John 7: Christ Is The “Living Water”

danny-hahlbohm-living-water

In John 7 we find Christ at the Feast of Tabernacles where He gives His famous “Living Water” sermon. What does He mean by “Living Water”?

First, we must look at the Feast of Tabernacles itself.

Walter Elwell defines what the Feast of Tabernacles is. He states: “It was the third pilgrimage feast. The first day and the day after the feast were solemn assemblies. All Israelites were required to live in booths made of branches and trees, including the poplar and palm. Because it was a harvest feat, special offerings were presented in the temple.”[1] Elmer Towns expounds on this by adding that the booths were pitched outside of the city of Jerusalem as a symbolic reminder of God’s care for the Jews during their forty years in the wilderness in Exodus[2]. We know for sure there was ample ritual during these times as well as sacrifices. Yet Christ is in this passage foreshadowing Himself being the only sacrifice necessary for salvation and atonement for sin.

The key verse to examine is John 7:37-39. It states: “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (NASB)

This statement He made was a reference to Isaiah 58:11[3] which reads: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (NIV)

Morris makes reference to the symbolism of water and the Spirit. In reference to John 7:37-39, Morris states: “It can scarcely be said that this is a completely straightforward passage, but it is clear that in some way the ‘living water’ and the Spirit are connected. The Spirit in all his fullness would not be given until the consummation of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and he would bring deep satisfaction to the believer.”[4] I believe Morris’s symbolic finding to be accurate. When I think of water, I imagine an ocean flowing endlessly with a depth that is immeasurable. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and does touch the depth of our soul, our innermost being[5]. Man can simply not grasp the complexity and depth of their own soul, but Christ can reach the deepest part of the soul and lead a believer to everlasting life. It is quite tempting to discuss the mediation of the Spirit as atonement, but we must remember that Jesus has not been crucified at this point[6]. In other words, He is revealing an element of His purpose and the divine plan of God for His creation.

In John, Elmer Towns sheds some light on what innermost being actually means. He states that it “probably refers to the hidden innermost recesses of the human body. Sometimes this word was used as a synonym for kardia (“heart”) referring to the seat of intellect, emotion, and will-the real person.”[7]. This analysis is on par with my prior assessment. One can relate to the idea that the human body is just a vessel that houses the eternal soul which God desires to mediate with and lead to His purposes[8]. In this light, perhaps our own bodies can be called “booths” in the wilderness of everyday life.

The fact is Christ was offering a choice because there are two eternal options we all face. One is eternity in Heaven with the Father and one is eternity in Hell away from the Father. Christ is saying here that He is that stream that carries the repentant believer to God and that His death will enable atonement for all sin.

We also see here that Jesus was using a reference to the Old Testament to illustrate to the skeptical authorities and people who He was and what was soon to come. The verse in Isaiah seems to mirror the story of the Jews making a pilgrimage from Egypt. At the same time, the passage relates to how the Jews observed the Feast of Tabernacles. They were outside of God’s chosen city for them, looking in. Surely we can equate this to Christ’s coming. Christ was illustrating that He was a flowing river to the Father Himself. Just as Jerusalem was the promised city to the Jews, salvation was a promise of the Messiah. One can relate to the idea that the human body is just a vessel that houses the eternal soul which God desires to mediate with and lead to His purposes . In this light, perhaps our own bodies can be called “booths” in the wilderness of everyday life.

The thing is, we don’t have to feel like we are lost in the wilderness. Christ calls us to “drink” from the well of eternal life (John 4:13-14). At this point He was foreshadowing His fate while showing that His purpose is to bring us to the Father. He is the river and we are the vessels. The water never runs dry and is always flowing, but we must be ready and willing to drink the living water.

If there is a bridge to be made here to another part of John, we must look into John 4:13-14 when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan at the well: “Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” If we consider the passages from John 4 and John 7 together, we can correctly assert that Christ was to be offered up for all, not just the Jews. I contend that the fact he had to reference the same facet of Himself as the living water twice speaks to the historical divisions between the Jews and the Samaritans. While the symbolism is well presented in the Feast of Tabernacles, it can also be said that the Samaritans felt stranded from God as well. The coming sacrifice of Jesus would draw them together into atonement under the blood of Christ.

Water surely ensures life, and Christ equated Himself to it to relay the message that He is the stream that flows from the wilderness to eternal glory with God.


[1] Elwell, Walter A.  Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.  2nd ed.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001. p. 442.

[2] Towns, Elmer L.  The Gospel of John: Believe and Live.  Twenty-First Century Biblical Commentary Series, edited by Mal Couch and Ed Hindson.  Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002. p. 69.

[3] Cabal, Ted et. al. The Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.p. 1586.

[4] Morris, Leon.  Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989. pp. 206-207.

[5] John 7:38.

[6] John 7:39.

[7] Towns, Elmer. p. 74.

[8] 2 Timothy 2:21

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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