The life-giving Spirit, 7:37-52


In chapters 7 and 8 of John's gospel we are introduced to Jesus, the light of the world. As the living God revealed himself to the children of Israel during their wilderness wanderings, so Jesus reveals himself to the people of Israel in his day. This revelation is divine, it is like a bubbling stream of water; it is a revelation that carries with it the life-giving Spirit of God.

The passage

v37-38. Jesus had secretly come to the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival which celebrates the wilderness wanderings of Israel under the guiding hand of God. Midway through the festival Jesus begins to reveal his messianic credentials to the gathered crowd. It is now the last day of the festival and so Jesus reveals that he is the source of God's life-giving Spirit. Those who desire the enlivening presence of God in their life need only come to him, need only believe in him. Ezekiel's prophecy of the bubbling waters flowing from the temple, giving life to the land, is even now being fulfilled in the person of Jesus, cf. Ezk.47.

v39. John reminds us that Jesus' words prefigure the outpouring of the Spirit which will follow his glorification, ie., his death, resurrection and ascension.

v40-44. In much the same way as the people of Israel questioned God's revelation during their wilderness wanderings, so the crowd questions Jesus' self-revelation. Some think he is the messiah, some a prophet, but most are confused, with some even wanting to have Jesus arrested. John brings a touch humor to his gospel by noting the false assumption of the crowd, namely that since Jesus came from Nazareth, rather than Bethlehem, and since he is not of David's line, then he is obviously not the messiah. The reader, of course, knows better.

v45-52. John continues to contrast the clear revelation of Christ with the confusion of the onlookers. The confusion now infiltrates the ranks of the religious authorities. The temple guards had been sent to arrest Jesus, but were disarmed by his teaching. The Pharisees are not impressed; as far as they are concerned Jesus stands against the Law as a false messiah, so those with a limited religious education should keep their opinions to themselves. Nicodemus, a Pharisee himself, tentatively tries to point out that condemning someone, without properly assessing their crime, is contrary to the Law. His colleagues know better; "from Galilee one expects no prophets, let alone the messiah."

The public reading of scripture

I remember well, as a young man, sitting in my local church and being mesmerized by the reading of scripture. At the evening service the minister would use this elderly gentlemen to read the Bible readings. He was certainly a better-than-average reader and seemed to bring the text alive. He understood what he was reading and so the truths he expressed touched the listener. Those truths were like a stream of life-giving water; it was as if the Spirit of the living God was confronting us in the reading.

I have to say I am not naturally a good reader. It took me years to stop emphasizing personal pronouns in the text!! Yet, as time has gone on I have picked up the skill. I don't read as well as that gentleman who read to us all those years ago, but I press toward him.

Of this I am sure, the crucial trick to a well-read passage is that the reader understands what the passage is saying. Some years ago, while I was reviewing my work on Galatians, I was asked to read, off-the-cuff, a passage from Galatians at my local church. Now of course, I'm not suggesting that grabbing someone, unprepared, out of the congregation is necessarily best-practice, but anyway I did the reading. The passage was fresh in my mind and so I felt I was able to speak for the apostle, to read it with understanding, to read it as if Paul was saying it. I was quite taken aback by the congregation's approval. They heard and understood. God's word impacted on them; the Spirit spoke to them.

Jesus is the light of the world, the source of divine revelation, a revelation that enlivens through the Spirit. The next time you are asked to read a Bible passage, prepare it well, work on technique, but above all, understand it. You don't need to introduce the passage, in fact introductions are usually off-putting for many in a congregation. Just understand the passage and read it with conviction.


1. Jesus is the source of divine revelation. What do we learn of that revelation in v37-39.

2. Charles Torrey translates v37-38, "whoever thirsts, let him come to me, and let him drink who believes on me. As the scripture says, Out of the midst of Her (Jerusalem / temple) shall flow rivers of living water." Read Ezekiel 47 and explain how Jesus fulfills this Old Testament image.

3. Discuss how the public reading of the Bible in your church could be improved.

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