Part Three of The Holy Spirit in John
Jesus is the bearer and bestower of the Holy Spirit. He is the one on whom the Spirit comes and abides, and he is the source of the Spirit for all who believe.
And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32-33)
John baptizes in water, but Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit. John 7:37-39 makes a related association between water and the Spirit. Here, the evangelist describes the coming of the Spirit as a stream of living water coming from the abdomen of Jesus, satisfying thirst of all who come to him. The Good News Translation captures, I think, John’s intent correctly:
On the last and most important day of the festival Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, “Whoever is thirsty should come to me, and whoever believes in me should drink. As the scripture says, ‘Streams of life-giving water will pour out from his side.’ ” Jesus said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were going to receive. At that time the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not been raised to glory. (John 7:37-39 GNT)
Although most translations seem to imply that the streams of life-giving water flow from within the heart of the believer, the one from whose “belly” flows (ek tēs koilias autou) a river of living water in the fourth gospel is most naturally taken to be Jesus. John is the evangelist for whom it is very significant that blood and water came from Jesus’ side at his death (John 19:34).
“According to the scriptures” in John 7:38 is a little harder to pin down. There are a number of Old Testament passages that use water as a metaphor for God’s eschatological salvation. Ezekiel 47:1-12, for example, envisions flowing from temple, bringing life to a parched land and purifying the brackish waters of the Dead Sea. Similarly, Zechariah envisions God’s eschatological waters flowing from Jerusalem.
On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea, in summer and winter alike. On that day Yahweh will become king over all the earth–Yahweh alone, and His name alone. (Zechariah 14:8-9)
Like John the Evangelist, Isaiah associates God’s eschatological gift of water with the Holy Spirit.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out My Spirit on your descendants
and my blessing on your offspring. (Isaiah 44:3)
Note that God’s gift of the eschatological waters – that is, the gift of God’s Spirit – is not just a personal blessing, to be enjoyed or even used by individual believers. The gift of the Spirit is a part of God’s eschatological salvation of the world. And where the prophets saw Jerusalem in general or the temple in particular as the source of these life-giving waters, John saw their source as the crucified Jesus.
In fact, the Holy Spirit mediates the presence of the risen and life-giving Jesus for those who belong to him.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:16-20)
Jesus identifies the Spirit as “another” advocate or comforter (“paraclete”). He is “another” because Jesus is the first. The Holy Spirit recalls and extends Jesus’ own revelatory function in the world. There is extensive, intentional parallelism between the Spirit and Jesus in the way that John describes each. Both come from the Father. Both are described as holy and equated with truth. Both teach with authority. And as Jesus reveals the Father to the world, so the Holy Spirit will reveal Jesus. Yet neither the Son nor the Spirit will be received by the world.
It is by means of the Spirit’s coming, then, that Jesus will prevent the disciples from becoming orphans. To unite with in Jesus is to receive the Holy Spirit. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, the risen Jesus himself is present with his church.
Our society has an immense interest in spirituality, but little interest in creeds or doctrines or “organized religion.” Post-modern spirituality is not grounded in objective truth, but in subjective experiences and feelings. If there was ever a need for John’s message, it is today. The human hunger for Spiritual experience is a sign of God’s imprint on our lives; like everything else in our fallen world, however, it has also been touched by the pervasiveness of sin. Without grounding in Christ, human spirituality is as at best self-deceptive and distorted by ignorance and self-interest. At worst, it is immensely destructive.
If you want to experience true spirituality, then, don’t simply gaze into your own soul or open yourself to greater connections with universe. Instead, immerse yourself specifically in the life of the crucified and risen one. Drink-in the life giving waters that flow from his side. Jesus, John tells us, is the one on whom the Spirit descended and remained. He is the source of the true, life-giving Spirit who is in the world today.