7:32-34 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.  Jesus then 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.”
Setting the Scene for the Warrant
Carson sets the stage for what is to follow: “The authorities have already indicated that they do not want Jesus to be the topic of conversation (cf. vs. 12-13), let along venerated as Messiah. The whispered and tentative faith of those described in verse 31, once it reached the ears of the Pharisees and chief priests, therefore served as a signal that is was time to sign an arrest warrant.”
The Pharisees and the chief priests (most of whom were Sadducees) didn’t get along, but the fact that they issued a warrant here shows that they were together on this matter (it would have taken all of them getting together to do this). Sometimes “common enemies make strange bedfellows (witness Luke 23:12!)” (Carson).
Carson tells us that the “officers” mentioned in verse 32 were “temple guards” that “were a kind of temple police force, drawn from the Levites, with primary responsibility for maintaining order in the temple area.” They served at the pleasure of the high priest and their leader was the Captain of the Temple. The Captain of the Temple had a good amount of leeway to govern the area around the temple since the Romans didn’t really care about the Jews affairs so long as the order was kept.
You’re Not Coming With Me
It almost seems like there’s a double entendre here in the words of Jesus. He says that he will be leaving to go to “him who sent me”, meaning that He will be going home to the Father, and then says that those listening to Him “will not find me.” Why? Because “where I am you cannot come.” I think there are two potential reasons why He said, “you cannot come.”
First, I think that the obvious meaning is that since He will be going to heaven, those who are still on earth cannot physically follow Him to heaven. This would have been more acutely directed at His disciples and crowd who would have loved to come with Him or who were indifferent one way or another. Secondly, the saying could have had undertones directed at the Pharisees with the intent of meaning that they were not able to enter into the blessedness of heaven due to their unbelief.
Ryle puts it this way:
We can hardly doubt that these words were meant to have a prophetic sense. Whether our Lord had in view individual cases of unbelief among His hearers, or whether He looked forward to the national remorse which many would feel too late in the final siege of Jerusalem, are points which we cannot perhaps decide. But that many Jews did remember Christ’s sayings long after He had ascended into heaven, and did in a way seek Him and wish for Him when it was too late, we may be very sure.
However, taken either way, it seems that those listening still didn’t understand Him…
7:35-36 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”
Contextual Note: The word “dispersion” is “diaspora” in the Greek. Morris comments, “The Dispersion, a technical term for the large number of Jews who at this time were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Ever since the exile to Babylon there had been Jews living outside Palestine. When permission to return from Babylon was given many availed themselves of it, but many also did not.”
It would have been a natural (though not discerning) conclusion for them to assume that Jesus would have been referring to His returning to the northern country and then perhaps going further out to the northwest to Greece – where they would not be able to bother Him.
Morris notes “This would seem to mean going to the Jewish synagogues and making them the springboard for a mission outward to the Greeks. It is, of course the method that the first Christian preachers actually employed (as we see in acts). These Jews, however, dismiss the method as too fantastic to be considered a proper activity of the Messiah, which is another example of John’s irony.”
However, this is not what He meant at all. And we don’t see that He answers them at all. He just lets them wonder to themselves as to the meaning of the thing. Morris agrees saying, “It is clear that the saying puzzled them greatly. And it not only puzzled them; it apparently made them uneasy. Was there perhaps some meaning in it that still eluded them? Was the Man from Nazareth mocking them? Should they have understood more?”
In fact, Jesus is talking about His glorious return to heaven where He will once again enjoy the glory He had before the foundation of the world (cf. 17:1-5 – also see Carson’s notes).
Lastly, we see another underlying threat of the fact that where He was going they weren’t going to come – if He looks forward to this (the glory awaiting Him cf. Heb. 12:1-2), then what must await them is the opposite…a scary proposition that Christ touches on later in 8:21 when He says, “So he said to them again, ‘I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.’”
7:37-39 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.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Contextual Notes about the Feast: There is a disagreement from scholars as to whether the feast actually lasted 8 days or 7 days. It seems as though originally the feast lasted 7, but that it may have grown to an 8th day by the time of Christ. The “great day” of the feast was the last, and biggest, day of the weeklong celebration. If anyone came in late for the feast (say, mid-week), they would not have wanted to miss this day. Morris notes that Chrysostom thought that Christ might have waited until this final day, when the crowds would have been largest, to impart this important truth.
There is also a significance here to Jesus’ use of “living water” that tied in with both the celebration at hand, and with the remembrance of the experience of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah in Numbers 20:2-13.
Both Morris and Carson explain that during the seven days of the feast a golden flagon was filled with water from the pool of Siloam and taken “in a procession led by the High Priest back to the temple.” During the procession the people following would be singing Psalms from chapters 113-118. “When the choir reached Psalm 118, every male pilgrim shoot a lulab (see notes below) in his right hand , while his left raised a piece of citrus fruit (a sign of the ingathered harvest), and all cried ‘Give thanks to the Lord!’ three times” says Carson.
The lulab comes from Leviticus 23:40: “And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.”
SIDE NOTE: There was a disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees as to whether these “leafy trees and willows” were to be used to build the booths (as thought the Sadducees) or whether they were to be paraded in through the temple (as thought the Pharisees). In the end the latter – the Pharisees’ interpretation – won out (Morris).
The lulabs signified the years of wandering in the desert and the citrus fruit the promised land of their forefathers, and both were also a celebration and thanks for current blessings as well.
Along with this procession and the recitation of the Psalms, Ps. 118:25 became a rallying cry: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” Little did they realize that Jesus was about to answer their prayers in a way that they’d never have expected (Morris).
Rivers of Living Water
It is against this background that we read the words of Jesus. We recall also that back in John 4, during His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said the following:
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:13-14)
But this text in front of us is the only time where we learn what exactly Jesus means by “living water” – the gospel writer tells us himself with an editorial note in verse 39 that “this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.”
So now there is more clarity placed on His words – and more significance as well. Not only is this “living water” equated with “eternal life” but we’re told Who gives this living water, and how: Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The people who were listening would have perhaps been familiar with some of Jesus’ words. They might have thought about what Ezekiel saw in his vision:
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.  Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.
Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep.  Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep.  Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.  And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”
Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.  And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.  And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.  Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.  But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt.  And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:1-12).
Other significant Old Testament texts that might have been ringing in their ears are found in Isaiah:
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Is. 12:3)
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Is. 55:1)
It is significant that the Spirit is shown by Christ to give the life of water. Why? Because it is the Spirit who does the “washing of regeneration” as Paul tells Titus:
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)
Passing the Blessing Onward
The most disputed portion of this text has to do with punctuation. Is there a period in the right spot? Some translations (some versions of the NIV for instance) separate the verses out differently in order to show that the living water doesn’t flow from those who believe, but rather from Christ. The problem with this is that there is no Old Testament evidence or other scripture to support this interpretation (Morris). However, it does make sense that once one is filled with the Holy Spirit that person produces spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) of a life giving nature.
Personally I believe that it makes all the sense in the world that the living water that Christ gives us also flows from us. Not as though there is any power in ourselves, but rather we are vessels of service for the Lord’s Spirit (the Holy Spirit – for it is the Holy Spirit which does the washing of regeneration).
What is significant in this is to look at what Christ says in verse 38: “out of his heart” is what it says. And thought He is not quoting from a specific text, one of the texts that scholars associate with this is the one from Ezekiel 47 I mentioned earlier. In Ez. 47:1 it states that the water flowed from the “temple.” We know that Christ referred to His own body as the temple in at least one way, and that is that it would be torn down and rebuilt in three days. But the New Testament mostly uses the term temple in reference to the Christian.
Furthermore, if we are the temple we are so by the consecration of the Holy Spirit and are set apart for His service. Indeed Christ is with us everywhere – (Matt. 28) through the indwelling of His Spirit. Therefore we are the temple which flows with the Spirit’s living waters. We are overflowing because of this life that Christ came to give us “abundantly” (John 10:10).
Jesus obviously meant for this to be a significant statement – one that we ought to take time and meditate upon. Here are a few things we ought to be asking ourselves:
- Am I keeping my temple pure and clean and ready for His service?
- Do the waters of the Holy Spirit flow out of me in praise and adoration to God? Is it evident to others by my actions that I am a believer in Christ? (We are not only saved from something, we are saved FOR something…)
- Am I clinging to any false notion of the work of salvation, or have I realized that regeneration is the monergistic work of the Holy Spirit and Him along?
- Am I quenching the Spirit’s work in any way in my life?
- Are my words healing to those around me, or are they poisonous waters set on fire by Hell (James 1)?