The living bread and the living water
The Word of God, and the Spirit of God
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) John 7:38-39
In the gospel of John, Jesus spoke of the spiritual hunger and thirst of mankind. In John 6 Jesus said,
I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
Likewise he said to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4,
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
The people Jesus spoke to in these passages found his sayings hard to understand. They thought he spoke of a physical bread and water:
Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
But the hunger and thirst Jesus spoke of was a spiritual hunger and thirst. It refers to a lack of righteousness. As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount,
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
To remove this hunger and thirst, Jesus said that he would provide the spiritual bread of life and the spiritual water of life. This is the “living bread” and the “living water” he spoke of in John 4, 6, and 7:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
In the last day, that 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, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
The “living water” is identified here as the Holy Spirit who Jesus would pour out on the day of Pentecost, after his glorification and exaltation:
Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
As also the apostle Paul reminded us:
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The “living bread” Jesus identified with his flesh is the Word of God. This is seen in that Jesus himself was “the Word made flesh”. His name is called “The Word of God”. And he was “the Word of life” in the flesh, able to be handled by hands.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
1 John 1:1
The connection of Jesus with the Word that brings eternal life is recognised also in Peter’s words to him in the same context:
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
It is identified again by Christ himself in John 6, where he explains the whole passage here by mention of both the Spirit and the Word as being the spiritual things that actually give life:
It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
As for what Jesus meant by “eating” the bread, or Word of God, a passage in Jeremiah demonstrates the thought:
Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.
Eating the Word of God is taking it in and doing it. Hearing the Word, obeying the Word, and abiding in the Word brings life. We must continue partaking of Christ’s words.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
In the same manner, we must continue to be led of the Spirit of God to be called the sons of God:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
Manna from heaven, and water from the rock
Jesus identified himself as the “true bread from heaven”. He contrasted the “bread of life” he spoke of with the physical manna they had eaten in Moses’ time:
I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
The physical manna sustained their bodies for a time, but without the spiritual bread no-one has eternal life. As Jesus said when he was tempted by Satan, “It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.
Jesus is to us “every word of God that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD”.
The “living bread” and “living water” then form a well-known biblical set, one representing the spiritual manna from heaven, and one the spiritual water from the smitten Rock.
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:1–4
It is a spiritual meat and a spiritual drink Jesus is speaking of. The hunger and thirst is satisfied in those who have been “made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God”.
It is the Lamb of God who feeds us with that bread, and leads us to that water:
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
Receiving the Word, receiving the Spirit
How do these things correspond with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere in John, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Elsewhere on this site, you will find an article that explains that being born of water and of the Spirit is being baptised in water and baptised in the Spirit. (See the link at the end of this article.)
As well as being “born of water and of the Spirit”, the scripture also says we are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God (1 Peter 1:23)”.
It isn’t difficult to see how being “born of the Spirit” or being “born again … by the Word of God” connect with the Spirit and the Word, but what about being “born of water”?
How do these things reconcile with the need for baptism in water and repentance?
Being born again by the Word of God can only mean that we are begotten by the Word when we receive the Word and do it. As such it includes the instruction – the command – to “repent, and be baptised” (and continue abiding in the instructions of God).
A simple example of this as concerns our initial salvation is found in Acts 8, where it talks of the believing and baptised Samaritans as having “received the Word of God” and then praying to “receive the Holy Spirit”:
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
The Samaritans had “received the Word of God” in that they had heard and responded to the Word in faith and repentance, believing and being baptised. In accordance with the directive of the Word, they also sought for the Spirit. God gave the Holy Spirit to those who obeyed him. He committed himself to those who committed themselves to him. And so the Word and the Spirit brought life to them all.
All who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” shall be filled when, believing on Christ, they act upon the same Word given to the Samaritans, and to all the Lord shall call:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized …
And as long as we continue believing and adhering to Christ’s words, and walking in Christ’s Spirit, we are born again, of the water, the Spirit, and the Word.
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