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How will rivers of living water flow from believers (John 7:38)?

rivers of living water

In John 7:38, Jesus makes a promise using a metaphor: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” The statement comes at a key moment during the Feast of Booths. In the Gospels, Jesus had much to say about the idea of water and new life.

Earlier, Jesus had told Nicodemus that one had to be born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Jesus’ reference to water here was an allusion either to physical birth or to the Jewish concept of washing as a symbol of spiritual cleansing (see Ezekiel 36:25). In John 4:10 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that He could give her “living water.” This was in contrast to the physical water that the Samaritan woman came to the well to retrieve. That physical water would run out, and she would need to continually return to get more. But Jesus offered the woman water that would never run out—water that would become within the believer “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

In John 7, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles. John relates what happened and provides commentary: “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” (verse 37–39). So, during the feast Jesus offered Himself as the source of the water of life. At the same time, He was signaling the fulfillment of Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” and pointing to Himself as the water-giving rock in the wilderness (see 1 Corinthians 10:4). Anyone could come to Him and receive the Holy Spirit and the never-ending life He provides.

The timing of Jesus’ offer of living water was perfect. One of the rites performed during the Feast of Booths involved water. Every morning for seven days, a priest led a procession with music from the temple to the nearby pool of Siloam. There the priest filled a golden container with water and carried it back to the temple as the people rejoiced. At the altar, the priest poured the water out, while another priest poured a drink-offering of wine on the other side of the altar. During the libation the people sang the Hallel (Psalms 113—118). On the eighth and final day, according to some sources, the water-pouring ceremony was not repeated. It was during that time—the one day when there was no water—that Jesus stood up in the temple and shouted the news that He Himself was the source of living water. The effect would have been profound. Here was the Messiah, offering “water,” conspicuous in its absence, that stood for the Holy Spirit and eternal life. All that was needed was to come to Jesus in faith.

After offering living water, Jesus adds that rivers of living water would flow from the heart of the believer (John 7:38). Here Jesus alludes to Isaiah 55:1 and Isaiah 58:11—passages that similarly present the Messianic hope in terms of life-giving water (cf. Exodus 17:1–6; Psalm 78:15–16; 105:40–41; Proverbs 18:4; Isaiah 12:3; Ezekiel 47:1–11; and Zechariah 14:8). In stating that rivers of living water would flow from believers, Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of Scripture’s water allusions and prophecies. Because He is the Life-giver, those who believe in Him will have eternal life within them and no longer need to seek for life from external sources.

God puts His Spirit within each believer (Romans 8:9), and each believer has eternal life (John 6:47) and the evidence of life (in the Holy Spirit) within. It is in that sense that “rivers of living water” flow from the hearts of believers. Commentator Joseph Benson wrote that 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 Commentary on the Old and New Testaments).

Paul describes how, in love, Christ sanctifies His church, washing her with the water of His word (Ephesians 5:25–26). The writer of Hebrews continues the theme, noting that our hearts are sprinkled and “our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). Peter adds that believers are cleansed as if by water (1 Peter 3:20–21). Finally, in a beautiful portrayal of Jesus’ ministry, John says that the Lamb would be the Shepherd, leading His people to the water of life (Revelation 7:17). This is reminiscent of David’s song of Psalm 23 in which the Shepherd leads David beside quiet waters and restores his soul (Psalm 23:2–3). Jesus is the One who freely gives eternal life. “If you . . . know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

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How will rivers of living water flow from believers (John 7:38)?
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This page last updated: March 8, 2024