“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”John 2:11
This is the first of Jesus’ signs. Six more will follow in the “book of signs” (the label scholars affix to chapters 1–12) for a total of seven. Some of those scholars put the tally at only six. They say Jesus’ walking on the waters disqualified since it wasn’t done “publicly.” But as the servants and disciples are the only ones in the know with this first sign, I think this disqualifies their disqualification.
What then is a sign? Signs signify, and the significance of that can be seen in the language that is absent from John. “Signs” as a designation is often coupled with “wonders.” The only use of “wonders” in John is found on the lips of Jesus in 4:48 where He says, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” “Wonders” or “marvels” are that which leave one in awe. Perhaps the most common denominator in the gospels for what we commonly speak of as “miracles” is “mighty works.” While Jesus will refer to His “works” in John, a different word is in play. The single word translated “mighty works” throughout the synoptic gospels conveys power. The “works” Jesus does in John’s gospel, are simply His labor. So in John then, rather than the power or the marvel of His acts being in the forefront, it is their significance. Bruce Milne highlights the distinction well:
“The distinction can be put in this way: for the synoptic writers Jesus’ miracles are actual occasions of the incursion of the kingdom of God. …For John, the miracles, though no less real as historical acts of supernatural power, are more symbolic; they point beyond themselves to Jesus and his significance. Put more succinctly, the synoptic miracles are essentially eschatological, John’s essentially christological.”
But what then is the significance of this sign? Signs like the feeding of the five thousand are easy. Thereafter, Jesus shortly goes on to say, “I am the Bread of Life.” Here we are left hanging to pick up the clues ourselves. One grave danger in searching for significance is that of finding it everywhere, including where it is not. For example, some have made much of “the third day” relating it to the resurrection. I think that’s more than a bit thin. Even so, there are a number of subtle hints at significance as one goes along, and it is as they all pile on that they begin to take on added weight.
This was the first of Jesus’ signs, and I don’t believe it is without significance that it was done at a wedding, that it involved water jars used for Jewish rites of purification, that it involved water being turned to wine, and that it was done quietly so that only a few were in the know. And yet, I don’t think any of those things are especially the focal point. What is the significance of this first sign? It manifests Jesus’ glory (v. 11). Not as that “hour” mentioned in v. 4 will do. Not publicly. But it does manifest soemthing of His glory for the disciples. They see that glory and they believe. What “glory” is it that was manifested? John has already told you of the glory they saw.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:14, 16–18).
This first sign gets at the same point as every sign we will encounter in this gospel. They all signify this one thing. They all have one singular aim. Including that sign of signs, the hour of Jesus’ glorification when He is lifted up on the cross and raised from the grave. And it is after this eighth and climactic sign that John tells us, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” (John 20:30–31).