Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
In the close of the foregoing chapter we had an account of the first disciples whom Jesus called, Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael. These were the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, Rev. 14:4. Now, in this chapter, we have, I. The account of the first miracle which Jesus wrought-turning water into wine, at Cana of Galilee (v. 1–11), and his appearing at Capernaum (v. 12). II. The account of the first passover he kept at Jerusalem after he began his public ministry; his driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple (v. 13–17); and the sign he gave to those who quarrelled with him for it (v. 18–22), with an account of some almost believers, that followed him, thereupon, for some time (v. 23–25), but he knew them too well to put any confidence in them.
We have here the story of Christ’s miraculous conversion of water into wine at a marriage in Cana of Galilee. There were some few so well disposed as to believe in Christ, and to follow him, when he did no miracle; yet it was not likely that many should be wrought upon till he had something wherewith to answer those that asked, What sign showest thou? He could have wrought miracles before, could have made them the common actions of his life and the common entertainments of his friends; but, miracles being designed for the sacred and solemn seals of his doctrine, he began not to work any till he began to preach his doctrine. Now observe,
I. The occasion of this miracle. Maimonides observes it to be to the honour of Moses that all the signs he did in the wilderness he did upon necessity; we needed food, he brought us manna, and so did Christ. Observe,
1. The time: the third day after he came into Galilee. The evangelist keeps a journal of occurrences, for no day passed without something extraordinary done or said. Our Master filled up his time better than his servants do, and never lay down at night complaining, as the Roman emperor did, that he had lost a day.
2. The place: it was at Cana in Galilee, in the tribe of Asher (Jos. 19:28), of which, before, it was said that he shall yield royal dainties, Gen. 49:20. Christ began to work miracles in an obscure corner of the country, remote from Jerusalem, which was the public scene of action, to show that he sought not honour from men (ch. 5:41), but would put honour upon the lowly. His doctrine and miracles would not be so much opposed by the plain and honest Galileans as they would be by the proud and prejudiced rabbies, politicians, and grandees, at Jerusalem.
3. The occasion itself was a marriage; probably one or both of the parties were akin to our Lord Jesus. The mother of Jesus is said to be there, and not to be called, as Jesus and his disciples were, which intimates that she was there as one at home. Observe the honour which Christ hereby put upon the ordinance of marriage, that he graced the solemnity of it, not only with his presence, but with his first miracle; because it was instituted and blessed in innocency, because by it he would still seek a godly seed, because it resembles the mystical union between him and his church, and because he foresaw that in the papal kingdom, while the marriage ceremony would be unduly dignified and advanced into a sacrament, the married state would be unduly vilified, as inconsistent with any sacred function. There was a marriage—gamos, a marriage-feast, to grace the solemnity. Marriages were usually celebrated with festivals (Gen. 29:22; Jdg. 14:10), in token of joy and friendly respect, and for the confirming of love.
4. Christ and his mother and disciples were principal guests at this entertainment. The mother of Jesus (that was her most honourable title) was there; no mention being made of Joseph, we conclude him dead before this. Jesus was called, and he came, accepted the invitation, and feasted with them, to teach us to be respectful to our relations, and sociable with them, though they be mean. Christ was to come in a way different from that of John Baptist, who came neither eating nor drinking, Mt. 11:18, 19. It is the wisdom of the prudent to study how to improve conversation rather than how to decline it.
(1.) There was a marriage, and Jesus was called. Note, [1.] It is very desirable, when there is a marriage, to have Jesus Christ present at it; to have his spiritual gracious presence, to have the marriage owned and blessed by him: the marriage is then honourable indeed; and they that marry in the Lord (1 Co. 7:39) do not marry without him. [2.] They that would have Christ with them at their marriage must invite him by prayer; that is the messenger that must be sent to heaven for him; and he will come: Thou shalt call, and I will answer. And he will turn the water into wine.
(2.) The disciples also were invited, those five whom he had called (ch. 1), for as yet he had no more; they were his family, and were invited with him. They had thrown themselves upon his care, and they soon found that, though he had no wealth, he had good friends. Note, [1.] Those that follow Christ shall feast with him, they shall fare as he fares, so he has bespoken for them (ch. 12:26): Where I am, there shall my servant be also. [2.] Love to Christ is testified by a love to those that are his, for his sake; our goodness extendeth not to him, but to the saints. Calvin observes how generous the maker of the feast was, though he seems to have been but of small substance, to invite four or five strangers more than he thought of, because they were followers of Christ, which shows, saith he, that there is more of freedom, and liberality, and true friendship, in the conversation of some meaner persons than among many of higher rank.
II. The miracle itself. In which observe,
1. They wanted wine, v. 3. (1.) There was want at a feast; though much was provided, yet all was spent. While we are in this world we sometimes find ourselves in straits, even then when we think ourselves in the fulness of our sufficiency. If always spending, perhaps all is spent ere we are aware. (2.) There was want at a marriage feast. Note, They who, being married, are come to care for the things of the world must expect trouble in the flesh, and count upon disappointment. (3.) It should seem, Christ and his disciples were the occasion of this want, because there was more company than was expected when the provision was made; but they who straiten themselves for Christ shall not lose by him.
2. The mother of Jesus solicited him to assist her friends in this strait. We are told (v. 3-5) what passed between Christ and his mother upon this occasion.
(1.) She acquaints him with the difficulty they were in (v. 3): She saith unto him, They have no wine. Some think that she did not expect from him any miraculous supply (he having as yet wrought no miracle), but that she would have him make some decent excuse to the company, and make the best of it, to save the bridegroom’s reputation, and keep him in countenance; or (as Calvin suggests) would have him make up the want of wine with some holy profitable discourse. But, most probably, she looked for a miracle; for she knew he was now appearing as the great prophet, like unto Moses, who so often seasonably supplied the wants of Israel; and, though this was his first public miracle, perhaps he had sometimes relieved her and her husband in their low estate. The bridegroom might have sent out for more wine, but she was for going to the fountain-head. Note, [1.] We ought to be concerned for the wants and straits of our friends, and not seek our own things only. [2.] In our own and our friends’ straits it is our wisdom and duty to apply ourselves to Christ by prayer. [3.] In our addresses to Christ, we must not prescribe to him, but humbly spread our case before him, and then refer ourselves to him to do as he pleases.
(2.) He gave her a reprimand for it, for he saw more amiss in it than we do, else he had not treated it thus.—Here is,
[1.] The rebuke itself: Woman, what have I to do with thee? As many as Christ loves, he rebukes and chastens. He calls her woman, not mother. When we begin to be assuming, we should be reminded what we are, men and women, frail, foolish, and corrupt. The question, ti emoi kai soi, might be read, What is that to me and thee? What is it to us if they do want? But it is always as we render it, What have I to do with thee? as Judges 11:12; 2 Sa. 16:10; Ezra 4:3; Mt. 8:29. It therefore bespeaks a resentment, yet not at all inconsistent with the reverence and subjection which he paid to his mother, according to the fifth commandment (Lu. 2:51); for there was a time when it was Levi’s praise that he said to his father, I have not known him, Duet. 33:9. Now this was intended to be, First, A check to his mother for interposing in a matter which was the act of his Godhead, which had no dependence on her, and which she was not the mother of. Though, as man, he was David’s Son and hers; yet, as God, he was David’s Lord and hers, and he would have her know it. The greatest advancements must not make us forget ourselves and our place, nor the familiarity to which the covenant of grace admits us breed contempt. irreverence, or any kind or degree of presumption. Secondly, It was an instruction to others of his relations (many of whom were present here) that they must never expect him to have any regard to his kindred according to the flesh, in his working miracles, or that therein he should gratify them, who in this matter were no more to him than other people. In the things of God we must not know faces. Thirdly, It is a standing testimony against that idolatry which he foresaw his church would in after-ages sink into, in giving undue honours to the virgin Mary, a crime which the Roman catholics, as they call themselves, are notoriously guilty of, when they call her the queen of heaven, the salvation of the world, their mediatrix, their life and hope; not only depending upon her merit and intercession, but beseeching her to command her Son to do them good: Monstra te esse matrem—Show that thou art his mother. Jussu matris impera salvatori—Lay thy maternal commands on the Saviour. Does he not here expressly say, when a miracle was to be wrought, even in the days of his humiliation, and his mother did but tacitly hint an intercession, Woman, what have I to do with thee? This was plainly designed either to prevent or aggravate such gross idolatry, such horrid blasphemy. The Son of God is appointed our Advocate with the Father; but the mother of our Lord was never designed to be our advocate with the Son.
[2.] The reason of this rebuke: Mine hour is not yet come. For every thing Christ did, and that was done to him, he had his hour, the fixed time and the fittest time, which was punctually observed. First, "Mine hour for working miracles is not yet come." Yet afterwards he wrought this, before the hour, because he foresaw it would confirm the faith of his infant disciples (v. 11), which was the end of all his miracles: so that this was an earnest of the many miracles he would work when his hour was come. Secondly, "Mine hour of working miracles openly is not yet come; therefore do not talk of it thus publicly." Thirdly, "It not the hour of my exemption from thy authority yet come, now that I have begun to act as a prophet?" So Gregory Nyssen. Fourthly, "Mine hour for working this miracle is not yet come." His mother moved him to help them when the wine began to fail (so it may be read, v. 3), but his hour was not yet come till it was quite spent, and there was a total want; not only to prevent any suspicion of mixing some of the wine that was left with the water, but to teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity to appear for the help and relief of his people. Then his hour is come when we are reduced to the utmost strait, and know not what to do. This encouraged those that waited for him to believe that though his hour was not yet come it would come. Note, The delays of mercy are not to be construed the denials of prayer. At the end it shall speak.
(3.) Notwithstanding this, she encouraged herself with expectations that he would help her friends in this strait, for she bade the servants observe his orders, v. 5. [1.] She took the reproof very submissively, and did not reply to it. It is best not to deserve reproof from Christ, but next best to be meek and quiet under it, and to count it a kindness, Ps. 141:5. [2.] She kept her hope in Christ’s mercy, that he would yet grant her desire. When we come to God in Christ for any mercy, two things discourage us:—First, Sense of our own follies and infirmities "Surely such imperfect prayers as ours cannot speed." Secondly, Sense of our Lord’s frowns and rebukes. Afflictions are continued, deliverances delayed, and God seems angry at our prayers. This was the case of the mother of our Lord here, and yet she encourages herself with hope that he will at length give in an answer of peace, to teach us to wrestle with God by faith and fervency in prayer, even when he seems in his providence to walk contrary to us. We must against hope believe in hope, Rom. 4:18. [3.] She directed the servants to have an eye to him immediately, and not to make their applications to her, as it is probable they had done. She quits all pretensions to an influence upon him, or intercession with him; let their souls wait only on him, Ps. 62:5. [4.] She directed them punctually to observe his orders, without disputing, or asking questions. Being conscious to herself of a fault in prescribing to him, she cautions the servants to take heed of the same fault, and to attend both his time and his way for supply: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it, though you may think it ever so improper. If he saith, Give the guests water, when they call for wine, do it. If he saith, Pour out from the bottoms of the vessels that are spent, do it. He can make a few drops of wine multiply to so many draughts." Note, Those that expect Christ’s favours must with an implicit obedience observe his orders. The way of duty is the way to mercy; and Christ’s methods must not be objected against.
(4.) Christ did at length miraculously supply them; for he is often better than his word, but never worse.
[1.] The miracle itself was turning water into wine; the substance of water acquiring a new form, and having all the accidents and qualities of wine. Such a transformation is a miracle; but the popish transubstantiation, the substance changed, the accidents remaining the same, is a monster. By this Christ showed himself to be the God of nature, who maketh the earth to bring forth wine, Ps. 109:14, 15. The extracting of the blood of the grape every year from the moisture of the earth is no less a work of power, though, being according to the common law of nature, it is not such a work of wonder, as this. The beginning of Moses’s miracles was turning water into blood (Ex. 4:9; 7:20), the beginning of Christ’s miracles was turning water into wine; which intimates the difference between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ. The curse of the law turns water into blood, common comforts into bitterness and terror; the blessing of the gospel turns water into wine. Christ hereby showed that his errand into the world was to heighten and improve creature-comforts to all believers, and make them comforts indeed. Shiloh is said to wash his garments in wine (Gen. 49:11), the water for washing being turned into wine. And the gospel call is, Come ye to the waters, and buy wine, Isa. 55:1.
[2.] The circumstances of it magnified it and freed it from all suspicion of cheat or collusion; for,
First, It was done in water-pots (v. 6): There were set there six water-pots of stone. Observe, 1. For what use these water-pots were intended: for the legal purifications from ceremonial pollutions enjoined by the law of God, and many more by the tradition of the elders. The Jews eat not, except they wash often (Mk. 7:3), and they used much water in their washing, for which reason here were six large water-pots provided. It was a saying among them, Qui multâ utitur aquâ in lavando, multas consequetur in hoc mundo divitias—He who uses much water in washing will gain much wealth in this world. 2. To what use Christ put them, quite different from what they were intended for; to be the receptacles of the miraculous wine. Thus Christ came to bring in the grace of the gospel, which is as wine, that cheereth God and man (Jdg. 9:13), instead of the shadows of the law, which were as water, weak and beggarly elements. These were water-pots, that had never been used to have wine in them; and of stone, which is not apt to retain the scent of former liquors, if ever they had had wine in them. They contained two or three firkins apiece; two or three measures, baths, or ephahs; the quantity is uncertain, but very considerable. We may be sure that it was not intended to be all drank at this feast, but for a further kindness to the new-married couple, as the multiplied oil was to the poor widow, out of which she might pay her debt, and live of the rest, 2 Ki. 4:7. Christ gives like himself, gives abundantly, according to his riches in glory. It is the penman’s language to say, They contained two or three firkins, for the Holy Spirit could have ascertained just how much; thus (as ch. 6:19) teaching us to speak cautiously, and not confidently, of those things of which we have not good assurance.
Secondly, The water-pots were filled up to the brim by the servants at Christ’s word, v. 7. As Moses, the servant of the Lord, when God bade him, went to the rock, to draw water; so these servants, when Christ bade them, went to the water, to fetch wine. Note, Since no difficulties can be opposed to the arm of God’s power, no improbabilities are to be objected against the word of his command.
Thirdly, The miracle was wrought suddenly, and in such a manner as greatly magnified it.
After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.
Here we have,
I. The short visit Christ made to Capernaum, v. 12. It was a large and populous city, about a day’s journey from Cana; it is called his own city (Mt. 9:1), because he made it his head-quarters in Galilee, and what little rest he had was there. It was a place of concourse, and therefore Christ chose it, that the fame of his doctrine and miracles might thence spread the further. Observe,
1. The company that attended him thither: his mother, his brethren, and his disciples. Wherever Christ went, (1.) He would not go alone, but would take those with him who had put themselves under his guidance, that he might instruct them, and that they might attest his miracles. (2.) He could not go alone, but they would follow him, because they liked the sweetness either of his doctrine or of his wine, ch. 6:26. His mother, though he had lately given her to understand that in the works of his ministry he should pay no more respect to her than to any other person, yet followed him; not to intercede with him, but to learn of him. His brethren also and relations, who were at the marriage and were wrought upon by the miracle there, and his disciples, who attended him wherever he went. It should seem, people were more affected with Christ’s miracles at first than they were afterwards, when custom made them seem less strange.
2. His continuance there, which was at this time not many days, designing now only to begin the acquaintance he would afterwards improve there. Christ was still upon the remove, would not confine his usefulness to one place, because many needed him. And he would teach his followers to look upon themselves but as sojourners in this world, and his ministers to follow their opportunities, and go where their work led them. We do not now find Christ in the synagogues, but he privately instructed his friends, and thus entered upon his work by degrees. It is good for young ministers to accustom themselves to pious and edifying discourse in private, that they may with the better preparation, and greater awe, approach their public work. He did not stay long at Capernaum, because the passover was at hand, and he must attend it at Jerusalem; for every thing is beautiful in its season. The less good must give way to the greater, and all the dwellings of Jacob must give place to the gates of Zion.
II. The passover he kept at Jerusalem; it is the first after his baptism, and the evangelist takes notice of all the passovers he kept henceforward, which were four in all, the fourth that at which he suffered (three years after this), and half a year was now past since his baptism. Christ, being made under the law, observed the passover at Jerusalem; see Ex. 23:17. Thus he taught us by his example a strict observance of divine institutions, and a diligent attendance on religious assemblies. He went up to Jerusalem when the passover was at hand, that he might be there with the first. It is called the Jews’ passover, because it was peculiar to them (Christ is our Passover); now shortly God will no longer own it for his. Christ kept the passover at Jerusalem yearly, ever since he was twelve years old, in obedience to the law; but now that he has entered upon his public ministry we may expect something more from him than before; and two things we are here told he did there:—
1. He purged the temple, v. 14–17. Observe here,
(1.) The first place we find him in at Jerusalem was the temple, and, it should seem, he did not make any public appearance till he came thither; for his presence and preaching there were that glory of the latter house which was to exceed the glory of the former, Hag. 2:9. It was foretold (Mal. 3:1): I will send my messenger, John Baptist; he never preached in the temple, but the Lord, whom ye seek, he shall suddenly come to his temple, suddenly after the appearing of John Baptist; so that this was the time, and the temple the place, when, and where, the Messiah was to be expected.
(2.) The first work we find him at in the temple was the purging of it; for so it was foretold there (Mal. 3:2, 3): He shall sit as a refiner and purify the sons of Levi. Now was come the time of reformation. Christ came to be the great reformer; and, according to the method of the reforming kings of Judah, he first purged out what was amiss (and that used to be passover-work too, as in Hezekiah’s time, 2 Chr. 30:14, 15, and Josiah’s, 2 Ki. 23:4, etc.), and then taught them to do well. First purge out the old leaven, and then keep the feast. Christ’s design in coming into the world was to reform the world; and he expects that all who come to him should reform their hearts and lives, Gen. 35:2. And this he has taught us by purging the temple. See here,
[1.] What were the corruptions that were to be purged out. He found a market in one of the courts of the temple, that which was called the court of the Gentiles, within the mountain of that house. There, First, They sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, for sacrifice; we will suppose, not for common use, but for the convenience of those who came out of the country, and could not bring their sacrifices in kind along with them; see Deu. 14:24–26. This market perhaps had been kept by the pool of Bethesda (ch. 5:2), but was admitted into the temple by the chief priests, for filthy lucre; for, no doubt, the rents for standing there, and fees for searching the beasts sold there, and certifying that they were without blemish, would be a considerable revenue to them. Great corruptions in the church owe their rise to the love of money, 1 Tim. 6:5, 10. Secondly, They changed money, for the convenience of those that were to pay a half-shekel in specie every year, by way of poll, for the service of the tabernacle (Ex. 30:12), and no doubt they got by it.
[2.] What course our Lord took to purge out those corruptions. He had seen these in the temple formerly, when he was in a private station; but never went about to drive them out till now, when he had taken upon him the public character of a prophet. He did not complain to the chief priests, for he knew they countenanced those corruptions. But he himself,
First, Drove out the sheep and oxen, and those that sold them, out of the temple. He never used force to drive any into the temple, but only to drive those out that profaned it. He did not seize the sheep and oxen for himself, did not distrain and impound them, though he found them damage faissant-actual trespassers upon his Father’s ground; he only drove them out, and their owners with them. He made a scourge of small cords, which probably they had led their sheep and oxen with, and thrown them away upon the ground, whence Christ gathered them. Sinners prepare the scourges with which they themselves will be driven out from the temple of the Lord. He did not make a scourge to chastise the offenders (his punishments are of another nature), but only to drive out the cattle; he aimed no further than at reformation. See Rom. 13:3, 4; 2 Co. 10:8.
Secondly, He poured out the changers’ money, to kerma—the small money—the Nummorum Famulus. In pouring out the money, he showed his contempt of it; he threw it to the ground, to the earth as it was. In overthrowing the tables, he showed his displeasure against those that make religion a matter of worldly gain. Money-changers in the temple are the scandal of it. Note, In reformation, it is good to make thorough work; he drove them all out; and not only threw out the money, but, in overturning the tables, threw out the trade too.
Thirdly, He said to them that sold doves (sacrifices for the poor), Take these things hence. The doves, though they took up less room, and were a less nuisance than the oxen and sheep, yet must not be allowed there. The sparrows and swallows were welcome, that were left to God’s providence (Ps. 84:3), but not the doves, that were appropriated to man’s profit. God’s temple must not be made a pigeon-house. But see Christ’s prudence in his zeal. When he drove out the sheep and oxen, the owners might follow them; when he poured out the money, they might gather it up again; but, if he had turned the doves flying, perhaps they could not have been retrieved; therefore to them that sold doves he said, Take these things hence. Note, Discretion must always guide and govern our zeal, that we do nothing unbecoming ourselves, or mischievous to others.
Fourthly, He gave them a good reason for what he did: Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise. Reason for conviction should accompany force for correction.
a. Here is a reason why they should not profane the temple, because it was the house of God, and not to be made a house of merchandise. Merchandise is a good thing in the exchange, but not in the temple. This was, (a.) to alienate that which was dedicated to the honour of God; it was sacrilege; it was robbing God. (b.) It was to debase that which was solemn and awful, and to make it mean. (c.) It was to disturb and distract those services in which men ought to be most solemn, serious, and intent. It was particularly an affront to the sons of the stranger in their worship to be forced to herd themselves with the sheep and oxen, and to be distracted in their worship by the noise of a market, for this market was kept in the court of the Gentiles. (d.) It was to make the business of religion subservient to a secular interest; for the holiness of the place must advance the market, and promote the sale of their commodities. Those make God’s house a house of merchandise, [a.] Whose minds are filled with cares about worldly business when they are attending on religious exercises, as those, Amos 8:5; Eze. 33:31. [b.] Who perform divine offices for filthy lucre, and sell the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Acts 8:18.
b. Here is a reason why he was concerned to purge it, because it was his Father’s house. And, (a.) Therefore he had authority to purge it, for he was faithful, as a Son over his own house. Heb. 3:5, 6. In calling God his Father, he intimates that he was the Messiah, of whom it was said, He shall build a house for my name, and I will be his Father, 2 Sa. 7:13, 14. (b.) Therefore he had a zeal for the purging of it: "It is my Father’s house, and therefore I cannot bear to see it profaned, and him dishonoured." Note, If God be our Father in heaven, and it be therefore our desire that his name may be sanctified, it cannot but be our grief to see it polluted. Christ’s purging the temple thus may justly be reckoned among his wonderful works. Inter omnia signa quae fecit Dominus, hoc mihi videtur esse mirabilius—Of all Christ’s wonderful works this appears to me the most wonderful.— Hieron. Considering, [a.] That he did it without the assistance of any of his friends; probably it had been no hard matter to have raised the mob, who had a great veneration for the temple, against these profaners of it; but Christ never countenanced any thing that was tumultuous or disorderly. There was one to uphold, but his own arm did it. [b.] That he did it without the resistance of any of his enemies, either the market-people themselves, or the chief priests that gave them their licences, and had the posse templi—temple force, at their command. But the corruption was too plain to be justified; sinners’ own consciences are reformers’ best friends; yet that was not all, there was a divine power put forth herein, a power over the spirits of men; and in this non-resistance of theirs that scripture was fulfilled (Mal. 3:2, 3), Who shall stand when he appeareth?
Fifthly, Here is the remark which his disciples made upon it (v. 17): They remembered that it was written, The Zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. They were somewhat surprised at first to see him to whom they were directed as the Lamb of God in such a heat, and him whom they believed to be the King of Israel take so little state upon him as to do this himself; but one scripture came to their thoughts, which taught them to reconcile this action both with the meekness of the Lamb of God and with the majesty of the King of Israel; for David, speaking of the Messiah, takes notice of his zeal for God’s house, as so great that it even ate him up, it made him forget himself, Ps. 69:9. Observe, 1. The disciples came to understand the meaning of what Christ did, by remembering the scriptures: They remembered now that it was written. Note, The word of God and the works of God do mutually explain and illustrate each other. Dark scriptures are expounded by their accomplishment in providence, and difficult providences are made easy by comparing them with the scriptures. See of what great use it is to the disciples of Christ to be ready and mighty in the scriptures, and to have their memories well stored with scripture truths, by which they will be furnished for every good work, 2. The scripture they remembered was very apposite: The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. David was in this a type of Christ that he was zealous for God’s house, Ps. 132:2, 3. What he did for it was with all his might; see 1 Chr. 29:2. The latter part of that verse (Ps. 69:9) is applied to Christ (Rom. 15:3), as the former part of it here. All the graces that were to be found among the Old-Testament saints were eminently in Christ, and particularly this of zeal for the house of God, and in them, as they were patterns to us, so they were types of him. Observe, (1.) Jesus Christ was zealously affected to the house of God, his church: he loved it, and was always jealous for its honour and welfare. (2.) This zeal did even eat him up; it made him humble himself, and spend himself, and expose himself. My zeal has consumed me, Ps. 119:139. Zeal for the house of God forbids us to consult our own credit, ease, and safety, when they come in competition with our duty and Christ’s service, and sometimes carries on our souls in our duty so far and so fast that our bodies cannot keep pace with them, and makes us as deaf as our Master was to those who suggested, Spare thyself. The grievances here redressed might seem but small, and such as should have been connived at; but such was Christ’s zeal that he could not bear even those that sold and bought in the temple. Si ibi ebrios inveniret quid faceret Dominus! (saith St. Austin.) If he had found drunkards in the temple, how much more would he have been displeased!
2. Christ, having thus purged the temple, gave a sign to those who demanded it to prove his authority for so doing. Observe here,
(1.) Their demand of a sign: Then answered the Jews, that is the multitude of the people, with their leaders. Being Jews, they should rather have stood by him, and assisted him to vindicate the honour of their temple; but, instead of this, they objected against it. note, Those who apply themselves in good earnest to the work of reformation must expect to meet with opposition. When they could object nothing against the thing itself, they questioned his authority to do it: "What sign showest thou unto us, to prove thyself authorized and commissioned to do these things?" It was indeed a good work to purge the temple; but what had he to do to undertake it, who was in no office there? They looked upon it as an act of jurisdiction, and that he must prove himself a prophet, yea, more than a prophet. But was not the thing itself sign enough? His ability to drive so many from their posts, without opposition, was a proof of his authority; he that was armed with such a divine power was surely armed with a divine commission. What ailed these buyers and sellers, that they fled, that they were driven back? Surely it was at the presence of the Lord (Ps. 114:5, 7), no less a presence.
(2.) Christ’s answer to this demand, v. 19. He did not immediately work a miracle to convince them, but gave them a sign in something to come, the truth of which must appear by the event, according to Deu. 18:21, 22.
Now, [1.] The sign that he gives them is his own death and resurrection. He refers them to that which would be, First, His last sign. If they would not be convinced by what they saw and heard, let them wait. Secondly, The great sign to prove him to be the Messiah; for concerning him it was foretold that he should be bruised (Isa. 53:5), cut off (Dan. 9:26), and yet that he should not see corruption, Ps. 16:10. These things were fulfilled in the blessed Jesus, and therefore truly he was the Son of God, and had authority in the temple, his Father’s house.
[2.] He foretels his death and resurrection, not in plain terms, as he often did to his disciples, but in figurative expressions; as afterwards, when he gave this for a sign, he called it the sign of the prophet Jonas, so here, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Thus he spoke in parables to those who were willingly ignorant, that they might not perceive, Mt. 13:13, 14. Those that will not see shall not see. Nay, this figurative speech used here proved such a stumbling-block to them that it was produced in evidence against him at his trial to prove him a blasphemer. Mt. 26:60, 61. Had they humbly asked him the meaning of what he said, he would have told them, and it had been a savour of life unto life to them, but they were resolved to cavil, and it proved a savour of death unto death. They that would not be convinced were hardened, and the manner of expressing this prediction occasioned the accomplishment of the prediction itself. First, He foretels his death by the Jews’ malice, in these words, Destroy you this temple; that is, "You will destroy it, I know you will. I will permit you to destroy it." Note, Christ, even at the beginning of his ministry, had a clear foresight of all his sufferings at the end of it, and yet went on cheerfully in it. It is good, at setting out, to expect the worst. Secondly, He foretels his resurrection by his own power: In three days I will raise it up. There were others that were raised, but Christ raised himself, resumed his own life.
[3.] He chose to express this by destroying and re-edifying the temple, First, Because he was now to justify himself in purging the temple, which they had profaned; as if he had said, "You that defile one temple will destroy another; and I will prove my authority to purge what you have defiled by raising what you will destroy." The profaning of the temple is the destroying of it, and its reformation its resurrection. Secondly, Because the death of Christ was indeed the destruction of the Jewish temple, the procuring cause of it; and his resurrection was the raising up of another temple, the gospel church, Zec. 6:12. The ruins of their place and nation (ch. 11:48) were the riches of the world. See Amos 9:11; Acts 15:16.
(3.) Their cavil at this answer: "Forty and six years was this temple in building, v. 20. Temple work was always slow work, and canst thou make such quick work of it?" Now here, [1.] They show some knowledge; they could tell how long the temple was in building. Dr. Lightfoot computes that it was just forty-six years from the founding of Zerubbabel’s temple, in the second year of Cyrus, to the complete settlement of the temple service, in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes; and the same from Herod’s beginning to build this temple, in the 18th year of his reign, to this very time, when the Jews said that this as just forty-six years: oµkodomeµtheµ—hath this temple been built. [2.] They show more ignorance, First, Of the meaning of Christ’s words. Note, Men often run into gross mistakes by understanding that literally which the scripture speaks figuratively. What abundance of mischief has been done by interpreting, This is my body, after a corporal and carnal manner! Secondly, Of the almighty power of Christ, as if he could do no more than another man. Had they known that this was he who built all things in six days they would not have made it such an absurdity that he should build a temple in three days.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
We have here an account of the success, the poor success, of Christ’s preaching and miracles at Jerusalem, while he kept the passover there. Observe,
I. That our Lord Jesus, when he was at Jerusalem at the passover, did preach and work miracles. People’s believing on him implied that he preached; and it is expressly said, They saw the miracles he did. He was now in Jerusalem, the holy city, whence the word of the Lord was to go froth. His residence was mostly in Galilee, and therefore when he was in Jerusalem he was very busy. The time was holy time, the feast-day, time appointed for the service of God; at the passover the Levites taught the good knowledge of the Lord (2 Chr. 30:22), and Christ took that opportunity of preaching, when the concourse of people was great, and thus he would own and honour the divine institution of the passover.
II. That hereby many were brought to believe in his name, to acknowledge him a teacher come from God, as Nicodemus did (ch. 3:2), a great prophet; and, probably, some of those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem believed him to be the Messiah promised, so ready were they to welcome the first appearance of that bright and morning star.
III. That yet Jesus did not commit himself unto them (v. 24): ouk episteuen heauton autois— He did not trust himself with them. It is the same word that is used for believing in him. So that to believe in Christ is to commit ourselves to him and to his guidance. Christ did not see cause to repose any confidence in these new converts at Jerusalem, where he had many enemies that sought to destroy him, either, 1. Because they were false, at least some of them, and would betray him if they had an opportunity, or were strongly tempted to do so. He had more disciples that he could trust among the Galileans than among the dwellers at Jerusalem. In dangerous times and places, it is wisdom to take heed in whom you confide; memneµso apistein—learn to distrust. Or, 2. Because they were weak, and I would hope that this was the worst of it; not that they were treacherous and designed him a mischief, but, (1.) They were timorous, and wanted zeal and courage, and might perhaps be frightened to do a wrong thing. In times of difficulty and danger, cowards are not fit to be trusted. Or, (2.) They were tumultuous, and wanted discretion and management. These in Jerusalem perhaps had their expectations of the temporal reign of the Messiah more raised than others, and, in that expectation, would be ready to give some bold strokes at the government if Christ would have committed himself to them and put himself at the head of them; but he would not, for his kingdom is not of this world. We should be shy of turbulent unquiet people, as our Master here was, though they profess to believe in Christ, as these did.
IV. That the reason why he did not commit himself to them was because he knew them (v. 25), knew the wickedness of some and the weakness of others. The evangelist takes this occasion to assert Christ’s omniscience. 1. He knew all men, not only their names and faces, as it is possible for us to know many, but their nature, dispositions, affections, designs, as we do not know any man, scarcely ourselves. He knows all men, for his powerful hand made them all, his piercing eye sees them all, sees into them. He knows his subtle enemies, and all their secret projects; his false friends, and their true characters; what they really are, whatever they pretend to be. He knows them that are truly his, knows their integrity, and knows their infirmity too. He knows their frame. 2. He needed not that any should testify of man. His knowledge was not by information from others, but by his own infallible intuition. It is the infelicity of earthly princes that they must see with other men’s eyes, and hear with other men’s ears, and take things as they are represented to them; but Christ goes purely upon his own knowledge. Angels are his messengers, but not his spies, for his own eyes run to and fro through the earth, 2 Chr. 16:9. This may comfort us in reference to Satan’s accusations, that Christ will not take men’s characters from him. 3. He knew what was in man; in particular persons, in the nature and race of man. We know what is done by men; Christ knows what is in them, tries the heart and the reins. This is the prerogative of that essential eternal Word, Heb. 4:12, 13. We invade his prerogative if we presume to judge men’s hearts. How fit is Christ to be the Saviour of men, very fit to be the physician, who has such a perfect knowledge of the patient’s state and case, temper and distemper; knows what is in him! How fit also to be the Judge of all! For the judgment of him who knows all men, all in men, must needs be according to truth.
Now this is all the success of Christ’s preaching and miracles at Jerusalem, in this journey. The Lord comes to his temple, and none come to him but a parcel of weak simple people, that he can neither have credit from nor put confidence in; yet he shall at length see of the travail of his soul.