John 7:37-39


John 7:1-10:21 tells us about Jesus in Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, only six months before His suffering and death. In other words, John 1:1-10:21 informs us about the first three years of Jesus' public ministry. At John 10:22, two months later, we find Jesus in Jerusalem at the time of the Festival of Dedication. In other words, John 10:22-21:25 covers a period of only four to five months.

In verses 16-24 Jesus refuted the false charge made against Him by speaking about the divine origin of His person and teaching. There He was dealing with the Jews and the multitude. In verses 25-30 He dealt with the Jerusalemites on the question of His origin, and the divinity of His person. He found no sympathy but rather they were attempting to arrest Him but could not "because His hour had not yet come." 

In verses 31-36, perhaps on another day, He dealt again with the multitude, many of whom came to faith in Him based only on signs. In verses 40-52 we were told that His teaching caused a division in the multitude; then the returning officers, who were deeply affected by Jesus' teaching, were scorned by the Sanhedrin. The true believers were very few in number. There was much confusion and division even after Jesus testified plainly. At this feast Jesus suffered much from His own people who scorned, derided and misquoted Him. Natural man is spiritually arid, blind, dead and inimical to God. Seen in this light, our text, John 7:37-39, purest Gospel, shows the deep love of Jesus for fallen mankind which so often rejects Him and His teaching. He was pleading with them.

John 7:37 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." 

The Feast of Tabernacles lasted eight days. verse 14 tells us that Jesus appeared publicly in the Temple and taught when the Feast was about half over. Scholars argue among themselves whether verse 37 refers to the seventh or eighth day. It is probably safest to assume that it was the eighth day. It is safe to assume that, on this occasion, Jesus spent about four days, publicly testifying as to His person, Word and work. In verse 28 we are told that Jesus "cried out in the Temple." 

Here in verse 37 we are again told that He cried out. This implies that the people were opposing Him as is clear from the context. Furthermore it shows His deep love to save those who were opposing Him. Jesus cried out twice on the cross, Matthew 27:46.50, first when He was forsaken of God and secondly, at the moment of death. Likewise in John 7 He cried out twice. Truly, Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He cried out in verse 28 because the people rejected His person which was of divine origin and He cried out in verse 37 because they were rejecting His work, the work of saving them from their sins.

Ylvisaker: Bengel and others interpret 'the last day' as the seventh day; but the majority of the better expositors take it to mean the eighth, the day of the solemn assembly (Leviticus 23:36; Numbers 28:25). On the eighth day, the festivities reached their climax, and the occasion was observed with Sabbath rest and special sacrifices. There are two traits which the evangelist employs to reveal the emphasis Jesus places upon the testimony on that day. He 'stood' whereas the teacher was customarily seated, and He 'cried' His testimony to the assemblage. The testimony recognizes the custom which was observed at the feast of the tabernacles. On each of the seven festal days, the officiating priest took a golden vessel at the morning service, and filled it with water from the fountain of Siloam in the Kidron valley, mixed the water with the wine of the drink offering, and poured it into two perforated silver bowls on the west of the altar for the burnt offering, while the trumpets were sounded and praise was sung. The people chanted Isaiah 12:3 'Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the walls of salvation. . . Out of Zion, salvation should come, and everyone that thirsted should drink with joy.' This is fulfilled, Jesus says, in Him. Jesus was the objective of the Old Testament. In Him the symbol and the prophecy were accomplished. Jesus was the living fountain of water.

On the idea of prophecy being fulfilled, compare Luke 4:21. On the metaphor of thirst and drinking water, compare what Jesus said to the woman at the well, John 4:10.14. "If anyone is thirsting, let him be coming to me and and let him drink." Jesus is speaking about spiritual thirst. On this look at Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 49:10 and Revelation 21:6. On the invitation itself see Matthew 11:28.

Note that in all cases, both in Old Testament and New Testament, there is no restriction. Anyone and everyone who thirsts spiritually, is a fit subject for receiving the free drink of the Gospel. The universal atonement underlies this invitation. Jesus is not restricting but rather inviting. Only the Law (lex semper accusat) can show us our great need, as Jesus did for the woman at the well at Sychar. Only the person who realizes his spiritual thirst, his great need of the forgiveness of sin, will appreciate Jesus' invitation.

Kretzmann: Those whose soul thirsts for God, as the hart (deer) panteth after the waterbrooks, Psalm 42:1.2, must go to the Savior for their soul's refreshment. For in the salvation earned through Christ's passion and death there is full satisfaction for the desire of all humble souls for mercy and forgiveness.

John 7:38  "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 

"He who believes, rivers of living water etc." The sentence begins with the believer as subject and then continues with rivers as subject. This is called a nominativus pendens,  "a hanging nominative." In other words, the grammatical construction changes in the middle of the sentence. Likely those who read verses 37-38 as does the NEB, do so to avoid the anacoluthon. But there are other cases of this phenomenon in the Scriptures. Sometimes people speak this way for the sake of emphasis. Cf. Galatians 2: 16 for another instance of anacoluthon.

"Whoever" is an open invitation, not a restriction: "Whoever, no matter who, believes in me." We mention this because at this point Hendriksen, who is Reformed, finds the limited atonement. He claims that at this point Jesus is addressing only the elect. Wherever Hendriksen speaks thus He means that Christ did not die for all but only for the elect.

"The Scripture" obviously refers to the Old Testament. "As" means "just as." In the Nestle Greek text is a margin note unde? in Latin, which means "Whence?" or "What is the reference?" and then makes a number of suggestions. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find what Jesus here says in so many words. Evidently "just as" denotes parallel passages, of similar ideas, not of the same words. Jesus is saying that what He says in verse 38 was promised already in the Old Testament. All commentators mention Isaiah 12:3. Ezekiel 47:1-12 is surely referred to. There Ezekiel sees a vision of water flowing from the Temple in ever greater measure. Other suggestions are: Isaiah 43:l9ff; 45:1.3; Joel 2:33; 3:18.

Bengel: But most especially pertinent to this passage is that one of Zechariah 14:8 for that very chapter of Zechariah had been read in public on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which Jesus, when He had come in the middle of the time of the feast, on the last day repeats at Jerusalem.
Lenski: He here promises the believers by anchoring this promise in the Old Testament Scripture. He does the same in John 5:39; 5:46.47; 7:22.

The order of words for the sake of emphasis is remarkable: "Rivers from his belly shall flow of living waters." Not just trickles or streams, but rivers. Mankind is fascinated by rivers. They play an important part in all cultures for various reasons. But whoever heard of "rivers of life-giving water?"  "Living" means more than living. As in John 4 it means  "life-giving." Ordinary rivers are "living" waters in the sense that they sustain the life of fish and the life of a given culture as a means of transportation.

The words "rivers" and "water" are figurative. But "life-giving" is literal. Now another figurative word "from within" or "belly" which is figurative for the inmost being. We would say "the heart." 

What is the antecedent of "from within him?" Bengel says that it is the Messiah, but that cannot be. He adds: "This is the fountain out of whose abundant flow believers receive." So far as we know, all the commentaries and translations take the antecedent to be the believer, and that is surely right.

It is a remarkable promise and prophecy of Jesus, spoken to people who were deriding or treating Him flippantly. Here we stop for some worth-while quotes:

Luthardt: Not only shall his own thirst be quenched and find everlasting satisfaction in the Spirit, but he shall impart this blessed gift also to others. The life of faith and love in the believer cannot be hid, but projects itself, as it were, upon its surroundings, He who is truly blessed of the Lord must be a blessing also to others.
Stoeckhardt: He who believes in Christ, thirsts for and drinks from Him, accepts Him and His salvation in his heart, is full of the Spirit, is impelled to share this salvation with others, can comfort, instruct, teach, warn, yea can be of use to the whole world.
Luther: For that is the special work and office of the Holy Spirit, that He reveal and glorify Christ, that He preach and give testimony concerning Him. This office was then not yet in active working; the office of glorifying Christ the Lord was not yet in use, that is, the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, and how one may be delivered from death, have comfort and joy in Christ, that it concerns us, all this was at that time unheard of and not mentioned; that deliverance, salvation, righteousness, joy and life should be given us through that man, Christ, whom people did not know at that time.
Besser: What is the apostolic Word itself through which we believe (John 17:20); what are the confessions of the church, in harmony with which we believe; what are her hymns, her prayers, her sermons, all the testimonies of the faith and love in saving word and sacred conversation -- what are they but rivers of living water flowing from the body of the church?

Correct. The author of these exegetical notes and the preacher who is reading them could hardly begin to preach the Word without the help of the vast rivers which have flowed from the pen of commentators, translators, exegetes, hymn-writers, etc., who have written, down through the ages, ever since Pentecost. But Jesus means more than theologians and preachers. He is speaking also about every layman who believes in Jesus.

John 7:39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

This verse clearly indicates that Jesus was speaking of the festival of Pentecost and all generations thereafter.

Ylvisaker: Scripture points repeatedly to the important truth that the person, who has apprehended God and who has shared in the new life of love, will exert a salutary influence in word and in deed on others, will scatter light and true joy to those about him, even in distant lands, through his work in the Church. . . The words are a reference to the pouring out of the Spirit, NOT TO THE PERSON OF THE SPIRIT. (Emphasis our own). As a person, He is eternal, even as the Father and the Son are eternal. In the Old Testament, He was engaged also in advancing the Kingdom and dwelt in the hearts of the believers, transforming and renewing them through His influence (Psalm 51:12.13), but it was as the glorified and exalted Son of man that Jesus should send the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, from the Father (John 16:7). It is to this abundant pouring out of the Spirit that the prophecy of Joel alludes (Joel 3:1).

Evidently Ylvisaker meant to say Joel 2:28-32. "Those who believe" is an instance of the constative aorist which simply means "the believers." Note that "later to receive" is present tense: "continue to receive."  "In him" means "in Jesus." Only believers in Jesus benefitted in the gift of the Spirit. It is so today.

The last sentence reads: "You see, not yet was the Spirit (the full work of the Spirit), because Jesus had not yet been glorified." In the Gospel of John, the glorification of Jesus begins with His suffering and death. Look at John 17:1.2. It was consummated by His ascension into heaven. Ten days later came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, the message of the universal atonement in Jesus Christ. Except for the special signs on Pentecost and in the Apostolic age, Pentecost is still going on. Believers are producing rivers of life-giving water.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of Him who brings good tidings,
who publishes peace,
who brings good tidings of good,
who publishes salvation.
Isaiah 52:7


Adapted for Buls' Notes on the Web, from Exegetical Notes Gospel Texts, Series B, by Harold H. Buls, Page 116-119

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index