NextLevel Online: John

Session 2: John 2 & 3

Old and New: Session 2 includes Jesus turning water into wine, cleansing the temple, and Nicodemus.



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John 2

Chapters 2 & 3 say, “The old has gone; the new has come!”

  • Old stale water of purification – New superb wine

  • Old temple needing cleansing – New temple as Christ's own body

  • Old deadness - in Nicodemus – New birth and new life

Jesus and his disciples travel to Cana in Galilee (a village nine miles north of Jesus' hometown, Nazareth) to attend a wedding. Jesus' mother is also present, perhaps assisting, and notices they have run out of wine. (This would have been a serious blow to the reputation of the groom's family, who have the financial responsibility to provide for this banquet.) Mary expects Jesus to do something about this (v. 3, 5), but Jesus seems at first reluctant (v. 4) and brushes her aside (v. 4).

Robert Stein (Christianity Today, June 20, 1975) explains the wine situation back then: Natural wine peaks out at about 12% alcohol. Jews, Greeks, Romans—everyone but the barbarian Scythians—added water to dilute it to 1/3 or even 1/10th of the original strength. The water made the wine safe to drink (less intoxicating); the alcohol made the water safe to drink (less likely to produce sickness, as in 1 Tim 5:23). Typical was one part wine to three parts water. Thus, what they usually drank was 3% alcohol. The only way to become intoxicated was to linger “alongside wine” (1 Tim 3:3) and drink “much wine” (1 Tim 3:8).

Mary persists, so Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone pots with water. (Significantly, these are pots normally intended for Jewish ceremonial washing). Since each pot holds 20 to 30 gallons, the total miracle will be 120 to 180 gallons of wine—astonishingly abundant! It is not to be assumed that the guests will drink all this. Instead, the host family who had too little will now have reserves for months to come. The wine is abundant in quantity, and superb in quality.

Sometime later, Jesus goes to Jerusalem for Passover (see Exod 12). In the outer Court of the Gentiles at the temple, approved animals and coins are sold to worshippers, creating a noisy marketplace. Jesus drives them out, full of zeal for “my Father's house” (v. 16). (Not surprisingly, Jesus will need to cleanse the temple again at the end of his ministry, as related in all three Synoptic Gospels.)

The “Jews” (John's shorthand for antagonistic Jewish authorities) demand a sign from Jesus to prove his right to do all this. His response: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They are dumbfounded. Herod's project to upgrade the temple has been going on for 46 years (and will not be finished until A.D. 63—just in time to be destroyed A.D. 70). How can Jesus rebuild it in three days? But Jesus is talking about the temple of his body. (It is worth noting that the overall temple area is called hieron, but Jesus speaks of his body as the naos, the temple sanctuary itself.)

A recurring theme is introduced in this chapter: many believe (v. 11, 23), but others do not believe. Much more of this to come.

John 3

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a group of some 6,000 zealous followers of the Law who have influence out of proportion to their numbers. He is also a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews. He comes to Jesus by night, apparently for privacy. Jesus replies to his polite remarks in what will become his typical manner: he ignores what the man says and tells him the truth he needs to hear (v. 2-3).

That truth is that a man must be born again (v. 3), born of the water and the Spirit (v. 5). (Although it is sometimes said that this “water” is the amniotic fluid of the womb, no reputable commentary will say this. Nowhere in Greek literature is “water” ever used for amniotic fluid; instead the word prophoros is used for that.) “Born of water” is a reference to baptism, about which much is said later in this chapter. Born of the Spirit is descriptive of the Holy Spirit's role in conversion (see Jn 16:8-9). It should be noted that when Jesus goes on to elaborate about this experience, it is the Spirit part that Jesus emphasizes (v. 6-8). (See also 1 Cor 12:13 and Titus 3:5.)

At what point in chapter 3 does Jesus stop speaking, and John begin? It could be v. 11 or v. 16, but the traditional spot is v. 22. Whatever the case, verse 14 is an important preview of Jesus on the cross. Just as the serpent—a symbol of rebellion—was lifted up on a pole (Num 21:5-9), likewise the Son of Man—becoming the focus of sin—will be lifted up on a cross (see 2 Cor 5:21 and 1 Pet 2:24). Then verse 16 encapsulates the entire gospel: God's love, God's gift, man's response, heaven's reward. When the believer puts his trust in Christ on the cross, God is pleased to give him eternal life.

And as Jesus carries his ministry into the Judean countryside (v. 22), more and more people are believing and being baptized. At this point the baptism of Jesus is the same as the baptism of John: repentance, remission of sins, preparation for the coming Messianic kingdom. In fact, a turning point is soon reached where Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John (v. 26, also 4:1). But John the Baptist is not concerned. His whole purpose in life has been to prepare for Christ's coming, and he rejoices to see it happening. John's noble motto is, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

The closing paragraph of this chapter exalts Jesus as the One who has come from above. To him—and not to everyone—God gives the Spirit without limit (v. 34). The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Those who believe in the Son will have life; those who do not believe will be condemned.

About NextLevel Online

The vision of Ozark Christian College is to glorify God by evangelizing the lost and edifying Christians worldwide. The mission of Ozark Christian College is to train men and women for Christian service as a degree-granting institution of biblical higher education.