John 7:37-53, “On the last day, that great day of the feast (John 7:2 says it was the Feast of Tabernacles), Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers (torrents) of living water.’ (John immediately adds some commentary) But this Jesus spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would (future tense) receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, ‘Truly this is the Prophet.’ (A reference to Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15.) Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?’ So there was a division among the people because of Him. (It’s interesting divisions occurred between people because of their conclusions about Jesus. Sadly, many people’s problem boiled down to a lack of full understanding.)
Now some of them wanted to take Jesus, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why have you not brought Him?’ The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’ Then the Pharisees answered them, ‘Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’
Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?’ They answered and said to him, ‘Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.’ And everyone went to his own house.”
While John’s account of the reaction of the people to what Jesus did and said “on the last day of the feast” is rather straightforward (the speculation and division of the common folk as to Jesus’ true identity, as well as the religious leaders desire to have Him immediately arrested if not for the intervention of Nicodemus), what specifically causes such a response demands a greater discussion about the Feast of Tabernacles.
First, the Feast of Tabernacles was one of the three mandatory feasts in the Jewish calendar: Passover would occur in the Spring, Pentecost would follow 50 days later, with Tabernacles taking place after the harvest - sometime mid-October. During this eight day celebration hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims would make their way to Jerusalem.
The commission of this Feast is actually laid out in Leviticus 23:33-43, “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the LORD. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation (literally a sacred assembly), and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it…
Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the offshoots of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.
You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’”
Moses reiterates these things in Deuteronomy 16:13-15 writing, “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.”
Before I continue I do want to point out one of the debates concerning the Feast of Tabernacles centers on whether or not it lasted for seven days or eight. The only reason this matters is that John sets the scene as occurring “on the last day, that great day of the feast.”
Honestly, after researching this topic much longer than I really should have and then calling David Guzik to clarify his commentary (it only made it more confusing), I have no answers. Personally, because Numbers 29 also mentions an 8th day outlining similar procedures as the first seven, I’m of the opinion it was an eight day celebration - but can’t be dogmatic.
The purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles was twofold. First, in a practical sense because this celebration followed the harvest it was a way for the Nation of Israel to thank God for His continued provisions. While the people may have worked the fields that summer, this Feast was designed to acknowledge the reality the increase came via the blessings of God!
Aside from this, the Feast of Tabernacles was also instituted by God to remind the Children of Israel of His faithful deliverance of their forefathers from Egypt and His provisions during the wilderness wandering of 40 years until they entered the land.
Practically, this was best illustrated in the fact the people who’d come to Jerusalem were instructed to “dwell in booths” or literally tents during the Feast. One scholar of ancient Hebrew culture writes, “These flimsy booths reminded Israel that they once dwelt in temporary shelters during the forty years in the wilderness, totally dependent on the Lord.”
Beyond this, as I mentioned, Numbers 29:12-40 specifically articulated the various priestly procedures that were to coincide with each of these eight days. According to 1st-century historian Josephus, because of the large crowds in attendance for Tabernacles it took 246 priests to effectively cover all of the duties. While there were various blood sacrifices that were to be made, one of the most celebratory elements was the daily pouring of water.
Though the instructions of Numbers 29 only referred to this act as a generic “drink offering,” the Talmud (the religious traditions on these matters) added much pomp and circumstance to the daily water ceremony. Each of the first seven days the priests would go down to the Pool of Siloam (located just outside the southernmost gate of the city) with much thoroughfare. Once they arrived at the pool they would fill a large, ornate golden vessel with water.
Then, as the crowds are chanting and signing psalms with the shofar ringing loudly, this golden vessel would be paraded through the city up to the Temple. Upon their arrival the priest would mix the water with wine before ceremonially pouring it all over the altar.
As the priests busy themselves with this task the cheers of onlookers in the Temple would be deafening. For each of these seven days this water ceremony intended to remind the people of God’s provision of water from the rock while they wandered the desert during the Exodus.
While the 8th and final day would see the same ceremony take place, the Talmud describes one stark difference. Because the last day (when the people have finally exited the booths) intended to look forward to the coming harvest and therefore God’s continued blessing upon Israel, there was to be no celebration or pageantry, but instead a solemness and reverence.
On this “the last great day of the feast” known as Hoshana Rabbah (which is translated as “save now”) the priests, as they’d done the previous seven days, would draw the water from the Pool of Siloam and carry it back into the Temple to be poured onto the altar.
And yet, in contrast to the previous week, while this is happening instead of the blasts of the shofar and adulation of the crowd, the people would be silently praying that God would continue His blessing by providing another year of life-giving rain for the upcoming crop! The mood was to be both reverent and measured as they appealed for God’s faithfulness.
Imagine being on the Temple Mount filled to capacity with silent onlookers praying that God would send water from heaven as the priests pour out the water mixed with wine onto the altar… As all of this is happening your thoughts are naturally drawn back to God’s previous faithfulness when He provided your forefathers water from that rock in the wilderness…
Your eyes are closed as you pray for a similar work when, out of nowhere, that solemn moment is abruptly interrupted by a voice! Booming across the Temple Mount and instantly catching those in prayer off-guard is the familiar voice of Jesus who’s actually stood up and begun “crying out” for everyone to hear, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
One author writes of this moment, “Imagine the uproar his statement must have caused! The priest had just poured out the water libation as an appeal to the Creator God to provide water for the people, and Yeshua (Jesus), as if to answer the prayer, tells the people to come to him for water. What a radical statement and shocker to the crowd.”
There is no question that seizing on such a moment as when the priests are pouring out the mixture of water and wine upon the altar with the people praying for God’s blessing that Jesus is making a profound and significant point. In hindsight we realize the blessing of God could only be extended to sinful man when Jesus was poured out on a cross for our sins.
Jesus was the rock in the wilderness used by God to provide life-giving water. And what’s more is this work could only occur on the 8th day - a day of grace and new beginnings.
How interesting that it would be John and not Dr. Luke who would later record that as “the soldiers pierced Jesus side with a spear immediately blood and water came out.” (John 19:34) Without knowing what they were doing this very ceremony that mixed water and wine to be poured onto the altar foreshowed the work of Jesus on the altar of Calvary.
It’s interesting that as Jesus watches the masses actively appeal for God’s physical blessings through a religious exercise, He can’t sit back silently. Since the Feast of Tabernacles was the last until Passover and this the final day, it’s Jesus’ last opportunity to speak to the festival crowd gathered in Jerusalem. As the water is being pour out Jesus “cries out” appealing for “anyone who thirsts” to “come to Him and drink!”
As the essential element of all carbon-based life forms, water is itself a symbol of life. In fact, if you consider water makes up about 80% of the human body, none of us could live without it! In building off the moment, Jesus is saying that anyone who desires spiritual life and the blessing of God must be willing to “come to Him and drink.” Just as a thirsty land needs water to yield a harvest, so does the spiritual man need Jesus to be fruitful.
It’s not an accident Jesus ties “drinking” to the act of “believing in Him.” Belief, not ritual, rite, works, religion, or traditions is all that God requires. But then Jesus promises that “out of the heart” of the one who believes “will flow rivers of living water.”
Not only is Jesus telling us faith in Him is how such a water is initially received, but He explains He’s offering a drink of something that has the power to become an internal reservoir. You see what Jesus is offering is a drink of something that’s self-generating and therefore self-sustaining making it a one time drink that will eternally satisfy.
While the reactions of those who were present indicate, in the moment, they understood what Jesus was offering (spiritual satisfaction for a thirsty soul), it’s likely no one really comprehended how this was even possible. This is why John quickly adds for the reader, “But this Jesus spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Though brief John commentary explains five important realities… First, the life-giving “water” Jesus was offering was in actuality the “Holy Spirit.” Second, the spiritual “thirst” sinful man experiences exists as a result of not having the Holy Spirit. Man is dead in his sins.
Third, the initial “drink” occurs when “those believing in Jesus receive” for the first time “the Holy Spirit.” It’s in this moment what was dead stirs to life. Fourth, this “river of living water” flowing in and from a person’s life would be a manifestation of the indwelling Spirit of God. And finally, the gift of the Spirit (“not yet given”) could only happen after “Jesus was glorified.” (The process of crucifixion, resurrection, and ultimately ascension to the Father.)
Because the Holy Spirit is central to Jesus’ declaration here on the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles, I want to spend the rest of our time together discussing this important topic.
For starters, in the New Testament our interactions with the Holy Spirit are presented using three different Greek prepositions. First, in John 14:17 Jesus said, “The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you…” In the Greek this preposition “with” or “para” means to come alongside of. This word describes the work of the Holy Spirit in the world convicting the world of sin for the purpose of drawing them to Jesus.
Secondly, in the same John 14:17 passage Jesus continues by saying, “For He dwells with you and will be in you.” In the Greek this preposition “in” or “en” means to come within. This word describes the work of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer at the point of conversion for the specific purposes of salvation and regeneration - rebirth or being born again.
As it pertained to His disciple’s “receiving the Spirit” we read in John 20:22 that after Jesus’ resurrection “He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Third, in Acts 1:8 Jesus promises that “the Holy Spirit” will “come upon you!” Specifically, Jesus says, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
In the Greek this preposition “epi” or “upon” means to come over. This word describes the work of the Spirit uniquely filling the believer to the point of overflowing from the person’s life.
While it’s only logical to assume the initial “drink” occurs when “those believing in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit” (the second interaction with the Holy Spirit), the manifestation of this “river of living water” flowing in and from a person’s life appears to directly tie into this third “epi” interaction. Note: The Scriptures indicate this third interaction with the Holy Spirit is not limited to a one time occurrence and seems to be a continual experience of the believer.
In fulfilling Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8, in Acts 2 we read how the Spirit comes “upon” those early believers. Then we’re told in Acts 4:8 that “Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them.” Then in Acts 4:31, of this same group of people, we again read that “when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
While the first interaction with the Spirit leads you to Jesus with the second being the moment of salvation, according to what Jesus says in Acts 1, the Holy Spirit coming “upon” you manifests in your life in two important ways: (1). The “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and (2). The “receiving of power to be witnesses to Jesus” in the world around you. Again, this is what Jesus referred to when He said, “Out of your heart will flow rivers of living water.”
As it pertains to this “baptism of the Holy Spirit” Scripture establishes a comparison between this work of the Spirit and that of John the Baptizer. In Acts 1:5 Jesus said, “For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Jesus is saying the Spirit coming upon the believer has an effect similar to what occurred when John baptized a person with water. Understand… John’s baptism with water was all about demonstrating an outward repentance for sins; whereas, being baptized with the Holy Spirit is all about experiencing an inward purification from sins.
Baptism “with water” symbolically cleansed the outward man, but baptism “with the Holy Spirit” served to practically and continually cleanse the inward man.
According to tradition if a person was considered ceremonially unclean they were required to immerse themselves in a pool of water known as a mikveh before they could enter the Temple. The act of immersing or literally baptism in the water signified cleansing and purity.
Priest were required to bath before preforming their religious duties. Men were required to bath before offering sacrifices. Woman were required to bath following childbirth. Gentiles desiring to convert were required to be baptized. The Talmud actually goes so far as to describe a mikveh “as the consummate Jewish symbol of spiritual renewal!”
Furthermore, what’s interesting about the mikveh was how it was designed… Because the Rabbi’s believed impurities required “living water” such as springs or rivers to remain pure, the mikvehs in the Temple were designed with an intricate plumbing system that allowed them to always remain in contact with a natural source of living water.
Describing the results of the Spirit coming upon the believer using this common religious term “baptism” was not an accident. This coming “upon” of the Holy Spirit spoke of a continual spiritual renewal, purification, and cleansing! And yet, unlike religion which demanded a person work to cleans themselves - constant baptism, Jesus declared that day on the Temple Mount, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water!”
This work of the Holy Spirit purifying the individual (baptism) would be internal - not external, continual - not momentary, and ultimately permanent - not temporary.
Keep in mind, the moment you believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit a regeneration takes place. You are made positionally righteous before God having been justified by the blood of Christ. And yet, practically because your sinful flesh remains until you are resurrected into glory, you still struggle walking in the new position you’ve been granted.
As we all know all to well, the struggle of the flesh’s sinful desires remains even after you’ve been initially filled with the Spirit. Note: When we talk about this “epi” work of the Spirit coming upon us for the purposes of renewal and purification it does not pertain to your position in Christ, but instead the practicalities of your life reflecting that position.
Because you continue to struggle with sin, it is necessary you be continually baptized in the Spirit. You crack. He mends. Then fills you again. Inwardly, this renewed filling serves to remind you that you are a new creation in Christ, old things have passed away, the man of sin is no longer you, there is no condemnation! And in this sense you’re baptized anew into His grace! It’s not something you do, but a river of the Spirit who’s current you return too!
Beyond this, as water is essential for land to yield a harvest, the water of the Spirit is the only way a person’s life can yield Godly fruit. Godliness in your life demands the involvement of God’s Spirit. Amazingly, this river of living water yields fruit of the Spirit in your life!
While the first result of the Holy Spirit coming “upon” the believer is this incredible and constant renewal though this internal baptism, the second result is that you would “receive power to be witnesses” of Jesus! Again, Jesus says this is a work of the Holy Spirit that will come “out of one’s heart.” It’s something inside working it’s way outward.
In the Greek this word “power” is “dynamis” or dynamite. The Spirit gives you the power “to be witnesses.” In the Greek “witnesses” is literally our English word “martyrs.” The word describes a person who dies for another or looses his life for a cause. In this context, a “witness” is a person who lays down his life not for but to Jesus… “Witness to Me.”
Also notice Jesus says the Spirit will empower us to “be witnesses.” There is a big difference between “being” verses “doing.” This word described who you are and not what you are doing! Dying doesn’t make you a martyr. Dying confirms you were a martyr. Martyrdom or “being a witness” to Jesus isn’t something you do, it’s something you presently are!
When Jesus says, “You shall be witnesses” it wasn’t a command to be obedient, but was rather a statement of fact! The words “shall be” are in the indicative, not imperative. Jesus wasn’t recommending you become a witness; He said you would be a witness when the Holy Spirit comes upon you! Again, it’s a natural result working its way out!
While John refers to the “Holy Spirit” in John 7, in Acts 1 Jesus will instruct His disciples to wait for the “Promise of the Father.” In the Greek this word “Promise” is a noun meaning “the fulfillment of a promise given.” Even Jesus affirmed in John 7 the Scriptures were clear the long awaited “Promise” was that the “Holy Spirit” would one day indwell God’s people.
Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”
To John’s point that the Spirit could only be given once “Jesus was glorified,” in John 16:7 Jesus will later declare, “I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
Consider… What possible “advantage” could we find in the presence of the Holy Spirit that we wouldn’t have in the bodily person of Jesus? I mean both are equal members of the triune Godhead. Both equally sovereign, holy, and powerful... How then is the presence of the Holy Spirit to our better advantage than the bodily presence of Jesus Christ?
Answer: Unlike Jesus, because the Holy Spirit lacks a physical form and is therefore omnipresent, He has the ability to indwell every believer at once. The Gospel records are clear that when Jesus came to earth to dawn human flesh He did so by willingly laying aside some of His divine attributes. For example: While on earth, Jesus couldn’t be in all places at all times. He was limited to His physical dwelling. His earthly body!
The Bible also indicates the “glorified Jesus” is still in such a limited state. We’re told Jesus ascended from earth to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father to be our “Advocate, High Priest, and Mediator.” Additionally, at some near future date Jesus will return to earth from heaven to establish a kingdom... Not exactly the activities of the omnipresent!
Now don’t get me wrong… Is Jesus in our midst this morning? Yes, He is! But understand… He’s in our midst not because He’s come to us, but because we’ve taken time to come before Him in Spirit. Hebrews 4:16 provides this invitation, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
If Jesus remained on earth the limitations of His ability to help us in our time of need would be obvious. Instead, He knew His job would be more effective in the halls of heaven, and thus it would be to our “advantage” to have a “Helper” able to aid each of us by providing the internal power to live the life God has called us to live! Jesus was glorified so that we might be filled with the Living Water of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most amazing aspect of the Holy Spirit is that Jesus commanded His disciples not to depart from Jerusalem until the Spirit came upon them for cleansing and empowering because He knew they really could do nothing effective for the Kingdom of God otherwise!
It’s amazing that a group of men and women who had spent years walking with Jesus - seen the miracles, listened to His messages, witnessed both His death and resurrection… A group who’d been redeemed from sin by Christ’s work on the cross - regenerated by the indwelling Spirit - born again by grace through faith still had an essential, vital element of the their life missing... The power of the Holy Spirit!
Though “rebirth” is a crucial first step to “life in Christ,” it is by no means the mechanism by which you can attain all that God has for you! Salvation as a most glorious work indeed provides you newness of life, but you must have the Holy Spirit infuse you with power from on High if you’re to effectively live the new life you’ve been saved for!
Think of it this way... Salvation might open your eyes to a whole new world, but without a complete reliance upon the Spirit’s influence you are powerless to experience it! The life Jesus died for you to live requires more than being saved from sin (receiving the Spirit), it necessitates you being filled, refilled, and filled again with the Holy Spirit for power!
If you had a miserable week filled with failure… You lost it with your kids… You said hurtful things to your spouse… You stumble and fell flat on your face and now your heart is filled with guilt and condemnation… Do you know what you need? Fresh life from a fresh filling! You need the Holy Spirit to come upon you and immerse you in His love and grace.
If you’re tired… At the end of your rope… If you drug yourself to church this morning unenthused and not sure what to do about it… If you’re trying to turn a corner and deeply long to live a righteous life consistent with your righteous position, but you seem like your running on nothing but fumes… Do you know what you need? Fresh power from a fresh filling! You need the Holy Spirit to come upon you and provide the power you so desperately need to live the life He’s called you to and fulfill the ministry He’s set before you!
Friend… You can do nothing for the Kingdom of God apart from the power of the Holy Spirit! It’s the fuel that drives your walk with Jesus! You can’t live a Godly life. You can’t engage in a lasting work. You are useless apart from the Spirit’s continual filling! Please hear Jesus crying out this morning, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
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