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What did Jesus mean when He spoke of living water?

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Jesus uses the phrase living water in two instances in the Bible. The first is in John 4. Jesus and His disciples had traveled into Samaria. Jesus was tired and sat at a well while His disciples went into a nearby town to buy food. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink (verse 7). The Samaritan woman was quite shocked because Jesus was a Jew, and Jews and Samaritans had a long history of mutual animosity. She naturally asked Him why He was speaking to her, since He was Jewish.

Jesus ignored the question and went right to the point: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Notice that He does not say that He is the living water, but that He would give living water to her. It would be His gift to her, and when she received it, she would never thirst again. Of course, Jesus was speaking of a spiritual truth, whereas the woman’s thoughts were fixed on physical water, the type that could only be procured with a bucket down a well. But, as the conversation progressed, the woman began to understand what Jesus was saying to her about the living water.

The other passage of Scripture where Jesus speaks of “living water” is in John 7. In that context, Jesus is in the temple for the Feast of Booths (or Feast of Tabernacles). One feature of that feast was the pouring out of water at the base of the altar for seven days. On the eighth day, the ritual was suspended—no water was poured. It was then that Jesus made a very public, very dramatic offer:
On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.) (John 7:37–39, NLT).

John’s note that Jesus “was speaking of the Spirit” (John 7:39) is key to understanding the meaning of the “living water.”

The living water is the Holy Spirit. Jesus extended the offer to everyone (“anyone” in John 7:37 and “whoever” in verse 38). The requirement for salvation was faith in Christ (verses 38 and 39). The result of salvation would be the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 39), likened unto “rivers of living water” (verse 38). Jesus repeats the promise of the Spirit to His disciples in John 16:7–15. The Spirit is always involved in salvation (John 3:5–8), but the time of the permanent indwelling of the Spirit would have to wait until “later,” when Jesus had ascended back to glory (John 7:39).

The picture of the Spirit as “living water” leads us to the following conclusions:

The Spirit gives life. Just as water refreshes and revitalizes a thirsty person, so the Spirit gives life to the believer, enabling God to produce fruit in his or her life. Just as, in Moses’ time, the water in the desert kept the Israelites alive, so the Spirit enlivens the followers of Christ (and, according to 1 Corinthians 10:4, the rock providing the water was a picture of Christ).

The Spirit is active. He is living water, as opposed to still, standing, or stagnant water. He is an artesian well, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” in John 4:14. He is a flowing river of water in John 7:38.

Believers are channels for the Spirit’s work. At the well in Samaria, Jesus said the water would be “in them” to well up and overflow (John 4:14). During the Feast of Booths, Jesus said the water would “flow from within them” (John 7:38). The Spirit gives gifts, and the believer “shall receive spiritual blessings, or communications of divine grace, in so great an abundance, that he shall not only be refreshed and comforted himself, but shall be instrumental in refreshing and comforting others” (Benson, J., Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, 1857). This is exactly what we see in John 4, as the Samaritan woman, “leaving her water jar, . . . went back to the town” and told everyone about Jesus the Messiah (verse 28).

Long ago, God told His people, Israel, not to fear, giving them this promise:
“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).
The Spirit, whom the Father likens unto water, was indeed poured out on all of those who put their faith in the Son. It’s just one of the many promises of God that are “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

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What did Jesus mean when He spoke of living water?
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This page last updated: May 24, 2024