Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
It is the last day, that great day of the feast of tabernacles. Jesus has been teaching of Himself and His gospel. The Jews had marveled that such an unlearned man could speak with such wisdom and authority. Some believed this Jesus was the Christ. Some thought He had a devil. The Pharisees and chief priests had sent officers-to take Him. Certain it was that, whatever and whoever He was, this Jesus was causing quite a commotion!
And now Jesus has one more word to say at this feast. This word will do nothing to stop, and everything to promote, the commotion. It will cause a division among the people (v. 43). His word will even stir up hearts to believe that this One is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Jesus stands and cries out: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink, He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (vv. 37, 38).
What does this mean? What does it mean that any who thirst are to come to Jesus and drink? And then, how can it be that those who so drink of Jesus shall have flowing, out of their own bellies, rivers of living water?
In order to understand the significance of Jesus’ words, one must be aware of certain “water rites” which were performed by the Jews at that time at the feast of tabernacles at which Jesus was speaking. The reader may want to investigate the other ordinances and purposes of this feast (cf., for example, Ex. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:39, 40-43; Deut. 16:13, 15, and any good Bible dictionary). But we want to focus on those “water rites.” These were not commanded by Scripture. But they had become the Jewish custom already many years before Christ.
About these “water rites” D.A. Carson writes:
On the seven days of the Feast, a golden flagon was filled with water from the pool of Siloam and was carried in a procession led by the High Priest back to the temple. As the procession approached the Watergate on the south side of the inner court three blasts from the Shophar – a trumpet connected with joyful occasions – were sounded. While the pilgrims watched, the priests processed around the altar with the flagon, the temple choir singing the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). When the choir reached Psalm 118, every male pilgrim shook a lulav (willow and myrtle twigs tied with palm) in his right hand, while his left raised a piece of citrus fruit (a sign of the in-gathered harvest), and all cried “give thanks to the LORD!” three times. The water was offered to God at the time of the morning sacrifice, along with the daily drink-offering (of wine). The wine and the water were poured into their respective silver bowls, and then poured out before the LORD. Moreover, these ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles were related in Jewish thought both to the LORD’S provision of water in the desert and to the LORD’S pouring out of the Spirit in the last days. Pouring at the Feast of Tabernacles refers symbolically to the messianic age in which a stream from the sacred rock would flow over the whole earth (The Gospel According to John, pp. 321, 322).
Jesus, at this time, perhaps at the very moment when the water ceremonies were being performed, declares: “Come unto me, and drink!”
1.In His word of John 7:37 Jesus declares Himself to be (or at least to have) the water of life. Compare this statement with what Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:10ff.). Compare this also with what Jesus says in John 6:35, 48ff. Compare also Isaiah 12:3; 55:1, 2; I Corinthians 10:4; Revelation 21:6; 22:17. How is Jesus this fount of water?
2.It ought not surprise us that Jesus would explain the ceremonies of an Old Testament feast as having their significance and fulfillment in Him. For Jesus had already declared that the Scriptures “testified” of Himself (John 5:39). Are there other ceremonies connected with the feast of tabernacles which point to Jesus? Give examples from Scripture: the law, the types and shadows, the prophets, the promises, to show that the entire Old Testament was/is a witness to Jesus the Christ (cf. I Pet. 1:10-12).
3.The reaction of many of the people to Jesus’ words on this last day of the feast was to declare Him to be the Prophet. Others said, “This is the Christ” (vv. 40, 41). What is “the Prophet” to which the people were alluding? Where is this Prophet prophesied, what would He be like, and what would He do? Were the people making a distinction between the Prophet and the Christ? How is Jesus the Prophet in fulfilling His office as the Christ? The officers were to apprehend Jesus for the chief priests and Pharisees. But they did not. And the only reason they could give for not fulfilling their duty was “Never man spake like this man” (v. 46). So true! How?
1.Jesus calls any who are thirsty to come unto Him and drink (v. 37). What is it to “thirst” after Christ and the water He has to give? Are these thirsty ones the same as the “weary and heavy laden,” those who have no money, and the sinners – all of whom the Savior God calls to Himself (cf. Matt. 11:28-30; Is. 55:1; Luke 5:32)? What do these descriptions say of those whom Jesus thus calls? Do children of God still thirst? Compare Psalm 42:2; 143:6 with John 4:14.
2.Implied in Jesus’ call to thirsty ones -is that some, perhaps many, there are who do not thirst. Why does not everyone thirst for the water Jesus has? What do they thirst for instead? Does the call of Revelation 22:17: Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely,” imply a potential in all men, a willing potential, a free will to choose for (thirst for) Christ?
3.The call of Jesus to His people is accompanied with grace and the Holy Spirit. The result is that His people are converted to Him. Through the Savior’s calling His own become, in reality, “the called” (for example, Rom. 8:28, 30; I Pet. 2:9). Prove from Scripture that when God’s people hear this call of the Savior they indeed come to Jesus and drink (cf. John 10:27).
4.There is also a “general,” non-saving call of the gospel. This call comes to all who hear the gospel. The Bible teaches that “many be called but few chosen” (Matt. 20:16). Is this “general call” of the gospel an evidence of a general love of God for all men? Does it show a desire on God’s part to save all who hear the gospel? What is the explanation of the fact that many reject this general, external call? What is the church’s calling – should she preach to all, or only to the thirsty ones? In studying these questions, consider what Scripture teaches concerning the sovereignty of God (Ps. 115:3; Dan. 4:35), the eternal counsel of God (Is. 47:9-11; Rom. 9; Eph. 1), the immutability of God (Mal. 3:6; Job 23:13), the delight of the Savior (Matt. 11:25ff.; Heb. 10:7), the nature of God’s love (Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; Rom. 8:39), the extent of the atonement (John 10:15), and the great commission (Matt. 28:18- 20). One should consider also the creedal statements concerning these questions: for example, Canons I; II, Article 5; III/IV, A, Articles 8-11; II/IV, B, Articles 5-7.
5.In verses 41ff. we meet some heretics and popes. The heretics did not believe Jesus is the Christ. They even cited Scripture: vv. 42, 52. This is something true of all heretics: they always come with their Scriptures seeking to prove their point. And they always deny Christ. Dangerous, devilish deniers! The popes (also heretics, as all popes are) are the Pharisees. The Pharisees rebuked the officers who did not bring Jesus to them. Show from their answer (vv. 47- 49) the Pharisees’ popish pretension. How can we guard against such hierarchy and proud pretension in the church?
6.Nicodemus, who had come earlier to Jesus by night (John 3), questions the justice of the Jewish leaders’ condemnation of Jesus (v. 51). Verse 50 says that Nicodemus was “one of them.” Does this refer to his being one of the disciples, or one of the leaders in Israel? Is Nicodemus being bold, or cowardly, at this time? What would you have said to the Jewish leaders?
1.Jesus calls Himself the bread of life (John 6:48), and here in John 7:37ff., the One who has the water of life. Bold claims indeed – especially since they were made in a desert region where such staples as bread and water were regularly scarce! What do these claims of Jesus tell us about His spiritual provision for us. What does His water do for us and in us? Is for you to live Christ (Phil. 1:21)? How do we show this in our living, and in our dying? Think on and discuss this proposition: the world in which we live is a spiritual desert.
2.In verse 38 Jesus declares that whoever believes on Him will have rivers of living water flowing out of his belly. Then there is the divine commentary that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit when He spoke of this “living water” (v. 39). At least one commentator (W. Hendriksen) sees this language as describing Zion, the people of God, as being a blessing to others: the water, that is, the Spirit, flows from them to others, as they witness (Prov. 11:25; 18:4; Ezek. 47:1-12; Zech. 8:14). Another interpretation is that in this passage Jesus is referring to the abundance of blessing believers enjoy in drinking of Him – so great is their blessing that they “overflow” with it! (Cf. John 1:16; Prov. 4:23; IS.12:3; 44:3; Ezek. 36:25-27; Eph. 1:3.) Think on the abundance of blessing we have in Christ! How do we show this Spirit-water flowing out of ourselves?
3.What Scripture “hath said” (v. 38) that out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water? Are we to look for one passage, or several combined (cf. John 20:9)?
4.Verse 39 states clearly that the “living water” of verse 38 is the Spirit which they that believe on Jesus should receive. Then there is the remarkable statement that the Holy Ghost “was not yet,” because Jesus was not yet glorified. Does this mean there was no Holy Ghost in the church and in believers before Pentecost? What advantages does the New Testament church have over the Old Testament people of God (cf. Matt. 11:11; John 10:10; 16:13; Acts 2; Gal. 3,4; Heb. 8)?