15. Streams of Living Water (John 7:1-52)

Audio (39:26)

The annual Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Hebrew Sukkot) celebrated the Israelites' camping in the Wilderness. To recall this, each family would build a temporary shelter in which to eat. Jesus went up to Jerusalem during this Feast. Artist unknown.
The annual Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Hebrew Sukkot) celebrated the Israelites' camping in the Wilderness. To recall this, each family would build a temporary shelter in which to eat. Jesus went up to Jerusalem during this Feast. Artist unknown.
When he began his ministry, Jesus had been seen as a popular Galilean teacher, a prophet along the lines of John the Baptist. But the more he taught, the more he healed, the more people he attracted, the more he was suspect by Jewish leaders from Jerusalem. They saw him as a threat to their legalistic form of Judaism, as well as their own authority among the people. And so they plotted how they might kill him. As a result, John tells us, Jesus spent more time in Galilee, away from his enemies in Judea.

This lesson traces an encounter with Jesus' enemies, precipitated by Jesus' sudden appearance at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. The controversy swirls around three issues: (1) legalism -- Jesus healing on the Sabbath, (2) authority -- who did he think he was, anyway? and (3) origins -- did Jesus meet the birthplace qualifications of the Messiah in the Scripture?

In the midst of the controversy of this chapter, Jesus brings a wonderful prophecy that the Holy Spirit would pour out of those who believe in him like rivers of living water.

Staying away from Judea (7:1)

In John 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000 and then discusses his role as the Bread of Life. He concludes the discourse with how his disciples must eat his flesh and drink his blood. His analogy was so offensive that many of his own disciples left him, and he raised the ire of the Jewish leaders. So John records:

"After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews[31] there were waiting to take his life[32]." (7:1)

Jesus isn't afraid of death, but to fulfill his Father's mission he has much yet to do, in particular, to train his disciples to carry on his work after his crucifixion and resurrection. So Jesus stays in Galilee, away from his enemies, teaching and working with his disciples.

Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Sukkot, 7:2)

"But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near...." (7:2)

The annual Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Hebrew Sukkot) celebrates the Israelites' camping in the Wilderness and, later, the harvest that had been gathered in. It was one of the three annual festivals at which the men would gather in Jerusalem for the celebration bringing an offering (Deuteronomy 16:16). We'll look at the Feast of Tabernacles in greater detail in a moment.

His Brothers Didn't Believe in Him (7:2-5)

Jesus' brothers, who were apparently living in Capernaum at this time, urged him to use this occasion to proclaim himself in the capital city of the Jews through miracles.

"2  But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, 3  Jesus' brothers said to him, 'You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles[33] you do. 4  No one who wants to become a public figure[34] 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." (7:2-5)

You can catch in his brothers' words a kind of a patronizing sneer that reveals their unbelief. It's as if they are saying: Since you are such a sensation in Galilee, you ought to proclaim yourself in Jerusalem, too. After all, that's what people do who want to be known by the public. John tells us that his brothers weren't believers at this point -- though one of his brothers, James, later became leader of the Jerusalem church and author of the Letter of James!

Q1. (John 7:1-5) Why did Jesus stay in Galilee and avoid Jerusalem? What is the balance between taking precautions to protect yourself and trusting yourself into God's care?

Jesus Goes to the Feast in Secret (7:6-10)

 "6  Therefore Jesus told them, 'The right time[35] for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. 7  The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil[36]. 8  You go to the Feast. I am not yet[37] going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.' 9  Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. 10  However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly[38], [39] but in secret[40]." (7:6-10)

Jesus explains that this is not so simple. His enemies in Jerusalem -- Pharisees, teachers of the law, and the high priests -- hate him because he has confronted some of their evils, such as their self-serving legalisms, their profaning of the temple by selling sheep and cattle there, their silly rules about keeping the Sabbath. Matthew's Gospel recounts Jesus' confrontation with them, pronouncing seven woes upon them as he exposes their sins. He has publicly called them hypocrites, blind guides, a brood of vipers! (Matthew 23).

For Jesus to enter Jerusalem publicly would be to sign his own death warrant -- as he does at the Triumphal Entry that began the last week of his life.

So Jesus does attend the Feast of Tabernacles, but goes incognito, without a retinue of disciples to make him obvious, waiting until the right time to make a public statement.

Fear of the Jewish Leaders (7:11-13)

Even though Jesus isn't visible at the Feast, everybody is talking about him.

"11  Now at the Feast the Jews[41] were watching for him and asking, 'Where is that man?'
12  Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, 'He is a good man.' Others replied, 'No, he deceives the people.' 13  But no one would say anything publicly[42] about him for fear of the Jews." (7:11-13)

This back and forth discussion goes on in whispers. The Jewish leaders have such power in Jerusalem that they can punish those who disagree with them. Later, we read:

"The Jews[43] had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue." (9:22)

And they do excommunicate the healed man who was born blind. The Jewish leaders have created a climate of fear in Jerusalem and people fear to cross them.

Learning without Study (7:14-15)

Jesus doesn't reveal himself until this eight-day feast was well underway. Jesus seems to have customarily taught within the temple courts in a covered, shaded colonnade called Solomon's Porch (10:23; cf. Acts 3:11).

"14  Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15  The Jews were amazed and asked, 'How did this man get such learning[44] without having studied[45]?'" (7:14-15)

Jesus would have studied Hebrew and the Scriptures as a boy in the school in his local synagogue. But he didn't have advanced teaching gained by becoming a disciple of a famous rabbi or "teacher of the law," such as Paul boasted of: "Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers" (Acts 22:3). Discipleship to a renowned rabbi was the "seminary training" available in Jesus' day necessary to be considered an "authority."

The Jewish leaders, however, are duly impressed with the profundity of Jesus' teaching -- and its influence on the people. They are amazed that he has gained such a depth of understanding without sitting under a famous rabbi.

Excursus on Seminaries and Hearing God's Voice

I want to pause for a moment to discuss the place of Bible schools and seminaries. When I was younger, I was in a church that didn't believe in Bible schools and seminaries to train ministers. Seminaries were called "cemeteries." Ha, ha. As I continued, I saw that ignorance was being glorified and learning was being vilified. That isn't right.

Jesus took much time to train twelve men to be his disciples. They weren't untrained, but instructed in the Scriptures and trained in practical ministry.

Dear friends, we need balance in our learning to be disciples. Much of our spiritual formation is likely to take place in our local congregation, under the care of a pastor or older man or woman. The role of Bible colleges and seminaries is to train us to interpret the Bible accurately, to teach us to ask questions that help us probe further, to gain a more comprehensive understanding about what the Bible teaches concerning God, and to help us to communicate God's Word. We do this under (hopefully) godly professors and teachers. This is important!

However, learning the Bible is different from what is known today as "spiritual formation" -- learning to yield our lives to Christ, to hear his voice, to walk with him, to become like him in our character. I once met a person who said, "I'd rather have a verse than a voice." No. One of the essential skills of a Christian is to learn to hear and obey God's voice.

We need the Scriptures to help us understand what God's voice sounds like and to keep us from getting off track. We need the Bible, and we need to learn to walk in the Spirit. The Pharisees were Bible scholars, but they lacked the life of the Spirit. Jesus offered both Bible instruction and an example of how to walk in the Spirit. We too need both careful, godly Bible scholarship and we need to learn to walk in the Spirit! That makes for well-rounded, in-it-for-the-long-run disciples. (Thanks for listening to my rant.)

My Teaching Is Not my Own (7:15-17)

"The Jews[46] were amazed and asked, 'How did this man get such learning without having studied?'" (7:15)

Jesus must have heard the Jewish leaders' whispers, because he comments about the teaching that so impresses them.

"Jesus answered, 'My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.'" (7:16)

Notice Jesus' humility. He is a pupil of someone else after all, they think. He admits that he is sharing his mentor's teaching, the rabbi he has studied under. But then Jesus goes one step farther. He declares God to be his mentor, his rabbi, the one who sends him.

"If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." (7:17)

My teaching comes from God, says Jesus. I bring his message -- not the accumulated wisdom of this rabbi or another. I speak directly for God! It is his honor and glory I seek, not my own.

"He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor[47] for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him." (7:18)

Q2. (John 7:15-17) How were rabbis trained in Jesus' day? How was Jesus trained? How were his disciples trained? What is the value of formal theological training? What is the value of learning to hear and obey the voice of the Spirit?

Choosing to Do God's Will (7:17)

How can a person know for sure that Jesus is speaking from God? Let's look again at Jesus' answer:

"If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." (7:17)

"Chooses" (NIV), "resolves" (NRSV), "will" (KJV, ESV) is thelō, "to desire, want," here, "to have something in mind for oneself, of purpose, resolve, will, wish, want, be ready."[48] The phrase is literally, "If anyone's will is to do God's will" (ESV).

This is profound. The only way you'll know if Jesus' teaching is true is to firmly commit yourself to doing God's will wherever that will lead. Later, Jesus said the same thing in different words:

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (8:31-32)

There are many people who are "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). They dabble here and then study that -- sampling one thing after another. The only way to know Christ -- to really know him and know the truth of his teachings -- is to experience him yourself, by choosing a path of learning and obedience, the path of a disciple who hungers after the truth and pursues it.

Someone said that the chief obstacle to being a Christian for many is not intellectual but moral. Many people are unwilling to repent of their sins and follow Christ. They love their lifestyle more than finding God. Sad, but true.

Q3. (John 7:17) Can we truly know God's will if we're not really willing to obey the truth we know? Why not?

Inconsistencies with the Sabbath Regulations (7:19-24)

Now Jesus turns the tables on the Jewish rulers by accusing them of not keeping the Mosaic law.

"19  'Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?'
20  'You are demon-possessed,' the crowd answered. 'Who is trying to kill you?'
21  Jesus said to them, 'I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22  Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23  Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man[49] on the Sabbath? 24  Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.'" (7:19-24)

Though they claimed to keep the Sabbath, yet they circumcised on the Sabbath, with the justification that circumcision made the person whole or complete.[50] If making a person whole by circumcision is allowable on the Sabbath day, Jesus argues, then healing and making him whole is also allowable.

Jesus calls on them to stop making picky judgments based on outward appearances[51], and judge the issue fairly.[52]

Where Does the Christ Come From? (7:25-29)

John has included the issues of Jesus' authority for his teaching and healing on the Sabbath. Now he touches on a third controversy that surrounded him in Jerusalem -- the fact that Jesus grew up in Galilee, while the scriptures said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem in Judea (Micah 5:2). And there was a popular belief that when the Messiah appeared his origins wouldn't be known at all.[53]

"25  At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, 'Isn't this the man they are trying to kill? 26  Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? 27  But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.'

28  Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, 'Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29  but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.'" (7:25-29)

As I've mentioned before, John seems to assume that his readers are familiar with the Synoptic Gospels -- and both Matthew and Luke make clear that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in fulfillment of the prophecy. So John's writing is ironic, since he knows that the reader is aware of the truth while Jesus' enemies are bumbling around in the dark.

But Jesus doesn't tell his enemies that he is born in Bethlehem. To do so would argue more strongly that he was the Messiah, charge his ministry with a political threat to Rome, and make it more and more difficult for him to minister in Jerusalem. So Jesus is silent about Bethlehem.

Jesus responds. He "cried out" (NIV, NRSV, KJV), "proclaimed" (ESV), using the word krazō, to make a public announcement. He claims once more that He has been sent by God and authorized by him to minister. He also notes that the people "do not know him" (7:28d). Amazing, isn't it, how we can say all sorts of things as if they were true, but don't really know what we're talking about.

Attempts to Arrest Jesus (7:30-32)

Jesus' claims are so bold that the officials try to arrest him. But they can't, because God's timing for his death and glorification have not come yet.

"At this they tried to seize[54] him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time[55] had not yet come." (7:30)

The crowd, however, isn't so interested in the controversies about breaking the Sabbath and Jesus' birthplace, but that he is working miracles. They reason, even the Messiah himself can't be expected to do more miracles than Jesus.

"Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, 'When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?'" (7:31)

The Pharisees and the chief priests (who were Sadducees) are aware of Jesus' growing popularity and decide to do something about it. These two opposing religious parties are united about one thing -- Jesus has to go!

"The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him." (7:32)

Jesus Predicts His Death (7:33-36)

  Jesus, realizing that the order has been put out for his arrest, speaks cryptically of his soon departure, speaking of his death. His enemies don't understand what he is saying, but his disciples remember later that he had spoken clearly of his death.

"33  Jesus said, 'I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. 34  You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.'

35  The Jews said to one another, 'Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered[56] among the Greeks[57], and teach the Greeks? 36  What did he mean when he said, 'You will look for me, but you will not find me,' and 'Where I am, you cannot come'?'" (7:33-36)

Culmination of the Feast of Tabernacles (7:37-39)

We come to the culmination of the Feast of Tabernacles and a major proclamation by Jesus:

"37  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' 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." (7:37-39)

Feast of Tabernacles

To understand the significance of Jesus' words on this occasion, we need to review in greater detail the way the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated annually in Jesus' day in September or early October.

To recall how God had cared for the Israelites as they camped in the Wilderness for forty years, each family would build a temporary shelter in which to eat and sleep during this eight-day festival.

"Live in booths for seven days ... so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 23:42-43)

This was a joy-filled time after the harvest had been gathered, so the festival was sometimes called the Festival of Ingathering, to celebrate God's blessing on the harvest. Moses had directed:

"Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your Feast -- you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns." (Deuteronomy 16:13-14)

On the first day of the Feast the pilgrims would come to the temple carrying a fruit tree branch in their left hands, and a palm branch in their right hands, with a myrtle and a willow branch on either side of it. There were grand processions of the Levites with the blowing of silver trumpets, and sacrifices on the altar.

Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus
Larger map


One daily feature of the Feast was the libations. A priest, accompanied by a joyous procession with music, would go down to the Pool of Siloam, where he would draw water into a golden pitcher. The priest would enter the temple through the Water Gate up to the altar, welcomed by a three-fold blast from the priests' trumpets. Then wine and the water from the golden pitcher would be poured simultaneously upon the altar as a libation, poured out as a sacrifice to the Lord. After this, the temple music began and the antiphonal chanting of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) would begin. The whole rite echoed the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

"With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:3)

"For 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." (Isaiah 44:3)

Indeed, the outpouring of the water in the Feast of Tabernacles was understood by the rabbis and the people as symbolic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.[58]

Jesus Cries Out (7:37-39)

We've seen the daily libation during each day of the Feast. But now on the last and greatest day as the Feast culminates[59], Jesus stands up in the temple "cries out" in a loud voice, making a major public proclamation. [60]

 "'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' 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.[61]" (7:37-39)

Jesus speaks to the spiritual thirst of the Jewish people, just as he had offered thirst-quenching "living water" to the Samaritan woman (4:10, 13). His words constitute both an invitation and a promise.

1. Invitation. "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (7:37). This turns my mind to several similar invitations in the Bible:

"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." (Isaiah 55:1-2)

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)

"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'
And let him who hears say, 'Come!'
Whoever is thirsty, let him come;
and whoever wishes,
let him take the free gift of the water of life." (Revelation 22:17)

What keeps us away from Christ so that we don't eagerly drink of his refreshing, life-giving presence? Answer: our preoccupation with ourselves and our own concerns. Perhaps our creeping secular mindset. Our pride in doing it ourselves and not asking for help. Our spiritual dullness.

Dear friends, how thirsty are you for Christ? Really? I want the same kind of intense thirst that I see in the Apostle Paul:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.... Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:10-11, 13-14)

I think of that old Gospel hymn: "Revive us again!" Lord, strip the calluses off my heart and renew in me a strong desire to know you and partake of you in all your fullness! Christ invites us to come to him and drink.

2. Promise. The second part of Jesus' proclamation that day is a promise to those who accept his invitation.

"38 'Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams[62] of living water will flow[63] from within him.' 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." (7:38-39)

The promise is made to "whoever believes in me," literally "the one believing in me." The river flows "from within him" (NIV), "out of his heart" (ESV), "out of his belly" (KJV), phrases that translate the noun koilia, which refers to the organs of the abdomen, thought to be the "seat of inward life, of feelings and desires," what we express in English as the functional equivalent of "heart."[64]

 The promise is that from within the believer, will flow "rivers/streams of living water." This might seem strange, since we might think of Jesus himself as the source of the water, the life, not the believer. But we see a similar phrase in Jesus' words to the woman at the well:

"Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (4:14)

The river begins as a spring bubbling up and becomes a river flowing out. "Living water," means running water as opposed to still water. But here, Jesus uses "living water" in the sense of water that brings life. A similar figure is seen of the holy city in the last chapter of Revelation:

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." (Revelation 22:1-2)

The Holy Spirit within the Believer (7:39)

John explains concerning our text,

"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." (7:39)

In John's Gospel we see clearly that Jesus will pour out the Spirit, and the Spirit will reside in each believer individually. Later, we'll come to chapters 14, 15, and 16 where Jesus teaches about the Paraclete, Counselor, Comforter, another name for the Holy Spirit. There, Jesus says:

"16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever -- 17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." (14:16-17)

The Spirit is present in Jesus. But when the Spirit is poured out, he will reside in each believer. That's what it means in Acts where it says, "They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them." (Acts 2:3)

When Jesus Is Glorified (7:39)

"Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." (7: 39b)

In John's Gospel, the term "glorified" often refers to Jesus being crucified, raised from the dead, and being restored to the place of glory that Jesus has had with the Father from before the beginning. Jesus prays in his so-called "high priestly prayer" in chapter 17, on the night before he was crucified:

"And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (17:5)

We see this expression several other times:

"Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize...." (12:16)

"The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified." (12:23)

"Now is the Son of man glorified...." (13:31)

"Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son...." (17:1)

At the end of his ministry, the hour has arrived for him "to leave this world and go to the Father" (13:1).[65] See more in Appendix 6. "Glory" and "Glorify" in John's Gospel.

The Power of the Spirit in Believers (7:39)

Jesus looks forward to his death, but beyond that, to his resurrection, his ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit (which we'll read more about in chapters 14-16). The Spirit will come with power. Consider these verses:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father." (14:12, ESV)

"I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (16:7)

Luke relates some of Jesus' final words to his disciples:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Dear friends, for too long, most Christians haven't exercised this power of the Holy Spirit. But the power is there for us if we seek Him. There's a joyful, upbeat praise chorus from the Jesus Movement that applies this text to our lives:

"There's  a river of life flowing out of me,
Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see,
Opens prison doors, sets the captive free.
There's a river of life flowing out of me.
    Spring up a well within my soul,
    Spring up a well that makes me whole...."[66]

Isaiah prophesies concerning the time of the Messiah when:

"Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land." (Isaiah 32:2)

Lord, let your Spirit pour out of us to help quench the thirst of many people around us who dwell in a dry place!

Q4. (John 7:37-39) In Jesus' teaching on streams of living water from within, whom does he invite to drink? What does he promise to believers? How is this fulfilled at Pentecost rather than immediately after Jesus spoke it? To what degree has this been fulfilled in your life?

Controversy over the Christ Coming from Galilee (7:40-43)

From the high point of Jesus' words about the Spirit, this chapter concludes with a bit more about the controversy Jesus was causing in Jerusalem.

"40  On hearing his words, some of the people said, 'Surely this man is the Prophet.'
41  Others said, 'He is the Christ.' Still others asked, 'How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42  Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?' 43  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus." (7:40-43)

Some people identified him with the Prophet that Moses said would follow him (Deuteronomy 18:15). Others thought he was the Messiah. Apparently, some people in that time saw the Prophet as a Messianic figure, others didn't associate the two.

Those who believed Jesus was the Messiah were confronted with the Scripture text in Micah 5:2 that Christ would come from Bethlehem. John's readers who, we assume, were familiar with the Synoptic Gospels, would sense the irony of the situation. But Jesus doesn't tell them his birthplace, for he doesn't want to be publicly recognized as the Messiah at this point. His hour was not yet.

No One Ever Spoke This Way (7:44-49)

The temple guards sent to arrest Jesus come back empty handed.

"44  Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. 45  Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, 'Why didn't you bring him in?'

46  'No one ever spoke the way this man does,' the guards declared.

47  'You mean he has deceived you also?' the Pharisees retorted. 48  'Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49  No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law -- there is a curse on them.'" (7:44-49)

The Pharisees had a low opinion of the common people, since they weren't as scrupulous about keeping every point of the oral law, as the Pharisees did. This is reflected in their characterization of "this mob" -- they saw them as rabble.[67]

The irony of the Pharisees question, "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?" (7:48) is immediately apparent in verse 50, since Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the ruling Sanhedrin, is becoming a believer, though not yet open about his faith.

Nicodemus Defends Jesus (7:50-52)

Nicodemus protests this rush to arrest Jesus, since he hasn't been given a hearing, which would be the just thing.

"50  Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51  'Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?'
52  They replied, 'Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.'" (7:50-52)

The unbelieving Pharisees don't answer Nicodemus. Instead they put him down by saying that he might be from Galilee -- certainly an insult coming from a Jerusalem Pharisee. Their mind is made up. They can't see what is staring them in the face -- that Jesus is doing miracles by God's power.

Lessons for Disciples

John's Gospel: A Discipleship Journey with Jesus, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

There are a number of lessons here for disciples.

  1. Like Jesus, you'll always have people who misinterpret who you are (7:12-13).
  2. Jesus was taught by the Father, not by the great rabbis of his day, yet he had a depth and authority that they could only envy. While formal training is good, even more important is an ongoing conversation with the Father that can form you spiritually (7:15-17).
  3. We can only know God's will if we're willing to be obedient to Christ's teaching. There is no "theoretical" truth, but only "experiential" knowing of God's will (7:17).
  4. Jesus took precautions not to expose himself to dangerous situations, but was unafraid when the Father directed him to go to Jerusalem. The Father protected Jesus from arrest and stoning because it wasn't yet his time (7:1, 30, 44-47).
  5. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would be like a stream of water flowing from inside a person, but the Holy Spirit wouldn't come until after Jesus' glorification -- that is, his crucifixion,  resurrection, and ascension (7:37-39).


Father, help us to learn both from our brothers and sisters, and from Jesus, how to walk as disciples. Help us to grow deep in you. Let your Spirit flow from deep within us to touch a thirsty world. Fulfill the potential you have for each of us. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Key Verses

 "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." (John 5:17, NIV)

"Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." (John 7:24, NIV)

"'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' 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." (John 7:37-39, NIV)

"'No one ever spoke the way this man does,' the guards declared." (John 7:46, NIV)


[31] For John's use of "the Jews" to refer to Jewish leaders, see Appendix 2. 'The Jews' in John's Gospel.

[32] "Take his life" (NIV), "kill" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is apokteinō, literally, "to deprive of life, kill" (BDAG 114, 1a), from apo-, "from," indicating separation + kteino, "to slay," English "to kill off" so as to put out of the way (apo) (Thayer, p. 64, 1).

[33] "Miracles" (NIV), "works" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is ergon, "deed, accomplishment," specifically, miracles (also in 7:21) (BDAG 390, 1cα).

[34] "Become a public figure" (NIV) is literally, "seeks to be known openly" (ESV). "Public" (NIV), "widely known" (NRSV), "known openly" (KJV, ESV) is parrēsia, "openness to the public, in public, publicly" before whom speaking and actions take place (BDAG 781, 2). Also in 7:13, 26; 11:54; and 18:20.

[35] "Right time" (NIV), "time" (NRSV, KJV, ESV), twice in verse 6, once in verse 8, is kairos, "a moment or period as especially appropriate; the right, proper, favorable time" (BDAG 497, 1b).

[36] "Evil" is the adjective ponēros, "pertaining to being morally or socially worthless, wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, degenerate" (BDAG 851, 1aα).

[37] In verse 8, the word "yet" (NIV, KJV, oupō, B L T W Θ Ψ p66, 75) is included in most early manuscripts, but omitted in a few key early manuscripts (NRSV, ESV, ouk, Aleph D K).  The Editorial Committee of the Greek New Testament omits oupo for the "harder reading" of ouk, reasoning that "yet" was "introduced at an early date in order to alleviate the inconsistency between vs. 6 and vs. 10" (Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 216).

[38] "Publicly" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "openly" (KJV) is phanerōs, "in plain view, openly, publicly" (BDAG 1047, 1).

[39] "As it were" (ōs, NRSV, KJV) is present in most manuscripts (p66, 75 B L W etc.), but omitted (NIV, ESV) in a few (Aleph D it cop). The "harder reading" would be to include it, to help explain and soften the text. The Editorial Committee retains it in brackets with a {D} doubtful rating.

[40] "Secret" (NIV, NRSV, KJV), "private" (ESV) is kryptos (from which we get our word "cryptology"), substantive, "a hidden entity, something hidden," with the preposition en, "in secret, secretly, privately" (BDAG 571, 2b).

[41] For John's use of "the Jews" to refer to Jewish leaders, see Appendix 2. 'The Jews' in John's Gospel.

[42] "Publicly" (NIV), "openly" (KJV, NRSV, ESV) is parrēsia, which we saw in 7:4, "plainly, openly" (BDAG 781, 1).

[44] "Get/have such learning" (NIV, NRSV), "letters" (KJV) is gramma, "letters," plural, "learning, knowledge," literally, "knows his letters." (BDAG 206, 3).

[45] "Studied" (NIV), "been taught" (NRSV), "learned" (KJV) is manthanō, "to gain knowledge or skill by instruction, learn" (BDAG 615, 1).

[46] For John's use of "the Jews" to refer to Jewish leaders, see Appendix 2. 'The Jews' in John's Gospel.

[47] "Honor" (NIV), "glory" (NRSV, KJV) is doxa, "glory," here, "honor as enhancement or recognition of status or performance, fame, recognition, renown, honor, prestige" (BDAG 258, 3). See more in Appendix 6. "Glory" and "Glorify" in John's Gospel.

[48] Thelō, BDAG 448, 2.

[49] "Healing the whole man" (NIV) or "made a man's whole body well" (ESV) includes several words: holos, "whole, entire, complete" (BDAG 704, 1a); and hygiēs, "pertaining to being physically well or sound, healthy, sound" (BDAG 1023, 1a).

[50] The rabbis claimed that Abraham was not called shalame, complete, or perfect, until he was circumcised, referring to Genesis 17:1 -- "...Walk before me and be perfect." Thus, prior to his circumcision, Abraham was evidently lacking perfection.

[51] "Appearance/s" is opsis, "external or physical aspect of something, outward appearance, aspect" (BDAG 746, 2).

[52] "Right/righteous" is the adjective dikaios, "pertaining to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair" (BDAG 246, 1a).

[53] 4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras) 13:52 and Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 8.4.

[54] "Seize" (NIV), "arrest" (NRSV, ESV), "take" (KJV) in verses 30, 32 and 44 is piazō, "to seize with intent to overpower or gain control," here, "seize, arrest, take into custody" (BDAG 812, 1).

[55] "Time" (NIV) "hour" is hōra, "a point of time as an occasion for an event, time" (BDAG 1103, 3).

[56] "Scattered" (NIV), "the Dispersion" (NRSV), "the dispersed" (KJV) is diaspora, "state or condition of being scattered, dispersion" (BDAG 236, 1).

[57] "Greeks" (NIV, NRSV), "Gentiles" (KJV) is Hellēn, "Greek," in the broader sense, all persons who came under the influence of Greek, as distinguished from Israel's, culture, "a gentile, polytheist, Greco-Roman" (BDAG 318, 2a).

[58] For this Alfred Edersheim (The Temple and Its Services as They Were at the Time of Christ (1874), chapter 14) cites Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkot Vol. 1, p. 55 a (5.1). Also, Edersheim, Life and Times, book 4, chapter 7; Morris, John pp. 420-21.

[59] There is some question whether the festival lasted seven days or eight. The last water libation would have occurred on the seventh day. So on the eighth day, if that is what John means here, there was no libation and Jesus offered one (Morris, John, p. 421, fn. 74).

[60] "Said in a loud voice" (NIV), "cried out" (NRSV), "cried" (KJV) is krazō, "to communicate something in a loud voice, call, call out, cry," indicating Jesus making an important public statement (also at 1:15; 7:28) (BDAG 564, 2a).

[62] "Streams" (NIV), "rivers" (NRSV, KJV) is potamos, "river, stream," from which we get our word "hippopotamus" ("horse of the river") (BDAG 856, b).

[63] "Flow" is rheō, "to flow with liquid," here in a transferred sense (BDAG 904, a).

[64] Koilia, BDAG 550, 3.

[65] The Synoptics bring another "hour," the period "when darkness reigns" (Luke 22:53). It began in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners" (Matthew 26:45).

[66] Betty Carr Pulkingham and L. Casebolt, "There's a River of Life," © 1971, 1975,  Celebration.

[67] "Mob" (NIV), "crowd" (NRSV), "people" (KJV) is ochlos, "a relatively large number of people gathered together, crowd," here, "a large number of people of relatively low status the (common) people, populace ... rabble" (BDAG 745, 1bα).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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