*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

John 2:6-10 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • John 2:6
  • John 2:7
  • John 2:8
  • John 2:9
  • John 2:10

Jesus turns to the servants of the wedding feast and instructs them to fill six large stone jars with water. Once they have done so, He tells them to draw some of the water out and take it to the master of the feast. They do so, at which point the master of the feast discovers that the water has been made into fine wine and expresses amazement that the bridegroom has saved the best wine for last.

There are no apparent parallel accounts of John 2:6-10 in the Gospels. 

In the previous section Jesus’s mother, Mary, had asked Jesus to help the wedding sponsors who had run out of wine, probably long before the feast was expected to end (John 2:1-3), and she instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus instructed them to do (John 2:5). John continues his account of the wedding feast and the miracle Jesus performed there by providing some seemingly incidental details about the large jars holding the water that Jesus would soon transform.

Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each (v 6). 

John explains that the stone waterpots were set there for the Jewish custom of purification. The fact that he mentions this Jewish custom is another indication that John is writing to an audience that includes Gentiles, because such an observation would be unnecessary if he were writing to Jews only. 

Moreover, and as will be explained in a moment, there seems to be something significant about the fact that Jesus used six stone waterpots used for purification instead of any common vessels or jars. 

First century Jews used stone pots, as opposed to clay pots, for ceremonial purification practices. They did this because stone did not retain impurities like other common pottery substances of the day, thus enabling their users to better observe Mosaic laws about ceremonial purification (Leviticus 6:28, 11:33-36). Stone was viewed as a fitting receptacle for the “living waters” required for ritual purification (Leviticus 11:36, 15:13). In the Old Testament, “living” or “flowing” water was understood simply as “running water” (Genesis 26:19)—that is, not a stagnant source. 

As it happens, contemporary historians and archeologists have been able to corroborate this detail in John’s account because stone waterpots from the first century matching John’s description have been discovered all across Judea, and in Cana specifically.

Jesus next transforms the contents of the ritual purification vessels to make something superior: Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him (v 7-8).

Symbolically, this filling of the purification waterpots may show two things.

First it may symbolize how Jesus came to fulfill the Law, and/or replace the temporary and superficial Jewish means of purification.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) similar to how the water filled the empty stone waterpots. The Law was good in that it provided instruction from God (Romans 3:1). But despite having a knowledge of the Law, no one was able to keep and fulfill it (Psalm 14:1b-3, Romans 3:10). The psalmist asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?” (Psalm 24:3) He answers: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” 

As the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), Jesus had both clean hands and a pure heart. Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) similar to how the water filled the empty stone waterpots.

The second thing the filling of the purification waterpots may symbolize is how Jesus came to offer real purification. 

Jesus came to cleanse the heart. The cleaning Jesus provides is more than a superficial custom of purification. At the conclusion of His ministry, Jesus chastised the religious leaders of His day for obsessing over their ceremonial hand cleaning rituals while ignoring the greater matters of their heart (Matthew 23:25-26). Jesus offers a cleansing of the heart that lasts. This interpretation is further supported by how Jesus will later declare in John that “rivers of living water” will flow from the heart of anyone who believes in Him (John 7:38).

After His mother told the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do” (John 2:5), Jesus turned His attention to them—the servants of the feast. Unlike Mary, the servants are presumably unaware of who Jesus is. Nevertheless, like Mary, they also may provide valuable insight about what to expect when following Jesus. John does not hint that the servants place their trust in Jesus; because of their low status they likely followed Jesus’s instructions because of Mary’s authority in the matter (John 2:5). Nevertheless, they find themselves in Jesus’s service on this day, and their example is useful. 

 Interestingly, Jesus does not communicate His whole plan to the servants. He does not spell out the miracle that is coming. He does not say that He is going to turn “water into wine.” All He does is give the servants simple commands to obey: fill the waterpots with water (v 7), draw some out now (v 8a), and take what they drew to the master of the feast (v 8b). 

This suggests that all that is required to follow Christ is ordinary, everyday obedience. Someone does not need to be extraordinary to serve Jesus. Jesus takes acts of ordinary faithfulness and performs miracles with them. The New Testament authors consistently assert that such ordinary acts of faithfulness are the kinds of actions God will greatly reward (Matthew 10:42). 

Moreover, the servants’ experience suggests that Christ-followers will not always see or understand what God is doing in a situation. Followers of Jesus will not always get to know the bigger picture or even see the fruits of their work. That does not make obedience any less important. Believers are part of a work that is bigger than themselves, so no matter what part they have to play in it, whether it seems big or small, God will see to it that everything is applied for the good of His people (Romans 8:28-29). 

The servants’ experience may also show that disciples are called to take risks. Jesus calls people to ordinary obedience, but this episode also implies that ordinary obedience can expose followers to a risk of rejection or loss. 

Interestingly, John does not tell the reader when the water is turned into wine. Indeed, in verse 7, Jesus simply tells the servants to “fill the jars with water.” Then in verse 8, He says, “draw some out and take it to the headwaiter.” All that John reveals in these critical verses is that the servants obeyed Jesus: So they took it to him [the headwaiter] (v 8b). 

All of this suggests that nobody sees this miracle happen. Yet that is potentially problematic for the servants because the headwaiter would expect to taste wine, not water. Thus, for the servants, there is no opportunity to verify the contents of the cup before bringing it to the headwaiter: they neither see the transformation take place, nor are they allowed to taste the substance. 

Critically, however, they follow Jesus’s instruction despite having little to no evidence that what they were doing was going to work out. Indeed, the reader is made to wonder what might transpire if the headwaiter is disappointed to taste plain water, and who might suffer embarrassment. 

Being Jesus’s disciple is like being one of these servants in this way, too. Disciples may feel like what they bring in their hands might not please other people or may even get them in trouble. But they are called to take the risk associated with obedience anyway. Indeed, they are called to emulate Jesus’s example of trusting God by taking up their own cross daily (Luke 9:23). 

The goal of a disciple is to please Jesus above all else (John 15:11-12), just as Jesus did everything to please His Father (John 5:30). Hebrews 12 states that Jesus endured the cross, “despising the shame” of other people, because of the “joy set before Him,” which was to share His Father’s throne of authority (Hebrews 12:2, Revelation 3:21).

John, for his part, does not relieve the suspense of the episode until after the host has already tasted the mystery substance: 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) (v 9).

The headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now” (v 9b-10).

This statement from the headwaiter likely refers to a common practice at the time during these marathon wedding ceremonies. Since it would not have been financially feasible for most families to serve expensive wine throughout the entire feast, many chose instead to serve the best and most expensive wine only at the beginning, replacing it gradually with cheaper wine as their guests’ palettes became progressively less discriminating—when they had already drunk freely. This explains why the master of the feast would call the bridegroom to express surprise that he had kept the good wine until now

John’s account does not state whether the headwaiter is commending or chastising the bridegroom for saving the good wine for last. For the reader, however, this comment simply emphasizes the superior quality of Christ’s work compared to all that has come before (and anything after it). Jesus is like this good wine. His work is superior to the finest products of human effort. Jesus miraculously turned plain water into exceptional wine. The master of the feast was expecting poor wine, but instead was surprised to taste good wine

Jesus’s first miracle, or “sign” as John refers to them, is a foretaste of His parable about old and new wineskins—especially as it is told in the Gospel of Luke.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”
(Luke 5:37-38)

Jesus’s parable compares the Law of Moses to “old wine.” The Law of Moses was good. The Rabbinic teachings surrounding the Law (which by the time of Jesus had proliferated greatly) and the heart behind those teachings is compared to old wineskins. 

Jesus and the life He came to offer is “the new wine.” Jesus, as God, is superior and better than Moses, God’s prophet. As John reminds us, Jesus is the Creator of grace and truth while Moses merely delivered God’s commandments (John 1:17). Jesus’s wine is better and more potent than Moses’s wine. The Law is good, but the Gospel is better. Jesus’s teachings and hearts that love Him are the “fresh wineskins.”

Jesus concluded this parable in Luke by observing: 

“And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’”
(Luke 5:39)

The old wine guzzlers are drunk and content with their old ways of life and are unwilling to even drink the new, good wine of Jesus which is superior to everything else.

This brings us back to the headwaiter’s astonishment when he tasted the water that had become wine. Instead of following the old pattern of serving the good wine first and the cheap stuff last, the bridegroom (thanks to Jesus) had reserved the very best wine until now

In saying all of this, John was indicating that the good wine—the best wine—the abundant life (John 10:10b)—is available now to anyone who believes in Jesus. John admits how he is extremely selective about which signs he included in his Gospel (John 20:30). Compared to the other three Gospels, John only mentions a small number of signs. But he expressly tells us that the signs he did include:

“have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
(John 20:31) 

Jesus’s miracle of turning water into wine is one of the select few signs which John chose to include so that we may believe and have life.

Before we conclude the commentary for John 2:6-10 there are a few additional things which are important to note. 

It seems significant that Jesus’s first miracle is a creative miracle. The Bible opens with God creating. Here Jesus’s earthly ministry opens with a creative act. As mentioned just above, John will state at the end of His Gospel that He chose material for it that would help people “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). In other words, John asserts that Jesus is both the “Christ”—that is, a man anointed by God—and He is also God Himself. This inaugural miracle indeed reveals that Jesus can create, even as God can create. 

Interestingly, the bridegroom may not have even known that the wine was running out. He likely did not know what Jesus had done behind the scenes to solve the problem. He might have been surprised, then, to hear the headwaiter express amazement at tasting the good wine well after the feast had begun. At this point in the story, it seems likely that only a few people were aware that an incredible miracle had taken place. 

In any case, it is worthwhile to reflect on this miracle from the bridegroom’s limited perspective. It underscores that Jesus’s work on behalf of people does not depend on their worthiness to receive it—or even their awareness that He is working. He acts in their best interest in full knowledge that they cannot repay Him and that they may not even perceive His activity.

Biblical Text

6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He *said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 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 the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

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