5. The Manifestation of Messiah (John 1:29-2:25)
The Drawing and Driving of Men
Wherever and whenever our Lord Jesus appeared before men they were either drawn to Him or driven from Him. That surely will be the case when our Lord Jesus returns to the earth again, for the Scriptures say on the one hand:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
And yet on the other hand we are told:
“For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, …” (2 Thess. 1:6-10a).
If the Bible tells us that at the second coming of our Lord some will be drawn and others driven, what is the deciding difference? From the divine perspective, the difference is the elective purpose of God. It is the choice of God that makes the difference. But from the human perspective, there is another reason, and this reason is revealed to us in the initial manifestation of the Messiah at His first coming as recorded by the apostle John in chapters one and two of his Gospel. While the disciples were compellingly drawn to follow our Lord, those in the Temple were driven from His presence. Not only is the contrast clear, but also the condition in men which brought about the distinction in our Lord’s dealings is revealed as well. From the human perspective, the difference which determines men’s destinies is given to instruct us as we study this crucial passage of Scripture.
The Declaration of John the Baptist
We have concluded from our earlier study of the baptism of the Lord Jesus that the main reason for Jesus’ baptism by John was that God might signify to John that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. When the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the Father proclaimed Jesus to be His beloved Son, John was assured that Jesus was the Messiah.
There was no one common concept of Messiah or His kingdom, but in the vast majority of cases, Messianic expectation was much more external than internal, much more political than spiritual. This is precisely why John the Baptist was sent to prepare the people for their King. They needed to repent—to have a change of mind and heart. Few were prepared for the introduction of Jesus as Messiah by these words of John: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b).
This introduction I take to be a summary statement, drawing together all of the Old Testament passages concerning Messiah in His suffering and substitutionary atonement. The Passover lamb was a picture of the Messiah who would come (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7, “Christ our Passover”). The Suffering Servant was described by Isaiah as being like a lamb:
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
The apostles continued to identify Jesus as the Lamb of God (cf. Acts 8:26ff., 1 Peter 1:19; Rev. 5:6,8, etc.). How different was John’s concept of Messiah from the majority of Israelites! John presented our Lord, not as the One Who would throw off the shackles of Rome, but as the One Who would Himself bear the penalty for sin.
Two words summarize John’s evaluation of Jesus. First, He was the sin-bearer. John’s message was one of repentance from sins. Jesus came to accomplish the removal of sin—He ‘takes away the sin of the world.’ Secondly, Jesus was John’s superior. Although John’s birth was prior to that of the Lord Jesus (cf. Luke 1), our Lord’s existence was from eternity: “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me’” (John 1:30).
The prophet Micah predicted that Messiah would be eternal:
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be Ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).
Our Lord did not begin His existence in Bethlehem’s manger. It was there He began to exist as God-man, whereas from eternity past He had existed solely as God. It is because of His eternality that our Lord could claim: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM” (John 8:58).
Then, also, Jesus was superior to John because His baptism was greater. John baptized with water, but he persistently preached that the One Who would come after him was far greater for He would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16).
The Drawing of the Disciples
The first to respond to Jesus as the Messiah were some of John’s own disciples. It is not surprising that they did so, but it is unusual that they did so at the instigation of John:
“Again the next day John was standing, and two of his disciples; and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37).
The greatness of this hairy man of the wilderness is nowhere more striking than in these few words. John actually encouraged his own disciples to follow Jesus. There is a great emphasis today (and often rightly so) on this matter of discipleship. But all too often we want to make men our disciples. The goal of all true discipleship is to enlist and encourage men to become followers of our Lord. How forcefully John reminds us of the nature of true discipleship. We are not to be attracted and attached to the man, but to the Master. John made it easy for these two to do what was right. They took the hint and began to follow Jesus.
If the drawing of these two men was instigated by John, it was also invited by Jesus:
“And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ And they said to Him, ‘Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ They came therefore and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour” (John 1:38-39).
We are given the name of only one of these two, Andrew (verse 40), but the identity of the other is not too difficult to determine. No doubt John in his modesty, neglected to mention his name, but the fact that John knew the very hour at which the invitation of Jesus was given (verse 39) leaves little room for doubt. Our Lord’s words to Andrew and John were rightly understood as an encouragement to follow Him. In the case of Phillip (verse 43) the invitation was even more forceful.
Not only did the first disciples of Jesus follow Him because of the implied instruction of John the Baptist and the invitation of Jesus, several followed Jesus because of the invitation of those who first found Him. Andrew immediately found his brother Simon, whose name our Lord changed to Peter. In this act of changing the name of Peter our Lord was, by implication, asserting His authority over him (cf. 2 Kings 23:34). When Adam named the animals of creation as well as his wife he was evidencing his authority over them. (No doubt this is one reason why ‘liberated women’ refuse to have their names changed when they marry—they are resisting the implications of having their names changed.) Also, the Bible informs us that the change of name indicates a change in one’s character and destiny (Gen. 17:5,15; 32:28). As the Gospel accounts make absolutely clear, Peter was no rock, but by the grace of God he became a part of the sure foundation of the church.
While Andrew invited his brother Simon to follow the Messiah, Phillip sought out his brother Nathanael. This episode of the drawing of Nathanael is especially interesting. When Phillip introduced the Messiah to Nathanael as “Jesus of Nazareth,” it brought about immediate skepticism. To come from Nazareth was to be a backwoodsman. No one important ever came from such an insignificant place as that. It was like introducing Jesus as an ‘Aggie.’ Reluctantly, perhaps, Nathanael came to Jesus. On seeing him, our Lord greeted him with the statement,
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47).
Nathanael was recognized as a true Israelite, without deceit or deception. Not a sinless man, but a sincere one. Being a man of honesty and truthfulness, Nathanael could not deny our Lord’s assessment, and without false humility, he responded, “How do you know me?” (John 1:48)
Our Lord responded with an even more astounding statement, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48).
This statement of our Lord was very significant, for it swept any remaining skepticism and resulted in an affirmation of faith: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).
What was so astounding about our Lord’s statement, that brought Nathanael to his knees? First of all, our Lord, even from a great distance, was fully aware of Nathanael and where he was. The fig tree in those times was a symbol of one’s home, and was frequently the place of prayer and meditation. Our Lord did not tell all, but when He said that He saw Nathanael while under the fig tree, I get the distinct impression that He is discreetly informing Nathanael that He was aware of his deeds and his thoughts at that particular moment. Perhaps Nathanael was praying, for something in particular. Perhaps he was beseeching God to send His Messiah. Whatever the specifics were, Nathanael knew that our Lord was aware of his most intimate thoughts. This One had to be Israel’s Messiah and yet our Lord promised that greater things than this they would someday witness.
The Wedding at Cana
Our Lord is now in the company of followers who will be known as His disciples. They were convinced that He was their Messiah, but their concepts of what this meant were destined to change drastically. As yet, the faith and commitment of these men did not have the support of one spectacular miracle (such as Satan had suggested in our Lord’s temptation). The first attesting miracle which these men were to witness occurred at a wedding at Cana of Galilee.
Weddings in the days of the New Testament were considerably different from what we know today. There was an engagement period of up to twelve months. This engagement was actually a written and binding contract, which had to be terminated by a written bill of divorce. On the evening of the marriage, the bride was escorted with much ceremony to the home of her husband. The bride was led to her husband where some kind of ceremony took place, followed by the washing of hands and a great feast which could last as long as a week.60 It is not difficult to understand why the wine may have run short. Whether the lack of supply was due to poverty or poor planning we are not told, but the consequences could be much worse than the embarrassment which such a situation would bring about. We are told that there was a strong element of reciprocity in weddings of the ancient Near East and that failure to provide an adequate wedding gift could result in some kind of litigation. The family of the bride would suffer not only much embarrassment, but also stood to face financial losses.61
Mary seemed to understand the urgency of the situation and pleaded with her son to save the situation. Although our Lord complied with her request, He also made it clear that with His public manifestation the old relationship between them as mother and son had ceased. His time had not yet come, and Mary should not attempt to use her relationship with Jesus to alter God’s time table.
Mary, knowing that Jesus would not let the joy of the marriage feast be turned to sorrow, instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked (John 2:5). Nearby were six stone water vessels, which held about twenty gallons each. They were present for the rites of Jewish purification. Jesus instructed the servants to fill the water pots and then to serve from them, beginning with the master of ceremonies. The wine, contrary to customary practice, was better than any that had yet been served.
John calls this miracle the first ‘sign’ of our Lord Jesus. A sign is a miracle with an inherent lesson. It is like an arrow that points to a conclusion. What impresses us about this sign is that it was not intended for all, but primarily for the benefit of the disciples, for we are told, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His Glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11). We might call this a private miracle. In this way our Lord answered the petition of His mother, without altering His own time table appointed by the Father.
Another interesting observation from this miracle is that only those who served saw what Jesus had done. Now if you will permit me to ‘spiritualize’ for a moment, it seems to me that we have a significant principle illustrated here. Those who sat at the table received no lasting benefit, other than the privilege of tasting vintage wine. Those who served were the only ones who benefited from the ‘sign’ that here was One who had power over natural processes.
Haw frequently we see this in the context of the local church. There will always be those who come and sit, and we are grateful to God for them. But those who witness the miraculous power of God are those who serve, not those who sit. Our Lord could have made water into wine without any human participation, but He chose to do so with the involvement of the servants. The privilege of the servants was not in helping God perform a miracle but in participating in it, and in witnessing it. That is one of the great benefits of Christian service, for in serving Him we are privileged to see His working, which others miss.
Unfortunately, men have made more out of the presence of wine at this wedding than its meaning. The tee-totalers assure us that this wine was greatly diluted,62 while others point out that the text literally suggests that the poorer wine is served when men have become drunk (margin, NASV, John 2:10) . My personal opinion is that this wine did have some alcoholic content, and that men could have gotten drunk on it. The Scriptures do not condemn drinking wine which contains some alcohol (cf. 1 Tim. 5:23), but they do forbid drunkenness (Eph. 5:13) and the consumption of those strong drinks which are clearly made to get you ‘high’ (cf. Pro. 20:1; 23:30-31).
We should be instructed by our Lord turning the water into wine that our Lord is not a cosmic kill-joy. He tacitly gave His blessing to the joys of matrimonial bliss. He created the wine for the pleasure of the guests and for the preservation of the honor of the host.
The Incident in the Temple
Although only the previous visitation of our Lord to the Temple at the age of 12 (Luke 2:41ff.) is recorded in Scripture, we are surely correct in assuming that a visit to the Temple was an annual event (cf. Luke 2:41, which indicates that was the usual practice of Jesus’ parents). There is one decisive difference in the visit reported only by John in the second chapter of his Gospel. This was the first visit of our Lord to the Temple as Messiah. Some critics have pointed out that while John records a cleansing of the Temple at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, the synoptic Gospels place the cleansing during the last week of His life. Those who wish to find ‘errors’ in the Bible will call this some kind of literary license, but those who take the Scriptures as the Word of God simply reply that there were two cleansings, as the Gospel writers indicate.63
How our Lord refused to accommodate Himself to the limited understanding of men is most evident in this account. The Jews had expected Messiah to be manifested in some spectacular way in the Temple. While our Lord refused Satan’s proposal to leap from the pinnacle of the Temple and thereby manifest His divinity, He chose to reveal Himself in Temple by driving out the money-makers.
Like most deviations from the truth, the scene in the Temple which so angered our Lord resulted from some very practical problems. Those who pilgrimaged to the Holy City from afar were obliged (with the native Palestinians) to pay the half-shekel Temple tax (cf. Matt. 17:24-27). They needed to exchange their foreign coinage into Palestinian currency. In addition, those who came from a great distance needed to purchase sacrificial animals to offer at the Temple. What may have begun as an essential service became a highly profitable business, and eventually a corrupt racket, owned by none other than Annas, the ex-High Priest and operated by some corrupted priests. When Jesus struck out against the evils present at the Temple, He opposed no less than the hierarchy of the Judaistic religion.
The corruption and the abuses had made a profound impression on our Lord over the years, but these seem to be more prominent in the second cleansing. Paramount in our Lord’s rebuke on this occurrence of the first cleansing is the inappropriateness of the place where all this activity was going on. The Temple was a place of worship and prayer, but the atmosphere in the courtyard was more like that at a carnival. Imagine if you can that we are about to begin the worship portion of our meeting. There is no organ music quietly playing in the background, nor the sound of a magnificent choir. Rather there is the bleating of sheep, the flapping of pigeon’s wings, the ringing of cash registers, and the characteristic haggling over prices. And the smell is like that of the stockyard. What a way to worship.
Perhaps the worst error of all is the fact that it was in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only place that Gentiles were allowed to enter for worship. Jews might be able to get away from it all, but this market place in the Temple virtually excluded the Gentiles from worship.64
The wonder of it all is how our Lord managed to cleanse the Temple without any real resistance. He did not manifest any of His divine attributes (other than righteous indignation), so men did not shrink back due to fear of His power. Why, then, did they allow our Lord to drive them out? Let me suggest several possibilities. First of all, our Lord was absolutely right and immoral men shrink back when their evil is exposed. Second, although this business enterprise was owned and operated by the religious establishment, it was despised by the masses. Shortly before the fall of Jerusalem, this practice was abandoned due to popular pressure.65 Even at this early point in our Lord’s ministry, the Jewish leaders recognized that our Lord had popular support. Finally, they recognized that here, at the very least, was a powerful personality, and that in this act He was making an impressive claim for Himself.
Most of us feel somewhat uncomfortable with passages such as this, for we would rather that the Gospel writers tickle our ears with accounts which reveal the love of Jesus, rather than His holy anger. One way in which we fall far short of the standard set by our Lord is that we seldom get angry at the right things. Some of us get mad for the wrong reasons—this is sin. Few of us get mad when we should—this, too, is sin. Parents should be angry at disrespect in their children. Christians should get angry about corruption and injustice.
The Jewish leaders did not take the act of our Lord lying down. Far from it! But they did calculate the cost of open and public opposition and reckoned it too high. Instead they made a very shrewd counter-offensive. They determined to put our Lord on the defensive. And they did so by appearing to assume that this act declared Him to be Messiah. They intended to force the hand of our Lord by a statement sounding like this, “All right, we are willing to assume that you are claiming to be the Messiah. Now give us a sign that will prove your claim beyond a doubt.” (Cf. John 2:18.)
There was nothing original about this challenge. It was a mere echo of Satan’s taunt not many days past. Our Lord refused to accept such a challenge, for His kingdom was not to be established on such spectacularism. Instead, He chose to answer them in a statement so enigmatic that it partially and temporarily disarmed his critics. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
The only sign unbelieving Israel would receive was the sign of the prophet Jonah (cf. Matt. 12:38-40). Of course, they did not comprehend our Lord’s words, and largely disregarded them as insane babblings. It was only later that our Lord’s disciples grasped our Lord’s true meaning (John 2:21-22).
Interpretation and Applications
As we look at this portion of Scripture as a whole, there are several observations which we can make by way of interpretation.
(1) Messiah is manifested here, not so much in terms of spectacular miracles, but in term of revelations of His deity. Notice the attributes of God which are attributed here to our Lord Jesus Christ. There is an indication here of the sovereignty of God, for our Lord was at all times in full control of His situation, drew men to Himself, and He drove men from His presence. He chose those who would be followers of Himself. The eternality of God is evident, for John introduced Jesus as the one who existed long before him (John 1:30, cf. 1:1-18). The omniscience of our Lord is revealed by our Lord’s knowledge of Nathanael’s presence and thoughts beneath the fig tree. The omnipotence of Jesus is displayed by His turning of the water into wine. It is very difficult to read the Gospels without very quickly discerning the writers’ intentions to convince us that Jesus Christ was God manifested in human flesh.
(2) I am impressed with the fact that Jesus went about the presentation of Himself as Messiah in a way totally unexpected, indeed inconsistent with what we would think to be best. Let’s liken our Lord’s manifestation to Israel to a person running for high political office. How would a political candidate seek to get himself elected to office? He would certainly seek to gain wide exposure and acclaim. He would probably hire an advertising firm and enlist a press agent. He would seek to get in the public eye and to convey himself as the one who best represents the highest hopes and ideals of the community. He would certainly endeavor to gain the support of men of high political standing. If this is the best way to go about things, then our Lord did it all wrong.
He was One Who came with no great external appeal (Isaiah 53:2). His message was not one of political liberation, but of sin and its forgiveness. His home town was a place of obscurity. He was a backwoodsman whose speech immediately set him apart as uncouth in the minds of the sophisticated. Rather than to get the attention of the masses by a spectacular series of miracles, He disclosed Himself by an act of censure and one which immediately alienated the most powerful political figures of His day. Those whom Jesus chose to be His intimates and His closest followers were not men of great standing or influence.
(3) Jesus’ initial presentation was a foreshadowing of the outcome of His ministry. Some may tend to suppose that at the beginning of His ministry Jesus was popular and welcomed by all, and that only later was His rejection conceived in the hearts of a few who succeeded in winning the support of others to destroy the Messiah. From the very outset our Lord chose to alienate the religious hierarchy of Judaism. He never had their support throughout His life and ministry, nor did He desire it. His coming to draw men to Himself and to drive men away is strikingly parallel to His future coming to the earth.
(4) The Lord Jesus dealt with men so differently in this presentation of Himself. The contrast between the drawing of the disciples in chapters 1 and 2 with the driving out of the money-changers in the last part of chapter two is so dramatic it cannot escape our notice. The real question which comes to mind is, “Why did Jesus draw some men to Himself, while others were driven away?” The answer to this question is to be found in the last three verses of chapter 2:
“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
Let me be the first to remind you that I am what has been called a Calvinist. I do not prefer the label, but I do hold to this position. I believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. God is the One Who determines man’s destiny, ultimately. But every good Calvinist that I know believes that man has a decision to make concerning his salvation for which God holds him accountable. As Paul states in Romans, man is lost because God has not chosen him (chapter 9), but he is also lost because he has not chosen God (chapter 10).
The passage which we are studying stresses the human element in man’s relationship with God. What is it that determined what our Lord’s response would be to those He encountered? It is the condition of men’s hearts, which our Lord, as omniscient God, was able to discern. Let me take a moment to characterize the difference between those whom our Lord drew and those He drove way. It is these same factors, I believe, which explain the difference (from a human perspective) between intimacy with God and enmity with Him.
First of all our Lord sought men who were looking for a spiritual Savior, not primarily a secular one. Israelites wanted a physical king, a great liberator, but they were not vexed by the weight of their sins. True Israelites sought a solution to the problem of sin. The primary issue was not revolution or reform, but redemption.
Second, our Lord devoted Himself to the givers, not the getters. The disciples immediately began to share their new-found faith with others. The Jewish leadership sought only to gain financially from religion, and they had no qualm about excluding others (such as the Gentiles) from worshipping God.
Third, our Lord sought out men who desired fellowship with Him. These were men who were content simply to be with Him. They asked nothing more from Him than that. The others cared nothing about His presence, but simply for His presents.
Fourth, our Lord drew men who were willing to find God in the mundane matters of daily life, rather than to demand His self-disclosure in the mighty miracles and signs sought by unbelieving Israel.
We might summarize most of what I have said in this statement: God drew servants, not spectators, not spongers. Those who recognized Jesus for Who He was (and is) were those who served Him. The spectators are oblivious, the spongers uninterested in the kind of Messiah Jesus proved to be.
As we come to the conclusion of this initial presentation of our Lord Jesus as the Messiah, I find that there are four different kinds of people described. The first type are those like the guests at the wedding in Cana. They are totally aloof to the presence of God in their midst. They enjoy the benefits of His presence, but are unaware of His existence. The second variety is that person who seeks God, who to some extent believes in Him, but not as the sinbearer, only as the miracle worker. They seek the spectacular, not the Savior. There are many of these seekers, today, just as there were in Jesus day. If they are Christians at all they are exceedingly shallow ones. The sad thing is that Christianity often appeals to misguided motives. The third kind of person found in our passage is the religious renegade. They are religious outwardly, but they are the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord speaks of these in the book of Matthew:
Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ (Matt. 7:22-23).
As I have said many times before, Hell is going to be populated with religious people. Religion has never saved one soul from Hell, but it has led many there. It is only by acknowledging your sin and trusting in the Lord Jesus as God’s provision for your sin that you can come to a living faith that saves.
That brings us to the fourth kind of person. They are the God-seekers who realize their sinfulness and rest in Jesus Christ as God’s only way of eternal salvation. I pray that you are that kind of person.
62 “Jesus made real wine out of the water. But there was a great difference between the Palestinian wine of that time and the alcoholic mixtures which today go under the name of wine. Their simple vintage was taken with three parts of water and would correspond more or less to our grape juice. It would be worse than blasphemy to suppose, because Jesus made wine, that He justifies the drinking usages of modern society with its bars, strong drinks, and resulting evils.” (Source unavailable.)
64 “It is erroneous to suppose that Jesus’ action is an attack on the whole sacrificial system. His motive was one of reverence for my Father’s house, and of deep concern that the spirit of worship should thus be dissipated at its very door.” The court in which all this noisy and boisterous traffic took place was the only court to which Gentiles might go when they wished to pray or meditate in the temple. They ought to have been able to worship in peace. Perhaps we could go so far as to say that they had the right to worship in peace. Instead they found themselves in the midst of a noisy bazaar. “A place that should have stood as a symbol for the freedom of access of all nations in prayer to God, had become a place associated with sordid pecuniary interests” (Wright). On the necessity for sternness in the face of evil Wright quotes Ruskin, that it is “quite one of the crowning wickednessess of this age that we have starved and chilled our faculty of indignation.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 195, fn. 68.