When Jesus gives us the meaning of the new wine, He is telling us a New Covenant has arrived, calling for a new approach.
One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?”
Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17)
There were several times in the Bible where Jesus was confronted for not adhering to the religious expectations of others. Whether it be the crowd, religious officials like the Pharisees, or in this case, disciples of John the Baptist.
Unlike times when the Pharisees tested Jesus or attempted to trick Him, this appears to be a time of true inquiry. After all, John’s disciples surely understood what John believed about Jesus. Still, this was their question. They had trouble understanding why followers of Jesus weren’t following a foundational religious practice.
The Meaning of the New Wine
The meaning of the new wine in new wineskins is this: when Christ came to the earth, He was ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17). This was the beginning of a new era; a new covenant. What Jesus was bringing to the table was next level. It would not be contained within the confines of the old religious system. Meaning the new wine of Christ’s revelation would have burst the old wineskins.
The religious people of Jesus’ day interpreted this approach as Jesus being a rebel to Israel’s religious practices. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus came to fulfill the law, not destroy it. His intent was to “accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17). Namely, to answer the need for a sacrifice for sins, and perfectly, becoming the world’s “once and for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 10:8-10).
Thus, Jesus enacted a New Covenant in His blood, purchasing salvation for any who would repent. This was necessary because everyone is guilty under God’s law.
God the Father supplied the Levitical Law, which included all the religious practices the Jews were to observe in keeping with it. God also provided the context of His holiness as a backdrop. Jesus obeyed the Father in all things (John 6:38), so the idea that He would be rebellious to God’s established order doesn’t add up.
The Value of the Old Wine
While there is meaning in the new wine, we also understand there is value in the old wine as well.
Christ was confronted often in the Bible regarding keeping the Sabbath. He would not answer by saying the Sabbath had no value. Instead, Jesus pointed out that the Sabbath was not meant to sublimate God’s followers (Mark 2:27).
Christ’s intent was to challenge the rote observance of religious practice for outward show or as a means to “rank” a person’s worthiness before God. He knew this was hypocritical and the antithesis of the Gospel.
The meaning of the new wine is that a follower of Christ does not rely on religion to be right with God, but on repentance.
Setting a day aside for worship and rest is a good thing. Fasting is a good thing. Praying is a good thing. But reflected within the meaning of the new wine, it is in a different context than the Old Covenant.
Preserving the New Wine
As we grow in faith and understanding of Jesus Christ, we are bound to be confronted with the religiosity of some of His followers. We will be told we aren’t complete disciples because we aren’t doing this thing, or following that practice, or haven’t had a certain experience yet. This is unfortunate, because trying to ensnare another person in legalism is not loving one another.
A sincere, loving disciple will be ok if you have questions about their ideas. They will support your understanding of what they are saying by reviewing it against what the Bible says. But even someone who has Bible verses to back up their arguments can sound sincere yet be trying to influence you the wrong way.
Paul warns of this specifically in his letter to the Colossians, exhorting his readers to not allow others to influence them about celebrating certain holy days or eating certain foods. And while these rules may sound wise at the time, they provide no value towards holiness (Colossians 2:16-23).
This is why it is important for us to spend time in the Bible, learning and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us the truths of our faith. This will grow us in maturity and prepare us to answer back when someone tries to shackle us with legalistic views (Ephesians 4:11-16). Immersing ourselves in God’s word is one of the ways we abide with Christ.
Jesus pointed out the flaw in putting the new wine into old wineskins. We should pay attention to the meaning of the new wine and enjoy the freedom and meaning of the New Covenant.
More Bible verses about the meaning of the new wine: