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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 2

 

 

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Verse 1

John 2:1. And the third day. The third day, as reckoned from the day last mentioned (chap. John 1:43-51); the sixth day referred to in these chapters. The first is the day of the Baptist’s interview, at Bethany, with the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem (John 1:19-28). On the second (John 1:29-34), John bears testimony to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The third is the day on which the two disciples follow Jesus (John 1:35-42). On the next day Jesus sets out for Galilee (John 1:43). That day, the next, and part of the third day may have been spent in travelling; for, if Bethany was in the neighbourhood of Bethabara, and if the latter may be identified with the modern Beit-nimrim, the distance traversed even to Nazareth must have been more than eighty English miles. Very possibly, however, Bethany may have lain farther north (see note on chap. John 1:21).

There was a marriage, or marriage-feast. The feast, which was the chief constituent in the ceremonies attending marriage, extended over several days,—as seven (Genesis 29:27; 14:12), or even fourteen (Tob_8:19).

In Cana of Galilee. There is a Kanah mentioned in the book of Joshua (John 19:28) as one of the towns in the territory of Asher, situated near Zidon. This cannot be the place referred to here. No other town of the same name is mentioned by any sacred writer except John (see references), who in every instance marks the place as Cana of Galilee. From this many have hastily inferred that ‘of Galilee’ was part of the name, distinguishing this village from some other Cana,—perhaps from that mentioned above, which (though really within the limits of Galilee) lay near to Phoenicia. Two villages of Galilee claim to be the Cana of this chapter,—Kefr-Kenna, four or five miles north-east of Nazareth; and Khurbet-Kana, about eleven miles north of the same place. The latter village is usually said to bear the name Kana-el-Jeil (i.e. Cana of Galilee); if so, and if the antiquity of the name could be established, this might be decisive, although even then it would be hard to understand how Christian tradition could so long regard Kefr-Kenna as the scene of our Lord’s first miracle, when within a few miles there existed a place bearing the very name found in the Gospel. The question cannot be further discussed here: we will only express a strong conviction that Kefr-Kenna is the Cana of our narrative. It seems probable that John himself has added the words ‘of Galilee,’ that he may lay stress upon the province, not the town. To him the point of main interest is, that this manifestation of the Saviour’s glory took place in Galilee.

And the mother of Jesus was there,—already present as a friend, possibly a relative. Mary comes before us twice in this Gospel, at the commencement and at the close of our Lord’s public life (John 2:1-11, and John 19:25-27), and is also referred to in another passage (John 6:42); but she is never mentioned by name. As for his own name the Evangelist always substitutes words expressive of relationship to Jesus (‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’), so with him Mary’s name gives place to ‘the mother of Jesus.’ Both here and in chap. 19 his designation has special significance. It expresses not only the light in which she appeared to John, but that in which he knew that she appeared to Jesus. It is essential to the spirit of the narrative to behold in Jesus one who, with the warmest filial affection, acknowledged Mary as His mother. Thus only do we see the yielding of the very closest earthly relationship to yet higher claims. The word of Jesus, ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,’ must in its spirit be exemplified in His own case. Most fitting, therefore, is the use of the tenderest designation here. All that is dear and sacred in the name of mother was felt by Him in its deepest reality at the very time when He showed that every earthly tie must give way at the call of His Father in heaven.


Verses 1-11

The general subject of the second great division of the Gospel is continued in this section. It contains an account of the miracle at Cana of Galilee, in which, as we are told at John 2:11, Jesus ‘manifested His glory.’ The Redeemer is still in the circle of His disciples and friends, and there are no traces of His approaching conflict with the world. Our thoughts are directed solely to Himself, and to the glorious nature of that dispensation which He is to introduce.


Verse 2

John 2:2. And Jesus also was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. The form of the sentence shows that our chief attention is to be fixed on Jesus, not on the disciples. They were invited as His disciples. Those who came were probably the five or six mentioned in chap. 1, viz. Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and John himself (and probably James).


Verse 3

John 2:3. And when wine was wanting. The failure (which must be understood as complete) may have been occasioned by the long continuance of the festivities, but more probably arose from the presence of several unexpected guests.

The mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Nothing was more natural than that Mary should be the one to point out to her Son the perplexity of the family; but the whole tenor of the narrative compels attention to one thought alone. The absolute singleness with which Jesus listens to the voice of His heavenly Father is the point to be brought out. Had it been consistent with His mission to lend help at the summons of any human authority, no bidding would have been so powerful as that of His mother. Many conjectures as to Mary’s object in these words are at once set aside by the nature of His answer. There may have been in her mind no definite idea of the kind of help that might be afforded, but she felt that help was needed, and that what was needed could be given by her Son. The reply of Jesus, however, shows that, besides perplexity and faith, there was also presumption in Mary’s words: she spoke as one who still had the right to suggest and to influence His action.


Verse 4

John 2:4. And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? The English words convey an impression of disrespect and harshness which is absent from the original. This use of the Greek word for ‘woman’ is consistent with the utmost respect. In Homer, for example (Iliad, xxiv. 300), Priam thus addresses Hecuba, his queen, and other examples of the same kind might easily be given. This Gospel itself shows that the word is not out of place where the deepest love and compassion are expressed: see chap. John 19:26, John 20:13; John 20:15. Yet the contrast of ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ must strike every one who reads with attention. The relation of mother, however precious in its own sphere, cannot be allowed to enter into that in which Jesus now stands. John does not relate the incident recorded in Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21; but the same thought is present here. Still more distinctly is this lesson taught in the words that follow, ‘What have I to do with thee?’ The rendering defended by some Roman Catholic writers (though not found in the Vulgate, or in the Rhemish Testament of 1582), ‘What is that to thee and me?’—that is, ‘Why should we concern ourselves with this failure of the wine?’—is altogether impossible. The phrase is a common one, occurring in 11:12; 2 Samuel 16:10; 2 Samuel 19:22; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chronicles 35:21; Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Luke 4:34; Luke 8:28 : comp. also Joshua 22:24; 2 Kings 9:18; Ezra 4:3; Matthew 27:19. These passages show beyond doubt the meaning of the words: whoever makes use of the phrase rejects the interference of another, declines association with him on the matter spoken of. Hence the words reprove,—though mildly. They do more; in them Jesus warns even His mother against attempting henceforth to prescribe or suggest what He is to do. Thus understood, the words are an irresistible argument against the Mariolatry of Rome.

Mine hour is not yet come. In two other places in this Gospel Jesus refers to the coming of ‘the hour’ (John 12:23, John 17:1); and three times John speaks of His hour as not yet come (John 7:30, John 8:20) or as now come (John 13:1). The other passages throw light on this, showing the peculiar solemnity which belongs to the words before us. In every instance ‘the hour’ is fraught with momentous issues:—‘the hour’ when the restraint put upon His foes shall continue no longer; when He shall pass away from the world to His Father; when He shall be glorified. So here the hour is that of the manifestation of His glory. The language used in chap. John 13:1; John 13:1, together with the general teaching of the Gospel, shows that the hour is not self-chosen, but is that appointed by the Father. He came to do the will of Him that sent Him, the appointed work at the appointed time. That time none may hasten or delay by a single instant. If, then, the miracle quickly followed upon these words, which would seem to have been the case, this can present no difficulty; the Son waited for the very moment chosen by the Father’s will.


Verse 5

John 2:5. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. The answer of Jesus (John 2:4) plainly implied that His hour would come. Mary, therefore, turns to the servants, and bids them be ready. The words are indefinite, and we have no right to suppose either that she now looked for miraculous help, or that she had received some private intimation of her Son’s purpose. She waits for the ‘hour:’ whatsoever the hour may bring, let the servants be prepared to do His bidding. Mary here retires from the scene.


Verse 6

John 2:6. And there were there six waterpots of stone, placed after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. The waterpots were near at hand,-in the court or at the entrance to the house, not in the house itself. Considering the many washings and purifyings of the Jews, there is nothing to surprise us in the number or in the size of the waterpots. Even a small family might easily possess six, and when the number of guests was large, each of them would naturally be in use. There is much uncertainty as to the value of Hebrew measures, whether of length or of capacity. Most probably the measure here mentioned was equivalent to between eight and nine of our imperial gallons, so that the ‘firkin’ of our version is not far wrong. If each waterpot contained two ‘firkins’ and a half, the whole quantity of water would be about 130 gallons.

On the words, ‘of the Jews,’ see the note on chap. John 1:19. Even here the phrase is not without significance. When we have set ourselves free from our prevailing habit of using this term simply as a national designation, we cannot but feel that the Evangelist is writing of that with which he has entirely broken, and is characterizing the ordinary religion of his day as one that consisted in ceremonies and external purifications.


Verse 7

John 2:7. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. Probably they were now empty, perhaps in consequence of the ablutions before the feast.

And they filled them up to the brim. And when they are thus filled, nothing more can be done to fit them for their original design. They are able to furnish all that can be supplied for ‘the purifying of the Jews.’


Verse 8

John 2:8. And he saith unto them. Draw now, and bear unto the ruler of the feast. As the words are commonly understood, the servants are bidden to bring to the table (in smaller jars or bowls) part of the contents of the larger vessels, which were themselves too unwieldy to be moved without difficulty. If this be the meaning, we must still ask, What was it that was drawn, water or wine? Many will answer wine, believing that the point at which the miracle is effected comes in between the seventh and eighth verses, and that all the water in the vessels was then made wine. The strong argument in favour of this interpretation is the exactness with which the number and size of the vessels are specified; and no difficulty need be found in the abundance of the supply. ‘He, a King, gave as became a king’ (Trench). Still there is nothing in the text that leads necessarily to this interpretation; while the language of John 2:9, ‘the servants which had drawn the water ,’ distinctly suggests that what they drew was water, which, either as soon as drawn, or as soon as presented to the guests, became wine. But there is yet another explanation (suggested in Dr. Westcott’s Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles, p. 15), having much in its favour. The Authorised Version (John 2:8) gives the command to the servants as ‘Draw out now,’ etc., plainly implying that it was out of the waterpots that they were bidden to draw. But the original word is simply ‘draw,’ or ‘draw water.’ This would seem to suggest that the servants were sent again to the spring or fountain from which they had drawn the water to fill the waterpots. First, the vessels set for the purifying of the Jews are completely filled. Nothing is neglected that can be needed to prepare for all ceremonial requirements. There the water rests, and rests unchanged. Not till now is the water drawn for the thirsty guests, in bowls filled, not from vessels of purification, but at the spring itself; it is borne to the ruler of the feast, and it is wine! The decision between the last two interpretations must be left with the reader; it will probably rest less on the words of the narrative than on the view which is taken of the significance and meaning of the miracle. See below on John 2:11.—By ‘the ruler of the feast’ is meant either an upper servant, to whom was intrusted the duty of tasting the different drinks and articles of food, and, in general, of superintending all the arrangements of the feast; or one of the guests acting as president of the feast, at the request of the bridegroom or by election of the guests. The latter view is favoured by our knowledge of Jewish usages (comp. Sir_32:1-2), and by the fact that the ruler is spoken of as distinct from the servants, and, as the next verse shows, was ignorant of the source from which the wine was supplied.


Verse 9-10

John 2:9-10. In these verses we have the testimony borne to the completeness of the miracle. The ruler of the feast, a guest speaking as the representative of the guests, calling the bridegroom (who supplied the feast, and in whose house they were), emphatically recognises the excellence of the wine, not knowing ‘whence it was.’ ‘From whatever source this may have come, it is wine, and good wine:’ this is his witness. ‘Whatever it may be, it has but now flowed from the spring as water,’ is the unexpressed but implied testimony of the servants. The simplicity of the double witness gives it its force; the guests as yet know nothing of the miracle, and thus afford the strongest evidence of its truth. An attempt is sometimes made to soften down an expression used by the ruler of the feast, ‘when men are drunken.’ There need, however, be no scruple as to giving the word its ordinary meaning. The remark docs but express his surprise at the bridegroom’s departure from the ordinary custom, in bringing in so late wine of such excellence as this. The common maxim was that the best wine should be given first, when it could be appreciated by the guests; the weak and poorer when they had drunk more than enough, and the edge of their taste was blunted. No answer is recorded,—a plain proof, were any needed, that the Evangelist values the incident not so much for its own sake as for the lesson it conveys.


Verse 11

John 2:11. This did Jesus as the beginning of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. This, His first sign, was wrought in Galilee, where Isaiah (John 9:1-2) prophesied that Messiah’s work should begin. The threefold comment of the Evangelist is of the utmost importance. This was a sign, and His first sign; in it He manifested His glory; His disciples believed in Him. ‘Sign’ is one of John’s favourite words. Of the three words used in the New Testament to denote a miracle, the first (literally meaning ‘power’) is not once found in his Gospel; the second (‘prodigy,’ ‘wonder’) occurs once only (John 4:48); the third, ‘sign,’ as many as seventeen times. The earliest use of ‘sign’ in connection with a miracle is in Exodus 4:8 and the context makes the meaning very dear: the miracle was the sign of an invisible Divine Presence with Moses, and hence it attested his words. Thus also, when the manna was given, the miracle manifested the glory of the Lord (Exodus 16:7). The miracles of Jesus, and all His works, manifested not only God’s glory (John 8:50), but His own: they were signs of what He is. This gives a new starting-point. Each miracle is a sign of what He is, not only in regard of the power by which it is wrought, but also by its own nature and character,—in other words, it is a symbol of His work. The words which John adds here once for all are to be understood with every mention of a ‘sign,’ for in every miracle Jesus made manifest (removed the veil from) His glory, revealed Himself. Two other passages complete the view which John gives us of his meaning. Of the ‘signs’ he says himself: ‘These (signs) are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name.’ Of the glory he says: ‘We beheld His glory, glory as of an only-begotten from a father.’ First, then, this miracle attested the mission of Jesus as the Christ; the miracle established, as for Moses so for Him, the divine commission, and ratified His words. Next, it revealed His own glory as Son of God, manifesting His power, in a work as sudden and as inexplicable as a new creation; and not only His power but His grace, as He sympathizes alike with the joys and with the difficulties of life. Further, the miracle brought into light what He is in His work. The waterpots filled full for the purifying of the Jews stand as an emblem of the religion of the day, nay, even of the ordinances of the Jewish religion itself, ‘carnal ordinances imposed until a time of reformation.’ At Christ’s word (on one view of the miracle) the water for purifying is changed into wine of gladness: this would point to Judaism made instinct with new life. On the other view, nothing is withdrawn from the use to which Jewish ritual applies it, but the element which could only minister to outward cleansing is transmuted by a new creative word. ‘The law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ The object of all the signs (John 20:31) was answered here in the disciples. They had believed already that He was Christ, the Son of God (John 1:41; John 1:49); they now believed in Him,—each one ‘throws himself with absolute trust upon a living Lord,’ recognising the manifestation of His glory. The miracles in this Gospel, like the parables in the other Gospels, are a test of faith. They lead onward the believer to a deeper and a firmer trust; they repel those who refuse to believe.


Verse 12

John 2:12. After this he went down to Capernaum. Nazareth, not Cana, would appear to be the place from which Jesus ‘went down’ (from the hill-country of Galilee,—comp. chap. John 4:47; John 4:49; John 4:51) to Capernaum, for His brethren, who are not said to have been with Him in Cana, are now of the company. All that can be said with certainty as to the position of Capernaum is, that it was situated on the western coast of the Lake of Gennesaret, not far from the northern end of the lake; whether the present Tell Hum or (less probably) Khan Minyeh be the site, we cannot here inquire (see note on Matthew 4:13). We have here the earliest appearance of this busy and thriving Galilean town in the history of our Lord’s life. The visit related in Matthew 4:13 and Luke 4:31 belongs to a later period than this, a period subsequent to the imprisonment of John the Baptist (see chap. John 3:22). Luke’s narrative, however (chap. John 4:23), contains an allusion to earlier miracles in Capernaum. Whether reference is made to this particular visit (which, through the nearness of the passover, was of short duration) or not, it is interesting to note that the two Evangelists agree in recording a residence of Jesus in this town earlier than that brought into prominence in Matthew 4:13. In the Fourth Gospel Capernaum occupies a very subordinate place; the centre of the Judean ministry was Jerusalem.

He, and his mother and brethren, and his disciples. In his usual manner John divides the company into three groups, naming separately Jesus, His relations by natural kindred, His disciples. The brethren of Jesus were James, Joses (or Joseph), Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). In what sense they are called ‘brethren,’ whether as the sons of Joseph and Mary, as sons of Joseph by an earlier marriage, or as sons of Mary’s sister (‘brother’ taking the meaning of near kinsman), has been a subject of controversy from the third century to the present day. It is impossible to discuss the question within our limits, though something further must be said when we come to later chapters (7, 19). Here we can only express a very decided conviction that the last mentioned of the three opinions is without foundation, and that the ‘brethren’ were sons of Joseph, their mother being either Mary herself or, more probably, an earlier wife of Joseph (comp. note on Matthew 13:58). This verse alone might suggest that the brethren were not disciples, and from chap. John 7:5 we know that they were not.


Verses 12-22

In the passage before us we have the first section of the third great division of our Gospel. Jesus leaves the circle of His disciples, and begins His public work. This is done at Jerusalem, after a few days spent in Capernaum. In the metropolis of Israel He appears as the Son in His Father’s house; and in the cleansing of the old temple and the promise of the raising up of a new one He illustrates the nature of the work He is to do. The first symptoms of opposition accordingly appear in this passage. Jesus is rejected by the theocracy of Israel, and the foundation is laid for His entering upon wider fields of labour. The subordinate parts of this section are—(1) John 2:12; (2) John 2:13-22.


Verse 13

John 2:13. And the passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. The expression, ‘passover of the Jews, is very remarkable, and can be explained only by the usage already noticed in John 2:6. To John’s mind the nation cannot but present itself habitually as in opposition to his Master. As yet, indeed, Jesus is not confronted by an organized band of adversaries representing the ruling body of the nation; but we are on the verge of the conflict, and the conflict itself was only the outcome of ungodliness and worldllness existing before their manifestation in the persecution of Jesus. The light was come, but it was shining in darkness: this darkness rested on what had been the temple, the city, the festivals, of the Lord. The feast now at hand is not ‘the Lord’s passover’ (Exodus 12:11), but ‘the passover of the Jews.’ The prevailing spirit of the time has severed the feast from the sacred associations which belonged to it, so that Jesus must go up rather as Prophet than as worshipper,—not to sanction by His presence, but powerfully to protest against the degenerate worship of that day. The word of prophecy must be fulfilled: ‘And the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple,... but who may abide the day of His coming?’ (Malachi 3:1-2).


Verse 14

John 2:14. And he found in the temple-courts those that sold oxen and sheep and doves. The scene of this traffic was the outer court, commonly spoken of as the court of the Gentiles, but known to the Jews as ‘the mountain of the house.’ This court (which was on a lower level than the inner courts and the house or sanctuary itself) occupied not less than two-thirds of the space inclosed by the outer walls. Along its sides ran cloisters or colonnades, two of which, ‘Solomon’s porch’ on the east, and the ‘Royal porch’ on the south, were especially admired: to these cloisters many of the devout resorted for worship or instruction, and here, no doubt, our Lord often taught (chap. John 10:23). In strange contrast, however, with the sacredness of the place was what He now ‘found in the temple-courts.’ At all times, and especially at the passover, the temple was frequented by numerous worshippers, who required animals that might be offered in sacrifice. The law prescribed the nature of each sacrifice, and enjoined that all animals presented to the Lord should be ‘without blemish’ (Leviticus 22:19-20),—a requirement which ‘the tradition of the elders’ expanded into minute detail. Hence sacrifice would have been well-nigh impossible, had not facilities been afforded for the purchase of animals that satisfied all the conditions imposed. The neighbouring Quarter of the city naturally became a bazaar for the purpose; but unhappily the priests, yielding to temptations of gain, had suffered such traffic to be carried on within the precincts of the temple itself. At what period this abuse took its rise we do not know. Some have supposed that the last words of Zechariah (chap. John 14:21) refer to similar practices, the verse being rendered: ‘In that day there shall be no more the trafficker in the house of the Lord of hosts.’ The book of Nehemiah shows examples of the spirit of disorder and irreverence from which such usages naturally spring; and the representations of Malachi make it easy to understand that the priests would be only too readily accessible to the allurements of a gainful traffic. In the court of the Gentiles, then, stood those who offered for sale oxen and sheep,—also doves (for the poor. Leviticus 14:22, and for women, Leviticus 12:6). The wording of this verse (‘those that sold,’ etc.) shows that the trade was now an established custom. The discordance between a cattle-mart and a place for sacred worship and converse need not be drawn out in detail. But this was not all.

And the changers of money sitting—at their tables in the sacred place. The annual tribute which every man of Israel was bound to pay to the temple treasury could be paid only in the half-shekel ‘of the sanctuary’ (see Matthew 17:24-26). All who came from other lands, therefore, or who had not with them the precise coin, must resort to the exchangers, who (as we learn from the Talmud) were permitted to do their business in the temple during the three weeks preceding the passover. Their profits (at a rate of interest amounting to ten or twelve per cent) were very great.


Verse 15

John 2:15. And making a scourge of cords, he drove them all out of the temple-courts, and the sheep and the oxen. The scourge was made for the expulsion of the animals, but by it Jesus also declared His purpose to the traders themselves. The words show distinctly that it is with the men that He is dealing; but He drives them from the sacred place by banishing the instruments and means of their unholy traffic. In a figurative sense Messiah was said to come armed with a scourge. ‘Rabbi Eliezer was asked by his disciples: How should a man live to escape the scourge of the Messiah? He answered: Let him live according to the law and in love towards men.’

And poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables-the counters on which the bankers placed their heaps of change.


Verse 16

John 2:16. And said unto them that sold the doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. We must not suppose that the sellers of doves were more leniently dealt with. The oxen might be driven away, the tables overturned, but the cages of birds must be carried out by their owners: hence it is to these alone that Jesus directly addresses words which were really spoken to all, and which explained his action. Any zealous reformer, who understood the faith of Israel, might have done as much: indeed, the first treatise in the Talmud contains regulations for the due reverence of the temple which utterly condemn such profanations as are related here. But though the action of Jesus might imply no more, His words declare that He vindicates the honour of His Father’s house. Thus He at once honours His Father and declares Himself. He offers Himself to Israel as the Son of God. In this deed, as in all His acts and words (comp. Matthew 13:11-15), there is a mingling of revelation and reserve: the declaration of Sonship is combined with an act which no true Israelite could fail to approve. Those who, yielding to the impulse of right, and listening to the voice of conscience, accepted the act, would be led to ponder the words; in them would be fulfilled the promise, ‘To him that hath shall more be given.’ Those who hardened their heart against the act lost the revelation which was given with it, and were in danger of losing all.—John does not speak of the cleansing of the temple as miraculous, but the Saviour’s words themselves mark it as a ‘sign;’ and it is only by thinking of a divine awe attending the words (comp. chap. John 18:6) that we can explain the immediate submission of the traffickers. The following verses describe the twofold effect of the act of Jesus on the disciples and on ‘the Jews.’


Verse 17

John 2:17. His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house shall eat me up. Clearly (from the contrast with John 2:22) they remembered this scripture at that time. The quotation is from Psalms 69, a psalm which is several times referred to in the New Testament. See Romans 15:3; Romans 11:9-10; Acts 1:20 (perhaps John 15:25); and comp. Psalms 69:21 with the accounts of the crucifixion. We have no record of the interpretation of this psalm by Jewish writers in a Messianic sense, but New Testament usage can leave no doubt that such an application of many verses is both allowable and necessary. What was true of the devout and afflicted Israelite who wrote the words was true in the fullest sense of the Servant of Jehovah, of whom all such faithful servants were imperfect types. The exact meaning of the words here quoted will best appear if we take the whole verse: ‘The zeal of Thine house consumed me: and the reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on me. The parallelism of the lines shows that the chief antithesis lies in the pronouns. Dishonour shown to God has been felt by the psalmist as a cruel wrong to himself.’ Zealous indignation for Thine house, inspired by the sight or news of unworthy treatment of Thine house, consumed me,—so to say, destroyed my very life.’ The quotation is not exact; what in the psalm is past is here future: ‘shall eat me up.’ An examination of other passages will show that, where John uses the words ‘it is written,’ he does not necessarily imply that the quotation is made with literal exactness. Had we the past, ‘consumed,’ we might be led to think of the inward consuming of holy zeal from which resulted this act of indignation; the future, ‘will eat me up,’ brings us nearer to what we have seen to be the meaning of the passage in the psalm. His zeal for His Father’s house will devour His very life-will bring destruction in its train.


Verse 18

John 2:18. The Jews therefore answered. The effect on the disciples has been related; what will be the response of the rulers to the self-revelation of Jesus? The word ‘therefore’ answers to the Evangelist’s knowledge of the fact. Their position of inward antagonism is present to his thought, though it has not yet found expression in their deeds.

And said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us because thou doest these things?—This answer (replying to the act rather than the words) is in the tone of indignation, not of sincere inquiry: ‘Because Thou doest these things Thou art bound to show a sign, a sign that shall justify such actions.’ The effectual cleansing was the ‘sign,’ but as such they would not receive it. Their question is a token of the failure (so far as the nation was concerned) of the manifestation which Jesus had given of Himself as Son of God. Both in the question and in the response of our Lord we have a dear parallel in the earlier Gospels: see Matthew 12:38-40.


Verse 19

John 2:19. Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple. The most important point for the understanding of this verse is the distinction between the two words which the English Bible renders ‘temple.’ The word used in John 2:14-15 denotes generally the whole area within the walls, and here especially the outermost space in the sacred enclosure; while the latter signifies the holy place, and the holy of holies. The sanctity of the temple-court has been vindicated; the true temple, the sanctuary, the dwelling-place of Jehovah; has not been mentioned in the narrative until now. But even this very significant change of expression would not render the meaning plain, for the words were intended to be enigmatical—to be understood after, and not before, the event which fulfilled them. If we would understand them, we must take them in connection with John 2:21, ‘But He spake of the temple of His body.’ To the English reader they seem merely to convey a warning that, if the Jews go on with such profanation as that which Jesus had checked, they will bring the temple to ruin. But it is of the sanctuary that He speaks, not of the temple-court which had sustained the desecration. When therefore He says, ‘Go on in your present way, and by so doing destroy this temple,’ He means that their rejection of Himself shall culminate in their consigning to destruction the temple of His body. The essence of the temple is, that it is the dwelling-place of God: His body is God’s temple, for in Him ‘dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.’ The material temple had been for ages the type of His body, in which God first truly manifested Himself to man. The continuance of the temple was no longer needed when the living temple was reared; but it was by the destruction or the latter that the destruction of the former was brought about,—its destruction, that is, as the dwelling-place of God. In the holiest place, behind the veil, Jehovah had dwelt: when the Lord Jesus was crucified, the veil was rent, the holy of holies was thrown open, and by being thrown open was shown to be God’s habitation no longer. Our Lord therefore might well use words which relate at once to His body and to the temple, such being the connection between the two.

And in three days I will raise it up.—His crucifixion involved the total destruction of the Jewish temple and polity. No longer will there be a special place in which God’s glory will be revealed, to which God’s worshippers will come,-a place in which are national distinctions, a court of the Gentiles, a court of Israel, a court of the priests. His resurrection will establish a new temple, a new order of spiritual worship. He Himself, as raised and glorified Messiah, will be the Cornerstone of a spiritual temple, holy in the Lord. This is one of the many passages in the Gospel which show to us how perfectly all the future of His history was anticipated by our Lord (see chap. John 3:14, etc.). There is no real difficulty in the words, ‘I will raise it up;’ chap. John 10:17-18, furnishes a complete explanation.


Verse 20

John 2:20. The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days? They answer only by another question,—not an inquiry, but really an indignant and scornful rejection of His words. It was at the close of the year 20 B.C. or the beginning of 19 B.C. that Herod the Great began the rebuilding of the temple. The temple itself was completed in eighteen months; the extensive buildings round it required eight years more. So many additions, however, proved necessary before the work could be regarded as finished, that the final completion is assigned by Josephus to the year 50 A.D., seventy years after the commencement of the undertaking, and but twenty years before Jerusalem was destroyed. The ‘forty and six years’ bring us to the year 28 A.D. It is perhaps strange that the Jews should associate the long term of years with the rebuilding of the sanctuary and not the temple as a whole; it is, however, very likely that, at all events, the ornamentation of this building might still be incomplete. Moreover, in their indignant rejoinder to the saying of Jesus, they not unnaturally take up the very term which He had used, even though it applied in strictness only to the most sacred portion of the structure.


Verse 21

John 2:21. See above on John 2:19.


Verse 22

John 2:22. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this. Again (as in John 2:10) we are struck by the suddenness with which the narrative breaks off. It has been related mainly to bring out the rejection of Jesus by the Jews; the Evangelist pauses upon it only for a moment to speak of the effect on the disciples, as after the former miracle he records that the ‘disciples believed in’ Jesus (John 2:11). We do not find the same statement here, but are told (comp. chap. John 12:16) that the words which baffled the Jews were mysterious to the disciples likewise. Whilst, however, the Jews rejected the ‘hard saying,’ the disciples kept all these things and pondered them in their ‘heart,’ not understanding them until the prophecy was fulfilled. This record of words not understood at the time, even by the inner circle of the followers of Jesus, is a striking indication of the simple truthfulness of the narration (comp. John 2:11).

And they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.—The recollection of the words after the resurrection led the disciples (we cannot doubt that John is speaking chiefly of his own experience) to a fuller and richer faith in ‘the scripture’ and ‘the word ‘of Jesus. The ‘word’ must be that of John 2:19; but it is not so easy to explain ‘the scripture.’ It cannot mean the Old Testament as a whole, for in this sense John always uses the plural, ‘the Scriptures.’ It would be easier to suppose that the Evangelist has in mind some passages of the Old Testament predictive of the resurrection from Psalms 16; Isaiah 53; Hosea 6), or the rebuilding of the true temple (Zechariah 6:12-15). however, we include several passages, the difficulty in the use of the singular remains as before; and if we seek for a single prediction, we cannot meet with any one that agrees so closely with our Lord’s saying as to be thus definitely pointed out as ‘the scripture.’ We seem bound to refer the word to the only ‘scripture’ that (John 2:17) has been quoted in the context, Psalms 69:9. This verse, speaking of the consuming and of its cause, formed the groundwork of the first part of our Lord’s saying (‘Destroy this temple’). Hence this passage of the psalm and ‘the word which Jesus had said’ form one whole, and as such are mentioned here. The disciples, guided to deeper faith by that which was at the time wholly mysterious (and which was a ‘stone of stumbling’ to those who believed not), recognised the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and of the prediction of Jesus Himself in the death and resurrection of their Lord. Thus in the first scene of His public ministry, we have Jesus before us in the light in which the whole Gospel is to present Him, at once the crucified and the risen Lord.

The whole narrative has been subjected to keen scrutiny both by friends and foes, but its importance has hardly yet been properly acknowledged. A few words must still be said as to its relation to the other Gospels, and as to its place in this.

Each of the earlier Gospels records a cleansing of the temple, accomplished, however, not at the outset but at the close of our Lord’s public ministry, on the Monday (probably) preceding the crucifixion. To some it has seemed altogether improbable that there should have been two acts of precisely similar character at the extreme points of the official life of our Lord. But is the character of the two the same? We would not lay too much stress on some of the differences of detail, for apparent divergences sometimes present themselves in connection with narratives which no one would be inclined to explain as relating to different events. There are, however, not a few touches in the account before us which show the hand of an eyewitness;—such as the making of the scourge of cords, the scattering of the money of exchange, the words addressed to the sellers of doves alone, the form of the rebuke, the conversation with the Jews, the incidental notice of the forty-six years (a statement which only elaborate calculation shows to be in harmony with independent statements of another Evangelist). Finally, there is the remarkable perversion before Caiaphas of the words regarding the rebuilding of the temple, on which nothing contained in the earlier Gospels throws any light, and which (especially as given in Mark 14:58) bears all the marks of having been exaggerated in the popular mind through lapse of time. Such considerations as these seem to show that, if the cleansing can have occurred once only, its place in the history is that assigned by John. But is it really at all improbable that two cleansings should have taken place, separated by such an interval of time as the Gospel narrative presupposes? No one will think that the action of our Lord, as here related, would put an end to the traffic, when this very narrative brings before us an official challenge of His authority so to act. At the last Passover Jesus would find the temple-court as much the scene of worldly trading as it was at the first. Did He then, it will be asked, condone the evil when in intervening years He went up to the same feast? This question must be met by another: Have we reason to believe that Jesus attended any other Passover than these two? The feast of chap. John 5:1 was in all probability not a Passover, and at the Passover mentioned in John 6:4. He certainly was not present. If then he attended two Passovers only, is it at all improbable that on the second occasion, as on the first, He would vindicate the purity and sanctity of the temple?

The purpose, too, of the two cleansings is different. At the close of His ministry He is hailed as King of Israel, and He indignantly expels from God’s house those who practically denied to Gentiles any share in that place of prayer. Now He acts as the Son of God, offering Himself in this character to rulers and to people, that they may acknowledge His Sonship and obey His word. ‘He came unto His own home,’ His home as Son, ‘and they that were His own received Him not.’ This is the turning-point of His ministry: henceforth He is the rejected of the Jews. This is the significance of the narrative before us. The cleansing and the mysterious words spoken by Jesus (John 2:19) are alike ‘signs.’ The first was a sign of His Sonship, a sign which they refused to accept. That refused, He gives the second; just as, when the Pharisees asked of Him a sign from heaven, He refused to give any save the sign of the prophet Jonah. If they will not listen to the former, the latter alone remains. He would have renewed the life of the temple, but they would not have it so. Let them, then, go on in their ways, and destroy the temple; let them go on in their rejection of Him, and destroy His life. The result will be the raising of a spiritual temple which shall be none of theirs—a temple in which God Himself shall dwell, manifested to all men in the Son.


Verse 23

John 2:23. Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, at the feast, many believed in his name, beholding his signs which he did. In this verse we pass from the public presentation of Jesus to the people and ‘the Jews’ in the house of His Father to His more private ministry in Jerusalem: rejected as the Son of God, He continues His work as a Prophet, doing many ‘signs,’ and by these leading many to faith in His mission. The time spoken of is still the season of the Passover. The remarkable repetition, ‘at the Passover, at the feast,’ may probably be intended to direct our thoughts especially to the very night of the paschal supper. If so, the purification of the temple may have fallen at the very time when every Israelite sought to purify himself and his house for the great festival that was now approaching. The words would also point to our Lord’s observing the feast Himself. It is noticeable that we do not here read ‘the Passover of the Jews:’ the desecration of the festival has been condemned in one of its manifestations, but the festival itself is honoured. John gives us no particulars of the ‘signs’ which Jesus did; comp. chaps, John 21:25, John 6:4, and several passages in the earlier Gospels (e.g. Mark 1:34; Mark 6:55-56). The signs attested His words, which were the description of His ‘name’ (see chap. John 1:12), and, beholding the signs, many became believers in His name, accepting Him as being in truth what He declared Himself to be. The faith was real but not mature; its imperfection is illustrated in the next verse.


Verse 23

It is of much importance to keep the closing verses of chap. 2 in close connection with the opening verses of chap. 3 (see the commentary on John 3:1). Rejected by the theocracy of Israel Jesus turns to individuals, but these are not confined to Israel. The woman of Samaria and the king’s officer of Galilee are beyond the theocratic pale. Nicodemus, however, who is first introduced to us, does belong to the chosen people; and the conversation of Jesus with him, as it leads him from an imperfect to a perfect faith, illustrates the power which Jesus, though rejected by Israel and doomed to die, shall exercise over the hearts of men. The subordinate parts of this section are—(1) John 2:23-25; (2) John 3:1-15; (3) John 3:16-21.


Verse 24-25

John 2:24-25. But Jesus did not trust himself unto them on account of his discerning all men, and because he needed not that any should bear witness concerning a man; for he himself discerned what was in the man. The effect produced upon Jesus Himself by this imperfection of faith is described in very remarkable language. Many ‘believed in His name,’ and so took the first step towards that surrender of the heart to Him which in John 2:11 we read of as made by His disciples. Had they thus fully trusted themselves to Him, then would He have trusted Himself to them. This is one of the illustrations of the teaching, so characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, with regard to the union and communion of Jesus with His people; if they abide in Him, He abides in them. That these believers have not reached such maturity of faith Jesus Himself discerns. No witness from another is needed by Him, for the thoughts of every man with whom He speaks are ‘naked and opened’ unto Him. The words of John do not in their literal sense go beyond this; but, in declaring that Jesus read the heart of all who came to Him, they imply that other truth with which the rendering in our Bibles has made us familiar: ‘He knew what was in man.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 2:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-2.html. 1879-90.

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