The Gospel of John – Rivers of living water

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Jesus’ public ministry challenges the traditional views of Judaism. This causes infighting among both the people and the Jewish leaders themselves. The people hear His words, see His miracles, and begin to wonder if Jesus really is the Promised One. Once again, the religious leaders want to arrest Jesus, but the officers are so impressed by His words that they leave Him alone. When Nicodemus, a Pharisee, pleads for due process, he is mocked and is ignored. Moments such as this will eventually lead the Jewish leaders to extreme measures against Jesus. But for now, Jesus re-emphasises that He alone is “living water.”

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25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success! Psalm 118:25

Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Festival of Tabernacles. During this week-long celebration, Israel remembered the intervention of God during their wandering in the wilderness, as described in the book of Exodus. As part of this holiday, priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam to the altar, remembering God’s provision of water for Israel (Exodus 17:1–7). The last day of the feast is the “great day,” when the priests would recite Psalm 118:25 while making seven circuits around the altar. This backdrop is crucial for understanding why Jesus spoke these particular words, at this particular time.

Rivers of Living Water – John 7:37-52

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 

Jesus’ words here are connected to His claim of being the ultimate cure for spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst (John 6:35). The incident of water from the rock, like the priests’ ritual, is only meant to be a symbol. Those events are intended as foreshadowing of Jesus’ eventual ministry. This comment from Christ is also similar to His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar (John 4:10–13).

38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 

As used by Jesus, this internal spring, or stream, is indicative of the Holy Spirit, which comes to live inside all who come to faith in Christ. This indwelling, however, will not begin until after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 2:1–4), a point made in the next verse.

39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

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The plot thickens

Those who seem most aware of the religious leaders’ attitude towards Jesus are those who are “people of Jerusalem.”

The question asked here comes from Jesus’ ongoing conflict with these religious leaders. In particular, the crowd sees Jesus’ ability to speak so publicly as a problem. As later verses will show, this makes them wonder if the authorities are too weak to stop Jesus, or if they actually believe what He is saying! This erosion of authority is a large part of the motivation to have Jesus killed.

Despite the Pharisees efforts, Jesus is still alive and still preaching. In fact, He is amazing people with His wisdom, in the temple of Jerusalem, during one of the holiest festivals of the year (John 7:14)! This leads the people to wonder just how committed the religious leaders are to dealing with Jesus.

At this point, the public only sees two possible options: either the authorities are too inept to deal with a blasphemer, or they have come to accept the claims Jesus is making. Those same authorities are well aware of this image problem, and it will add fuel to their fire when it comes to silencing Jesus.

The people making these points don’t necessarily believe in Jesus. They have their own doubts and misunderstandings. For now, they only know that Jesus is generating a significant level of controversy.

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Familiarity breeds contempt – lack of belief

It’s often said that “familiarity breeds contempt.” In other words, when we are accustomed to seeing someone, speaking with them, or working with them, we tend to take them for granted. In particular, we sometimes have a hard time picturing that person as anything “other” than what we assume them to be. In many cases, that extra contact leads to annoyance: we start feeling frustrated, not impressed, by what we see in them.

This general idea has a lot to do with the crowd’s assumptions about Jesus and their concept of the Messiah. Jewish tradition of the time suggested that the Promised One would more or less appear out of nowhere—and Jesus has a family history which many people in Jerusalem know. Jesus’ own family seems to have the same lack of appreciation. Rather than accepting His ministry, His brothers lack belief and tease Him instead (John 7:1–9).

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You know and you don’t know

It’s hard to tell if Jesus is being serious or sarcastic in His statement that the people “know Him.” (although the latter is unlikely). On one hand, they are aware of His family and His hometown of Nazareth. On the other hand, that familiarity has led many to dismiss Him as the Messiah. In addition, the vast majority of these people do not accept Jesus’ ministry, or His teachings, as they should. This remark is in response to a suggestion made by some in the crowd: that Jesus cannot be the Promised One, since they know where He is from. Messiah, according to their assumptions, should be more anonymous.

Jesus’ second statement in this verse is much easier to classify. This is a direct criticism of Israel’s spiritual state, and an extremely personal reproach. Israel’s ultimate point of pride was its identity as God’s chosen people. No other nation could make that claim—and here, Jesus tells God’s chosen people that they do not know God! Their rejection of God (John 5:39–40) has resulted in a rejection of the One sent by God (John 6:29).

Stubbornness and pride cloud the truth!

Jesus is He – Believe

Needless to say, this accusation does not go over well, either with the people or with the religious authorities. Neither does Jesus’ claim, from the next verse, that He possesses both divinity and godly approval.

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Even though Jesus is delivering the message of God, and comes from God, and is God (John 1:1), He is not accepted, even by members of His own family (John 7:1–9).

The reactions to Jesus’ preaching in this passage are mixed. The religious leaders have already made up their minds to kill Jesus (John 5:18), and will soon make another attempt to have Him arrested. Some think Jesus is crazy (John 7:20), others wonder about His ministry (John 7:12–13). Some, despite all the controversy, are willing to follow the evidence exactly where it leads: to belief (John 7:31).

The hour is not yet come

Several times in the gospel of John, Jesus escapes arrest. The Bible does not give much in the way of details—how exactly Jesus evades capture—but it does give an explanation. Jesus is obedient to God’s timetable, and God’s timetable is unchangeable. This is not “his hour,” which in context means the moment of His ultimate sacrifice. This will come later, as acknowledged by Jesus Himself.

Trust God’s Time

Speculation is all well and good, but at the end of the day, all we really know is that efforts thus far to bring Jesus in have failed.

More signs?

The religious authorities intend to kill Jesus, given the opportunity (John 5:18). Even though they know more about the Scriptures than anyone else, they reject Christ because they are stubborn (John 5:39–40). Disobedience, not a lack of knowledge, is what prevents these well-educated men from seeing Jesus for who He really is (John 7:17).

Those who are less informed than the Pharisees are still confused. Some look to Jewish traditions which suggest Messiah will be an anonymous figure (John 7:27). Based on this, many think that a common man such as Jesus cannot be the Promised One. This, it seems, includes many members of Jesus’ own family (John 7:5).

And then, as this verse shows, there are those who follow all the evidence exactly where it leads. The gospel of John uses the term “signs” in reference to the miracles Jesus performs in order to prove Himself (John 20:30–31). These are specifically mentioned by Christ as one of the reasons people ought to accept His words (John 5:36). As shown here, some of the people look at the miraculous works of Jesus in the same way Nicodemus did in chapter 3 (John 3:1–2); how could someone do more than this—isn’t that enough to prove He is the Christ?

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Another failed arrest

Some people are willing to openly defend Jesus as the Promised One, based on His miracles (John 7:31).

As a result, the Pharisees send a group of official guard to arrest Jesus. As with other attempts explained in the gospels, this effort to seize Jesus will fail. In certain incidents, this failure has a supernatural feeling to it (John 10:24, 39). In others, Jesus most likely blends into the crowd and leaves (John 5:13), or is protected by the presence of a sympathetic throng (Matthew 21:46). Here, however, the reason Jesus remains free is perhaps the most surprising. Despite being sent to arrest Him, the men who hear Him find His words so perplexing that they will leave Him be (John 7:44–46). This may have been because they found Him persuasive or because they interpret His words to mean He plans to leave the area (John 7:33–36). This enrages the Pharisees who sent them (John 7:47–50).

A statement by Jesus which the people struggle to understand – It’s possible that confusion over this remark is one reason that the men sent to arrest Him (John 7:32) will ultimately choose not to, despite the orders of the Pharisees (John 7:45). The comments in these two verses are similar to remarks Christ will make at the Last Supper (John 13:31—14:7). They are especially poignant since Jesus is nearing the end of His public ministry. Those people listening to Him have only a limited time left to make the right choice.

Before long, Jesus will be successfully arrested, killed, and then rise from the dead. Afterwards, as promised, He will then ascend into Heaven (Acts 1:6–11), preparing for His eventual return. This statement re-emphasises the claim that Jesus has been sent by God.

Listen people!

Not everyone listening believes Jesus is sent by God. However, they fully understand that Jesus claims to have been sent by God.

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