The Gospel of John, Jesus' first sign, part 3
Oct 09, 2019
The miracle at the wedding in Cana is generally considered to be Jesus’ first miracle. He was obviously reluctant to perform that miracle, telling His mother, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). What hour? Had He not already been baptized by John? Had He not already spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil? Had He not “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit?” (Luke 4:14). Why, then, had His hour not yet come?
John’s One-Year Ministry
The answer lies in the fact that John the Baptist was yet ministering as the forerunner. Jesus did not want His miracles to distract from John’s baptism of repentance. He knew that repentance was an important foundation, without which the people’s hearts would not be prepared to hear His own teachings. Carnal minds tend to be overly impressed by miracles and seek them instead of the word of God itself.
Secondly, in the eyes of God, John was the legitimate high priest in Judah, although the position was being held by Caiaphas, who had been appointed by the secular authorities. In order for Jesus to succeed John as high priest, John had to die. John was the last high priest of the old Aaronic order. Jesus was the first to hold office from the new Melchizedek Order.
There were many in the past who were of the Melchizedek Order, including David himself (Psalm 110:4). Yet David’s priesthood was still subordinate to the Aaronic priesthood until its time would expire. The Aaronic priesthood had to prove itself unworthy before it could be replaced by the greater order of Melchizedek. That did not happen until those of the Aaronic priesthood rejected the Messiah and condemned Him to death.
John was said to be “Elijah,” the prophet that the people expected to come at Passover of some year. For this reason, they customarily reserved a chair at the table for Elijah while keeping the Passover feast. John was born about six months before Jesus. Jesus was born on the feast of Trumpets, so John was born near the time of Passover. Hence also, John turned 30 at Passover and then began to minister. Six months later, Jesus turned 30 and was baptized on the Day of Atonement.
The wedding feast of Cana probably took place around December of 29 A.D., about three months after Jesus was baptized. John was arrested in January or February of 30 A.D., and he was executed in April (Passover, 30 A.D.) after ministering just one year.
After John's arrest, Jesus began to minister more openly. John’s arrest incapacitated him, making it lawfully possible for Jesus to replace him. Even so, it was not until John was actually beheaded a few months later at the time of Passover (30 A.D.) that Jesus could fully replace him as the high priest that was called by God.
Ironically, John’s execution took place on the occasion of Herod’s birthday (Matthew 14:6)—and John’s birthday as well!
The point is that Jesus did not want to infringe upon John’s ministry. Hence, He said at the wedding, “My hour has not yet come.”
Jesus Moves to Capernaum
The apostle leaves out many historical details, because his gospel was not designed to give another account of Jesus’ life and ministry. His gospel is different and supplemental, focusing on the manner in which Jesus manifested the glory of God through eight specific miracles. Even these miracles were not placed in the order in which they occurred.
John 2:12 says,
12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers, and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.
After the miracle at the wedding, the people of Nazareth heard that their hometown son (Jesus) was making a name for Himself, so they invited Him to return and teach at the synagogue. There Jesus offended the narrow nationalists, and they would have thrown Him off the cliff, if God had not protected Him. At that point, Jesus left Nazareth, saying in Mark 6:4, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown.”
Jesus essentially moved His ministry headquarters to Capernaum, where the synagogue was friendly and the people were much more receptive to His teaching. It appears as well that Jesus’ “mother and His brothers” all moved permanently to Capernaum, making it “His own city” (Matthew 9:1). No doubt it was the last time they saw Nazareth, leaving them to their bigotry and hardness of heart.
John 2:13 says,
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
This statement turns the page and introduces us to the events of this particular Passover feast, which Jesus attended. If this were, indeed, the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry, then it was also the one in which John the Baptist was executed. We do not know for sure, since the apostle arranged his gospel according to the events manifesting His glory, rather than following a strict chronological record.
Perhaps, when Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Bible into chapters and verses in the 13th century, he ought to have begun a new chapter here in John 2:13. At any rate, this begins the story of the cleansing of the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple twice, once at the start of His ministry and again the weekend before He was crucified (Matthew 21:12).
Corruption in the Temple
John 2:14, 15 says,
14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers [kermatistes] seated. 15 And He made a scourge of cords and drove them all out of the temple with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables.
Here is where Jesus the Worshiper became Jesus the Reformer, based upon “zeal,” as we will see shortly. Those Sadducees who controlled the temple at the time had become very wealthy on account of their sale of animal sacrifices.
Obviously, it was convenient for men to purchase animals at the temple rather than to bring them from afar. Secondly, if they brought their own animals, they were almost sure to be rejected as “imperfect” by the temple inspectors who used their authoritative position to their own advantage. Only the animals purchased from the temple priests came with a guarantee that it was “unblemished” (Exodus 12:5). These were sold at exorbitant rates to enrich the priests at the expense of the populace. In this way, the rich got richer, while the poor got poorer.
Likewise, the half-shekel temple tax, payable each year, had to be paid in temple coinage, rather than with coins bearing Caesar’s image. The priests thus had a “table” (banker’s office) to exchange Roman coins for temple coins, and the exchange rate made these banker priests a lot of money. So it was expensive to keep the feast of Passover, yet the people could do little about it.
Such trafficking at the temple ran contrary to the whole spirit of temple worship, which was for the temple to be a center of worship for all people (Isaiah 56:7). The temple was to be a place where sins were forgiven and where all men were equal before God. But the priests had built a dividing wall to separate Jew from Gentile and men from women, thus destroying the law that commanded equality and encouraged all to draw near to God.
No doubt Jesus had seen the corruption in the temple in previous years prior to His ministry. The narrow nationalism at the temple was exceeded only by the settlement movement in towns such as Nazareth. The grinding poverty of the working class made Jesus angry, but He did nothing until He was authorized by God to drive the bankers out of the temple.
In doing this, He fulfilled the prophecy in Malachi 3:2, 3, about the messenger of the covenant,
2 But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.
Both Jesus and John the Baptist had come as refiners in the spirit of Elijah. Elijah returned to Israel from Zarephath (“refinery”) to confront King Ahab and his priests of Baal (1 Kings 17:9). John came with the baptism of repentance, which was designed to refine the hearts of the people. Jesus came in a “mightier” way (Matthew 3:11) to “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
John 2:16 continues,
16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”
The Greek word skeuo, “place of business,” (“merchandise,” KJV) should be understood according to its Hebrew equivalent, ma’arab, whose root word is arab, “to pledge, exchange, mortgage, engage, occupy, undertake for, give pledges, be or become surety, take on pledge, give in pledge.” In other words, it has to do with trading in business, but it also carries the connotation of binding one’s self in pledges or being put into bondage (obligation) through mortgages. Yet the temple was supposed to be a place where men were set free from sin (debt). Hence, merchandising the temple ran contrary to God’s purpose for its construction.
Jesus’ act of violence was properly motivated from the Christian point of view, but from the standpoint of the temple priests, He was interfering with their God-given right to make money in the guise of making sure the people offered acceptable offerings to God.
We wonder why the Roman guards from the Tower of Antonia did not come running to arrest Jesus, as they did when Paul’s presence caused a riot in Acts 21:32. I suspect that the soldiers rather enjoyed the spectacle, knowing how the priests had long taken advantage of the people for their own monetary gain.
This is part 3 of a series titled "Jesus' First Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.