John 2:1-11 – The First Sign

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?

8 thoughts on “John 2:1-11 – The First Sign

  1. While I have noticed a common theme throughout the gospels of Jesus being rejected by many people even when he gave certain signs to slowly but surely reveal himself as the Messiah, I have also seen and been directed to instances in which Jesus chose to reveal himself only to a select group of people. I never really thought of the wedding at Cana as one of these instances in which Jesus revealed himself to smaller group of people, yet the vast majority present in the same building or place had no idea what was going on amongst them and failed to recognize the sign of Jesus as the Messiah. It seems that we see this theme throughout the gospel of John on a variety of occasions. At times, even the individuals or groups of people that Jesus gives signs do not recognize him as the Messiah but simply as a prophet or one who is sent from God. In John 4, Jesus appears to a Samaritan woman and asks her for some water. He begins to share with her an analogy of living water and eventually reveals to her that he knows of her sins by listing in detail her marital situation. The woman acknowledges Jesus as a prophet and also mentions that she believed the Messiah would come and explain everything to the people. Jesus then directly tells the woman that he is this Messiah whom she is waiting for, yet we are not told what her response was to this revelation. While in this example Jesus specifically refers to himself as the Messiah, in other instances Jesus uses his power indirectly to show people that he was the Messiah. In his healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda in John 5, Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath, yet slips away before the man can ask him who he was. Yet he later finds this same man in the temple and warns this man to continue on without sin. The man then left and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. Although Jesus hinted at his identity as the Messiah, it doesn’t seem as though this man saw Jesus as anything other than a prophet or teacher. We also see many examples of Jesus revealing or explaining things only to his disciples. While his disciples knew who he was, they did not have a clear understanding of what it was that he had to do as the Messiah. Their first-century Jewish expectations of what the Messiah would do did not line up with the passion predictions and other explanations of his future death that Jesus told his disciples of. Thus we see this common theme throughout John of Jesus directly and indirectly revealing himself as the Messiah, and quite often this revelation came to an individual person or a select and small group of people. It is hard to think like a first-century Jew when reading these passages and see how they could not understand that Jesus was clearly the Messiah as we read these passages with a twenty-first post-resurrection mentality.

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    • Correction from what I said before…. the Samaritan woman did in fact do something in response after Jesus told her that he was the Messiah! She left her water jar and returned to her town to tell the people that there was a man who told her everything that she ever did. She then questioned the possibility of him being the Christ.

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  2. The first sign given in John’s gospel was clearly done in private for a very specific reason. Jesus wanted to reveal His power and glory first to His immediate followers. By doing this Jesus establishes their belief in Him and solidifies their desire to stand by Him as their teacher. This also lays the foundation for the other signs Jesus will perform later in John’s gospel. As you said, “Most people at the wedding were unaware of what occurred, just as most people in Galilee will be unaware that Jesus is the Messiah.” This does parallel Jesus’s secrecy often mentioned in Mark’s gospel, specifically in chapter one.

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    • I agree with what Alex is saying here. One thing I wonder though. P.Long said “Most people at the wedding were unaware of what occurred, just as most people in Galilee will be unaware that Jesus is the Messiah.” There is a connection between this and the idea of those who respond to Jesus’ miracles by either believing or rejecting him. However, those who are unaware of the miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine still partake in the banquet and enjoy the miracle. Could this be stretched to mean that those who are unaware of Jesus and what he does can partake in the miracle? It is clear from the other miracles and this one that those who see the miracle either respond by rejecting or believing, but is there any importance to those who were unaware and still able to enjoy the miracle?
      As P.Long points out the water into wine points to Isaiah 25:6-8. The feast of “well-aged wine” and “rich food” is for all people. Does this miracle perhaps point to this idea of “all people” partaking in the feast, or the kingdom? I do not think it does, but it does seem like a possibility.

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  3. I like the point Dr. Long makes about this first sign. The irony of this first miracle is that only a small group of people witness and realize that the wine was originally water. But those who see the sign end up believing. A similar example is found in John 9:35-41. Earlier, Jesus had found a blind man and made some mud out of saliva and rubbed it on the man’s eyes (John 9:6). He then told the man to go wash in the Pool of Siloam (9:7). So the man went and washed in the pool, and then went home healed of his blindness. At first the man did not know much about Jesus, but would later encounter Jesus again. We also see that there are many Pharisees who do not believe. They question the man and try to accuse him. But the man says in verse 33, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Even though at the time, he didn’t know who Jesus was, he knew that He must have been from God. Jesus found him again and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man (9:35). After Jesus tells him that He is the Son of Man, the man believes and worships Him (9:38). Here again we see that the very few who see the sign respond in belief.

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  4. The first sign was when Jesus turns the water into wine at a wedding. Just like Phil Long mentioned, Jesus showed his glory and his disciple put their faith in Christ (John 2:11). What is unique about the story of Jesus changing the water into wine is that only Jesus disciples and servants saw the miracle. In John, Jesus performs a sign and people respond by revealing that Jesus is the Messiah. In John 4: 43-54 Jesus heals the official’s son. Jesus is in Cana where he first turned the water into wine. An official heard that Jesus was in town and he begged Jesus to heal his son who was dying. Jesus told him that his son will live. The man left for home and his servant meet him and told him that his son lives. After this the official believed and his household. Like the story of Jesus turning water into wine as far as we are told there was a small amount of people who witnessed both of these signs. In the first sign, the disciples and servant witnessed the sign. And in the story of Jesus healing the official’s son, the official and his household witnessed and believed in Jesus.

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  5. It is really interesting to see when Jesus does miracles and wants people to see and when He does a miracle and asks the person not to tell anyone. I have heard one reason as to why Jesus did not want people to know of His miracle was because He did not want large crowds following Him. This could be a reason why He wanted people to know in some areas but not in other. Then again there are times were Jesus does a miracle in front of large crowds (Jesus feeds five thousand and then the four thousand). Then there are times where Jesus does a miracle that could go unnoticed, but instead He seems to point it out. An example of this is in Mark 5. When a women touches His cloths and He points out the everyone that He healed her by asking who touched her instead of just letting it go unnoticed. Then there are times where Jesus does a miracle and wants the miracle to stay among them. For example when Jesus heals the dead twelve year old girl. After words “He gave strict orders to not let anyone know about this, (Mark 5:43). The purpose of these miracles are probably meant for certain people and Jesus seems to make that clear by discerning when people should know about these signs and when people shouldn’t.

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  6. Unfortunately, whenever I read about the miracle of the water turned into whine, I think of Mark Lowry. In one of his videos he makes the statement that Jesus first miracle, “was keeping the party going.” And in a way this statement is true, but it has much more meaning than providing means for a party. The theme of Jesus character revealed through the seven signs in John show the people reaction to his message and mission. When Jesus cleared the temple, when the people saw him performing miraculous signs, “believed in his name.” (John 2:23) Every sign that Jesus did, he used for a great purpose to further his ministry. There are many accounts of similar actions, The feeding of the five thousand, the healing of the officials son and the lame man are examples of Jesus actions. His miracles were performed with purpose, to reveal who he was to the people, so they could react accordingly and believe in him.

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