THIS IS THE CHRIST:AN EXEGESIS OF JOHN 7:37-44
AN EXEGESIS OF JOHN 7:37-44
Jesus is the Christ, and the Prophet promised in the Old Testament. He is the source of new life, and because of this belief in Him is the requirement to live out this new life. All who believe in Him are given the Spirit to flow in them like living waters.
- Jesus has living waters for those who thirst and believe in Him. (John 7:37-38)
- The living waters are revealed to be the Holy Spirit. (John 7:39)
- Jesus meets the requirements for Messiah and Prophet. (John 7:40-44)
In chapter 6:1-20 John records two sign miracles; the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water. He then moves to record the first I Am statement of Jesus in 6:35 where Jesus says that He is the bread of life and that all who eat of Him will never be hungry and all who drink of Him will never be thirsty. These statements culminate with many disciples leaving Jesus and Peter’s statement that Jesus has the words of eternal life. While there is an undisclosed time span between John 6:70 and 7:1 the teachings of Jesus had been building for some time as He continued to show Himself as Messiah, Prophet, and God incarnate. His teachings were in line with the Old Testament, although, not compatible with the teachings and doctrines of the Pharisees. Jesus had not made an appearance in Jerusalem since the rulers had sought to kill Him for healing on the Sabbath and making Himself equal with God (see John 5:18). Before Jesus makes His proclamation at the end of the feast He answers accusations against His authority (7:16-19) and addresses the question of His previous healing on the Sabbath (7:21-24). From there He is able to move to His proclamation that He is the source of living waters (7:37-38).
Due to the ambiguous way the author chose to identify himself simply as the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:7, 20) there is not have a positive identification for the author. As expected this has led to debate as to not only the author, but the location, time of writing, and original audience. While tradition assigns authorship to John the son of Zebedee other candidates have been suggested ranging from Apostle Thomas, Lazarus, an unnamed disciple, and even second century Christians as the author(s) of the Fourth Gospel. Although theories range, tradition dating back to the mid 100’s teach, and it is generally accepted John the Apostle wrote at least, or was the authority of the bulk of the book. As mentioned there are those who have argued that the Gospel of John is a second century work written to battle Gnostic teaching, but as John Drane points out the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels in 1945 shows us there “was a vast difference between the world of John’s Gospel, and the world of classical Gnosticism.”
Regarding the location of the writing, again this is not a concrete matter, but it is believed that John wrote his Gospel in Asia minor around the area of Ephesus with most scholars giving the date of the writing in the mid 90’s. It should not be assumed that this community was the target audience but the first audience. John’s stated purpose for writing is that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31). With this in mind it is easy to see that the book was meant to travel beyond its original location.
There is division amongst scholars as to if an editor or editors went back through the book to add in details for second century Christians who might not be familiar with the topography or customs of first century Palestine. While it is possible that some revisions took place if it is to be accepted that the author was indeed an eyewitness (21:24) then not all details can, or should be attributed to revisions. John’s audience was that of Greeks, and Jews who were not of the location where events took place, and as such he was highly selective, and detailed in what he chose to record making the Fourth Gospel “theological historiography.”
From the first verse to the last John seeks to present Jesus as Messiah, and God incarnate. As such Jesus is continually shown not only as coming from, and returning to the Father, but in fact, being one with Him (10:3; 17:21). This is accomplished through the selectivity of the sign miracles four of which are unique to John, and the seven great “I Am” statements of Jesus. Each “I Am” statement of Jesus adds a layer of exclusivity to the fact that Jesus was not the messiah the people expected, but God in human form. Finally, the dialog that is contained in the book is different than that of the Synoptic Gospels in that there are no parables and few short sayings, but longer discourses in which Jesus expresses His awareness that He is divine. Jesus is often found using words with double or deeper meanings as well. A notable example would be John 3:3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus that you must be born again where He uses the adverb ánōthen which means both “again”, and “from above”. Nicodemus assumes Jesus is referring “to again”, but He is of course, speaking of “from above.”
Moving on to John 7, John opens by saying that Jesus was in Galilee because the Jews of Judea sought to kill Him. He goes on to record a conversation between Jesus, and His brothers. Jesus’s brothers argue that if He was indeed the Messiah then He would do His works at the Feast of Tabernacles so they could be seen by others. The response of Jesus about His “time” is somewhat vague and has been used by some as meaning time for His death. The idea of proper times is a recurring theme in John, and Jesus here could be using the word in two ways. First that it is not the proper moment to leave for the feast and second that it was not time to make Himself known in that way which would lead to some want to take Him. From here we see that Jesus then waits to attend the feast until after His brothers have left so He may go in secret (7:10).
The Feast of Tabernacles is the third of the great annual feast, and would have given Jesus access to a large crowd. The timing of the teaching seems to harken back to Jesus’s words in v 6 as the middle of the feast were half holy days which allowed for people to interact in a more relaxed manner and purchase items needed for the feast. His teaching first is to show that God is the one who gave Jesus the authority to teach, and not one of the rabbinical schools (7:15). John then records how Jesus points out that the some are plotting to kill Him for healing a man on the Sabbath. His teachings begin to cause some in the crowd to question whether or not He is the Christ, and if the rulers have accepted His teaching as well.
During the feast of Tabernacles, the Jews, would present or give a water offering that was poured out near the altar. The crowds would stand watching as the procession moved throughout the streets. Water brought from the Pool of Siloam would be poured out while the priest recited the Great Hallel as the crowds watched and followed along. Jesus made His bold proclamation on the last and great day of the Feast. John records this by saying that Jesus stood and cried out. The verb used for cried is krázō and is used for a raven’s cry, crying out in agony, or to speak with a loud voice as in this case. The same verb used for when the crowd calls for Jesus’s crucifixion before Pilate in Matt. 27:23 is used here showing that Jesus was loud and intended all to hear His words.
Jesus’s statement that anyone who thirsts should come to Him is at least two-fold. One, being that the Feast of Tabernacles is a remembrance of the Wilderness experience this would contrast with Moses who struck the rock at Kadesh (Exod. 17:6). While water was provided in the wilderness this was temporary refreshment, and only for the body. Jesus offers permanent refreshment that cannot be taken away, nor is His provision merely for the body. At the same time, this seems to echo Isa. 55 as well as other places where God declares that everyone who thirsts can come to Him and freely receive. The gift of water or life is free, eternal, and God given. This also marks the third mention of thirsting and life-giving waters in John’s Gospel. First, with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4, second when Jesus declares that He is the bread of life in chapter 6, and now here in chapter 7.
Jesus continues in verse 38 to say that the Scriptures themselves speak of Him. He does not appear to be alluding to one particular section of the Scriptures instead that the whole of Scripture testifies for Him. Specific verses such as Isa. 12:3, and 43:20 which reference water in connection with salvation are helpful to see a connection between this statement and water. However, what Jesus is saying here is that the Scriptures point to Him as the Messiah, and source of eternal life. From the protoevangelium in Gen. 3:15, to the Messianic prophecies in the Torah, prophets, and wisdom literature the plan of salvation has been recorded and leading up to Jesus.
Jesus places belief in Him as a requirement upon those who wish to receive the living waters. John uses the Greek verb pisteúō (believe) more than the other Gospels with 99 occurrences compared to Matthew’s 10, Mark’s 10, and Luke’s 9. Pisteúō does not simply mean to be persuaded of, but to place confidence in, or as Vine’s says “reliance, not mere credence.” In Acts 5:14 the verb is used to describe those who were being added to the Lord.
As seen in verse 39 the “living water” that Jesus refers to is the Spirit Himself. This is a dynamic shift away from the classical thinking of the Holy Spirit. The phrase “Holy Spirit” is only found three times in the Old Testament; once in Ps. 53:11, and twice in Isa. 63:10, and 11. Typically the Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of God or the Spirit of the LORD. Between these titles, and the actual function of the Spirit in the Old Testament the prevailing thought was that the Spirit was an agent of God and that He was the immediate source of all life. The function of the Spirit to empower people to do God’s work has not changed and is found throughout Scripture, however, a more fully developed understanding is not found until the New Testament. The idea of the Holy Spirit living or indwelling a believer is a prominent New Testament teaching.
The idea of the Spirit being a “river of living water” draws a parallel between the life-giving waters of Ezek. ch 47. The waters flowing from under the temple not only bring life but also turn the foul waters fresh (Ezek. 47:1,8;9). What is being stated is that no longer will the Holy Spirit be an external force that comes upon the people of God, but the very one who gives life will flow out from within those who believe in Jesus. Christ here is then showing that the Holy Spirit will have a place in the believer. This can also serve to show the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Spirit as the Spirit comes from the Father because of the Son.
As previously mentioned John explains that the rivers of living water is the Holy Spirit (v39) which would not be received or given until after Jesus had been glorified. Speaking on the Spirit, Jesus says in 16:7 of John’s Gospel that He must return to the Father so that the Spirit may come. Only by the perfect sacrifice and resurrection does the connection to the Father that was lost by Adam become reestablished. The glory that is received is not just the sacrificial death, but the resurrection of Jesus as well. First the Son was to be glorified, and then the Spirit was to be given. The glorification of Jesus makes the giving of the Spirit possible, however, only to those who believe in Him (v38). In Acts, chapter 2 Luke records the receiving and first filling of the Holy Spirit by the disciples at Pentecost.
John records that there was a division in the crowd as to whether Jesus was the Prophet (prophētēs) promised in Deut. 18:18 or if He was the Messiah. This is an understandable confusion given the misunderstandings that surrounded the function of the Messiah. The Prophet was understood to be one like Moses who would speak what God commands in matters of spiritual affairs, conversely, the Messiah would be one who ruled the nation of Israel politically. The issue lies in the incorrect assumption that the Messiah was to come and set the people free from foreign rule. Jesus did come to set the people free, however, this was from their slavery to sin (John 8:31-36), and not from their service to Rome. Some Rabbis believed in doctrines such as the premundane existence of the Messiah, His elevation above Moses and angels, and the suffering Servant. Nevertheless, the preoccupying thought since around the time of the exilic period was one of national re-birthing which caused the rabbinic teachers to focus on an Earthly kingdom instead of the Heavenly kingdom. God had given ample Scripture to show the Messiah was coming, however, due to their circumstances they chose to focus almost solely on national deliverance.
As mentioned above, the Scriptures contain a great deal of information concerning the coming Messiah. For example, Mic. 5:2 speaks of the fact that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem which the crowd rightly remembered. Bethlehem holds significance in the line of the Messiah as this was the place where David was from, and where he was anointed by Samuel. The book of Ruth has most major parts in Bethlehem as well. The Messiah was to come from the line of David, and from David’s hometown (2 Sam. 7).
Both Matthew and Luke recount the nativity story in chapter 2 of their Gospels showing Jesus born in Bethlehem. They also both give a genealogy list showing that Jesus is David’s descendant. Matthew gives the lineage of Joseph showing Jesus as heir through Solomon. Luke gives us Jesus’s genealogy through Mary which traces back through Nathan who is another son of David. All of these things again reinforce that Jesus is indeed the Christ.
Because of the crowd’s confusion on whether or not Jesus was Prophet or Messiah, and the shortage of information the crowd had regarding His place of birth a division arose. Indeed, there were some who believed Him to be Messiah as noted in verse 41. The text does not make clear whether the ones who believed in Him had knowledge of His birthplace, or if they assumed that because of His works and words that He must be the Messiah.
Finally, verse 44 shows that some wanted Jesus taken or arrested, but this was not done. Some of the temple guards of verse 45 are more than likely the ones who are referred in verse 44. The lack of Him being taken could be seen as a look back at the implied meaning of time in 6th and 30th verses of this chapter. This section ends in John 8:20 where John reinforces that His time had not yet come. There was still more for Jesus to accomplish before He was to be glorified. His earthly ministry did not end until He deemed it time as seen in John 19:11 and 30.
Theological Interpretation & Application
The passage discussed above in the Gospel of John touches on two sections of systematic theology. Firstly, Christology as Jesus is not only the Messiah but the Prophet as well. As such, He not only has the rightful rule as the ultimate king but the connection and authority to speak the words the Father gives to Him. This is seen in verse 38 where He says that the Scriptures testify or speak of Him. The divinity of Jesus is also at the center of the living water statement. By proclaiming that all who believe in Him may receive the living waters Jesus is making a claim that can only be made by the divine. Whereas Jesus places belief in Himself as the requirement for release of the Holy Spirit to flow in a believer, the connection to divinity is made because the Spirit of the Lord or Holy Spirit can only be sent by God and at His request.
This brings in the second area of theology that is discussed by this passage namely Pneumatology. As mentioned previously Jesus here teaches that the Holy Spirit will no longer operate outside of those who believe in empowering for specific service, but internally not only equipping for work but bringing about changes to the heart and mind (see the connection to Ezek 47) which is a drastic shift from the Old Testament. The statement that the Spirit will be inside the believer changes the way believers communicate with and have relationship with God. This could also be seen as a pointing to fulfillment (or at least partial fulfillment) of Jer. 31:31-34 where God says I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts. The Spirit dwelling inside the believer gives them the words and the ability to love God and love their neighbor the way Jesus intends.
Bailey, J. L. and Vander Broek. L. D. Literary Forms in The New Testament A Handbook. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.
Bauckham, Richard. Historiographical Characteristics of the Gospel of John. Journal Publication. St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews Scotland, 2007.
Drane, John. Introducing the New Testament Oxford. Minneapolis: Lion Publishing Pub, 2000.
Easton, M. G. Bible Dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah Vol 2. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1896.
Freed, Edwin R. The New Testament: A Critical Introduction Third Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2001.
Harrison, R. K. The New Ungers Bible Dictionary. Illinois: Moody Press, 1988.
Hobbs, Hershel. The Illustrated Life of Jesus. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2014.
Irenaeus. Against Heresies 3.1.1
Keener, Craig. The Gospel of John: A commentary. Peabody: Hendrickson Pub, 2010
MacDonald, William. Believers Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Turner, M. and MacFarlane, G. New Bible Dictionary 3rd Ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Vine, W. E. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publ, 1989.
Walvoord, J. F. and Zuck. R. B. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures Ed. John 7:39 Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985.
 Irenaeus writing in 180 said that John was the disciple who reclined on His breast. Against Heresies 3.1.1
 John Drane, Introducing the New Testament Oxford: (Minneapolis: Lion Publishing plc. 2000), 215
Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ 2010), 142, 149
 Edwin R. Freed referencing John 9:22 says that Jews who followed Jesus during His ministry would not have been put out of the synagogue combing both the original event and a present situation. [The New Testament: A Critical Introduction Third Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning 2001)] 340, 341
 Richard Bauckham, Historiographical Characteristics of the Gospel of John Journal Publication (St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews Scotland 2007) 25
7 Sign miracles occur in John 2:1-10, 4:46-54, 5:1-9, 6:5-14, 15-21, 9:1-7, 11:1-44, 21:1-14. Note the eighth miracle is contested as a sign miracle because it occurs post-resurrection. The I Am statements occur in John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5
 J. L. Bailey and L. D. Vander Broek, Literary Forms in The New Testament A Handbook. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press 1992) 172
 It is important to note that John points out in verse 5 that Jesus’s brothers did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah.
 R. K. Harrison, The New Ungers Bible Dictionary (Illinois: Moody Press 1988) 420
 Craig Keener says that the water pouring may have been an innovation of the Pharisees around the time of the Maccabees, The Gospel of John: A commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ 2010) 722
 Easton suggests that the crowds would either recite with the priest or simply answer back with hallelujah. In either case, the point is that the crowds participated and were engaged in the event. Easton’s Bible Dictionary, (New York: Harper & Brothers 1893) Hallel
 Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ) s.v. κράζω 261
 The high usage of pisteúō in John’s Gospel is due to the stated purpose for his writing in 23:30. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ), s.v. πιστεύω 118
 Ungers sites Ps 104:30; Isa 32:15; Job 33:4; and Gen 2:7, and others in stating that Spirit was not only the immediate cause of physical, but intellectual life. The New Ungers Bible Dictionary (Illinois: Moody Press 1988) 583-84
 Craig Keener sees the connection as possibly referring to new Jerusalem where Jesus is the new temple and the waters flow from Him. The Gospel of John: A commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ 2010) 726 -727
 This serves as pre-statement to John 14:16 where Jesus prays or asks the Father to send the Comforter or Holy Spirit. It shows the Father, Son, and Spirit operate as one.
 The verb glorified (doxazō) is based on the root word doxa which carries a multiple meanings and can mean “an opinion,” “splendor,” “most glorious condition or exalted state.” It is this last usage that is meant by doxazō. In this verse, it is used to refer to the high honor, and glory due to Jesus that will be made manifest after His death, resurrection, and assentation. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ) s.v. δοξάζω 492
 The editor of the section on John Edwin Blum says regarding the glorification of Jesus “is His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.” [The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures Digital Ed J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed. John 7:39 (Wheaton: Victor Books 1985)]
 While prophet can refer to a spokesman of God in this context it refers to the promised prophet who most believed was separate from the Messiah and would come before Him. This would explain why the Pharisees sent men to ask John the Baptist in John 1:21 if he was the prophet. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ), s.v προφήτης
 R. K. Harrison, The New Ungers Bible Dictionary (Illinois: Moody Press 1988) 840
 Ibid 840
 Alfred Edersheim compiled a list of 456 Old Testament passages about the Messiah or Messianic times. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah Vol 2 (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co 1896) 710
 Ruth is important to note here because of her place in the lineage of David and Jesus.
 The lineage in Luke does not specifically say that it is through Mary; however, this is generally accepted that this is the case. William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson 1995) 1379
 M. Turner & G. MacFarlane also discuss that this passage aids in an understanding of the Trinity, New Bible Dictionary 3rd Ed (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996) 1209-10
 M. Turner & G. MacFarlane New Bible Dictionary 3rd Ed (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996) 1209 – 10