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Christ the Eden Rivers of Living Water – John 7:37-39
Jesus said, “Whoever thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture said, ‘from inside of Him will gush forth rivers of living water.'” By this, He meant the Holy Spirit who would be received later by believers after Jesus was glorified.
The vast majority take Jesus saying that every believer will have flowing streaming rivers of living water in the Holy Spirit within them as sub-conduits pouring out and sharing what they have received to other parched seekers for whom Jesus can provide thirst-quenching eternal life like spillways from a dam.
But when Messianic Old Testament Scripture is quoted by Christ or his apostles, it refers to Christ Himself. So the question about Jesus quoting Scripture here is: does the Old Testament refer to believers in Messiah or to the Messiah who is to be believed?
From Genesis to Revelation, every key reference or spiritual allusion to living waters of eternal life points to Messiah. As a side note, all references to living bread or nourishing spiritual food like manna from heaven point to Messiah. After ‘eating Him by faith’, no mention or implication that believers become themselves a food source for others to share like a storehouse or bread factory mass producing loaf after loaf for other hungry seekers to whom Jesus can provide nourishing eternal life.
Genesis 2 mentions four rivers flowing through Garden of Eden: Tigris, Euphrates, Gihon, Pishon. The focal waterway for Israel was always the Jordan. In the wilderness, God sustained the thirsty millions repeatedly with miracle water out of solid rock at Moses’ behest. Paul identifies Christ Himself as the secret hidden spiritual reality (pre-incarnate Word of the Lord) causing the life-giving wonder of water-from-solid-rock. (1Cor. 10:4-5).
The prophets from Isaiah to Joel to Ezekiel to Zechariah foreshadow Messianic blessing of life-giving water flowing out of the midst of God’s Temple; from the center of Jerusalem equally tributaried to both east and west; as a fountain for King David’s dynastic house to cleanse Jerusalem’s sin and impurity; streams in the desert and an outpouring of God’s Spirit on his people. Revelation 22 describes the river of the water of (eternal) life flowing from God’s throne as well as from the Lamb which ultimately defines what Jesus is teaching and recaps all that the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit’s work in the Kingdom Age and for all eternity!
Closely reading what Jesus actually says coincides with all of this.
First, the invitation is to come to Him and drink to satisfy spiritual thirst. He is the drinking fountain. He is the source of soul refreshment. Believing faith which trusts Christ to quench the parchness of sin needing forgiveness is what is meant. Dehydrated by your sin against God leading to judgment and perishing under heaven’s due wrath? Welcome Me, Believe Me, Trust Me, Receive Me and be sin-forgiven. Decondemned. Gifted with eternal life canceling out Wrath’s judgment.
Next, he gives a parallel statement as a rabbi would explain an initial statement of truth. What do I mean by ‘come to Me and drink’? Believe in Me.
Finally, to drive the truth home with finality, He cites Scripture to settle the matter conclusively beyond dispute. As Scripture said… At this point following the flow of the argument and narrative, it makes the best sense that the Scripture refers to Messiah as source and basis and object of believing faith.
If all of a sudden, the Scripture shift would be to the believer instead of Himself, it would be clumsy, awkward, out of joint. It would make the believer being a secondary source of living water or the pass-through channel as the prime focus of the case He is building for his audience. Rivers outflowing from each believer’s reservoir is NOT what any Scripture references or alludes to.
John adds his inspired apostolic editorial exegesis to provide the full meaning of what is going on here. It’s not literal water or physical thirstiness. This is really about heavenly hydration, eternal life through the agency of God’s Holy Spirit poured out by the glorified Christ after his suffering, resurrection, and ascension to the Father as Jesus taught in John 14-17 and Acts narrative of Pentecost details. It’s John 3 in so many other words: being born again from above by water baptism of repentance and the Holy Spirit. It’s John Baptizer’s ministry and Jesus’ ministry. Repent from sin and toward God expressed by public confessional baptism. Receive Christ for eternal life by faith all as a gift of God’s sacrificial love fulfilled in God’s Only-Begotten Son. John Baptizer preached a water baptism of repentance for sin-forgiveness, but that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (recalled by Peter in Acts 11).
Paraphrasing what Jesus taught: If anyone thirsts in their soul after God and His Kingdom salvation, let him come to Me fully meeting that deep need.
The one believing in Me will be irrigated from out of Messiah’s headwaters gushing rivers of eternal life-giving thirst quenching, just as Scripture prophesied.
Conclusion: Christ Jesus is teaching His heavenly baptism in the Holy Spirit for eternal life by faith to all who receivingly believe Him. Period. Not what happens to believers afterward (sanctified living, sharing their faith, witnessing and evangelism, being salt and light for others to be attracted to Christ, etc.) He is not elaborating on post-conversion sub-conduiting of His baptism in the Holy Spirit through believers who are themselves gushing with rivers of eternal life-giving Holy Spirit baptizing capacity. While a biblical case could be made for The Church (true believers only) as the Body of Christ being a sub-conduit of the Holy Spirit’s baptizing grace through Gospel Word, it would be secondary and subsequent to what the Lord refers to in His teaching here. He as Perfect Head of His Church, the Holy Righteous Sinless One, has no cloggage or leakage in His Holy Spirit streaming of cataract-surged grace (neither do the Gospel or the Scriptures). Revelation 22 clinches it as conclusive. Just as in Genesis the Eden rivers flowed with God’s life-giving water to nourish Adam and Eve in the Garden and the Tree of Life, so in Paradise eternal life pictured as a river will flow from God on His throne together with the Lamb in the Holy Spirit to forever nourish all who believingly received Christ.
John 7:37-39 as intended: Jesus said, “Any thirsty person, let him come to Me and drink (so that I will satisfy his thirst). The one believing in Me (will find the Life-Giver) just as Scripture said (About Me), ‘from inside of Him (Myself) will gush forth rivers of living water.'”
By this Jesus meant His baptizing with the Holy Spirit to fulfill prophecy and His own teaching, which later actually happened just as promised right after He was glorified (and has been happening ever since as myself Apostle John can personally attest to!)