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The Life of Jesus - Series 8: Episode 2

Jesus and the living water of the Holy Spirit

| Martin Charlesworth
John 7:25-52

Water used for ritual washing is part of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus refers to Holy Spirit as living water and speaks of spiritual thirst.

Water used for ritual washing is part of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus refers to Holy Spirit as living water and speaks of spiritual thirst.


Hello and welcome to the life of Jesus. This is Series 8 and Episode 2, Jesus and the Living Water of the Holy Spirit. We're studying in John 7 and we're halfway through the chapter. Our passage today is John 7: 25 to 52. 

Introduction and Recap

Series 7 was a turning point. Those of you who've studied Series 7 will know that that's the point at which the focus moves away from Jesus' ministry in Galilee, which took most of his time in his public ministry - three years or so - and that focus is changing. In Series 7, we saw some big events which orientated Jesus towards heading south to Jerusalem. The second half of his ministry is based on predictions that he made, that he needed to go to Jerusalem; he needed to suffer, to die and to be raised again from the dead. This was a really surprising and shocking prediction which he made to his disciples in the time of Series 7, which we looked at just recently in our studies.

John takes up the story at the beginning of Series 8, by recounting to us a very important episode in Jesus' life that took place in Jerusalem. I explained last time how John's Gospel is very selective in its use of material. John writes after the other three writers; he doesn't want to just repeat the things that they've written and he very particularly wants to add in a number of accounts of key events that took place in Jerusalem, which Jesus only visited occasionally, and which was a long way from home in the northern part of the country in Galilee. We saw John describing at the beginning of John 7 what is in fact, as far as we are able to tell from the material we have, Jesus's third visit to Jerusalem during his public ministry. He visited as a child, as recorded in Luke. He probably went up with his family during his adult years when he was based in Nazareth with the family because there were festivals, religious festivals, that Jews tended to go to and which it was particularly considered appropriate for men to prioritise to attend. In his public ministry, we have John's account to help us see when he left Galilee and went south to Jerusalem. We found out, by looking through the material in the last episode, that we are in the third recorded incident of Jesus being in Jerusalem.

In John 2, we have the first one. That's really a remarkable story which you may remember if you've been working through this life of Jesus. In John 2, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and one of the main things he does, apart from performing many miracles, is go into the Temple and confront the traders who are operating in the Temple, providing sacrificial animals and birds for the sacrificial system and changing coins between two different currencies as was required by Temple regulations and making a lot of money out of this process. He confronted them; he overturned the tables. It's called ‘The Cleansing of the Temple’, something that he actually repeated at the end of his ministry, as we'll see later on. That immediately created a complexity and a problem in terms of Jesus' relationship to the religious authorities in Jerusalem. They were always on their defensive against Jesus from that moment onwards, if not before.

John also describes, as we saw last time in John 5 a second visit to Jerusalem, where Jesus performed a remarkable miracle - healing of a man who had been disabled and was an invalid 38 years. He found him by a pool, the Pool of Bethesda, where many disabled people went hoping to find healing through the therapeutic power of the water at certain times. This individual man, when he was healed on the Sabbath day, shared his story. It became very well-known in the city, and a huge controversy arose simply out of the fact that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, which the religious authorities said he shouldn't do. There's a second incident which created further controversy.

Now, Jesus comes up to Jerusalem a third time for the Feast of Tabernacles. We looked in our last episode, at his arrival in Jerusalem, some of the things that he said publicly when he was teaching in the courts of the Temple where you could just start talking to people informally, or set yourself up as a teacher. It was a huge area - lots of space - and Jesus went there and began to teach those who were willing to listen. We saw that issue developing and Jesus making his presence known about halfway through the seven-day festival of the Feast of Tabernacle. Remember, the Feast of Tabernacles was the third of three major religious festivals the Jews had every year, all of which lasted approximately seven days. The first was the Passover, in the spring which celebrated the departure of the Jews from Egypt, what's called the Exodus - miraculously as the waters parted and Moses led the people out from Pharaoh's kingdom of Egypt; then comes the Feast of Pentecost a little later, May or June which celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses. The third feast, in the autumn, September or October, the Feast of Tabernacles which we're looking at now, celebrated and remembered God's faithfulness to the Jews during the 40 years that they travelled in the the Sinai desert, between leaving Egypt and entering the promised land. In order to commemorate that, they built themselves tent-like structures on top of their houses, outside their houses, or in open land and lived in those houses very often for the duration of the festival.

Halfway through the festival, Jesus makes himself known in the Temple courts, and that's what happened just prior to the account that we are going to read now. As soon as Jesus appears, there's tension, there's controversy, there's expectancy. Some people are very excited by him, some people are very suspicious about him and the religious authorities are watching very closely, particularly when he comes into the Temple compound - which is the headquarters of their operation, the centre of the religious system, where the priesthood operates, where the sacrificial system operates, and where all the religious ceremonies central to Judaism took place. The Temple compound was hugely crowded during festival time; thousands of people came from all over the country and international visitors - Jews from other countries - arrived as well. It was a time of high emotion - lots of music, prayers, sacrifices, family reunions, and consolidation of the Jewish national identity. The priesthood was very much at the centre of that. It was an intense time that took place whenever there was a festival. That intensity was greatly increased by the fact of Jesus' presence. He made himself known in the Temple; people knew he was there. What happens now is interesting because he makes one of his most important and dramatic statements during this particular time.

We are going to read the text, and we're going to start by looking at John 7: 25 - 36

‘At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn't this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no-one will know where he is from.” 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 authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” At this they tried to seize him, but no-one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?” The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him. Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 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 among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 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’?”

John 7:25-36, NIV
Jesus' Reputation

This is quite an intense situation developing here in the Temple compound, bearing in mind the context, the crowds, the various expectations about Jesus and the firm resistance of the religious authorities. This is going to be a difficult moment. There's intense discussion amongst the people about whether Jesus is the Messiah. We can contrast this to the reception that Jesus received almost everywhere he went in Galilee. Those of you who've been with us as we've been going through the life of Jesus will be aware of the many times we see in the gospel accounts, the overwhelmingly positive response to Jesus from the Galilean people and other visitors who came to receive healing from Jesus and to hear his teaching. Here, there is a sense of division, confusion. No-one is really quite sure what to make of Jesus. They haven't seen him very much; some of them have only encountered him on this occasion for the very first time; they're visitors to Jerusalem or residents in the city who haven't seen him before because he's only been, in his public ministry, twice before and those were quite brief visits. It's quite reasonable to think that many people had never seen him before in the crowd. They'd all heard about him and they'd heard about him because the reputation of Jesus covered the whole country. We know from the earlier accounts in the other Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke in particular, that the crowds who gathered in Galilee, in the northern part of the country, came from all over the country, from Judea, from Samaria, from Perea, from the Decapolis, from all the surrounding areas and people came from Jerusalem itself. Jesus' reputation was well-established and almost everyone would have a story about a miracle that he performed. Those who'd seen him will have seen him perform miracles and some people, of course, went for their own healing, or on behalf of someone else, or with someone else to be healed. They would come back into every part of the country with astonishing stories of healings and miracles that Jesus had done, the likes of which they'd never heard of before; nothing remotely like this was taking place in the country at the time.

Difference in Opinion

Intense discussion is taking place, and Jesus makes it clear again that he has been sent from God. His claims are decisive. He is basically asserting his messianic identity. He is contradicting those who say he's a false prophet, that he is empowered by demonic forces, or he's self-deluded - all the arguments against him that were made by his opponents and appear in the narrative from time to time. He's against all those arguments; he's saying very clearly that he came from God. The divided opinion leads some people to want to do what modern people call a citizen's arrest. Verse 30,

‘At this they tried to seize him, but no-one laid a hand on him because his hour had not yet come’.

John 7:30, NIV

Some people in the crowd wanted to arrest him, and hand him over to the religious authorities, who they knew would be keen to interview him, question him and challenge him. This statement has got a degree of mystery and miraculous elements in it because these huge crowds weren't quite able to get their hands on Jesus, to arrest him, to restrain him in any way. It's God's sovereignty and his supervision of the process that accounts for this because Jesus uses the expression quite frequently as recorded in John's Gospel about his hour, his time, for different aspects of his ministry - particularly his time for suffering, death and resurrection. We know that it's coming but it hasn't come yet. This is not the moment for that final confrontation. Some wanted to make a citizen's arrest but on the other hand some believed in him; they thought he was the Messiah. Completely different opinions.

Not only did the people consider making a citizen's arrest, but in verse 32, the Pharisees and the chief priests sent Temple guards to arrest him in the Temple. There was a police service that was designed to protect the Temple from intrusion, from theft, from conflict and violence, any attacks on the priests, anyone stealing money, and all those kinds of things. The Temple guards had the responsibility of keeping the Temple secure and safe for all the thousands of worshippers who used it. They were sent to arrest Jesus. The section concludes with Jesus saying that he's not going to be with them for long. They think that might be a reference to his visits then but it's probably a wider reference to the fact that his time with the people of Israel is short because he's nearing the end of his ministry; he's going to die and rise again from the dead. This is all leading up to the climax of what happens in this particular episode. Something very important takes place now in terms of Jesus’ teaching. Let's read John 7: 37 - 39,

‘On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 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
Living Water - Holy Spirit

This is a very well known saying of Jesus. It's a very wonderful saying; it's a very prophetic saying of Jesus. Let's look at the context. Often it's quoted out of its original context. What does this statement about rivers of living water really mean? Clearly it's a reference to the Holy Spirit. The rivers of living water was an image that was very meaningful to Jewish pilgrims coming to the Feast of Tabernacles because there was a particular ceremony relating to water that took place every day of the Feast of Tabernacles, as far as we know from the historical information we have time. There was a source of water in Jerusalem, which after all is a city on a hill. It doesn't have a river flowing through it like many cities but there are a number of sources of water. One is the Pool of Siloam, another one the Pool of Bethesda that we mentioned in John 5. The Pool of Siloam is a place where water can be accessed and this water was used for the needs of the citizens of the city. There was a daily procession during the Feast of Tabernacles from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam - a relatively short distance in the city - where priests, musicians, water carriers and others went along, singing spiritual songs as they went to the Pool of Siloam, carrying the water pitchers and water containers. They would take some water, fill up the containers, go back into the Temple and then within the Temple compound, at a particular place, they would pour out the water in the Temple. Huge quantities of water would be poured out as part of a religious ceremony, symbolising the coming of the Holy Spirit. This had become one of those symbolic additions to the Feast of Tabernacles that took place over the years.

All the main Jewish religious feasts had a foundational significance that was set in the Law of Moses where they were instituted. All of them had additional levels of meaning added over the centuries. This particular addition was added to the Feast of Tabernacles, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit. This ceremony was performed in its most dramatic form on the last day of the feast as far as we know. Jesus chose the last day of the feast to stand up and make a prophetic prediction. He prophesied that the coming of the Holy Spirit would empower the believer and be like a spring of water within every believer in Jesus and would be as dynamic and powerful as that water that was being carried in the water containers in the Feast of Tabernacles. ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within them’. That's a wonderful life-giving image but verse 39 is John's explanation,

‘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 7:39, NIV

The process of glorification - death and resurrection - in John's theological understanding. Something's going to happen after Jesus has died and risen from the dead. The Spirit is going to be poured out but what actions are needed.

‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’.

John 7:37-38, NIV

We need to believe in Jesus; we need to come to Jesus; and we need to drink the life and the reality of the Holy Spirit - that's the metaphorical language to explain the relationship between the believer and Holy Spirit. Those who believed in him, who came to him, who were thirsty, those who had a spiritual thirst could receive the power of the Holy Spirit, ‘as scripture has said’. There's no particular scripture that actually states that exactly but sometimes when the New Testament uses the expression that ‘scripture has said’, it summarises some of the key scriptures on that particular theme and compresses them into a smaller statement. Let me give you two verses and passages that almost certainly are referred to in this statement. Isaiah 55: 1, which is part of the prophecy of the New Covenant era, says,

‘Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you have no money come, buy and eat’.

Isaiah 55:1, NIV

In the New Covenant era, there will be waters for believers. In Joel 2: 28, a prophecy that is confirmed as related to the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, it says,

‘And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.’

Joel 2:28-29, NIV

The pouring out of the Spirit was a very dynamic reality, and that's what actually took place on the day of Pentecost. In Acts 2, that scripture in Joel 2: 28 is confirmed by Peter as being fulfilled on that day. Jesus is prophesying that a day is coming after his glorification, after his resurrection and his ascension when the Holy Spirit is going to be poured out on all believers and a river of living water will be flowing within them, verses 40 to 44.

‘On hearing these words some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David's descendants, from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.’

John 7:40-44, NIV

We see confusion reigns in the Jewish people verses 45 to 52,

‘Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees who asked them, “Why didn't you bring him in?” “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No, but this mob that knows nothing of the law, there's a curse on them!” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Look into it and you'll find that the prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

John 7:45-52, NIV

What a confused scene is being described here in these final verses of this chapter. People drawn to Jesus, people against Jesus, people confused by the whole situation. One of the most puzzling things Is the description of the Temple guards we heard in verse 32. They had been sent to arrest him but they went back without arresting him. Their explanation to the Pharisees was that ‘no one ever spoke the way this man does’. As soon as they encountered Jesus, they were overwhelmed by the power of who he was and what he was saying and they hesitated in their designated task to actually arrest him. They decided ‘no, we can't arrest him’. Maybe they're afraid of the crowd but they seem to be in awe of Jesus. We have some really puzzling things here. Some people wanted to make a citizen's arrest earlier on - they didn't do it. The Temple guards were sent to arrest him - they didn't. The Pharisees are very annoyed by this. A man appears into the text here who we've met before, Nicodemus, one of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, who Is described in John 2 as coming to Jesus by night and asking him searching questions about salvation. It appears that Nicodemus has become a secret believer of Jesus and he'll appear again in the story a third time, as one of the two men who oversee the burial of Jesus's body. He has become a believer and he appears very briefly in our story now. We'll return to him when we describe the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.


As we reflect on this passage, in particular those glorious words in John 7: 37 - 38: spiritual thirst is seeking deeper meaning in life and knowing that you're not okay as you are. It turns out that this Is the key to salvation; this is the key to seeking Jesus; this is the thing that happens within people that draws them to Jesus - a spiritual thirst. Jesus welcomes that thirst, that sense of dissatisfaction with life, that sense of guilt about things we've done wrong, that sense of uneasiness with our place in the universe and in society, that sense of vulnerability because of our mortality and weakness. Jesus welcomes that spiritual thirst, and says to us that we should believe in him, ‘Whoever believes in me,...rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ Belief, living faith in Jesus, is tremendously important - not just the name of the person of Jesus, not believing he was a historical person, not believing in his miracles only - but believing in his substitutionary, sacrificial atonement, his death and his resurrection, the whole package of salvation that Jesus brings, which we'll explain much more fully as we get to the account of Jesus' death and resurrection. We need to believe in It all. We need to come to him, responding to the call of God to be saved and then we will experience the tangible presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This Is a most wonderful reality. This is a transforming reality because God himself, through the presence of the personal Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, comes to live within each true believer; giving us confidence in our salvation; giving us a relationship with our Father; giving us revelation about his purposes; and helping us to understand the Bible as we are studying it. That's the Holy Spirit that Jesus Is describing. Rivers of living water will flow from those who truly believe and truly allow the Spirit to move in their lives. What a wonderful message comes to us from this great passage. Thanks for reading.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Have you ever really been thirsty? How does it feel? What does it mean to be spiritually thirsty? Would you describe yourself as that?
  • Discipleship
    1. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come in a different way after his own death, resurrection and ascension. How can the Holy Spirit help you in your spiritual life today?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. What does 'Messiah' mean and does it matter if he is, or isn't, the Messiah?
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