Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:37-39 NASB
What an incredible promise delivered in such a compelling way! Jesus was not attention-seeking or purposefully dramatic, but this interaction is different. He stands and shouts at a climactic moment of the feast, compelling people to acknowledge their thirst and believe in him. It was not subtle. In exchange for believing, you will receive quenching, living water — which refers to the Holy Spirit’s inhabitation. This moment is contrasted with the backdrop of his reluctance to attend the feast with his brothers earlier in John 7, knowing the Jews were seeking to kill him. Then, as though he dismisses his own concern, boldly marches into the hornet’s nest and makes one of the most profound promises of his ministry. As I meditate on this, I wanted to understand more about the context and the moment.
Each Jewish feast has a fulfillment in Christ. The most notable is the Passover which is prophetic of the lamb of God being offered for sins. Pentecost foretells the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There is also the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Booths. The Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, occurred at the end of the agricultural season and is a celebration of the crops being brought in and the plentiful bounty of the year. During the feast, the people of God dwell in booths, or temporary shelters, reminding them of their their sojourning in the wilderness during their journey from Egypt to Canaan.
They could come [Jews from other nations] at this season of the year—not during the winter for the passover, nor yet quite so readily in summer’s heat for Pentecost. But now in the delicious cool of early autumn, when all harvest operations, the gathering in of luscious fruit and vintage were past, and the first streaks of gold were tinting the foliage, strangers from afar off, and countrymen from Judaea, Peraea, and Galilee, would mingle in the streets of Jerusalem… Booths must be erected everywhere—in court and on housetop, in street and square, for the lodgement and entertainment of that vast multitude; leafy dwellings everywhere, to remind of the wilderness-journey, and now of the goodly land. —Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
The feast lasted for seven days, and on the last day there was a priestly ritual of pouring out water in the temple. It was a solemn and culminating moment reflecting great blessing. In John’s gospel, it was immediately after this when Jesus stood up and made this proclamation, “Come to me and drink, from your bellies will flow rivers…”
The ceremony of the outpouring of water, which was considered of such vital importance as to give to the whole festival the name of “House of Outpouring” was symbolic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
We have here the only Old Testament type yet unfulfilled; the only Jewish festival which has no counterpart in the cycle of the Christian year, just because it points forward to that great, yet unfulfilled hope of the Church: the ingathering of earth’s nations to the Christ.
We can have little difficulty in determining at what part, of the services of ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast; Jesus stood and cried, ‘If any one thirst, let Him come unto Me and drink!’ It must have been with special reference to the ceremony of the out-pouring of the water, which, as we have seen, was considered the central part of the service. Moreover, all would understand that His words must refer to the Holy Spirit, since the rite was universally regarded as symbolical of His outpouring. The forthpouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel. But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices (the Musaph). It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water-pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm 118-given thanks, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their Lulabh towards the altar, thus praising with heart, and mouth, and hands; and then silence had fallen upon them-that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus. He interrupted not the services, for they had for the moment ceased. He interpreted, and He fulfilled them. —Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
The feast of Tabernacles. The ingathering of the nations
Jesus purposefully connected his promise with something that was written, saying, “as the scripture says.” Yet, it has no direct word-for-word match in the Bible. So what was he referring to? As I dig deeper into the Old Testament, Jesus seems to be pointing to the reference in Ezekiel when the prophet saw the temple and the water flowing from it (Ezekiel 47). It too was speaking prophetically of a future time. The symbolism in Ezekiel is both vast and connecting, just like what was a taking place at that moment in the Feast. And almost poetically, Ezekiel’s penned his words when Israel was again dwelling in real booths. They were being held captive by the river Chebar in Babylon. It never ceases to amaze me how God weaves meaning and connects themes to reveal the plans in his heart. The captivity was a low point in the nation’s history. Ezekiel began by describing an incredible vision of heaven (Ezekiel 1) which was rich with symbolism which again points to the future. Many of these symbols are amended and expanded upon in the book of Revelation — which also was speaking of days to come. Starting in chapter 40 Ezekiel saw a vision of the temple. In a vision, an angel said to him,
Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever…” Ezekiel 43:7
The church now knows that the temple of God is within the hearts of men. His presence inhabits temples of flesh. Then later Ezekiel saw:
Water was flowing from under the threshold of the house…. Ezekiel 47:1
And he continues, observing where the water flowed:
When the man went out toward the east with a line in his hand, he measured a thousand cubits, and he led me through the water, water reaching the ankles. Again he measured a thousand and led me through the water, water reaching the knees. Again he measured a thousand and led me through the water, water reaching the loins. Again he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not ford, for the water had risen, enough water to swim in, a river that could not be forded. He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this? “Then he brought me back to the bank of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river there were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then he said to me, “These waters go out toward the eastern region and go down into the Arabah; then they go toward the sea, being made to flow into the sea, and the waters of the sea become fresh. It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from Engedi to Eneglaim there will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be according to their kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea, very many. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing. Ezekiel 47:3-12 NASB
Ezekiel’s temple spoke of a future day
The water flowed from under the temple. But now the real temple of God is our bodies. He dwells within believers. We come to him, believe in him, ask and he fills us with his Holy Spirit. Not only are we satisfied, but the river that erupts becomes a life-giving source. This is what it appears Christ was referencing when he said “as the scripture says.” But the picture is not complete with just me. From me comes one source. From you comes another. From other sons and daughters equally come the flow of his presence. Together, as the rivers join, they become a flow, a torrent, that changes the landscape.
Jesus said the water would come from our innermost being. The Greek, Koilos, means hollow. The belly, bowels, interior or midst of a thing. Can mean, the innermost part of a man, the soul, heart, as the seat of thought, feeling, choice. The source of the water would be from the Holy Spirit within the heart and soul of man. In symbol in Ezekiel, the water flowed from the door or threshold of the temple, the right side, or south of the altar. Before Christ, the Jewish temple was home to the presence of God. Yet Jesus was speaking of the moment just days ahead where the Holy Spirit that would dwell in a temple of flesh. In me. And He would flow from me. The Hebrew speaks of the water “trickling” out, which is a contrast to the waters that were uncrossable a few verses later. How could a trickle become a flood? From one person comes a trickle. From many comes a flood. The church, the people of God form the river. In John 14 Jesus said, in my Father’s house are many rooms, or dwelling places. When he left us, he went to make preparations so that the same Spirit that was in him, would now be in us. We are the many rooms. We are each a room. Together we are a temple. We are individually a trickle. Together, we are the river. What an incredible picture! The fulfillment of this today is hard to imagine with how fractured our relationships are. Yet, Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21, he believed it was possible, “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that you sent us.”
I can imagine in the time of Christ it was difficult for those living with a real, physical temple to accept that it is just a symbol. The presence of God could truly be found in that building of stone. Yet now, that same presence of God is dwelling in people through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This helps me better understand God’s intent with Ezekiel’s words. The temple that John speaks of in the book of Revelation in all probability refers to even a further development of what the temple or dwelling place of God will look like. (Revelation 22:1-5)
But God is the God of the present. And in the temple that day Jesus connected this grand desire of God to his infilling of me with His presence. As I live with his Spirit saturating my life, it flows from me. I’m mindful that it has been over 2,000 years since he said this, and even longer since Ezekiel penned his prophecy, yet the torrent of his presence has not yet been seen on this planet. In fact, the divisions, rudeness, and disrespect I see today is at a level I could never have imagined. But based on Jesus’ prayer that we be one, Ezekiel’s vision of a river that is uncrossable, and the hope of fulfillment of the Feast of Booths in the church — the joyful ingathering of the nations (as crops) to celebrate the Feast of Booths — my heart tells me the time is very near.
Isaiah spoke of the future indwelling of the Holy Spirit:
And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. Isaiah 58:10-12 NASB
To the Samaritan woman at the well he said:
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:10, 13-14