Studies in the Gospel of John
Lesson 21: “The Water of Life”
John 7:37 – 53
Many people love to take vacations on cruise ships. Although I have never gone on a cruise, I have heard that the passengers are treated like royalty, with non-stop entertainment and all the food one can eat, besides the beautiful scenery at the “ports-of call.” But I have to admit that I am actually afraid to go on a cruise, because I am deathly afraid of the water and death by drowning. When I think of sailing on any kind of ship I am reminded of the line of poetry, “water, water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
Interestingly enough, there is a spiritual application to death by drowning, because there are countless people in the world today who are dying of thirst emotionally and spiritually with all kinds of “spiritual water” around. And Jesus addressed that in several places in His teaching, most notably in the passage to which we come in today’s study.
Remember that chapter 7 of the gospel of John is a chapter of conflict. The setting of the chapter is the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the yearly Feasts the Old Testament Israelites were supposed to observe. But a larger setting is the conflict that always swirled around the Lord Jesus in His earthly lifetime. Chapter 7 of John’s gospel gives us four examples of those kinds of conflict. In verses 1 through 13 there is conflict before the feast. Then in verses 14 through 36 there is conflict during the Feast. In verses 37 through 44 there is conflict at the end of the Feast. And in verses 45 through 53 there is conflict at the end of the Feast. In today’s study we are going to focus in on the conflict at the end of the Feast as we find it in verses 37 through 44.
The cause of the conflict is the message that Jesus gave in verses 37 through 39.
On the last day, that great day of the Feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying, “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. (38) “He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow waters of living water.” (39) But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus was not yet glorified.
To understand the significance of the statement of verse 37 we have to understand the Feast of Tabernacles. It was an annual feast that celebrated the end of the wilderness wanderings. The Israelites would build “booths” or little “huts” and basically “camp out” for eight days. It was probably fun for the kids, and thus probably the favorite of all the feasts. Also it was the last feast of the year and therefore the most ceremonious and solemn. Every morning the priests would pour out water on the ground ceremoniously to commemorate water being provided from a rock, as well as other miraculous provisions of water during those years. But the eighth day was “the great day,” as mentioned in verse 37. It was observed as a Sabbath no matter what day of the week it fell. And it commemorated the actual crossing of the Jordan river and entering the Promised Land. There was no water poured out on that day because in the promised land they drank from rivers and wells. And on that day Jesus made this pronouncement. The actual pronouncement is in verse 37:
On the last day, that great day of the Feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying, “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
But with the pronouncement was a promise: in verses 38 and 39.
The expression of the promise is in verse 38
He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water
He probably made that statement at the time of the pouring out of water on the previous days of the feast. Of course He was talking about “spiritual thirst” as compared to the physical thirst of the wilderness. Trusting Christ as Savior (or coming back to Him) will result in a spiritual satisfaction like water to a thirsty person. And notice that this is “living” water like a fountain or flowing stream.
The critics like to point out that the Old Testament doesn’t contain this promise. But Jesus was probably using “the consensus of scripture” (and thus legitimizing the practice.) And this was not the first time He had made this pronouncement and promise. Here are some others:
In Isaiah 44:3 – For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring;
And in Isaiah 55:1 says: Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
And Isaiah 58:11 says The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
We don’t have to wonder what He meant, because The explanation of the promise is in verse 39.
But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
This is the reason for referring to “spiritual thirst” earlier. It is important to notice that this is only available to those who believe. It was originally fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost for the original believers, and since that time it has been given at the time of salvation. Look at I Corinthians 2:9 through 12:
But as it is written, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him,” (10) But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God. (11) For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. (12) Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
Do you realize what this is saying? It is saying that it is possible for us as mere humans, to know God better than we know our spouse or other loved ones!
Now we have seen the cause of the conflict so in verses 40 through 44 we see the confusion because of the conflict
Notice the various opinions about Jesus and His claims in verse 40:
Therefore, many from the crowd, when they heard this saying said, “Truly this is The Prophet
At the death of Moses God had said that a prophet “greater than he” would come someday.
Others said, “This is the Christ.”
An obvious reference to Messiah.
But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee (42) Has not the scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem where David was?
The problem this group proposed was actually no problem – Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Galilee. So actually this shows God’s sense of humor and the need for faith in spite of an apparent problem.
Finally, in verses 45 through 53, we see The Conflict after the Feast
The conflict begins with the report of the officers who had been sent out in verse 32.
Then the officers came to the Chief Priests and Pharisees who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him? (46) The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man.”
This shows the power even in the words of Jesus.
So in verses 47 through 49 we find the reaction of the officials
Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? (48) Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? (49) But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.
This same line of reasoning is still used today: “you are deceived” in verse 47; (we would say “mentally ill” today) or “the really important people don’t’ believe this stuff – verse 48, or “nobody can understand this kind of thing without proper training” – verse 49
A summary of all of this would be “only the ignorant, uneducated, or uninformed accept this as truth.”
Finally, in verses 50 through 53 we find the righteous objections to the officials
Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them (51) Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing? (52) They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? (53) And everyone went to his own house.
If there is any one thing that this passage teaches us it is that human nature never changes. The same tactics we have seen in this chapter are still being used today. The liberals tolerate anything but conservatives – even if one of their own is using their own materials, as in this instance. Nicodemus buckled and didn’t pursue the argument. But at least he planted some seeds. And God memorializes him for it. None of the names of Pharisees are recorded in Scripture. And the same thing is true today. God has his people in all kinds of places whose witness will endure throughout eternity.
The purpose of these studies is to help people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal SaviorRomans 3:23 says that “All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “And Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” And John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. If you have never sincerely asked Him to forgive your sins and give you eternal life He will readily do so. Having trusted Him as your savior it is my hope that the lessons will help you grow in grace and bring others to know Him as well. If you would like more information you may contact me at “firstname.lastname@example.org