Living Water from the Messiah

During the festival of Sukkot, the priests poured out living water onto the altar while the people prayed, “Hoshana, do save, we beseech You; O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity!” (Psalm 118:25). On the first six days of the festival, the worshippers encircled the altar with palms in hand while singing those words.

On the seventh day of the festival they encircled the altar seven times, chanting out a litany of “hoshanas,” preparing for the final water libation. The worshippers shook their palm branches to create a rushing sound like wind and rain. They thrashed them against the sides of the altar. They regarded the entire celebration as a fulfillment of the passage in Isaiah (12:3) that says, “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” The rejoicing and ecstatic worship of all the previous days culminated in that seventh and last water-libation ceremony.

On the last day of the festival, Yeshua stood up in the midst of the Temple courts and declared Himself to be the source of spiritual living water:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Yeshua stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me, and let him drink who believes in Me.” As the Scripture said, “From [Messiah’s] innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)

The last phrase of John 7:38 claims that the scriptures say “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water,” but no existing scripture specifically says so. Instead, John paraphrases several texts and prophecies which cluster around the theme of living water in the Messianic Age. Moses made water flow from the rock, and Ezekiel saw the water flow from the future Messianic Temple. Joel predicted that in the Messianic Era, “A spring will go out from the house of the LORD” (Joel 3:18). The haftarah reading from the prophets for the first day of the festival of Sukkot, says, “And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14:8). Given the importance of these passages in the context of the water-libation ceremony, it seems that John 7:38 contains a paraphrase on the passages about living water flowing out of the Temple and Jerusalem in the Messianic Era. If so, the pronoun in John 7:38 should be ascribed to the Temple, i.e., the verse describes living water flowing out the belly of the Temple:

And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem … (Zechariah 14:8)

Water was flowing from under the threshold of the house … (Ezekiel 47:1)

From out of its [i.e., the Temple’s] belly will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

John uses a paraphrase of prophecies about living water flowing out from the Temple and applies it to Yeshua, whom he sees as the living Temple. Yeshua also stands in for the Temple elsewhere in the Gospel of John, for example, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).

The same image recurs in John’s apocalyptic vision of New Jerusalem. He sees “a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1). An invitation at the end of the vision declares, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17).

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion and is reposted with permission.