What did Jesus mean when He stood on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit …. John 7:37-39, NAS
- Some say that Jesus means that a prayer language (the spiritual gift of tongues) will flow like refreshing water from the innermost being of the person within whom the Holy Spirit resides.
- Others suggest that Jesus is declaring that mighty miracles will flow like from within the person who drinks of the Spirit. Demons will flee; the blind will receive sight; storms will calm.
As good students of Scripture we must apply basic rules of interpretation to every text, including this one, in order to plumb its meaning. One of the rules for interpretation is that a text must be studied its context.[i] A text cannot mean what it never meant.[ii] If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.
John’s Emphasis in the Gospel of John
Even though John was present in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit fell, John’s emphasis is not on the power of Jesus, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, to drive out demons, cure lepers, and calm storm. Yes, Jesus performs seven amazing miracles in John but John leaves the bulk of the teaching about the Holy Spirit’s power to his coworker, Luke.[iii] John’s heartbeat shines through in verses like these:
“… that all might believe through him,” John 1:7, ESV [Here and following, underlining mine]
- “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” John 1:12, ESV.
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3, ESV
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16, ESV
- “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” John 10:10, ESV
- “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” John 20:30-31, ESV
Jesus’ declaration in John’s gospel about ‘rivers of living water’ must be understood in the light of words such as ‘born again,’ ‘receive him,’ ‘believe in him,’ and ‘eternal life.’ In the context, John is not speaking of a flow of power but of love and life. John is not bolstering us to perform miracles; rather, John’s primary concern pertains to new life, spiritual life, for ‘dead’ people.
A Summary of the Meaning of John 7:37-39
- Just as water enters into us when we drink it, so the Spirit enters into us when we come to Jesus and ‘drink,’ i.e., when we believe in Jesus, when we receive Him.
- The Spirit is living water and He gives believers eternal life. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” John 4:14, ESV[iv]
The Spirit is like a river of living water. Abundance!
- Stagnant waters lead to disease and death but living water is life-giving water.
- The water of the Spirit flows from Jesus into our innermost parts when we come to Him and ‘drink’. Then, it flows through us to bring the water of life to thirsty people. Believers become channels of living water.
What blocks the flow of the living water of the Spirit through us to others? Sin. Deal with it.
Let these be our prayers …
If you are not yet a believer, come to Jesus and drink! Let this be the prayer of your heart: ‘Jesus, I am thirsty. I believe in You; I receive You. Pour Your life-giving Spirit into me!’
If you are a Christian, come to Jesus for a re-fill.
- ‘Jesus, fill me afresh and anew this day with the Holy Spirit.’
- ‘Holy Spirit, River of Living Water, flow through me to give eternal life to people I touch, to quench their spiritual thirst.’
- ‘Be pleased, Living Water, to flow afresh into me and through me as I talk with …
This perspective takes the pressure off us to ‘close the sale’ and bring people to faith. In matters pertaining to witnessing and evangelism, the Spirit is the thirst-quencher! Let Him do His work.
This post is one of the chapters in a book entitled, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit: A PRIMER. To read more go to the Table of Contents and/or click on the category, ‘Primer on the Holy Spirit’. © 2013 Philip J. Noordmans
[i] See, for example, Doug Banister, The Word and Power Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999.
[ii] Gordon Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 27.
[iii] John has a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit, e.g., John 14 and 16, but, generally speaking, John does not develop the power dimension of the Spirit’s work.
[iv]This verb is used of quick movement by living beings, like jumping. See Rienecker, Fritz; and Rogers, Jr., Cleon. (1980). Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library: Zondervan. Page 226. Picture a bubbling artesian well.