Jesus’ public ministry challenges the traditional views of Judaism. This causes infighting among both the people and the Jewish leaders themselves. The people hear His words, see His miracles, and begin to wonder if Jesus really is the Promised One. Once again, the religious leaders attempt to arrest Jesus, but the officers are so impressed by His words that they leave Him alone. When Nicodemus, a Pharisee, makes a plea for due process, he is mocked and his suggestion is ignored. Moments such as this will eventually lead the Jewish leaders to extreme measures against Jesus.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success! Psalm 118:25
Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Festival of Tabernacles. During this week-long celebration, Israel remembered the intervention of God during their wandering in the wilderness, as described in the book of Exodus. As part of this holiday, priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam to the altar, remembering God’s provision of water for Israel (Exodus 17:1–7). The last day of the feast is the “great day,” when the priests would recite Psalm 118:25 while making seven circuits around the altar. This backdrop is crucial for understanding why Jesus spoke these particular words, at this particular time.
Rivers of Living Water – John 7:37-52
37 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.
Jesus’ words here are connected to His claim of being the ultimate cure for spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst (John 6:35). The incident of water from the rock, like the priests’ ritual, is only meant to be a symbol. Those events are intended as foreshadowing of Jesus’ eventual ministry. This comment from Christ is also similar to His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar.
38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
During the Feast of Tabernacles, Israel remembered God’s miraculous intervention during their time in the wilderness. As part of the celebration, priests would carry water to the altar in the temple, recalling God’s provision of water from the rock (Exodus 17:1–7). On the last, most important day of the festival, priests would circle the altar seven times with a container of water. This is the moment Jesus makes this claim, which began in verse 37.
Jesus’ reference to the Scriptures here probably includes more than one single verse or passage. Proverbs 18:4 – The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream and Zechariah 14:8 – On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter – involve similar themes. Given the priestly ritual’s connection to the story of water from the rock, Jesus might have had Psalm 78:12–16 – 12 He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors
in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and led them through;
he made the water stand up like a wall.
14 He guided them with the cloud by day
and with light from the fire all night.
15 He split the rocks in the wilderness
and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
16 he brought streams out of a rocky crag
and made water flow down like rivers.
in mind. Likewise, the idea of life, or God’s truth, being a stream or spring is common in the Bible. The imagery implies something living, pure, and life-giving – Revelation 22:1–2 – 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 2 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. As used by Jesus, this internal spring, or stream, is indicative of the Holy Spirit, which comes to live inside all who come to faith in Christ. This indwelling, however, will not begin until after Jesus’ ascension – Acts 2:1–4 – When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them – a point made in the next verse.
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.
On this day, priests would carry water into the temple, remembering God’s provision of water from a rock (Exodus 17:1–7). Jesus uses this moment to emphasize His claim to being the source of “living water,” which is a metaphor for salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. At this point in time, the Holy Spirit is working only selectively in the world. Perhaps the most dramatic example of the Holy Spirit’s temporary work is in the story of Samson, who was given strength when the Holy Spirit was within him (Judges 14:6). Only after Jesus’ death and resurrection, followed by His ascension, will the Holy Spirit begin to indwell everyone who professes faith in Christ (Acts 2:1–4).
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Some of the people in Jerusalem have already come to believe in Jesus’ words, mostly due to His miracles (John 7:31). Those who believe Jesus is telling the truth see Him as a fulfillment of the prophecy given in Deuteronomy 18:15, which others have suggested in the past (John 6:14). Interestingly, some see a distinction between Moses’ predicted successor and the Promised One referred to as the Messiah (John 7:41).
Not everyone supports what Jesus is saying, however. As later verses will show, some people mistakenly think the Old Testament predicts Messiah in a way which Jesus does not fulfill (John 7:42; 7:52).
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
There are several instances in the Gospels where Jesus is targeted for arrest, but manages to escape. Some of those events have a supernatural feel to them. For example, when Jesus is cornered on a tall, narrow, walkway but still manages to evade capture (John 10:23–24; 10:39). Others seem fairly mundane. Here, for instance, Jesus is in the midst of a deeply divided, highly emotional crowd. Those looking to arrest Him might be enraged, but that does not make them stupid—angry commoners taking Jesus by force is liable to start an all-out riot (John 7:30).
The wording of this passage suggests that it is the crowd, not necessarily the authorities, who are intimidated by the crowd. Separately, there is a group of officials, sent by the Pharisees, who are on their way to arrest Jesus (John 7:32). These men will not follow through on that mission, but their reasoning has more to do with Jesus’ words than the prospect of a riot.
Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
The officials sent to arrest Jesus, on the other hand, have the weight of local law and government on their side. Just as private citizens might fear backlash, while police are empowered to act, these officials had the ability to simply march through the crowd, if need be, and take Jesus by force. And yet, they are among those who fail to “lay hands on” Jesus, per the prior verse. Rather than being intimidated, these officials seem impressed, as the next verse explains. Hearing Jesus in person leads them to believe that there’s a better response than arrest.
47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have 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.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been 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.”
Regarding their conflicts with Jesus, the Pharisees fell into three primary errors. Two of these were a reliance on tradition and a belief that knowledge, in and of itself, led to greater spiritual truth. The third error is on full display in verses 46 through 52, and that is the error of arrogance. The people listening to Jesus are divided over how to respond to His claims. However, most of those disagreements involve how to interpret evidence, such as Jesus’ miracles (John 7:31), and the Scriptures (John 7:40–42). In the case of the Pharisees, their reaction to a failed arrest attempt hinges on pure conceit. They angrily reject anyone who disagrees with them, under the assumption that anyone who disagrees with them must—by necessity—be ignorant, deceived, or backwards.
The men sent to arrest Jesus (John 7:32) returned without Him. Their reasoning was Jesus’ own words, which were so uniquely compelling that even those who did not believe in Him were impressed (John 7:46). The immediate assumption of the haughty authorities is that the arresting officials have been fooled—why else would they take a view contrary to that of the highly-educated and prestigious Pharisees?
The core error behind this rejection is self-importance: “if we don’t believe that, why would anyone believe it?” This error continues today, whenever we reject some criticism, suggestion, or argument since it comes from the “wrong” people. When we dismiss something by saying, “that comes from that denomination, what do they know?” we’re not being discerning—we’re being arrogant.
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