An Offering of God’s Spirit Through Jesus Christ in Scripture
Jesus as the source of Living Water
The Gospel writer of John reveals the identity of Jesus as Messiah by successively using Christ’s own illustrative descriptions through the “I AM” sayings that begin in chapter 4 and extend thematically through chapter 15. Moses asked God to tell him His name in case Moses was asked the question by the Israelites. In Exodus 3, God answers “I am who I am”. Jesus illustrates YHWH’s (the LORD) answer by His own description of Himself using common language yet metaphoric emphasis from word pictures used in scripture. For example, Jesus announced “I am the bread of life” in John 6 after having fed over 5,000 people and having compared himself to manna. Following a confrontation with the Pharisees in John 8 over his testimony and ancestry, Jesus told the leaders “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” After healing a man born blind in John 9, Jesus announced “I am the light of the world.”
In teaching about the kingdom of God in John using illustrations of shepherds and sheep, Jesus stated that “I am the gate” and “I am the good shepherd.” At the grave of Lazarus in John 11, Jesus announced “I am the resurrection and the life.” On the evening before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples “I am the way and the truth and the life” and further described himself as “I am the true vine.”
While Jesus did not state “I am the living water” in John 4 to the Samaritan woman at the well, he did say that he possessed living water and would have given this water to the woman if she knew or understood who it was she was speaking with, that is Messiah. Likewise in John 7, Jesus did not announce in “I AM” fashion that he was the living water. What Jesus did claim is that he was the source from which to receive the water they were thirsting for and through belief in his identity and relationship with him that same believer would experience living water through their life. The manner in which Jesus made this announcement during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was very disruptive and would have stood out in big way among even those who sought to have Jesus killed. Not only did they method and timing of Jesus’ announcement make waves but the language he chose in context was equally evoking. To fully appreciate what the scripture is revealing here we must better understand the title, symbology, and metaphor “living water” and what it could have meant to the disciples and others in the temple that day. Simply put, what is this living water? How did this connect to the Feast of Tabernacles and Jesus?
The Episode in Scripture
Excerpts from the passage in John 7 are included below for context and review.
John 7:1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him. 6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”
14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach.
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. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 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.
Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Feast of Booths or Ingathering) was one of the three feasts instituted by God that required the personal attendance of the feast by all males at Jerusalem (Leviticus 23). The feast lasted for a total of 8 days and was bracket by Sabbaths and closed on a high holy day which was also deemed a day of rest. The feast followed a time of harvest for the fall crops. During this time animal sacrifices were to be made but specifically the celebration was to include using palm fronds and leafy branches waved before God. Additionally, all the native born Israelites were to construct and live in booths (Hebrew Sukkot meaning tabernacle) commemorating that God had brought them out of Egypt and through the wilderness.
The Feast of Tabernacles was to be a very festive time. The ceremony later incorporated
use of lights and water to symbolize God’s presence in the wilderness as a pillar of fire leading and protecting God’s people while the use of water was reflective of God providing water in the desert wilderness and His providing the latter season rain that provided harvest crops in season. Scholars believe that ceremonially each days observance of sacrifices at the temple also included a Levitical priest response of song and psalter (Psalms 113-118), an increased lighting of large candlesticks, and a water pouring from a golden vessel taken from the Pool of Siloam as a thanksgiving and celebration of God’s provision.
The Gospel writer is specific that on the last and greatest day of the Feast Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” It is possible at the moment of crescendo, when the greatest and final pouring of celebratory offering water was being presented before the Jewish worshippers that Jesus interrupted the protocol and announced Himself as the source of the living water symbolized in their worship! There is room for debate on whether the water libation would have been accomplished on the eight day of the celebration like it was on the previous seven days. Regardless as to whether water was poured from the Pool of Siloam on the last day or not, it is obvious that Jesus would have been interrupting the act or as a minimum filling and completing the ceremonial absence of it by His loud announcement thus making his living water’s presence known.
Climate of Jerusalem
The feast was a jubilant time for the people, but it was an increasing difficult time for Jesus. Some followers had drifted way from Jesus. The Jewish religious leaders had marked him to be put to death. Jesus avoided Jerusalem and Judean region while continuing ministry in the Galilean region and further developing his disciples. Sadly, Jesus had not earned the full trust and support of his family as even his brothers appeared to have seen Jesus’ cause as a political kingdom campaign instead of recognizing him as truly Messiah and Son of God.
Jesus went to the feast in private but did not hide. He openly taught in the temple. The people even noticed that while the Jewish religious leaders sought to arrest Jesus, no one laid a hand on him during the feast. Jesus even confronted the Jews for trying to kill him but was accused of being demon possessed and his open allegation of their desires to harm him was dismissed by the crowd. Jesus had told his brothers that for him to come at the beginning of the feast in much fanfare of miracles to gain political following was not what he would do nor was it his time. Instead Jesus announced Himself as the reason for their celebration and the source of God’s Spirit.
What Jesus Claimed
Jesus used the backdrop of the literal water offering in ceremony and celebration to vocalize a metaphorical message about Himself. From the Talmud which quotes Isaiah 12:3 for the ceremony of Sukkah (tabernacles), Jesus would have used the imagery of drawing this living water and joyfully thanking God for his provision. As the Levites and worshippers chantingly recited Isaiah 55:1-3, “come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters”, Jesus would have been clearly identifying Himself as the source they needed to come to. Similar to Jesus use of living water in John 4 with the Samaritan woman, he was illustrating himself as the Messianic rock in the wilderness by providing the Israelites life giving water in the wilderness akin to Exodus 17 and 20.
In addition to Jesus’ claim of being the source of life giving water, he stated those who believed in him would have living water stream from within them. The description implied there would not be a shortage or scarcity even though the water was precious. Not only would the thirsty worshiper be satisfied, there would also be an abundance of this filling in their life. They would find their deep spiritual need met and their soul fully satisfied in partaking from Jesus.
Jesus assured the crowd that scripture foretold this promise and the event they were witnessing. Finally, Jesus stated the believer coming to him would not only be filled but that they too would be a reservoir issuing living water from within. In a sense, they too would become a vehicle of life giving water.
Reactions to Jesus’ Claim
Following Jesus loud claim on the last the greatest day of the feast the response of the people was divided over him. This was not an uncommon reaction. Some of the people thought that surely Jesus was the Prophet who was foretold. They were amazed by the authority Jesus had and at the level of his teaching without known formal study. Even the temple guards were impressed by how Jesus spoke and could not bring themselves to confront him. Yet others questioned Jesus’ identity and authenticity and doubted his linage. The religious power leaders continue to reject him but could not yet bring themselves to arrest Jesus. At the end of the day, everyone went home. Arresting Jesus would have to wait for another opportunity.
The Gospel Writer’s Claim
We are fortunate to have the gospel writer’s own interpretation of what Jesus meant by his announcement during the Feast of being the source of living water and how the believer would be impacted by the encounter. We learn from the gospel writer’s later insight that Jesus was announcing the presence of God’s Holy Spirit that would be available to the believer in such a way that previously had not happened. While God’s Spirit had been at work in particular people’s lives and present even at creation, the Holy Spirit had not been sent in the way that Jesus was referring to here yet. Jesus would later describe the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14 but emphasized that this would not occur until he left this world in the flesh. The gospel writer delineated that this presence of living water, referring to the Holy Spirit, would take place after Jesus had been glorified by being raised from the dead and ascending in glory to His rightful place with the Father. After Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to His disciples in John 20 we see Jesus breathed on them and said to them “receive the Holy Spirit.” This appeared to be another promise or prelude to what would occur in Acts 2 at the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and believers gathered in the upper room together.
Scripture is richly filled with the practical need and important symbolism of water being necessary for life and a picture of God’s presence. The Pool of Siloam was constructed thousands of years prior to this particular Feast of Tabernacles as King David captured this region from the Jebusites by means of a tunnel. The tunnel then became used to supply the city with fresh water from the ancient spring of Gihon that allowed Jerusalem to exist in the desert setting. Prior to David being king he ran and hide for his life as Saul pursued him in the wilderness. During that time David found refreshing by the waters of En Gedi in 1 Sam 23.
Much later, at this festival in John 7 the Son of David announced his being the source of living water. Jesus related being born by water and the Spirit to Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus also introduced living water to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
Isaiah 44:3 claims God as saying “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” We’ve already noted the prophet speaking the word of the Lord “come, all you are thirsty, come to the waters” in Isaiah 55. Ezekiel saw a vision of an increasing river whose source was the very throne of God in Ezekiel 47. The river flowed from the temple in increasing depth and it brought life and healing wherever it wondered. Zechariah announced the Day of the Lord would come accompanied by living water flowing from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea (Zech 14). Finally, an angel shows John the Revelator the river of the water of life, crystal clear, and flowing from the Throne of God and from the Lamb and providing for the Tree of Life in Revelation 22. As scripture closes we read Rev 22:17 as “the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” This is truly Living Water!
Our Reaction to Jesus’ Living Water
Jesus offers us a relationship with him that begins by believing in him. This relationship is an eternal one because of the life he has provided us through his death and resurrection. We experience this eternal life while we are still on this earth awaiting his return for us. The way we experience this eternal life in relationship with him is through the Person, power, and presence of his Holy Spirit. Christ’s Spirit, God’s Spirit is our Living Water. We willingly choose to take Him into our lives and personhood. We resolve to cooperate with the Spirits desires, promptings, and correction. Over the course of our lives we experience God through His Spirit when we read scripture, when we pray, when we attend to private and corporate worship, and when we serve others. These spiritual disciplines and other means of grace serve as channels through which we are reminded of God’s love and we can experience his presence. Our encounters of God begin to change, reshape, and reorient our frailties and flaws. Our thinking becomes less about self and self-centered desires and more on God-centered ways.
We begin to care more about others and more about being a pleasurable use for God. We become more like Jesus. We are able to call out in loud voices, “If you are thirsty, come to Him and drink.” We begin living lives empowering full of living water.