Why did Jesus make the first act of his ministry changing water into wine in John 2? Is there a connection to communion?
Throughout my ministry I must say this is one of the most asked questions. Every American, it seems, wants to know about water turned into wine in John 2. We seem to have a fascination with alcohol in this country.
We’ve had an interesting past, as I mentioned in another answer. In our history, because of our Puritan roots, we have prohibited alcohol in one of our amendments to the Constitution, and then a couple of amendments later, we reinstated alcohol.
But here’s the thing. John 2 is about way more than wine. In fact, wine should be in the background of the episode. Let me go through a couple of key points that you may not have picked up in a cursory reading of this event in the ministry of Jesus.
First, to answer part of your question, Jesus didn’t seem too thrilled about performing the sign. His mother, Mary, is the one who goads him into helping him out at a wedding he was invited to (John 2:3-5). He’s just hanging out at this wedding and his mother tells him they will be out of wine.
Ancient times weren’t like today where you could just go pick up something at a distributor. A wedding was a seven day event. It was planned well in advance. And it was the job of the bridegroom to provide all of the wine for those seven days. To be out of wine early would disgrace him socially.
So Jesus does not perform this sign as part of the beginning of his ministry. It is launched because of the need. Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says. But the key to this event is the jars and the water in them.
John tells us what kind of jars they are. They are used for Jewish purification rights. These are giant jars. They hold 20 gallons of water. That is enough to take a bath. Actually, that’s sort of what they did. At this wedding feast, the Jews that came and stayed would use these jars to wash themselves. Not necessarily their whole bodies but parts of them ceremonially.
They are called Mikveh jars. So they hold at least 120 gallons. That will come into my answer in a bit. In case you weren’t grossed out enough by physically washing in these jars, because they were ceremonial cleansing jars, people also understood them to clean off the spiritual evil and sin in each person.
So Jesus has the servants fill them with water. Even if the jars were empty when they started, that spiritual and physical filth was still on the edges. First John tells us that there filled with at least 120 gallons of dirty water but then he says that the servants fill them to the brim (John 2:7).
The servants must have been going crazy when Jesus told them to then take some of the water to the master of the feast to test. They know what was in those jars. The disgusting spiritual and physical filth of every person at the feast! And they are going to give it to the master of the feast.
If you want to learn how to lose a job in 60 seconds, they were about to (John 2:9). Imagine them standing there waiting to be thrown out of the feast, blacklisted for life, and maybe even be thrown into prison for what they just did.
The master of the feast who takes care of everything there from food to drink takes a nice, long sip that turns into drinking the dregs of this cup. The unsuspecting master looks at all of the servants and says to Jesus, “That’s the best wine I’ve ever had! Where were they hiding the 100 BC stuff?”
Then he calls over the bridegroom who supplied all the wine for the entire wedding feast and couldn’t believe that he would wait until now when everyone was half drunk to bring out the good stuff.
It was common custom to bring out the good stuff first when everyone knew it was the good stuff. It made the bridegroom good to have the good stuff while people knew what they were drinking.
By the way, notice how much I am pointing out the quality of the wine. That’s also important to my wrapup to the question. Then John says in the last verse of the episode that this was Jesus’ first sign that he did (John 2:10).
Okay, so let me get to the wrapup to answer your question. There are some principles we must notice about this entire sign. Let me list them for you:
- Jesus covers the bridegroom who did not have enough wine for the entire feast.
- Jesus makes an exorbitant amount of wine that will probably have leftovers for a while.
- Jesus makes the best wine anyone has ever tasted out of nasty, filthy bathwater and used for cleansing spiritual wickedness.
Theological translation and application:
- Jesus provides everything that we need when we need it. We are never in want when we live for him.
- Jesus doesn’t just provide. He lavishes blessing after blessing upon us with a quality unmatched by the world.
- Jesus transforms our wicked, sinful offerings to him and makes us brand-new through salvation. He transforms us into the best, most holy people on this planet.
Oh, and the wine does have a small part. Can you imagine what the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be like? It is also a wedding feast. And Jesus is the bridegroom. And he supplies more than enough for that Marriage Supper of the Lamb. As in the Old Testament, the wine signifies the new wine of God’s kingdom of provision in the end of time.
So does it have anything to do with communion? I believe there is a connection. Jesus says during the institution of the Lord’s Supper, “I tell you, I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
We’re going to have communion at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and it is going to be the best Jesus has to offer. It’s going to be the good stuff. It represents his lavish provision and transformation in all of us.
So there is a connection in my opinion between the first sign Jesus performed, communion, and the communion when we eat with our Lord and bridegroom at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. And it is one of the most powerful signs Jesus performed.