In this chapter, Jesus turns the water into wine. He clears out an area of the temple during the Passover. He remained in Jerusalem and worked signs (miracles); many believe in him but he did not entrust himself to humankind, for he knew what was in people.
As I write in every introduction:
This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.
A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Turns Water into Wine (John 2:1-12)
1 Now on the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus was also invited, along with his disciples, to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They do not have any wine.” 4 Jesus said to her, “What is that to you and me, woman? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”
6 Six stone water jars were set there for the ritual washing of the Jews, each containing two or three measures. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water”; and they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he said to them, “Now draw some out and bring it to the master of the banquet.” They brought some.
9 As the master of the banquet tasted the water which had become wine, he did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew). The master of the banquet called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Every person first sets out the fine wine, and when they have drunk freely, the inferior wine! You have reserved the fine wine until now!”
11 Jesus performed the beginning of the signs in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.
12 Afterwards, he and his mothers and brothers and his disciples went to Capernaum and remained there not many days.
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. This is an online commentary, so we don’t need to worry about the cost per printed page.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” That belief is just the start. In contrast, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son. It is not clear how deep the disciples’ faith went in v. 11 It seems to have gone up and down.
“on the third day”: One commentator steers us away from keeping an airtight chronology in John’s Gospel. However, commentator Edward Klink, connects the six-day creation account in Gen. 1 and John’s use of six days, total (pp. 160-61).
Day 1: 1:19-28
Day 2: 1:29-34 (“on the next day”)
Day 3: 1:35-42 (“on the next day”)
Day 4: 1:43-51 (“on the next day”)
Day 6: 2:1-11 (“on the third day,” i.e. two days later)
I like this interpretation because John clearly says that all things were made through Jesus (1:3). John is developing a new creation motif. So once again, we have to careful about limiting our insight into John’s Gospel to just a surface, newspaper chronology. More is at work than meets the eye of a simplistic, shallow reading. John is deeper than a newspaper.
Cana is not well known. The Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37 to about 100) said he once had his quarters there. It is either Khirbet Cana 8 miles (14 km) north of Nazareth or Khirbet Kenna, 4 miles (7 km) northeast of Nazareth (NET).
“disciple”: the noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
John seems to use the term “disciple” much less officially than the Synoptics do. Right now, these men attached themselves to Jesus, but would they follow him to the end? Would they all become the twelve? Right now, they must be Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and the anonymous disciple.
As we see in v. 11, yes, his disciples believed in him, after this sign, but how deep does their faith and knowledge go? They seem to believe better than they know. This early belief does not contradiction Luke’s picture of Peter in his chapter 5. There, Peter knelt down and said that he (Peter) was a sinful man. We don’t know the sequence of events. Time gets compressed in the four Gospels.
My view of Scripture: It’s very high, but I don’t believe in “total inerrancy” or “hyper-inerrancy”; I allow for these unanswered questions, without diminishing the truth of the passage (and so do some “total inerrantists”).
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts:
The Gospels have a massive number of agreements in their storylines:
Don’t obsess over the differences, but celebrate the huge numbers of similarities.
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective (a difference ≠ a contradiction):
Celebrate the huge number of similarities in the four Gospels. Don’t read them in bad faith, as if the Gospel writers were deliberate deceivers or plagiarists. Critics today read these ancient texts with the subtlety of a jackhammer. They are part and parcel of their own age.
“mother of Jesus”: her name is never stated in the Fourth Gospel (see 19:25). Bruce speculates that John may have intended to avoid confusion with the other Marys.
In any case, this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section of Scripture is a brief dialogue between Jesus and his mother. “Woman”: the experts tell us that two thousand years ago, and in that culture, “woman” was not rude. It was equivalent to “madam” or “ma’am.” Maybe so, but Jesus does seem to distance himself from her. Jesus turns his mother into a stranger (Novakovic, p. 54). He needs to make a break from her and his family, to fulfill his ministry. Honoring one’s parents, the fifth commandment (Exod. 20:12), does not mean obeying them and remaining a child. They can offer advice when you are of age, but they cannot boss you around.
“what is that to you and me”: this is an idiom that means a warning not to interfere. Novakovic says it exists in Hebrew, but also extra-biblical Greek (p. 54). It is another way of telling his mother that she is not permitted to interfere in his calling or in the wedding festivities. The expression is found in the OT (Josh 22:24; 2 Sam. 16:10; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chron. 35:21; Hos. 14:8). The expression is a “distancing mechanism” (Klink, comment on v. 4). In other words, Jesus is indeed gently distancing himself and his oncoming mission from his family. In 19:25-27, Jesus handed his mother over to the disciple whom Jesus loved, so throughout his mission, he did not reject his family, if anything; they did not understand his mission.
As usual, Borchert is excellent here:
It is here quite unlikely that Jesus was expressing hostility to his mother, but the statement does seem to imply that he wanted to set straight the parameters of his public relationship with his mother. Thus family relationships were not to be the determining factors in Jesus’ life. As his brothers later could not force Jesus’ timing of his destiny (John 7:3–9), so his mother here was not to govern his activity (2:4; cf. the temple scene in Luke 2:48–50; also cf. Mark 4:31–35). Although a Jewish mother might normally be able to exercise pressure on her children, it was not to be the case with Jesus. (p. 155).
“my hour”: In John it is a technical term which (1) generally assumed to the death of Jesus on the cross (4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 7:10; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1 16:2, 4, 21, 32; 17:1). Before 12:23, the “hour” is shown to be in the future, yet after that verse, the hour is depicted as immediate. (2) The hour also refers his ascension or going to the Father and his glorification (Klink, p. 165).
Yet, as we just read, Jesus does step forward and meet the needs of the bridegroom. It is amazing that she knew of his miraculous ability, and he surrendered to her request. She does not answer him, but instead turns to the servants and tells them to do whatever he says. Mothers somehow have a way of knowing what will happen next.
This hesitation at a family member’s request and then acting when he believes it is right to do so finds a parallel passage in 7:6. His brothers, who do not believe in him, tell him to go to Jerusalem to make a show of himself. He replies that his time has not yet come, but then he goes to the city on his terms, not theirs. He goes by his own timetable and the Father’s will. Here he says no, in effect, to his mother, but then he must have decided that his time was partially now—the miracle was not in the wide-open public before thousands.
Six stone jars were there, each one holding about two or three measures. One “measure” was about nine gallons (40 liters), so each jar held about 18-27 gallons (80-120 liters). The total volume: 108-162 gallons (480-720 liters) (NET).
The water was for ritual washing.
Here is a scene in Mark’s Gospel about ceremonial washing:
3 (For Pharisees and all Jews, unless they wash their hands “with the fist,” do not eat, clinging to the tradition of the elders. 4 And coming from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they ceremoniously wash. They cling to many other things which they receive: washing of cups and pitchers and kettles and dining couches.) (Mark 7:3-4)
The servants poured water over the guests’ hands. The larger the number of guests, the more water was needed.
So we now see that Jesus’s hesitation should not be seen as a firm refusal to act, because he proceeds to work a miracle. Thus, Jesus carefully instructs the servants what to do. They fill the jars to the brim. Apparently, he turned all of the water in the jars into wine. And it was quality wine. But was it fermented, so that excessively drinking it might cause intoxication? With all due apologies to more restrictive Christians, particularly in the American South, it really could intoxicate, if drunk to excess. The Greek verb is methuskō (pronounced meh-thoo-skoh), and BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, says it means “to become intoxicated” or “to be drunk.” The entire context, like the words and surprise of the banquet master, bears out this interpretation.
But this miracle is not carte blanche to become drunk. The Bible forbids drunkenness, not fermented wine itself: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18, NIV).
Just because Jesus made the highest quality of wine, I see no reason to deny the plain meaning of the text; doing so makes us Bible believers seem foolish, as if we are protecting the hypothesis at all costs (the hypothesis being no fermentation in the entire Bible). The plain meaning is that the wine was fermented. Back then, however, wine was diluted between one-third to one-tenth of its fermented strength, so it is not easy to get intoxicated on it. Undiluted wine was viewed with disapproval (Carson, comment on v. 3).
So now begins the first sign, or more literally, the “beginning of the signs.”
Here is a table of the signs, but John also clarifies in various places that Jesus performed many other signs. So now we see that John’s narrative is highly stylized and edited, to suit his purpose.
THE EIGHT SIGNS OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
|1||Turning water into wine||2:1-11, the “beginning” or “first” sign|
|2||Healing an official’s son||4:43-54 “the second sign”|
|3||Healing a disabled man at a pool||5:1-15; see 6:2, where many healings are summarized|
|4||Feeding 5000||6:1-14 (see 6:14 and 6:26)|
|5||Walking on water||6:16-21|
|6||Healing a man born blind||9:1-12 (see 9:16 and “such signs”)|
|7||Raising Lazarus from dead||11:1-44 (see “signs” in 11:47 and “this sign” in 12:18)|
|8||Rising from the dead||20:1-31 (see many other signs in 20:30)|
|Source: BTSB, p. 2141, slightly edited. I paste this table in all the other chapters where the signs are done. There is no worries about the cost per printed page.|
And here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:
30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.
“Son of God”: Let’s look into some more systematic theology. Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our sincere repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Let’s discuss even a little more systematic theology: the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is truly God and the Son is truly God. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Through all eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit share the same “Godness” or divine nature. That’s why we can call ourselves monotheists, but we are trinitarian monotheists.
However, it is also clear from Scripture that during the incarnation the Son is submissive to the Father, and the Spirit is also submissive to the Father and the Son. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father leads the Son during the Son’s incarnation and redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal and share the same essence.
“sign” is used as a synonym for miracles and works (erga in Greek), that is another term for miracles. They confirm the message and Jesus himself:
“glory” means, in many contexts, the light of God, shining to all the world.
Moses experienced the glory of God:
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exod. 33:18-22, NIV).
Commentator Bruce also saw this connection between the glory which Moses saw and the surpassing glory of Jesus. Further, he connects the glory of the old tabernacle with God pitching his tabernacle through his Son (comment on 1:14). “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exod. 25:8, NIV). When the tabernacle was completed, we read: “34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34-35, NIV).
But Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that the glory which Moses experienced, soon faded away.
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Cor. 3:7-11, NIV)
The glory of the New Covenant, initiated by Jesus, will last forever.
In more general terms, Carson says that Jesus’s glory was displayed in his signs (2:11; 11:4, 40); he was supremely glorified in his death and exaltation (7:39: 12:16, 23: 13:31-32), Yes, he also had glory before he began his public ministry, for in fact he enjoyed glory with his Father before his incarnation and returned to his Father to receive the fulness of glory (15:5, 24). While other men seek their own glory, Jesus’s relationship with his Father meant that he did not need to seek his own glory; he was secure in his relationship with his Father. He sought only God’s glory (5:41; 7:18; 8:50). (comment on 1:14).
Keener also brings focus to John’s definition of glory:
Jesus, in contrast to his opponents, accepts this only from the Father (5:41, 33; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 9:24; 12:41, 43; 16:14; 17:12). The Fourth Gospel applies Jesus’ “glory” to various acts of self-revelation (his signs–2:11; 11:4, 40), but the ultimate expression of glory is the complex including Jesus’ death (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; cf. 21:9), resurrection and exaltation (cf. 7:39; 12:16; 17:1, 5). This glory thus becomes the ultimate revelation of “grace and truth”: where the world’s hatred for God comes to its ultimate expression, so also does God’s love for the world (3:16). If the Johannine [adjective for John] community’s opponents regarded the cross as proof that Jesus was not the Messiah, John regards Jesus’ humiliation as the very revelation of God; his whole enfleshment, and especially his mortality and death, continue the ultimate revelation of God’s grace and truth revealed to Moses (p. 411)
Here are posts about the Incarnation:
The seventh part has an easy-to-read, helpful list. There are other parts to the series.
Let’s once again look at our uncomplicated diagram, reading from the bottom up:
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Now let’s fill it in.
2.. New way, new life
1.. Water into Wine
So what does the miracle signify? Carson has spotted the insight: “Up to this time, the servants had drawn water to fill the vessels used for ceremonial washing; now they are to draw for the feast that symbolizes the messianic banquet. Filling jars with such large capacity to the brim then indicates that the time for ceremonial purification is completely fulfilled; the new order, symbolized by the new wine, could not be drawn from jars so intimately connected with merely ceremonial purification. If John had not used the verb [‘draw’] loosely (and there is no reason for thinking he has), this latter interpretation prevails” (comments on vv. 7-8)
Klink says about the same thing: “The implication is far reaching: true purification is no longer in reference to external things (e.g. hands and pots) but is entirely internal. And the source of purification is not from the tradition of the leaders but ‘from God’ (1:13). The Christian life according to John is drinking and eating what Jesus provides (cf. 6:51-58)” (Klink, comment on v. 8).
This verse comes to mind: “Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins; or else the wineskins tear, and the wine spills out, and the wineskins are ruined. Instead, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matt. 9:17). In other words, Jesus turning the water into wine, contained in stone jars (and not new leather containers), is another way of saying that even though the stone-jar container was ceremoniously appropriate, the water was inadequate. The world needs new wine, and not the old purification rituals. I realize that Matt. 9:17 is not perfectly parallel, but the imagery is strong: new wine.
Capernaum: It was a town on the Lake of Galilee. The Synoptics say that he will go back often enough. He set up his base there, but he won’t stay long. It was larger than Nazareth. Scholars estimate that Capernaum ranged in population from 1000 to 10,000. A centurion lived there (Matt. 8:5) and a custom post was stationed there (Matt. 9:9), so it was an administrative center. So it was probably closer to 10,000 than to 1000. (Keener, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, says it was closer to 1,000-2,000, p. 145, note 210.) It was traditionally a Jewish town, unlike other towns in Galilee, which had been Hellenized (Greek) or Romanized (Roman).
“brothers”: Matt. 13:55 names them: James (Jacob), Joseph, Simon, and Judas (not Judas Iscariot who betrayed him!). Mary may have been overseeing the banquet. I wonder aloud if one of Jesus’s sisters was getting married, for Matt. 13:55 says he had sisters, though unnamed. But we just don’t know, so let’s not go overboard. It may have been a relative, though.
To wrap up this pericope, Klink observes (p. 171) that Jesus replaces the master of ceremonies or the steward or the master of the banquet. He’s the one who made the new wine. Also, the bridegroom did not speak, so Klink believes that Jesus shouts in the bridegroom’s silence. He is the ultimate bridegroom at the Messianic banquet.
GrowApp for John 2:1-12
A.. Turning water into wine speaks of a transformation. How has God transformed your life, and turned something average or even low-grade into someone beautiful and fine?
Jesus Clears Out an Area of the Temple (John 2:13-22)
13 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle and sheep and doves and the coin-changers stationed there. 15 After he made a whip from ropes and chased out everyone from the temple, both sheep and cattle, and spilled out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 And to those selling doves he said, “Get these things out of here!” Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!”
17 His disciples remembered that it was written: “The zeal for your house devours me.” [Ps. 69:9]
18 Then, in reply, the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us that you do these things?” 19 In reply, Jesus said to them, “Tear down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” 20 So the Jews said, “For forty-six years this temple was built, and you raise it up in three days?”
21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this, and they believed the Scripture and the statement which Jesus spoke.
This is a passage about Jesus’ making a clear statement, backed by action. Call it an action parable.
Let’s discuss the Passover.
The Passover came first, and then the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover is one of three spring festivals required by law (Tabernacles or Booths and Pentecost are the other two).
Let’s define Passover. It comes from the noun pascha (pronounced pah-skha, for the -ch- is hard). Let’s define it. BDAG says: (1) An annual Israelite festival commemorating Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Passover, celebrated on the 14th of the month Nisan and continuing into the early hours of the 15th … Ex 12-13 … This was followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th to 21st. Popular usage merged the two festivals and treated them as a unity, as they were for practical purposes (see Lk 22:1 and Mk 14:12)”…. (2) “the lamb sacrificed for observance of the Passover, Passover lamb …figurative of Christ and his bloody death 1 Cor. 5:7 … eat the Passover Mt 26:17; Mk 14:12b, 14; Lk 22:11, 15; J 18:28.” (3) “The Passover meal Mt 26:19; Mk 14:16; Lk 22:8” …. (4) “in later Christian usage the Easter festival.”
The key points in that definition: popular usage merged Passover and Unleavened Bread for practical reasons; the Greek can be translated as the lamb itself, so the figurative usage is easy to apply to Christ’s sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7). (To this day, modern Greeks celebrate the pascha by eating a lamb.) The latter usage of the term “Easter” is the church’s choice to take over a pagan festival. You can certainly skip the term if it bothers your conscience and biblical values.
Here are more basic facts about the two festivals:
Time of year in OT: First Month: Aviv / Nisan 14th day (for one day)
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: March / April (second Passover is one month later according to Num. 9:10-11)
How to celebrate it:
(1) A whole lamb by the number of people in household, being ready to share with nearest neighbor; (2) one-year-old males without defects, taken from sheep and goats; (3) take care of them until the fourteenth day; (4) then all the community is to slaughter it at twilight; (5) put the blood on the tops and sides of the doorframes of the houses where the lambs are eaten, with bitter herbs and bread without yeast; (6) that night eat the lambs roasted over fire, with the head, legs and internal organs, not raw or boiled (7) do not leave any of it until morning; if there is any leftover, burn it; (8) the cloak must be tucked into belt; sandals on feet and staff in hand; (9) eat in haste in order to leave Egypt soon (Exod. 12:4-11).
Purpose: Exodus from Egypt and Protection from Judgment:
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exod. 12:13).
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:4-14; Num. 28:16
(2). Unleavened Bread
Time of Year in OT: Same month, 15th to 21st days, for seven days
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: Same month, on the fifteenth day, which lasts for seven days
How to celebrate it:
Exod. 12:14-20 says that the Israelites were to eat bread without yeast for seven days, from the fourteenth day to the twenty-first day. On the first day they were to remove the yeast from their houses. If they eat anything with yeast from the first to the seventh days they shall be cut off (excommunicated), and this was true for foreigner or native-born. They must not do work on those days, except to prepare to prepare the food for everyone to eat. On the first days they are to hold a sacred assembly (meet at the tabernacle) and another one on the seventh day.
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:14-20; Num. 28:16
Purpose: see the previous section “Passover.”
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 5:6-8:
Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
The ancient Israelites were not supposed to eat leavened bread during this time. They were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they could not wait for the yeast to raise the lump of dough. In this context yeast symbolized sin and hindrance. We are to keep the Passover, but only in a spiritual sense: “with sincerity and faith.” We are to get rid of the old yeast or moral corruption in our lives and the life of the church. Christ is our Passover lamb, and he protects us from God judicial wrath or judgment, when we are in union with him.
This is the first Passover mentioned in the Gospel of John. The other two are mentioned in 6:4 and 11:55, and possibly a fourth one in 5:1. Carson locates this first Passover at around A.D. 28 (comment on v. 13).
Deut. 14:24-26 says that if the distance to a designated holy place is too far for the Israelite to travel because of the animals or grain are burdensome, he is allowed to exchange the animal or grain for money near his home. Then he can carry the money to the designated holy place and there buy the grain or animal, to sacrifice and eat. In Jerusalem it is a sure thing that the money tables were set up to accommodate this lawful practice. Money changers converted the Greek and Roman currency into temple currency; the half-shekel temple tax had to be paid (Matt. 17:24-27).
However, apparently Jesus examined and inspected the temple business and found it lacking. Maybe dishonesty was the rule of the day. Maybe interest was charged, or maybe the price of the animal or grain was exorbitant. Maybe the business was conducted too closely to the temple precinct, which was the most likely occurrence; it provoked his righteous anger. Whatever the specifics, Jesus did not like what he saw.
Jesus said “my Father’s house.’ Mounce: “‘My Father’s house is a clear-cut messianic claim. Jesus does not bracket himself with others in his references to God the Father. When Jesus’ parents found him in the temple, the boy responded with, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (comment on v. 16).
Commentator Klink insightfully says that the temple is a character in the story, which can feel shame or honor. When Jesus cleared out the temple, he dishonored it and its personnel, from the high priest down, and according to Jewish belief, where God dwelled. “For this reason, the narrative events about to be described as happening in this place are personal at numerous levels.”
His expelling them from the temple took some physical strength. He was no weakling. He made of whip of cords (or ropes). So it was not some torture device, which made animals or people bloody, but it got the message across. Clear out.
John’s reference to merchandise may have these verses in the background:
20 On that day holy to the Lord will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. 21 Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord Almighty. (Zech. 14:20-21, NIV)
Or these verses may be in view:
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. … 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. (Mal. 3:1, 3, NIV)
Judgment has come to the temple of the Lord. It is fulfillment of the OT by patterns and themes and concepts, not only a literal verse-by-verse fulfillment. Sometimes the authors of the Gospels quote from a verse, but here the OT sits in the background, by theology and principle.
In vv. 14 and 16, “doves” could be translated as “pigeons.”
In v. 16, “marketplace” could be translated as “merchandise” (“a house of merchandise”). Bruce translates it as “a trading establishment.”
Ps. 69:9 speaks of house, but the context is temple. In Rom. 15:3, Paul quotes the other half of the verse (“and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me”). So clearly Paul and John, whose writings probably never crossed paths, saw this verse as Messianic, entering in the Christian defense of the gospel (Bruce, comment on v. 17)
In v. 18, I translated it literally, but clearly the Jews are asking for Jesus to demonstrate what right he has to do these things. So some translations reflect the meaning: “What sign do you show us that you have the authority to do these things” (or similar wording).
In v. 19, professional grammarians teach us that the “conditional imperative” is more imperative than conditional. That is, Jesus conveys the desire that the authorities should (imperative or command) destroy this temple (his body), so that he could accomplish the resurrection. “If you destroy this temple—and I command you to—in three days I will raise it up” (Novakovic, p. 67, quoting Daniel Wallace). Jesus was issuing a strong challenge. I dare you! Go ahead! Make my third day! That’s heavy. Wow.
Irony is also being expressed, in the prophetic tradition (1 Kings 18:27; Isa. 6:9; 8:10; 29:9; Jer. 23:28; 44:55; Amos 4:4-5). That is, Jesus is “inviting” his opponents to do their best (kill him), but then he will be vindicated, by his resurrection. They don’t realize that by doing “their best,” they are accomplishing the redemption of Israel and the whole world and the vindication of the Son (Novakovic, p. 67).
Jesus said the only sign offered to the religious establishment was the sign of Jonah, an indirect reference to his resurrection:
38 Then at that moment some of the teachers of the law and Pharisees replied, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you!” 39 But he answered back and said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah, 40 for just as Jonah was in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so also the son of Man shall be in the belly of the earth for three days and three nights. (Matt. 12:38-40)
The resurrection is the culmination of all the signs in John’s Gospel and in the Synoptics.
In v. 20, an alternative translation could read: It has taken forty-six years for this temple to be built, and you will erect it in three days!?” Implied: “Ha! Nonsense!”
At Jesus trial before the high priest and Sanhedrin in Matthew’s Gospel, witnesses came forward and accused Jesus of this statement, yet Matthew’s Gospel does not have Jesus’s ambiguous words, and neither does Mark or Luke.
59 Now the chief priests and all of the Council were seeking for false testimony against Jesus, so that they may put him to death, 60 and they found no one, although many false witnesses came forward. Finally, two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God within three days build it.’” (Matt. 26:59-61)
This passage in Matthew lends credibility to the interpretation that John has retained an historical statement, which Matthew picked up on. It may be going too far to say that these words prove that Jesus cleared out an area of the temple at the beginning of the ministry, but the words certainly point in that direction (see below for more discussion).
It was unlawful to defame the temple (see Exod. 22:28 for the principle and Jer. 26:1-19 for its application). Jesus was mocked on the cross for saying that he could rebuild the temple (Matt. 27:40). Stephen got stoned to death for criticizing the temple and the irreligious behavior of its guardians (Acts 6:13-14; 7:48-50). So why wasn’t Jesus arrested then and there? He probably cleared out the Gentile section of the temple (Morris, comment on 14). Also, the establishment may have been in shock, and as Klink argues (below), the establishment must have believed they won the round and ignored him, after a retort which they did not carry through (v. 18). But he will be challenged later, throughout his ministry. And he will stand his ground.
It must be noted that Jesus’s body—soon to be reinterpreted as his church—fulfills and replaces the temple. Yes, the temple had theological significance of cleansing the people and propitiating for sins, but it was nothing more than a ritualized slaughter house, which has been done way with. The Epistle to the Hebrews spells this out (Chapters 7-10).
Jesus was making a revolutionary statement. Something better than the temple was here (Matt. 12:6). He had the right to cleanse the temple. In John 2:17, Jesus calls the temple “my Father’s house.” The guardians of the temple—the chief priests—no doubt heard about this protest action and were about to inquire further into this man who accepted praise from children and healed the blind and the lame in the temple area.
Jesus had several messages going on. First, this was personal. The Jerusalem religious establishment was misusing his Father house. Next, they allowed too much commercialism near the temple, for profit. No doubt the moneychangers took an extra cut, if only secretly. Did the religious leaders secretly take money from the amount? Finally, the issue was theological. It was a small act of judgment on the temple which was about to be judged more fully by God (Matt. 24:15; Luke 21:20-22). Action parable. Action protest.
In v. 22, the translation “statement” comes from the Greek noun logos, and BDAG has six columns of different meanings to the rich word. It could be translated as “message” or the plural “words,” but it is singular here. I chose “statement,” because of Jesus’s enigmatic pronouncement, “Tear down this temple, and I will raise it up in three days!”
The disciples put things together after he was raised from the dead. John says of the disciples after Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly: “His disciples did not know these things at the first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and they did these things to him” (John 12:16).
Excursus: Two Cleansings or One?
The Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus cleared out an area of the temple at the end of his ministry (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17: Luke 19:45-46), and do not mention a cleansing at the beginning. John has the cleansing of the temple at the beginning but does not mention one at the end. How do we reconcile, if we can, the two versions?
The traditional answer is that there were two cleansings, while the other answer is that John felt free to rearrange the chronology for his theological purposes. After all, the Fourth Gospel is a very “self-contained” Gospel, which does not tightly follow the Synoptics (certainly not in the first five chapters). John goes in his own direction. The problem with one cleansing is that it is difficult to decide on what the purpose and theology and program John had in mind in his rearranging the material and placing it at the beginning.
Bruce, normally conservative, but an excellent historian, on chronological rearrangement: “It seems probable that John takes it out of its chronological sequence and places it, with programmatic intent, in the forefront of Jesus’ Jerusalem ministry. If the readers understand the significance of this incident, they will know what the ministry was all about” (comment on v. 22).
What is the program other than “what the ministry was all about”? To challenge the Jerusalem establishment? Then two cleansings work better.
Borchert, who is also very conservative, believes adamantly in one cleansing and calls two cleansing an “historical monstrosity” (p. 161). Strong terms. We should not hold John to a newspaper chronology.
I’m a traditionalist. I believe in two cleansings.
Commentator Darrell L. Bock defends the two cleansings, in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel:
Differences between the Synoptics and John make it slightly more likely that there were two temple cleansings. The use of Ps. 69:9 … in John is a unique citation that the Synoptics lack. True, the Synoptics sometimes use different citations for the same event in their telling of Jesus’ death. Still, it seems odd if this Johannine event actually occurred in the last week that the only temporal note was that the Passover was near. The setting in relation to John 23:25 does not look like chronological rearrangement. John apparently intends the reader to see the event as relatively early in Jesus’ ministry. The attempt to argue for Synoptic rearrangement is equally problematic, since the cleansing solidifies the decision to destroy Jesus and is an issue at his trial. If the event were early in Jesus’ ministry, then such a plot would have been present throughout Jesus’ ministry. (Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. [Baker, 1996], p. 1577).
Carson says the issue is not easily resolved, but the natural reading is for two cleanings. The first established Jesus’s reputation as a challenge to the Jerusalem establishment and their temple, while the second cleansing provides the last straw and brought about strong and deadly opposition.
Klink says there were two cleansing based on the honor and shame society of first-century Israel. Honor could be won or lost in social exchanges, and the loser has shame and the winner enjoys honor, in the eyes of the bystanders. The challenge demands a response. So here in this first challenge to the Jerusalem establishment, the Jews demand a sign for Jesus’s authority to do the cleansing.
A significant issue, and one especially pertinent for our pericope, was the beginning of the challenger. Not just anyone could make a legitimate claim to honor. For example, if one’s status was far below the honor claimed, those whose honor should have been at risk could merely ignore the challenge. This nonresponse was itself a shaming, and it could only be done if the challenger was not a serious contender, something recognized by the bystanders. This is the situation at play in John’s cleansing of the temple. Jesus claimed honor by his actions in the temple. It was a claim to a very high honor (or at least prophetic honor, if not divine honor) (p. 177).
Klink goes on to point out that the Jerusalem establishment asked for a sign (v. 18), so the threat was taken seriously. But Jesus’s response was ambiguous, so the establishment must have seen themselves as victorious. But therein lies the irony, as I noted above. They were not victorious. He is the one who will be resurrected and vindicated. Further, the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. In any case, the first challenge prepares the ground for the second temple cleansing, and the establishment reacts with deadly force.
This is an excellent interpretation because it relies on the cultural background.
Morris says that two cleansing took place because Jesus wanted to start off his ministry signaling the Jerusalem establishment that he was coming for them and their whole temple system (p. 167).
Keener believes in one cleansing, but John just moved it at the beginning (pp. 518-22).
Beasley-Murray says there is widespread agreement that it happened only once, and John placed his version at the beginning (pp. 38-39).
You can decide, however, whether you accept the one cleansing and John’s rearrangement of the material or two cleansings. The essential meaning, whether one or two events, is clear: Jesus challenged the Jerusalem establishment and his body will replace the temple. You should not allow your faith to be so brittle that it snaps in two when these differences come up.
Though I am a traditionalist, I cannot categorically deny that John may have rearranged his material for a theological purpose (whatever the purpose may be).
This post lists numerous similarities in John’s Gospel and the Synoptics:
Celebrate the similarities. Don’t obsess over the differences.
GrowApp for John 2:13-22
A.. Jesus cleared out an area of the temple to challenge the religious authorities, who used the temple to make money. Has he challenged any area in your life, which had become unclean?
Jesus Knows All Men (John 2:23-25)
23 While he was in Jerusalem during the Passover and the Feast, many believed in his name, seeing him perform the signs. 24 But Jesus himself did not entrust himself to them because he knew all people 25 and because he did not need anyone to testify about humankind, for him knew what was in humankind.
See v. 13 for comments on the Feast of Unleavened Bread
“name”: Believing in his name means to believe in him, his person, his character, and his being—who he is, the Lord, the Son of God and the Messiah. The noun name stands in for the person—a living, real person. Let’s develop this thought, so it can apply to you.
What’s in a name?
You carry your earthly father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, next to the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
They believed in his name because of the signs which they saw him work. But what kind of faith was it? How deep did it go?
However, Jesus does not reciprocate or return the favor. He did not believe in humanity or humankind. It’s the same Greek verb: pisteuō (see above). He knew that humankind was fickle or untrustworthy. He did not need people to teach him about humanity, for he already knew it—it was not consistent or reliable. In my experience people do not know themselves. They never stop to consider the thoughts going through their own minds. They follow these thoughts and their impulses. It’s both sad and maddening in turns. Jesus was right not to entrust himself to people.
“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jer. 17:10, NIV)
What God does, Jesus does.
This section could be titled “Superficial Faith” (Bruce, 77).
“testify”: “The theme of witness … pervades the whole Gospel. The witness to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Word is manifold: it comprises the witness of the Father (5:32, 37; 8:18), of the Son 8:14, 18), of the Spirit (15:26); the witness of the works of Christ (5:36; 10:25), the witness of the scriptures (5:39), the witness of the disciples (15:27), including the disciple whom Jesus loved (19:35; 21:24). The purpose of this manifold witness, as of John’s witness, is ‘that all might believe’: it is the purpose for which the Gospel itself was written (20:31)” (Bruce, comment on 1:6-8). The terms “witness” or “testimony” carries a legal meaning “of testifying or bearing witness to the true state of affairs by one who has sufficient knowledge or superior position” (Klink, comment on 1:7).
Finally and incidentally, John records that Jesus stayed in Jerusalem during the feast and worked miracles. This anchors the chronology and supports the interpretation that there were two temple cleansings, as Bock noted.
As to the signs, again see this post:
Jesus worked many more signs than just the eight listed in the table, above.
Klink: “The suggestion of this verse , then, is not that the crowds understood Jesus, in sharp contrast to the temple authorities; rather, it is claiming in fact that they did not understand him. Just as the temple authorities were blinded by their own agenda and understanding of God, so also were the people. The prologue has already informed of this irony (see 1:11)” (comment on v. 23).
Mounce on Jesus’s knowledge of people: “His knowledge was not simply a general understanding of human nature of specific person. For example, Jesus saw Nathanael approaching and declared him to be ‘a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false,’ to which Nathanael replied, ‘How do you know me’? (1:47-48). People’s hearts are open before God, and nothing can be hidden from his sight (Luke 8:17)” (comment on vv. 24-25).
GrowApp for John 2:23-25
A.. Jesus was on a mission which already produced opposition. People believed in him for the miracles. He did not fully believe in their consistency and reliability. Have you met people who let you down? How have you forgiven them and moved on?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 1-10: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.