Week 7

John 2:1-12

A Wedding and the First Sign

2:1-5 The third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the wedding.

When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no wine.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.’

His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever he says to you, do it.’

As previously noted, the third day marks a specific period of time and also has major symbolic significance in Scripture, with its climax in Jesus’ resurrection on the third day.[1] The miracle here described would become the launching pad for Jesus’ journey to the cross and the empty tomb. Biblical writers of stories, parables and poetry frequently used literary structures to underscore the truth that they presented. The present section is crafted in the form of inverse parallelism as a means of highlighting two dramatic transitions that were taking place.[2] Jesus was redefining His most important relationships, from being a son and a brother in a nuclear family to becoming the leader of a new kind of family. He was also demonstrating the character of the new movement that He was inaugurating: the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ baptism, His anointing by the Holy Spirit and the affirmation by the Father were the background events to these radical changes in relationships. Jesus would have celebrated His bar mitzvah (son of the Law) at the age of around twelve or thirteen. Following this, a Jewish boy is considered to be personally responsible to God for His choices and actions. Jesus would probably have undertaken this during the year when, following the Feast of Passover, He remained with the teachers in the Temple, while His parents set out to return to Nazareth. At that age Jesus was already aware that He was God’s Son in a unique sense, but He still remained subject to His parents as the process of maturing through adolescence into manhood continued.[3]

Jesus now arrived at the wedding courtesy of His mother, but departed in the leading role of a group that comprised His mother, His brothers and His fledgling disciples. His natural family were welcome to be part of His journey, but from now on primary relationships would depend on faith and loyalty rather than kinship. Subsequently, His brothers became sceptical and attempted to manipulate Him and Jesus sent them on their way, choosing to follow His Father’s instructions in company with His committed disciples.[4]

We have already been introduced to some of the members of this new family: John, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael (Cana was his home town). Their relationships with Jesus were still at an early stage. They had affirmed belief in Him as Messiah, and Nathanael had described Him in even more exalted language, but Jesus had not formally called them and they continued in their previous occupations.

The words ‘believe’ and ‘disciple’ are both used in a variety of ways in John’s Gospel: the particular context is important in determining the actual level of faith and commitment. Just prior to the events at the wedding, these five men had embarked on the process of becoming disciples and already had a measure of true faith. That faith was about to be strengthened by the revelation of Jesus’ glory, and this would help them to face the challenges that lay ahead and to become truly His disciples.[5]As the account in the Gospel unfolds, we shall meet other people who were also called disciples and who were said to have believed in Jesus, but their commitment was superficial and temporary and they deserted Him when they were offended by His words. The reality of the faith that we initially profess is either confirmed or contradicted by whether or not we continue in the path of discipleship, wherever it leads. Jesus assures us that if we walk the journey of life with Him, then there will be abundant evidence that we have chosen wisely.[6]

As in other parts of the Gospel, John referred to time in two senses: clock time and symbolically important time. When Mary prompted Jesus to take action, He replied, ‘My hour [time] has not yet come.’ During the entire period of His ministry He remained conscious of His destiny, and He was also conscious of the significance of each stage as it occurred. Jesus did not have a prearranged schedule, like a journal written in advance or a route marked on a map. The way the events unfolded at this wedding illustrate how the Holy Spirit revealed the details of the Father’s purposes to Jesus in a dynamic and ongoing way. In this way Jesus demonstrated how His followers would also live and function after they had received the Holy Spirit.[7]

By now Mary would have been about forty-five years old, but memories from her teenage years must have remained strong and vivid. She would have been aware that the prophetic words spoken at that time were now coming to pass.[8] Jesus had arrived at the wedding accompanied by some recently acquired disciples, and no doubt she was aware of the events that had occurred during the previous week at the Jordan River.

Wine was a symbol of joy (the Aramaic word for wedding feast is mistila, literally, ‘drink festival’), so the failure in supply was very embarrassing.[9] Mary seems to have perceived the providential nature of a situation that others would have regarded as a disaster. We may wonder whether her words to Jesus, ‘They have no wine’, were simply the result of a mother’s intuition or were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Probably both were involved, for she was very sensitive to God.[10] It seems that Jesus received His prompt from the Father slightly later than Mary.

On two occasions prior to the miracle John referred to Mary as ‘Jesus’ mother’, in a context that suggested her position of seniority. At this point of transition in His life Jesus needed to establish that He no longer accepted direction from any other human being, however much He respected and loved him or her. Jesus revealed this in His response: ‘Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.’ Jesus’ words were respectful, but the message was clear: their relationship was changing. For her part, Mary was beginning to experience the reality of Simeon’s prophecy to her when he held her infant son, the approach of the sword that would pierce her heart. Later, as she stood by the cross, that sword inflicted a deep wound in her soul, and Jesus lovingly committed her to John’s care. A short time later, Jesus committed Himself to the Father, and then a Roman spear pierced His own side.[11]

Mary responded to Jesus’ words without argument or bitterness, just as she had done as the teenage girl who had said ‘Let it be done to me according to your word.’[12] She accepted Jesus’ claim to independence, recognising that the time for this had come. The ancient instruction about marriage was being invoked: ‘Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh.’ In a sense, Jesus had previously left His Father when He came to earth; now He was leaving His mother, in order to be betrothed to His bride, the church, the disciples who were already gathering to Him and all those who would follow in their train.[13] Mary then issued the only instruction attributed to her in the Gospels: ‘Whatever he says to you, do it.’

2:6-12 Now there were six water pots of stone set there after the Jews’ way of purifying, containing two or three metretes apiece. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the water pots with water.’ So they filled them up to the brim.

He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast.’ So they took it.

When the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and didn’t know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now!’

This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this, he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they stayed there a few days.

Six large stone water pots formed the centrepiece of the action. They had recently held about 150 gallons of water but now stood empty. The water would have been used for symbolic purification of the bride by full immersion in a ritual bath (mikveh). This was not a requirement of the Law but was ‘after the Jews’ way of purifying’. ‘The Jews’ (Gk. hoi iudaioi, meaning ‘the Judeans’) is a descriptive term with more than one meaning. It originated from the name Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. His descendants were known as the tribe of Judah, and the name was also applied to the geographical area, including Jerusalem, where that tribe settled. The term eventually came to be used more loosely, as it is today, to include the whole people of Israel, the Jewish people.

Almost always John used the term in a more restricted and special sense, to designate the religious leaders whose authority Jesus threatened. We have already encountered them in the delegations to John the Baptist from the priests (Sadducees) and the Pharisees. If we do not understand this usage we may even conclude that John was anti-Semitic, as some have suggested or, mistakenly, believe that the nation as a whole was responsible for Jesus’ death. In fact, Jesus remained popular to the end. The leaders brought about His death because they felt threatened, by His preaching, His miracle-signs and His claims about who He was.

Water is described in two different ways in the Hebrew language. Static water collected in a cistern or container was considered less valuable than flowing water (living water, Heb. mayim hayim), which in John’s Gospel functions as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.[14] The empty water pots that had contained static water acted as symbols for the old order of tradition and human authority that was passing away. The Torah required people to undergo cleansing rituals following contact with dead bodies or contact with people who had some form of discharge from their bodies, and in other specified situations. Additional regulations had been added by religious authorities: some were in the spirit of the original ones, but the Pharisees had gone to extremes, multiplying detailed rules and regulations. External rituals, which ordinary people were unable to keep, often replaced humility, generosity and love as the essence of holiness.

God had given the Torah as an exclusive gift to the nation of Israel, as is evident from the repeated command to Moses, ‘Speak to the children of Israel’.[15] Jesus was born into this religious environment and lived as a Torah-observant Jewish man.[16] He did not come in order to destroy that heritage but to bring it to its destiny and fulfilment, being Himself the goal of all the promises and prophecies contained in the Scriptures. Thus the laws and rituals were about to become obsolete, giving way to the law of the Messiah, in person and through the teaching of the apostles.[17]

Jesus instructed the servants to refill the pots with water. The pots seem to have been stored out of sight, having served their purpose; the master of the feast appears to have been unaware of this action. Jesus did not merely transform the static water into a better form of water but into wine, announcing the longed-for arrival of the Messianic kingdom. In the Scriptures this is portrayed as a banquet that includes rich and abundant wine, the biblical symbol for joy. Jesus’ miracle of transformation acted as a sign that the long-expected Messiah had now come, full of the Holy Spirit and offering blessing, joy and abundant life to His people.[18]

At the wedding Jesus did not create wine de novo; Christianity is not a new, stand-alone religion, but continues the revelation that God gave to Israel. Israel’s prophets form a vital part of the foundation of the church. Similarly, Paul likened Israel to an olive tree into which new branches have been grafted. God did not discard the olive tree and plant a Christmas tree![19] Jesus was inaugurating a new movement, ‘the Kingdom of God’, which was the culmination of all that had gone before. This was the Father’s appointed time and Jesus was acting on His instructions and with His authority.[20]

The bridegroom at a wedding was responsible for providing the wine. When Jesus stepped in and supplied what was missing, He was making a prophetic statement. He is the heavenly bridegroom who will be the host at the marriage supper of the Lamb. It did not cost Him anything to supply wine for this earthly banquet, but He knew that He must drink the cup of suffering before the heavenly wedding banquet, with the wine of celebration and joy, could begin. Less than three years hence He would drink the bitter cup on the cross, and would pay an incalculable price for relationship with a purified and holy bride, the church that will last forever.[21]

This miracle also revealed Jesus’ glory as the Creator of the world, now incarnate as a man. As the creative Word, He had made trees with the potential to transform water, in combination with other ingredients, into fruit. In the case of wine this requires a vine, a period of time for grape production and then for the process of fermentation. By completing the process in a moment, without intermediate and secondary means, Jesus now revealed His glory as the Word who made everything. He Himself is ‘the true vine’, the source of the full and abundant life of which the physical wine was only a symbol. Jesus promised that those who remain united with Him, as branches to a vine, will share the fullness of His joy.[22]

A short time later Jesus moved on, leading a company that included His mother, His brothers and His disciples. They had all come to the wedding and had all seen the miracle, but it seems that there were differing responses. They travelled together to Capernaum but Jesus did not stay there for long. It is not clear whether or not His family continued with Him when He left the town and, sometime later, travelled south to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. Mary does not appear in John’s Gospel again until, along with John, she is present at the cross.[23]

Mark recorded an incident which probably took place in Capernaum; Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people indoors when His mother and brothers requested Him to come out and speak with them. A little earlier in his account Mark recorded that the family had come with the intention of seizing Him, believing that He was out of His mind. Jesus did not go out to them, and instead answered with a question, ‘“Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, and mother.”’ John’s only further mention of Jesus’ brothers is in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles, perhaps around two years later, when they reacted to Him with unbelief. [24]

When He began His public ministry at the wedding in Cana Jesus began to establish priorities in His relationships. His new family consisted of His committed disciples; His natural family were welcome to be part of this family, but on the same terms as the others. Following the resurrection and ascension, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were present in the Upper Room and James subsequently became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Jesus taught that, in a similar way, Gentiles would join the Jewish believers to form a common flock, with one Shepherd, a united family of faith throughout the earth. The spiritual blessings promised to Abraham and his natural family would extend to embrace the world, Jews and Gentiles one body in Christ. [25]


[1] Gen. 22:4; 40:20; 42:18; Exod. 19:1-16; Josh. 1:11; Hos. 6:1-2; Jonah 1:17; Matt. 12:40; John 2:19-20; Mark 9:31.

[2] See Appendix 1.

[3] Luke 2:45-52.

[4] Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; John 7:1-10; 11:14-16.

[5] John 21:2; Luke 5:1-11, 27-28; John 8:31-32.

[6] John 6:53-71; 11:21-27, 39-40.

[7] Luke 4:1, 14; 6:12-16; Mark 1:35-38; John 5:19-20; 20:19-23.

[8] Luke 1:31-35; 2:25-35.

[9] Ps. 104:15; Isa. 16:10.

[10] Luke 1:38; 1:46-55; 2:51.

[11] Luke 2:34-35; John 19:25-27, 34.

[12] Luke 1:38.

[13] Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5-6; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7-9; Rev. 21:2, 9.

[14] Prov. 5:15; Jer. 2:13; John 4:10-14; 7:37-39.

[15] Lev. 1:2, for example; Gal. 3:21-25; 4:1-7; Heb. 8:13; 9:11-15; 10:1-4.

[16] E.g., Luke 2:21-24, 41-42; John 2:13; 5:1; 7:1-10; Mark 1:40-44.

[17] Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 5:45-47; 6:30-35; Rom. 10:1-4; Heb. 9:19-28.

[18] Isa. 25:6; Jer. 31:12; Joel 2:19, 24; 3:18; Amos 9:13-14.

[19] 1 Cor. 10:1; Eph. 2:20; Rom. 11:16-29.

[20] Matt. 4:17; 12:25-28; Acts 1:3, 6; John 3:3.

[21] Matt. 20:22; 26:27-29, 36-42; Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 19:7-9.

[22] Gen.1:11-13; Ps. 104:14-16; John 1:1-3, 10; 15:1-12.

[23] John 19:25-27.

[24] Mark 3:19b-21, 31-35; Jn. 7:1-5.

[25] Acts 1:14; 15:13-19; John 3:16; 6:51; 10:16; Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:6-9, 13-14.

Reflection: John uses the word believe in a dynamic and continuing sense, rather than being a ‘once for all’ decision; a kind of entry ticket to the Kingdom of Heaven. Others were subsequently described as having believed in Jesus (8: 31-32) but He did not count them as His disciples because they did not continue in His word. Intellectual assent to truth is not Biblical faith. Discipleship is a journey with Jesus as teacher and Lord and, as the original disciples discovered, is an never ending process of learning how to apply His words to our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah – the Son of God and Saviour of the world. Now I want to learn what it means to follow you in daily life. Please help me to understand your word, not simply as information but also as a deepening relationship with you in trust and obedience. Amen

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