Friday, June 10, 2011

I Believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life

Imagine that it is the Feast of Tabernacles (described in John 7 and 8) and you are approaching Jerusalem, and seeing the mighty pyres burning on the corners of the Temple Mount. All that glitters in the gilding of that magnificent building sparkling with the flickering of the flames. You enter the courtyard and see a crowd, a massive confluence of peoples is flowing through the busy courtyard, taking, laughing. All through the court are massive seven pronged torches making it seem as bright as day, and echoing the thoughts of many hearts embracing the hope of Israel, that the God who said, “let their be light” will bring light into these dark days and deliver Israel once again.

Suddenly, an enigmatic Rabbi steps up on a low stone beside a fully lit Menorah and yells out in a voice that stops the crowd in their tracks: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Suddenly, pandemonium; Jesus had already made quite a stir with regards to the ultimate speech on a renewable source for water, surely a valuable idea in a desert surrounded city. Just what was going on?

The Significance of the Feast of Tabernacles is highlighted by Josephus who states that this feast was “especially sacred and important” (Antiquities viii:100 quoted in Carson, 305). As the last of the great season of feasts, and celebrating the richest harvest of “grapes and olives” (Carson, 305), it became know as “the Feast” (Kostenberger, 108). In each of the three great feasts, “Passover”, “Pentecost” and “Booths”, all Adult males were expected to make every effort to get to Jerusalem (Kostenberger, 77). Thus we can imagine, that at this, the most popular of all the “required” feasts, Jesus would have the broadest and most significant audience of faithful Jews at any point in his ministry. As Jesus now approaches the final months of his life and ministry, he begins to fully unburden his mission: “to bear witness to the Truth” (John 18:37).

Jesus fulfills the spiritual realities symbolized by the ceremonies of the Feast. Tabernacles was known for its “water-drawing rite and a lamp-lighting rite to which Jesus quite clearly refers (cf. 7:37ff.; 8:12, Carson, 305). It is critical to realize that Jesus does not fulfill this in any act, or any statement, but rather, in himself. “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) and “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The explicit statement of John (from his perspective as omnipotent narrator) clarifies that "this he said about the Spirit" (v. 39). It is of course, the spirit who gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6 and Job 33:4). In a few lines we will come back to this, but first we need a stronger picture of the feast in mind.

Water is especially significant to this Feast, as it was “owing to the daily solemn outpouring of water… [that] the Feast of Tabernacles came to be associated with eschatological hope” (Kostenberger, 109). The ceremonies also brought the people to a dramatic climax, ready to hear Jesus speak: “for six consecutive days a procession of priests carried water in golden vessels into the temple area. This pouring was thought to have physical and spiritual significance.” Now sense the anticipation of this pageantry, when “on the seventh day, the ‘great day’ (v. 37), no water was carried. It was then that Jesus stood and taught of the ‘rivers of living waters’[1]”.

Now, this statement, of living waters for: “whoever believes in me” (John 7:38), is backed up a summary statement of the Old Testaments teaching, “as the Scripture has said”. This is so stunning that it sets off a maelstrom of speculation regarding the identity of Jesus once again.

The potential Old Testament background is complicated by the fact that Jesus words do not seem to be a direct quote, but a theological summary. This is not uncommon in many references to the Old Testament (see Paul’s gospel summaries in 1 Cor. 15:3-4). It may perhaps be referencing Isaiah 12:3 and 58:11.However one passage stands out to the present author, Ezekiel 47 which describes the living waters flowing from the temple in the Millennial Eden.

Jesus is of course in the temple court here. According to John, Jesus is a physical manifestation of the “tabernacle” (John 1:14), and has spoken of “the temple of his body” (2:21). It certainly fits the flow of John’s theology and depiction of Christ, to have him once again claim to be the temple. Thus we read in Ezekiel 47 of a purifying stream of water (v. 8), which specifically gives life (v. 9), and which nourishes an orchard of trees whose leaves are “for healing” (v 12).

This theme seems to be taken up by John once again in Revelation 22, where he speaks of the “water of life” flowing from “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1), which echoing Ezekiel produces an orchard of “the tree of life” whose leaves “were for the healing of the nations” (v. 2). It is by the Spirit that Jesus will provide all these things for his people: and so the final climax of his ministry is: "receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22), who is called in the creed, "the Lord, the giver of life".

And so the water of life and the light of the world, make for startling claims of eschatological fulfillment, from the one who preached, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). What tragedy, that at the end of these speeches, the account ends, not with healing waters of salvation, but with the statement: “they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59).

[1] The Liberty Annotated Study Bible notes (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1988), John 7:2

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Eerdman's Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0-8028-3683-6.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John. Baker Books, 1999. ISBN0-8010-2603-2.

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