A Bible Lesson on John 7:37-52

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

The setting of this passage is the Feast of Tabernacles in September or October of the final year of Jesus’s earthly ministry.  The place is Jerusalem.  This is one of the 3 great feasts of the Jewish year, and all devout Jews were to make the trip to Jerusalem and celebrate the feast in the holy city.

Tabernacles had by this time grown to have two kinds of meanings to the Jews.  For one, it was a time of remembering how their ancestors had lived in tents and had seen the provision of God after the Exodus from Egypt.  It had also become a kind of Thanksgiving type of harvest festival, where the people recognized God’s provision (particularly of rain in its due season) and prayed for His blessing in the next year’s growing season.  Praying for rain was an important part of what went on at Tabernacles.  In fact, rain during Tabernacles was looked on as a sign or promise of a good crop the following year.

It is also important to know that the prophet Zechariah, speaking of the reign of the Messiah in Chapter 14, says that living water will flow out from Jerusalem (verse 8) and that all peoples will come to Jerusalem to worship God and celebrate the feast of Tabernacles (verse 16).

There was an elaborate water ritual carried out once each day during the 7 days of the feast.  There was a procession to the fountain of Gihon/pool of Siloam, where a priest filled a golden pitcher with water.  The choir would sing Isaiah 12:3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  The procession then went to the temple through the water gate, singing Psalms 113-118.  See in particular 114:8 that refers to God providing water from the rock in the wilderness.  (See Exodus 17:6.)  The procession then circled the altar of holocausts in front of the temple waving bunches of myrtle and willow twigs singing Psalm 118:25Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!” and Isaiah 12:3.  (On the last day of the feast, they circled the altar 7 times.)  Each day, after circling the altar, the priest with the golden pitcher went up a ramp to the altar and poured the water into a silver funnel, from whence it flowed onto the ground.

With this background, and quite likely at the very moment of the climax of this ceremony, we have verse 37.

Joh 7:37  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.'”

Jesus has just said that He’s the fulfillment of all of this ceremony!  He’s said that He’s the Messiah, the One that’s going to provide the salvation that they’ve been calling on God to provide.  He’s just said that just as the rain enables physical life, He’s the Giver of spiritual life.  He’s claiming that this whole ceremony is about Him!

Jesus is speaking here in public in much the same way that he spoke privately to the Samaritan woman in John 4 much earlier in His earthly ministry.

Jesus says that streams of living water will flow from within him who believes.  Again, the promise of Zechariah was that in the time of the coming of the Messiah, living water would flow out from Jerusalem.  Ezekiel 47:1 also sees a river of water flowing from under the threshold of the temple to water the waterless region between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  Isaiah 58:11 likens the man who is guided by God to a spring whose waters never fail.  Jesus is not quoting a single Old Testament verse here in verse 38, but drawing on all of these Old Testament foreshadowings of His work through the Holy Spirit.

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.

God’s word and the Spirit are inseparable.  There is only one whole intended in the phrase “Spirit and Truth” used by Jesus in John 4.  The Scriptures (Old Testament and New) use water to symbolize 1) the Holy Spirit, 2) eternal life, 3) God’s wisdom/truth and 4) God’s blessing and refreshment.  Again here, we’re being told that it is the whole package that Jesus is about to provide for us.  That provision is not complete as Jesus speaks here, because Jesus has not suffered, died and risen again on the behalf of us sinners!  The full glory of His salvation has not yet been revealed at this point.

40  When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.”

41  Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?

Here is the inevitable division that comes with the revelation of Jesus.  It is seen time and time again in John.  We see it time and time again in our lives in the 21st century.  When faced with the truth about who Jesus is, some embrace the light they have been given.  Others reject the light they’ve been given and plunge further and further into darkness.

42  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

The irony is, of course, that these people think they know where Jesus is from, namely Galilee.  They are in fact clueless, and fail to recognize that in fact He is from God and satisfies the prophecy they’re referring to, having been born in Bethlehem.

43  So there was a division among the people over him.

44  Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

Time and time again, John shows us that Jesus is in command of when, where, and how He will lay down His life.  The hostility of His antagonists is intense, but it’s not yet time for Him to die for us and they are really powerless to deal with Him at this point.

45  The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?”

46  The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”

This picture could be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic.  We have here the rabid chief priests and Pharisees (who themselves haven’t gone and seen Jesus) frothing at the mouth.  Their underlings come back in a childlike awe of Jesus.  There’s something very genuine and innocent in the reaction of these lackeys.  Notice just how irate the chief priests and Pharisees are.

47  The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?

If they were rational, the fact that the guards had failed to carry out their assignment would have been occasion to chew them out.  But instead, they’re so wound up in this thing, that they are reduced to arguing with their lackeys as if they were children.

48  Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?

The correct answer to this question is, “Yes!”  The evidence that Nicodemus has come to faith by this time.

49  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”

This is ironic on 2 accounts.  First, they are wrong about no one believing on Jesus.  Second, they profess to be worried about the keeping of the law while they are in the process of ignoring it by condemning Jesus not only wrongly, but without a proper hearing.  Nicodemus rubs their noses in both of these.

50  Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,

51  “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”

Once again, here is an opportunity for the leaders to admit their wrong and move toward the light.  Instead, they again reject it and instead move further into darkness.

52  They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

They are angry and wrong.  Jonah came from Galilee.  More importantly, they’re putting God in a box, claiming He hasn’t the right to raise up a prophet from wherever He chooses.


Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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