In John 2:1-11, Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding, and the wedding feast runs out of wine. Jesus’ mother Mary tells Jesus about the problem, and Jesus replies, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come” (KJV). But Jesus proceeds to turn the water into wine.
Jesus’ statement that “mine hour is not yet come” intrigues me. The reason is that, throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus’ hour refers to the time of his crucifixion and resurrection (see 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). But what does Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection have to do with his reluctance to change water into wine? “I don’t want to change water into wine right now, for my time to be crucified and resurrected has not come yet.” That doesn’t make much sense, does it?
In this post, I will interact with four attempts to solve this apparent problem. I will be drawing from this 2013 post, while also adding two interpretations that I recently encountered.
A. John Gill speculates that “it was not proper for him to work miracles as yet, lest it should provoke his enemies to seek his life before his time…” According to this interpretation, Jesus is essentially saying to Mary, “My hour to die is not yet come, so don’t pressure me to do something that might bring that about!” Maybe this explanation works. Perhaps Jesus in John 2:4 realized that the performance of his work was a delicate task: that he had to do things just right to get his message out. Jumping the gun by publicly turning the water into wine might puzzle or anger people prematurely, leading to his death, and thus he would not be able to say what he needed to say, when he needed to say it. Why, then, did Jesus turn the water into wine? Because he did so in a private, low-key manner, which would not attract premature attention.
And yet, not long after turning the water into wine, Jesus in John 2:13-25 cleansed the Temple of merchants and money-changers, criticizing them for making his Father’s house a house of merchandise. Jesus then told some of the Jews to destroy the Temple and Jesus would raise it up in three days, a statement that baffled them. Jesus also performed miracles in Jerusalem. Jesus was not afraid to be provocative, baffling, and confusing at the onset of his ministry. Why, then, did he think that turning water into wine was inappropriate, not long before that? Was he aware that the ministry that would lead to his death was about to start, and he was not in a hurry to start it? Did he want his ministry to be defined, not primarily in terms of miracles, but in terms of piety, and thus he wanted to start it with the cleansing of the Temple, not a miracle? Such a dim view of miracles does occur in the Gospel of John. In John 2:23-24, Jesus does not commit to people who believed in him on account of miracles that he did. In John 4:48, Jesus says with some frustration to a nobleman who wanted Jesus to heal his son, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” In John 6:26-27, Jesus criticizes those who sought him for his miracles, specifically the multiplications of the loaves, encouraging them instead to seek the food that leads to eternal life.
B. Related to (A.), George Beasley-Murray in the Word Biblical Commentary on the Gospel of John states the following:
“In this Gospel the ‘hour’ of Jesus commonly denotes his death and glorification (see 7:30; 8:20; 13:1; 17:1). An immediate reference to that hour is scarcely thinkable in this context; it must relate to the service of the divine sovereignty on which Jesus now embarks, which will (as the Evangelist knows) culminate in the ‘lifting up’ on the cross. (If the saying was in the source it would clearly have related to the beginning of the redemptive ministry, and was interpreted by the Evangelist in the light of its end, since the ministry was an indivisible unity.) The import of the statement is to declare that Jesus’ service for the kingdom of God is determined solely by his Father; into that area not even his mother can intrude (cf. 7:3–9 and Mark 3:31–35, and see the excellent discussion of Schnackenburg, 1:327–31).”
In a way, Beasley-Murray interprets Jesus’ hour, not just in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but also in reference to Jesus’ entire ministry, which would lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. And yet, Beasley-Murray’s reference to John 7:3-9 poses a problem for this interpretation. John 7:2-9 states:
“Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him. Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come. When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee.”
John 7:2-9 takes place after Jesus started his ministry. And, after starting his ministry, Jesus is still saying that his time has not yet come. Can we, therefore, interpret Jesus’ ministry as part of his “hour”?
What is interesting, though, is that Jesus soon thereafter in John 7 goes to Jerusalem and assumes a public profile by teaching in the Temple and getting into an argument with Judean critics. Jesus probably realized that he was walking a fine line, or treading on delicate territory. Jesus did not want to bring about his death before his time, so he was hesitant at times to make a public appearance, lest that could provoke people to kill him. And yet, Jesus did not impose on himself inflexible guidelines, for he changed his mind and went to Jerusalem. John 7:30 states that Jesus’ enemies did not lay hands on him, as much as they wanted to do so, for Jesus’ hour had not yet come. Perhaps Jesus concluded, after some thought, that his enemies could not harm him at that point, so he decided to go to Jerusalem, or to assume a public profile after arriving there.
C. John MacArthur in the MacArthur Study Bible states: “My hour has not yet come. The phrase constantly refers to Jesus’ death and exaltation (7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). He was on a divine schedule decreed by God before the foundation of the world. Since the prophets characterized the messianic age as a time when wine would flow liberally (Jer. 31:12; Hos. 14:7; Amos 9:13, 14), Jesus was likely referring to the fact that the necessity of the cross must come before the blessings of the millennial age.”
I am not overly convinced by this explanation, to tell you the truth. I do not think that Jesus had to die and rise again before Israel could enjoy the blessings of the messianic age, for such blessings were evident in Jesus’ ministry before he died and rose again. In Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22, Jesus says that John the Baptist should have known that Jesus was the Messiah on account of the healings that Jesus was performing. Jesus in these passages may have had in mind such scriptures as Isaiah 35:6: “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” But, if you only want to consider what is in John’s Gospel in interpreting John’s Gospel, even John’s Gospel implies that the blessings of the messianic age were occurring during Jesus’ ministry. In John 6:45, for example, Jesus applies the prophecy of Isaiah 54:13 that “they shall be all taught of God” to the people who were believing in him.
And yet, there is a sense in John’s Gospel that certain prophecies in the Hebrew Bible could not be fulfilled until after Jesus died and rose again. In John 7:38-39, we read (in the KJV): “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
D. Derek Leman raised some considerations in his May 27, 2017 Daily Portion. Part of what he said is here.
Leman observes that John 10:11 states that Jesus manifested his glory at this first miracle in Cana of Galilee. Leman goes on to state:
“John interprets Yeshua’s nature miracles, such as turning water into wine, as the Messiah letting slip through the screen a bit of the divine glory that was his from the foundation of the world. Only the creator of water, of grape vines, can transmute matter in such an omnipotent manner. And Yeshua did not pray and ask God to perform the miracle. He apparently did it himself. He let slip his glory, allowing it to show through, for those who paid close attention, and thought deeply about such things. Of course, no one got it. No one understood until the revelation was made more obvious in the ascension and in later appearances of Yeshua from heaven, seated on the throne of heaven beside God.”
Leman later states:
“There is a mysterious indication that Mary knew Yeshua’s divine power, leading even very early in Christian history to speculation about miracles he may have worked in his youth (as in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas). The miracle is a sign fostering belief in his disciples, manifesting his Glory, his hidden identity (vs. 11)…Why does Yeshua feel this is not his business? The answer he gives is that it is ‘not yet my hour,’ meaning ‘my hour to be revealed as the hidden Glory revealed.’ That hour will be at his death and resurrection. Yet Mary is persistent and, as is often the case, Yeshua is willing in spite of his objection…Yeshua may have said his hour had not yet come to reveal his Glory, yet he fosters faith in advance of his hour with this sign and with others that will come. These signs lead to a greater understanding of the ultimate one, the resurrection.”
Leman is saying that Jesus, by turning the water into wine, was revealing his divine glory and power, and Jesus did not want to do that at that time because his death and resurrection were to be the occasions at which he revealed his divine glory.
There is much that Leman does not say here. Were Jesus’ other miracles occurrences in which Jesus reluctantly decided to reveal his divine glory?
A relevant consideration is that, in the Gospel of John, Jesus quite possibly does his miracles through the power of his Father. Jesus affirms in John 5:31-38 that the works that he is doing are the Father testifying that he sent Jesus. In John 14:10, Jesus states that the Father does the works. Perhaps the miracles that Jesus did in John’s Gospel are different from his turning of water into wine and his resurrection. When Jesus turned the water into wine, he did that miracle by his own power. Regarding his resurrection, Jesus implied in John 2:19-21 that he, Jesus, would raise up his own body after it is destroyed. The other miracles, by contrast, were done by the power of his Father.
Another consideration is that, throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he is glorifying God, not self (John 8:50; 11:4, 40). In John 17:5, however, Jesus wants God to glorify him with the glory that he had before the foundation of the world. Presumably, this would occur at his resurrection. Were Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine and rising from the dead incidents in which he demonstrated his inherent glory, whereas, in the other miracles, his focus was on the glory of his Father?
I do not know if this thesis consistently works throughout the Gospel of John. Just looking at John 17 itself, I see that Jesus’ hope is that the Father will glorify him. Does that imply that Jesus lacked inherent glory, at least before his resurrection (I wonder if I am approaching heresy here)? Or does it at least suggest that the glorification of Jesus at Jesus’ resurrection was the Father’s glorification of Jesus, not Jesus’ glorification of himself, which would go against what I argued above? And can we truly differentiate what Jesus does from what his Father does, since they were in each other (e.g., John 14:20)? Plus, are not Jesus’ glory and his Father’s glory intertwined?
I am open to correction on this, so I will leave the comments on. Be tactful, though! And, just to be clear, I am building on Derek Leman’s thoughts here, so don’t blame him for my conclusions.