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by Doug Ward

The Gospel of John provides numerous illustrations of the ways in which the annual festival seasons of Israel picture important aspects of the mission and attributes of Jesus Christ. For instance, Jesus' Passover miracles and teaching recorded in John 6 reveal Him as the Bread of Life, and His words during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-39; 8:12) proclaim Him to be the source of the living waters of the Holy Spirit and the Light of the World (see Grace and Knowledge, Issues 5 and 7).

In this article, I will discuss yet another example of festival symbolism from the Gospel of John-the Pentecost imagery included in John's description of the wedding miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11). Here the symbolism is less obvious than that of John 6 or John 7, but it has been convincingly described by scholars (e.g., [3, 5]). We will see that in John 2, Jesus is portrayed as the bringer of the new wine of a renewed covenant.

The Background: Pentecost and the Covenant

To understand the connection between Pentecost and John 2:1-11, it is helpful to remember that by Jesus' time, Pentecost had become much more than a festival of the spring harvest. It was also a celebration of God's covenant relationship with Israel and His gracious gift of Torah [3-6]. This is plainly evident in the Book of Jubilees, which was written in the second century B.C. In Jubilees, God's covenants with Noah and Abraham are said to have been made on Pentecost (6:1-17; 15:20), and Pentecost commemorates the covenants. According to Jubilees 6:17, ``...it is ordained and written in the heavenly tablets that they should celebrate the feast of weeks in this month once a year to renew the covenant each year.'' The Qumran community, which followed the calendar of the Book of Jubilees, was one group that formally renewed its covenant commitment to God during the Pentecost season [5, p. 132].

Also relevant to possible symbolic meanings of the wedding feast at Cana is the fact that the Sinai covenant is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent Jewish tradition as a marriage covenant (see Grace and Knowledge, Issue 3, pp. 28-29 as well as [2, Chapter 6]). In Jewish tradition, a marriage covenant begins with a written contract called a ketubah, and a wedding ceremony is conducted under a canopy (chupah in Hebrew). In the case of Israel's marriage covenant, the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written can be viewed as the ketubah, while Mt. Sinai was the chupah.

We have seen elsewhere in this issue (pp. 9-12) that it is very instructive to view the Pentecost miracle of Acts 2 in the context of the events at Sinai described in Exodus 19-20. Similarly, one can profitably study the Cana miracle of John 2 in light of both Exodus 19-20 and Acts 1-2. Keeping in mind these two sections of scripture, let us now turn to the second chapter of John's gospel.

The Pentecost Symbols of John 2

The setting of Jesus' miracle is given in John 2:1:

``And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:''

Commentators differ in their explanations of the chronology of John 1-2 [1, p.97]. The ``third day'' of John 2:1 was probably the third day after the calling of Philip and Nathanael in John 1:43-51, since some time would have been required for Jesus to travel from the Jordan valley to Cana; alternatively, it could have been the third day after John the Baptist's testimony of John 1:29-34, with the first two days mentioned in verses 35 and 43, respectively. In any case, this time reference may have additional symbolic significance. Recall that before God's appearance at Sinai, the Israelites were instructed to go through a period of sanctification in preparation for that momentous event (Ex. 19:10-15), which occurred on ``the third day'' (vv. 11, 16). These days just before God's fiery descent to the mountain (called the ``days of bounding'' in Jewish tradition [5]) comprise yet another part of the wedding imagery of Exodus 19, since a wedding itself was preceded by a time of purification and preparation. Interestingly, the water which Jesus turned into wine was contained in pots used for the sort of ritual washings that were part of prenuptial purification (John 2:6).

A further connection between John 2:1 and the days leading up to Pentecost is suggested by the way in which John refers to Mary in this verse. Grassi [5, p. 133] observes that the precise phrase ``the mother of Jesus'' appears in only one other place in the New Testament besides John 2:1, 3: Acts 1:14, where Mary and the other disciples are involved in their own time of sanctification as they await the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. Those who were praying together in Acts 1:13-15 included Jesus' disciples, His mother, and His brothers, the same people mentioned in John 2:12.

In designating Mary as ``the mother of Jesus'' in John 2, John seems to be emphasizing her symbolic role in this passage. A vision recorded elsewhere by John (Rev. 12:1-6) makes a connection between the mother of Messiah and the people of God [1, pp. 107-109], and it is interesting to think about Mary as a personification and representative of the Church as we move on to John 2:3:

``And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.''

In Acts 1, the disciples pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is likened to new wine in Acts 2:13. In John 2:3, Mary tells Jesus that the wine for the wedding party has run out, implicitly requesting that He provide more wine. Mary's statement can be viewed symbolically as the Church's supplication for the new wine of God's Spirit.

Jesus answers in John 2:4 that the wine shortage is not a matter of immediate concern for Him, since ``mine hour is not yet come.'' It is clear from other verses in John's gospel (7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1) that the ``hour'' Jesus refers to is the time of his betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection and glorification. As John 7:39 states, a major granting of the Spirit would not come until after these events had occurred. The timing of this ``hour'' was in His Father's hands; in the meantime, He had much to accomplish, and not even the concerns of His immediate family could take precedence over the completion of His assigned commission.

Still, Mary is sure that Jesus will in some way respond to her request, and she tells the servants, ``Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it'' (John 2:5). Verses 7-8 emphasize that the servants are careful to carry out Jesus' instructions precisely. These verses are reminiscent of the scene at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:3-8, where Moses conveys the offer of God's covenant to the Israelites and the people answer, ``All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.'' (See also Ex. 24:3,7.) In the case of the New Covenant, it is Jesus whom the people of God now must follow closely and obey (John 14:21, 23; 15:14). Later, His disciples would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after faithfully heeding His directive to wait in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4).

The six stone waterpots (John 2:6) whose contents were changed to wine held a great deal of liquid-probably about fifteen to twenty-five gallons each [1, p. 100]. John 2:7 specifies that the servants ``filled them up to the brim.'' This large quantity of wine symbolizes a great outpouring of God's Spirit. Water was carefully measured into the waterpots, but Jesus brought the Spirit ``without measure'' (see John 3:34). The Pentecost account of Acts 2 stresses that the disciples were filled with the Spirit (verses 4, 13).

John 2:9 mentions that the ruler of the feast ``knew not whence it [i.e., the wine] was.'' Indeed, that is the way it is with the Holy Spirit, as Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:8. In Acts 2, the Spirit comes suddenly, heralded by ``a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind'' (v. 2) No one knows from whence the sound and its visible effects have come, and the multitude gathered in the temple area is amazed by what is happening (vv. 6-12).

The ruler of the Feast goes on to remark to the bridegroom,

``Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now'' (John 2:10).

It is also true in God's plan of salvation that He has ``saved the best for last.'' In Joel 2:28-32, a universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit is promised for the last days, and the disciples gathered at the temple in Acts 2 experience part of the fulfillment of that promise (Acts 2:17-21).

Nearly fifteen hundred years before, God had appeared in glory at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24:16-17). Jesus' miracle at Cana was a preliminary manifestation of His glory, leading His disciples to believe on Him (John 2:11). The disciples could sense that they were seeing the beginning of the Messianic age, which was to be characterized by an abundance of wine (Amos 9:13-14; Jer. 31:12). Today, as we await a future wedding feast with our Messiah, we can rejoice as they did in the great blessings that He continually pours out for us, during the Pentecost season and throughout the year.


1. Raymond E. Brown, The Anchor Bible, The Gospel According to John (i - xii), Doubleday, New York, 1966.

2. Eddie Chumney, The Seven Festivals of Messiah, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994.

3. Charles V. Dorothy, ``The New Wine of Pentecost,'' sermon tape available from the Association for Christian Development, 2303 W. Commodore Way, Suite 206, Seattle, WA 98199-1261.

4. John D. Garr, ``Fire on the Mountain," Restore!, Spring 1999, pp. 6-9.

5. Joseph A. Grassi, ``The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11): A Pentecostal Meditation?'', Novum Testamentum 14 (1972), 131-136.

6. W. Hall Harris III, The Descent of Christ: Ephesians 4:7-11 and Traditional Hebrew Imagery, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1996.



Issue 8




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