Interview on the White Horse Inn
| |

Rivers of Living Water (John 7)

The White Horse Inn has been hosting a year-long series on the Gospel of John. In this episode, Shane Rosenthal discusses John chapter 7 with Dr. Andreas Köstenberger. In this chapter, Jesus arrives at the Jerusalem temple during the Feast of Booths and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” When the authorities asked the guards why they didn’t arrest Jesus, they replied by saying, “No one ever spoke like this man!” What was so significant about Jesus’ words uttered at this particular festival?

You can listen to the entire episode here.

Welcome

Shane Rosenthal: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the White Horse Inn! I’m Shane Rosenthal, and on this program we’ll be discussing chapter 7 in this continuing series on the Gospel of John, as Jesus arrives at the Jerusalem temple during the Feast of Booths. And joining me for this program, as well as the next, is Andreas Kostenberger, who is Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a prolific author who has written on a diversity of topics such as faith and culture, marriage and family, and heresy and orthodoxy. He has also written a number of articles and commentaries on the Gospel of John. Andreas Kostenberger, thanks for taking time out of your schedule for joining us for these two programs.

Dr. Kostenberger: Absolutely. I love the Gospel of John. Thanks so much for this conversation.

Historical Background: The Feast of Booths

Shane Rosenthal: Absolutely. So, in John chapter 7, the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So, can you give our listeners a little bit of background as to what that particular feast was all about. What it commemorated and how it relates to the overall theme of this section of John’s Gospel?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes, so this is part of the Festival Cycle, which spans from John 5 through John 10. And in this portion of John’s Gospel, we see Jesus attend various feasts, whether in Jerusalem or in Galilee. And so here we have arrived, as you mentioned, at the so-called Feast of Booths, also called the Feast of Tabernacles. This particular festival was celebrated in the fall, in September or October, and recalled God’s provision for the people of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness. Similar to Passover, this festival lasted for seven days, plus there was this special eighth day with a culminating celebration and a festive assembly.

And what you see is that every day there were solemn ceremonies involving pouring of water, again commemorating God’s provision of water to Israel during their wilderness wanderings. And later that festival came to be associated with end-time expectations. Zechariah 14, for example, said that, “Everyone who survives of all the nations that come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths,” a direct reference to this festival here. “And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them,” so, apparently, indirectly there rainfall represented an abundant supply of water as a sign of God’s blessing. And all of this is projected onto the end times.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah, you mentioned Zechariah, but also in Isaiah, you have this line about, Israel will draw water from the well of salvation. It’s future-looking “will draw.” And the festival here is focusing on the water that God provided in the desert, but it’s also looking forward to the promise here that Isaiah talks about. And that’s why the theme of water comes up a lot in this text. Right, it speaks a lot of “living water.”

Dr. Kostenberger: Right. And this is what all of this is going to build up to, and we’ll get to that in due course. But at the end of chapter 7, of course, there is this very prominent reference to the “rivers of living water,” and that fits exactly into this pattern of end-time expectations. So there is this intricate web, as you mentioned, backward-looking, forward-looking, and the Messiah is right in the thick of it all.

The Unbelief of Jesus’ Brothers

Shane Rosenthal: Alright, so, in verse 3, we read that “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may also see the works that you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him.” John seems to make clear here in his narration that even his brothers didn’t believe in him. In fact, we’re also told in Mark 3:31 that “when members of his family heard about some of the things he was doing, they went to seize him, for they thoughts he was out of his mind.” Well, what do you think is significant about this admission that is being made here again by more than one Gospel writer?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah, I think there is no doubt that Jesus faced significant opposition and unbelief even in his own family, especially among his brothers. As you mentioned, all four evangelists are very candid about this. I think it’s entirely realistic, and even likely, because his family members would have been unregenerate and unable to understand Jesus’ reasoning and his timing. And just before our chapter, chapter 7, we see that at the end of chapter 6, many even of Jesus’ disciples are leaving him because of the difficult teaching. So, there is a consistent emphasis on unbelief both among Jesus’ followers and even among his own family.

Shane Rosenthal: Well, his brothers do end up believing later, right?

Dr. Kostenberger: Exactly.

Shane Rosenthal: So, it’s a strange admission, if you’re making this up. Why would you invent that? But, secondly, this makes Jesus’ family members hostile witnesses in some respects. They think he’s crazy, but then later they’re hanging out with the disciples and are believing. In fact, even Josephus mentions the fate of James, that he was martyred for his faith. So this is something known both inside the Gospels and out, and something has to account for that faith that they ended up believing that their brother was the Messiah!

Dr. Kostenberger: Right. And as Jesus said, “No one is without honor except in his own family and among his own people.” So, as many of us have experienced, it’s probably the hardest to break through there. And as you mentioned, it is simply a matter of historical record that at least some of Jesus’ family members, most notably James, became believers, even leaders in the church. That’s why this passage here in John 7 is so helpful, because it is even more specific than some of the other references in the Gospels. And it is fairly close to the crucifixion.

And then you see in Acts chapter 1 that almost immediately after the resurrection, his family is in the Upper Room praying with the believing community, waiting for Pentecost. So something changed. I think what’s significant about this admission that Jesus’ brothers at this stage did not believe in him is that it can serve as a vital apologetic for the truthfulness of Jesus’ claims. Because this widespread unbelief makes it highly unlikely that Jesus’ followers or his family fabricated his later resurrection, in particular.

Jesus’ Delayed Departure

Shane Rosenthal: In verse 6 of John 7, Jesus says to his brothers, “‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify that its works are evil. You go up to the feast; I’m not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.’ After saying this, he remained in Galilee, but after his brothers had gone up to the feast, he also went up, but not publicly, but in private.” How do you think we should reconcile verse 8 with verse 10. Did Jesus lie to his brothers? Or did he perhaps change his mind?

Dr. Kostenberger: Well, that is a tricky question. And I’m glad you’re raising it.

Shane Rosenthal: That’s why I invited you.

Dr. Kostenberger: To start with, there are some textual issues here, so things are a bit more complex than it may appear from any English translation. I think what John may imply here is simply that Jesus meant to say that he was not going up now until the appointed time. So Jesus is not going to be pressured to act before his appointed time.

Shane Rosenthal: He is not coming in a triumphal entry, I think, is his point. One of the textual variants has him saying, “I am not yet going up to the feast.” And that’s what the King James went with. Most of our modern English translations don’t include that. But it is another option.

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. And so, in terms of the textual issue, and you hinted at it, there are at least two major options in our manuscript traditions. On the one hand, some manuscripts read, “Jesus did not go up to the feast,” categorically, as if he was not going to go up at all. And you see that in Codex Sinaiticus. But then, you have, “Jesus did not yet go up to the feast.” And that reading is found in two of the earliest papyrus manuscripts, in p66 and p75, as well as in Codex Vaticanus. So if anything, “not yet” has the stronger textual backing here. So what Jesus was in effect meaning to say is, in effect, “You go ahead right now. I’m not going up to the feast, at least not yet,” leaving open the possibility that he might go up later, which is in fact what he ended up doing.

Shane Rosenthal: Exactly.

Dr. Kostenberger: So I think it’s a good lesson in reading the Scriptures somewhat empathetically and being willing to read between the lines, the way the author intended us to.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah. That’s a good point. Because if you’re in a liberal, skeptical tradition, you’re going to read the text with a hermeneutic of suspicion, and you’re going to doubt everything.

Dr. Kostenberger: Sometimes, at apologetics conferences we talk about this spectrum with gullible on the one hand and skeptical on the other, and between there is discerning. Where you’re not afraid to ask the tough questions, but you also don’t have this skeptical mindset.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah, and it’s important, because there are places in John’s Gospel where there are signs that the text has been corrupted. And we’ll get to that later when we get to the conclusion of chapter 7, beginning of chapter 8. But in verse 11, we read that “The Jews were looking for Jesus at the feast, there at the Jerusalem temple. And they were saying, ‘Where is he?’” You know, the buzz was in the air. Maybe he is the Messiah, and while some are saying, “He is a good man,” others are saying, “No, he is leading the people astray.” “Yet, for fear of the Jews,” verse 13, “no one spoke openly about him.”

The Meaning of “the Jews” in John’s Gospel

Here I want to stop and talk about the way that the word “Jews” is being used. Here, who is it that’s fearing the Jews? Other Jews were fearing the Jews, right? It’s not like the Gentiles were afraid of speaking openly out of fear of the Jews, it was some Jews. So you had Galileans, so you had Jews from all over the Diaspora, but these were the Judean authorities.

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes, you know, the standard Greek-English dictionary, BDAG, in their third edition that came out in 2000, you can see a bit of a shift there. And I think they include “Judean” in the semantic range, which was kind of significant. Personally, I’m not even sure if we need to resort to the geographical notion. I mean, it may be a corollary. But I think what you mentioned about “fear of the Jews” being limited to the Jewish authorities based in Jerusalem, you clearly see that. Because you see consistently in John’s Gospel when it says “fear of the Jews” in chapter 9 and in chapter 20, it always comes back to those who are in authority, who wielded a lot of religious and political power.

Shane Rosenthal: And would you say that’s what John is getting at in the prologue when he says, “he came to his own.” This is the true king of Judah, and he comes to his own. And it’s not that everybody rejected him, but the ones in power in Judah are the ones who rejected him. Do you think that’s kind of what we’re getting at here?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. And you see the overlap, because obviously the Jewish authorities represent Israel as a nation. They’re the ultimate decision-makers, and they ratify the verdict at the Sanhedrin trial. But as you mentioned, that certainly doesn’t imply the Jewish people at large without exception rejected him. Certainly, as we see in John’s Gospel, Jesus was a Jew. He is identified as such in chapter 4. As a matter of fact, there he even says that “salvation comes from the Jews.” It originates from within the Jews. So I think, clearly, that makes it very hard to argue that John is anti-Semitic, you know, in light of John 4:22. And of course you have the Twelve, who are all Jewish, and many of Jesus’ first followers. And then there are many other neutral references to Jews.

Shane Rosenthal: That’s something I heard a lot when I was in college, the anti-Semitic nature of the Gospels, but, John’s Gospel in particular, how can this text be anti-Semitic? Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn, there is a reference to the Old Testament. Here is the fulfillment of the expectation of the Messiah. Here is the true Tabernacle. Here is the true Bread of Life. Here is the living water. This is a thoroughly Jewish text, isn’t it?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes. So if you define “anti-Semitic” as basically holding an ethnic prejudice toward Jews, then I think it’s almost absurd to say that the Jewish author himself had an ethnic prejudice against his Jewish people qua Jews.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah. All the disciples are Jewish. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. This can’t be anti-Semitic in that way. But it is putting a little bit of animus against the Jewish authorities. But not because they were Jewish.

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes. We can’t totally eliminate that tragic decision that the Jewish authorities made representing the nation. And I think John is just looking at it from the standpoint of salvation history.

Shane Rosenthal: Right.

Dr. Kostenberger: That those historically were the people who rejected Jesus as Messiah, who came first and foremost to the Jewish people. Again, that’s a strong positive, that he addressed himself to the Jewish people.

Jesus’ Lack of Formal Rabbinic Training

Shane Rosenthal: Now in verse 14, we read that, “At about the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning when he has never studied?’” So the Jews here marveled. And that may be a good sign when we’re dealing with the Jewish authorities. Because they would have been in the know in terms of whether or not Jesus had been officially trained in one of the schools of rabbinic pedigree, right?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. That was kind of like today, you might say, a pastor has to go to seminary. It might be that kind of thing that they didn’t really mean that he didn’t have Scripture knowledge. Just that he didn’t go to one of our rabbinic academies. He lacked that formal rabbinic training that disqualified him in the eyes of the authorities.

Shane Rosenthal: Jesus answered them, saying, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”

Dr. Kostenberger: I think verse 17 is just such a great verse. Jesus is basically saying that, if anyone is open to me, he will come to know me for who I truly am. It’s like, we earlier talked about skepticism. If somebody already approaches Jesus with a highly skeptical outlook, they already have resolved to find reasons not to believe, in other words. On the other hand, Jesus is almost like challenging his opponents to be open. Somewhere else he says, “If you don’t believe in me, at least believe in the works I’m doing.” Just look at the evidence.

Moses’ Witness to Jesus

Shane Rosenthal: Verse 18: “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory. But the one who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” I think this text right here helps us to see what Jesus’ point was back in chapter 5 when he said that the Scriptures shouldn’t be thought of as a set of rules about how we can save ourselves. Rather, “the Scriptures bear witness of me.” And when you look at Moses, not as one who revealed Christ in type and shadow, but as one who sort of points us in the right direction, he says that “Moses will be your accuser.” Here in John 7, we see why. He says Moses is your accuser, because at the end of the day no one actually keeps his words. Nobody keeps the law!

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes, I think that’s well said. I totally agree. And, you know, later in chapter 9 the Pharisees actually call themselves Moses’ disciples, which is kind of intriguing, because this flatly contradicts that claim. And so, again, Jesus takes that claim head-on.

Shane Rosenthal: You know, something else we noticed earlier this year. We were looking at the contrast between the theme in Genesis with the Tower of Babel where men were trying to climb their way up to God and Jesus talking to Nathaniel, saying, “Angels will descend and ascend on the Son of Man.” So he is basically saying he is Jacob’s ladder. But if you look at the contrast between the Tower of Babel and Jacob’s ladder, in the first case men are building their way up to God, and in this case, God presents the ladder to Jacob while he is sleeping there at the bottom.

Dr. Kostenberger: Exactly.

Shane Rosenthal: In John 5, we shouldn’t look to the law of Moses as a ladder to climb, because it actually testifies to me who descends from heaven, the language he uses with Nicodemus.

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. Which is something I learned from Don Carson, the idea that the law is prophetic. It is not merely a legal code. And here we see Moses in the law actually prophetically pointing forward to Jesus.

Shane Rosenthal: That’s what Jesus said, “Moses wrote of me.”

Dr. Kostenberger: Right.

Shane Rosenthal: And when you follow the language of John, you see him quoting Moses all over the place. He is the Bread of Life. He is the true manna in the wilderness. He is the living water. He is the lamb of God. All those are things in the Mosaic code.

The Johannine Cosmic Trial Motif

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. And, you know, within John’s larger theology, you could refer to this as a cosmic trial motif, the idea that he has witnesses, some say seven witnesses to Jesus. And so, then, John the Baptist, John the evangelist, Jesus’ own works, the Father, and so forth. Moses and the Old Testament Scriptures are among those witnesses who bear testimony to Jesus.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah, that trial motif really helps us to understand John’s Gospel. Because, just as they came to John the Baptist and interrogated him, saying, “Who are you?,” that happens a lot with Jesus.

Dr. Kostenberger: Right.

Shane Rosenthal: And they end up accusing him of blasphemy, etc. But the ultimate point of John’s Gospel is to show that Jesus is actually putting them on trial. He flips the tables around.

Dr. Kostenberger: Totally. He is literally turning the tables, if you will. And rather than him being on trial, I think John shows it’s really the Father and Jesus who are putting the world on trial. And marshalling a large number of witnesses, which, by the way, is ironic because, in a total travesty of justice, Jesus was not even allowed to call his own witnesses at his own trial. So, I think this also is an indirect pushback against that, if you will. So John in his Gospel calls the series of witnesses that Jesus historically was never allowed to call in his defense.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah. It took a written deposition, would you say?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. 

Shane Rosenthal: Do you think that may speak to the idea that John is earlier than what people think? Why would you wait till the nineties to publish that written deposition?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. I think I read Andrew Lincoln’s Truth on Trial who talks about the idea that the covenant lawsuit motif in the Old Testament, which we also see prominently in the book of Revelation, may also be behind this. That here God calls witnesses to testify against his people, holding them accountable for their unbelief. So, I don’t know that it is necessarily a matter of earliness, an earlier date. I think in some ways it may require a certain amount of time for reflection and then to theologically show the deeper meaning, if you will, behind the trials. That is almost like exonerating Jesus by showing that, truly, it’s preposterous for the world to think they can put the Son of God on trial. To the contrary, Jesus came to call Israel to account for their unbelief.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah. When do you date the Gospel of John? What do you think?

Dr. Kostenberger: I would think any time in the 80s or 90 at the latest. 

Jesus’ Controversial Healing on the Sabbath

Shane Rosenthal: In verse 20, we read, “The crowd answered Jesus, saying, ‘You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill you?’ Jesus answered them, saying, ‘I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision, not that it’s from Moses but from the fathers, and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man on the Sabbath receives circumcision so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances but judge with right judgment.’” What miracle, to you think, Jesus has in mind here when he says, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it”?

Dr. Kostenberger: I think most likely he is referring to the last miracle that he performed in Jerusalem, which would be the healing of the lame man.

Shane Rosenthal: John chapter 5.

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes, John chapter 5. In chapter 6, of course, he was in Galilee, feeding the multitudes there, and then ended up teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. So, I think what John does very skillfully, he is an incredible narrative genius, and, you know, of course theological genius as well, is he helps the reader to kind of reconnect with what happened most recently in Jerusalem.

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah. So he is now back at the temple. But what’s fresh in their mind is that very public miracle that he did the last time he was there. Which is why they’re looking for him again here, saying, “Where is he?”

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. And noticeably, he doesn’t do any miracles in chapters 7 and 8. Just like in chapters 3 and 4. This is an extended discourse section that explores Jesus’ true identity through what you might call representative characters voicing various messianic expectations that were in the air in the first century.

The Mysterious Messiah

Shane Rosenthal: Verse 25 of chapter 7: “Some of the people in Jerusalem therefore said, ‘Is not this the man they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him. Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from. And when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” 

This idea that no one will know where the Messiah comes from is something that a lot of scholars say, that’s actually really consistent with the Jewish writings of the period. For example, in a text called 1 Enoch we read, “They shall see the Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory, for the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High revealed him to the most holy and elect ones.” 

And that seems to be what the voices in the crowd are expecting, too. Whoever this guy was who wrote this text really knew early first-century Judaism and their messianic expectations, right?

Dr. Kostenberger: Totally agree. I think it’s fascinating how John gathers many of those first-century Jewish messianic ideas in chapter 7 of his Gospel. And I think the way he does that is in form of representative characters in a narrative who voice those various messianic expectations. As a matter of fact, some of those were contradictory. So John is not here trying to harmonize them all or trying to show that these were all uniform. I think it’s the exact opposite. He shows that there were many messianic expectations swirling around in Jesus’ day and that people were in effect confused …

Shane Rosenthal: Yeah.

Dr. Kostenberger: … as to who Messiah was going to be. So, I think in this case we see that some believed the Messiah, as you mentioned, would have mysterious origins. And there was this idea of the Messiah being this enigmatic, ominous figure. He would just kind of like subtly appear out of nowhere, and, in Jesus’ case, people ironically are saying, “Well, we certainly know where this man comes from, which is thick Johannine irony. Because the question is: Did they really? Did they know where he really came from, right? Because John has made clear from verse 1 that Jesus was the preexistent Word who came from God the Father. 

Shane Rosenthal: Which is what he says over and over: “I am from above. You are from below.”

Dr. Kostenberger: Absolutely. So he truly had this otherworldly origin and was, as you mentioned, the descending and ascending Son of Man, as we see in chapter 3, in chapter 8, and also, of course, in the final prayer in John 17.

The Johannine Messenger Motif

Shane Rosenthal: In verse 28, Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, saying, “You know me. And you know where I come from. But I have not come on my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” This is something we see him saying a lot. He is the one sent from the Father. Which is another connection to the Mosaic writings, because you have this mysterious figure, the angel of the Lord, the messenger of Yahweh, who also speaks as Yahweh. So a messenger is one who is sent, and yet this particular messenger, who is there at the burnish bush and many, many scenes, he speaks as God, and yet he is sent from God. Well, that’s the language Jesus uses again and again, doesn’t he?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes, it’s his authorization, and not just any messenger, he is the Son. People refer to that as the šāliahor messenger motif, which is the idea that a man is like the one who sent him. He is faithfully and accurately representing the one who sent him. And so you see how that fits John’s theology just perfectly. He is showing that Jesus came to represent the Father, you know, being the one and only Son.

Shane Rosenthal: “‘So I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.’ So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, for his hour had not yet come.” And that’s another theme that comes up again and again in John. His hour had not yet come. You hear that language at the beginning, at the wedding at Cana.

Dr. Kostenberger: Exactly.

Early Hints of the Gentile Mission

Shane Rosenthal: “Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, ‘When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?’ The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to arrest him. And Jesus said, ‘I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me, and you will not find me. Where I am, you cannot come.’ The Jews said to one another, ‘Where does this man intend to go where we will not find him? Does he intend to go into the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?’” Do you think it’s possible there that the word “Dispersion” refers to the scattered Jews in the Greek countries. Is that what he’s saying?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah, exactly. So, clearly, the Dispersion would be the Jews living outside of Palestine. And there you would also have Gentile converts to Judaism who would be part of the synagogue worship. And so here they might be saying, “Well, he is trying to extend his reach beyond Palestinian Jews to go to the synagogue and, you know, in the Greco-Roman world. In John’s Gospel, it may be a bit of a hint to the Gentile mission later on, mentioned later in John chapter 10, where it says …

Shane Rosenthal: Which is mentioned in the prophets? I mean, you have the prophetic expectation of a mission to the Gentiles, so maybe that’s behind their question?

Dr. Kostenberger: Yeah. And then Caiaphas in chapter 11 then says one man dying for the people. John adds, right, in 11:51–52, “and not only for those, but also for the dispersed children of God,” again probably referring to proselytes and Gentiles.

The Theological Climax of John 7

Shane Rosenthal: Verse 37: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” We can probably spend the rest of the program talking about these couple of verses here.

Dr. Kostenberger: Yes, that’s the climax.

Shane Rosenthal: Yes, we’re getting to the real theological center of this passage here. Just as, you know, the Bread of Life was at the heart of chapter 6, so, too, here in chapter 7, this idea of living water is really the center. Alfred Edersheim, the Jewish convert to the Christian faith, says that “on that last day of the feast,” as you mentioned, “after the priests returned from the pool of Siloam with a great golden water pitcher, and for the last time poured its contents at the base of the altar, the people sang from Psalm 118. And just when the interest of the people had been raised to its highest pitch,” he said, “a voice was raised which resounded throughout the temple and startled the multitudes and carried fear and hatred to the hearts of their leaders. It was Jesus, who stood up and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’” Do you think that’s a reasonable way to think of what’s happened? It’s kind of interrupting the sacred liturgy?

Dr. Kostenberger: I mean, clearly, Jesus is speaking into that context. And it’s also clear that he had in mind ultimately himself as the fulfillment. I think that’s the whole point of the entire Festival Cycle, that basically John 5 through 10 cumulatively makes the case that Jesus is the fulfillment, the very essence, of all those religious festivals, whether it’s Passover, whether it’s Tabernacles, even Dedication. Basically, salvation history culminates in his very own person, and he is the fulfillment. So I think implicitly there is also the sense that Judaism, which is built on that festival calendar in the Old Testament, is now finding its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah, even though tragically the Jewish leaders refuse to accept that.

Shane Rosenthal: So he is the Bread from heaven. He is the true manna. He is the water. And he says that somewhere around the water-pouring ritual. One of the reasons I think that Edersheim may be onto something is the fact that here as we see here in this narrative as it continues, the authorities were confused as to why the temple officers didn’t arrest him. So, in other words, there was an assumption that they should have arrested him. So, he is not just teaching generally. He has to have done something worthy of being arrested.

Dr. Kostenberger: I mean, it’s an imaginative reconstruction that has a certain amount of historical plausibility. Certainly, broadly speaking, he is shown to climactically fulfill the water symbolism, which, again, goes back to at least chapter 4, where he talks to the Samaritan woman about the …

Rivers of Living Water

Shane Rosenthal: Let me ask you about that. So when he says, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,” what Scriptures, do you think, is he alluding to there?

Dr. Kostenberger: I think it’s probably not any one reference. I think it’s a whole cumulative cluster of references that associate water, or abundant supplies of water, with the coming of the Messiah. And people who believe in him are regenerated and, in turn, the Spirit will in them overflow for them to become a blessing to yet others. It’s fascinating.

Shane Rosenthal: One of the texts that is really at the heart of what Jesus says, you know, “If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink,” one of the texts that ties in closely is Jeremiah 2:13, because there Yahweh speaks, and he says, “My people have forsaken me, the fount of living water.” Jesus, if he is saying, “Come to me and drink,” he is saying, he is Yahweh, right? There is no way of getting around that!

Dr. Kostenberger: That’s right. In Isaiah, in the second half, that’s equally prominent in terms of the new messianic age where water will flow freely as a sign of God’s blessing. And I think from a missions standpoint, the message is that we are not to just basically be recipients only of that water, we are to become a source of blessing for others, which, ironically, is something that Israel also failed to do.

Shane Rosenthal: The interesting thing about that is how spontaneous it was for the woman at the well. She didn’t have to go to classes to learn how to be an effective water-spewer. Become a better sprinkler! That would be a good book title. It just came natural for her. She left her water jar and told everybody about this man who told her everything she ever did.

Well, that’s all the time we have on this broadcast, and we pick up there next time, as we continue our study of John chapter 7 with the help of Andreas Kostenberger who, again, is Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters

Andreas Kostenberger, thanks for joining us for this program, and we’ll look forward to our next program with you as we discuss John 7 and 8.

Dr. Kostenberger: You’re welcome. Thank you very much.


Discover more from Biblical Foundations

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.