Author’s Note: Interested readers can find all previous volumes of this series here.
Today we conclude our two-part series on what the Bible says about wine. Last week we studied the Old Testament, and now we uncork the New, noting the pivotal role wine plays in Jesus’s Messianic ministry.
Wine is first mentioned in the New Testament’s first book, the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says:
“‘Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved’” (Matthew 9:17).
That “new wine” lesson was also recorded in Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 5:33-39, reinforcing its significance about how Jesus symbolically represented “new wine” that cannot be contained within old skin. He came to fulfill the Old Testament — old wine preserved in the old skin. He taught how the new wine is “ruined” when poured into old goatskins that “burst” after being stretched to its limit from when the old wine is fermented and expanded.
Jesus’s symbolic identity with wine is strengthened in his first famous miracle when he turned water into wine. The miracle appears only in John’s Gospel while Jesus, his mother, and disciples attended a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee that (gasp) is about to run out of wine. Mother Mary pressures her son for a miracle, and Jesus initially resists saying, “My hour has not yet come.” Take a moment and read the short passage.
After Jesus quietly changes six large jars of water into wine with no fanfare, the “master of the banquet” comments to the bridegroom about his unusual party etiquette, saying:
“‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now’” (John 2: 9-10).
The last verse explains the purpose of the miracle:
“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).
A colleague of mine, Russ Breault, has written about the first miracle explaining, “Transformation is the key. Changing water into wine is a metaphor for what Jesus desires to do in the life of every believer. His first miracle reveals the core mission of His ministry – the Gospel message has the power to transform. Jesus later calls it being ‘born again,’ ” And Russ reemphasizes the real reason for the miracle, “the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in Him.”
Then about three years later, on the night he was betrayed during the Last Supper, Jesus again transformed wine (and bread). On that occasion into his blood and body as recorded in three Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and I Corinthians.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, [of wine] and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” (Matthew 26:17-29).
Every Sunday around the world, in Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches, believers renew their faith through the sacrifice of Jesus’s body and blood in a ritual known as the Eucharist — the highlight of, and some would say the reason for — the Mass. Protestant churches refer to this ritual as Communion. Nonetheless, in both faiths, church attendees ingest a small wafer for His body and take a sip of wine (or grape juice) for His blood.
Wine is next mentioned the moment before Jesus is crucified, to dull the pain:
“Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” (Mark 15:23).
Let’s backtrack for a moment to earlier in Jesus’s ministry — well before the Last Supper — to highlight the importance of wine. (In Vol. 34, we previously discussed bread.)
John records a preview of what Jesus would say again at the Last Supper:
“‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them’” (John 6:53-59).
Please don’t think that Jesus is talking about cannibalism. The truth is Jesus holds Himself up as the source of eternal life — His body and blood, that He will sacrifice on the cross for our sins — the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Back to human failings for a moment. In the New Testament, wine is also mentioned in conjunction with excessive drinking and other destructive behaviors in a few passages here and here, as well as in a more positive light:
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
There are many more wine-related Bible passages that you can read here.
To close out today’s study, I asked the learned Rev. David G. Caron, OP, Director of Spiritual Outreach for Cross Catholic Outreach, to offer a quote about Jesus and wine. He wrote:
“St. Catherine of Siena speaks of a relationship with God as Holy intoxication. Catherine says, ‘…a wine which intoxicates the soul so that the more one drinks of it, the more one wants to drink.’ Jesus, with his life and teachings, introduced people, in his own way, to holy intoxication.”
Let’s raise a glass of wine (or grape juice) to that truth.
Myra Kahn Adams is a media producer and conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. She is also Executive Director of www.SignFromGod.org, a ministry dedicated to educating people about the Shroud of Turin. Contact: MyraAdams01@gmail.com or Twitter @MyraKAdams.