For Jesus it was a matter of picking his moment and the moment was the last day of the Feast of Booths. A big crowd was in, everyone was focused on remembering how God had saved and protected their ancestors in the wilderness. Everyone was aware of the Mosaic Law and God’s command that they should live for seven days in temporary shelters. Leviticus 23.42 Religious interest was heightened and Jesus was the talk of the town. The tradition was that that the central event was a water libation, a pouring out of water probably performed by the High Priest. Against this backdrop and excitement Jesus raises his voice and shouts ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”.’ John7.27,38
With these words Jesus connects himself to God’s saving work in the desert and God’s blessing in the future. The shock would have been palpable dividing the opinion of the crowd. John 7.40,41 Jesus was associating himself with the rock Moses struck to provide life giving water to a thirsty and complaining nation. Exodus 17.5-7 Throughout the Old and New Testament a flowing river is used as imagery for the life giving Holy Spirit. Paul makes the same connection saying the manna in the desert and the water from the rock at Horeb were foretelling Jesus as the source of the bread and water of life. ‘All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 10.3,4
Jesus followed up his declaration as the source of the Holy Spirit with a promise none would have understood, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. ‘Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.’ John 7.39
Jesus was asserting to the crowd that he was the fulfilment of a succession of Old Testament Prophecies. When he said Scripture said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ John 7.38 Jesus was not quoting a specific verse he was rather conflating a range of references and promises. Isaiah promised, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12.3 Isaiah also promises spiritual blessing for the poor and needy a constant theme of Jesus’ teaching, ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!’ Isaiah 51.1 The promise is for the spiritual as well as physically thirsty.
Jesus and Isaiah are making the same point. To be satisfied, restored and renewed by the Holy Spirit one must desire it and come with nothing, deserving nothing. The only way is as Jesus said, to believe. ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture says.’ John 7.38 When Jesus shouted these words the Pharisees and Jewish leaders would have been aware as experts in the scriptures of Jeremiah’s prophesy against Judah’s rulers just prior to Babylon’s conquest of Jerusalem. ‘O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.’ Jeremiah 17.13 Jesus was saying to the rulers, rejecting him was rejecting the source of the Holy Spirit. He was the fountain of living water.
In the third of the great prophetic books, Ezekiel pictured spiritual flourishing, or life in the Spirit, as abundant life in a river running into the sea bring life wherever it flows. ‘And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Ezekiel 49.9
Finally, the Old and New Testament equally confirm the cleansing of living water. Just as the water ceremony is being conducted in the temple, Jesus says receive living water from faith in him. Ezekiel promises God will sprinkle clean water on his faithful people and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. Ezekiel 36.25 Hebrews makes the same promise to believers in Jesus, ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10.22
How does this apply to us today? The promises are open to us and the way to receiving the living water, the Holy Spirit, continues to be open to all who believe in him. Peter’s words still apply, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 2.38
Have you taken up the promise of Jesus made to the woman of Samaria? ‘Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ John 4.14
Spirit of the Living God