Week One: Introduction
Jesus Changes Water into Wine and Clears the Temple Courts
In John, the Fourth Gospel, we have a highly schematized presentation of the story of Jesus, with seven “I am” sayings linked to seven “I am” discourses, all presaged and prepared for by the seven sign narratives, which are miracle stories found in the first half of this gospel (between John chapters 2–12). Seven was the number of perfection, and lest we think the author just didn’t have enough source material, he tells us clearly in the last verse of this gospel (John 21:25) that Jesus did many other things as well. So we have a carefully chosen and arranged series of materials, including miracle tales, in this gospel. Nothing happens by accident in Jesus’ ministry—everything is ordered in a specific way to show the plan of God. Thus, in John 2, we have two crucial stories—the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, and the action of Jesus in the temple. It is not clear whether the action in the temple was meant to be seen as a sign in the same way as the miracle at Cana, but as we shall see, both are symbolic actions.
Scholars have long noted that the placement of the temple story in John is at a very different juncture in the narrative compared to where the same story is placed in the other three canonical Gospels. In the latter, the story is part of the Passion narrative—the telling of the events that happened during the last week of Jesus’ ministry. Here the story is found at the outset of the narrative. Why the difference? Concerning this event, most scholars would agree that: it did not likely happen twice; indeed, no single gospel suggests that it did (and if it had happened early in the ministry, it is hard to believe Jesus would have even been allowed on the temple precincts thereafter by the Jewish officials); and the placement in the Fourth Gospel seems to be theological rather than chronological. One of the major themes of this gospel is that Jesus replaces or fulfills the major institutions in himself—he is the Passover Lamb, he is the Temple where God dwells, he is the purifying waters, he is the sacred bread, he is God’s peace/Sabbath for humankind, and so on. The Fourth Evangelist wants to make this clear from the beginning of his story, and so he puts this temple action at the outset of his narrative.
One final point: the mother of Jesus appears in only two stories in this gospel—once at the outset of his ministry, and once at the conclusion, when he is on the cross. In a sense, then, the Evangelist presents Jesus in his rela- tionship to his mother and his disciples together as bookend stories in this gospel. We will explore the reason for this later.
General Comments. All seven of the miracle stories in John are worth studying. One consistent feature in all of them is that we do not see any particular interest in describing how the miracles happen, or for that matter, any interest in the miracles themselves. The interest is in what they point to outside of themselves—namely, the presence of King Jesus.
There are a variety of kinds of miracles in the Gospels; the miracle in John 2 is a nature miracle, so called because it involves doing something miraculous with inanimate matter. Other nature miracles would be the cursing of the fig tree (the only negative miracle in the Gospels), the walking on water, and presumably the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Other types of miracles include: healings of various sorts; exorcisms; and raising people from the dead. It is notable that in this gospel there are no exorcisms at all. Furthermore, there is only one ministry miracle tandem in this gospel that is also found in the Synoptic Gospels—namely, the feeding of the five thousand coupled with Jesus’ walking on water. Synoptic Gospels, or Synoptics, refers to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are so called because they contain much of the same material and often in the same order. This gospel writer does not focus on Galilean miracles in the same way or to the same degree that the Synoptics do. Instead, he tells us unique stories about miracles in and around Jerusalem and its suburbs, such as Bethany. Instead we have the healing of the cripple at the pool of Bethesda (John 5), the healing of the man born blind (John 9), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11). To judge from the miracle stories, this gospel was likely written by a Judean disciple of Jesus, and one with a connection to Mary. I would suggest that the person in question is the Beloved Disciple, who is probably not John son of Zebedee, not least because none of the special Zebedee stories are found in this gospel—not the calling of the Zebedees by the lake, not their witness- ing of the raising of Jairus’s daughter, not their presence at the transfiguration, and not their request for the box seats in the kingdom. Indeed the name Zebedee itself never comes up in the Fourth Gospel, save once, in the appendix in passing in John 21.
Miracles in the Fourth Gospel bear witness to who Jesus truly is, but do not provide absolute proof that he is divine, not least because prophets before Jesus and the apostles after Jesus performed many of the very same sort of miracles, including raising the dead. One cannot be impressed into the kingdom of God; rather, one has to embrace the truth by faith (as the purpose statement in John 20 suggests). In fact, in this gospel Jesus says that the disciples will one day do greater works than he has done, and this probably includes the signs or miracles. The story of Thomas in John 20 is a cautionary tale. He represents the seeing-leads-to-believing crowd. And Jesus will turn around and say that it is believing that truly leads to seeing.
Day 3. In the Fourth Gospel these miracles are called semeion (signs), whereas in the Synoptics they are called dunameis (mighty works). A sign, by its very nature, points outside of itself to something more important—in this case to the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, is on the scene.
The term doxa (glory), from which we get doxology, has as its Hebrew equivalent Shekinah, which refers to the shining presence of God, or better said, the bright physical manifestation of the presence of God when he comes into close encounter
with human beings. Glory does not normally refer in the New Testament to fame or fortune or human accomplishments; it refers to an attribute or effect of God and his presence. It seems probable that when the gospel writer said, “We have seen his glory” or “Jesus revealed his glory,” what he meant is that they had seen evidence that Jesus was indeed God incarnate, a manifestation of the divine in human form.
Day 5, verse 21. Notably, there are more parenthetical explanations by the Evangelist in this gospel than in any other gospel, again probably because it was intended to be used in evangelism and to train converts, or new disciples.