Reading: John 7.
We may say that verse 38 is the outstanding verse, which contains the outstanding and all governing words in this chapter: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of him shall flow rivers of living water. This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive" (v.38,39).
So far in this Gospel the matter of Life in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit has had to do with the believer himself; that is, his own personal life. There is his birth in chapter 3 and there is the well within him in chapter 4 upon which he lives, the inner spring of his own life. It is all, up to this point, a matter of the believer's own living by the Life of Christ.
Now as we come to these words in chapter 7 we see that it is not only what is in the believer, not only what the believer himself is living upon, not only his own spiritual experience in every part of his being of the Life of the Lord, but it is what is going out from him. That is the further step. It is what is going out to others. What is going to be the effect of this? How is the circle outside of himself going to be affected? So that here it is not a well of water in him, springing up unto Life eternal; it is rivers of water flowing from him and, as we shall see, the setting of these words supports that view.
Having noticed the governing words, and the step forward in the revelation and experience, we must just glance over the chapter and look at its main features, so that we are able to come more fully into its message.
We note at the outset that the occasion of what the Lord says in this chapter was the feast of tabernacles: "Now the feast of the Jews, the feast of tabernacles, was at hand" (verse 2). We shall have to look at the Old Testament for a moment in two places in connection with the feast of tabernacles, so as to refresh our minds.
"Howbeit on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land, ye shall keep the feast of the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations; ye shall keep it in the seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 23:39-43).
"And they found written in the law, how that the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month; and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the broad place of the water gate, and in the broad place of the gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and dwelt in the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness" (Neh. 8:14-17).
Now we are able to see the Divine thought in the feast of tabernacles. It was intended to keep fresh the memory of the coming out of Egypt, a feast of remembrance of the outcoming.
Spiritually interpreted it is the coming out from the world unto God, and unto a condition which was marked by everything heavenly.
That last clause is of supreme importance. There was heavenly guidance and heavenly protection in the cloud, the pillar; heavenly food in the manna; heavenly water in the rock; heavenly priesthood in the blue upon the garments of the priests; a heavenly people in that all their garments were to bear a fringe of blue. The fact that they dwelt in tents, speaks of pilgrimage, no abiding city, a life not fastened to this earth and bound up with this world; and a great deal more. It all speaks of the heavenly life, the heavenly nature, the heavenly position of the Lord's people, to which they were brought when they were brought out of Egypt.
Although there was no feast of tabernacles at the time of the exodus, later the feast of tabernacles was appointed by the Lord as a means of embodying that great truth that they were a heavenly people, and everything where they were concerned was heavenly. So right on through their generations God wished this feast to be preserved, and although there was this long lapse through the captivity, from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to the days of Nehemiah, yet it is restored when the Word of God has its place again among them as the governing factor. Although in the days of Nehemiah they are found dwelling in dwellings of stone, the feast of tabernacles requires that they forsake that which is too strongly a part of this earth, and once more for a whole week set forth in testimony the fact that they are not of this earth, they are a heavenly people. So they dwelt in booths, they forsook the solid structure of this world, and accepted that life of detachment and testified thus to the heavenly nature and heavenly calling of the Lord's people. Everything, then, is heavenly in the Lord's thought for them, and for us. The booths, the tents, the tabernacles, speak of pilgrimage, and our being strangers here.
Now, that is the occasion of this chapter in the gospel by John, and of what Christ says in it, and it is the explanation of His mysterious behaviour, for until you get the explanation, His behaviour is very mysterious here. It was the feast of tabernacles: "His brethren therefore said unto Him, Depart hence, and go into Judea, that Thy disciples also may behold Thy works which Thou doest. For no man doeth anything in secret, and himself seeketh to be known openly. If Thou doest these things, manifest Thyself to the world. For even His brethren did not believe on Him. Jesus therefore saith unto them, My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that its works are evil. Go ye up unto the feast: I go not up unto this feast; because My time is not yet fulfilled. And having said these things unto them, He abode still in Galilee. But when His brethren were gone up unto the feast, then went He also up, not publicly, but as it were in secret" (Verses 3-10.)
That is strange and mysterious behaviour. Why did not Christ go up publicly to that feast? For this reason, as the whole chapter, and indeed, the whole gospel reveals: that He was repudiating the earthly and that which was of this world, even though it might be a religious system. He was repudiating it, and standing Himself in that which was heavenly: "the world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth... I testify of it, that its works are evil".
The Lord Jesus was, in every respect, heavenly, and He was the embodiment of all the thoughts of God for God's people, and those thoughts were not earthly thoughts, not the thoughts of this world, they were heavenly thoughts. He in Whom the thoughts of God are expressed is a Heavenly Being, in all His life, in all His activities, in all His relationships, in everything. He said, "These are My brethren, My father, My mother, that do the will of My Father which is in heaven". Everything for Him is looked at in the light of what is heavenly; all relationships, and everything else.
The feast of tabernacles being the background, speaks of the utter heavenliness of the people of God according to God's mind, but here was that which claimed to be the people of God which had become wholly earthly and of this world, and He was repudiating that, and not going up as a part of it. To go up publicly to that Feast would have said that He recognised it, He acknowledged it, He was in it, He was of it. He keeps outside of it in spirit and in action, and even when He goes up, it is in the most detached way.
So the feast of tabernacles, when understood from the Divine standpoint, gives us the clue and the explanation of this strange and mysterious behaviour, and brings us into the realm of living reality. That is the background, and we shall come back to that again presently.
The next thing which stands out in this whole chapter is the mystery of Christ. Heavenliness is always a mystery to this world. To the carnal mind, to the natural mind, what is heavenly is always a mystery, and running right through this chapter you have the mystery of Christ. Look at words like these:
Verse 5: "For even His brethren did not believe on Him." That was simply because they did not know Him, even His brethren.
Verse 12: "And there was much murmuring among the multitudes concerning Him: some said: He is a good man; others said, Not so, but He leads the multitudes astray."
Verse 15: "The Jews therefore marvelled, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned?"
Verse 16: "Jesus therefore answered them, My teaching is not Mine, but His that sent Me."
To them that last clause must have been very mysterious.
Verse 25: "Some therefore of them of Jerusalem said, Is not this He whom they seek to kill?"
Of course, you have got to link that with the words in the previous chapter, verse 42: "And they said, Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How doth He now say, I am come down out of heaven?"
Verse 27: "Howbeit we know this man whence He is: but when the Christ cometh, no one knows whence He is."
They spoke more truly than they knew.
All those words and a good many more, in verses 29 and 34 and so on, speak of the mystery of Christ. There is something beyond man's power to grasp, to apprehend, to understand. He is beyond these Jews altogether. That is because He is the Heavenly Man, and all that is heavenly is beyond the natural man, it is a mystery. It is not until the natural man has become possessed of a heavenly life that He knows Christ, he understands Christ, he is introduced into the mystery of Christ. When you come to recognize that Christ is the Life and the Light - as we are going to see - then He is only that in a living, experimental way to those who have received the heavenly life which is in Him, and which is possessed by possessing Him.
Now we come to this pre-eminent element in this chapter, in verses 37-39: "Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive".
It is well-known that in the temple in the feast of tabernacles two ceremonies were performed: one, a great candelabra was lighted, so that the whole temple became ablaze with light; the other, great volumes of water taken from the Pool of Bethesda were poured out in the temple, so that the waters rushed out down the steps into the court, rivers of water. The Lord Jesus was evidently referring to this.
You notice that at this point in the gospel of John a new aspect of things is introduced. So far the main emphasis has been upon Life; now with Life an emphasis is placed upon Light, and the two things proceed together from this point onward. The Lord took hold of the setting of the feast of tabernacles at that time; the Light represented by the candelabra, the Life represented by the rivers of water; and He, the Heavenly Man, transferred all that to Himself. "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me" He is drawing away from the temple to Himself. He is supplanting the temple with Himself: "...he that believeth on Me..." He is making Himself the Object of faith, no longer the old Jewish system. And He is saying, "Union with Me through faith will make that symbolism a living experience, fulness of Life and fulness of Light going out from the believer".
Life and Light! What is that? It is living knowledge. The Light is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor.14:6). That Light had not dawned upon these Jews, for they were in darkness, blinded. But there was Light in Him, and it was living Light, Light that is linked with Life, effulgence of light and abundance of water, or Life by the Spirit.
What does this mean? It means that that which flows out of the true child of God in union with Christ is the Spirit of Life and Light; an outflowing in abundance, in fulness, in rivers unto the world of the Spirit of Life and Light. "This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive"; "the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified". It is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shining in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as Paul clearly states in 2 Corinthians 4.
Now Paul says, "We have this ministry" (2 Cor. 4:1). The ministry which is here in view is not the believer's personal life, but the believer's ministry which is the outflowing from the inner life of the Spirit of Life and Light, the Spirit of a living knowledge of the Lord. That experience is the Lord's thought for His own who live by Him as their Life.
This is one further meaning of Divine Life, living on Divine Life in Christ, Christ being our Life. What is ministry? Ministry is not proclaiming certain facts of truth about Jesus Christ, about God. Ministry is not the setting forth of doctrine in a systematized form. Ministry is the outflowing of Christ as Life and Light. Ministry must be Life and Light to others. The Lord's thought is that that shall be in great fulness, in rivers. It springs from Himself, and therefore there is no limit. The only thing which can limit it in its expression is that the believer should be out of accord with Christ, out of harmony, that there should be something hindering. The believer should know that of which we have spoken, true union with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection, where the natural life has been set aside altogether, and Christ has become alone the Life of such. When that is true then there is fulness. When we have gone through something of the meaning of that, the death with Christ to ourselves, to our natural life, in every way and of every kind; when we have come into risen union with Christ, and He is our Life, and our only life, then there is a way for the rivers. They will go forth, and there will be a testimony in an ever-growing circle unto the ends of the earth, even through an individual believer, to the living reality of Christ in Life and Light. That is ministry.
Now, this experience of John 7:38 is the result of certain things. Firstly, it is the result of our standing completely clear of all that is meant by prejudice; that is, in a pure spirit, a humble spirit, a receptive spirit, an open spirit, an earnest and willing spirit; with a single eye to God's glory alone, ready to learn: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
You remember what we read about the feast of tabernacles. The first day it should be a day of rest, and the last day should be a day of rest. So then, when we come into the pure meaning of the knowledge of our heavenly Lord we should come into rest. But we can never come there until we are free from all grounds of prejudice, or to put it the other way, until we are in the realm where we are open to the Lord.
Now, we also have to be completely free from all that is merely dead tradition and earthly forms and systems. The Jews were bound by their tradition, and they were steeped in formalism. They were tied up with what had become merely an earthly system of representation of heavenly things, and not the heavenly things themselves. The Lord Jesus says, that, in spirit, is the world. What He says here is rather impressive, because He says it about the Jews. He says that "the world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that its works are evil". He is not talking about the irreligious world. He is talking about the world of Judaism, and He is saying it has become a worldly thing in principle, in spirit; a thing of this world, and He testifies against it that its works are evil.
So you find a thing which was raised up of God, and which has the truths of God in it, becomes a worldly thing, a system, which is dead and simply bound up with this world. The Lord says, "Now you have got to come out of all that, and stand in a heavenly place, a clear place, a place where everything is heavenly, where everything is living, transparent, pure, if you are going to know the meaning of this word, 'out from his inner life shall flow rivers of living water'". It is, in a word, a spiritual and heavenly relationship with Christ Himself, not with that which is supposed to represent Christ; not with a system, but with Christ Himself; not with an historic Christ, a traditional Christ, not even a doctrinal Christ, but with Christ Himself, the Living Lord. You must be in union and fellowship with Him if the rivers of living water are to flow out.
He was the Life and the Light because in all things, in all respects, He was heavenly, and for the Life and the Light to flow out from us, from Him in us, we have to be heavenly, in heavenly union with Him, and all things have got to be heavenly.
It is so easy to use words, but it represents a position of utterness; on the one hand, utterness of being out with God (that is the feast of tabernacles), in a heavenly place, living a heavenly life upon heavenly resources. You have got to be right out, so much out as to be a true counterpart of what the Lord said through Moses to Pharaoh, that not one hoof shall remain in Egypt, not the hoof of one beast shall remain in Egypt. God says it must be out to the last hoof, an utterness of being with the Lord in a living relationship. Then, and only then, shall there be rivers of living water, Life and Light by the Holy Spirit going out to others.
We can easily understand why there is so little Life and Light going out into the world from the Lord's people. They are compromised, and limited by things of this world, and that may be even in a religious way.
May the Lord find us those who are right with Him to the last degree, and out from whom the rivers of living water are flowing.