Today we return to the gospel of John and resume our study in chapter 7. Leading up to today’s passage, John has been describing Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths, one of the most joyous feasts in the Jewish calendar. Each year, the people of Israel went up to celebrate this feast (Deut. 16:16), and during one of these celebrations, Jesus spent time in the temple giving key teaching regarding His authority and mission.
John 7:37–39 describes what Jesus said on the last day of the feast. To understand Jesus’ words, let us remember that the Feast of Booths not only celebrated the fall harvest in ancient Israel but also commemorated the time Israel spent wandering in the wilderness after being delivered from Egypt (Lev. 23:33–43). It was an occasion for recalling the many ways that God provided for the people during their journey to the Promised Land.
During the wilderness wanderings, God empowered the elders of Israel with His Spirit, prompting Moses to look forward to the day when all of God’s people would be empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry (Num. 11:1–30). God also miraculously gave the people water during this same period (Ex. 17:1–7; Num. 20:10–13). Over time, the prophets picked up on these twin giftings of water and the Spirit to describe a future outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all of God’s people, using water as an image of spiritual abundance (Isa. 12; Ezek. 36:25–27; Joel 3:17–21). By the first century, the Jews had included in the Feast of Booths various rites involving the pouring out of water to depict their hope for future spiritual blessings and salvation.
In declaring that all those who come to Him receive the Holy Spirit and the water of life, Jesus in today’s passage proclaims Himself as the fulfillment of all that the Jews anticipated (John 7:37–39). He makes the astonishing claim that He is the source of spiritual life, indeed of the Holy Spirit Himself, and as a result of His ministry the Spirit is given to all who come to the one true God—the God of Israel—through Him. In turn, the spiritual blessing we receive is so great that living water flows out from Christ through us to other people. In other words, the Savior’s work in and through us is one of the means by which God extends His kingdom. We minister the gospel to other people according to the Word of God and in the power of the Spirit, and our Father saves His elect and equips them for ministry. By the Spirit, our service to others imparts life.