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THESE verses describe a miracle which should always possess a special interest in the eyes of a true Christian. It is the first, in order of time, of the many mighty works which Jesus did, when He was upon earth. We are distinctly told, "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee."—Like every other miracle which John was inspired to record, it is related with great minuteness and particularity. And, like every other miracle in John’s Gospel, it is rich in spiritual lessons.
We learn, firstly, from these verses, how honorable in the sight of Christ is the estate of matrimony. To be present at a "marriage" was almost the first public act of our Lord’s earthly ministry.
Marriage is not a sacrament, as the Church of Rome asserts. It is simply a state of life ordained by God for man’s benefit. But it is a state which ought never to be spoken of with levity, or regarded with disrespect. The Prayerbook service has well described it, as "an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, and signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church." Society is never in a healthy condition, and true religion never flourishes in that land where the marriage tie is lightly esteemed. They who lightly esteem it have not the mind of Christ. He who "beautified and adorned the estate of matrimony by His presence and first miracle that He wrought in Cana of Galilee," is One who is always of one mind. "Marriage," says the Holy Ghost by Paul, "is honorable in all." (Hebrews 13:4.)
One thing, however, ought not to be forgotten. Marriage is a step which so seriously affects the temporal happiness and spiritual welfare of two immortal souls, that it ought never to be taken in hand "unadvisedly, lightly, wantonly, and without due consideration." To be truly happy, it should be undertaken "reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God." Christ’s blessing and presence are essential to a happy wedding. The marriage at which there is no place for Christ and His disciples, is not one that can justly be expected to prosper.
We learn, secondly, from these verses, that there are times when it is lawful to be merry and rejoice. Our Lord Himself sanctioned a wedding-feast by His own presence. He did not refuse to be a guest at "a marriage in Cana of Galilee." "A feast," it is written, "is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry." (Ecclesiastes 10:19.) Our Lord, in the passage before us, countenances both the feast and the use of wine.
True religion was never meant to make men melancholy. On the contrary, it was intended to increase real joy and happiness among men. The servant of Christ unquestionably ought to have nothing to do with races, balls, theaters, and such-like amusements, which tend to frivolity and dissipation, if not to sin. But he has no right to hand over innocent recreations and family gatherings to the devil and the world. The Christian who withdraws entirely from the society of his fellow-men, and walks the earth with a face as melancholy as if he was always attending a funeral, does injury to the cause of the Gospel. A cheerful, kindly spirit is a great recommendation to a believer. It is a positive misfortune to Christianity when a Christian cannot smile. A merry heart, and a readiness to take part in all innocent mirth, are gifts of inestimable value. They go far to soften prejudices, to take up stumbling-blocks out of the way, and to make way for Christ and the Gospel.
The subject no doubt is a difficult and delicate one. On no point of Christian practice is it so hard to hit the mean between that which is lawful and that which is unlawful, between that which is right and that which is wrong. It is very hard indeed to be both merry and wise. High spirits soon degenerate into levity. Acceptance of many invitations to feasts soon leads to waste of time, and begets leanness of soul. Frequent eating and drinking at other men’s tables, soon lowers a Christian’s tone of religion. Going often into company is a heavy strain on spirituality of heart. Here, if anywhere, God’s children have need to be on their guard. Each must know his own strength and natural temperament, and act accordingly. One believer can go without risk where another cannot. Happy is he who can use his Christian liberty without abusing it! It is possible to be sorely wounded in soul at marriage feasts and the tables of friends.
One golden rule on the subject may be laid down, the use of which will save us much trouble. Let us take care that we always go to feasts in the spirit of our divine Master, and that we never go where He would not have gone. Like Him, let us endeavor to be always "about our Father’s business." (Luke 2:49.) Like Him, let us willingly promote joy and gladness, but let us strive that it may be sinless joy, if not joy in the Lord. Let us endeavor to bring the salt of grace into every company, and to drop the word in season in every ear we address. Much good may be done in society by giving a healthy tone to conversation. Let us never be ashamed to show our colors, and to make men see whose we are and whom we serve. We may well say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But if Christ went to a marriage feast in Cana there is surely something that Christians can do on similar occasions. Let them only remember that if they go where their Master went, they must go in their Master’s spirit.
We learn lastly, from these verses, the Almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told of a miracle which He wrought at the marriage feast, when the wine failed. By a mere act of will He changed water into wine, and so supplied the need of all the guests.
The manner in which the miracle was worked deserves especial notice. We are not told of any outward visible action which preceded or accompanied it. It is not said that He touched the waterpots containing the water that was made wine. It is not said that He commanded the water to change its qualities, or that He prayed to His Father in Heaven. He simply willed the change, and it took place. We read of no prophet or apostle in the Bible who ever worked a miracle after this fashion. He who could do such a mighty work, in such a manner, was nothing less than very God.
It is a comfortable thought that the same almighty power of will which our Lord here displayed is still exercised on behalf of His believing people. They have no need of His bodily presence to maintain their cause. They have no reason to be cast down because they cannot see Him with their eyes interceding for them, or touch Him with their hands, that they may cling to Him for safety. If He "wills" their salvation and the daily supply of all their spiritual need, they are as safe and well provided for as if they saw Him standing by them. Christ’s will is as mighty and effectual as Christ’s deed. The will of Him who could say to the Father, "I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am," is a will that has all power in heaven and earth, and must prevail. (John 17:24.)
Happy are those who, like the disciples, believe on Him by whom this miracle was wrought. A greater marriage feast than that of Cana will one day be held, when Christ Himself will be the bridegroom and believers will be the bride. A greater glory will one day be manifested, when Jesus shall take to Himself His great power and reign. Blessed will they be in that day who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! (Revelation 19:9.)
v1.—[The third day.] The question naturally arises, "What day was this? From what day was it the third?" The most probable answer is, that it was the third day after the last event described in the preceding chapter, the third day after Nathanael was brought to Jesus and became a disciple. The meaning therefore is, "The third day after the conversation between Jesus and Nathanael."
[A marriage in Cana.] Let it be remembered, that we are told elsewhere that Nathanael was an inhabitant of Cana. (John 21:2.) This makes it far from improbable, that Nathanael, after he became a disciple, invited our Lord to visit the place where he lived. Cana is a place not mentioned in the Old Testament. Robinson, in his Biblical Researches, says it was a village about three hours’ journey from Nazareth.
[The mother of Jesus was there.] We must suppose that Mary was in some way connected with the bride or bridegroom, and was therefore present at the marriage and assisting in the arrangements of the feast. Without some such supposition it is difficult to understand her speaking to the servants, as she afterwards does.
The absence of Joseph’s name, both here and in other places where the mother of our Lord is mentioned in the Gospels and Acts, has induced most commentators to think that Joseph was dead when our Lord began His public ministry. The point is one of which we know nothing except by conjecture. It deserves notice, however, that the Jews of Capernaum speak of Jesus as "the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know." (John 6:42.) If it had been profitable to us to know more about Joseph, we should have been told more. The Roman Catholic Church has already given him a superstitious reverence, upon the authority of tradition, and without the slightest warrant of Scripture. What would have not been said about Joseph by the Romish Church, if he had been more prominently mentioned in God’s Word?
Lightfoot points out that a comparison of Mark 3:18, Mark 6:3, and John 19:25, makes it exceedingly probable that Mary’s sister, called elsewhere Mary, the wife of Cleophas or Alpheus, and all her family, lived at Cana. He observes, that in the list of our Lord’s "brethren" or cousins we find the following names,—James, Joses, Juda, and Simon. Of these he thinks that James, Juda, and Simon were apostles. James the apostle is expressly called "the brother of our Lord," and the son of Alpheus, and Jude is expressly called brother of this James (Galatians 1:19; Judges 1:1.) The remaining brother, Simon, he thinks was the apostle who is called Simon the Canaanite. This, Lightfoot argues, is a proof that his father and mother lived at Cana; and hence he concludes that this marriage feast was in the house of Alpheus. That Alpheus and Cleophas were the same person is a general and well-founded opinion.
v2.—[Jesus was called...disciples.] Our Lord was doubtless invited as Mary’s son. His disciples were invited as His friends and companions. We cannot, of course, suppose, at so early a period of our Lord’s ministry, that He was recognized as a religious teacher, or those with Him as disciples of a new faith. The disciples here spoken of must be the five mentioned in the last chapter, viz., Andrew and his companion, (probably John,) Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.
[To the marriage.] We know nothing about the names of the bride and bridegroom. There is a legend among Romish writers that the bridegroom was John the apostle, and that though married, John left wife and home at once, in order to become Christ’s disciple! The whole story is utterly destitute of Scriptural foundation, and a tissue of improbabilities. Baronius conjectures that the bridegroom was Simon the Canaanite, but without any proof worth mentioning.
Let it be noted, that the presence of Jesus, and His disciples, and Mary at a marriage, is a significant fact, which stands out in strong contrast to the Patristic and Roman Catholic doctrine, of the imperfection of the state of marriage compared to that of celibacy. "Forbidding to marry " is a doctrine of Antichrist, not of Christ. (1 Timothy 4:3.)
The Roman Catholic argument, that Christ, by His presence, made marriage a sacrament, is utterly worthless. Dyke remarks that we might as well call feasts and burials sacraments, because Christ was present at them. He says, "There is required a word of institution to make a sacrament. Let the Papists show any such word here used. And if Christ did make marriage a sacrament, why do they call it a work of the flesh. Are sacraments works of the flesh?"
The suggestion of some modern writers, that our Lord’s presence at a marriage feast condemns those Christians who decline to go to such amusements as balls, and routs, and dancing-parties, has no weight in it at all. The objects for which people meet together at a marriage feast and at a ball are widely different. The one is a mere irreligious assembly for pleasure and recreation of a very questionable tendency, entailing late hours, and ministering to worldliness, levity, and the love of display. The other is a gathering of friends to witness the most important step in life that two persons can take, and a gathering closely connected with a religious ceremony.
v3.—[When they wanted wine.] The Greek words so rendered mean literally, "Wine having failed." This circumstance probably shows the poor and humble condition of those to whose marriage Jesus was invited. His acquaintances and those of His mother were not wealthy persons.
It throws light on this expression, and indeed on the whole story, to remember that a marriage feast among the Jews was often an affair of several days’ duration, and an occasion when many were invited. Consequently it entailed not only much expense, but a considerable consumption of food and wine. Thus Samson’s marriage feast lasted seven days. (Judges 15:10-18.) Thus the marriage feast described in the parable of the King’s Son, was a feast which large numbers were invited to attend. (Matthew 22:2-10, &c.) This being the case, we may well understand that in the feasts of those who were not wealthy the wine might soon run short, without there having been any excess of drinking. So it seems to have happened in the case before us.
[The mother of Jesus....saith....no wine.] This little sentence has given rise to various and strange interpretations.
Some have thought, as Bengel, that Mary suggested to our Lord that it was time for Him and His disciples to depart and leave the feast, in order to spare the feelings of the bride and bridegroom, and to avoid exposing their poverty.
Some have thought, as Calvin, that she wished our Lord to occupy the minds of the guests by profitable discourse, and so to take off their attention from the deficiency of wine.
By far the most reasonable and probable idea is, that Mary conjectured that our Lord might in some way supply the deficiency of wine. How it would be done she could not tell. There is not the slightest ground for supposing that our Lord , had ever worked a miracle up to this time. But it would be foolish to suppose that Mary did not remember well all the miraculous circumstances of our Lord’s birth, and all the words spoken before by the angel Gabriel concerning Him.—We cannot doubt, that although our Lord had lived a quiet life at Nazareth for thirty years, and done no miracles, His mother must have observed in Him a perfection of word and deed utterly unlike the behaviour of common men.—We cannot doubt that she was aware of all the events of the last few weeks,—our Lord’s baptism by John, John’s public proclamation of Him as the Messiah, and the gathering around Jesus of a small knot of disciples.—Remembering all these things, we surely need not wonder that Mary’s expectations were greatly raised. She looked for her Son speedily doing some great miracle. She was in daily expectation that He would prove Himself the Messiah by some mighty act. And it was under these feelings that she turned to Him, saying, "They have no wine." It is as though she said,—"Surely the time is come for declaring thyself. Manifest thy power, as I have long expected thee to do, by providing a supply of wine."
The argument which the Roman Catholics draw from this expression in favour of Mary’s intercession in heaven for sinners, and the consequent lawfulness of praying to her, is utterly worthless, and most unhappy. For one thing, it does not follow, because the petitions of living saints are heard upon earth, that the petitions of dead saints in heaven are effectual. For another thing, it is an unfortunate fact, that this petition, the only one that we ever find addressed to our Lord by Mary, brought from Him an immediate rebuke! Men must be in great straits for an argument when they can reason in this way in defense of the invocation of saints.
Melancthon, Chemnitius, and others, think that this want of wine at the marriage feast is purposely mentioned in order to remind married persons, or those who intend marriage, that matrimony brings with it cares as well as comforts, and specially cares from poverty. They that marry do well, and with Christ’s blessing will have happiness. But they must not expect to escape "trouble in the flesh" from the very day of marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:28.)
v4.—[Jesus saith, Woman, what, &c., &c.] This remarkable verse has naturally attracted great attention. In interpreting it, it is very important to avoid the extremes into which some Protestants and nearly all Roman Catholic writers have fallen, in their interpretations.
On the one side we must not lay too much stress on the expression "Woman." It is surely a mistake to suppose, as Calvin and others suggest, that it conveys any reproof, or is anywise inconsistent with reverence and respect. The very same expression was used by our Lord when He addressed His mother for the last time on the cross, and affectionately commended her to John’s care. He said, "Woman, behold thy son." (John 19:26.) Mary was an erring woman, like all other believing women, but we must not lay more blame on her than Scripture warrants.
On the other side, it is useless to deny that our Lord’s words were intended, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius say, to be a rebuke to Mary. She erred here, perhaps from affectionate desire to bring honour to her Son, as she erred on other occasions. The words before us were meant to remind her, that she must henceforth leave our Lord to choose His own times and modes of acting. The season of subjection to her and Joseph was over. The season of his public ministry had at length begun. In carrying on that ministry, she must not presume to suggest to Him. The utter contrariety of this verse to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church about Mary is too palpable to be explained away. She was not without error and sin, as Romish writers have dared to assert, and was not meant to be prayed to and adored. If our Lord would not allow His mother even to suggest to Him the working of a miracle, we may well suppose that all Roman Catholic prayers to Mary, and especially prayers entreating her to "command her Son," are most offensive and blasphemous in His eyes.
The Greek expression, rendered "what have I to do with thee," would be translated literally, "what to me and thee?" It is an elliptical expression, of which the full meaning probably is, "What is there in common to me and thee?" "My thoughts," as Bengel says, "are one thing, and thine another."—It is the same phrase that is used in an interrogative form in Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28; and in an imperative form in Matthew 27:19.
[Mine hour is not yet come.] The simplest and most reasonable view of these words is to refer them to Christ’s "hour" or time for working a miracle. It is like the expression, "my time is not yet full come." (John 7:8.) Our Lord did not tell Mary that He would not work a miracle. But He would have her know that she Must not expect Him to do mighty works to please His relatives after the flesh. He would only work a miracle, upon this or any other occasion, when the fitting season for it, the time appointed in God’s counsel, had arrived.
There is a curious idea maintained by Augustine, Wordsworth, and others, that our Lord here referred to the hour of His crucifixion, and that He meant, "My hour is not yet come for recognizing thee and honouring thee publicly as my mother, but I shall do it one day on the cross." This however seems a very far-fetched and improbable application of the words.
v5.—[His mother saith...do it.] Two things are very noteworthy in this verse. One is the meekness with which Mary submitted to the gentle rebuke which came from our Lord’s mouth, in the last verse. The other is the firm faith which she still exhibited in our Lord’s power to work a miracle in order to supply the lack of wine, and in the probability of His working it.
Dyke observes, "The direction which Mary gives to the servants belongs to us all. We must perform simple obedience to Christ in all things; His sayings must be our doings. No reasoning of the matter must there be, no inquiry, as into men’s commandments and speeches; but this must suffice, ’Christ hath said it.’ This is the blind obedience which Jesuits yield to their superiors, but it is the obedience that belongs to Christ. Many will do something that Christ says, but not whatsoever He says."
It is not, perhaps going too far to say, that after observing her Son’s perfect life and perfect wisdom during thirty years at Nazareth, Mary spoke the words before us with special confidence, and with a greater depth of meaning than appears on the surface of the sentence.—"Whatsoever He says deserves attention. Whatsoever He says, do it."—At any rate the verse contains a deep practical lesson for the whole Church of Christ. Whatsoever Christ says, let us obey and do.
v6.—[Six water-pots....after the manner....Jews.] John mentions these details in describing the miracle, with a special reference to Gentile readers. He meant them to understand that there was nothing remarkable in the circumstance that there were six large water-pots of stone in the place where the feast was held. The peculiar customs of the Jews about ceremonial washings and purifyings, made it necessary to have a large supply of water at hand. The words of Mark throw light on the verse before us:—"The Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders," &c. (Mark 7:3, &c.) The presence of the six water-pots, therefore, could not arise from collusion or pre-arrangement. It was a natural consequence of Jewish habits in our Lord’s times.
[Two or three firkins apiece.] Many foolish and unprofitable remarks have been built on this expression, as to the very large quantity of wine which our Lord must have created when the miracle we are considering was wrought. It might suffice to reply that there is much uncertainty about the precise quantity of liquid which the ancient measure, which we here render "firkins,’’ contained. But the best and safest answer is, that we must not measure the demands of a Jewish marriage feast, which perhaps lasted several days, and included a large number of guests, by the feasts of our own times.
v7.—[Jesus saith....fill the water-pots, &c.] The remark is frequently made by commentators on this verse, with much propriety, that these simple words describe the duty of all who work for Christ, and especially of ministers and teachers. They are to hear Christ’s voice, and do as He tells them, and then leave the result to Him. Duties are ours. Events are God’s. It is ours to fill the water-pots. It is Christ’s to make the water wine.
[Up to the brim.] This circumstance is no doubt mentioned in order to show that there was no room left for trick, jugglery, or imposture. What was put into the water-pots was water, and only water, and they were so filled that nothing could be infused, or mingled with their contents.
v8.—[And he saith...draw out now.] It was at this moment, no doubt, that the miracle took place. By an act of will our Lord changed the contents of the water-pots. That which was poured in was water. That which was drawn out was wine. To Him who created the vine and made it bear grapes at the first, the change was perfectly easy. He who could create matter out of nothing, could much more easily change one kind of matter into another.
[The governor of the feast.] This person appears to have been one who presided at large entertainments like that before us, and superintended all the proceedings. The Greek word so rendered, is precisely the same as that translated "ruler of the feast," in the following verse. The presence of such a person at feasts was a well-known custom among the Greeks and Romans.
v9.—[Tasted...wine...knew not whence it was.] The testimony of the ruler of the feast is specially adduced, in order to show the reality of the miracle. He knew nothing of what had been done to the water-pots. He had not seen the water poured in by our Lord’s command. There was no collusion or conspiracy between him and the servants, much less between him and our Lord. Hence the value of his testimony. He not only testifies that the liquid which a few minutes before was water was now wine, but that it was also wine of more than common goodness and strength,—not wine mixed with water, but pure, good wine.
Let the word "tasted" be carefully noticed in this place. It supplies a strong incidental argument against the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation. The occasion before us is the only known occasion on which our Lord changed one liquid into another. When He did so change it, the reality of the change was at once proved by the "taste." Why is it then that in the pretended change of the sacramental wine in the Lord’s Supper into Christ’s blood the change cannot be detected by the senses? Why does the wine after consecration taste like wine, just as it did before?—These are questions which the Roman Catholics cannot satisfactorily answer. The pretended change of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper is a complete delusion. It is contradicted by the senses of every communicant. The bread after consecration is still bread, and the wine is still wine. That which contradicts our senses we are nowhere required in God’s Word to believe.
v10.—[Every man at the beginning, &c.] The words in this sentence must not be pressed too closely, in order to bring out of them a spiritual meaning. The ruler of the feast makes a general remark about the way in which banquets were usually managed. The ordinary custom was to bring the best wine first, and the inferior wine last. But the wine before him, drawn from the water-pots, was so singularly good, that the custom of this day seemed reversed. The verse is a strong incidental testimony to the reality and greatness of our Lord’s miracle. Not only did He change water into wine, but into wine so singularly good as to excite remark and attention.
[When men have well drunk.] Foolish remarks have sometimes been made on this expression, as if our Lord had countenanced excessive drinking on this occasion. For one thing, it may be remarked that the Greek word rendered "have well drunk," does not necessarily imply intoxication. It may be justly interpreted, as Schleusner and Parkhurst observe, "have drunk sufficiently, or drunk freely."—Men who have had enough, are indifferent as to the quality of the wine set before them. For another thing, we must remember that the ruler of the feast was only making a general remark about men’s ordinary customs in supplying wine to their guests. There is nothing whatever to show that he was alluding to the guests actually before him.
[Thou hast kept the good wine until now.] A good practical remark has often been raised from these words of the ruler of the feast. The world gives its best things, like the best wine, first, and its worst things last. The longer we serve the world, the more disappointing, unsatisfactory, and unsavoury will its gifts prove. Christ, on the other hand, gives His servants their best things last. They have first the cross, the race, and the battle, and then the rest, the glory, and the crown. Specially will it be found true at his second advent. Then will believers say emphatically, "Thou hast kept the good wine until now." These are pious and useful thoughts. But it may be doubted whether they are more than accommodations.
This is perhaps the proper place to remark, that it seems utterly impossible, on any fair and honest interpretation, to reconcile the passage before us with the leading principles of what is commonly called "Teetotalism." If our Lord Jesus Christ actually worked a miracle in order to supply wine at a marriage feast, it seems to me impossible, by any ingenuity, to prove that drinking wine is sinful. Temperance in all things is one of the fruits of the Spirit. An intemperate man is an unconverted man. Total abstinence from fermented liquors is in many cases most useful and desirable. But to say, as many do say, that to drink any fermented liquor at all is "a sin," is taking up ground that cannot be maintained in the face of the passage before us, without wresting the plain meaning of Scripture, and charging Christ with abetting sin.
v11.—[This beginning of miracles, &c.] The plain meaning of this sentence seems to be that this was the first miracle which our Lord Jesus Christ ever worked. The miracles which some have reported that He worked in His infancy and childhood, are destitute of the slightest foundation in Scripture, and utterly unworthy of credit. Those who wish to see their absurdity will find specimens of them in the preliminary Essay to Trench’s Notes on Miracles.
Lightfoot suggests the five following reasons why the miracle now before us was purposely the first that Christ worked. 1. As marriage was the first institution ordained by God, so at a marriage was Christ’s first miracle. 2. As Christ had showed Himself miraculous a little while ago by a fast, so He doth now by an extraordinary provision at a feast. When He would not make stones bread, it was not because He could not. 3. He would not make stones into bread to satisfy Satan, but He was willing to turn water into wine to show forth His own glory. 4. The first miracle wrought in the world by man was transformation, (Exodus 7:9,) and the first miracle wrought by the Son of Man was of the same nature. 5. The first time you hear of John the Baptist, you hear of his strict diet, and so the first time you hear of Christ in His public ministry, you hear of Him at a marriage feast.
[Manifested forth his glory.] I am unable to see that these words refer to the expression used in the first chapter, "We beheld his glory." (John 1:14.) I believe the meaning to be that "by this miracle Jesus now for the first time opened or revealed His glorious and divine power, and His commission to be the Messiah." After thirty years’ seclusion at Nazareth, He now for the first time lifted up the veil which He had thrown over His divinity in becoming flesh, and revealed something of His almighty power and Godhead.
[His disciples believed on him.] These words cannot of course mean that Andrew, and John, and Peter, and Philip, and Nathanael now believed on Jesus for the first time. The probable meaning is, that from this time forth they believed more confidently, more implicitly, and more unhesitatingly. From this time they felt thoroughly convinced, in spite of much remaining ignorance, that He whom they were following was the Messiah.
I cannot close the note on this wonderful miracle without saying something about the allegorical and typical meanings assigned to it by the fathers and many other commentators. Many see in the miracle an allegorical history of the introduction of the Gospel into the world. Like the marriage feast, the Gospel was an occasion of joy. As at the marriage feast, the personal presence of Jesus was the great feature of the Gospel. The times of the Jewish dispensation were times of deficiency and dim light. The coming of Christ supplied all that was lacking. Revealed religion before Christ was like water. Christ coming into the world turned the water of the old dispensation into wine. The good wine was reserved until the time of Christ. The first miracle wrought by Moses was turning water into blood. The first wrought by Christ was turning water into wine.
These are undoubtedly pious thoughts, and full of truth. I should be sorry to speak harshly of them, or to pronounce decidedly that they may not be legitimately deduced from the miracle. I only venture the remark, that it is far wiser to abstain from allegorical interpretations as a general rule, and to be content with the plain meaning which appears on the surface of Scripture. Once begin allegorizing Scripture, and you never know where you are to stop. You may prove anything, and find anything in the Bible upon the allegorical system, and at last throw open the floodgate to a torrent of wild fanaticism.
The allegorical lessons drawn from this miracle by Augustine, Bernard, and Alcuin, are striking examples of the extremes into which allegory may run. When such a man as Augustine, for instance, tells us that the two or three firkins mean the two races of men, Jews and Greeks, or the three sons of Noah,—or when he says that the six water-pots in the miracle before us denote six successive prophetical periods in the days between Adam and Christ, one cannot but feel that there is something wrong. These are his words, "The six water-pots, containing two or three firkins apiece, are six ages, containing the prophecy belonging to all nations, whether as referred to two kinds of men, Jews and Gentiles, as the apostle often says, or to three, on account of the three sons of Noah." The system of interpreting Scripture which can lead a good man into such assertions as this, must surely be a dangerous two-edged weapon, and likely to do more harm than good.
That all our Lord’s miracles were deeply significant, I do not deny. That all were intended to convey deep spiritual lessons, beside supplying proofs of His divinity, I make no question. All I maintain is that they require reverent and delicate handling, and that to rush hastily into allegorical interpretations of them, and invest every minute portion of them with a figurative meaning, is an unwise mode of handling Scripture, and eminently calculated to bring the Bible into contempt.
Hardly any commentator has drawn more useful practical lessons from this miracle than Melancthon. Those who think lightly of Protestant divinity would do well to compare his commentary on the whole passage with that of Augustine.
THE second miracle which our Lord is recorded to have wrought demands our attention in these verses. Like the first miracle at Cana, it is eminently typical and significant of things yet to come. To attend a marriage feast, and cleanse the temple from profanation were among the first acts of our Lord’s ministry at His first coming. To purify the whole visible Church, and hold a marriage supper, will be amongst His first acts, when He comes again.
We see, for one thing, in this passage, how much Christ disapproves all irreverent behavior in the house of God.
We are told that He drove out of the temple those whom He found selling oxen and sheep and doves within its walls,—that He poured out the changers’ money and overthrew their tables,—and that He said to them that sold doves, "Take these things hence, make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise." On no occasion in our Lord’s earthly ministry do we find Him acting so energetically, and exhibiting such righteous indignation, as on the occasion now before us. Nothing seems to have called from Him such a marked display of holy wrath as the gross irreverence which the priests permitted in the temple, notwithstanding all their boasted zeal for God’s law. Twice, it will be remembered, He discovered the same profanation of His Father’s house going on, within three years, once at the beginning of His ministry and once at the end. Twice we see Him expressing his displeasure in the strongest terms. "The thing is doubled" in order to impress a lesson more strongly on our minds.
The passage is one that ought to raise deep searchings of heart in many quarters. Are there none who profess and call themselves Christians, behaving every Sunday just as badly as these Jews? Are there none who secretly bring into the house of God their money, their lands, their houses, their cattle, and a whole train of worldly affairs? Are there none who bring their bodies only into the place of worship, and allow their hearts to wander into the ends of the earth? Are there none who are "almost in all evil, in the midst of the congregation"? (Proverbs 5:14.) These are serious questions! Multitudes, it may be feared, could not give them a satisfactory answer. Christian churches and chapels, no doubt, are very unlike the Jewish temple. They are not built after a divine pattern. They have no altars or holy places. Their furniture has no typical meaning. But they are places where God’s word is read, and where Christ is specially present. The man who professes to worship in them should surely behave with reverence and respect. The man who brings his worldly matters with him when he professes to worship, is doing that which is evidently most offensive to Christ. The words which Solomon wrote by the Holy Ghost are applicable to all times, "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God." (Ecclesiastes 5:1.)
We see, for another thing, in this passage, how men may remember words of religious truth long after they are spoken, and may one day see a meaning in them which at first they did not see.
We are told that our Lord said to the Jews, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." John informs us distinctly that "He spake of the temple of His body," that he referred to His own resurrection. Yet the meaning of the sentence was not understood by our Lord’s disciples at the time that it was spoken. It was not till "He was risen from the dead," three years after the events here described, that the full significance of the sentence flashed on their hearts. For three years it was a dark and useless saying to them. For three years it lay sleeping in their minds, like a seed in a tomb, and bore no fruit. But at the end of that time the darkness passed away. They saw the application of their Master’s words, and as they saw it were confirmed in their faith. "They remembered that He had said this," and as they remembered "they believed."
It is a comfortable and cheering thought, that the same kind of thing that happened to the disciples is often going on at the present day. The sermons that are preached to apparently heedless ears in churches, are not all lost and thrown away. The instruction that is given in schools and pastoral visits, is not all wasted and forgotten. The texts that are taught by parents to children are not all taught in vain. There is often a resurrection of sermons, and texts, and instruction, after an interval of many years. The good seed sometimes springs up after he that sowed it has been long dead and gone. Let preachers go on preaching, and teachers go on teaching, and parents go on training up children in the way they should go. Let them sow the good seed of Bible truth in faith and patience. Their labor is not in vain in the Lord. Their words are remembered far more than they think, and will yet spring up "after many days." (1 Corinthians 15:58; Ecclesiastes 11:1.)
We see, lastly, in this passage, how perfect is our Lord Jesus Christ’s knowledge of the human heart.
We are told that when our Lord was at Jerusalem, the first time, He "did not commit Himself" to those who professed belief in Him. He knew that they were not to be depended on. They were astonished at the miracles which they saw Him work. They were even intellectually convinced that He was the Messiah, whom they had long expected. But they were not "disciples indeed." (John 8:31.) They were not converted, and true believers. Their hearts were not right in the sight of God, though their feelings were excited. Their inward man was not renewed, whatever they might profess with their lips. Our Lord knew that nearly all of them were stony-ground hearers. (Luke 8:13.) As soon as tribulation or persecution arose because of the word, their so-called faith would probably wither away and come to an end. All this our Lord saw clearly, if others around Him did not. Andrew, and Peter, and John, and Philip, and Nathanael, perhaps wondered that their Master did not receive these seeming believers with open arms. But they could only judge things by the outward appearance. Their Master could read hearts. "He knew what was in man."
The truth now before us, is one which ought to make hypocrites and false professors tremble. They may deceive men, but they cannot deceive Christ. They may wear a cloak of religion, and appear, like whited sepulchers, beautiful in the eyes of men. But the eyes of Christ see their inward rottenness, and the judgment of Christ will surely overtake them, except they repent. Christ is already reading their hearts, and as He reads He is displeased. They are known in heaven, if they are not known on earth, and they will be known at length to their shame, before assembled worlds, if they die unchanged. It is written, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." (Revelation 3:1.)
But the truth before us has two sides, like the pillar of cloud and fire at the Red sea. (Exodus 14:20.) If it looks darkly on hypocrites, it looks brightly on true believers. If it threatens wrath to false professors, it speaks peace to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. A real Christian may be weak, but he is true. One thing, at any rate, the servant of Christ can say, when cast down by a sense of his own infirmity, or pained by the slander of a lying world. He can say, "Lord, I am a poor sinner, but I am in earnest, I am true. Thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. Thou knowest all hearts, and thou knowest that, weak as my heart is, it is a heart that cleaves to thee." The false Christian shrinks from the eye of an all-seeing Savior. The true Christian desires his Lord’s eye to be on him morning, noon, and night. He has nothing to hide.
v12.—[He went down to Capernaum.] The strict accuracy of John’s writing is note-worthy here. Cana was a village in the hill country. Capernaum was a town on the shore of the lake of Galilee, at a very much lower level than Cana. It is therefore said that Jesus "went down."
Capernaum appears to have been our Lord’s principal residence in Galilee during his earthly ministry. "Leaving Nazareth, he dwelt in Capernaum." (Matthew 4:13.) At no place does He seem to have worked so many miracles; and on no place does He denounce so severe a judgment for its impenitence and neglect of privileges: "Thou Capernaum which art exalted to heaven shalt be cast down to hell." (Matthew 11:23.) It is a striking fact that though Capernaum was a wealthy and important place in our Lord’s time, it has so entirely passed away and been "cast down," that even its situation has never been clearly ascertained.
[His mother.] Here again we see no mention of Joseph. Whether Mary was a constant companion of our Lord throughout His earthly ministry, may be doubted. We see her here. We see her again at the crucifixion. But we see her in another place "standing without and desiring to speak with him" when He was talking to the people, and giving occasion to the solemn saying, "Who is my mother?" (Matthew 12:48.) Indeed there is no proof that Mary ever saw more clearly than the rest of our Lord’s disciples the whole purpose of Christ’s advent, or was at all more prepared than the rest for His crucifixion and sufferings.
[His Brethren.] There is no good ground for supposing that these were our Lord’s brethren according to the flesh, and that Mary ever had any other son after our Lord’s miraculous birth.—For one thing, it is well known to every careful reader, that the word "brethren" is applied in the Bible to many relatives besides those whom we call "brethren." Abraham says to Lot, "We be brethren," (Genesis 13:8,) though Lot was his nephew. Mishael and Elzaphan were called the "brethren" of Nadab and Abihu, though they were only cousins. (Leviticus 10:4.)—Jacob said "to his brethren" gather stones (Genesis 31:46); yet they were his sons and servants.—For another thing, it is quite possible that Joseph might have had children by a former marriage, before he was espoused to Mary; and these children, we can well understand, would be called our Lord’s "brethren."—In the last place, we know that the Apostle James was called our "Lord’s brother," (Galatians 1:19,) and yet we are distinctly told that he was the son of Alpheus or Cleophas, the husband of the virgin Mary’s sister. It is therefore most probable that "brethren" in the verse before us means "cousins," some of whom believed on our Lord, though others did not. (John 7:5.)
It is an interesting fact, that two at least of our Lord’s apostles were His kinsmen according to the flesh, viz., James and Jude, the sons of Alpheus. To them we may probably add Simon, on the strength of Mark 6:3, and perhaps Matthew also, on the strength of Mark 2:14 and Matthew 9:9.
[And his disciples.] This expression, being used after the words "His brethren," may raise a doubt whether any of our Lord’s relatives as yet believed on Him, except Mary. It is possible that they only followed Him now out of curiosity, in consequence of the miracle he had just wrought.
v13.—[The Jews’ passover...at hand.] This expression is another proof that John wrote his Gospel for Gentile believers rather than for Jews.
Our Lord’s regular attendance on the feasts and ordinances of the law of Moses, deserves notice. So long as the dispensation of the Old Testament lasted, He gave it all due honour, however unworthy the hands which administered it. The unworthiness of ministers will not justify us in neglecting God’s ordinances.
The exact number of Passovers which our Lord kept, and consequently the exact length of His ministry from His baptism to His crucifixion, are points on which there is much difference of opinion. For myself I can see no better view than the old one, that our Lord’s ministry lasted three years. It evidently began shortly before a Passover, and ended with a Passover. But whether it included only three Passovers, and in that case lasted between two and three years,—or four Passovers, and in that case lasted between three and four years,—I think we have no materials for deciding positively. If I must venture an opinion, I think it most likely that our Lord only kept three Passovers.—But it is an open question, and one happily not of deep moment.—Three Passovers are distinctly named by John, viz., the one before us, the one in the sixth chapter, (John 6:3-4,) and the one at which our Lord was crucified. If the "feast" mentioned in the fifth chapter (John 5:1,) was the Passover, our Lord kept four Passovers. But this last point cannot be settled.
Sir Isaac Newton thought that our Lord kept no less than five Passovers. Some few writers have maintained that He kept only two. Those who wish to see the subject discussed will find it in Doddridge’s notes on this place.
[Jesus went up to Jerusalem.] Let it be noted, that this journey, and all the circumstances which attended this visit to Jerusalem, are only related by John. For some wise reason the other three Gospel writers were inspired to leave out this part of our Lord’s history.
v14.—[Found in the temple those that sold, &c.] The presence of oxen, sheep, doves, and money-changers, within the temple courts, is easily accounted for. The animals were intended to supply the wants of Jews who came to the Passover and other feasts, from distant places, and required sacrifices. For them the dealers in oxen, sheep, and doves, were ready, within a few yards of the altar. The changers of money came naturally enough where buying and selling went on, to meet the convenience of Jews who had nothing but foreign money, which they wished to exchange for the current coin of Jerusalem. The tendency of the whole custom was evidently most profane. It was no doubt connived at by the priests from covetous motives. They were either connected with those who sold animals and changed money, and shared in their profits; or else they received a rent for the privilege of carrying on business within the sacred walls. No doubt they would have pleaded that all was done with a good intention! Their end was to provide facilities for worshipping God! But good intentions cannot sanctify unscriptural actions. As Dyke says on the passage, "No pretence of good ends can justify that which is forbidden by God."
When we are told that our Lord found all this going on "in the temple," we must of course understand that it means "in the courtyards surrounding the temple,—within the precincts of the temple." But these courtyards, we must remember, were regarded as part of the temple, and therefore holy ground.
I am inclined to see in this visit of our Lord to the temple at His first appearance in Jerusalem after beginning His ministry, a partial though very imperfect fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy: "The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple." (Malachi 3:1.) While the Jewish nation was expecting the appearance of a conquering Messiah with power and great glory, the true Messiah suddenly appeared in the temple, and declared His presence, not by exhibiting temporal power, but by insisting on greater purity in the temple worship, as the first thing which the nation needed.
That a fuller and more complete accomplishment of Malachi’s words remains yet to come, I feel no doubt. But like many Old Testament prophecies about Messiah, the words were purposely intended to have a double fulfilment,—a partial one at Messiah’s first coming to suffer, a complete one at Messiah’s second coming to reign.
The great majority of the best commentators hold that our Lord cast out the buyers and sellers from the temple twice, once at the beginning of His ministry and once at the end.—It is fair to say that Bishop Pearce and a few other writers think that it only happened once,—at the end of His ministry, just before His crucifixion. But the arguments in favor of this view do not appear to me at all weighty or satisfactory.
v15.—[Made a scourge of small cords.] The Greek word translated "small cords," means literally a "cord made of rushes." Some have thought that these rushes were used as litter for the sheep and oxen. Others have thought that such small cords as these might very likely have been lying about, after having been used for tying up the oxen. Whether the scourge was applied to those persons who brought the animals into the temple, as a sort of chastisement, as some old painters have represented the scene, we do not know. The more probable view seems to be, that the scourge was simply meant to assist our Lord in speedily ejecting the sheep and oxen.
The whole transaction is a remarkable one, as exhibiting our Lord using more physical exertion, and energetic bodily action, than we see Him using at any other period of His ministry. A word, a touch, or the reaching forth of a hand, are the ordinary limits of His actions. Here we see Him doing no less than four things: (1) Making the scourge;—(2) Driving out the animals;—(3) Pouring out on the ground the changers’ money; (4) Overthrowing the tables. On no occasion do we find Him showing such strong outward marks of indignation, as at the sight of the profanation of the temple. Remembering that the whole transaction is a striking type of what Christ will do to His visible church at His second coming, we may get some idea of the deep meaning of that remarkable expression, "The wrath of the Lamb." (Revelation 6:16.)
A remark of Dyke on our Lord’s conduct in this place, is worth noticing. "This act of Christ is not to be drawn into imitation, because He did it as Lord of the temple by virtue of His Sonship. Therefore the Papists grossly abuse this place that hence gather the power of the Pope to punish offenders even with corporal punishments, or to deprive princes of their kingdoms. As for ministers, the only whip they may use is their tongue, in powerful preaching against abuses.—As for private persons, God hath not tied their tongues, though He hath their hands. As occasion is offered, they may show their detestation and dislike of corruption."
v16.—[Said....sold doves....take these things hence.] The distinction between our Lord’s mode of dealing with each of the objects of His displeasure deserves notice. The oxen and sheep He drove out. There was no danger of their being lost by such treatment.—The money He threw on the ground. It might be soon picked up and carried away.—The doves He simply ordered to be taken away. Had He done more, they might have flown away, and been completely lost to their owners.—It would have been well for the church, if all church reformers had blended like wisdom with a like zeal in their proceedings. In the present instance all were rebuked and all instructed. But no one was really injured, and nothing was lost.
[My Father’s house.] This expression is note-worthy. Whether the Jews observed it, in the hurry and confusion of the whole transaction, may be questioned. It was evidently an assertion by our Lord of His divine Sonship, and consequently of his right to vindicate the purity of His Father’s place of worship. On another occasion when our Lord called God His Father, the Jews at once said that He "made himself equal with God." (John 5:18.) Some have thought that the expression is parallel to that used in the description of Christ among the doctors, (Luke 2:49,) and that the words used there, "I must be about my Father’s business," would have been better rendered, "I must be in my Father’s house."
The fact that the profane custom which our Lord here reproved was resumed by the Jews, and that two or three years afterward our Lord found the same thing going on again in the temple, and again cast out the buyers and sellers, ought not to be overlooked. It is a striking proof of the desperate wickedness and fallen condition of the priests and rulers of the temple. They were deaf to all counsel and reproof, and given over to a reprobate mind.—The difference between our Lord’s language at the second visit and that used at the first, ought also to be noticed. At the first visit He only says, "Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise," a place of buying and selling. At the second visit He says, "Ye have made it a den of thieves." (Matthew 21:13.) The more wicked and hardened men are, the louder must be our protest, and the sharper our rebuke.
[A house of merchandise.] Musculus remarks on this expression, that if the sale of animals for sacrifices called forth Christ’s displeasure, much more must He be displeased at what goes on continually in Roman Catholic Churches. The sale of masses, indulgences, &c., must be far more offensive to Christ than the sale of oxen and sheep.
The complete success of our Lord on this occasion, and the absence of the slightest opposition on the part of the Jews, deserve notice. It is a fact that induced some of the Fathers to call this the greatest miracle Christ ever worked. There are however three things to be remembered in considering this matter. For one thing, the conscience of the Jews was on our Lord’s side. They knew that He was right and they were wrong. For another thing, as a nation familiar with the history of the Old "Testament Prophets, they would not be surprised at an individual apparently under a divine impulse suddenly doing what our Lord did.—Above all there can be little doubt that a divine influence was brought to bear on all present, as it was when our Lord rode into Jerusalem on an ass, and when He caused His enemies in the garden to "go backward and fall to the ground." (Matthew 21:9-10; John 18:6.) Here, as on other occasions, our Lord showed His disciples that He had complete power over all wills and minds, when He thought fit to exercise it; and that when He was rejected and disobeyed by the Jews, it was not because He had no power to compel obedience. They had no power against Him except when He permitted.
The allegorical meanings assigned to the sheep, oxen, and doves, by Augustine, Origen, and Bede, are too absurd to be quoted. They may be seen in the Catena of Aquinas. Origen sees in the casting out of the animals, a type of the dissolution of the Jewish dispensation with its offerings and sacrifices.
Beza sees a peculiar fitness in our Lord’s action of purifying the temple. It became Him who was to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, to exhibit the same zeal for the purity of God’s house that was formerly exhibited by such men as the Prophet Isaiah, the priest Jehoiada, and the kings Hezekiah and Josiah. (2 Chronicles 24:6.)
v17.—[His disciples remembered, &c.] These words certainly appear to mean that our Lord’s disciples "remembered" the text which is here quoted, at the very time when our Lord was casting out the buyers and sellers. It occurred to their minds as a striking illustration of the spirit which their divine Master was exhibiting. He was completely absorbed for the moment in zeal for the purity of God’s house. It is one among many proofs of the familiarity of the poor and unlearned Jews with the Old Testament Scriptures. Whether, however, the disciples regarded the Psalm, of which they remembered this verse, as applicable to the Messiah, may be reasonably doubted.
[The zeal of thine house....eaten me.] The 69th Psalm, from which this text is taken, is quoted no less than seven times in the New Testament, as the utterance of Messiah. In the first twenty-one verses of the Psalm the Messiah’s sufferings are related by Himself. The fifth verse is undoubtedly very remarkable as coming from Messiah’s lips, when He speaks of "my foolishness" and "my sins." Ainsworth says it means, "false-imputation of sins." "Thou knowest if there be any such as my foes charge me with." Bonar says much the same.
The text before us shows that it is sometimes justifiable to be entirely absorbed and eaten up, so to speak, by zeal for some object in which God’s glory is concerned. Moses, Phineas, and Paul at Athens, are examples of such zeal. (Exodus 32:19; Numbers 25:11; Acts 17:16.)
Augustine remarks on this text, "Let the zeal of the house of God ever eat thee.—For example: Seest thou a brother running to the theatre? stop him, warn him, be grieved for him, if the zeal of God’s house hath now eaten thee.—Seest thou others running and wanting to drink themselves drunk? Stop whom thou canst, hold whom thou canst, frighten whom thou canst; whom thou canst, win in gentleness; do not in any wise sit still and do nothing."
v18.—[Then answered the Jews and said.] Doddridge remarks here that these Jews were probably the rulers, because the Great Assembly, or Sanhedrim, sat in the temple, and our Lord’s actions would undoubtedly come to their knowledge without delay. This makes the question and answer which follow the more important.
[What sign showest thou....doest these things.] This question of the Jews shows us that they admitted the lawfulness of a man doing such things as our Lord had done, if he could prove that he had a divine commission. He had suddenly taken upon Himself a great and independent authority. Though neither a priest nor a Levite, He had virtually interfered with the management of the temple courts. Let Him now show that He was a prophet, like Elijah or Amos, and they would concede He had a warrant for His conduct.
v19.—[Jesus answered....destroy this temple.] The meaning of this remarkable expression is either hypothetical or prophetical. It must either be rendered, "Supposing you destroy this temple," or "Ye will destroy this temple,"—"If ye kill my body," or "When ye shall kill my body."—It is of course absurd to suppose that our Lord literally commanded the Jews to destroy Him. The use of the imperative instead of the future, must surely be familiar to every Bible reader. See especially the 109th Psalm. In the present case it is truly astonishing that any one can see difficulty in our Lord’s expression. He only used a mode of speaking which is in common use among ourselves. If a lawyer said to his client in a consultation, "Take such a step, and you will be ruined," we all know that he would not be commanding his client to take the step. He would only mean, "If you do take such a step."—A similar form of language may be seen in our Lord’s words, "Fill ye up the measure of your fathers," addressed to the Pharisees. (Matthew 23:32.) No one would say that our Lord commanded the Pharisees to do this. It is a prophecy.—So also, "Make the tree good," (Matthew 12:33,) is not so much a command as an hypothesis. See also Isaiah 8:9-10.
[In three days I will raise it up.] This is a prophecy of our Lord’s resurrection. But it is a very remarkable one, from the fact that our Lord distinctly asserts His own power to raise Himself up. It is like the expression, "I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again." (John 10:18.) Both the expressions deserve particular notice, because many now-a-days assert that our Lord’s resurrection was owing to the operation of God the Father and of God the Holy Ghost, and that He did not rise by His own power. This is a dangerous heresy. That the Father and the Holy Ghost co-operated in the resurrection of our Lord’s body there can be no doubt. It is clearly taught in many places. But to say that our Lord did not raise his own body, is to contradict the text before us, and the other which has been already quoted.
Hurrion, quoted by Ford, observes, "The efficient cause of Christ’s resurrection was the infinite power of God, which being common to all the Persons in the blessed Trinity, the resurrection is sometimes ascribed to the Father, sometimes to the Son, and sometimes to the Holy Ghost. Christ’s being raised by the Father and the Spirit is not inconsistent with His raising Himself; for ’what things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son,’ (John 5:19,) for being one in nature, they are also one in operation."
The questions naturally arise in many minds, Why did Jesus not work some miracle at once, as a sign, to convince the Jews? Why did He not at once proclaim Himself the Messiah? Why did he give the Jews so dark and mysterious a reply as the one before us?—The answer to these questions is this. For one thing we must remark, it was a leading principle in our Lord’s dealings with men, not to force conviction on them, but to speak to them according to what He saw was the state of their hearts. He answered fools according to their folly. (Proverbs 26:5.) If He had given the Jews a more direct reply, He knew that it would have brought His ministry to an abrupt end, and would have led to His being cut off before the time.—For another thing, we must remember, that however dark our Lord’s saying seemed when it was spoken, it did in effect tell the Jews of the greatest and most important sign which could be given them as a proof of His Messiahship. It told them of His future resurrection. It was equivalent to saying, "You ask me for a sign, and I will give you one. I will rise again from the dead the third day after my crucifixion. If I do not so rise from the dead, you need not believe that I am the Messiah. But if I do so rise, you will be without excuse if you do not believe on me." In effect our Lord staked the truth of His mission on His resurrection. He did the same when He said that He would give the Jewish nation no sign but that of the prophet Jonas. (Matthew 12:39.) When the apostles began to preach, they continually referred the Jews to Christ’s resurrection as the proof of His Messiahship. And why did they do so? One main reason was, because their Master had told the Jews, the first time He appeared in the temple, that the great sign they must look to was His own rising again from the dead.
v20.—[Then said....Jews, forty and six years, &c.] This expression has given rise to some difference of opinion. The temple to which the Jews refer, cannot of course be the temple built by Solomon. That temple was completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.—Nor yet does it seem likely to have been the temple built by Zerubbabel and his companions, after the return from Babylon. There is no sufficiently clear proof that this temple was forty and six years building.—By far the most probable view is, that the temple spoken of is the one repaired, or rather re-built by Herod, and that the forty-six years here mentioned mean the time during which these repairs were going on, and that the entire completion of them had not been effected up to our Lord’s time. These repairs, according to Josephus, had been going on exactly forty-six years when our Lord visited the temple. They were so extensive and costly, that eighteen thousand workmen were employed about them, and they amounted to a re-building. Moreover, the minds of the Jews would probably be full of them at this particular time, because they were of recent date, if not going on at that very time. The Greek words might fairly be rendered, "Forty and six years has this temple been building."—They denote a time, as Whitby remarks, not perfectly past.
If any one desires to see an instance of the extravagant lengths into which a good man may be led, in following the allegorical system of interpreting Scripture, he will do well to read Augustine’s allegorical explanation of the forty and six years. It is far too absurd to be worth inserting here.
[Wilt thou rear it up in three days?] This question implies three things,—a sneer, astonishment, and incredulity. There is probably an emphasis meant to be laid on the word "thou." Such an one as thou! Wilt thou do it?
That this saying of our Lord, nevertheless, was not thrown away and forgotten, but stuck in the minds of the Jews, though they did not understand it, is strikingly proved by two facts.— One is, that the false witnesses brought it forward, though in a garbled form, when our Lord was arraigned before the high priests.—The other is, that the Jews taunted Him with it when He hung on the cross. (Matthew 26:61; Matthew 27:40.)
v21.—[But he spake....temple....body.] This verse is an instance of John’s habit of making explanatory comments in his Gospel as he goes on, in order to make things clear to his Gentile readers. Let it be noted, that as our Lord calls His own body a "temple," so also the bodies of His believing people are called "the temple of the Holy Ghost." (1 Corinthians 6:19.) If it was wrong to defile and profane the temple made of stone and wood, how much more is it wrong to defile by sin the temple of our bodies! Paul and Peter both call our bodies our "tabernacle." (2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:13.)
v22.—[When...risen....dead....disciples remembered.] This sentence is an interesting proof of two things. For one thing, it shows how much light was brought to the minds of the disciples by our Lord’s resurrection, and how many hard sayings of His were at once unravelled and made plain.—For another thing, it shows how long truth may lie dormant in men’s minds without being understood, or doing them any service. It is one of the special offices of the Holy Ghost to bring things to remembrance. (John 14:26.) We must not suppose religious teaching does no good, because it is not understood immediately. It may do good long after the teacher is dead.
[They believed the Scripture.] What Scripture does this mean? It cannot, of course, be our Lord’s saying. What our Lord said is specially added, as something beside the Scripture, which the disciples "believed."—Nor yet does it seem likely that it means any particular text in the Old Testament about the resurrection. I incline to the opinion, that it means generally the whole testimony of Scripture to our Lord’s claim to be received as the Messiah. When Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were fully convinced that the Scripture about the Messiah was fulfilled in their Master.
The expression "believed" cannot mean that the disciples then believed for the first time. As in other places, it signifies that they believed fully, and without any more doubt and hesitation. The same may be said of John 14:1.
v23.—[Many believed.] These persons do not appear to have really believed with the heart, but to have been only convinced in their understandings. The distinction between intellectual belief and saving belief, and between one degree of saving belief and another, ought to be carefully noticed in Scripture. There is a faith which devils have, and a faith which is the gift of God. The persons mentioned in this verse had the former, but not the latter. So also we are told that Simon Magus "believed." (Acts 8:13.) Again, there is a real heart-belief which a man may have that admits of great increase. This is the belief spoken of in the preceding verse.
[When they saw the miracles.] This expression shows us that there were many miracles worked by our Lord which are nowhere recorded in Scripture. John himself tells us so twice over. (John 20:30; John 21:25.) Nicodemus refers to these miracles in the beginning of the following chapter. (John 3:2.) If it had been good for us to know anything about these miracles, they would no doubt have been recorded. But it is well to remember that there were such miracles, in order that we may rightly understand the unbelief and hardness of the Jews a Jerusalem. The miracles which are related as having been worked in or near Jerusalem, we must remember, are by no means all that our Lord worked there.
v24.—[Did not commit himself.] The Greek word so rendered means literally "Did not trust himself." It is the same verb that is generally rendered "believe."
[He knew all men.] This is a direct assertion of our Lord’s divine omniscience. As God He knew all mankind, and these seeming believers among others. As God, He knew that their hearts were like the stony ground in the parable, and their faith only temporary.
Melancthon makes some very wise remarks on this verse, as to the example which our Lord sets us here of caution in dealing with strangers. It is a melancholy fact, which the experience of years always confirms, that we must not trust implicitly to appearances of kindness, or be ready to open our hearts to every one as a friend, upon short acquaintance. The man who does not hastily contract intimacies, may be thought cold and distant by some; but in the long run of life he will escape many sorrows. It is a wise saying, that a man ought to be friendly with all, but intimate with few.
v25.—[Needed not...testify of man.] These words mean that our Lord had no need of any one’s testimony "about man." He required no information from others about the real character of those who professed faith in Him.
[He knew what was in man.] This means that our Lord, as God, possessed a perfect knowledge of man’s inner nature, and was a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. We should remember Solomon’s words in his prayer, "Thou only knowest the hearts of all the children of men." (1 Kings 8:39.)
The immense difference between our Lord and all ministers of His Gospel appears strikingly in this verse. Ministers are constantly deceived in their estimate of people. Christ never was, and never could be. When He allowed Judas Iscariot to be a disciple, He was perfectly acquainted with his character.
Wordsworth observes that the two last verses of this chapter "afford an instance of the peculiar manner in which the Holy Spirit, in John’s Gospel, pronounces judgment on things and persons. Compare John 6:64, John 6:71; John 7:39; John 8:27; John 12:33, John 12:37; John 13:11; John 21:17."
In leaving the whole passage, I cannot help remarking what a faithful picture of human nature it exhibits, and how many are the ways in which human corruption and infirmity show themselves. Within the space of a few verses we find some openly profaning God’s temple for the sake of gain,—some angrily demanding a sign of Him who shows zeal for purity,—some professing a false faith,—and some few only believing, but even these believing with a weak, unintelligent faith. It is the state of things which exists everywhere and always.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 2". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent