Living Water

Yeshua promised living water to His disciples. This is clearly a metaphor—but for what?

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "House of the Water Drawing". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

The Gospel of John records that Yeshua was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Sukkot. Every year at this time, the Temple service was expanded to include the ceremony of the house of the water pouring. The water-drawing ritual beseeched God for adequate rainfall in the coming year:

An omer of barley is brought on Passover, that the grain of the field be blessed; first fruits are brought on Pentecost, that the fruits of the trees be blessed; so there is a water libation on the Festival of Booths, that the year’s rain will be blessed. (Sifrei)

Our Master Yeshua drew from the living water imagery of the festival and declared Himself to be the source of spiritual living water. John goes on to explain the metaphor:

But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:39)

The living water, which will flow from the Messiah, symbolizes the revelation of God through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a sign of the Messianic Era predicted by the prophets (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2:28).

The Jerusalem Talmud also equates the water libation ceremony with the endowment of the Holy Spirit. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Yehoshua ben Levi declares, “Why did they call it ‘The house of the water drawing’? Because it was from there that they drew the Holy Spirit, according to the word [in Isaiah 12:3], ‘Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.’”

The Gospel of John says, “As yet the Spirit had not been given, because Yeshua was not yet glorified.” This does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not yet active and moving among Israel. It would be a mistake to assume that the Holy Spirit did not play any role in the nation or in people’s lives prior to the outpouring in Acts 2.

In Judaism, the term “Spirit” or “Holy Spirit” is the equivalent of the common biblical Hebrew term “Spirit of the LORD” or “Spirit of God.” The term “Holy Spirit” emerged in the rabbinic era as a circumlocution to avoid using the Divine Name in the terms “Spirit of the LORD” and “Spirit of God.” It is similar in that regard to the rabbinic construction, “The Holy One, blessed be He.” God’s Spirit was active long before the New Testament Era. The Spirit moved on the waters of creation, and through the Spirit, God interfaced with humanity. All the prophets spoke only by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The psalmists wrote by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the LORD filled the men who built the Tabernacle with wisdom, insight, and discernment, and the Spirit rushed upon the kings of Israel at the time of their anointing. Even in the New Testament, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary all prophesied in the Holy Spirit prior to the birth of the Master. Moreover, the Spirit of the LORD filled His Holy Tabernacle and Temple.

When John says that the Spirit had not yet been given, He does not mean that the Spirit of God had not yet been active in Israel. Instead, He refers to two eschatological promises:

  1. the return of God’s Dwelling Presence;
  2. the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh.

The Greek language has no equivalent for the Hebrew Shechinah (Dwelling Presence); therefore, the New Testament writers used the term Holy Spirit to describe the Dwelling Presence of God. According to the sages, the Dwelling Presence of God never rested on the Second Temple as it had done on the First. The Prophet Ezekiel foresaw the return of the Dwelling Presence as a hallmark of the Messianic Era. Therefore, when John says, “as yet the Spirit had not been given,” he alludes to the promise of the return of the Dwelling Presence. The Dwelling Presence of God will fill God’s house as He once filled the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple.

The prophets also predicted a unique endowment of God’s Spirit in the Messianic Age. “I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind” (Joel 2:28), the LORD promised. The Messianic outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings the exalted revelation of God that people in the kingdom will enjoy. “They will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:34). This Messianic-era endowment of the Holy Spirit will not only reveal the knowledge of God, but it will also transform human beings, quenching the rebellious sin nature and inspiring obedience: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27). When John says, “as yet the Spirit had not been given,” he alludes to these Messianic-era endowments of the Spirit.

According to John, the Spirit had not yet been given because the Messiah had not yet been glorified. The glorification of the Messiah refers, on the one hand, to His resurrection and ascension, and on the other hand, to His advent in glory at the Messianic Era. Subsequent to His resurrection and ascension, a portion of the Spirit was given to His disciples as a deposit against the full principle yet to be paid out in the Messianic Era.

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

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This year Torah Clubs are studying the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Every week Club members encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish context. Discover the historical and cultural backdrops of the gospels and be amazed as the teachings of Yeshua snap into focus and clarity. Unravel his difficult words and parables; study Jewish parallels to his teachings; and ultimately know Jesus better.



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