The Gospel of John, Jesus' first sign, part 2
Oct 08, 2019
John 2:6 NASB says,
6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.
The NASB is trying to be helpful by telling us the capacity of the waterpots in modern terms. The six waterpots held between 120 and 180 gallons. (6 x 20 = 120; 6 x 30 = 180.)
While this is technically accurate, it is more helpful to know the biblical measurements, because they give us numbers that are prophetic and meaningful on a deeper level. John 2:6 KJV reads,
6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
These were large waterpots, used to pour water over their hands before meals (Mark 7:2, 3, 4). In this way they purified their hands in case they had touched something unclean (such as a fly). No doubt these had been filled with water so that the wedding guests might cleanse their hands as they entered the house.
The Six Waterpots Held 153 Gallons
But what is a firkin? Archeologists tell us that a firkin is about 8.5 Imperial Gallons, or about 10.2 American Gallons. (The British gallon is larger than an American gallon.) In British terms, one of these waterpots contained a maximum of 3 firkins, multiplied by 8.5 gallons each. This comes to 25.5 gallons. Hence, six such waterpots would contain 153 British gallons, if each was filled to capacity. (3 x 8.5 x 6 = 153)
Using the American gallon, which is smaller than a British gallon, we have to take into account John’s estimation, “two or three firkins apiece.” If we figure that the waterpots averaged 2.5 firkins each, each waterpot contained 2.5 firkins times 10.2 gallons each, or 25.5 American gallons. Six such waterpots, then, would have held 153 gallons once again. (6 x 25.5 = 153)
Perhaps John meant for us to understand that half of the waterpots could hold 3 firkins, but that some were smaller and held only 2 firkins. In John 2: 7 we read that the servants “filled them up to the brim.” The waterpots, then, should have held an average of 2.5 firkins apiece, and the actual amount of water turned into wine was 153 gallons by the American gallon.
Nonetheless, the British gallon also remains in the background as a double witness, for either way we may calculate 153 gallons. Did God know how we would measure capacity in gallons many years later at the end of the age?
This calculation, of course, remains meaningless until we come to the end of John’s gospel, where Jesus’ eighth sign was to catch 153 large fish (John 21:11). Hence, in John’s Hebrew chiasm, the first sign parallels the last sign and must be compared to each other in order to obtain the full meaning of each.
But before we study the meaning of these signs, we must finish the story itself.
John 2:7-10 says,
7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.” And they took it to him. 9 And when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now.”
There is a Hebrew metaphor seen clearly in Matthew 23:32, where Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees, saying, “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers.” This metaphor pictures the judgment and mercy of God, because judgment is withheld or delayed until the sin of a man (or nation) reaches its fullness.
In the case of Jesus’ miracle, it suggests a mercy cycle, rather than that of judgment. It applies to the idea of “the fulness of the time” (Galatians 4:4 KJV). In agriculture, this refers to the time of ripened grain harvest or ripened fruit. One ought not to harvest grain or pick fruit before it has ripened. In the same manner, Christ came on schedule at “the fulness of the time,” so that He would be thirty years of age when He began His ministry and so that He would die on the cross at Passover of 33 A.D. precisely seventy weeks of years (490) after the prophecy of Daniel 9:24 began its countdown. (See my book, Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.)
The Prophetic Meaning of the Miracle
Jesus’ miracle (above) applies more specifically to the beni h’elohim (“sons of God”), which, in Hebrew, carries a numeric value of 153. They are the “waterpots” in John 2:6 as well as the “fish” in John 21:11. This metaphor, then, suggests that there is an appointed time for the sons of God to be transformed into the “new wine.” Since this is the first sign presented, explaining the first day of the prophetic feast of Tabernacles, we must take note that this was the first day in which the drink offering (Numbers 29:12, 16) of wine was poured out.
There were three first fruits offerings given to God each year: barley at Passover; wheat at Pentecost, and wine at Tabernacles. Historically, Christ presented Himself to the Father in heaven the moment the high priest waved the sheaf of barley shortly after Christ’s resurrection. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the church. At Tabernacles, the sons of God will be transformed from “water” to “wine” and offered as first fruits to God.
Being transformed atomically from water to wine signifies a change of nature, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, 53,
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a moment [atomos, “atomically”] in the twinkling of an eye [quickly], at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Hence, Paul interprets Jesus’ first miracle-sign in terms of being changed from perishable (“corruptible,” KJV) to imperishable (“incorruption”) and from being mortal to immortal. This is pictured in the transformation of water to new wine, making it eligible to be presented to God as the first fruits of the grape harvest.
Just as there are appointed “seasons” that God established at the beginning (Genesis 1:14), so also are there appointed times and seasons for the divine plans to be fulfilled. There are personal seasons governing our own growth as we mature in Christ, and there are historical times and seasons at the end of thousands of years, which govern the divine plan for creation as a whole.
John 2:10 tells us that God saves the best for last. This suggests that throughout the past 6 “days” of history, many individuals have already enjoyed “new wine” status, but they died without coming to perfection. It is only at the end of time that the best wine is brought forth, where the sons of God are made incorruptible, imperishable, and immortal, as Paul says.
Manifesting His Glory
John’s conclusion to the story of the first sign is given in John 2:11,
11 This beginning [or “first”] of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
We must view this as a prophecy of the fulfillment of the first day of the feast of Tabernacles, at which time the sons of God will be transformed into the image of Christ. Two weeks earlier, at the feast of Trumpets, the dead in Christ will rise “at the last trumpet,” that is, the seventh trumpet. The trumpet was blown at the start of each month when two witnesses saw the first crescent moon in the evening sky.
The seventh trumpet marked the start of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. It was “the last trumpet” (i.e., month) of the original feast days established by Moses. The feasts of the seventh month prophesied the completion of the divine plan, especially in regard to the second coming of Christ.
The feasts in the first month (Passover and wave-sheaf offering) and the second month (Pentecost) prophesied of Christ’s first work: His death and resurrection, followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The feasts in the seventh month (Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles) prophesied the completion of Christ second work, wherein He gives the sons of God immortality and incorruption so that they may “reign with Him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).
Hence, we see the manifestation of Christ’s glory on two levels. The first was personal; the second will be in conjunction with His body. In the second fulfillment, He is pictured as the Head of a larger body, rather than as a single individual. For this reason, in this second fulfillment, when Tabernacles is fulfilled historically, the sons of God themselves will manifest His glory.
Finally, this miracle was done in Cana of Galilee. Cana (Hebrew: Qana or kana) means “reeds” and has great prophetic significance, which we will explain next. John relates it to the next story, where Jesus cleansed the temple of its merchants (i.e., Canaanites) by His “zeal” (kina). There is no doubt that John understood the similarity of these Hebrew terms, as they were all derived from the same root word—kana, or Cana of Galilee.
John’s gospel sets forth each sign that Jesus performed, followed by stories and commentary on those signs, either in the form of another incident or through Jesus’ actual teaching. As we will see, the story of Jesus’ cleansing the temple gives us a further explanation of the first miracle where He turned water into wine. It is pictured as cleansing the temple of our bodies, so that we might be an acceptable house for the Holy Spirit to indwell.
This is part 2 of a series titled "Jesus' First Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.