A few weeks ago I offered a literary analysis of John 2–4. Today, I’ll add a few more thoughts on this remarkable passage.
In John 2–4, Marriage and Resurrection Go Together in Sign and Substance
First, there is an undeniable inclusio that connects Jesus’s first sign (turning water into wine) in John 2:1–12 to his second sign (healing the royal official’s son) in John 4:47–54. Observing the connections between these two bookends, Jim Hamilton finds 6 connections, to show how John mirrors these two events. Here is how he frames it (John, 101).
- A need is communicated to Jesus (4:47; cf. 2:3),
- but he initially rebuffs the petitioner (4:48; cf. 2:4).
- When the petitioner responds in faith (4:49; cf. 2:5),
- Jesus gives a command that is obeyed (4:50; cf. 2:7-8),
- at which point the need is met (4:51-52; cf. 2:9-10).
- These are then identified as the first and second signs, in response to which people believe in Jesus (4:53-54; cf. 2:11).
To this we could add the observation that the wedding takes place on the third day (John 2:1), as does the healing of the official’s son—i.e., it occurs on the day after the second day (4:40, 43).
From these seven links in the text, it would be a failure to “hear” John if we did not read them together. And what happens when we let the wine interpret the healing and vice versa? My short answer is that the themes of the wedding and its wine, combined with the resurrection of the son, are make a theological claim that the resurrection of the Son is what brings the wine of God’s new creation marriage.
In context, John 2–4 is describing the people who will become Christ’s bride. And in the following chapters (John 5–11), we find a commitment to describe the relationship between Father and Son. Even more the relationship between Father and Son is filled with themes of resurrection (see e.g., John 5:25–29; 10:17–18). Accordingly, I would contend that in the whole Gospel, John is preparing for the resurrection of Christ by means of these two signs. Moreover, as he will show by the end, Jesus’s death and resurrection is how Jesus will create his bride.
Therefore, the inclusio that bookends John 2–4 is not just a literary device, it is theological statement—Jesus is the true Bridegroom who will bring the new wine to his new bride by means of his death and resurrection. In John 2–4, these are shadows, but with the substance of John 14–20 we find a glorious message of resurrection and marriage, marriage and resurrection.
In John 2–4, the Central Message Separates Light and Darkness, Day from Night
Next, there appears to a be chiastic structure in John 2–4. Admittedly, I’ve gone back and forth on exactly how this chiasm works, but here is a basic outline.
A 2:1-11 People . . . have run out of wine
B1 2:13–22 Place . . . will be torn down
B2 2:23–25 – What kind of people believe in Jesus?
C 3:1–15 Priests . . . are opposing Christ
D 3:16–21 SEPARATION of LIGHT and DARKNESS
C’ 3:22–33 A New Priest . . .is coming
B1’ 4:1–42 A New Place . . . is coming
B2’ 4:43–46 – What kind of people believe in Jesus?
A’ 4:47–54 A New People . . . is coming
In this outline, the centerpiece is John’s statement in John 3:16–21. This passage highlights the theme of light and darkness and the separation of the two. If this is the center of the chiasm, then it reinforces the creation themes in John 2–4, where Jesus is bringing about a new creation, by means of separating the light from the darkness. And of course, this is the person-specific narrative of the section.
- Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of night, symbolizing his darkness
- John the Baptist is baptizing during the day, symbolizing his light
- The Samaritan woman comes to the well at high noon, indicating the greatest light
- And the healing of the officials son occurs at the seventh hour (1:00pm), suggesting the ongoing light of salvation spreading through the day
In this chiastic structure is correct, it matches the geographic markers in the text and it reinforces the meaning of the passage—God is bringing his light into a dark world and is separating night from day, just as he did on the first day of creation. Already, John 1:1–3 has depended on Genesis 1:1–3 and now we are seeing it in action. Jesus is bringing a new creation, as he replaces light and dark.
Additionally, if Jim Hamilton (John, 105) is correct that John 8 (Jesus is the Light of the World) is the center of another chiasm in John 5–11, then it reinforces the point here: Jesus is the light of the world who is separating day and night with his gospel.
In John 2–4, The New Covenant is Replacing the Old Covenant
Third, when we observe the connections in the chiasm, we find three movements. First, Jesus has come to create a new people by means of his resurrection life. Second, he has come to build a new temple mountain for worship by means of his death and resurrection. Third, he has come to replace the old priesthood with a new priesthood, also by means of death and resurrection (cf. Resurrection and Priesthood). Without getting into all the details to explain this, I simply put forward this chart which compares the old order of the covenant to the new.
|The OC People
Jesus and the Wedding in Cana (First Sign)
|The NC People
Jesus and the Resurrection in Cana (Second Sign)
|The OC Place
Jesus and the Temple Mount
|The NC Place
Jesus and the Mount of Gerizim
|The OC Priesthood
Jesus and Nicodemus
|The NC Priest
Jesus and John the Baptist
In three phases, we can see a covenantal shift from God’s people, place, and priesthood under the old covenant to God’s people, place, and priesthood under the new. As John makes clear, the Levitical priests, the temple in Jerusalem, and the laws for purification in Israel all need to go. They have all failed and Jesus has come to replace them all, which is in fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises for a new covenant.
In John 2–4, therefore, John is presenting Jesus as the true Bridegroom who is bringing new age wine to the people of his (marriage) covenant. He is also the true teacher of the Law and the better priest—John recognizes this but Nicodemus does not–not yet at least. Finally, Jesus is the true temple. Put all this together, and Jesus is the person who embodies the people, place, and priesthood whose death and resurrection will inaugurate the new covenant.
Hearing John’s New Creation Message
Clearly, these are theological truths that can observed from various passages of Scripture, but it is instructive that John himself puts all these pieces together. When we pay attention to the literary structure of John, we can hear what God is saying—I am making all things new!
Moreover, seeing John’s literary structure opens for us a vista into the glories of God. And in John 2–4, this vista includes a rich tapestry of Christ’s new covenant, where the Word made flesh replaces all the darkness of the old covenant with the light of his new creation life.
Such is the way of our triune God. He is the Creator who in the beginning divided the world into darkness and light. And now the light of Christ is spreading through the cosmos, with the certain promise that the darkness cannot overcome it. This is good news!!
May God continue to give us light, and in his light may we see the light of God’s Word.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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