The First of Jesus’ Signs
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).- John 2:6–12
Given that first-century Jews were expected to provide food and drink for their guests when they held a wedding, that the wedding party at Cana was running short on wine carried with it the threat of social embarrassment for the bridegroom (John 2:1–3). Therefore, our Savior’s willingness to intervene and rectify the situation, as we see in today’s passage, was clearly a gracious act with respect to the bridegroom (vv. 6–11). It was not Jesus’ fault that there was no wine left, and He was under no obligation to provide assistance. In His grace, however, Jesus solved the problem for the bridegroom and made it possible for the festivities to continue.
John notes that the jars used to house the water that would be made into wine were “for the Jewish rites of purification” (v. 6). Although it is difficult to be certain, it may be that John includes this detail to make a theological point. Many commentators believe that Jesus’ altering water used for purification was a way to make a theological point about His own significance. Jewish rites of purification, of course, were associated with the ceremonial law of the old covenant. The Aaronic priests had to wash before entering the tabernacle and temple (Ex. 30:17–21), and the book of Leviticus prescribes various washings for ordinary Israelites to perform in order to deal with ritual uncleanness. The jars at the wedding feast were probably used for washing the hands before eating, an act not prescribed by the Old Testament but that had been adopted by many practitioners of first-century Judaism (Mark 7:1–4). By changing the water of purification associated with the old covenant and with Judaism into wine, Jesus may have been indicating that something new had arrived—that a new order was replacing the old and that the ceremonial law would be fulfilled and transformed. Of course, we do not need this reading of John 2 to be correct in order to affirm that basic point. On another occasion, He likened His ministry to that of new wine (Matt. 9:14–17), telling us directly that the new order was arriving that would replace the old. An abundance of wine is often associated with the new messianic age in the Old Testament (for example, Isa. 25).
John concludes this account of Jesus’ first miracle by saying that it manifested the glory of Christ (John 2:11). This was the first glimpse that the disciples had of our Lord’s divine power in action.
Jesus fulfills the old covenant revelation, bringing something new. The moral law continues, but the outward administration of the covenant has changed. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have replaced the old covenant rituals. God’s covenant people are no longer drawn primarily from one ethnic group. The Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us. We are new creatures in Christ, so let us be grateful that He is renewing us after His image.
Passages for Further Study