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In chap. John 2:1-11, follows now the first revelation of the glory of Jesus, at Cana in Galilee. This fact stands in unmistakeable connection with John 1:51, as even Bengel perceived: “Tertio die, post promissum datum John 1:51. Nunc ostenditur specimen.” That which Jesus had there placed in prospect, here first receives its fulfilment; and Nathanael himself, to whom, as a representative of the other disciples, the ὄ?ψεσθε was first directed, was an eyewitness thereof. The connection is apparent also in John 2:3. The declaration of Jesus in John 1:51, forms without doubt the foundation for the saying of Mary.
Ver. 1. “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there.”
On the third day, therefore on the seventh from ver. 19; the first in ver. 19-28, the second in ver. 29-34, the third in ver. 35-42, the fourth in ver. 43-51. The third day can only be the third day from the end of the day on which Nathanael came to Jesus. For the days from ver. 19-51 are always complete days. Add to this, that only thus do we gain sufficient time for the journey from Bethabara to Cana. This required at least three days. For the distance in a straight line, and disregarding deviations, amounted to twenty leagues; and if Nazareth was three days journey from Jerusalem (Von Raumer, S. 120), we certainly cannot assume a less time for the journey from Bethabara to Cana. In this journey was occupied first the fourth of the single days designated, on which, according to ver. 43, the departure to Nazareth took place; then two days, which passed by without event, until the third day after this fourth arrived. We have thus a heptade of days, which are divided into four and three. The same division occurs also in the Apocalypse, especially in the case of the seals and trumpets, together with that of three and four with respect to the epistles and the vials. In one or the other of these modes the number seven is there usually divided. In the Gospel, the division of the heptade by the three and four is found in John 21:2. We are not, in the case of such things, to be ready directly with the charge of “trifling.” It is important, first of all, to perceive the matter of fact; and to this, a too rashly-formed judgment is only obstructive. But why is not Nature also brought under the charge of trifling, since in her the number plays a not less important part than in Holy Scripture?
The marriage lasted apparently only one day. Otherwise it could not, without further specification, be ascribed to the third day. Weddings of seven days were of themselves out of question in needy circumstances.
Since the appearance of Robinsons Journey (iii. 443-49), it is now generally assumed that the New Testament Cana is not the Kefr (village) Kenna, lying a league and a half to the south-east of Nazareth, but Kána el Jelil, situated three leagues to the N.N.E. So also Ritter (Erdkunde 15, 1, S. 389; 16, 1, S. 753 sq.). But this assumption is open to not unimportant objections. Of more importance still, than that Kefr Kenna is nearer to Nazareth, in the neighbourhood of which we must look for Cana, is the circumstance, that the addition, τῆ?ς Γαλιλαίας , cannot here be a constituent part of the name, but is made only by John. It stands here in connection with the other topographical notices, πέραν τοῦ? Ἰ?ορδάνου , John 1:28; ἠ?θέλησεν ἐ?ξελθεῖ?ν εἰ?ς τὴ?ν Γαλιλαίαν , in ver. 43. The place itself could not need the addition, since there was no Cana out of Galilee. The Cana in the tribe of Asher, mentioned in Joshua 19:28, was also in Galilee, but had probably long since disappeared. This being the case, the name Kana el Jelil cannot have been the original one. It probably proceeded from a mere combination. Kefr Kenna is the only Cana whose existence is really assured, and to which we must therefore provisionally adhere. Jerome knows of only one Cana: “Et est hodie oppidulum in Galilaea gentium.” In the alleged Kana el Jelil there is no native population at all, which could have preserved the ancient name of the place. It is a mere ruin; and ruins are patient, and allow themselves to be named as people wish to name them. On the words, “and the mother of Jesus was there,” Luther remarks: “It appears that these were her poor nearest friends, that she had to be a mother to the bride; for she takes upon herself the management, as if she were specially in fault, when she sees want.” The supplementary character of the Gospel of John is seen in this, that he never mentions the name of the mother of Jesus, but rather presupposes it as known from the first Gospels. From the fact, that neither here nor in what follows mention is ever made of Joseph, it has been rightly concluded that he was already deceased.
The Prologue of the Gospel is followed by the general narrative, the conclusion of which, at the end of chap. 20, has repeatedly been taken for the conclusion of the whole, and then by the conclusion correspondent with the Prologue, in chap. 21. The general narrative has two principal parts, the second beginning with John 13:1. The whole of the general narrative falls into seven groups: the first part into four, the second into three. Of the four groups of the first part, the first, our section, contains the early ministrations of Jesus in Peraea and Galilee, in the order of the same prophecy which Matthew, in Matthew 4:15, takes for his starting-point, by which he, the first Apostle among the Evangelists, following Mark and Luke, was appointed to make the activity of Christ in Galilee and Peraea, rather than the history of the Passion, the subject of his presentation, Isaiah 9:1, where the principal scene of Christ’s ministrations is designated as “the way of the sea,” that is the general—“beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations,”—that is, the two parts of the whole. In view of this prophecy, John also takes his starting-point from this principal scene of the activity of Jesus. The localities of our section have a manifest regard to this prophecy. Compare John 1:28, ταῦ?τα ἐ?ν Βηθαβαρᾳ? ἐ?γένετο πέραν τοῦ? Ἰ?ορδάνου . Ver. 43, τῇ? ἐ?παύριον ἠ?θέλησεν ἐ?ξελθεῖ?ν εἰ?ς τὴ?ν Γαλιλαίαν . Chap. John 2:1, καὶ? τῇ? ἡ?μέρᾳ? τῇ? τρίτῃ? γάμος ἐ?γένετο ἐ?ν Κανὰ? τῆ?ς Γαλιλαίας . John 2:11, ταύτην ἐ?ποίησεν ἀ?ρχὴ?ν τῶ?ν σημείων ὁ? Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς ἐ?ν Κανὰ? τῆ?ς Γαλιλαίας . Our section describes the events of a sacred seven of days: in John 1:19-28, the testimony of John on the day before the baptism of Christ; in vers. 29-34, the testimony of the Baptist concerning Christ at His baptism; in vers. 35-42, the events of the third day, the third testimony of the Baptist, and the first conversions which followed it; in vers. 43-51, the events of the fourth day; in John 2:1-11, the close of the sacred week, the seventh day, hallowed by the beginning of signs, which Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee.
Ver. 2. “And both Jesus was called and His disciples to the marriage.”
The mother of Jesus was already there when this invitation was made. It seems that Jesus and His disciples came to seek her there, and were then invited. The deficiency may have arisen, in part, from the unexpected increase in the number of the guests. The love had surpassed the ability. It is not unimportant for our judgment of the remedy, that the need had been produced in part by Jesus Himself.
The bridal pair was doubtless a God-fearing one. Otherwise, the mother of Jesus would not have interested herself so much in them, and Jesus also would have declined the invitation. The invitation to Jesus and His disciples, at least those five whose conversion is described in the previous chapter (Lampe: “qui magnifacit Jesum, illi etiam discipuli ejus grati sunt”), proceeded, as it seems, from a germinant faith, and had the same source as the invitation of Abraham to his three heavenly guests. They would rather expose themselves to be put to shame, than let Jesus and His disciples go.
The ready willingness with which Jesus accepts the invitation to the marriage, for Himself and His disciples, forms a contrast to the severe mode of life of John the Baptist: cf. Matthew 11:19. Olshausen: “The first disciples of Christ were all originally disciples of the Baptist. His manner of life—rigid, penitential austerity, and solitary abode in the desert—naturally appeared to them the only one that was right. What a contrast for them, when the Messiah, to whom the Baptist himself had pointed them, takes them first of all to a marriage!” Jesus brings with Him new supernatural powers, in possession of which His disciples need not anxiously avoid contact with worldly affairs, but by which they are to overcome and sanctify them. The renunciation of the world is indicated and commanded only, so long as such powers do not yet exist. But it was of importance to indicate that marriage and married life are capable of such sanctification; it was of value for all times of the Church to make a protest against those who regard the conjugal state as a profane one,—a mode of consideration of which we find germs even in the apostolic age, 1 Timothy 4:3. Moreover. we must regard the time at which Jesus accepts the invitation to the marriage. Bengel has aheady, with perfect correctness, remarked: “magna facilitas Domini: nuptiis interest primo tempore, dum discipulos allicit, per severiores inde vias progressurus ad crucem, in gloriam.” Jesus would hardly have taken His disciples to a marriage shortly before His passion. When, in Matthew 9:15, He says, with respect to His disciples, “But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast,” we may assume, that even when this time was immediately before them, Jesus would not have taken His disciples to such occasions as those at which life is presented from the more cheerful side. In that first time, however, the acceptance of the invitation to the marriage appears the more suitable, since this, together with its independent significance, has also a high value as a symbol and adumbration. Christ was not here the bridegroom; but the marriage, according to a conception naturalized by the Song of Songs, and widely extended in the New Testament, appears to be a representation of the relation of Christ to His Church, a type of the marriage of the Lamb. Cf. John 3:29; Matthew 9:15; Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 25:10; Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 22:17; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9. This symbolic dignity of marriage and married life presupposes its independent dignity. Only a sacred condition, only a venerable ordinance of God, can be an adumbration of the highest and holiest of all relations.
Ver. 3. “And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine.”
That the meaning is, Jesus should procure wine, and this in a superhuman manner, and that therefore ideas like those of Bengel, according to which Mary requests Jesus to go away (“velim discedas, ut caeteri item discedant, antequam penuria patefiat”), and of Meyer, “She wished Jesus in general to apply some remedy, which might be done in the most natural way (by procuring more wine),” are to be unconditionally rejected, is shown by the answer of Jesus. If Mary had desired only what was usual, she would have made her request more plainly, and she would not have immediately understood the gentle hint of Christ in ver. 5. Only when her mind was already filled with thoughts of miraculous aid, could she have perceived, behind the apparent refusal, the hidden consent. Mary certainly could have had such thoughts only, if she had kept in her faithful heart what had been said to her by the angel, especially, “He shall be called the Son of God,” Luke 1:35; further, the message of the shepherds, of which it is said in Luke 2:19, ἡ? δὲ? Μαριὰ?μ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ? ῥ?ήματα ταῦ?τα συμβάλλουσα ἐ?ν τῇ? καρδίᾳ? αὐ?τῆ?ς , and the prophecy of Simeon, etc. According to Luke 2:51, she kept all these sayings in her heart. John, by giving an account of the proposal of Mary, confirms the history of the childhood of Jesus, which he passes over. because here his predecessors Matthew and Luke had left no material for supplementation. With reference to the later time, P. Anton says, “She had had Him about her thirty years. How many conversations must they have held, together with diligent investigation of the prophets in comparison with present circumstances!” It is, however, yet to be explained how it is that Mary comes forward just now with such a definite expectation. This is doubtless founded in the fact, that she had just received from the disciples of Jesus, whose very existence was an important symptom, intelligence of the things which had occurred at the Jordan, and especially of the sayings of Jesus to Nathanael, “Thou shalt see greater things than these;” and, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, etc.” She wishes and hopes that these words, which do not to no purpose immediately precede the narrative of the marriage at Cana, may here be verified; she wishes and hopes this the more, since the whole appearance of Jesus doubtless makes on her the impression of a previous great change.
The words, “They have no wine,” are very characteristic. The mother of Jesus has herself the feeling of the impropriety of her request. She does not dare to express it directly; she only gently hints it, by calling attention to the need. So great is her reverence for her son. Luther: “Here behold this in His mother: she feels and complains to Him of the want, desires help and counsel from Him, with humble and modest proposals. For she does not say,” Dear Son, get us wine; but. They have no wine. By this she touches His goodness, that she has recourse entirely to Him. As if she would say. He is so good and gracious, that I may not ask Him; I will only show Him what is wanting.” Lampe points out how these words are a monument of Mary’s noblest virtues—her faith, her humility, and discretion. “But, together with these good qualities, there was yet something which displeased the Lord.” The Berleb. Bibel: “Inward, however, is the need of wine, if all sanctity and strength that remained to the soul are quite lost, and all that remained to it of support is taken away.”
Ver. 4. “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”
Jesus will do what Mary desires, but He will not do it for her sake, and in such a manner that she may suppose that thus hereafter He will serve her at her behest. It is not yet done, because His hour is not yet come; and when it is done, it will be done not because she has requested it, but because now the hour is come. The formula, What to me and thee? [What have I to do with thee?] stands always where a relation had in view by the other party, or already come to life, is rejected as improper, whether it be a friendly or an inimical one. In the very nature of the case, the formula always includes a censure. With this expression, “What to me and to you?” David, in 2 Samuel 16:10, refuses the sons of Zeruiah, when they urge him to take vengeance on Shimei. In 1 Kings 17:18, the woman says to Elijah, when her child is dead, “What to me and to thee, O thou man of God? thou hast come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son.” She thus renounces to the prophet the relation which had existed between them, and requests him to depart. In 2 Kings 3:13, Elisha answers to the proposal which the king of Israel makes to him, “What to me and to thee? Get thee to the prophets of thy father.” According to Judges 11:12, Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the children of Ammon, saying, “What to me and to thee, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?” In Matthew 8:29, the demoniacs say to Jesus, “What to us and to Thee, Thou Son of God?” This mode of speech is peculiarly an Israelitish one. Of the analogies adduced from classical literature, only one saying corresponds with this, viz., that of a Stoic in Gellius, who, on being asked by another at a shipwreck, whether shipwreck were an evil, gave him a blow with a stick and said, “What to us and to thee, man? we are perishing, and do you still want to joke?” (τί ἡ?μῖ?ν καὶ? σοι , ἄ?νθρωπε ; ἀ?πολλύμεθα , καὶ? συ θέλων παίζεις ;) The address γύναι . Woman, agrees with the words, What to Me and to thee? (Bengel: “Imprimis huie formulae non congruebat matris appellatio.”) Jesus indicates by this, that in the concerns of His calling He is not subject to the fifth commandment, in harmony with Deuteronomy 33:9, where it is made the duty of the servants of the sanctuary to say to their father and mother, “I see them not;” and in harmony with the Decalogue, where the commandment to honour parents, occupies, in relation to those which immediately regard our position towards God, an unconditionally subordinate position. Luther: “Although there is no greater power on earth than the power of father and mother, yet it is entirely at an end, when God’s word and work are concerned.” Jesus addresses His mother by γύναι also in John 19:26; but there also this address is for a definite reason. Calvin, with perfect correctness, remarks: “Hac Christi voce palam constat denuntiari hominibus, ne nominis materni honorem superstitiose in Maria evehendo, quae Dei propria sunt, in ipsam transferant. Sic ergo matrem Christus alloquitur, ut perpetuam et communem seculis omnibus doctrinam tradat, ne immodicus matris honor Divinam suam gloriam obscuret.”
Since Jesus straightway proceeds to work, the words, “Mine hour is not yet come,” can mean only, until now Mine hour was not yet come. Mine hour can, from the connection, be only equivalent to, the hour, when it is suitable for Me to remedy the present need. This expression, The hour is come, occurs in the sayings of Jesus in John, and in the usage of the Evangelist himself, copied from them, with especial frequency; and indications of the significance of the hour are common also to the Apocalypse with the Gospel, John 9:15, John 14:7; John 14:15. But that the expression, which always has reference to Ecclesiastes 3:1, “Everything has its hour,” does not take its origin in the independent usage of John, is shown by the saying of our Lord in Matthew 26:45, ἰ?δοὺ? ἤ?γγικεν ἡ? ὥ?ρα . This mode of speech intimates the fact, that like all things else ( John 16:21), so also especially Jesus, His actions and the events of His life ( John 16:2; John 16:4), are under a Divine necessity, which must be submitted to unconditionally, and ever regarded obediently, resignedly, joyfully. The Berleburger Bibel says, “The whole doctrine of the Divine tarryings and the Divine moment lies herein concealed.” It seems that Jesus spoke these words for the ears of the servants. But Mary is not misled by them. Her love is so great, that she regards her own repulse as nothing. She takes only the one thing in view, that Jesus is willing to do what she has requested Him, even if not because she has requested Him. But why is Jesus so ready to remedy the need? If on another occasion there had occurred a deficiency of wine, He certainly would not have exerted His miraculous power. But here He interposes for the honour of the marriage, to remedy the deep shame which the bridal party must have experienced, if they had not been able for their day of honour to provide that which belonged to the honour of the day. Even if there were no real need, yet it is a very embarrassing perplexity, extending in its consequences over the whole life, if one is to come into disgrace on such a day, not only before the guests, but also before the whole place. It is right comforting to know from this occurrence, that Jesus remedies not merely real needs, but also perplexities, especially in married life.
Ver. 5. “His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”
Mary understands the answer of Jesus correctly thus, that He only opposes her interference, but will do what she desires. Now that she is certain of His willingness, she has no doubt of His power. The word which she speaks to the servants, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it,” is a word of unconditional faith. It seems that Mary, in this saying, alludes to Genesis 41:55: “And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith unto you, do.” LXX. ὃ? ἐ?ὰ?ν εἴ?πῃ? ὑ?μῖ?ν , ποιήσατε . The resemblance is hardly a chance one, as the situation corresponds to the agreement of the words.
Ver. 6. “And there were set there six water-pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.”—Κεῖ?σθαι is also used, where we say stand. Cf. John 19:29; Jeremiah 24:1, LXX.; Odyss. 17, 331. The κατά—after the manner of, or according to—designates the object served by these water-pots. The purifications were very various, and had reference not only to the body, but also to vessels. Ἀ?νά is commonly used in the New Testament as a distributive particle: cf. Revelation 4:8. The Attic metretes contained about thirty-three Berlin quarts. The aggregate waterpots contained, therefore, twelve to eighteen ankers [ninety to one hundred and thirty-five English gallons]. This is too much, according to many expositors, and has given the enemies of the Gospel occasions for attack. We may not remark, with Lücke, that it is not said that the whole of the contents was made wine. For why should Jesus have had all the vessels filled with water, if the miracle was not to have such extensive dimensions? How, then, could Jesus have left it to the servants to draw where they would? Nor shall we, with some, lay the chief emphasis on the fact, that the suspicion of deception would have been at hand in the case of a smaller quantity. The principal reason is far rather this, that the revelation of the glory of the Lord, which is designated in ver. 11 as the object of the act, would have been an incomplete one, if the miracle had borne a more diminutive character. As it is said of God in Psalms 65:9, “Thou, visitest the earth, and givest it superfluity; Thou greatly enrichest it; the river of God is full of water,”—so it became Jesus to prove Himself the rich Son of this rich Father. For the same reason, in feeding the multitudes, the miracle goes beyond the need. When objection is raised, that the quantity of wine would give an impulse to the luxuriousness of the guests, it might just as well be desired that on account of the drunkard God should not vouchsafe a good harvest-time. The abuse of it was least of all to be feared in this circle, in the presence of Jesus, and in view of the miracle, which would fill their minds with sacred awe.
Ver. 7. “Jesus saith unto them, Fill the water-pots with water.”
Why does Jesus cause water to be first brought? why does He not fill the empty jars with wine? Because miracles are connected as much as possible with the natural substratum, as may be seen even In the instance of the miracles and signs in Egypt. The natural is from the same God who works the miracles, and the natural order is disturbed only where it is not sufficient.
Ver. 8. “And He saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast.” The miracle is performed between this and the previous verse. The word now indicates that the transmutation is already accomplished.
Vers. 9, 10. “When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants which drew the water knew), the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have become drunken, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” The testimony of the ruler of the feast to the reality of the wine and its goodness is that with which we are here alone concerned; and there is not the slightest occasion to subtilize on the words, “when they have become drunken.” We are not to conclude from the general saying, that the guests were intoxicated in this case. Where Jesus, His mother, and His disciples were, in the house of the God-fearing people who had invited them, such a thing certainly could not occur. How shameful drunkenness then was among respectable people, is sufficiently shown by Sir_31:30 sq. The miracle of Jesus presupposes the holy sobriety of the circle.
Ver. 11. “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him.”
The verse is at the same time the rounding off of the whole group. It began with the testimony of John to the impending appearance of Christ and His glory: it concludes with the account of the first act by which Jesus gave a full proof of His glory; in which, therefore, the previous announcement of John found its verification. Christ, by manifesting His glory, impressed His seal at the same time on the mission of the Baptist. We have here also the first verification of the words which Jesus spoke to Nathanael, vers. 50, 51. That the gulf between heaven and earth has been filled up, may be clearly perceived in the fact, that the Son of man has performed a work of omnipotence.
In Cana of Galilee, which had been designated as the chief scene of the saving activity of the Redeemer already in Isa. 8:23, Isaiah 9:1, cf. Matthew 4:14-16, and where, therefore, quite naturally, the beginning of the signs of Jesus was made. The Berleburger Bibel says: “Galilee had been already frequently mentioned in the prophets; as also distinctly, that in this despised province the light should be great. Τῆ?ς Γαλιλαίας would certainly not be repeated here, if it did not acquire significance by the reference to the prophetic passage.
In how far the present occurrence was a sign, is shown by the words, “He manifested His glory.” From that which Jesus here does, light was thrown upon His nature, upon the fulness of powers which were laid up in Him for the salvation of the poor and needy. The sign is distinguished from the wonder—τέρας (sign and wonder are connected together in John 4:48, Ἐ?ὰ?ν μὴ? σημεῖ?α καὶ? τέρατα ἴ?δητε , οὐ? μὴ? πιστεύσητε )—in this, that in the former the objective signification and the end are taken into view; in the latter, the subjective feeling called forth by it, indirectly that which is extraordinary, exceeding the usual course of nature. All wonders are signs, but all signs are not wonders, since sometimes even common things are employed as signs. But here, according to the connection, it is a miraculous sign which is spoken of. It was already a sign in this sense, when Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig-tree, where a human eye could not have seen him. But this sign, in comparison with the greater one here, falls so much into the background, that it may be ignored. This first sign found afterwards in Cana itself a continuation. In John 4:46 it is said, “So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine.” Here He speaks the word by which the son of the nobleman in Capernaum was healed. It is then said, in ver. 54, which forms the conclusion of the second group, as this does of the first: Τοῦ?το [δὲ? ] πάλιν δεύτερον σημεῖ?ον ἐ?ποίησεν ὁ? Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς ἐ?λθὼ?ν ἐ?κ τῆ?ς Ἰ?ουδαίας εἰ?ς τὴ?ν Γαλιλαίαν . Now, although, according to this, the continuation in part occurs in Cana itself, yet this is not to be regarded as the only one. It is not said that this was the beginning of miracles in Cana, but that Jesus in Cana (the τὴ?ν before ἀ?ρχὴ?ν is rightly omitted by Lachmann and Tischendorf) made such a beginning of miracles in general. The next miracles, of which the Evangelist gives an account, were performed in Jerusalem, John 2:23, John 3:2.
On the words, “and manifested forth His glory,” Calvin correctly remarks: “From this is clear at the same time the object of the miracle. For it is equivalent to saying, Christ performed this miracle, in order that He might thus make known His glory.” The words stand in unmistakeable connection with Isaiah 40:5, “And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed,” namely, in the advent of the Messiah, of whom it is said in Micah 5:4, “And He shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God,” who is so closely connected with God, that the whole fulness of the Divine power and majesty belongs to Him,—according to Isaiah 9:6, of the Godhead. John, in referring this passage of the Old Testament to Christ, proceeds on the conviction, that in Christ the Jehovah of the Old Covenant has appeared in the flesh. To the same passage of Isaiah refers also John 1:14, “We beheld His glory,”—there, the ראו of the original passage; here, the ננלה . The Baptist had already preceded in the reference of this passage to Christ. If he, the forerunner of Christ, was the voice crying in the wilderness, John 1:23, Christ must be He in whom the glory of the Lord was revealed. The reference to this passage is perfectly evident in the words of the Baptist, John 1:31: ἵ?να φανερωθῇ? τῷ? Ἰ?σραὴ?λ διὰ? τοῦ?το ἦ?λθον . The words lead to the divinity of Christ, even disregarding the reference to this single passage of the Old Testament. It is unmistakeable, that the δόξα , the glory, which according to our text dwells in Jesus, stands in reference to the glory of the Lord, כבוד יהוה , LXX. δόχα κυρίου , which meets us so often in the Old Testament—the incomparable glory, which resides in the Lord, and makes itself known in His appearances. Only the only-begotten Son of God reveals His glory. Nothing similar is said of any of the previous miraculous deeds. Moses could only point to the manifestation of the glory of the Lord, Exodus 16:7: “And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the Lord.”
In the words, “and His disciples believed on Him,” is intimated the object of the manifestation of the glory of the Lord: cf. John 20:31, where the object of the description of the glorious deeds of the Lord, and, therefore, also of these deeds themselves, is thus designated: ἵ?να πιστεύσητε ὅ?τι Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς ἐ?στιν ὁ? Χριστὸ?ς ὁ? υἱ?ὸ?ς τοῦ? θεοῦ? , καὶ? ἵ?να πιστεύοντες ζωὴ?ν ἔ?χητε ἐ?ν τῷ? ὀ?νόματι αὐ?τοῦ? . John wrote this, “and they believed,” on the ground of his own experience. The miracle in Cana made an epoch in his own life of faith. We have here also the key to the fulness of the narrative. Bengel: “Prima Christi miracula singulari copia proponuntur, quia his nixa fidei initia.”
In conclusion, we give a series of remarks of Luther, which are adapted to set the fact in a proper light. “This is the first miraculous sign which our dear Lord Jesus did on earth, because, as John himself informs us, He wished to manifest His glory to His disciples, in order that by such miracles they might become acquainted with Him, and hold Him to be the Son of God, the true Messiah; since He can do that, which no other on earth can do, namely, change the order of creation, and make wine out of water. Such art must be the art of God only, who is Lord over the creation; men have it not.
Hence, this work is to serve especially this purpose of making us truly acquainted with our dear Lord Christ, and causing us with sure confidence to take refuge in Him when want and necessity come upon us, and to seek help and grace in Him, which shall certainly be given to us at the proper time.
But, because such teaching and consolation are found in all the miraculous works of Christ, we will now treat in particular of the circumstance, that our Lord performed such a miraculous sign at the marriage, in order that the teaching concerning matrimony may remain even among Christians; for it is of much consequence.
He bestows good wine on the poor wedding by a great miracle. He confirms by this, that marriage is God’s work and ordinance; however despised and small a thing it may be among the people, still God acknowledges His work, and holds it dear.
Here Christ allows us to see that He has no displeasure in the expense of the wedding, nor in all that was proper to it, as ornament, and to be merry, to eat and drink, as usage and the custom of the country requires; which yet seems as if it were a superfluity, lost money, and a worldly matter: so far, however, that everything be in moderation and like a wedding.
When man and wife live together in a really Christian manner, our Lord God nourishes them so easily, that they get more than they think. Our dear Lord Christ still, at the present day, in my and thy house, if we are only godly and pious, and let Him take care of us, makes water into wine.” Not without foundation is the remark of the older expositors, especially of Lampe: “While the miracles of Moses began with the change of water into blood, the miracles of Christ begin by changing water into wine. In this the great difference was made evident between Moses and Christ: the former bears the office of death; the latter, of life.”
In vers. 12, 13, we have the journey to Jerusalem; in vers. 14-22, the purification of the temple, by which Jesus entered on His Messianic calling at Jerusalem. In vers. 23-25, we have an account of how, in consequence of the miracles which Jesus did in Jerusalem, many believed on Him, and of the position which Jesus took with respect to them.
Ver. 12. “After this He went down to Capernaum, He, and His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples; and they continued there not many days.”
From the connection with the following verse, we perceive that Capernaum was visited on the journey to the feast at Jerusalem. To such an occasion we are led also by the dissimilarity of the companions: the brothers of Jesus not yet having believed on Him.
John does not furnish a complete narrative. He gives only paraleipomena. He passes over here the return of Jesus to Nazareth; this being known from the first Gospels as His usual residence at that time: cf. John 1:46-47. That He first returned thither from Cana, and did not go directly to Capernaum, is shown by the fact, that we here meet with His brothers in His train, whose presence at the marriage in Cana is not mentioned. That Jesus did not go immediately from Cana to Capernaum, follows also from this, that otherwise He would have spent altogether only a few days in Galilee. If the Passover had been so near, Jesus would hardly have gone back first from the Jordan to Galilee, nor would His companions.
This stay of Jesus in Capernaum is not identical with that of which we have an account in Matthew 4:13. For here, Jesus remains in Capernaum only a few days; while, on the other hand, in Matthew, He establishes Himself at Capernaum. In Matthew, Jesus comes to Capernaum when John was already delivered up; but, on the other hand, we find in John 3:23 sq., that the Baptist is still in unrestricted activity. “John was not yet cast into prison,” it is said in John 3:24. The settling of Jesus in Capernaum can only have taken place after the journey to Galilee, of which we have an account in John 4:43. That Jesus had been there transiently, before His settling there, is testified by Luke 4:23, according to which He performed miracles there on this transient visit.
Why is this short stay in Capernaum on the journey to the feast mentioned, when John does not speak of any remarkable event there? It seems that the reason was a personal one,—that John was from Capernaum, and that Jesus put up at the house of his father. The residence of John’s father, Zebedee, is nowhere expressly noticed. But it is in favour of Capernaum, that the nearest friends of John, his and his brothers partners, Luke 5:10, Peter and Andrew, were of Bethsaida, which, as it seems, was the fishing suburb of Capernaum, or, at all events, in its immediate vicinity. The connection of Bethsaida and Capernaum is evident from John 1:45, compared with Luke 4:38, Mark 1:29,—passages which can be brought into harmony only on the supposition that Bethsaida formed a part of Capernaum, with which also the name very well agrees.
When Jesus left Capernaum and went to Jerusalem, the temptation by Satan had not yet taken place. From the three first Gospels only thus much is established, that it must have taken place after the baptism of Jesus, and before the return of Jesus to Galilee, after the incarceration of the Baptist: Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:14. Since the wilderness cannot be sought elsewhere than in Judea, and since, between the baptism of Jesus and the first return to Galilee, in John, there is no room for the temptation, we shall have to place it in the time when, after His first Passover, and after the solemn entrance on His office in the temple connected with it, Jesus went with “His disciples into the land of Judea; and there He tarried with them, and baptized:” John 3:22. It is shown by John 4:2, that the disciples about this time acted with a certain degree of independence. Jesus could therefore well leave them to themselves for some time. If the devil, in the temptation, takes Jesus with him into the holy city, and places Him on the pinnacle of the temple, etc., Matthew 4:5, this gains a special significance, if Jesus had been shortly before in the holy city and in the temple as the Son of God, and had there entered on His calling by the purification of the temple. This formed, as it seems, the point of departure for the demand of the devil. Jesus, who had appeared as the Lord of the temple, is to prove Himself such. The Jews had indeed already said, “What sign showest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things?” The third temptation also is more explicable, if the purification of the temple had already preceded. This, according to John 2:18, was the occasion of the first conflict with the Jews; and that the circumstances even then assumed a threatening character, shows that Jesus could not trust Himself even to those in whom there was a beginning of faith. If the path of suffering was then already opened before Jesus, the offer of Satan, “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me,” has a much better point of connection, than if it was made before Jesus had had any experience of His calling.
From Josephs not being mentioned, it has been rightly concluded, that he must have died between the twelfth year of Jesus, when he is last mentioned, Luke 2:42 sq., and His thirtieth year.
Are the brothers of Jesus His own brothers, younger sons of Mary, or His cousins, sons of Alphaeus or Cleophas and Mary, who, according to John 19:25, was a sister of the mother of Jesus—either a full sister, or, as there is no instance of two full sisters bearing the same name, a sister-in-law? To the supposition of full brothers of Jesus, the Christian sense has from the earliest times been violently opposed. Augustine, for example, says, “Num enim Maria iterum peperit? Absit! illa femina mater esse potuit, mulier esse non potuit.” And even in the eighteenth century, the excellent reformed theologian Eisner says, “Pie recteque existimat Ecclesia, Josephum nunquam Mariam tetigisse, quamvis domum eandem duxerit. That modern theology has no objection whatever to this supposition, shows that between it and that of the elder Church there is still a wide gulf fixed. We should fairly take warning by a Br. Bauer, who, in his “Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics,” i. p. 46, says, “Had Mary really given birth to the begotten of God, horror at the strangeness of it, and terror at that which had been wrought directly by the power of the Highest, would have caused that Joseph would not afterwards have held conjugal intercourse with her;” who also brings forward the “mention of the sisters of Jesus,” admitted by the “believing [credulous] theology,” as a proof of the later origin of the view concerning the supernatural birth of Jesus.
The grounds on which the modern hypothesis is supported, do not show themselves capable of proof. The assertion, that history speaks of brothers, not of cousins, of Jesus, is wrecked on the usage of the Old Testament, in which the name of brother is so often extended to near relations. Here, however, a special reason comes in. The cousins of Jesus would not probably have been called His brethren, if there had been real brethren. But thus they were His nearest relations. Perhaps a closer connection existed, which we may imagine in various ways; ex. gr., that Joseph, after the death of his brother Cleophas, had adopted his children.
When Matthew, in Matthew 1:25, calls Jesus the first-born son of Mary, there is in this no intimation of other sons, born afterwards. The historical narration had there to do singly and alone with the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah, concerning the birth of the Saviour of a virgin. With respect to this, it was to be considered only, that no other sons were born before Jesus; what took place afterwards, was a matter of indifference for the present purpose of Matthew. That the first-born may at the same time be the only one, is shown by Exodus 4:22.
“The brothers of Jesus,” it is further said, “cannot be identical with the sons of Alphaeus, because in John 7:5 they are separated from the Apostles as still unbelievers.” But that the brothers of our Lord did not remain unbelieving, is evident from the statement in Acts 1:14; and with the statement in John 7:5, that they were then still unbelieving, corresponds their position in the list of the Apostles. In Matthew 10:3, James of Alphaeus, Lebbaeus, with the surname of Thaddaeus, and Simon Zelotes, stand immediately before Judas Iscariot and after Matthew, whose calling is related in Matthew 9:9. So in Mark 3:18, and Luke 6:15. In Acts 1:13, these three form the conclusion of the list of the Apostles.
“The brothers of Jesus,” it is said, “had in part different names from the sons of Alphaeus and the cousins of Jesus, since two sons of Alphaeus are called James and Joses, Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40; while the brothers of Jesus, Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, are called James and Joseph, according to the critically revised text.” But the reading in the latter passage is doubtful, and a matter of controversy. And the name Joses is without doubt a variation from Joseph; so that there is no real difference. The remarks are applicable here which were made with respect to the name of Peter’s father, John 1:43.
“In Acts 1:14, the brothers of the Lord are expressly distinguished from the Apostles.” But from this it follows only, that, outside the circle of the Apostles, there were still other brothers or relations of Jesus. Joses is expressly named as such.
On the other hand, the following reasons are in favour of understanding by the brothers of Jesus His cousins.
When Jesus, in John 19:26-27, says, “Woman, behold thy son!” and thus names the Apostle John to be, as it were. His representative, as the son of Mary, it is implied in this, according to an unbiassed exegesis, that Mary had no other sons.
It is said in Matthew 13:55, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not His mother called Mary? and His brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” In Matthew 27:56 it is said, “Among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses.” The two latter cannot well be others than those mentioned hi the former passage. Consequently, James and Joses had for mother another Mary than the mother of Jesus. Further, in the list of Apostles in Matthew 10:3 (cf. Mark 3:18), James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, with the surname Thaddaeus, and Simon Zelotes, stand together. In Luke ( Luke 6:15), before Judas the traitor, comes James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, Judas (the brother) of James. It is manifest that the Judas here is identical with the Lebbaeus = Thaddaeus of Matthew; that the first name also is not the real proper name, but only takes the place of the proper name, which had been branded with infamy by the traitor. We have, therefore, three of the names mentioned in Matthew 13:55. James, Simon, Judas, in the circle of the Apostles; and they do not occur here in an isolated manner, but they stand together precisely as in Matthew 13:55. James also always stands at the head, as in Matthew 13:55. In Luke 6:15, and in Acts 1:13, they all follow in the same order. The personal identity with those mentioned in Matthew 13:55 cannot after this be doubted. But in the lists of Apostles, real brothers of Jesus are not to be thought of. For James is always designated as the son of Alphaeus; and as his mother appears in Mark 15:40, not Mary the mother of Jesus, but another Mary.
This Mary is, in Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10, called Mary of James. It was, therefore, a mode of characterizing and distinguishing this Mary, that she had a son James. This presupposes that the mother of Jesus had not also a son of this name.
When this Mary is, in Mark 15:40, called the mother of James the Less, and of Joses, it is here presupposed that in the Christian circle there were only two well-known men of the name of James,—viz., the Great, the son of Zebedee, who took the first position on account of his greater age in Christ; and the Less, the son of Alphaeus and Mary. If we understand by the brethren of Jesus full brothers, we thus make three prominent men of the name of James.
After the death of the elder James, every one knows whom Peter means when, in Acts 12:17, he says, “Go, show these things to James and to the brethren.” In Acts 15:13, it is said, “James answered,” without any other further addition to guard against confounding the two. So also in Acts 21:18. “Luke, who in Acts (as in his Gospel), up to the death of the Apostle James of Zebedee, brother of the Apostle John, continually distinguishes, by the manner of mentioning him, James the Less, the son of Alphaeus, from this James, uses, directly after his death ( John 12:1-2), simply the name of James. So in the same chapter, ver. 17, and further in John 15:13, John 21:18.” There was, therefore, after the death of James of Zebedee, only one James who was celebrated and generally known; and this can be no other than the second Apostle of this name, James of Alphaeus.
“Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians, Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:12, represents James, without further designation, as a highly influential man, a pillar of the Church; he even places him, together with Peter and John, as taking the place of the now martyred favourite disciple, James the son of Zebedee.”
In Galatians 1:19, Paul, after speaking of his intercourse with Peter, says, “But other of the Apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord’s brother.” According to the simple interpretation, this passage declares that James, the brother of the Lord, was an Apostle. This is also confirmed by Acts 9:27-28. According to this passage, “Paul had intercourse in Jerusalem with the Apostles,—those who were then present in Jerusalem,—therefore, at least two. Now, Paul himself assures us that he saw Peter and no one else, save James, the brother of the Lord; so it follows distinctly, that James also, the brother of the Lord, is numbered by Luke (and consequently also by Paul) among the Apostles.” The Apostle James, however, is the son of Alphaeus, and cannot, therefore, be the brother of the Lord in the proper sense. But it is established that here the son of Alphaeus is designated as brother of the Lord; so by this the existence of a natural brother of the Lord named James is excluded. “It is entirely improbable,” says Wieseler, on Galatians, p. 77, “that Paul would here have designated the cousin of the Lord, James of Alphaeus, the Lord’s brother, if there had really been besides him a natural brother of Jesus bearing the name of James.”
Jude designates himself in his epistle as the brother of James, and is sure of having by this means made himself sufficiently known. While Joses disappears from history, we have an account of Simon, which shows him in an important position, and in which he is expressly designated as the cousin of the Lord. “Hegesippus informs us, that after the death of James the Just, and the subsequent capture of Jerusalem, the Apostles came together and appointed Symeon, son of Cleophas, Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem.” Eusebius, B. 3, 11, and especially 32. This Cleophas ( John 19:25) is plainly called by Hegesippus the uncle of the Lord, B. 3, 32, and especially 4, 22: he even, in the latter passage, makes use of the remarkable words, “But after James the Just had suffered martyrdom
Simeon, the son of Cleophas, our Lord’s uncle, was chosen, whom all preferred, since he was the second cousin-german of the Lord.”
“It is striking,” says Steiger further, “that in this manner we have four cousins of the Lord, who are called James, Simon, Judas, and Joses; while, as it is maintained, from the Gospel four natural brothers of the Lord are produced, who bear the same names.” This is certainly alone sufficient to show the erroneousness of the now current view. But that there are still more decisive reasons against it, we have already proved.
Ver. 13. “And the Jews Passover was at hand; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”
It is a matter of course, that Jesus went up with the whole company mentioned in ver. 12; for this company had been formed for the pilgrimage. Why did Jesus go to the Passover? The answer is implied in what He did there. It was not for the fulfilment of a religious duty incumbent on Him, as on all the others. We find nowhere any indication that Jesus visited the temple for His own edification. This, however, would be necessary. For the religious duty was not satisfied by the mere outward appearance. If Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath, He was also the Lord of the feasts. If, according to Matthew 17:26, He was free from the temple tribute, so also was He from the visit to the temple. The principle of avoiding offence, Matthew 17:27, might in any case be overcome by other higher considerations. Of much more importance to Christ was the exercise of His Messianic calling, which, from the significance of the temple, as the spiritual dwelling-place of the people, could not there be carried on in a mere corner. The prophets already predict that the Redeemer is to come to the daughter of Zion. The temple had already been the principal place for the prophetic agency of the Old Dispensation; and only by way of exception, and under very peculiar circumstances, had the prophets appeared elsewhere. But the exercise of His calling being of importance to Jesus, the Passover was precisely that time most adapted for His stay in Jerusalem. For at this, as the chief feast, the whole people were assembled at the temple. This feast was also especially adapted for the public and solemn announcement of His reformation, with which the Saviour would begin His activity in the temple. For it had itself a reformatory significance. The putting away of the leaven preached to the people that they should purge the old leaven from their heart and life, 1 Corinthians 5:7. The eating of the unleavened bread required that they should endeavour after “sincerity and truth;” and the words, “Let your loins be girt about, and your lamps burning,” are an interpretation of this rite at the Passover.
Ver. 14. “And found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting.”—“It is very remarkable,” says Quesnel, “that the first and last time that our Lord was in the temple after His baptism. He manifested there His zeal against the disrespect and desecration of which the Jews were guilty. Will not the example of the High Priest arouse the zeal of those who are clothed with His authority against so many desecrations of the churches, in which dwells the Divine majesty?” John’s account of the temple-purification, with all its independence, is yet so like that of Matthew ( Matthew 21:12-13), that the thought obtrudes itself, that John wishes to point to this account, and thus to make known his purpose to supplement what Matthew had related concerning the act at the termination of Christ’s ministry, by the report concerning a similar transaction, which pertains to the commencement of the ministry. On the other hand, the first Evangelists are acquainted with the word which Jesus spoke in immediate connection with this act: Destroy this temple, etc.; Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58. By this they testify also, indirectly, to the occurrence itself; and their reasons for not relating it can only be these, that of two similar events they usually omit one; but especially, that up to the last Passover of Jesus they restrict themselves to the account of His activity in Galilee. In spite of their close connection, the two facts have yet each their individual physiognomy. The one takes place at the first Messianic Passover of Jesus; the other at the last; both, on first entering the temple. In John, the Lord designates the desecrated temple as a house of merchandise, οἶ?κον ἐ?μπορίου ; in the first Evangelist, as a den of thieves, σπήλαιον λῃ?στῶ?ν . That is peculiar to John, which he connects with this occurrence in ver. 17-22. It cannot be a matter of doubt, that these transactions do not bear their object in themselves, but are to be regarded as symbolical. Only on a superficial consideration can the abuses which existed in the outer temple be regarded as the immediate object of Christ’s attack. If we take into view the whole condition of things at that time, we shall see that it was a matter of comparative indifference whether a few buyers and sellers more or less transacted their business in the temple; a deeper knowledge of human nature shows that every kind of outward purification, unless preceded by an inward one, is entirely in vain. Of what avail is it to keep back for a time the water of a stream, when the source is left unobstructed? The fact, that Jesus at His last Passover found exactly the same evils which He had momentarily removed at His first, shows plainly the purposelessness of His act, when its significance is placed in its outward result.
It has been shown in the Third Part of my Christology, that both transactions have reference to Malachi, and merely embody a twofold figure which is employed by him. Under the figure of a double purification of the temple, he announces a double purification of the theocracy. Then first appears the messenger of the Lord, who prepares the way before Him; and then the Lord Himself, even the Angel of the Covenant, suddenly appears, who purifies and refines the children of Levi, and draws near to sinners in judgment. Now, the Saviour announces by the first act, that in Him appears in its loftiest reality the idea previously represented by John, the grace of God, which calls sinners to repentance; by the second, that He will now unfold the other side of His nature, that He will no longer act as a prophet, but as Lord and Angel of the Covenant, and will destroy obdurate sinners.
In John, the reformatory character is evident. Calvin designates it as “a prelude to the reformation to be effected by Jesus,” and says, “Ut omnes ad ejus doctrinam attenti essent, torpentes ac sopitas mentes novo et insolito facinore expergefieri oportuit.” The proof that the second act is not, like the first, a symbolical announcement of reformation, but an announcement of judgment, the embodied ἰ?δοὺ? ἀ?φίεται ὑ?μῖ?ν ὁ? οἶ?κος ὑ?μῶ?ν ἔ?ρημος in Matthew 23:38, was given in the Christology. The purification of the temple in Matthew forms the commencement of a whole series of discourses, symbolic actions, and parables, which all refer to the same subject. In these the Pharisees nowhere appear as the object of reformatory activity: the account is now closed, the reed is broken, and the judgment pronounced. If the symbolic action must have had the same meaning on both occasions, it could not have been repeated.
Together with the common point of departure,
Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in,” the first half of which is referred to in John, and the second in Matthew,—the Lord has also in view, on each of the two occasions, a particular passage of the Old Testament. In John, where the temple is designated as a house of merchandise, οἶ?κος ἐ?μπορίου , it is Zechariah 14:21, “And in that day there shall no more be the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.” Aquila, according to Jerome, translated here directly, mercator, ἔ?μπορος . Jonathan: “Et non erit amplius exercens mercaturam in domo sanctuarii.” And if we are not permitted to take כנעני directly with the meaning of merchant, but that rather the usage here finds place, according to which the godless members of the covenant-people are designated as heathens or uncircumcised, or specially as Canaanites or some other single heathen people, still we are not to refuse a certain right to the interpretation of merchant. The very fact that Canaanite means at the same time merchant, shows that among this people their unholy disposition made itself known especially in the predominance of material interests. In Zephaniah 1:11, where the fall of the covenant-people is announced in the words, “the whole people of Canaan is cut down,” the parallel clause, “all they that bear silver are cut off,” shows that the Canaanites are not chosen arbitrarily from the midst of the heathen nations, but that they are specially considered on account of their unholy greediness of gain, and their trafficking spirit, in which the degenerate people had become like them. In Hosea 12:7, the degenerate covenant-people is designated as “Canaan; the balances of deceit are in his hand; he loveth to oppress.” That the trafficking spirit is an inherited fault of the Jewish people, is shown by the experience of the present day, by the abuses which called forth the purification of the temple, and by the appearance of Pharisaism, which is only the spirit of traffic introduced into religion; they wish to carry on a profitable business even with God. If in this trafficking spirit we perceive the hereditary sin of the Jews, it will appear the more significant that our Lord chose these mercantile pursuits as the material for the symbolic action by which He represented the necessity of reformation.
On the other hand, at the second purification of the temple, it is Jeremiah 7:11 which is referred to: “Is this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers (LXX. μὴ? σπήλαιον λῃ?στῶ?ν ὁ? οἶ?κός μου : cf. Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46) in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord.” These latter words, which point to the impending judgment, show from what point of view, in this original passage, the temple is designated as a den of robbers. The whole chapter breathes destruction for the temple and the people, and reformation is no longer spoken of. It is said in vers. 14, 15, “Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by My name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.”
The first occasion for the advance of the Jewish spirit of traffic into the sanctuary in the more extended sense) occurs in Deuteronomy 14:24 sq. There, the permission is given to those at too great a distance from the sanctuary, to sell the portion of property which had fallen to the Lord’s share, and to procure for the money, at the place of the sanctuary, the oxen, sheep, etc., for the sacrifices and sacrificial repasts. It was sought to render it as convenient as possible for the buyers, until the market was removed at last into the outer spaces of the sanctuary itself. Especially at the feast of Passover must this traffic have exercised a highly disturbing influence. We perceive from 1 Samuel 1:21, according to which Elkanah went yearly to the sanctuary to offer the yearly sacrifice, and his vows, that at the Passover the people balanced accounts, as it were, with the Lord, and then offered the portion of the inheritance which had fallen to Him in the course of the year. When Augustine says, “Non magnum peccatum, si hoc vendebant in templo, quod emebatur ut offerretur in templo, et tamen ejecit illos. Quidsi ibi ebriosos inveniret,” etc., he has not sufficiently considered that the spirit of traffic was the bosom sin of the Jews, and that, among such a people, this practice must have had a particularly injurious influence, causing much passionate excitement and clamour, calling forth also much participation among those who were not immediately interested in it, and thus entirely driving away the spirit of devotion.
Ver. 15. “And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers money, and overthrew the tables.”—“It is to mock God,” says Quesnel, “when men come to commit new sins at the very place where they are to bewail and expiate their old ones.” The cords for the scourge, Jesus doubtless took from the sellers. It is not mentioned that He struck them with the scourge, nor was this necessary. It was a symbol only of the castigation which the practice merited, the embodied ἐ?ξέβαλεν . The sheep are placed first intentionally, in order that the masculine πάντας ; may be referred to the persons. That by “all” is meant those who are mentioned first in ver. 14, is shown by the additional clause, “and the sheep and the oxen.” If πάντας does not refer to these persons, then nothing is said of the sellers, with whom, however, Jesus had chiefly to do. The Berleburger Bibel remarks on the words, He drove them all out of the temple, “As He does inwardly also; for everything foreign must give way on His entrance into the heart.” That the expulsion of the sellers was not a proper miracle, is evident from ver. 18, in which the Jews demand that Jesus should justify His action by a miracle. In explanation of the effect, we must consider that Jesus had a powerful confederate in the consciences of the offenders—an evil conscience makes men cowards; that the privilege of the prophets was acknowledged among the people, and had been sanctioned by illustrious examples in the past, as that of Elijah; and that at this time the people were filled with a presentiment of a great impending reformation and overthrow of existing relations. But we must, above all, take into account the majesty of the person of Jesus, whose countenance then certainly shone like the sun, and His eyes were as a flame of fire. We have a parallel instance in John 18:6, where it is said of the priestly myrmidons, ἀ?πῆ?λθον εἰ?ς τὰ? ὀ?πίσω καὶ? ἔ?πεσαν χαμαί .
Ver. 16. “And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence: make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise.”
Anton remarks, “These were little Tetzels; these He treated more gently, and did not cast out their merchandise.” But, in truth, Jesus did no otherwise with the sellers of the oxen and sheep. The scourge of small cords was only a symbolical expression of “Take these things hence,” though He doubtless expressed it verbally also. Substantially, the scourge applies also to the dealers in doves, and the verbal expression also to the venders of oxen and sheep. Even on this first exercise of His office in the sanctuary of the nation, Jesus calls God His Father; as in Luke 2:49, He said, with respect to His first visit to the temple, οὐ?κ ᾔ?δειτε ὅ?τι ἐ?ν τοῖ?ς τοῦ? πατρός μου δεῖ? εἶ?ναί με ; The antithesis to the house of merchandise is formed by the house of prayer in Isaiah 56:7. The temple was a house of merchandise in another sense than that here chiefly meant; for sacrifices were bargained for, as well as dealt in. If among the Jews of the present day the exchange has taken the place of the temple, the difference is not very important, for the temple was a kind of exchange.
Ver. 17. “And His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house consumeth me.”
In Psalms 69:9 it is said, “For the zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up, and the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon me.” The two clauses of the verse are not in synonymous parallelism, but the second designates the consequences of the first: The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up; therefore the reproaches are fallen on me. For that the expression, “consumeth me,” does not designate the outward consequences of the zeal, but rather its inward intensity—equivalent to, it wears me away (Luther: I am zealous even unto death; with the remark: It is a mournful mood, so that the heart pines away, disappears, and is as it were consumed, as the moths consume a garment)—is shown by the parallel passage, Psalms 119:139, “My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten Thy words.” In the former passage, the temple is regarded as the centre of the whole Israelitish religion. The zeal here is the zeal of love. Luther says: “He is not moved to the anger which He here manifests by hatred, but by a deep love to God, who has founded this temple for His glory, for commerce in the Divine Word, that in the Church men might learn how they could be saved, and could serve God.
This made Him sad, to behold in His Father’s house such a horror and calamity that souls should be miserably ruined: with this He is angry, for He loved God.” The quotation of this passage from the Psalms is characteristic of the first cleansing of the temple in distinction from the second. It shows that the first transaction cannot be one absolutely peculiar to Christ; that it was typified by previous acts of righteous persons; and that in it a pattern is given for all believers and especially for all the servants of the Church. The passage could not have been quoted with reference to the second purification of the temple. For this did not form the summit of the activity common to all the servants of God (cf. Elijah’s declaration: I have been zealous for the Lord); but it belongs entirely and solely to Christ, the Angel of the covenant.
The expositors of the Church call attention, with much earnestness, to the doctrine which is contained in these words for the ministers of the Church. Quesnel says, “Jesus teaches us that zeal for God’s house is, as it were, the peculiar virtue of pastors.” Luther: “All apostles and bishops have also attempted this, and still do. They very well know what it is, when they see that their faithful care, their toil and trouble, are all in vain, and some evil-disposed person comes and makes a noise, and breaks down in one day more than one could build or set up again in some years. He also will say, The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up. For the more pious a pastor or preacher is, the more he feels this zeal, and the more he should feel it.” Calvin points out that, although the zeal must be common to all with the Son of God, it is not, however, permitted to all immediately to take up the scourge, and thus to attack abuses. For we have not the same authority, nor the same office.
Ver. 18. “Then answered the Jews, and said unto Him, What sign showest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things?”
These words of the Jews are the answer to the address of Jesus to the dealers in doves, who occupied the first place among them, and whose affair was adopted by the rest. “They had a certain reason for asking,” says Calvin; “for it does not behove a Jew, whenever there is anything faulty or displeasing to him in God’s temple, immediately to alter it.” In the meantime, the justification of Jesus was already implied in the imposing majesty of His appearance, and in the effect itself which He produced on this occasion. “Is it not a sufficient sign,” says Quesnel, “to effect such ready obedience, without any mark of authority, and to spread terror by a scourge of small cords?” Nevertheless Jesus granted the request, cf. ver. 23; only not to those who demanded it, because they were not deserving of it.
Ver. 19. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
It is evident that these words are not to be referred, as they have been by many, on the ground of an erroneous view of ver. 21, merely to Christ’s death and resurrection, setting aside entirely all reference to the temple, usually so called. The reference to the material temple, is rendered necessary by the fact, that only on this hypothesis does the sign stand in close connection with the proceeding which it is to vindicate. It was with respect to the material temple that Christ had taken upon Him full authority; He can therefore appeal only to a fact in the future which will prove His authority over this temple. Further, the hypothesis, that Jesus, when He spoke these words, pointed to His body, is refuted by the circumstance, that then the Jews could not so have understood Him, as we find they did, not merely here in ver. 20, but also in Matthew 26:61; Matthew 27:40, and Mark 14:57-59. But if He did not thus do, by this temple could be understood primarily, only the temple in which the transaction had taken place. A third reason is, that it seems impossible to separate these words from those in Matthew 24:2, where our Lord, in reference to the material temple, says to the disciples, “See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you. There shall not be left here one stone upon another, ὃ?ς οὐ? μὴ? καταλυθήσεται .” Finally, it is said in Acts 6:13-14, ἔ?στησάν τε μάρτυρας ψευδεῖ?ς λέγοντας , Ὁ? ἄ?νθρωπος οὗ?τος οὐ? παύεται λαλῶ?ν ῥ?ήματα κατὰ? τοῦ? τόπου τοῦ? ἁ?γίου [τούτου ] καὶ? τοῦ? νόμου· ἀ?κηκόαμεν γὰ?ρ αὐ?τοῦ? λέγοντος ὅ?τι Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς ὁ? Ναζωραῖ?ος οὗ?τος καταλύσει τὸ?ν τόπον τοῦ?τον καὶ? ἀ?λλάξει τὰ? ἔ?θη ἃ? παρέδωκεν ἡ?μῖ?ν Μωϋσῆ?ς . The false testimony consisted in this, that the false witnesses laid the causality of the destruction entirely on Jesus. Thus much however follows from the passage, that Stephen understood the impending destruction of the temple to be announced m the declaration of our Lord, and that, therefore, he did not refer it only to the body of Christ.
On the other hand, that we are not to stop with the reference to the material temple, is shown by the impossibility of this sense, as already made prominent by the Jews, and by the preposterous character of the declaration thus rendered; and that the reference, emphasized by John, to Christ’s body, His death and resurrection, really exists, is shown by the mention of the three days, and by the comparison of our Lord’s declaration m Matthew 12:39-40, according to which the sign of the prophet Jonah, or a repetition of it, should be given to the Jews. “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth;” and as Jonah afterwards appeared for I sign of judgment to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of man, after He has left the heart of the earth, appear for a sign of judgment unto this generation. Cf. Matthew 16:4
It has been already pointed out elsewhere, that we shall labour in vain in the solution of this sacred enigma, which he Saviour here presents before the Jews, so long as we fail to recognise the essential identity of the temple, the appearance of Christ in the flesh, and the Church of the New Testament. The meaning was there thus determined: “If you shall once (that which ye will do, ye shall do) destroy the temple of My body, and in and with it this outward temple, the symbol and pledge of the kingdom of God among you, then will I in three days raise up again the temple of My body, and in and with it the essence of the outward temple, the kingdom of God.”
“That John,” it was remarked, “assumed a close relation between the appearance of Christ and the temple, is evinced already in John 1:14. That the identity of the outward temple and the kingdom of God was not far removed from the coarse understanding of the Jews, is shown by Mark 14:58, where the witnesses thus render the words of Christ: ὅ?τι ἐ?γὼ? καταλύσω τὸ?ν ναὸ?ν τοῦ?τον τὸ?ν χειροποίητον καὶ? διὰ? τριῶ?ν ἡ?μερῶ?ν ἄ?λλον ἀ?χειροποίητον οἰ?κοδομήσω . This rendering, apart from the malicious change of λύσατε into ἐ?γὼ? καταλύσω , is correct, but not complete. Of the three references, two only are apprehended; the third, to the body of Christ, is overlooked. This is made prominent by John in his mode of intimation, as being that which is least clear; and only a misapprehension of his usual manner in such cases, could mislead one to the opinion, that he intended to deny the two other references.
The signification of the temple is shown by the name, which it bore in its most ancient form, Ohel Moed,—the tabernacle of congregation, the place where God met with His people. Cf. Exodus 25:22; Exodus 29:43: “And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and he shall be sanctified by My glory.” Numbers 17:4 (Heb. ver. 19): “In the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with you.” Such a meeting was not merely a temporary one, when at the chief feasts the people assembled personally in the sanctuary. Rather does Jehovah ever meet with His people in the sanctuary. He is always there present, and ready to receive His own; and His own can come to Him spiritually and dwell with Him, even when personally they are far removed from the sanctuary. It is of significance in this reference, that in the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8:44; 1 Kings 8:48, it is promised, that the prayers of those also shall be heard, who are outwardly separated from the temple, but pray with the body and mind turned towards it. But Leviticus 16:16 is decisive; for, according to this, all the children of Israel dwell spiritually with the Lord in His tabernacle, which consequently is no other than an embodiment of the Church. Decisive, also, are many passages in the Psalms, in which it is designated as the highest privilege of believers, that they dwell with the Lord in His temple, and thus also dwell with Him, when they are personally far removed from it. Cf., e.g., Psalms 84:4: “The bird hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, thine altars, O Lord of Sabaoth.”
The bird and swallow are an emblem of believers in their weakness and helplessness.
Ver. 5: “Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house;” where the dwellers in the house of God are not “its constant visitors,” but members of the household of God in a spiritual sense. Psalms 27:4: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Psalms 23:6: “I dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Psalms 15:1; Psalms 27:5; Psalms 61:4, “I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever;” Psalms 63:2. In Psalms 52, a Psalm which, according to the superscription, was sung far from the sanctuary, it is said in ver. 8, “But I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God;” and according to Psalms 92:13, all believers are planted in the house of the Lord. All these passages serve for a commentary to the name Ohel Moed, and show that the meeting together was at the same time a dwelling together, the intercourse being an unbroken one. In the prophets also, we find the same representation. “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”—thus do the godless exclaim ( Isaiah 33:14), when terrified by the mighty judgments of the Lord. They do so from the conviction, that all Israelites dwell with the Lord, or in His sanctuary, cf. Psalms 5:4; and explain this privilege, according to the experience they have just had of the character of the Lord, as an extremely dangerous one. The temple appears as the spiritual dwelling-place of Israel also in Matthew 23:38: the house in which the Lord has hitherto dwelt with them is now to be left desolate, the presence of the Lord departing from it.
The temple being thus the symbol and pledge of the connection of God with His people, it will appear quite natural that the temple should occur repeatedly as a mere emblem of the Church. We find such passages even in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 7:14, the unbelieving covenant-people are upbraided for the assumption of the prerogative of the believing, of being the temple of the Lord. In Zechariah 6:12, it is said of the Messiah, “He shall build the temple of the Lord”—the Church. In Zechariah 7:3 also, the Church of God is designated by the name of the house of God. In Ephesians 2:19, believers are declared to be of the household of God; as formerly the Jews only were, but now are also the Gentile Christians. The fact that the temple is now destroyed, does not alter the case, since it was only a symbol. Cf. vers. 21, 22; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5.
The connection of God with His people having formed the heart of the sanctuary, this must have been not merely an emblem of the Church, but at the same time a type of the advent of Christ, in which this connection was truly completed, and in which the Church received its necessary foundation. In Christ, God dwelt truly and really among His people. He took upon Him flesh and blood among them and from them; and the Church of the New Testament is only the continuation of His appearance in the flesh, since to His own He is the true Immanuel always unto the end of the world. This typical relation of the temple to Christ is indicated not only by John, John 1:14, but also by Paul in Colossians 2:9; Colossians 1:19.
The word, “destroy,” is not to be attenuated into a mere prediction of that which will be. It is to be placed under the same point of view as the command to Judas, “What thou doest, do quickly;” and the word in Matthew 23:32, πληρώσατε τὸ? μέτρον τῶ?ν πατέρων ὑ?μῶ?ν . When the Jews changed λύσατε into ἐ?γὼ? καταλύσω , they had rightly discovered that Jesus attributed to Himself a causality in this; their wickedness consisted in entirely setting aside their own participation. No one disappoints God. What the sinner will do, that he is to do. “From this we may learn,” says Anton, “how the counsel of God manifests itself in such cases. It seems as though the Almighty gave this and that entirely into the power of men, as was especially the appearance in the Passion of Christ. Then His enemies rejoiced, and thought, Now all will be right.” We may doubtless say, that there is a sacred irony in the word λύσατε . They think to put a finishing stroke to the work of Christ, and are themselves only the instruments in His hand.
Ver. 20. “Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days?”
It is generally acknowledged that the temple here meant, is that of Herod, which was a complete renovation of the former, extending even to the foundations; but was undertaken gradually and in portions, so that this temple is represented generally, not as a third, but only as a glorification of the second. Herod conceived the plan of this renovation in the eighteenth year of his reign, and finished it, according to the statement of Josephus, in Book 15, 11, 5, 6 of his Antiquities, in nine and a half years. But, doubtless, new embellishments were continually being added afterwards, so that the building of the temple never entirely ceased. This is sufficient to explain the assertion of the Jews here; which is, of course, not to be considered as a strictly historical account. It was their interest to make the time as long as possible.
Ver. 21. “But He spake of the temple of His body.”
The body of Christ is here put, according to the correct remark of Lampe, instead of His whole humanity, because over this alone was power granted to His enemies. If Christ is here designated as the true temple, as that to which the temple at Jerusalem is related only as the shadow to the substance, then in this is included the impending destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, or at least the removal of its essential quality; and thus the condemnation of those who dream of a restoration of this temple, since in the passages on which they found their dream, it is just this essential quality which is taken into view. On this side, our text is coincident with John 4:23, as was already perceived by Luther: “But now in the New Testament, God has erected another temple, where God will dwell; that is, the dear humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. There will God be found, and nowhere else. He calls Christ’s body the temple of God, wherein God dwells, in order that the hearts and eyes of all of us may be directed to Christ, that we may worship Him only who sits at the right hand of God in heaven.
God is no longer bound to one place, as He was at that time, when He would dwell at Jerusalem, before the true temple, the Lord Christ, came; as is said also in John 4:23. The temple at Jerusalem has ceased to be; and now men may worship God at whatever place they may be, and turn their heart and eyes in faith to the person of Christ, where there is both God and man.” In harmony with our text is Revelation 21:22, “And I saw no temple therein; for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” Here also Christ is the antitype of the temple,
He, on whose advent the continued existence of the temple became impossible; because the emblematic residence of God among His people, which formed the essential characteristic of the temple, had found its truth in Christ, and will find it most perfectly in the New Jerusalem. John also, in John 1:14, hints at the typical relation in which the tabernacle and the temple stand to the appearance of Christ. When, elsewhere, the Church is represented as the antitype of the temple, there is no opposition to these passages; for the Church is the body of Christ, and in it are continued His theanthropic nature and rule. Not the Church in distinction from Christ is the temple of God, but the Church in so far as it is under Christ as its Head.
Ver. 22. “When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.”
It is not said, that the disciples then first understood the declaration; but that then, when the fulfilment lay before them, it received a new meaning for them.
The belief in Scripture is placed before belief in this declaration, according to the usage of John 7:38; John 7:42; John 10:35; John 13:18, and of the New Testament generally—belief in the Scriptures, viz., of the Old Testament: because the declaration of Christ received its full light and its correct meaning only by comparison with the Old Testament; without this solid basis, it would have been in suspense. The resurrection of Christ also appears as testified by the Old Testament in John 20:9: οὐ?δέπω γὰ?ρ ᾔ?δεισαν τὴ?ν γραφὴ?ν ὅ?τι δεῖ? αὐ?τὸ?ν ἐ?κ νεκρῶ?ν ἀ?ναστῆ?ναι . According to 1 Corinthians 15:4, Christ rose on the third day “according to the Scripture.” That the Apostles based their assumption of the Old Testament witness to the resurrection on the authority of Christ, is shown by Luke 24:25-26; Luke 24:44. Yet the former passage, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” indicates that the resurrection is not witnessed to directly in the Old Testament, but rather comes into consideration as necessarily intermediate between the Passion and the glory of Christ. We are led to the same result by the saying of Peter, in 1 Peter 1:11, that the Spirit of Christ in the prophets testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. When the matter is regarded from this point of view, the Old Testament contains testimonies to the resurrection in great abundance. They are found, according to the declaration of Christ, in Moses—here we must especially consider Genesis 49:10; for without the resurrection, Christ cannot be the Shiloh, in whom Judah attains to the dominion of the world,—in the Psalms—e.g., in Psalms 110, where Christ appears, sitting at the right hand of the Almighty, as the ruler over His enemies,—and in the prophets. All predictions in the latter concerning the Messiah in His glory, as Isaiah 9, 11, and Micah 5, contain a guaranty of the resurrection. But those prophecies are especially to be considered, which place in contrast to the sufferings ending in death, the glory which should follow. In Isaiah 53 the atoning death of the Servant of God is clearly taught. If now, in spite of and by means of this, He attains to great glory, so that the heathen are sprinkled by Him, and kings shut their mouths at Him, then the resurrection is a necessary postulate. In Zechariah 9:9-10, the Messiah is represented first as the lowly, עני , and riding upon an ass; and then as He who speaks peace to the heathen, whose dominion is from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. Since the lowliness, according to John 12:10, John 13:7, and chap. 11, is to end in death, the resurrection forms the necessary bridge between the two conditions. Besides the specific Messianic predictions, there is also a wide region of typical prophecy of the resurrection, as Psalms 16, and of prophetic history.
It is of significance that the New Testament comprises all the books of the Old Testament under the name of Scripture. It thus intimates that these writings, though widely separated as to time, and different in their contents and manner, are yet connected by a powerful bond of union, being “given from one Shepherd,” Ecclesiastes 12:11; it also points to inspiration, and the unconditional authority resting upon it, which “cannot be broken.” Every eclectic position towards the Old Testament is thus by this designation cut up by the roots.
Ver. 23. “Now, when He was at Jerusalem at the Passover. in the feast, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did.”
Lampe justly remarks, that the determination of the time shows clearly that the purification of the temple related in the previous verses, like that which pertains to the end of Christ’s ministry, occurred before the beginning of the feast. This is in striking accordance with the supposition that the purification of the temple was coincident with the putting away of the leaven, which always preceded the commencement of the feast. Exodus 12:15; 1 Corinthians 5:7. The words, at the Passover, and, in the feast (cf. τὸ? πάσχα ἡ? ἑ?ορτὴ? τῶ?ν Ἰ?ουδαίων , John 6:4), are not added without purpose. They indicate that the whole feast is meant, not merely the first day, on which the paschal lamb was eaten. The indication was the more necessary, as in the law the Passover means only the paschal lamb; the whole feast being called only the feast of unleavened bread. Leviticus 23:5-6; Numbers 28:16-17. Elsewhere the “feast of the Passover” is spoken of, John 13:1; Luke 2:41. Most of the miracles were certainly performed on the later days of the feast. John mentions those miracles which evince how earnestly Jesus then already strove to gather the children of Jerusalem, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings. Matthew 23:37; also in John 4:45. That he does not give a complete account of them, is explained by the circumstance, that they bear a similar character with those concerning which there is a sufficiently full narrative in the three first Gospels.
Those are here spoken of who believed in the name of Jesus. The name stands in close connection with the calling and renown. It is the compendium of the deeds: cf. Isaiah 63:14, “So didst Thou lead Thy people, to make Thyself a glorious name.” Though the name remains externally the same with the accession of deeds, its character is essentially altered thereby. The name Jesus receives by the miracles a special emphasis, a different sound. That those persons are here spoken of who stood, like Nicodemus, in a doubtful position, is shown by comparison with John 3:2, the connection of which with our text is by no means accidental. From this passage, and John 4:48, we perceive, that in the words, when they saw, etc., there is an intimation of the superficiality of their faith, which was still too dependent on its outward occasion, and was still too much confined to the sphere of reflection.
Vers. 23-25 form the transition to the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus, which, together with the purification of the temple, is the second great event in connection with Christ’s first Passover in Jerusalem. John, strictly speaking, gives an account of only these two facts. These verses serve only as a basis for the understanding of the conversation with Nicodemus.
Vers. 24, 25. “But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man.”
They believed,—that was evident; but their faith was not a solid one, on which one might build. It was to be feared that they would not be stedfast when the storm of public opinion began to rush and loudly roar against them. That would apply to them which is written in Matthew 13:20. They endure only for a time; but when tribulation and persecution arise, then immediately they are offended. Luther says: “That faith is still a milk-faith, and a young faith, of those who easily and precipitately assent and believe; and when they hear something which does not please them, or which they did not expect, they straightway bound back again, and recur to their old dreams.” What a background of alienation from the true doctrine was still concealed behind the foreground of turning to Christ, and of faith, is shown by the example of Nicodemus, who at first could not reconcile himself to, and would know nothing of, the simplest of all requirements, that of regeneration. For such as are still” in inward dependence on public opinion, it is impossible long to offer a successful resistance to it. The words. He did not commit Himself to them, stand in close connection with, they believed on Him, and serve appropriately to limit it, and set it in the proper light. If their faith, which is nothing else but a confidence in Jesus, had been a well-grounded one, Jesus would also have trusted in them. The act of self-surrender must be a reciprocal one.
That Jesus did not commit Himself to them, means, that in intercourse with them He maintained a certain reserve, keeping always in view that the friends of the present might in the future become His enemies, and, as Lampe remarks, “verifying in His own example the wisdom of serpents, which, in Matthew 10:16, He requires of His disciples.” The words presuppose that a dangerous opposition had already begun to show itself against Jesus, in harmony with ver. 18, the fact that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, and with John 4:3, where, for the sake of security, Jesus removes from Judea into Galilee, where the Pharisees were less powerful. These must very soon have become aware, that between their system and the doctrine of Jesus there was an irreconcilable opposition.
Jesus knew all men, and knew what was in every man. We find a power of this kind in a much inferior degree in the prophets of the Old Testament. Luther says: “This the prophets indeed could do, since they sometimes knew by a revelation from God the proceedings and designs of one man towards another; even the designs of kings were not hidden from them, as it is recorded of Elisha, 2 Kings 6:8 sq. But this he did not have of himself, but it was revealed to him by God,—item, he could not do this of all men, nor know all the thoughts of a single man; therefore, also, he could not know all men.” It is God’s privilege to try the hearts and reins, Psalms 7:9; to know the hearts. Acts 15:8; and to understand the thoughts afar off, Psalms 139:2. In this privilege Christ must participate in full measure, because He is the only-begotten Son of God. “He knew the people better than they were known, not only by others, but by themselves.” “Christ,” says Calvin, “knows the very roots of the trees; we, on the other hand, know the character of the trees only by their fruits.” We are reminded by this how very much we should be on our guard against rocking ourselves to sleep in our self-sufficiency, since the judgment of Christ, according to which we shall be judged, may very easily be widely different from our own. A reflection of the gift of Christ here celebrated is certainly granted also to the Church: for, among the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10, is that of the discerning of spirits. Before him who has true faith many mists vanish, which conceal the true forms of persons from the world. “To this distinction of good and evil,” says the Berleburger Bibel, “even Christians otherwise simple may arrive, if they faithfully follow Christ, and are in earnest about it.” Even simple and uneducated Christians often cast piercing glances. But unconditional and unexceptional certainty is still a privilege of Christ alone, and the proposition still remains true: “de occultis non judicat ecclesia.” Meyer remarks: “The supernatural immediate knowledge of Jesus is often rendered especially prominent in John 1:49; John 4:17; John 6:64; John 11:4; John 11:15; John 13:11; John 21:17.” In this the Apocalypse is in harmony with the Gospel. “I know thy works,” is constantly repeated in the epistles to the churches. And in Revelation 2:23 it is said, “And all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 2". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent