Jesus has now moved from Galilee (in the north) to Jerusalem (in the south) as the Jewish Passover feast was near (2:13). This is Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem in this Gospel. Again John the author is highlighting belief (2:22), something that, as we have seen, is commonplace to the purposes of John’s Gospel.
As Jesus is in Jerusalem he goes to the Temple and finds people selling oxen, sheep, and doves and people exchanging money (v. 14). Jesus, dismayed at this, creates a whip and drives them all out, overturning tables and forcing out the animals (v. 15). His explanatory statement for his doing this is found in v. 16, “Don’t make my father’s house into a market!” The disciples present are said to remember that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me,” a quotation from Psalm 69:9.
Understandably the Jews present want to know by what authority Jesus can clear out the Temple. They ask, “What sign will you show us for your doing this?” (v. 18).
Jesus’ response is, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). Since this is said in the presence of the physical Temple it is understandable that the Jews listening would have understood him to be making a statement about that very Temple. Their response shows this and takes the cryptic nature of Jesus’ command to be about that Temple: “This Temple has taken 46 years to build, and you’re going to raise it up in 3 days?” (v. 20).
But, John tell us that he wasn’t speaking of the physical Temple in their presence, rather he was speaking about his own body (v. 21). No one properly understood it when he uttered it though. It wasn’t until after he was raised from the dead that the disciples remembered what he said “and believed the Scripture and the words which Jesus spoke” (v. 22). So in what sense is Jesus the Temple and what did it mean for the physical Temple standing in their presence at that time?
To fill in what Jesus was meaning by calling himself the Temple that would need to be destroyed and raised, it would be helpful to consider the purpose of the Temple, in very broad strokes, throughout the Old Testament period.
The Temple-proper begins with Solomon. His father, David, had in mind to build a ‘house’ for God but God advised David that his son would build it instead (2 Samuel 7). Solomon does indeed build this ‘house’ for God, what is known as the First Temple.
This so-called First Temple or Solomonic Temple didn’t come out of nowhere in Israel’s history. It was the first permanent structure but prior to this Moses was given instructions to build a Tabernacle that would move with the people in their desert wanderings. It was to be the dwelling place of God with his people. One may even move further back than this to the Garden of Eden but we’ll save that for another time (see e.g., G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission). In fact, I won’t trace it out now, but consider reading Revelation 4-5 and 20-22 for a picture of where this all eventually leads.
Back to Solomon’s Temple; it would not last. When Babylon invaded Judah in 587 B.C. the Temple was destroyed. It was subsequently rebuilt as the exiles returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C. It was completed in 515 and known as the Temple of Zerubbabel (Wise, “Temple,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 811). This Temple would not stand in toto through its history and would need rebuilding, resulting in Herod’s building project starting in 20/19 B.C. (idem.). Herod’s ambitions were grand and while most of the Temple was built by the time of Jesus, internal adornments and continual work was being done. It so happens that 46 years had passed at the time relayed by our text in John 2. This period has come to be known as the Second Temple period (though the terminology is not completely accurate as the Temple at the time of Jesus was sort of a 4th Temple).
About this Temple, Ezekiel speaks of God’s glory leaving it (Ezek. 43:1-12), indicating that it was seen as a place where God’s glory dwelt and at a time to come (from Ezekiel’s day) would lack God’s presence. Many Jews believed in Jesus’ day that God’s presence indeed was not there as it had been in former days. But the Ezekiel text forecasts a day when God would dwell in his peoples’s midst forever.
Then Jesus shows up on the scene and declares in the Temple’s presence, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John later understands Jesus to be talking about his body declaring Jesus to be the new Temple that the Lord had envisioned. Jesus is the new meeting place with God. Jesus is the very presence of God, the one who became flesh and tabernacled (recall our study in 1:14) among us.
In making this pronouncement and then dying and rising, Jesus also made the physical Temple obsolete. And indeed the Temple would be destroyed in 70 A.D. in the Jewish-Roman war. It was no longer the meeting place with God. The new meeting place with God would be Jesus. Know Jesus and you know God.
This is the sign Jesus offers those who questioned his authority. The sign of his death and resurrection. His authority to cleanse the Temple would be the cross and the empty tomb.
The issue of glory has already surfaced in this Gospel. In the Prologue, John says that “we have seen [the Word’s] glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14, TNIV). We have seen that the Word would make known or reveal the Father to us (1:18). And now in this passage Jesus’ glory is said to be revealed to us (2:11).
This first sign is said to have revealed Jesus’ glory so it is fitting that John would include it in his narrative and that it would result in his disciples putting their faith in him, or believing in him (2:11). As previously seen, John’s purpose (as expressed in 20:30-31) is to show forth Jesus so that his readers would believe in him. This first sign is included for this very reason and it is the first time we see that his disciples ‘believe in him’ in that language (though belief is evidenced in Ch. 1 by the new disciples).
So, what is the sign? Jesus and his disciples find themselves invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother is also there. A problem arises, however; a big no-no in the ancient world (in ours too perhaps): they have run out of wine. The shame on the groom (the one responsible) would be enormous.
The mother of Jesus says to him, “They have no more wine” (v. 3). What appears to be a simple statement is understood by Jesus to be some sort of call for him to do something, as evidenced by his response, “Woman, why do you involve me?… My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). His mother next involves the servants at the wedding by saying to them, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Mary (who actually isn’t named as such) takes the mild rebuke in stride (or a rebuff as Keener calls it) by evidencing trust in what Jesus could do to remedy the situation. It is perhaps possible that Mary has approached Jesus in her first statement about the wine ‘on an inside track’ as his mother, but Jesus refuses to be approached by anyone on an inside track.
Jesus’ comment about his ‘hour’ is interesting. Jesus pushes back on getting involved since his ‘hour has not yet come.’ Throughout this Gospel Jesus speaks about his ‘hour,’ almost entirely in reference to the cross. It seems that Jesus would be hastening on the hour by getting himself involved in a way that would reveal his glory. He nonetheless does respond to his mother’s request and performs this sign. His hour is coming.
After a narrative comment about the stone water jars present, Jesus is quoted again telling the servants what to do. He takes the reigns, telling the servants to fill those jars to the brim with water and then draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet (vv. 7-8). The servants listen to Mary and thereby listen to Jesus and do just as he tells them. The master tastes it and is amazed at the quality of the wine, better than the first, though it was expected that the worse wine would be served after people had already had a little too much of the good stuff. This essentially is the story of the sign.
The narrative comment in v. 6 that I passed over may be significant. The water jars that Jesus uses for the wine are said to be the ones used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. In altering the purpose of these jars Jesus may be setting aside the purificatory rites and setting the shame of the groom needing rectification over against purificatory rites. Indeed there may be connections to the Temple narrative which follows this that I’ll explore later.
The long and short of it is that the road toward Jesus’ hour of the cross has begun and his glory is being revealed resulting in those around him believing in him.
As I study to get back into the John series (John 2:1-11 coming up shortly), I am learning for myself that I don’t need to read every commentary on a text. There is a place for that if one is working on a scholarly paper but for the purposes of preparing the type of text studies I’m working on for this blog and for others preparing Bible studies and preaching, too many commentaries just seem to be a drag. I’m starting to learn which commentaries I’m most helped by in general and specifically on the Gospel of John. The best first step is always the original text. The last good step is a few helpful commentaries. But having too many of the wrong sort just slow things down unnecessarily.
Perhaps toward the end of the John series on this blog I’ll review the commentaries I’ve worked with and provide a judgment of my opinion of their usefulness.
In this passage John, the writer, tells of Jesus gaining his first disciples. The first two, Andrew and John (?!), begin to follow Jesus upon the hearing John the Baptist say again, “Look, the Lamb of God!” These two disciples were actually disciples of John but due to the faithfulness of John’s bearing witness to someone greater than himself, the disciples became followers of Jesus. It is clear that the Baptist had no ego and pride to surrender. In fact, later he will say, “He must become greater, I must become less” (3:30). The Baptist remained faithful to his mission; the Messiah was pointed out.
At this point the Author relays to us how Simon Peter is brought into the mix. His brother Andrew had already started to follow Jesus but the first thing he did (v. 41) was to go and find Simon and he said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 42) Philip then does the same thing Andrew did with his brother. Philip found Nathanael and told him: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the Prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v. 44).
I am always amazed at these statements, although as I grow in my understanding of the Bible, they are making more and more sense. Andrew’s statement, that they had found the Messiah, highlights that they had found the one the Scriptures (the Old Testament) had been promising. God’s Anointed was now here, and he was found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God’s promises were coming to fulfillment!
Philip’s statement is similarly amazing but it claims more specifically that Jesus of Nazareth is the very one that was written about by Moses and whom the Prophets also wrote about. That suggests to me that if we go back through the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible, the “Law” or “Instruction”) and through the Prophets we will see patterns that lead us to this Jesus of Nazareth.
The passage ends with an encounter between Jesus and Nathanael. Nathanael comes to Jesus and Jesus gives information to Nathanael about himself from before they had even met, showing that Jesus had supernatural knowledge of him (vv. 47-48). When Nathanael hears this he explodes with what can only be considered worship: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” (v. 49).
Jesus calmly responds: “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vv. 50-51).
This whole passage is wonderfully littered with claims about who Jesus is. He is addressed as Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel, Messiah and called the one about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote. He addresses himself as the Son of Man. He accepts all these titles, indicating (as will become evermore clear throughout the Gospel) his identity with the Father, one with God. The disciples don’t yet have a full understanding of what these titles mean, but they’re on the right track and speak better than they know. What we know so far is that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is about to bring to fruition all that has gone on in redemptive history in incredible ways. We will see heaven opened. We will see Jesus’ glory. We will see the glory of God.
*all Scripture from the NIV
Whereas John the Baptist would provide testimony of Jesus in his absence, he also provides it in his presence. The day after the interaction with the Jewish leaders (vv. 19, 29), John sees Jesus and announces, “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
A popular level book I read this week was quick to heap all sorts of heavy meaning into this clause, placing all our current understanding of the cross as expiatory sacrifice back into it. The result was talking about the Jewish sacrificial system and Jesus’ bloody sacrifice for our sins as the fullest understanding of “Lamb of God” in verse 29. But what did John the Baptist understand when he uttered these words? Was it a full blown understanding of Jesus coming to be a sacrificial lamb taking away the sin of the world?
In the first place, when John the Baptist said this it was pre-cross. That is, the death of Jesus on the cross had not yet occurred. And prior to the cross there is ample evidence showing that those around Jesus hadn’t understood and grasped that Jesus needed to be a suffering Messiah, a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Elsewhere Peter rebukes Jesus upon the prediction that he would be put to death (Matt. 16:22-23). In John’s Gospel, where we find ourselves, the disciples are slow to get the exact status and mission of Jesus, as in chapter 2 when he says, “Destroy this Temple and in 3 days I will raise it again.” The author tells us that it was not until after Jesus had died and raised again that they understood this had to happen from Scripture (2:22). John the Baptist, in Matthew’s Gospel, sends delegates to Jesus while in prison to ask if Jesus is the Messiah or if he should expect someone else (Matt. 11:2-3).
Having said that, I also think that the author, John, and his readers would have had a fuller understanding of what it meant that Jesus was the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. Knowing the end story (either by reading to the end of the Gospel or by knowing what historically happened) will inevitably and rightly colour a fuller understanding of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How did Jesus take on the sin of the world? Through his death on the cross; by being a sacrifice.
So, what then did John the Baptist mean by “Lamb of God”? Many suggestions have been offered and to be honest, I’m not quite if I’ve got this right and the delay in posting this study has been partly due to my uncertainty. While not the most pressing concern in the book, I also think it is worth thinking about since it would give us a picture of how “lamb” language was used prior to the cross of Christ in the early 1st century Jewish culture. But, I am going to admit my uncertainty on this point and move forward, maybe revisiting it later on. Given the Isaianic influence on the book, the servant of Isaiah 53:7 seems a possible allusion, and we can’t rule out undertones of the Paschal lamb being thought of as a sacrifice in this time period. Craig Keener argues such a point (John, 454). Others argue for an understanding of the Lamb in an apocalyptic sense (cf. e.g., Carson, John, 150).
What else can be profitably said to sum this section up?
John the Baptist, in vv. 29-34, is bearing further witness to who Jesus is with Jesus present. He is pointing out Jesus as the one that he said would come after him but is greater than him. He is bearing witness to Jesus being God’s Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. This is a significant claim in light of the (correct) assumption that only God could remove sin.
He further testifies (vv. 32-34) that he “saw the Spirit come down from heaven” on him and remain and this one would be the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This one is God’s Son.* Jesus’ baptism is not recorded in the Fourth Gospel but has already happened by this point. At the baptism John saw the Spirit come down and remain on him and this is what convinced John that Jesus was the one he was looking for. Jesus was the one who would bring the Spirit to God’s people. With this, the narrative will rightly turn back to a focus on Jesus as the Baptist points him out for such focus.
*There is a textual variant here that I may deal with in a separate post.
Verse 19 of chapter 1 is where the narrative proper begins in John’s Gospel. The first 18 verses function as a Prologue, introducing people and themes that will be addressed and expounded upon throughout the rest of the Gospel. And here in verse 19 is where John the Baptist’s testimony is picked up on and explained. In this short section (vv. 19-28) John provides his testimony to the Jewish leaders.
In verse 6 John the writer introduced us to John the Baptist as a man sent from God. His purpose was to be a witness, testifying to Jesus with the purpose that people would believe Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (v. 7). The content of John’s testimony was not given there. It was hinted at in verse 15 but now in verse 19 it will be given in more detail.
“And this is his testimony.” Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to John out in the wilderness on the other side of the Jordan in Bethany (vv. 19, 30). They wanted to know who this John was that was proclaiming a baptism of repentance. And so John’s testimony is initially given in the context of being questioned.
He is evidently asked if he is the Messiah, the Christ. But he responds that he is not.
If he is not the Messiah, then perhaps he is Elijah. He says he is not.
If he is not Elijah, then perhaps he is the promised prophet. He says he is not.
These three figures, the Messiah, Elijah, and the Prophet are all end time figures that in some way or other were expected by first century Jews. Some were looking for a Davidic Messiah, some a priestly one; some were looking for Elijah from Malachi 4:5 or the Prophet like Moses from Deut. 18:15-18 (Carson, The Gospel According to John, 142-43). But with three denials and no positive statement about his ministry the Jewish leaders are understandably not satisfied. They need a response to bring back with them to those who sent them (v. 22). So, they flat out ask, “What do you say about yourself?”
John responds in the words of Isaiah the prophet: “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord” (v. 23). In the Isaiah text the ground is being levelled to make a way for the return of the exiles and the coming of the Lord and now John picks up this text to apply to his work of announcing the coming of the Messiah in Jesus.
This still leaves open in their mind why he baptizes if he is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet. What authority does he have to do this? The Pharisees among the group ask him this question and he responds by saying, “I baptize in water. Among you stands one you don’t know. He comes after me and I am not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals.” This water baptism is a pointer to the one who comes after and is greater. Even untying his sandals, the job of a slave, is too much honour for John, he believes.
John’s testimony can be summed up as it was in the Prologue with inclusion from this section: to bear witness to the Light by being the voice in the desert.
Having addressed Exodus 32-34, we can now look at John 1:14-18, assess the text, and also consider some possible allusions to the Exodus passage.
The text begins by bringing the Word (logos) back into focus as the subject and it tells that he became flesh. The one who was spoken of in verse 1 as being with God and God himself is now said to have taken on flesh, entering into the earthly sphere as a human being.
He made his dwelling among us or tabernacled among us. The Word became a human being and lived among us. Recall how Moses was seeking God to be among his people in light of God’s saying he would not lest he destroy them for their wickedness. Moses pleaded, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:15-16) And God grants that his presence will go with them. But now, in the 1st century A.D., John announces an even greater presence, the Word who is with God and himself God, has condescended to become human and live among his people.
John the writer goes on to say that “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Exodus allusions continue. Moses asks to see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18) and God tells him he will cause all his goodness to pass before him and will proclaim his name to him, but Moses is not allowed to see God’s face since no one can see the face of God and live (Ex. 33:19-20). But now John the writer tells us that we have seen God’s glory and it is through seeing his one and only Son. We see God’s glory by seeing Jesus, who is full of grace and truth. And this expression, “full of grace and truth” echoes Exodus as well. When God does proclaim his name before Moses, he says, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” (Ex. 34:6). The Hebrew expression is hesed v’emet which is captured nicely by John’s use of kharis kai alethia in Greek (see Carson, The Gospel According to John, 129-130, for full argumentation, I won’t recount it here). Jesus reveals God’s glory being full of grace and truth, part of the very nature of God.
Verse 15 breaks up verses 14 and 16 providing us with some of John the Baptist’s testimony: “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” Despite John seemingly being prior to Jesus and therefore possibly of more importance, John states that Jesus is before him and is of greater importance.
Verse 16 then picks up from verse 14 stating that out of the Word’s fullness “we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” This phrase, “grace in place of grace…” has been variously translated with widely different understandings as a consequence. The TNIV rendering I just quoted, I believe, sticks to the meaning of the text very well. The preposition between the two uses of “grace” is best understood as “substitutionary” and so “in place of” is an excellent rendering of the preposition (see Porter, Idioms, 145). We have received grace in place of grace. But what grace was replaced? The text tells us in verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This means that the giving of the law was God’s grace upon the people but it has now been supplanted by a new grace: that of Jesus Christ.
Finally, John uses further Exodus language referring to God’s never being seen, making explicit in the negative what was stated above in the positive in verse 14 about God’s glory. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Even though no one has seen God, Jesus who is himself God has now made him known. It doesn’t say that we have now seen the Father (and this will be elaborated upon in later chapters by John) but we now know God through Jesus.
Do you want to see God? Do you want to see his glory manifest? Look to Jesus.
As we move through the narrative proper of John’s Gospel the themes we have seen in this Prologue will be expounded and expanded. Look to see Jesus and the glory of God as we proceed through the book.
(* Because of my semi-remote location in writing this it was easier to use the TNIV than my usual personal translations so the above quotations are all TNIV)