John’s Gospel: Chapter 7:31-39 (“the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him”)

(John 7:31-32 ESV)  31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”  32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.

As you read the rest of the chapter, try not to be too sanctimonious. I know it’s hard, because church people are highly trained to be sanctimonious. I mean, we can laugh at the preacher’s jokes, but we must … not … laugh … at … the … holy … word … of … God.

And yet, the remainder of the chapter is a comedy. In fact, it’s an important change in mood from the despondent, dark end of chapter 6 and early chapter 7. The mood now changes dramatically.

The crowd concludes that Jesus must be the Messiah based on his many, incredible miracles. The authorities — the Pharisees and chief priests — sent Temple guards to arrest him.

(John 7:33-36 ESV)  33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.  34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”

35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  36 What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”

Jesus plainly predicts his death (hardly a comedic thought). He said he was going to “him who sent me.” Anyone who says “I’m going to be with God” is speaking of his imminent death.

And yet the crowd misunderstands. They think he’s leaving Palestine to join the Jewish communities scattered among the Greeks and Romans (the Diaspora). They are thinking in terms of what they would do if their lives were threatened (flee the country) and could not imagine the Messiah dying this early in his career. (The Romans had yet to be overthrown!)

(John 7:37-39 ESV) 37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”  39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

“Cried out” can mean to scream or shout. This was very loud and intended to be heard by as many as possible.

Despite the quotation marks added by the translators, there is no such passage in the Old Testament. Jesus is stating a theme that courses through the Prophets. The closest single passage is either —

(Zec 14:8 ESV)  On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

(which speaks of living water flowing out of Jerusalem, not the individual)


(Isa 58:11 ESV) And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Here, the prophet clearly speaks of a “spring of water,” which would be living water, being within the individual blessed by God.

Jer 2:13 and 17:13 refer to God as the fountain of living water.

(Jer 17:13 ESV) O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.

If you read “fountain of living water” with passages that speak of the Spirit as water, you get Jesus’ point —

(Isa 44:3 ESV) For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

(Eze 39:29 ESV) “And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.”

John helpfully explains that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit as Living Water, making the point clear to his readers, but Jesus was surely quite clear to those present in Jerusalem. After all, the Jews had been praying for the Spirit to return to the land for centuries and knew that the outpouring of the Spirit would mark the coming of the Kingdom and the Messiah.

Thus, for Jesus to claim to be the source of Living Water — to be the fountain of Living Water — was to claim to be God. It was quite clear to anyone who’d read Jeremiah.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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