The Spirit Who Gives Life

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 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 7:37-39 ESV

All of the events covered in chapter seven have occurred during the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem. Now, after having informed His audience about His coming departure, Jesus returns to the temple grounds in order to make a statement regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit. John describes this scene as taking place on the last day of the feast, “the great day.” According to Deuteronomy 16:13, the Feast of Booths lasted seven days. But the day following the feast, which always fell on the Sabbath, was to be a special day as well.

On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.– Leviticus 23:36 ESV

It is impossible to know whether Jesus made His announcement about the coming Holy Spirit on the seventh or eighth day. By designating it as “the great day,” John could have been referencing the final day of the feast itself, the seventh day. Or he could have been referring to the eighth day, which was considered by most Jews to be just as much a part of the feast as the previous seven days. It was on that day, a Sabbath day, that a final holy convocation was held to celebrate God’s gracious provision for the needs of His chosen people during the 40 years they had spent in the wilderness.

During the 1st-Century AD, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Booths with a series of man-made rites or rituals that were not outlined in the Mosaic law. One of these was the daily water libation. The details surrounding this daily ritual are essential to understanding the nature of Jesus’ comments.

The third daily ceremony was the rite of the water libation. On the first morning of Sukkot a procession of priests went down to the pool of Siloam to bring up to the Temple a golden container of water sufficient to last throughout the seven days of the feast. The water was brought up with great ceremony. The shofar was blown and the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the feast waved their lulavs as the priests carried the water around the altar. The great Hallel (Psalms 113-118) were recited. Then the priest on duty poured out the contents of two silver bowls: one held water and the other held wine. This was an act of prayer and an expression of dependence upon God to pour out his blessing of rain upon the earth.

On the last or “great” day of the feast, the water libation rite reached its climax. The priests circled the altar seven times and then poured out the water with great pomp and ceremony. This was Hoshana Rabbah, the great “HOSHIANA,” (which translated is “save now”). – © Jews for Jesus USA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The water from the Pool of Siloam was poured out along with the daily drink offering of wine. The pouring out of the water was intended to represent God’s gracious provision of life-sustaining water for His people during their days in the wilderness. The water was representative of His saving grace, as described in the book of Isaiah.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.– Isaiah 12:2-3 ESV

The pouring out of the wine was meant to represent God’s promise to pour out His Spirit upon His people.

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” – Isaiah 44:3 ESV

It is believed that as the water and wine were poured out, the people would chant Isaiah 12:3 as well as Isaiah 55:1: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

With all this as background, the words of Jesus take on a whole new significance. And whether He spoke those words on the seventh or eighth day becomes immaterial. The point is that Jesus used the context of the daily pouring out of the water and the wine to offer His promise of the coming Spirit of God. John describes Jesus as standing up and crying out. There is an intensity to the scene. Jesus is shouting at the top of His lungs, passionately inviting the people to receive what God is about to offer.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. – John 7:37 ESV

With that statement, Jesus made Himself the focal point of the entire festival. He purposely took the Isaiah 55:1 passage and made it about Himself. None of this would have escaped His Jewish audience. And the religious leaders would have been appalled at His audacity and apparent blasphemy. But Jesus was far from done. He quickly added:

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:38 ESV

This statement presents a problem. There is no Old Testament passage that seems to correspond with Jesus’ words. So, it would seem that Jesus was summarizing and interpreting a variety of Old Testament passages that were intended to point toward the future advent of the Holy Spirit. These would have included the following:

“And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 39:29 ESV

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.” – Isaiah 44:3 ESV

Jesus was linking these promises to Himself. The pouring out of the Spirit of God was tied directly to belief in Him as the Son of God. In a sense, Jesus was making belief in Him a mandatory condition for experiencing the outpouring of the Spirit. And this bold claim would have been highly offensive to His audience, especially to the Jewish religious leaders.

But everything Jesus said mirrored the words He had spoken to the Samaritan woman He had encountered at Jacob’s well. He had told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10 ESV). And then He had added, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14 ESV).

He had offered this woman a source of living water that would result in eternal life. But He was the key to receiving this incredible resource. It would be through faith in Jesus that the promise of the outpouring of God’s Spirit would come.

When Jesus had described Himself as the bread that came down from heaven, He had disclosed that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53 ESV). In doing so, He had presented Himself as the sole source of eternal life. Through belief in Him as the Son of God, sin-stained men and women could find cleansing and complete purification. They would be able to enter into God’s presence unashamed and fully accepted as righteous in His eyes. But Jesus had added an important factor that would make this promise possible.

“Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” – John 6:62-63 ESV

Jesus had been revealing all along that He was going to have to die so that eternal life could be made available. He would have to offer His life as a ransom for sinful mankind. And His death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. But when He had ascended, the Holy Spirit would come, providing all those who placed their faith in Him with abundant life now and eternal life to come.

And John provides an important point of clarification when he adds: “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 ESV).

John includes this point of explanation for the benefit of his readers. He realized that they would have found the words of Jesus just as difficult to understand as the Jews who heard them on “the great day” of the feast. As John will make clear, Jesus’ invitation was met with mixed reviews. They didn’t know what to make of His words. They were perplexed by His offer of rivers of living water. And it was because they had no idea that Jesus was about to lay down His life for their sins. He was going to offer Himself as a substitute, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Bread of Life would be broken. His blood would be poured out. His life would be given as an atonement for the sins of men. And His death, resurrection, and ascension would make possible the pouring out of “the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson