The first of Jesus’ seven signs in the Gospel of John occurs at a wedding celebration. When the party begins to run out of wine, Jesus turns several jars of water into fine wine. The only witnesses to the miracle are the his mother, his disciples and the servants who brought the water. This is a “private” sign in contrast to very public the second sign in the second half of John 2. What is the point of the water-to-wine miracle in John?
John intends each of the seven signs to point to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God (John 20:30-31). In this case, the provision of abundant wine at a wedding is a pointer that Jesus is initiating the long-awaited Kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is often described in the Hebrew Bible as inaugurated with a banquet of some kind. The key text for this is Isaiah 25:6-8, where the eschatological age begins with God himself preparing a banquet of fine foods on Mount Zion. The same image appears at the end of Psalm 22:29 (“all the rich of the earth will feast and worship” and Psalm 23 (a table spread in the presence of enemies). Even Revelation 19:7 and 19:21 describes a “wedding banquet” of sorts at the beginning of the eschatological kingdom, although it is quite shocking that the meal consists of the corpses of the enemies of God!
Because weddings were common events in the life of a community, Jesus uses wedding imagery in several parables (Mat 22:1-12, 25:1-14). Food and wine was provided in abundance, perhaps the best meal that an ordinary villager in Cana would expect to enjoy. Music and dancing would have been common as well. It is therefore no surprise that John first reveals who Jesus is at a wedding banquet.
Jesus “manifest his glory” to his inner circle and they “believed in him” (John 2:11). From this point on those who see his miracles will either accept or reject Jesus as the messiah, the respond to his invitation to join the celebration of the wedding, to enter into the Wedding Banquet which is the Kingdom of God. John 3:27-30 makes this theme of the messianic bridegroom more clear. John the Baptist returns as a witness and declares that Jesus is the bridegroom and that he was only the “friend of the bridegroom.”
John’s presentation of this first sign is ironic. The glory of God has come to live among men, and it has finally revealed itself for what it is, yet only a very select few were aware of the miracle (Jesus’ disciples). Most people at the wedding were unaware of what occurred, just as most people in Galilee will be unaware that Jesus is the Messiah.
Yet those who did see the sign believed. This is the pattern for the rest of the gospel – seeing the sign and responding properly to the revelation of who Jesus is. What other examples of this sort of pattern appear in the rest of John’s gospel?