19 July 2017

John 7:37-52

“Never has anyone spoken like this!” (v. 46)

Psalm: Psalm 37:30-40 


Today's passage follows on from John's account of Jesus' time in Jerusalem during the Jewish Festival of Booths, which begins at the start of chapter 7. Jesus has been teaching openly in the temple, even though his life has been threatened by some of his opponents (John 7:1). Jesus' assertions about himself and his intimate relationship with God have provoked a wide range of emotions in the crowd: belief, anger and confusion. This continues in today's passage.

The verses where Jesus speaks about the "rivers of living water" (vv. 37-38) are some of the hardest for us to understand today in John's Gospel. There is disagreement about how the sentence should be punctuated, which has a significant impact on its exact meaning. It is also unclear as to exactly which part of the Bible Jesus is referring to when he says, "As the scripture has said" (v. 38). It would seem to be a composite quotation, referring to a number of Old Testament passages. These include the water that sprang from the rock in the wilderness during the Exodus (Exodus 17:1-7), God's promise to Isaiah that he would provide "rivers in the desert" (Isaiah 43:20) and Zechariah's prophecy that "living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem" (Zechariah 14:8). John, as editor, suggests that indicating that the reference also looked forward to the "living water" of the Holy Spirit (verse 39), which came after Jesus had returned to heaven (Acts 2:1-4).

Jesus' teaching again provokes division in the crowd (verses  40-44), with some arguing that he is the long-awaited Messiah (or 'anointed one'), promised by God to save God's own people. Their confusion in part springs from the widely-different expectations about the Messiah at the time of the Jesus. We can see this in today's passage: the fact that Jesus apparently came from Galilee, not Bethlehem, was a major stumbling-block for some contemporaries but not all (verses 41, 52).

Nicodemus, a leading citizen of Jerusalem who had previously come to Jesus by night (John 3:1-21), seems to have been one of the few voices brave enough to argue publicly for Jesus to treated fairly and lawfully (verses 50-51). Later in John's Gospel, he will bravely make his support for Jesus public (John 19:39).

To Ponder

  • How do you understand Jesus' promise that "out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water" (v. 38)?
  • Why do you think that some of Jesus' contemporaries became so angry about what he said that they wished to kill him?
  • What assumptions do you make about people when you know where they come from?

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.