These two events introduce the start of Jesus’ public ministry. In both instances, Jesus replaces or reinterprets Jewish symbols to point towards him.
2:1-12 – The Wedding at Cana
At a wedding in Cana, Jesus turns water into wine. This is the first miracle that Jesus performs, and the first of John’s “signs” (John 2:11). The water that Jesus used was for ceremonial washing (John 2:6), probably for washing utensils and the guests hands. ^ ^ Many commentators point out that Jesus is taking a symbol of Jewish ritualism and turning it into a symbol of joy and celebration.^ ^ This is the first in a series of incidents where Jesus redirects Jewish tradition to point to himself and to the New Age which he ushers in. In this case, the wine points to the over-abundance of goodness that Jesus’ kingdom offers. The size of the jars shows the incredibly large amount of wine that Jesus created (between 120 and 180 litres).
2:13-25 – Jesus clears the Temple
Jesus then clears the temple of merchants and money lenders. Note that this is not an attack on the temple or temple worship. Jesus’ wrath is not directed at the people who are worshipping, but at the people who are selling. Equally, Jesus’ actions are driven by his zeal for the temple (John 2:17), which shows a very positive attitude towards it. Jesus does not object to Jewish worship, but incorrect worship. Money changers and animal traders were vital to the temple worship. It was important to have the correct animals for the correct sacrifices, and the temple tax had to be paid in local currency.^^ Deut 14:24-26 gives provision for people who must travel a long way to buy their sacrifices when they get to Jerusalem. The problem, Köstenberger argues, was that these people were operating in the Court of the Gentiles, effectively disrupting the only place that gentiles could come to worship God.^ ^ Zechariah predicted that in the Day of the Lord, “there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts” (Zech 14:21, although the NIV translates it differently). Thus Jesus could be seeing himself as bringing about one of the signs of the last days (see Eschatology in the Gospel of John).^^
Then the Jews challenge Jesus’ authority. At this stage, this could be a positive question. The cleansing of the temple stood in a long tradition of prophetic symbolic actions, and it was appropriate to ask a prophet to justify their claim of divine authority.^ ^ Ironically, in demanding a sign, they missed the significance of the sign that had just been performed before them. Jesus’ reply is misunderstood by everybody – even the disciples didn’t understand it until after the resurrection. He points to his death and resurrection as the ultimate sign that will prove his divine authority.
This passage also raises the issue of the timing of Jesus’ ministry. In the synoptics, this incident is recorded at the end of Jesus ministry. It could be that Jesus cleared the temple twice in his ministry, otherwise it seems that either the synoptic tradition or John have placed this event out of order to make a theological point. John portrays Jesus’ ministry as moving back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem over a three year period while the synoptics trace a single movement from Galilee to Jerusalem over one year. Thus John could have moved this event to the start of his gospel as an opening to Jesus ministry, or the synoptics moved it to the end because they only describe Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem.
- Matthew Henry
- Matthew Henry (concise)
- John Darby
- Geneva Study Bible
- John Gill
- Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown
- B. W. Johnson
- McGarvey and Pendleton
- John Wesley
- John S. C. Abbott and Jacob Abbott
- Adam Clarke
- Albert Barnes