John 2 - Life Application Bible Commentary (NT)
JESUS TURNS WATER INTO WINE / 2:1-11 / 22
Beyond the startling and miraculous transformation of water into wine by Jesus, this incident includes two important statements concerning Christ: (1) “My time has not yet come”; and (2) Jesus “revealed his glory.”
First, from Jesus we hear, “My time has not yet come” (2:4). In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “time” refers to the time of his glorification when he would receive his true place and position as the Son of God. This glorification would include his death and resurrection. Everything Jesus said and did pointed toward that “time.” Jesus’ words emphasized his life purpose. Each of the Gospels expresses this unique self-awareness of Jesus in a different way. For example, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus states, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 NIV; see also Matthew 3:13-15; Mark 1:14-15).
Second, John portrayed through the miracle of turning water into wine how Jesus “revealed his glory” (2:11). After his death and resurrection, Jesus would be fully glorified —and all people would (or should) know that he is the Son of God. But until that time, Jesus would reveal his identity by miracles —even though he would have preferred for people to believe in him because of his words (see, for instance, 20:29). Transforming the water into wine revealed Jesus’ glory by showing his tremendous power. This small display of divine nature was enough to convince the disciples of his identity and initiate their trust in him (2:11), though later events demonstrated that they only partially understood Jesus’ purpose.
The miraculous supply of wine is the first of thirty-five miracles, or signs, recorded in the Gospels. This particular miracle is recorded only in John, perhaps because all the disciples had not yet been called, thus Matthew was not present. It was a private miracle done, not to alleviate suffering, but to avert social embarrassment. But in the long run, it accomplished far more, for it strengthened the faith of the first disciples and fulfilled Jesus’ promise to Nathanael (1:50-51). The miracle was a display of God’s power within a practical context of human need, a characteristic to be found in all of Christ’s miracles.
For a list of all Jesus’ miracles recorded in the Gospels, see the chart on page 411.
2:1-2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.NKJV A wedding celebration could last as long as a week (see Genesis 29:27-28). Cana was a town about nine miles north of Nazareth. Curiously, John mentions that the wedding occurs on the third day. This probably refers to the third day after the departure from the place of Jesus’ baptism (see also 1:29, 35, 43). This creates a mood of urgency and determination at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Parallels with other biblical sequences, like the Creation account, have been noted by scholars, but do not present themselves obviously to the reader. Hidden meanings are always possible in Scripture, but they should not be sought at the expense of the plain meaning of the passage. Unless we grasp the direct meaning of the text, our insights and applications will tend to be weak or wrong. The point here is simply that Jesus included a wedding in his travel plans.
The only references to the town of Cana are found in John’s Gospel. Two of Jesus’ miracles are connected with that location: creating wine from water (2:1-11) and healing a nobleman’s son (4:46-54). Nathanael, one of the twelve disciples, is described as a native of Cana (21:2). The town has not survived into the present but is thought to have been between Nazareth and Capernaum, in the northwest region of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus’ mother was there.NIV Perhaps Mary was the hostess at this wedding, because she was the first to know about the lack of wine, and she directed the servants to follow Jesus’ orders.
Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.NIV When a wedding was held, the entire town was invited, and most made the effort to come (it was considered an insult to refuse an invitation to a wedding). Cana was Jesus’ home region, so he may have known the bride and groom. In any case, his presence was intentional.
Jesus was on a mission to save the world, the greatest mission in the history of mankind. Yet he took time to attend a wedding and take part in its festivities. We may be tempted to think we should not take time out from our “important” work for social occasions. But we need to see these social occasions as part of our mission. By participating in these events, Jesus was able to be involved with people, the very ones he came to save. Likewise, our efforts to represent Christ should not exclude joyous times of celebration with others. We can develop balance in our lives by bringing Jesus into times of pleasure as well as times of work.
Jesus’ attendance and his actions at this wedding indicate his approval of the celebration. (See Jesus’ comments about marriage in Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9.) Images of Jesus as a dour-faced Messiah, passing judgment on all in his path simply fail to account for the biblical evidence that he was completely at home in festive occasions. In fact, part of his rejection by religious leaders was based on their perception that he enjoyed being with sinners more than was appropriate (see Mark 2:15-16 and Luke 5:30). Jesus’ life is the most profound statement ever made against joyless spirituality.
2:3-4 When they ran out of wine.NKJV The week-long weddings in Jesus’ time must have had about the same impact on family budgets as weddings do today. Banquets were prepared for many guests, and everyone spent several days celebrating the new life of the married couple. To accommodate the guests, careful planning was needed. Running out of wine meant more than embarrassment; it broke the strong unwritten laws of hospitality. Jesus was about to respond to a heartfelt need.
Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”NIV Mary was probably in a position of responsibility, since she was one of the first to know that the wine was gone. She told Jesus of the predicament, perhaps expecting him to do something about it.
NO MORE WINE
Mary’s simple action illustrates that receiving our Lord’s filling and healing begins with recognizing our need. For Mary, it was easy —the wine was gone. It may be more difficult for us to identify our problem. But left to our own resources, we will run dry. Life is too complex, its problems too challenging, and our own strength too limited to allow us to cope without help. Defining the exact need may not be as crucial as admitting our incompleteness. But recognizing our emptiness before Christ will allow him to work a miracle in us. He will apply his powerful resources to our lives. Have you expressed to God your lack that only he can fill? Are you willing to do what he asks of you?
Some believe Mary was not assuming that Jesus would perform a miracle; she was simply hoping that her son would help solve this major problem and find some wine. Tradition says that Joseph, Mary’s husband, was dead, so she probably was used to depending on her son’s help in certain situations. Although Mary did not know what Jesus was going to do, she trusted him to handle the problem. Those who believe in Jesus but run into situations they cannot understand must continue to trust that he will work in the best way. Real trust focuses on the source rather than on the shape of the help that will be supplied. We trust that God will help, not knowing how the help will come.
Others point out that Mary had known for a long time about her son’s divine commission. Perhaps she wanted Jesus to do something in the presence of her relatives and/or friends (who may have heard some reports about Jesus) that would prove he was the Messiah. The tension between Jesus’ verbal response and his later actions leave the question of Mary’s expectations undecided. But Mary’s trust is unmistakable!
What Mary expected her son to do with the problem must be left to speculation. Jesus’ answer to her portrays the thought-provoking responses he gave to those who approached him with ambivalent comments. For instance, Jesus responded to Nicodemus’s nebulous compliment about his miraculous powers (3:3) by getting to the heart of the matter, that one must be born again in order to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus constantly clarified how other people viewed him, confronting them with his divine nature and their spiritual needs. John’s Gospel gives us a helpful and reliable view of Jesus as Lord. We need to ask ourselves how clearly we understand the Jesus we claim to know.
“Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”NKJV It may have been improper, in this time period, for Jesus to address his mother with a more familiar term in public. In any case, Jesus made it clear to his mother that his life was following a different timetable; he lived to carry out his Father’s business, according to his Father’s plans. Whatever Jesus’ intended response to the problem at hand, he expressed to his mother a firm reminder that his priorities were different from hers. At another time in this Gospel, Jesus gave the same response to his brothers (see 7:3-6; also 7:8, 30; 8:20). Later, Jesus would also say that his hour had come (see 12:23; 13:1; 17:1).
The hour to which Jesus referred was the time of his glorification, when he would receive his true place and position, not as an earthly king, but as the Messiah, God’s Son, Savior of mankind, seated at God’s right hand (see 7:30, 39; 12:23-24; 17:1). This glorification would occur after his death and resurrection, for it would be only through death and resurrection that Jesus could accomplish what he came to earth to accomplish —to offer salvation to all people.
2:5 “Do whatever he tells you.”NRSV Mary was not promised any kind of action but realized that Jesus might do something about the situation, even though his remark in verse 4 must have limited her expectations. Nevertheless, Mary’s words show her respect for Jesus’ authority.
We would do well to follow Mary’s command to the servants to “Do whatever he tells you” every moment of our lives. No one could have guessed what Jesus was about to do. But Mary’s willingness to obey was settled beforehand. We, too, must decide that our first reaction will be to obey rather than to question what God directs us to do. Like the servants, we will rarely be told beforehand all the details of what God plans to do.
Are you ready to do what he says? Ask yourself:
- Is there a cherished sin? Confess and forsake it.
- Is there a broken relationship? Seek to heal it.
- Is there a service opportunity Christ has placed before you? Step out and do it.
- Is there a need you feel convicted to fill? Be strong and meet it.
- Is there a higher level of commitment that Christ directs you to make? Welcome his call with all your heart.
2:6-8 Six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing.NIV The six stone water jars were normally used for the ceremonial washing of hands as part of the Jewish purification rites before and after meals (see Matthew 15:1-2). According to the Jews’ ceremonial law, people became symbolically unclean by touching objects of everyday life. Before eating, the Jews would pour water over their hands to cleanse themselves of any bad influences associated with what they had touched. When full, each jar would hold twenty to thirty gallons.
The number six and the water jars have been allegorized by various commentators throughout church history. The fact is, Jesus did not make random choices of objects when they were used in miraculous actions. Even the miracles operate under a system of consistency (see 2:9). It is often enlightening to inquire about the reasons behind Jesus’ use of elements like mud, spittle, bread, water, fish, etc., in his miracles. In this case, the empty water jars (normally used by the Jews to purify themselves) may symbolize the emptiness of Jewish ritual when true faith is absent. Jesus had come to give content to an empty religion. The jars help visualize what Jesus meant when he talked about his relationship to the law: “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17 NRSV). Personally, it pictures what Christ’s presence means in our life: He fills us with his Spirit and goodness when we are empty and lacking.
MORE THAN WE NEED
Jesus did not come to earth solely to satisfy our desires or to make us happy, as this first miracle might lead some to conclude. Jesus did perform a miracle, but it was in his time and in his way. Jesus provided as much as 180 gallons of choice wine. The lavish supply of wine was a picture of the salvation he came to offer, and a revelation of who he was. What God gives is given in abundance. In Christ we are promised life, the abundance of that life is indicated by the fact that it is eternal!
They filled them to the brim.NIV This filling to the brim showed that nothing could be added to the water. When Jesus performed the miracle, all the water was changed to wine; wine was not added to the water. It portrays the abundance of Christ’s gracious work; it also indicates the wholeheartedness of the servants’ obedience.
“Draw some out.”NRSV The servants were now commanded to dip deep down into the jars and draw out the water that had been miraculously changed to wine.
Jesus did not require the help of the servants nor the filled jars in order to perform his miracle. The filling of the jars could itself have been part of the miracle. But as Jesus demonstrated repeatedly in dealing with people, God honors us with significant roles in his work. We are not indispensable, but graciously included. For another outstanding example, note the resurrection of Lazarus (11:43-44) where Jesus gives life, but friends unwrap and clean up what must have been a completely shocked Lazarus! Does your work carry the imprint of Christ upon it? Do you fulfill your responsibility, sensing how Christ is using you?
2:9-10 The master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.NIV The servants did as they were told. They filled the jars to the brim, then drew out some of the liquid and took it to the master of the banquet. The water had been given a new identity as wine, and the jars had been given a wider usefulness as containers of Jesus’ gift.
“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine . . . but you have saved the best till now.”NIV It was customary to give the best wine first and the poorer wine last because peoples’ taste buds grow less sensitive with more and more drinks. The water turned into wine was of such quality that the master of the banquet made a point of mentioning this to the bridegroom, who also probably reacted in surprise. Neither of them knew where this wine came from, but Mary, the servants, and the disciples were aware of what had happened.
This miracle illustrated the emptiness of the Jewish rituals versus what Jesus came to bring (see 4:13; 7:38-39). The water of ceremonial cleansing has become the wine of the messianic age. Have we tasted the new wine?
YOU CAN HAVE THE BEST NOW
People look everywhere but to God for excitement and meaning. For some reason, they expect God to be dull and lifeless. Just as the wine Jesus made was the best, so life in him is better than life on our own. Why wait until everything else runs out before trying God? Don’t save the best until last.
2:11 The first of his signs.NRSV The Gospels record thirty-five miracles, or signs performed by Jesus. In the Gospel of John, each miracle was a sign intended to point people to the truth that Jesus is the divine Son of God come down from heaven. These signs were remarkable actions that displayed the presence and power of God. According to John’s Gospel, this was Jesus’ first sign —and it was performed in Cana of Galilee (his own region). His second was also performed in Galilee (see 4:46-54).
Many have wondered why Jesus would “waste” his powers on performing a miracle of providing wine for a wedding feast, a party. But all of Jesus’ miracles had a purpose beyond alleviating suffering; they revealed Jesus’ glory.
Revealed his glory.NRSV The miracles recorded in John’s Gospel (and indeed all the miracles recorded by the other Gospel writers) demonstrated God’s great love for people and his concern for their individual needs. But on a deeper level, they also revealed Jesus’ glory —Jesus’ unique, divine nature portrayed in such a way as to claim our loyalty and reverence. The sign of turning water into wine was a partial unveiling of Jesus’ full identity. His power over nature, death, sin, and evil revealed him to be the promised Messiah. As Nicodemus said, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (3:2 NIV).
WHY JESUS PERFORMED MIRACLES
Miracles are not merely superhuman events, but events that demonstrate God’s power. Almost every miracle Jesus did was a renewal of fallen creation —restoring sight, making the lame walk, even restoring life to the dead. We are to believe in Christ, not because he is a superman, but because he is the God who continues his creation, even in those of us who are poor, weak, crippled, orphaned, blind, deaf, or with some other desperate need for re-creation.
It was true that many people followed him for no deeper reason than to see miracles, or they “believed” but “intended to come and make him king by force” (6:14-15 NIV). Jesus responded to those misguided efforts by slipping away. But those followers who could look more deeply, who could understand more clearly, realized that Jesus was truly the Messiah, doing just what he was predicted to do: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight . . . I, the Lord . . . will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:1, 6-7 NIV). The impact of Jesus’ miracles has passed from the eyewitnesses to those who first read John’s Gospel and down to us.
What was this glory of Jesus that people glimpsed in the miracles? It was as if, for a moment, the miracles drew back the curtain and allowed people to see a fuller view of Jesus, including his divine power and authority. Jesus’ divine nature became apparent to those willing to see. The sight was dazzling, compelling, and overwhelming. The Gospel writer summarizes what those who were with Jesus came to understand: “We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14 NRSV). John’s invitation to us is to look through the eyes of the disciples and allow ourselves to be convinced, as they were, by the glory of Jesus.
His disciples believed in him.NRSV To this point, the disciples (those who had been called thus far) were following Jesus for their own reasons. Others may have been questioning who Jesus was and were following him to find out. John says that when the disciples saw the miracle, they believed in him. The miracle demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature and revealed the way he would go about his ministry —helping others, speaking with authority, and being in personal touch with people. God may confront us in any number of ways with our need to believe in his Son. We will be held accountable for whether or not we have believed.
Sincere believers wonder whether or not God works miracles today. Certainly God knows what each person requires in order to believe in him. The New Testament accounts record a basic human characteristic that is still true today: people who insisted on a miracle in order to believe remained unconvinced after witnessing the miracle, or were told by Jesus that miracles would not help them. The person who requires God to prove himself may be hiding his or her unwillingness to believe.
In coming to a personal conviction about miracles today, we can make several affirmations:
- God can perform miracles. We must not confuse two questions: Does God perform miracles today? and Can God perform miracles today? The first is a reasonable question; the second implies a loss of power on God’s part and questions his ability. We cannot, by definition, impose limitations on God. God can and will do miracles anywhere and anytime he wishes.
- Miracles tend to be more obvious where the gospel makes new impact. This is because miracles primarily confront ignorance rather than unbelief. Most reports of miracles today come from missionaries on the “outposts” of God’s work. It is entirely possible, as Western society sinks into a morass of religious ignorance, that God will, in fact, increase the frequency of miracles in this part of the world.
- God uses people to do his miraculous work. In the past, there were many basic acts of healing and helping that required God’s direct intervention, for there were no other options. Advances in medicine, mental health, and science (which themselves strike us as miraculous at times) now allow us to carry out what previously required God’s intervention.
- We must expect counterfeits in a fallen world. All the miracles recorded in the Bible were not given a divine stamp of approval (for instance, Pharaoh’s magicians’ snakes —see Exodus 7:8-13). Trusting in God’s ability and willingness to do miracles today may make believers seem gullible. But denying God’s willingness to do miracles may place believers in the even more precarious position of doubting God’s power.
JESUS CLEARS THE TEMPLE / 2:12-25 / 23
The magnificent temple that Jesus entered with his disciples was the one rebuilt by the remnant of Israelites who had returned from Babylon under Ezra and Nehemiah; it was later enlarged by Herod. The Jews considered the temple to be God’s house. The temple in Jerusalem was a familiar place to Jesus. Luke 2:41 mentions yearly visits by Mary and Joseph to the Holy City. Presumably, Jesus frequently accompanied them. On one of these occasions, Jesus called the temple his Father’s house.
But the arrival of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry signaled a change. The glory of God, which had filled the holy shrine since the days of the Exodus and the tabernacle, was no longer in the building; that glory was in Jesus, though veiled within his humanity. A day would come, however, when that glory would be revealed —the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the day when the Son of Man would be glorified.
2:12-13 Capernaum became Jesus’ home base during his ministry in Galilee. Located on a major trade route, it was an important city in the region, with a Roman garrison and a customs station. At Capernaum, Matthew was called to be a disciple (Matthew 9:9). The city was also the home of several other disciples (Matthew 4:13-19) and a high-ranking government official (4:46). It had at least one major synagogue. Although Jesus made this city his base of operations in Galilee, he condemned it for the people’s unbelief (Matthew 11:23; Luke 10:15).
The Passover of the Jews.NKJV The Passover celebration took place yearly at the temple in Jerusalem. Every Jewish male was expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during this time (Deuteronomy 16:16). This was a week-long festival —the Passover was one day, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted the rest of the week. The entire week commemorated the freeing of the Jews from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14).
Some commentators say John made a point of saying “of the Jews” because it had become a ceremonial holiday void of spiritual reality —a Passover belonging no longer to God but to custom, much like some people today might celebrate Easter or Christmas without recognizing God’s place in those holidays. John may have spoken this way in anticipation of the following narrative.
Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was both the religious and the political seat of Palestine, and the place where the Messiah was expected to arrive. The temple was located there, and many Jewish families from all over the world traveled to Jerusalem during the key feasts. The temple was on an imposing hill overlooking the city. Solomon had built the first temple on this same site almost one thousand years earlier (949 B.C.), but his temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25). The temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C., and Herod the Great had recently remodeled it.
2:14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.NIV God had originally instructed the people of Israel to bring from their own flocks the best animals for sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:5-7). This would make the sacrifice more personal. But the temple priests instituted a market for buying sacrificial animals so the pilgrims would not have to bring their animals on the long journey. Given the distances traveled by pilgrims to Jerusalem, the provision of a local animal supply probably was well intended, but what had begun as an informal farmer’s market along the road coming into Jerusalem had gradually become institutionalized until it took up the very place of worship.
In addition, the merchants and money changers were dishonest. The business people selling these animals expected to turn a profit. The price of sacrificial animals was much higher in the temple area than elsewhere. In order to purchase the animals, travelers from other lands would need local currency, and the temple tax had to be paid in local currency; so money changers exchanged foreign money, but made huge profits by charging exorbitant exchange rates. Jesus was angry at the dishonest, greedy practices of the money changers and merchants, and he particularly disliked their presence on the temple grounds. They were making a mockery of God’s house of worship. The effect was somewhat like having loan officers at the back of our churches so that worshipers could obtain money to place in the offering plate.
Besides that, they had set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles, making it so full of merchants that foreigners found it difficult to worship —and worship was the main purpose for visiting the temple. With all the merchandising taking place in the area allotted for the Gentiles, how could they spend time with God in prayer? No wonder Jesus was angry!
WHY DO YOU GO TO CHURCH?
Too many churches today do everything they can to make the time of worship convenient for people. And some people attend church because they see it as a place for personal contacts or business advantage. But worshiping God is not always convenient; it demands true devotion and self-sacrifice. Nor is it for our own earthly advancement. Our focus should be on God alone. We are to worship sincerely, reverently, and humbly. That is not to say we cannot be excited, even zealous, about God. But we are always to worship with reverence —recognizing and remembering who God is.
Many radio and television ministries have become little more than marketplaces for religion. Some of these programs spend a great deal of air time discussing premiums and offers we can receive by sending in a donation that will be used to continue and increase programming so that more people can be contacted to send more money. Jesus would not condemn all fund-raising; but when “worship” services are broadcast for no apparent reason other than to raise money, we should be suspect. Check with your church leaders to make sure the ministry you would like to support has validity.
2:15 He made a whip out of cords.NIV Jesus’ response to the desecration of the temple was deliberate and forceful. He was intent on scouring the temple. This messianic purging of the temple was foretold in Malachi 3:1-3:
“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. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness. (NIV)
This cleansing was significantly appropriate during Passover because that was the time when all the Jews were supposed to cleanse their houses of all leaven (yeast). Yeast was used in making bread, but as God was preparing his people for their hasty exodus from Egypt, he told them to make bread without leaven because they would be eating quickly and would not have time to wait for bread to rise. During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, no leaven was used in any baking and, in fact, was not even to be found in the Israelite homes (Exodus 12:17-20).
And drove all from the temple area . . . he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.NIV Jesus did not lose his temper; his action expressed anger, but he was clearly in control of himself. Jesus was zealous for the reverence due to God the Father, and he knew that the irreverent marketplace within the very courts of God’s temple would not be expelled without the use of force. Any view of God that subtly makes him incapable of anger reduces him to a status equal with pagan gods. The God who is love, who chooses whether or not to be angry, is quite different from a god who is incapable of being angry. One is worthy of our respectful fear; the other is an impotent idol. When sin required anger, Jesus exercised the appropriate response.
2:16 “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”NRSV Jesus saw the temple as belonging to his Father. His own rightful claim to ownership was unmistakable. But the religious leaders of that day were trespassers —turning it into a place of business and money-making. People had created an environment that, in essence, put a price on what God intended to be free. Access to God is not for sale. Giving the impression that God’s favor can be bought shows disrespect toward both God and those he loves.
According to the other three Gospels, Jesus visited the temple again and cleansed it during his final visit to Jerusalem during the Passover, just prior to his crucifixion (see Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-46).
2:17 It was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”NKJV This quote from Psalm 69:9 was thought to refer not only to the psalmist but also to the coming Messiah. His incredible zeal for God and for purity of worship would endanger his life. In fact, Jesus was perceived as a threat to the religious establishment, and this was a direct cause of his death. The disciples, probably as much as any of the people then present, must have been shocked at Jesus’ display of anger. But John reported that they remembered God’s Word and saw the action as God-ordained. The exact time when they recalled God’s Word is unclear. In any case, they didn’t fully understand the implication of Jesus’ words until later.
We have so many opportunities for worship that we may trivialize its importance. We frankly have a difficult time identifying with believers elsewhere in the world who worship under threat of pain, imprisonment, even death. The faith of these believers is portrayed by exuberance, seriousness, and reverence in worship, despite their environment. Too often for us, worship seems to be nothing more than Christians getting together for fellowship, to learn from each other, and to help each other. While all that is good, it may not be true worship. If God is not the focus, the church is in danger of becoming nothing more than a service club.
Then what is true worship? True worship focuses on God, the one who is to be worshiped. When Christians gather to worship —that is, to meet with God —then their deepest needs and hungers are satisfied, for they are in touch with the Creator.
We dare not cheapen this truly miraculous and intimate privilege called worship. Jesus was angered by actions and attitudes that cheapened worship, and we must take care not to let such actions and attitudes into our church. How would Jesus respond to the worship in your church if he were to visit this Sunday?
The Jews, as John calls them, were less than eager to agree with Jesus’ implied judgment. Offended by Jesus’ action, they demanded a sign to prove his right to act in such a rash way. John regularly makes use of the term Jews to stand for “leaders or representatives of the Jews.” Its use is not so much an indictment of the nation as a whole but of those leaders who were guilty of misleading the people.
2:18 “What miraculous sign can you show us?”NIV The hardhearted people of Jesus’ day continually asked Jesus to give them some spectacular sign to prove his authority and demonstrate that he was the Messiah. The Jews were so notorious for being sign-seekers that Paul could say, “Jews demand miraculous signs” (1 Corinthians 1:22 NIV). In his parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus made the point that those unwilling to believe will not be convinced by signs. His application was both pointed and prophetic: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NRSV). Jesus would not give his generation the kind of sign they demanded; he himself was the sign, for he was the Son of God come from heaven to earth. This would be known to all after his resurrection. This would be the ultimate sign he would give Israel and all mankind.
WHEN IS ANGER GOOD?
Jesus was obviously angry at the merchants who exploited those who had come to God’s house to worship. There is a difference between uncontrolled rage and righteous indignation —yet both are called anger. We must be very careful how we use the powerful emotion of anger. It is right to be angry about injustice and sin; it is wrong to be angry over trivial personal offenses.
Jesus made a whip and chased out the money changers. Does his example permit us to use violence against wrongdoers? Certain authority is granted to some, but not to all. For example, the authority to use weapons and restrain people is granted to police officers, but not to the general public. The authority to imprison people is granted to judges, but not to individual citizens. While we want to live like Christ, we should never try to claim his authority where it has not been given to us.
2:19 “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”NRSV Jesus answers the Jewish leaders’ challenge with a counter-challenge that the disciples later understood to be a prediction of his own death and resurrection (2:22). Jesus’ opponents saw only the absurdity of such a claim. But as John clues us in: “He was speaking of the temple of his body” (2:21 NRSV). Jesus’ ambiguous statement is a good example of how he encouraged people to think and inquire more deeply. Along with his parables, these statements accomplished the dual task of frustrating the halfhearted and self-righteous while at the same time piquing the curiosity of those who were sincere seekers.
It was quite common for people in New Testament times to speak about death in terms of the destruction of the body. Paul used this imagery in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, and Peter in 2 Peter 1:13-14. The physical body is a temporary dwelling place for one’s real person; death dissolves that dwelling place. Jesus’ temporal life would be destroyed through crucifixion, but he would rise again with a new, glorified body —a body suited to his new spiritual existence (see 1 Corinthians 15:42-45). All who believe in Christ receive a new spiritual body.
This would be the sign the Jews required, even if they did not recognize it. They would destroy his body, and he would raise it up in three days. At another time when the Jews asked Jesus for a sign, he told them that the only sign he would give them was that of Jonah the prophet, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish before God delivered him (see Matthew 12:39-40). In like manner, Jesus would be killed and after three days rise from the dead.
PURITY OF WORSHIP
Jesus was zealous for the purity of worship —worship that he was going to make universally available through his death. Only by clarifying how the old system was intended could the new system have a place. Only by “destroying the temple” would Jesus be able to offer all believers personal access to God. Only by fulfilling the system of sacrifice could he become the perfect and final sacrifice for all mankind. The eventual destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. was the final evidence that the old system had been superseded by Jesus’ work on the cross and in the lives of those who believe in him.
2:20-21 “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.NKJV The Jews understood Jesus to mean the temple where he had just driven out the merchants and money changers. This was the temple Zerubbabel had built more than five hundred years earlier, but Herod the Great had begun remodeling it, making it much larger and far more beautiful. It had been forty-six years since this remodeling had started (20 B.C.), and it still wasn’t completely finished. They understood Jesus’ words to mean that this imposing building could be torn down and rebuilt in three days, and they were openly skeptical.
2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.NRSV The scripture probably means the whole Old Testament as it testifies to Christ’s death and resurrection (passages such as Psalm 22:7-17). After Christ’s resurrection, the Spirit illuminated these Scriptures (14:26), so the disciples believed and understood. As Jesus predicted, they did destroy his body (the temple), and he did raise it up in three days.
2:23-25 While he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast.NIV This was during the same week that Jesus purged the temple in Jerusalem (see 2:13ff.). It was the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed the day of Passover.
For believers, the Resurrection places a confirming stamp on Jesus’ life and words. It is not just one of many miracles of Jesus. Instead, it is the key to understanding God’s plan; it is the central, foundational fact of Christianity. As Paul put it, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14 NIV). Whenever we are troubled about what Jesus said or did, it usually indicates that we have drifted from our understanding of his resurrection. With the Resurrection settled, the rest of the record seems possible; but doubting the Resurrection makes the rest improbable. Do you accept his credentials as the risen Lord?
Many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.NIV John did not recount any of the particular miracles Jesus performed in Jerusalem; he simply said that many people believed in Jesus when they saw the miracles he did. But, as the next verse indicates, this belief was not complete. The people believed in Jesus as a miracle worker or a political messiah, but not necessarily as the true Messiah, the Son of God.
Faith in Jesus can be deficient in at least two ways. The first occurs when we base our faith on the wrong motives. We should not believe in Jesus because of what he can do for us (or for what miracle he may have done for us); we should believe in him for who he is —the Christ, the Son of God. The second deficiency of faith pictures trust as a point of arrival rather than a point of departure. John described the disciples’ attitude toward Jesus as belief, even though there was a great deal of room for growth. Either of these deficiencies leads to incomplete and immature faith. Does your faith rest on what Christ does for you or on who he is?
But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them.NRSV John used the Greek verb pisteuo to make a wordplay. In 2:23, John said that many believed (episteusan) in him; in 2:24, John said that Jesus did not entrust (episteusen) himself to them. Another way to word this would be, “many trusted in his name, . . . but he did not entrust Himself to them.” The reason for Jesus’ lack of trust then follows —because he knew all people.NRSV In other words, many people trusted in him, but Jesus did not entrust himself to them, for he knew that people are not trustworthy. Jesus was realistic about the depth of trust in those who were now following him. Some would endure; others would fall away (6:66). It is worth noting, however, that Jesus did not give up on them; they gave up on him.
How easy it is to give up on those around us or in our ministry! Yet Jesus had the patience to wait for the disciples to develop and mature. He had the courage to face spiritual loneliness with no one around him who was able to understand his experience. How patient are we with those who are struggling to keep on track spiritually? How well do we do in those dry times when there are no others with whom we can relate at the same spiritual level? We can see Christ’s example in the Gospels, and we can experience his patience in our own lives. Practice Christ’s patience with those to whom he has called us to minister.
Needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.NRSV Jesus did not need to be told about human nature; he knew the motives behind people’s actions because he thoroughly knew the human makeup. He knew how fickle people were (and are). Jesus was well aware of the truth of Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV —see also 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 139; Acts 1:24). Jesus was discerning, and he knew that the faith of some followers was superficial. Some of the same people who claimed to believe in Jesus at this time would later yell, “Crucify him!”
It’s easy to believe when there is excitement and everyone else seems to believe the same way. But sooner or later the opportunities will come to discover whether our faith is firm when it isn’t popular to follow Christ. It is comforting to know that Jesus sees through our efforts to be more confident or perfect than we really are. In fact, we will not fully appreciate his grace until we recognize that he sees us and knows us exactly as we are, and he loves us anyway. Part of trusting Jesus is acknowledging that he understands us better than we understand ourselves.