"NEW WINE'' OF PENTECOST
by Doug Ward
The Gospel of John provides numerous illustrations of the
ways in which the annual festival seasons of
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
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
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
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
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. -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 ) 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; ; ; 13:1) that the ``hour'' Jesus refers to is the time of his betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection and glorification. As John 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 , 23; ). Later, His disciples would receive the gift of the
Holy Spirit after faithfully heeding His directive to wait in
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 ). 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 ).
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
1. Raymond E. Brown, The Anchor Bible, The Gospel
According to John (i - xii),
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
6. W. Hall Harris III, The
Descent of Christ: Ephesians 4:7-11 and Traditional Hebrew Imagery, E.J. Brill,
File translated from