If we lived then, in that place and time, how differently would we have heard Jesus’ words?
In John 7:37-52, Jesus declares on the last, great day of the feast, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
What feast was this, and does the timing of Jesus’ words add any greater significance for his listeners?
John 7:2 tells us this was the Feast of Tabernacles. Here’s what John MacArthur writes about this feast in One Perfect Life:
The Feast of Tabernacles was connected in the OT with the harvest of grapes and olives. The feast lasted a full week from the 15th to the 21st of Tishri (Sept-Oct). Josephus indicates that of Israel’s 3 major feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles), this one was the most popular. In order to commemorate the Israelites’ trek through the wilderness, the people built makeshift shelters out of leaves and branches (hence, “booths” or “tabernacles” Lev. 23:42). Featured at the feast were both a water-drawing and a lamp-lighting ceremony.
Jesus’ teaching in John 7:37-52 about “living water” and John 8:12-30 about the “light of the world” would have greater significance for His listeners at the Feast because of these ceremonies.
What did that water ceremony look like, and what was its significance?
Again from MacArthur:
A golden vessel containing water from the Pool of Siloam was transported in a priestly procession back to the temple. As it came to the Water Gate, three trumpet blasts sounded to mark the joy of the occasion and the people recited Isa. 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” At the temple, as the people watched, the priests would march around the altar carrying the water container while the temple choir sang Hallel (Ps. 113-118). The water was then offered as a sacrifice to God. The use of the water symbolized the blessing of adequate rainfall for crops.
Listening to this, it’s clear to me that the people would hear these words as an invitation to come to Jesus to find salvation.
The water-pouring ceremony also foreshadowed the millennial rivers of living water described in Ezekiel. 47:1-9 and Zech. 13:1. Jesus declares through this simple invitation that He is the fulfillment of all the Feast of Tabernacles anticipated.
This is why many responded to Jesus invitation, “This is the Christ.” The significance of His words, delivered in this way in that moment, made that bold declaration unmistakable.
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