The number six has significance. It is possible it refers to the number of followers at this point, but there is a more significant aspect as it is used within the context of the Fourth Gospel.
Turning wine to water is followed by Jesus cleansing the Temple. A theme of purification connects both events. The first involves pots used in Jewish purification rites carried out in the home. The second involves the Temple, the place where purification in the form of atonement takes place. The contrasts are antithetical. One is a joyous occasion with family and friends. One is somber with merchants and money changers. One is about marriage, a man and a woman who are still pure. One is about the necessity of cleansing the Temple, a place which is supposed to be pure, but isn't.
After the Temple event, Jesus proclaims His resurrection will make His body the Temple. Then Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the need to be born again. When Jesus hears of the angst of the Pharisees over His disciples baptizing and making disciples, He goes through Samaria where He encounters a Samaritan woman. In the ensuing discussion Jesus explains true worship which will be in Spirit and Truth, not at Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem. From the perspective of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is saying true worship will take place in His body which is wherever two or more gather in His name:
Matthew 18:20 (ESV):
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
The theme of purification is implicit in true worship. The sinless body of Jesus not only purifies man's sin; it is the place where purified people may worship in Spirit and in Truth. The Temple is supposed to be pure and a place where purification rites are carried out, but it is not pure. Jesus, who is without sin first cleanses and then replaces it. Likewise the Samaritan woman is not pure, but living water from Jesus can purify her.
John has described the encounter with the Samaritan woman in ways which allude to the wedding sign in Cana. The most significant is by using the same word, ὑδρία to describe the containers for water. Six ὑδρία used for purification rites and one ὑδρία is carried by the Samaritan woman. Six are filled with water which Jesus turns to wine for the wedding celebration. One is left empty for Jesus to fill with something greater than wine, living water He offers.
As with the wedding and Temple cleansing, there is an antithetic contrast. The first involves a man and woman who get married. The second, a woman living with a man she should have married. The first describes servants who fill the jars. The second describes a woman who comes to fill her jar, but doesn't. In both a woman is plays a decisive role. Jesus' mother makes the request and instructs the servants. The Samaritan woman also makes a request, Sir, give me this water... Jesus, not servants is to fill her ὑδρία.
Therefore, with respect to the number six, it points to a seventh, Jesus. If there are only six disciples in Cana, as seems likely, Jesus completes the picture. More explicit is the six pots for Jewish purification which hold wine for the wedding feast only because one greater than the Temple was invited. The complete numerical symbolism is seven: six pots which supply wine for the wedding and one pot for Jesus to fill with living water. Six men the Samaritan woman has lived with and a seventh, Jesus who offers her eternal life.
The encounter with the Samaritan is also the first of seven times in the Fourth Gospel where Jesus is described identifying Himself using the unpredicted ἐγώ εἰμι. This too has been recoded using a six plus one format:
- Give me to drink (4:7)
- “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (4:10)
- ...“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:13-14)
- “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (4:16)
- ...“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:17-18)
- ...“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:21-24)
- ...“I Am—the one who speaks with you.” (4:26)
All of the events have been described employing a symbolic framework built on the number seven, presented as six alike and one unique. This is the same pattern used to describe the breaking of the seals, emptying the bowls, and blowing the trumpets in Revelation.