This shows itself here partly in that the Saviour was willing to supply the needs of these people, even though they had not yet asked Him to do so; and partly in that He provided so rich a store, a blessing so overflowing, not only for the present, but for the future. Such a Saviour, full of goodness, does faith find in the Lord Jesus, who says to His people: “Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good” (Jeremiah 32:41); who will do exceeding abundantly to them above all they can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20); who is not only willing to hear, even before men call, etc. (Isaiah 65:24), but who is not niggardly of His blessings, and gives them abundant and overflowing (Psalms 23:5). Realise this glorious characteristic of the Lord Jesus, and learn to trust His might, to honour His wisdom, to rest on His goodness!
Ye wilful, unbelieving, impatient, and despairing ones, be ashamed that ye are so rebellious when a Saviour is near whose might is unfettered, whose wisdom is inconceivable, whose goodness is unsearchable. Ye faithful ones, rejoice that ye have such a Redeemer: ye have already realised that those who trust in Him are not put to shame! How often has His power helped you in need? His wisdom found ways and means of relief? How much of blessing for body and soul have you not received from His goodness? Lacked ye anything? No (Luke 22:35). Surely such a Saviour is worthy of all confidence! Continue in this faith.—Abridged from Luther.
John 2:1-2. Jesus sanctifies Christian marriage at Cana.—Jesus by His presence at the marriage feast at Cana, and by working there His first miracle, thus manifesting His glory, honoured the estate of marriage. It would seem as if He foresaw what would happen under a corrupted and perverted state of Christianity, when marriage should be counted less honourable than celibacy—when “men should give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, … forbidding to marry” (1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Timothy 4:3). We know from history the fatal consequences of the endeavour to force on the Church this unscriptural and unchristian doctrine. At Cana, however, our Lord declared the sanctity of this estate, recognised the dignity of womanhood, and the right of woman to her honourable place as the helpmeet of man in the social organism of the family, which is a chief foundation for the unity and order of the race. So holy, indeed, did our Lord account this state of marriage, that in His word He has taken it as a type of the union of Himself with the Church (Ephesians 5:32).
Think of the meaning of marriage, and of the manner in which this condition should be entered upon.
I. Marriage is the divinely ordered means for the foundation of the family, as the chief bond of society, and thus for the conservation and advancement of the race.—
1. Looking at the last-mentioned thought first, we need only point out that this was evidently a chief divine purpose in its institution, viz. to conserve and extend the human race. But had this been the only purpose in view, it is evident that such a solemn institution was in a measure needless, and man might have been left to be guided by his animal instincts merely. Thus, too, irregularities such as polygamy could not have been morally condemned. Hence we find materialistic thinkers, and men who are guided by merely material and secular ideas, do make light of the marriage tie.
2. But the institution was designed also for a greater purpose, viz. to lead through the foundation of the family to a confederate social bond of union, resulting in the settled government and security of persons and property, and thus in the advancement of the race. Without this institution, and the family bond as its result, what cohesion would there, could there, have been among the individuals of the race? Without this true centre and bond human society would disintegrate and fall to pieces. The family is indeed, as Aristotle maintained, the true unit of the race. In this he proved his practical wisdom to be greater, at least in this important direction, than that of Plato, who considered the State as the central idea of a community, that children should be accounted as belonging to the State, and should be trained by it.
3. But not only is the institution of marriage the chief bond of social order; it is just because of this of vital importance to the Church. It is from the bosom of pious families, united with the Church, that its membership is chiefly recruited, and earnest labourers arise to carry on the work of God. Thus we can understand why our Lord, at the very beginning of His ministry, honoured this estate; and why His apostles so strenuously opposed erring teachers who contemned and depreciated it.
II. Again, marriage is the foundation of the family as a school for the training and development of the individual—
1. It is in this school that, cared for and surrounded by the ministries of love, the individuals of the race have their powers and gifts brought into fullest and healthiest exercise, and where they are best fitted to face the battle of life. It is a truism that a careful training in the bosom of a good family is really the best equipment for life.
2. There, also, woman finds her true sphere.—She is not fitted for buffeting with adverse forces without. Her true sphere is the care of the household and family, in the exercise of those domestic virtues, graces, and gifts in which true womanhood finds its glory. Where marriage is despised, or where polygamy or other aberrations prevail, woman is degraded from her true position as a helpmeet to man to that of a mere chattel or toy; and with her society as a whole becomes morally degraded also. Witness the condition of Mohammedan and heathen countries. But here Christ, as we should expect, honours and makes part of His gospel this divine institution in which, at the first, woman was recognised as the divinely appointed helpmeet and companion of man. And it is under His dominion, where His gospel is purely preached, that woman has been raised to a lofty and noble position, because the divine rule, which after the fall sin had desecrated, was by Him reinstated and confirmed.
3. In the married state and in the family the highest qualities in human nature are evoked and educated.—Selfishness dies. Men are here pledged to labour and care not for themselves alone, but for others bound to them by ties of deepest affection. In this sphere is learned the nobility of self-sacrifice in the service of others, the beauty of self-denial, the generous sympathy that leads to mutual burden-bearing, to sorrowing with and soothing the sorrows of others, to rejoicing with them in their joy.
4. And in all this a noble example is set before the children of the family, who, trained under such guidance, and constrained by such example, grow up in Christlikeness, and become blessings to the world.
III. How alone marriage may become truly a blessing.—It is true there are trials and difficulties incident to this estate, as there are to every condition of our imperfect human life. There may be differences of character, leading to want of mutual forbearance, to impatience, and so forth. There are cases where habits develop in one or both partners which lead to unhappiness, if not worse. And there are those trials, hard to bear, where affairs are unprosperous, and the children of the home are ill provided for; and yet again, when children become ungrateful or prodigal. These and many another trial may embitter and destroy family life. But many trials may be mitigated—nay, many may be averted—if those entering on the married state would imitate the village folk of Cana, and invite Jesus to their marriage. Let such not only consult Him as to the choice of a partner in life, but ask Him to be with them in the home, and
1. Through His grace to keep alive in their hearts not only mutual affection, but also that mutual respect and regard which ought to dominate family life, and without which it will be degraded.
2. Let them take Him into counsel in the ordering of their home—daily at the family altar, in the reading of His word, in the training of the children, in the occupations and recreations of life. And
3. Let them ask ever His blessing and wait on Him for the providing of such gifts as He sees they need, both temporal and spiritual. In short, let them ask Jesus to be the chief and honoured guest at their marriage feast, the chief friend and counsellor in the home, and then no difficulties or trials will mar its happiness, and He will provide for them richly, fully, freely, as He did for those at Cana of Galilee, where He first manifested forth His glory.
John 2:2. Jesus the guest most to be desired.—Life may be likened to a banquet—a rich and varied feast. Even to those who are virtuously and honestly poor this will be so. The whole universe brings to them, as to others, a feast of good things. To eye and ear it offers its rich stores of beauty. For taste and feeling it provides unnumbered dainties. To some men these may be given in greater profusion and variety; yet his plain fare may be more sweet to the toil-worn labourer, than the richest banquet to the man of wealth—and indolence! The simple joys and tender affections of the humble home shall be sweeter and truer foretastes of the better home, than all the pleasures wealth can bring to the jaded roué. The feast of life is spread for all men, and the way in which it can be made a feast of happiness from beginning to end is to invite Jesus to be our chief guest (Revelation 3:20).
I. His presence will consecrate all life’s joy.—Pleasures in life can never be real and lasting—true joy will never bless—unless we seek them according to God’s will and in His way. [This idea may be specially applied here with reference to domestic bliss.] It is the presence of sin that mars and vitiates the enjoyment of the bounteous provision God has made for men. Only let men receive and use the divine gifts as the Giver intended, and how pleasant does life become—a true foretaste of the higher and better life yet to be revealed. And how shall men learn to do this? By taking Christ into their lives—by making Him the chief and honoured guest—especially on setting up the home. Let His Spirit guide and direct us, and life will become a perpetual feast, filled with the richest and purest happiness.
II. When He is present He will bring back joy that has fled.—To mortal man much of sorrow comes into the happiest life. The sun of joy is overclouded. The wine of life gives out. Possessions pass away—affection weeps at countless graves—health and energy fail. The feast of life seems to be at an end. But just as the Redeemer turned the water into wine at Cana, and astonished the ruler of the feast with a richer, fuller provision than he had before been able to present to the guests, so does Jesus still come to His people, giving them something nobler and better than that which they have lost. To this truth the experience of all the Christian ages testifies. He can turn the night of weeping into the morning of joy. And when earth’s pleasures depart, when His people are reduced to the simplest and humblest condition, He can glorify it by His presence—can still turn the water of life into wine, its simplest elements into sources of truest joy.
III. When we invite Him to be our guest at life’s banquet, He will provide for the future also, as well as for the present. This He did at Cana. Not only was “the large surplus beyond the present need intended to be a visible and abiding proof and record of this mighty work of Christ” (Chr. Wordsworth); it was also intended to be a provision for the future needs of the household of the married pair. It would continually remind them of His kindness, His bounty, as well as of His wondrous power. This was in the days of His humiliation. But now every blessing we receive should remind us that He has been exalted to give gifts to men, and that every blessing He bestows is a pledge of His continued lovingkindness, for He is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” When we take Him to be our guest, He “crowneth us with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalms 103:0.), “so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalms 90:14-15).
John 2:11. The Lord manifests His glory.—Only in part could Jesus show forth His glory to His people on earth. The fuller revelation is not here and now, as Jesus shows in His prayer before Gethsemane (John 17:24). So there were but partial glimpses given on earth of that glory which He had with the Father before the world was. But wherever it appears it shines conspicuous, and all else passes from view, so that we behold “Jesus only” (Matthew 17:8). So in this scene at Cana, interesting and noteworthy as the other persons are, they and their actions all contribute to direct attention to the central figure, and cause to shine out more clearly and vividly the inner glory of the Saviour. This was manifested—
I. In His divine condescension.—
1. He and His disciples were invited to a marriage and marriage feast, in a humble village near Nazareth, by people who, although in comfortable circumstances, were not by any means possessed of overflowing wealth apparently. And He did not refuse. We must remember, however, that this was He of whom the great truths in the preceding chapter were written—the eternal Word, the Life and Light of men, to whom the Baptist had borne witness, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God,” etc. Upon Him the eternal Spirit had descended in visible form; and He Himself had said to Nathanael, one of the disciples accompanying Him, and that only three days gone, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open,” etc. (John 1:51). This was the exalted Being who condescended to sit down at the humble marriage feast at Cana.
2. And though now exalted in the heavens He is still the same. He comes to humble hearts, opened to receive Him. There is no home, however mean and lowly, where He will not dwell. There is no relationship of life that He will not aid us to sanctify. There is no lawful condition in our earthly lot into which He will refuse to come. And when He does come—when we do open our hearts to Him—He will come blessing-laden. For notice—
II. His providing love and care.—
1. Jesus and His disciples were perhaps invited to the wedding after the master of the feast had made provision for the expected guests. By-and-by the wine gave out; and there seems to have been no means of quickly procuring more. Cana was probably a small hamlet, hours distant from the towns and larger villages where supplies of wine could be had. Mary, who seems to have been on intimate terms with the hosts, desiring to save them the shame of confessing that the wine provided had run short, turned in her perplexity to her Son, feeling certain that He would find a way out of the difficulty. And this He did, although it was not precisely her way. Yet He did not turn aside from her desire, but provided richly that which was lacking at the feast.
2. So does He come with blessing into our needy lives. But not always does He give as we would desire. Oftentimes we ask amiss (James 4:3). Yet if we are His, and earnestly desire good from Him—have truly some need that requires to be supplied—He will not deny us, but in His own time and way will fill up our wants out of His divine, overflowing fulness.
III. So too in the exercise of His divine power He shows forth His glory.
1. It was the same creative might which manifested itself at Cana as that of which chap. John 1:3 tells: “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” “All things by Him consist” (Colossians 1:17). It was by an act of almighty power that Jesus turned the water into wino at Cana. He who called forth order and beauty from chaos at the beginning, shows here the same almighty power in His ability to use those elements and combine them for His own purposes.
2. In this miracle He also showed forth His power of providing for His people. In a country where the vine was a staple product, and where the natural wine of the country was in daily (moderate) use, Jesus exercised His divine creative power in supplying for the wedded pair, to whose marriage feast He had been invited, provision for their daily wants for a long time to come.
3. This miracle is a parable of Christ’s continual activity in His Church. When His people are in straits He is ever able and ready to help them. When they have brought Him into their lives, then they need not fear. Difficulties will yield, stumbling-blocks will be removed, necessities will be met, often richly and far beyond men’s deserving. And this is all natural when it is remembered who it was that in Cana thus manifested His glory. “He is King of kings and Lord of lords.” And shall the children, the subjects of such a King, be ever left irrevocably in straits and difficulties? “The young lions do lack,” etc. (Psalms 34:10). And thus day by day in His Church and to His people “He shows forth His glory.”
IV. Yet again our Lord manifested forth His glory at Cana in the manner in which He leads His own to purer, higher faith.—
1. This is seen in the case of Mary. Probably some desire for personal honour mingled with the wish that Jesus would show forth the power that was in Him. Probably, too, she thought of some striking public manifestation of His power, in view of all the assembled guests, etc. Her faith in Jesus was genuine but faulty. Perhaps we here find an echo, though faint, of that desire for “a sign” so often expressed by the people (John 7:3-4, etc.). But Jesus shows Mary that we must implicitly trust Him in His works and ways. And it was to the now unqualified faith expressed in the words, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it,” that the answer was returned.
2. Christ’s working, as well as His teaching, was wisely ordered to lead men to faith. His miracles were not merely stupendous works of divine power, which would simply overawe men, and lead for the most part to the submission of fear, not to the trust of love: His miracles were all works of love and mercy; so that, whilst they certainly led open and prepared hearts to recognise Him for what He was, they did not awe men into submission and confession (John 10:25-26). It was in the hearts attracted to Him by love that these “signs” had their due effect in leading to stronger faith. And so He still works among men. He could by manifestations of His power awe men into at least outward submission. But such glory and such submission He does not desire. He desires that men should freely believe and love. Therefore He spiritually enlightens them, purifies their faith through the knowledge of Himself, His love, mercy, etc., and thus manifests forth His glory evermore.
John 2:1. The true foundation of marriage.—
1. It is not beauty, nor is it high station.
2. Riches is not the foundation on which it can be securely built.
3. It stands firm alone on virtue and the fear of God.
John 2:2. The secret of uninterrupted union in marriage.—When married people who had disagreed came to Philip Melanchthon and accused each other, he asked whether they had begun their married life with prayer. If the answer given was, as in most cases, “No,” then he said: “Do you then wonder that this has occurred? You have not asked God to bless your married life; and so happiness is far from you. Repent then of your wrong-doing, and it may be that the Lord will be gracious unto you, and bind your hearts together in unity.”
John 2:2. A rule of social fellowship.—
1. As Christ came to the feast, so must His servants come—not only in order that they may have material food, but chiefly that they may feed the guests spiritually with godly conversation.
2. Nor is it seemly that they should remain late into the night, and bring on themselves the condemnation of those who “continue until night, till wine inflame them” (Isaiah 5:11). Go late; leave early—that is the best rule.
John 2:2. We invite Christ to the wedding, when we hallow it with prayer and godly conversation.
John 2:3. Earthly need and heavenly blessing.—
1. Those who imagine that where Christ is there must always be a superabundance of earthly blessings are mistaken. Want is oftentimes good fare for God’s people, and leads them closer to Him.
2. The heavenly Father sometimes withdraws temporal gifts from His children so that they may thirst more for the eternal.
3. Those who would avoid the cross will not invite Christ to dwell with them; for where He comes the cross closely follows Him.
John 2:4. God’s hour strikes when man’s hour ends.—
1. Christ speaks here not so much as the Son of Mary as the Son of God, who was about to perform a good work.
2. He spoke to His mother thus, not slighting her, but in order to show that her maternal authority did not extend to matters pertaining to His office. His own authority was in this supreme.
3. God permits no limit to be prescribed as to what, when, and how He should work; for He knows best Himself.
4. If you would receive blessing, learn to pray and wait.
5. If the Saviour determines that His hour shall not come sooner than at death, then be content if all shall be eternally well with you.
6. God has His horas et moras (days [hours] and delays). When His hour strikes in heaven help is at hand.
John 2:5. The bitter of life made sweet.—As the bees extract honey from the bitterest flowers, so we may also draw consolation from an answer from God which seems to us austere.
John 2:7. “Fill the waterpots,” etc.—
1. He who would enjoy the rose must hazard the thorns, and he who would receive the divine blessing must labour.
2. If we do what we ought to do God will grant us what we desire.
3. Without labour we cannot expect to receive God’s gifts. The divine blessing, it is true, may come in sleep, but not through sleep.
John 2:10. God gives not as the world gives.—
1. The world gives its best to be enjoyed at the beginning, and at the last its dregs. The sweet is set forth at the beginning, the bitter at the end. Worldly pleasure ends in pain.
2. In the kingdom of Christ it is otherwise. He gives the bitter first, the sweet last; He makes sorrowful ere He causes joy; He kills ere He makes alive.
3. Many people are like the master of the feast. They taste somewhat of the working of Christ in the lives of His people; but Jesus remains unknown to them—they know it not as His work. But those who have drawn the water, those who labour and are heavy laden, will know whence has come the quickening wine. Do not refuse then to fill your six waterpots with water. The hour will come when the word of power shall he uttered—“Now!”—and you shall draw out wine.—Weigel, etc.
John 2:11. Christ’s first sign.—
1. St. John points out the fact that Jesus began His signs in Cana in order to assert emphatically that this “sign” was a real moment in the revelation of the Lord and in the faith of His disciples. “The first miracle of the Lord,” says Theremin, “is the type of the continuous miracle which Christ has accomplished, and which He will continue to perform until the end of time, whilst He glorifies men, and transforms their nature and conditions, elevates them, and raises them to a higher existence. The first miracle of the Lord will also be His last. It is done as He speaks: ‘Old things pass away, behold they are become new.’ Like the heavens and the earth, so will the soul be renewed, henceforth to sin no more, then prepared to taste in endless measure the bliss so long desired. Then will the Lord sit among His people in the kingdom of His Father, and pour forth for them the wine of a pure supernal joy, which no interruption shall disturb, and no regret shall embitter. They will be satisfied with the fatness of His house, and filled with joy as from an overflowing stream.”
2. Jesus revealed His glory (τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ) in this miracle, for it displayed to the finite human mind that absolute power with which the Father’s love had clothed the Son (John 3:35). Whilst in the miraculous aid He gave at Cana, meeting the wants of His own people, and showing them the wishes of His love, He was revealed as the only begotten of the Father (full of grace and truth, full of divine love), in whom the righteous and holy nature of God is perfectly displayed. Jesus manifested forth His glory in Cana, for as the Father wrought in Him, so He Himself wrought (John 5:17; John 5:26). That distinguished Jesus from His messengers who did wonderful works before He came. In their works men saw the glory of Jehovah, not their own glory. The works of Jesus, however, show forth His own glory, since they are witnesses of His dignity as the Son. The consequence of this miracle was that His disciples believed on Him. They were already disciples of the Lord; the words of Jesus had led them to faith, but the miracles of Jesus confirmed and strengthened them in their belief. Their faith hitherto was but the first link of the chain binding them to Christ; through the manifestation of His glory they were more confirmed in their union with and devotion to the Lord.
3. The end of Christ’s miracles is to strengthen faith. We do not learn that the other wedding guests were brought to faith by this miracle. The first condition of faith is just that testimony in word that will be received by men. God reveals Himself, not on His own account, but for our sakes; therefore the miraculous asks, if it would effect anything, the moral condition in men of an already existing faith, by which they may become receptive of the testimony of divine Omnipotence. This receptivity was wanting in the case of the other wedding guests, and therefore the miracle would effect only an outward astonishment from which their souls would derive no fruit. We close with a sentence from Petri: “There is but One who is glorious, and this One manifests forth His glory so that we may be partakers of it, whilst through faith we make it our own. Of all of us it ought to be said, His disciples believed on Him.”—J. L. Sommer.
John 2:11. The nature of miracles.—It may be well here to say something regarding the miraculous as it comes before us in the gospel history. There is a tendency in the present time to assume that the external evidences of Christianity, miracles and prophecy, have had their day; and that now the weight of proof of our faith must be put on the internal evidences, i.e. the heavenly morality of the gospel, the beauty of Christ’s moral character, etc. The miracles of Holy Writ are by some indeed considered to be stumbling-blocks rather than aids to faith. Yet, the question comes to be, where do we find this internal evidence which is so strongly relied upon? Is it not in the gospel history, and indeed, to a large extent, in connection with the miraculous and supernatural—to so great an extent indeed that if these were eliminated from the narrative little would remain? Many of the finest traits of Christ’s character, and much of the divineness of His teaching, are mixed up and interwoven with the miraculous. It is an integrant part of the gospel narratives, and with it they stand or fall. In the light of our Lord’s own declarations also, and the testimony of His disciples, we are bound if we accept these to admit His claim to more than human power. Indeed to deny these claims is tantamount to denying His unique divine Sonship, which is so strongly and clearly affirmed, especially in the first chapter of this Gospel. But in saying this it is not assumed that the miracles of Christ are the only proofs of His divine authority; but that in connection with the other proofs of it they combine to demonstrate it. The evidences of gospel truth are cumulative. They gather strength and force from their combination; and taken together seem to many to be irresistible. Suppose no miracles had been wrought by Christ—no sign given that He was the eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God, by whom also He made the worlds”—then it would have been said, Why claim a divine origin for a system that can easily be explained historically? But those inherent accompaniments of the introduction of Christianity stand historically on the same ground as the whole gospel history; and the proofs of its authenticity have never been overthrown. That miracles are not known in our own experience is, therefore, no reason why we should not believe that they were wrought, for we believe many things on the testimony of history which do not come within the range of our experience. The materialist objection is also weak. There can be no miracles, we are told, for they imply an infringement of the laws of nature, of the universal order God has established. These laws are fixed and regular, unvarying and undeviating. The objection assumes too much: it assumes that the objectors are omniscient—not only conversant with all the laws of the material universe, but also with the relation of the universe to the Power which is behind and above all. Then it must not be assumed that believers in revelation consider that miracles are violations of the laws of nature. That is not an assumption they, nor any one, can be entitled to make. In Scripture miracles are never so described. No passage asserts that any law of the universe is broken by the miraculous. Miracles are described by terms which do not imply any such idea. They are wonders (τέρατα) in view of common experience; they are signs (σημεῖα) as evidences of divine working and purpose; and they are powers (δυνάμεις). That is how they appeared to men who witnessed them and were inspired to write about them. No hint is given that these writers supposed them to be violations of God’s laws of creation. Objectors forget that the creation is itself the all-including miracle. Therefore, as Augustine says, “How can that which is done by the will of God be against nature?” The laws of nature, even as we know them, act and interact on each other. But whilst the laws of inorganic nature seem to act undeviatingly in given directions, organic living nature, whilst in part influenced by them, brings into connection with them a power that is above them, which can use them for its own purposes and ends. Man, with reason as his guiding light, can bend many of these forces to his purposes. He can use, e.g., the electric and magnetic forces—make the form of motion we call heat expand water into steam, etc.—can use the forces of gravitation to forward his ends. Nothing, also, is more wonderful in this age than the advance of medical science, its beneficent discoveries, etc. If, then, man has such power over the forces of nature, may not the Author of Nature use them for His benign purposes—quickening if He will the processes of nature—touching if He will the spring of disease, and bidding health return—yes, even with directing power and wisdom bringing the laws of life to bear on the destructive forces of death, and bidding the vital spark He gave at first return again to its tenement of clay? In the light of His creative energy who shall say, “Impossible!” We see His ordinary working, but, as Job says, “The thunder of His power,” etc. (Job 26:14). Now it was necessary for the Word made flesh not only to show His divine Sonship by His heavenly teaching, but by His power over the works of His own hands (chap. John 1:3). Miracles were one of the channels by which His spiritual power and divine life touched savingly our perishing race. He was to be the centre of a new creation, in which the creature subject to vanity should be redeemed, and in which the whole creation which groans and travails in pain (Romans 8:19) should have rest. Christ’s miracles testify to His power to accomplish this. So we find that not only was this power seen in His ability to quicken the processes of nature, but to rebuke disease and give life to the dead. And all these mighty acts were done in implicit oneness of will and purpose with the Father. Thus we feel that in view of what He is proclaimed to be in the prologue of this Gospel, and in the fact that He was “proclaimed with power to be the Son of God, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead” (Romans 1:4), it must be seen that in His life miracles are not only not contradictory, but are really the equivalent of His person and work. Still it must be remembered that, as evidences of the gospel, miracles do not occupy the first place. Coleridge well says: “
1. The consistency of Christianity with right reason I consider as the outer court of the temple.…
2. The miracles, with and through which the religion was first revealed and attested, I regard as the steps, the vestibule, and the portal of the temple.
3. The sense, the inward feeling, in the soul of each believer, of its exceeding durableness, the experience that he needs something, joined with the strong foretokening that the redemption and the grace propounded to us in Christ are what he needs—this I hold to be the true foundation of the spiritual edifice” (Biographia Literaria).
John 2:11. The source of miracle.—Christ is the miraculous in the centre of nature: out of its relation to Him, even nature is miraculous; but in relation to Him, even miracle is natural. The Christian gospel miracle must always find its “natural” explanation in the miracle of the life of Christ. Christ Himself exhibits the completed mediation between the unconditioned omnipotence of God and finite conditioned nature—therefore the mediation of miracles. The possibility of miracles is correctly proved in a twofold way: either by an appeal to the divine omnipotence, or to the idea of an accelerated natural process. On the one hand, it is argued, with God nothing is impossible; on the other, God changes every year water into wine, only by a slower process than at Cana. When, therefore, miracle is described as an act of God’s omnipotence, we have named its deepest ground, its possibility; but its actual occurrence is not thereby explained. It is not even explained by representing that the will of the performer of the miracle has become one with the will of God. For our will may become one with the will of God even in the most profound resignation. But in the performance of a miracle, not only does man become one with God in the depths of the divine will in general, but God also becomes one with man in the special act in which man performs the miraculous, with supernatural power derived from God. When, therefore, we are confronted by omnipotence, by the will of the Almighty, and consequently are deeply moved by the infinite great probability of the miracle, the question still returns, Will God perform a miracle which positively encroaches on miraculous nature? On the other hand, a miracle can as little be regarded as a mere extraordinary operation of the performer upon nature, when we speak of an acceleration of nature. There can be no question, indeed, that as, on the one hand, a miracle is rooted in the omnipotence of God, so, on the other hand, it celebrates its appearance in the accelerated process of nature. If, therefore, we turn to this conception of the accelerated process of nature, we certainly find that nature in its processes performs pure miracles—that it changes water into wine, wine into blood, blood into milk; and this fact shows us how plainly the miracles of the kingdom of God are reflected in similar natural phenomena. These thousandfold similarities give us, therefore, again a lively impression of the near possibility of miracles. We think that such a process of nature needs only to be in some degree accelerated, and a miracle will be the result. But if it should come to this phenomenon of an accelerated process of nature, we must have at any rate the principle of the process, its germ. All processes of nature arise from principles, which in their ultimate grounds must be regarded as the thoughts and operations of God. If now every common process of nature presupposes a principle, much more must such a one exist for an accelerated process: for a miracle of healing, a decisive healing power; for the change of water into wine, the factor of the formation of wine, “the vine with its branches.” Accordingly the idea of an accelerated process of nature, strictly considered, exhibits only the course of a miracle when it is already decided in principle, just as the appeal to the omnipotence of God exhibits only the general power of the miracle, without deciding that the miracle shall actually take place.—J. P. Lange, “Life of Christ.”
John 2:1-2. Marriage honoured in Christ’s kingdom on earth.—The heavens had now been opened over the Son of man and His brethren. The heavenly stairway on which the angels of God ascended and descended remains eternally fixed for all who have a Nathanael’s vision. To-day, three days after Nathanael’s spiritual marriage day, the heavenly ladder was set up at the wedding in Cana. In paradise truly it stood at the beginning when the eternal Word instituted the holy estate of marriage. Afterwards, however, sin manifoldly desecrated this divine law, grieved the blessed angels, who are the guests of pious married people, and overturned the heavenly ladder. Therefore the Saviour comes now to a marriage accompanied by the blessed angels, in order to irradiate and adore the estate of marriage by the revelation of His glory. Our fathers delighted especially to make use of this incident to the advantage and honour of the married state. Thus Spangenberg, in his Mirror of Marriage, says that the Lord Jesus at the beginning of His ministry wished to proclaim Himself to be the Saviour of the estate of matrimony, “which is the first and most ancient estate, and which His Father had ordained in paradise, but which afterward was so sorrowfully marred by the devil’s lies that He required again to restore it. Thus He accepted and honoured it, especially since this estate is of universalimportance, and that these other two orders, the ministry and magistracy, depend upon it. Because, therefore, the estate of matrimony thus stands first, our Lord Christ wrought His first miracle to honour it.… Who then will not look with favour on the married state, since the son of God has honoured it so greatly, and set such a beautiful golden crown on its head in working His first miracle on its behalf?”—Translated from Besser.
John 2:1-2. A marriage on which Christ’s blessing rests is an eternal union.—“O happy house where Thou art received, Thou blessed friend of men, Lord Jesus Christ, where among all the guests present Thou art the most honoured and beloved!” How many are joined together, the “matchmaker” being monetary considerations, sense intoxication, vanity, or levity! The counsel of parents is often never desired even. A mistake in the choice of a calling is a most serious misfortune; not less great a misfortune is it to make a mistake in the choice of a partner for life. To some, indeed, marriage is merely a bargain: the entry of their names in the legal register is considered sufficient; they think nothing about the religious order. To others marriage is a solemn, preconcerted, reciprocal lie. To others it seems a prison-house from which there is no escape. In the case of those who regard it in such lights, the first pages of the family chronicle do not mention that “Jesus was bidden to the wedding.” Even the sense of the beautiful, the æsthetic, will not suffice as a true wedding bond. A fine taste is not a pure heart. The wedded pair may anxiously concern themselves as to whether the pictures in their rooms are properly hung or not, and so forth; but do they also ask themselves whether their wills are in accordance with God’s will? Do they not consider that Jesus would willingly come to-day also, if in betrothals and weddings His counsel were asked, and He were invited to be present? Would He not cause marriage, from being merely a being beside each other, to become a union with each other for time and for eternity? Would He not build up the homes of our native land in simplicity, faithfulness, chastity, and patriotism? O King of glory, Head of Thy Church, Giver of the Holy Ghost, build up what threatens to fall in ruins, fill the hearts of the people with an invincible reverence for the sanctity of marriage, inscribe even on the wedding ring the truth that love “believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” and “manifest forth Thy glory.”—Translated from Dr. R. Kögel.
John 2:2. The hallowing of common life.—It is not without meaning that Jesus began His work by sanctioning and hallowing common, and especially family, life. What a contrast there is between the simple gladness of the rustic wedding and the temptation in the wilderness, from which Jesus had just come! What a contrast between the sublime heights of the prologue and this opening scene of the ministry! What a contrast between the rigid, ascetic forerunner and this Son of man! How unlike the anticipations of the disciples, who would be all tingling with expectation of the first exhibition of His Messiahship! Surely the fact that His first act was to hallow marriage and family life has opened a fountain of sacred blessing. So He breaks down that wicked division of life into sacred and secular which has damaged both parts so much. So He teaches that the sphere of religion is this world, not only another. So He claims as the subjects of His sanctifying power every relation of manhood. So He says at the beginning of His career: I am a man, and nothing that belongs to manhood do I reckon foreign to Myself. Where He has trod is hallowed ground. The participation of the prince in the festivities of his people dignifies these. Our King has sat at a wedding feast, and the memory of His presence there adds a new sacredness to the sacredest and a new sweetness to the sweetest of human ties. The consecration of His presence, like some pungent and perennial perfume, lingers yet in the else scentless air of daily life. “Sanctity” is not “singularity.” We need not withdraw from any region of activity or interest for affection or intellect, in order to develop the whitest saintliness. Christ’s saints are to be “in the world, not of it,” like their Master, who went from the wilderness and its fearful conflicts to begin His work amid the homely rejoicings of a village wedding.—Dr. A. Maclaren.
John 2:5. A word enough.—Speak but a word, mighty Saviour, and I shall be helped. My soul is cast down; yet speak but a word, and I shall be relieved. Care and unrest disturb my heart; yet speak but a word, and my heart shall be at peace. The wine of joy, of trust in Thee, is lacking in me, and I can only shed streams of water in tears; yet speak but a word, and pitchers full of comfort and refreshment will be given to me. My heart is still hard as a stone; yet speak but a word, and it shall become tender and shall melt. I have now none of the grace of prayerfulness, and feel myself like a dumb man who cannot utter a word; yet speak but a word, and the bonds of my tongue will be unloosed, so that I shall be able to cry “Abba, Father.” So too in regard to temporal wants. I and my wife and children have not bread, have not the things needful for this life; yet speak but a word, and the windows of heaven shall open, and Thy blessings descend. For Thou art able to do this: Thou hast the power. It will cost Thee nothing but a word, a sign, a movement of Thine almighty will. Thus is the omnipotence of Jesus a stoop on which faith may lean.—Luther.
John 2:9-10. The best at last.—The ruler’s half-jesting speech compliments the bridegroom’s cellar at the expense of his prudence, and in its intention is simply a suggestion that he is wasting his best wine in producing it when palates are less sensitive than at the beginning of the entertainment. But it suggests a higher thought. Christ keeps His best till last, whereas the world gives its best first; and when palates are dulled and appetite diminished, “then that which is worse.” How tragically true that is! In many lives the early days of hope and vigour, when all was fresh and wondrous, contrast miserably with the dreary close, when habit and failing strength have taken the edge off all delights of sense, and memory like a lengthening chain is dragged along, and with memory regrets and remorse. In the weariness and monotony of toilsome middle life, and in the deepening shadows of advanced and solitary old age, worldly men have to drink the dregs of the once foaming cup, which “at the last biteth like a serpent.” But Jesus keeps the best for the end. No time can cloy His gifts, but advancing years make them more precious and necessary. In His service “better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof”; and when life is over here, and we pass into the heavens, this word of the ruler at the humble feast will serve to express our thankful surprise at finding all so much better than our highest hopes and sweetest experiences: “Thou hast kept the good wine until now.”
“The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was planned.”—Dr. A. Maclaren.
John 2:10. The marriage feast.—One circumstance in connection with this marriage feast is worthy of special attention. Such festivities in the East lasted from a day or two to a whole week. Perhaps the feast had lasted a day or more when Jesus and His disciples arrived; and as they were probably unexpected guests, and the entertainers in humble circumstances, if not poor, the supply of wine ran short. Jesus, by a miracle of power and benevolence, supplied this lack. Now in reference to this it may be remarked,
(1) as Luther says, that we are not to allow that “carnally minded men can find in this passage an excuse for revelry, drunkenness, and luxuriousness at wedding feasts.” We cannot imagine the Lord Jesus being present at a feast characterised by drunken revelry.
(2. On the other hand, we must also remember that Jesus Christ whilst on earth was no ascetic. He did nothing to encourage a common idea that religious people must be ascetics—indeed, by His example He showed the error of such an idea. And there was nothing inconsistent in His supplying wine miraculously for the guests at the feast. It is doubtful whether the argument can be sustained, that the wine produced by the miracle was unfermented, although it is impossible to dogmatise on the point. This must be said, however, that in a wine-producing country like Palestine there was, and is, little or no drunkenness among the natives. And the true basis of temperance or abstinence from intoxicants is that laid down by the apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians: “Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend [or stumble], I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13; Romans 14:21). Such is the Christian rule to which we in this country should take heed.
John 2:11. All miracles are included in the Incarnation.—Should not the tree of life of the new æon be able to bear this crown without breaking down, and put forth the flowers which adorn it from its own internal vital power? Let it not be forgotten how high the tree rises toward heaven, how deep and wide its roots spread through the life of all humanity. When a young alpine stream, under the impulse of its great destiny, hastens down into the wide world, it shows signs of the region of its origin; waterfalls and passages forced through rocks testify of the original freshness of its power. But when Christianity rushes down from the heavenly heights of the God-man into the low-lying tracts of a human world (nature-enthralled and sunk in misery), and in its first irruption carries away with it the great stone of the sepulchre, here, as in the alpine scenery, the second miracle is not greater than the first; rather is it purely natural in relation to the first.—J. P. Lange.
John 2:11. The motive of Christ’s miracles.—What then was the motive of Christ’s miracles? He was, as these first disciples owned Him, the King of God’s kingdom among men. He was the ideal Man, the new Adam, the true Source of human goodness, health, and power. He came to do us good, and the Spirit of God filled His human nature to its utmost capacity, that it might do all that man can do. Having these powers, He could not but use them for men. Having power to heal, He could not but heal, irrespective of the result which the miracle might have on the faith of those who saw it; nay, He could not but heal, though He straightly charged the healed person to let no man know what had been done. His miracles were His kingly acts, by which He suggested what man’s true life in God’s kingdom should be and will be. They were the utterance of what was in Him, the manifestation of His glory, the glory of One who came to utter the Father’s heart to His strayed children. They expressed good-will to men; and to the spiritual eye of St. John they became “signs” of spiritual wonders, symbols and pledges of those greater works and eternal blessings which Jesus came to bestow. The miracles revealed the divine compassion, the grace and helpfulness that were in Christ, and led men to trust Him for all their needs. We must, therefore, beware of falling into the error that lies at the other extreme. We must neither, on the one hand, suppose that Christ’s miracles were wrought solely for the purpose of establishing His claim to be God’s viceroy on earth; nor, on the other hand, are we to suppose that the marvels of beneficence by which He was known did nothing to prove His claim or promote His kingdom. The poet writes because he is a poet, and not to convince the world that he is a poet; yet by writing he does convince the world. The benevolent man acts just as Christ did when He seemed to lay His finger on His lips and warned the healed person to make no mention of this kind act to any one; and therefore all who do discover His actions know that He is really charitable. The act that a man does in order that he may be recognised as a good and benevolent person exhibits his love of recognition much more strikingly than his benevolence; and it is because the miracles of Christ were wrought from the purest and most self-denying compassion that ever explored and bound up the wounds of men that we acknowledge Him as incontestably our King.—Dr. Marcus Dods.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 2:12. Capernaum.—Cod. א, B, read καφαρ ναούμ, i.e. the kaphar or village of Nahum. Two sites especially have been fixed upon as the best representatives of the ancient Capernaum. The ruins at Tell Hûm are now considered to have the best claim to represent the Saviour’s city. His brethren.—The controversies which have raged round this subject have centred on the question of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Setting aside the conjecture of Jerome, that these brethren were in reality first cousins, children of Mary (the wife of Cleophas, John 19:25), sister of our Lord’s mother, as incapable of being sufficiently proved, there are two positions which should be noted:
(1) that of Helvidius, that the brethren are actual brothers, the sons of Joseph and Mary; and
(2) that of Epiphanius, that these brethren were children of Joseph by a former marriage. But as the latter position rests for its proof only on the statement of an apocryphal gospel, those who do not feel it necessary to maintain the somewhat sentimental notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity will be shut up to accept the position of Helvidius. Indeed in this casual mention of our Lord’s brethren may be found an indirect confirmation of His recognition of the sanctity of lawful marriage. Dr. Reynolds well says: “Christ, who honoured marriage by His first display of miraculous power, and this at the suggestion of His own mother, and in the society of those who passed undoubtedly as His brothers, would not feel that the faintest shadow of a shade fell on the lofty purity of His mother by this hypothesis.” (But see Hom. Note on John 7:3.)
John 2:12-13. These verses furnish us, in connection with John 2:20-21, an important time-note (vide in loc.). It was the first year of our Lord’s public ministry, i.e., according to the best authorities, A.D. 28, and in that year the 15th Nisan fell on March 30th. Caspari gives the following dates: Baptism by John, February 1st (about); return to Bethania, forty days later (about March 12th); Cana, March 15th; Capernaum, March 17th; Jerusalem, March 29th (14th Nisan).
John 2:14-16. “The same or a similar fact is narrated by the Synoptists on the occasion of the last passover (Matthew 21:12-16, etc.). Here, then, there are three cases possible: either the Lord performed the cleansing of the sanctuary twice, or He did so only once at the beginning of His ministry; or, finally, only once, but at the end of His ministry. No slight grounds may be adduced in favour of the repetition. The cleansing of the sanctuary was a symbolical act, by which our Lord represented that which He desired, and at which He aimed; it was thus entirely in place at the very outset of His public ministry, and equally so at the close of His labours.” Probably John and Andrew alone accompanied our Lord to Jerusalem on this occasion, the other disciples remaining in Galilee until their final call (Luke 6:13). Thus we can understand why John alone narrates this first cleansing, and the Synoptists only the second. A reason why John especially accompanied Him on this occasion may be found in John 18:15 (vide Introduction). At these great feasts a stock-market was held in the court of the Gentiles; and it may be that the moneychangers were driven even into the court of the people of Israel, which was held to be almost as sacred as the sanctuary. Changers of money, who exchanged current and foreign moneys for the sacred half-shekel, in which alone the customary annual temple tax required from every adult Israelite could be paid. A scourge of small cords.—σχοινίον = a cord made of bulrushes—from the litter scattered about the court. And He said to those who sold doves, etc.—Our Lord did not wish to cause the traders any loss. This traffic was necessary; but it was not to be carried on in His Father’s house. The reason why our Lord was not interfered with in this striking and bold action was the fact that all the pious, and even the ceremonial Israelites, secretly acknowledged that He was right. Temple here = ἱερόν, i.e. especially the outer courts, not ναός, the sanctuary.
John 2:17. “The zeal of Thine house shall eat Me up” (Psalms 69:9).—Westcott points out here, “on the occasion of the first public act of Christ, as throughout St. John, the double effect of the act on those who already believed, and on those who were resolutely unbelieving.” It is written.—γεγραμμένον ἐστίν—instead of the simpler γέγραπται. Καταφάγεταί με—not in reference to Christ’s passion, but to His present burning, consuming desire for His Father’s honour, and the honour of His Father’s house.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 2:13-17
The cleansing of the temple.—The incident recorded in these verses occurred on the first visit of the Redeemer (during His public ministry) to Jerusalem at the passover feast. Hitherto His teaching had been confined to the rural district of Galilee. Among the quiet Galilean villages, or at most in some of the towns situated on the margin of the inland lake, He had preached the word of the kingdom gently and lovingly to those who had “ears to hear,” and had “manifested His glory” in miracle, so that the faith of His disciples was strengthened and confirmed. But the passover was nigh, and, in accordance with the customs of the law, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And there in this incident He began to unfold the spiritual nature of His office and work, experiencing in consequence the first open symptoms of antagonism from the rulers of the Jewish people.
Consider, first, the incident itself, and then its general and individual lessons.
I. The incident.—On reaching the holy city the Saviour’s steps were soon directed to the temple; and there He found a state of things utterly intolerable. The temple area appears to have been divided into three enclosures or courts. In the inner enclosure lay the temple building itself, with the court of the priests surrounding it; beyond that was the court of the people; and then, divided off from that by what was known as the middle wall of partition, lay the court of the Gentiles. It was in the last of these enclosures that the traffic which led to this incident was carried on. It was no doubt meant for the convenience of the people. At the passovertide tens of thousands of Jews from every country almost in the then known world thronged the holy city. It was necessary for them to exchange their foreign moneys for current coin, etc.; hence the tables of the money-changers. Then, considering the immense number of sacrifices offered at the feast, in addition to those required for the daily and ordinary sacrifices, the necessity for a kind of stock market was undoubted. But it certainly showed how little real reverence the Jewish leaders had for the worship of God when they permitted all this to go on within the enclosures of the temple area. And it needs only a slight acquaintance with exchanges and cattle markets to conceive how every sight and sound, how the turmoil within the sacred precincts, must have hindered the worship of God’s house. Then all this was done in the court of the Gentiles—the nearest point to the temple the Gentiles could reach. Thus not only was their space curtailed, but what must have been the feeling of earnest men among them when they observed this buying and selling, chaffering and trading, in the courts of that house which was to be an house of prayer for all nations? The Gentiles were admitted to the court named after them so that they might become attracted to the religion and worship of Jehovah. But what was there in that clamouring, chaffering crowd, bleating of sheep, etc., to lift their thoughts heavenward? What likelihood was there that in that scene of traffic the prayer of Psalms 67:0. would be answered? We do not wonder, then, that Jesus, consumed with the zeal of His Father’s house, should have acted as He did. Making a scourge—probably of materials lying scattered about—He drove the animals out of the court, overturned the tables of the money-changers, producing silence and order where formerly noise and confusion had prevailed. Notice should be taken of the language used by the Saviour in doing this action. When a boy in that same temple, while sitting among the doctors, hearing, etc. (Luke 2:46), He had declared that He was about His Father’s business. In this incident He showed the source of His authority in asserting that the temple was His Father’s house. Here we have His distinct and clear claim from the beginning of His ministry to be the divine Son and the Messiah. The Jewish leaders well knew He meant to assert this claim. Hence their demand for a sign, some miraculous or extraordinary manifestation of the power He professed to wield. In this question we seem anew to detect Satan, the adversary, attacking Christ as he did before on the pinnacle of the temple: “If Thou be the Son of God,” etc. (Matthew 4:6), give an evident sign of your divine Sonship, and the people will believe and follow. But in this very incident, had they not been blinded, those Jews might have found the sign they desired. The Messiah had suddenly appeared in His temple to be “as a refiner and purifier,” etc. (Malachi 3:3). And the rejection by those men of such comings in mercy, etc., ushered in the day when His judgments were made manifest in the withdrawal of their privileges as a race.
II. The spiritual meaning of the incident.—The ministry of our Lord was not ended at His ascension. His work on earth was in a great measure the opening and typical prelude of His work as mediator in heaven. He still
‘Pursues in heaven His mighty plan,
The Saviour and the Friend of man.”
He still sits as a refiner and purifier of silver; still the prophetic promise holds good that He shall come suddenly to His temple to purge and purify. He has done so, and will do so until the end. See how true this is in the history of the Church. It was not long after His ascension that the warning voice again was heard. In the case of the Church at Laodicea, and others of the Churches in Roman Asia, we hear Him saying, “Take these things hence.” Then those who disregarded the warning voice had their light as Christian Churches quenched, just as the Jewish temple and worship were destroyed and the disobedient people scattered. Later in the Church’s history, when new empires had risen on fallen Rome’s broad foundations, there followed for the Church a long period of outward prosperity. But along with this much of evil was mingled. The world and the world’s traffic and pleasure penetrated even to the inner sanctuary, whilst the noise and clamour of it all drowned the voice of praise and prayer, crushed down the aspirations of devotion and worship. Therefore the great Purifier again appeared, and in the turmoil and overturning of the Reformation period He swept away much of the worldliness and materialism which was hindering the Church’s spiritual life, awakening men to a higher spiritual life and purer worship. He is ever watchful. He has the same zeal now for the purity of His Father’s spiritual temple. “His fan is in His hand,” etc. (Matthew 3:12). When Churches become selfish, material, worldly, forgetting their true mission, let them beware! To-day outward success is greatly sought—increasing numbers, overflowing coffers. The world is stealing in on the Church in many ways. There is much danger of the spiritual life being neglected through men being engrossed in this material progress. Then the Lord may have to come in judgment to purify before He can come to bless.
III. Lessons of the incident.—This incident brings personal and individual lessons. “There is but one temple in the universe,” says Novalis, “and that is the body of man.” “Ye are the temple of God” (2 Corinthians 6:16), said St. Paul. In these bodies of ours, when our life has been yielded to Christ, God’s Holy Spirit dwells. Let Christian people beware lest they fall into the careless and irreverent conduct of the Jewish priests, and permit the sacred precincts to become a mart of business, a den of thieves, of sinful thoughts, feelings, etc., so that the noise of the world’s voices overpowers the accents of devotion. Into our churches—those places sacred to worship—no sounds of the world’s business, etc., should be permitted to come. So should it be with Christian people as with reverent hearts they bow in God’s holy house of prayer. Their public and private worship should be as far as possible free from the inroads of the business of life. Our Redeemer in this also gave us an example that we should follow in His steps (John 4:15; Matthew 14:23, etc.). But how often is the worship of God’s house profaned with worldly thoughts, vain imaginations, etc., and prayer stifled in its very inception! And is not the heart—the temple of God for the individual—often so crowded with other things that the sounds of the world predominate, and the voice of God is unheard and unheeded in the multitudinous roar? There is no true holy of holies in such hearts. To those in such case spiritual worship is unknown. They are immersed in the traffic of the market-place, warehouse, etc. The sights and sounds of places of amusement are oftener before them than the sanctities of worship. Let Christian people be jealous for the honour of God’s spiritual house, the Church; and let that temple be not profaned which He hath chosen to dwell in—the temple of “a broken and contrite heart,” etc.
John 2:15. On the peace-breakers lies the burden of war.—
1. Shall we consider the superficial objection as to whether it was right or not to disturb the honest trade of those people, since animals for the temple sacrifices were indispensable, and to “pour out” the exchangers’ money without concern as to whether any of the pieces should be lost? Or shall we reply to the opinion that the indignation seen in Christ’s eye and the scourge in His hand seem to indicate the presence of passionateness?
2. If a breach of the peace took place, the blame lay on the shoulders of the temple authorities. If the order of the house was to be maintained, who could better carry out the doing of it than the Son in the Father’s name? Here certainly there is no passionateness, but on the contrary holiness, and a merciful, sympathetic heart for souls in danger. Here we find reformative action in the footsteps of Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 7:2-11). Here is the angel of the covenant foretold by Malachi (Malachi 3:1-5). Here is the obedience that eighteen years previously had asked, “Must I not be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).—Dr. R. Kögel.
John 2:17. “The zeal of Thine house.”—The disciples who heard Jesus had also heard Him speak of the heavenly ladder—Himself—on which the angels of God should ascend and descend. They had been witnesses of the wondrous change of water into wine at His command. Thus so little were they perplexed at the action of our Lord, that they saw in it the fulfilment of the Psalmist’s words, “The zeal of Thine house,” etc. (Psalms 69:9).
John 2:15-17. The distinction of this incident from the similar incident recorded in the Synoptists.—I. The Synoptists narrate a cleansing of the temple as having taken place on the day of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem before the last passover (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15 ff.; Luke 19:45). Of such an incident there is no trace in St. John (John 12:12 ff.), and curiously the Synoptists have no trace of an earlier cleansing. It has been supposed that the event has been transposed in the synoptic narratives owing to the fact that they give no account of the Lord’s ministry at Jerusalem before the last journey; but a comparison of the two narratives is against the identification.
1. The exact connection of the event is in each case given in detail.
2. There is a significant difference in the words used to justify the acts (John 2:16; Mark 11:17).
3. In the record of the later incident there is no reference to the remarkable words (John 2:19) which give its colour to the narrative of St. John, though the Synoptists show that they were not unacquainted with those words (Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58).
1. There is no improbability in the repetition of such an incident. Both were connected with the revelation of Jesus as Messiah—first when He claimed His royal power at the entrance of His work, and again at the close.
2. In the interval He had fulfilled the office of a simple prophet. In the first case, so to speak, the incident was doubtful; in the second it was decided. Hence the difference in details, e.g. the force of the addition “a house of prayer for allnations” in prospect of the Passion and His rejection by the Jews, which has no place in the first incident, when He enters as a son His Father’s house. Again, the words a house of merchandise are in the second incident represented by its last issue: “a den of thieves.” John records the incident which occurs at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, because it was the first crisis in the separation of faith and unbelief. The Synoptists, from the construction of their narratives, included the later incident; and as the latter was virtually included in the former, St. John does not give it.—A bridged from Westcott.
John 2:14-15. Christ cleansing His Church.—For us this cleansing of the temple is a sign. It is a sign that Christ really means to do thoroughly the great work He has taken in hand. Long ago had it been said, “Behold, the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple; and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” He was to come to sift the true from the false, the worldly and greedy from the devoted and spiritual. He was not to make pretence of doing so, but actually to accomplish the separation. To reform abuses such as this marketing in the temple was no pleasant task. He had to meet the gaze and defy the vindictiveness of an exasperated mob; He had to make enemies of a powerful class in the community. But He does what is called for by the circumstances: and this is but a part and a sample of the work He does always. Always He makes thorough, real work. He does not blink the requirements of the case. We shrug our shoulders and pass by where matters are difficult to mend; we let the flood take its course rather than risk being carried away in attempting to stem it. Not so Christ. The temple was shortly to be destroyed, and it might seem to matter little what practices were allowed in it; but the sounds of bargaining and the greedy eye of trade could not be suffered by Him in His Father’s house: how much more shall He burn as a consuming fire when He cleanses that Church for which he gave Himself that it might be without spot or blemish? He will cleanse it. We may yield ourselves with gladness to His sanctifying power, or we may rebelliously question His authority; but cleansed the house of God must be.—Dr. Marcus Dods.
John 2:17. True zeal.—Let us take heed we do not sometimes call that zeal for God and His gospel which is nothing else but our own tempestuous and stormy passion. True zeal is a sweet, heavenly, and gentle flame, which maketh us active for God, but always within the sphere of love. It never calls for fire from heaven to consume those that differ a little from us in their apprehensions. It is like that kind of lightning (which the philosophers speak of) that melts the sword within, but singeth not the scabbard; it strives to save the soul, but hurteth not the body. True zeal is a loving thing, and makes us always active to edification, and not to destruction. If we keep the fire of zeal within the chimney, in its own proper place, it never doth any hurt—it only warmeth, quickeneth, and enliveneth us; but if once we let it break out, and catch hold of the thatch of our flesh, and kindle our corrupt nature, and set the house of our body on fire, it is no longer zeal, it is no heavenly fire—it is a most destructive and devouring thing. True zeal is an ignis lambens, a soft and gentle flame, that will not scorch one’s hand; it is no predatory or voracious thing: but carnal or fleshly zeal is like the spirit of gunpowder set on fire, that tears and blows up all that stands before it. True zeal is like the vital heat in us that we live upon, which we never feel to be angry or troublesome; but though it gently feeds upon the radial oil within us, that sweet balsam of our natural moisture, yet it lives lovingly with it, and maintains that by which it is fed; but that other furious and distempered zeal is nothing else but a fever in the soul.—R. Cudworth.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 2:18. The disciples saw in Christ’s action the fulfilment of the old Scripture, the Jews an excuse for a further demand for a sign.
John 2:19. Destroy this temple, etc.—The reference is at first sight mysterious, especially when taken in connection with the Evangelist’s explanation in John 2:21. But the difficulty is, in part at least, cleared up when we remember that the actual temple which Jesus had just cleansed was the visible expression of the consecration of God’s ancient people to His service and worship, and of His dwelling with and in His people (Ezekiel 43:7). That ancient spiritual temple the Jews would destroy; but by His death and resurrection Jesus would found and raise, to be eternally enduring, His Church, which is indeed His mystical body. And it is this temple of which He speaks—His Church including that of patriarch and prophet—built now upon a foundation which cannot be moved (1 Peter 2:1-10; Matthew 22:2-14; Matthew 23:38). I will, etc. (John 10:17-18, etc.).—The Jews twisted this saying of our Lord, and accused Him of declaring that He would destroy the material temple. The utterance seems to have made a deep impression. It formed the basis of Christ’s accusation before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:61); and Stephen’s enemies accused him of repeating this saying (Acts 6:13-14). Thus the historical accuracy of the saying is established.
John 2:20. The temple was not then completed; but it had taken forty-six years to bring it to the point of completion at which it then stood. “Herod the Great began to restore the temple in B.C. 20 [Jos., B. J., i. 21
(16), i: comp. Antiq., xv. 11
(14), i.], and the design was completed by Herod Agrippa A.D. 64” (Westcott).
John 2:21. He spake, etc.—Not understood at first, the saying afterward became clear to the disciples (comp. John 12:16). He—ἐκεῖνος—is emphatic. The temple of His body.—I.e. “the temple defined to be His body” (Westcott) (1 Corinthians 6:19, etc.).
John 2:22. When therefore He was raised from the dead, etc.—Raised by the power of God (Galatians 1:1, etc.). Remembered in accordance with the promise afterward given (John 14:26). They believed the scripture, etc.—Usually this phrase refers to some particular passage. Doubtless here the reference is to those passages in the writings of psalmists and prophets which foretold Christ’s sufferings and death, the glory of the Church of the latter days, etc., which the disciples were “slow of heart to believe” before the Resurrection and Pentecost (Luke 24:25-27).
John 2:23. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the passover, etc.—The date of this passover is probably A.U.C. 781, i.e. A.D. 28. At the feast (ἐν τῷ πάσχα),—I.e. during the whole period of the feast of unleavened bread. Many believed on His name, etc.—Belief in His Messiahship is evidently intended; but the reference to “the signs which He did” shows that their “belief” was probably not of a deep abiding nature. It was a Jewish faith, and was founded on that which will strengthen true faith, but will not beget it. Their faith rested on the outer acts merely, and was thus imperfect, and perhaps in many cases evanescent. “The incidental notice of these signs (John 7:31; John 11:47, etc.) is an unquestionable proof that St. John does not aim at giving an exhaustive record of all he knew” (Westcott). See also Mark 3:10, etc.
John 2:24. He knew.—He is emphatic. He Himself knew, etc. He did not commit (ἐπίστευεν, believe). “As they did not give themselves morally to Him, He did not give Himself morally to them” (Luthardt). He knew all, etc. As He read the heart of Nicodemus, so He read the hearts of these people.
John 2:25. And because He needed not, etc.—He did not require that men should bring Him testimonials of character, as it were, from their fellows before He would commit Himself to them. He Himself knew what was in man. He is, indeed, the searcher of hearts, etc. (Jeremiah 17:10, etc.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 2:18-25
The sign Christ gave of His authority in cleansing the temple.—The Jewish leaders could not bring any accusation against Christ for His zeal in vindicating the honour of His Father’s house. In their secret hearts they recognised the necessity for such an action, and they were no doubt well aware that the great body of the people would be in sympathy with Christ’s action. But unmoved themselves by the clear expression of divine power and activity manifested in the action of Jesus, they fell back on the device, so often resorted to by them, to demand outward signs and miracles in proof of Christ’s divine authority—signs which, when given, only made their unbelief and hatred more conspicuous. Christ gave them an answer, although not that which they asked for. He well knew that no mere outward signs could remove unbelief, that miracle would be demanded to establish miracle, and that even the signs He wrought would be twisted, as they were afterward, to His prejudice by His enemies. But He gave a sign which would not only, when it occurred, vindicate His action in the eyes of all unprejudiced men, but would tend to strengthen the faith of His disciples. “Destroy this temple,” He said, “and in three days I will raise it again.” Consider:—
I. The preparation for the sign.—“Destroy this temple.” The Evangelist adds the explanation, “He spake of the temple of His body.” As we read these words there rises before us the view of the Redeemer with thorny crown on His head, tottering beneath the weight of His cross. We see Him hanging on that cross—the nails lacerating His hands and feet, the thorny crown pressed on His lacerated brow. And as we look at the fainting, bleeding form we seem to hear Him saying, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow.” And yet again, as we hear the last voice, “It is finished,” and see the Roman soldier thrust his spear into the side of the Redeemer, we realise that the words “Destroy this temple” were a prophecy of what was to come to pass.
II. The sign itself is the Resurrection.—“In three days I will raise it up.” This was the sign above all signs that testified to Christ’s divine Sonship, and His right to cleanse His Father’s house from defilement. And doubtless the Saviour signified by some gesture that He intended to refer this statement primarily to Himself. And it is noteworthy that He here claims power Himself to rise from the dead; whilst in various passages of the New Testament His rising is ascribed to the Father (Romans 4:24; Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 15:15; 1 Peter 1:21, etc., etc.). But it must be remembered that “the receptivity of Jesus in the act of His resurrection is not mere passivity” (Godet). Jesus was “one with the Father”; and as it was by an act of His will that He submitted to the temple of His body being left in a measure to the power of the destroyer, so it was in accordance with His will and His Father’s will that His body was raised again on the third day. This is plainly shown in His own words, “I lay down My life, that I might take it again.… I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18). This sign was the seal of His authority, and would carry conviction to all believing hearts. It is the centre of our Christian faith. And from the beginning, and in all ages since, the Church has proclaimed “Jesus and the Resurrection” (Acts 17:18).
III. The reception of the proffered sign by those who heard it.—
1. The Jews replied in wonder and scorn, “Forty and six years,” etc. Utterly unspiritual, they applied our Lord’s words to the material temple alone, which Jesus had just cleansed. More than that, they wilfully misunderstood His words to mean that He Himself would destroy the temple. The saying seems to have made a deep impression on all who heard it; and it was made use of in its perverted form by the false witnesses, who brought lying accusations against our Lord and the protomartyr of His Church (Matthew 26:61; Acts 6:14).
2. The disciples could not understand the full import of Christ’s words at the first. But they also treasured them up in their hearts, not like the Jewish rulers, but believingly. And then after the Resurrection the saying became more clear.
IV. The deeper meaning of the sign.—
1. Not only is the body of the individual Christian likened to a temple, but the whole Church of Christ is His spiritual body (Ephesians 1:23). In Him “all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
2. And in this view our Lord might well include even the material temple in this “dark” saying. For was it not simply the symbol and representative of the whole nation, which was to be holiness to the Lord?
3. This old order the Jews did destroy when they rejected Jesus. “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).
4. But the ancient Church of God was not utterly destroyed (Romans 11:26). It was merged in a new and better building, founded on the man Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:22), a spiritual temple in which men should worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).
John 2:19. “Destroy this temple.”—Amid the intellectual strife of this age we often hear voices crying out, “Destroy this temple.” These voices sadden us, make us indignant, wound us. But it is in presence of such attacks—light, frivolous, learned, passionate, or scornful—that we must hear the voice of Jesus saying, “I will raise up this temple in three days.”
I. Consider first that voice which is the most coarse and clamorous—that of popular materialism.—
1. The dominating passion of the hour may be called enjoyment. This feverish passion menaces both social and moral order. The thirst for riches, luxury, honour, devours this generation. Enjoy quickly, without dignity, without labour, without a care of honour or duty, in a merely individual and egoistic fashion—this seems to many the unique reality. And if there is no longer any moral sphere, no heaven, no God, why speak of duty, of adoration, of sacrifice, etc.? These things are chimerical—a faded superstition. Therefore what need of that temple which is the embodiment of such ideas? “Destroy it,” etc.
2. Unhappy men, take heed! Lay not your sacrilegious hands upon this temple. Who are you? Have you never loved, suffered, wept? Have you not had fathers, mothers, children? Does no voice speak to you when you consider your misery and the infinite greatness of the Highest? Have you never felt the holy tremblings of duty, sacrifice, etc., within you? If in some fatal day through the violence of passion this temple of Christ’s gospel should be for the moment overturned, it will be found of necessity that it should be raised up. For humanity, enlightened and sanctified by Jesus, cannot forsake this temple. Humanity must love, believe, pray, hope. This temple, for a moment overturned, will rise again and issue from the needs of the spirit of religion.
II. The second voice is that of positivism.—
1. It loathes and is ashamed of the gross materialism just described. It desires that humanity should seek after truth, disinterestedly and nobly. But away with illusions! Let men seek for what is real and positive. And what is this? That which is in accordance with our immediate experience, and of which we can have direct experimental proof. Beyond this is the region of dreams; the pretended higher realities are inaccessible. Thus humanity in its infancy has passed through the religious period; in its adolescence through the philosophic; in its virile age it has accepted positivist science. What need now then of earlier dreams—a higher world, prayer, etc.? “Destroy this temple.”
2. In the name of positive science itself we protest against such desolating conclusions. Those higher instincts prove their existence within us, and obtrude themselves with authority on our consciousness. They are inherent in our nature, etc. I must love, believe, pray, raise myself nearer God, as much as I need to breathe, etc. By all means marshal your facts. Show us scientifically how the sap flows in the tree to nourish it, how the earth obeys the law of gravitation in its course round the sun, etc. These facts are real, positive. But that there is a sap which nourishes my spiritual life, that my heart gravitates toward God, that my whole being, drawn by some superior force, rises, is attracted (like the tides), toward heaven, are also facts that are positive and indisputable, as much as the realities of the material cosmos. To deny these moral facts is to mutilate and violate our humanity. And when you cry, “Leave those chimeras,” humanity will not listen. Its greatness, its true joy, its power, lies just in this spiritual, ideal world which you would deny. Humanity demands that the supreme needs of the soul should be satisfied—men will pray, etc.—and in spite of your attempts will raise again the temple you think you have destroyed.
III. The third voice is that of religious idealism and æstheticism.—
1. Those who uphold it agree in condemning this science misnamed positive, which misapprehends the ideal side of humanity. The world of the ideal is the true world, in which to live and dream with the divine Plato. And among those who exercise the highest influence here must be placed first of all the tender, divine dreamer Jesus, who has seized the imaginations of men in all ages and led them into the joy of the infinite. But we must stop here. No need to speak of conscience, duty, sin, redemption, etc. Religion is a grand dream—the supreme charm. Poesy and art will suffice to express it. Therefore this old sanctuary, with its questions of sin, sacrifice, redemption, etc., what need for it? “Destroy it.”
2. Beware of this religious æstheticism, which flatters the imagination and kills the conscience. All the tragic side of human existence in it is denied and scorned. But those great external realities, sin, repentance, sacrifice, redemption, correspond with realities within. History confirms this. What is the central fact of all ages and religions? Sacrifice. This is so because man feels himself miserable, guilty before God, and that he needs reconciliation. From all ages rises the cry, “O wretched man,” etc. (Romans 7:24). Humanity needs a religion of mercy and grace; and however often that may seem destroyed, it will rise again.—From Ariste Viguié.
John 2:23-25. Jesus the searcher of hearts.—Our Lord’s cold reception by the Jewish rulers led Him to confine His labours more to the city, among the general population and the many strangers gathered together during the passovertide. He did not compel men to accept him. He sought to win them to His kingdom through faith and love. Therefore, when rejected of the rulers, He taught those who listened to Him, and wrought miracles of beneficence.
I. The consequence of His activity.—
1. “Many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did.” Not only had His significant action in the temple drawn upon Him the gaze of many, but also the miracles, here unrecorded, which He did among the people.
2. And it must be noticed that Jesus here did not shun publicity. He must be known for men’s salvation; and when He is made known it must be as He who is able to save to the uttermost, because the Sent of God. And in consequence of His activity many believed on Him.
II. His attitude toward those who thus believed on Him.—
1. “He did not commit Himself unto them,” or He did not believe in their belief, had no faith (ἐπίστευεν) in their faith. Their faith, such as it was, was evoked by the outward signs, the miracles Jesus did.
2. But a faith founded on such external foundation is apt to be unstable and fleeting. The sign would require to be constantly repeated if the faith were to continue. But constantly repeated miracles would cease to be wonderful. They might be explained away or misinterpreted. Such a faith cannot claim affinity with that trust and confidence which Jesus requires of His true disciples.
III. The reason why our Lord adopted this attitude.—
1. “He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man,” etc. This power had already been shown in the case of Nathanael, and startling instances of it are given in John’s Gospel. Christ knows and reads the human heart.
2. How little we know of our own hearts—how difficult even for the most skilled observer of the phenomena of the intellectual and moral being to disentangle the various twisted threads of motive, emotion, feeling, etc.
3. But Jesus knows all—every stream of influence, every inception of thought or action, every spring of feeling and emotion, even when these are unperceived by men themselves. It could not be otherwise with Him of whom it is said, “All things were made by Him” (John 1:3). He therefore can detect thought and motive in their most secret recesses. Thus He saw through the shallowness of those men’s faith.
IV. Let us rejoice that Jesus thus knows men.—
1. Because he is the loving, sympathising Saviour, and is therefore able and willing to winnow the false from the true in us—a nominal from a real faith. Our only security, indeed, is that He does know us.
2. He knows full well each one of us—our capacities as well as our weaknesses—and how we can be best fitted for His kingdom.
3. Therefore our highest wisdom, remembering that He knows us altogether, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and can send us help in time of need, is to yield ourselves to Him submissively, saying, “Lord, thou knowest all things”; therefore work in us such faith that of us Thou mayest say, They are Mine: for “I know My sheep, and am known of Mine” (John 10:14).
John 2:18. The folly of unbelief.—The same psalm which declared the moving cause of Christ’s action in the temple contains also these words: “Because for thy sake I have borne reproach,” etc. (Psalms 69:7-10).
1. That which was to the disciples for edification became a stumbling-block to the degenerate Jews. They assailed Jesus with the question, “What sign?” etc. Where is Thy authority? Thou art not a priest, temple guard, member of the Sanhedrin; and wilt Thou cleanse God’s holy threshing-floors? (Luke 3:17). Dost Thou claim them as Thy Father’s possession?
2. How childish is this play of these opponents! how deceitful their actions! Their appearance of piety was simply piety in appearance! Were not they the sinners against the sanctuary?
3. Did not an action like that of the cleansing of the temple carry its authorisation within itself? Does the unfruitful fig-tree ask of the lightning-flash that lays it low, What doest thou? Does the thief who has been caught ask the officer, What right have you to seize me? Did the Gadarenes, as they saw their swine (possessed by them in opposition to the law) precipitated into the lake, ask for damages? Was not the cleansing of the temple a witness to the spirit and power of our Lord, a proof of His dignity, that He was the Son of God, the inheritor of Israel?
4. The more powerfully Jesus preached, and not as the scribes, the more angrily did those very scribes ask, “By what authority?” etc. The more their hearts were filled with envy and ambition, sins from which sprang the desecration of the temple, the carelessness of the people, the corruption of public affairs, the more jealously and with more pettiness did they lay stress on outward consideration—their authority according to the letter.—Abridged from Kögel.
John 2:19. The foundation of the spirtual temple of God.—
1. The temple was a house built of stone; but in the Lord was the fulness of the Godhead. The Jewish temple was a shadow; the Lord, the Spirit, substance, fulfilment. The temple was the place for typical offerings only; the Lord was sanctuary, offering, and high priest in one. On another occasion He could say of Himself: Here is One who is greater than the temple—here is One who is Lord also of the Sabbath day.
2. Jesus saw from the hate in their eyes, etc., that His enemies would proceed from the profanation, at present stayed, of the outward sanctuary to an open act of violence against the Lord and heir—the Messiah.
3. But the more they prided themselves on the beauty and glory of the sanctuary which required forty-six years to build, the more they would harden themselves against the preaching of repentance. For sin is blind; therefore they did not see the judgment drawing near. Sin is deaf; therefore they did not hear the warning voice of God’s Son. The weight of guilt hastens the fall which precipitates into the abyss. Those who scorn the reformer must face the judge. “Fill up the measure of your fathers”; “destroy this temple”: just as at the last that terrible order was given to Judas, “What thou doest, do quickly.”—Idem.
John 2:22. The resurrection is the sign which includes all verification and authorisation.—Jesus answered this question as to His authority for cleansing the temple, as once when the Pharisees asked Him, in spite of all His miracles, for a sign from heaven. He would point them to none but that of the prophet Jonah—to the resurrection of the Son of man from the grave.—Idem.
John 2:23. Superficial faith.—The original words imply that their faith was dependent upon the signs which they gazed upon, without entering into their deeper meaning. It was the impulsive response of the moment, not based upon a previous preparation, nor resulting in a present deep conviction. It came far short of the faith of the disciples, who passed from a true knowledge of Moses and the prophets to a true knowledge of Christ without a sign; but it came far above the disbelief of scribes and Pharisees, who after a sign rejected Him. It was not the prepared good ground bringing forth abundantly; but neither was it the hardened wayside, which did not receive seed at all.
John 2:24. The deeper faith, the fuller blessing.—But beneath this shallow surface there is the unbroken ledge of rock. They are easily moved just because they are not deeply moved. The eye which looked at, looked into, others (John 1:47, etc.), saw to the very depth of their hearts too, and knew all. It saw in that depth that the true inner man did not believe, did not commit itself to Him; it found not the spiritual receptivity, and there could not therefore be the spiritual revelation. He on His part did not commit Himself unto them (John 8:31).—Archdeacon H. W. Watkins, M.A.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent