“And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the wedding. And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’ Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.’ And they took it to him. And when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now.’ This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.“
What it is that one wants to expose in any particular text, usually goes to their motives. For instance, in today’s text, a lover of wine would be quick to point out that Jesus made water into wine. On the contrary, if one was opposed to the drinking of wine, they would use other examples to try and demonstrate that Jesus did not really turn water into wine but rather, great grape juice. These would cite the many verses condemning alcohol abuse, even though many more verses advocate alcohol. We call this ripping verses out of context. Jesus changed water into wine–get used to it.
Others may focus on the marriage feast aspect of this story. They would advocate for large wedding celebrations and ceremonies. Still others would tell cautionary tales about having a wedding so large that the wine runs out. Sort of a live within ones means type of message, so that the Messiah wouldn’t have to rescue you. However that is exactly what the Messiah does, although not in a rapture rescue.
Is John’s historical narrative really about water, weddings and wine or a timeless truth given in a historical narrative? Here, we utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught. Let the Scripture interpret Scripture and see the sublime string. Yes, this passage is about wine and marriage. But what was John’s aspiration to his audience by including it in his historical narrative when all the other gospel writers left it out? Let’s consider the context and examples as we work to ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience.
Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers miss the obvious allusion John makes of this miracle, the first of which Jesus did publicly. I have lost count of the sermons and messages that I have heard concerning this passage. I have also lost count of the message and sermons I have heard on water, wine marriage and how they in some way, represent the relationship of Jesus and his people. Nevertheless I can’t remember one of these sermons tying John’s description of the first miracle of Jesus to his provisions for his church. Everyone finds it odd that John recorded changing water into wine as the first miracle of Jesus. Therefore it behooves us to wonder why. As always, the answer is sublimely simple but not so simple as it was his earliest and therefore easiest miracle and the miracles get bigger and better–that Jesus started small and worked his way up. The way in which the miracle is described is as impossible as reattaching an ear–the final miracle of Jesus. There is much more significance to this sign than that it was a small sign. Rather, it was the sign of what was to come and what had come; the Lord.
Interestingly enough, a movie was made with some of the more moderate prophecy-pundits giving interviews about the end times and the correlation to a Galilean wedding. Nevertheless, they let their dubious dogma of dispensationalism steer the ship. Essentially the entire movie was intended to be proof of a rapture rescue. They had excellent exegesis of examples and yet didn’t divide rightly or ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience and obviously didn’t let the genre steer the ship. They entered into the exegesis of examples with two major presuppositions of far-future fulfillment of prophecy and a pretribulational rapture. They hand picked verses in an attempt to apply them to their preconceived notions. And while interesting and accurate on many levels, I was disappointed that they had all this accurate information and then misinterpreted many of the meanings. However, they did see something of which we all should see and that is the importance of the imagery of water, wine and weddings. Yet the symbolism goes beyond these three things. Let’s start there–with the number three. Look again at the beginning of today’s text.
“And on the third day there was a wedding…” To any average christian, the imagery of the resurrection leaps of the proverbial page. Ask yourself, as you remember basic grammar and the context; the third day of what? John couldn’t be more deliberate about his use of the phrase, “on the third day.” I suggest that John was foreshadowing the resurrection because this phrase and his grammar don’t fit well in the content or structure.
For review, the abbreviated, immediate, surrounding context reads as follows: “The next day (1) he saw Jesus coming…Again the next day (2) John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’…The next (3) day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’…Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the wedding.”
Either John doesn’t know how to count or we don’t know how to read. Place a thousand Biblical scholars in a room and ask them the question, “the third day of what?’ And they won’t be able to come to a consensus. John lists four different days. But that is neither the point nor the aspiration of the author. Repeatedly John wrote, “the next day.” We see it three times. Yet “on the third day,” John ceased to use the term “the next day” and opted to use “the third day” and I believe it was extremely intentional. We will keep it simmering on the back burner of our minds as we continue to consider the context, attempting to understand John’s aspirations to his audience.
John recorded a historical narrative but it is sprinkled with imagery, prophecy, metaphors but interestingly enough, zero parables. Mark has nine; Matthew has fifteen and Luke has more than Matthew and Mark combined, yet John has none. Even the prophets promised that Jesus would speak in parables but John does not record a single one. Again, place this on the other back burner as we begin to boil down the context.
Three “the next” days later, on the third day (which would be the fourth day in dubious dogma), John has Mary, the mother of Jesus, Jesus and his disciples at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Yet this doesn’t fit the historical narratives of the synoptic gospels. Is this contradiction or harmony? As we have seen in Matthew, Jesus is depicted as the Messiah–true Israel. Yet in John, we have seen the juxtaposition of the eternal God and creator to the sacrificial lamb. Both compositions show different attributes of Jesus and both are correct. John’s gospel account differs greatly in many respects from the synoptics and for good reason. We see some of these aspirations by reading other words from John. One of the largest clues of John’s aspiration to his audience is in John’s description of the Antichrist, which is not revealed in Revelation but in his epistles. Again, the Antichrist is never mentioned in Revelation. But I digress.
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” And; “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
That is it. That is all that is written about the Antichrist. I know what you are thinking; “but Russell P, isn’t the beast of Revelation the Antichrist–my pastor and the authors I read said it was.” To those who are new and to those who don’t remember my words; when a pastor or preacher, theologian or teacher says that the Antichrist is equivalent to the beast in Revelation, ask them sternly, “which one.” Let me be more specific; ask them, “which beast, the one from the land or the one from the sea?”
In an irony of ironies, they will be forced to say the beast from the land because he fits John’s description in his epistles better than the beast from the sea. Nevertheless their narrative has the Antichrist as the beast from the sea. Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught. The dogmatic dispensationalists’ discourse has the “Antichrist system” based upon the beast from the sea. That is the mark of the beast, an ironic cashless society, big, bad government, etcetera. However John is crystal clear that the beast from the sea is a governmental entity and the Antichrist is a religious man. Look again at John’s description. The Antichrist was from them but not really from them because they didn’t remain with them and they denied the deity of Jesus. I believe that this is why John’s gospel begins with the deity of Jesus yet made flesh. John was concerned that people know for sure that Jesus was God made flesh and anyone who said otherwise was not part of the bride or partakers of the vine. Did I go to far, or are you seeing this all develop?
Examining examples is extremely important but considering the context is also important. Look for imagery, numbers, foreshadowing, signs and symbols, remembering that John recorded no parables but his manuscript is masterfully manifested by metaphors. For example, John recorded Jesus saying, “I Am the Bread of Life, I AM the Light of the World, I AM the Door, I AM the Good Shepherd, I AM the Resurrection and the Life, I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I AM the True Vine” Let’s look at the context with imagery in mind, and mindfulness of metaphors, and not only in a wooden, literal sense.
“And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the wedding. And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’ Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.'”
Let’s begin with numbers because they are few but they are there. The first we have already discussed and that is the number three, found in the phrase, “on the third day.” We also see six water pots for purification. We also notice that the wine has run out–that too is a number, zero. Nevertheless, the third day is the most important but we notice the emptiness of zero and the earthly number of six. We remember that there were six days of creation but God rested on the seventh. Six days a man was to work, according to the Law of Moses, on the seventh day was rest. We have six empty pots for purification on the third day.
Now let’s look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary said to her son, the one she bore and raised, “They have no wine.” John wrote of a mother in Revelation. Watch this; “And another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she might be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.”
Could Mary represent the nation Israel? Look at the response of Jesus to his mother saying, “They have no wine.” “Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.” As an aside, why do the prophecy pundits insist that 1,000 years in an apocalyptic address is to be taken literally but the hour of Jesus is figurative? Let’s continue in the context remembering all we have seen.
“And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’ Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.’ And they took it to him. And when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now.'”
I have come to the realization that there is too much symbolism to cover in one missive. I’m not sure we could cover it all in three or four missives. However the details are all important. Forgive me if I move forward in haste but I want us to see as much as we can in the little time that we have.
Context we have covered fairly well. John juxtaposed Jesus’ attributes as God and lamb more than any other gospel writer. Jesus is at a wedding with his disciples and his mother. The wine was gone. We have seen some of the genre of John’s gospel account. John is weird and different and while he doesn’t include any parables he does have a multitude of metaphors in his historical narrative. We have explored examples but must explore more. We have begun to understand John’s aspiration to his audience by seeing the juxtaposition between the attributes of Jesus. Let’s explore the examples of imagery to divide rightly the word of truth. Pick a noun from the context, any noun. Wine it is. Wine is a great place to start because like Jesus is God and the humble, suffering, sacrificial lamb, the description of wine in the Bible is a great juxtaposition between two extremes.
In Psalm 104 it is written in God’s holy word; “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart.”
Yet in Proverbs it is written; “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” Clearly we see the juxtaposition. Yet what is John’s aspiration to his audience; what is the imagery of wine in this passage?
Pick another noun, such as water. What does the Bible say about water? What was John’s aspiration? How about the water pots, the changing of water into wine? What about the disciples, what do they represent? How about the wedding, why did all of this happen at a wedding?
Even in the life of a non-believer, water is necessary. Water is needed for life. We remember many of the stories in the Old Testament concerning water. How bitter water was turned pure by tossing a tree into it for the children of Israel–an obvious allusion to the cross. We remember water coming from the rock for the children of Israel and as Paul wrote, “the rock was Christ.” If we see Jesus in the Old Testament in imagery, why do we not see imagery surrounding Jesus in the New. This is how John wrote and the aspiration to his audience. John magnified Jesus by metaphors, using everyday occurrences of Jesus.
The context gives us an even better clue as to John’s aspiration. We notice that the there were six pots used for purification in which the water was held. We remember way back to my missives in Matthew and recall the story of the Pharisees asking Jesus why his disciples ate without washing their hands. We also remember Jesus saying that they thought he was a glutton and a drunkard because unlike John the Baptist, Jesus came eating and drinking. Let’s see if we can take all of this information and more, and rightly divide the context.
Notice my literal interpretation of the response of Jesus to his mother after she said to him, “they have no wine.” Here it is, you can look it up for yourselves in Greek: “Woman, why me, my hour is not yet come?” Yet this has been a hotly debated phrase, some going so far as to say Jesus was being disrespectful to Mary. But Jesus kept the Law of Moses and the Law of Moses states that one is to honor one’s mother and father. Notice the continuing context, without even asking Jesus to do anything, Jesus changed the water into wine. As I stated in the beginning, people let their presuppositions and preconceived notions steer the ship. And admittedly, the translators could have done a better job. I understand that they were attempting to grasp the sense in which Jesus spoke but it has led to more speculation rather than settling the mind of the reader as to the essence of the exchange. Honestly, we get it, Mary knew Jesus could help and Jesus was agreeing with her by singling himself out. “Why me” is absolutely rhetorical. Jesus had to change the water into wine because no one else could. I know some are not swayed, thinking that no one had to change the water into wine, especially at that time. They look at the rest of Jesus’ response–“my hour has yet to come.” But the context states that without further ado, Jesus proceeded to change empty pots into pots of water and that water into wine. Context is king! And not all of this was a miracle. Jesus had his mother encouraging the servants and the servants did that which Jesus told them to do. It is absolutely imperative to look for Jesus in the Old Testament but is is also important to look for Jesus in the life of Jesus.
It’s easy to remember to look for Jesus in the Old Testament because it’s like a little challenge exercise. But looking for him in a historical narrative about him is difficult because he’s named, doing Jesus type things and we think that the wooden literal approach is all there is to reading the New Testament. Nothing could be further from the truth though. Every move Jesus makes and all the words that come from his mouth are replete with meaning. Nevertheless these things are not open to our interpretations–we have to let the Bible interpret the Bible. We do this by considering the context and exploring examples, seeing the sublime string woven throughout the Scripture. Yet some still take a wooden, literal approach and assume that Jesus was being disrespectful to his own mother.
The context proves that Jesus was not being disrespectful to Mary. Examine the exchange and consequent actions again, considering the things simmering on the back burner and especially the context. Watch this; notice; “And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’ Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.'”
Context is king! Jesus doesn’t bicker or argue with his mother nor does she argue in return. Even after an alleged disrespectful comment, Mary tells the servants to do what Jesus tells them to do. Then Jesus tells them to do something. If Jesus was being disrespectful in the eyes of Mary, why did she tell the servants to do what ever Jesus says to do? If Jesus was acting negatively towards Mary, this exchange makes no sense. It amazing to me the dogmas and points of contention that should evaporate if we would simply keep reading, keeping things in context. I understand that examining examples is a little more complicated but reading further for clarity of content should come as second nature to us.
Having said that, everyone reading this missive should stop here and read the entire book of John. That is not only considering the context but also exploring examples. Because in the book of John, we see many metaphors of how Jesus refers to himself. We have seen some of them already, such as, “I am the door.” Today’s text is in line with this when Jesus responds to Mary, rhetorically. Again, the context confirms this. Only Jesus could quickly solve the problem of having no more wine and his respectful rhetoric to his mother points this out. Not only that Jesus literally said, “why me” but also that he said, “my hour has not yet come.”
If the metaphorical hour of Jesus had yet to come, this demands that an hour of Jesus is coming. It means that he was who John said Jesus was. Notice that because of the miracle, John writes, “this beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” Remember that John was one of those disciples and he was also present during the penultimate Passover.
Of that night, John recorded the following events, distinct from the synoptics: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”
I find it fascinating that Jesus changed water in basins used for hand purification into wine as his first miracle but on the night of which he last drank wine with his disciples, he washed not their hands but their feet. But why didn’t John mention “communion?”
We remember reading very early in John’s gospel account that he obviously began with the presupposition that his readers had at least a cursory understanding of Jesus. Quite possibly and even probable was that the other gospel accounts had already been written and dispersed amongst the people. John seems very intentional in being different than the other gospel accounts. This could be why John included feet washing but not wine drinking during the penultimate Passover. We have studied Matthew here and we know that Jesus compared the wine to his blood. We also have read about the first Passover and have seen the blood.
We won’t take the time to re-explore those examples as they should be well known. For time’s sake we have moved quite quickly through a context replete with imagery. We will also conclude quickly with a couple questions. Could water for the religious rite of purification have been changed to wine in a representation of the Law giving way to the blood of Christ? Is the wedding celebration synonymous with the marriage of Jesus and his people? Do the servants represent God’s people? Does the mother of Jesus paint a picture of the transfer from Law to grace as well? Read the historical narrative again and see if you can see these images and more. See if you can figure out who the head waiter represents–we didn’t cover that.