They are often linked in Scripture with the opposing
principles of flesh and Spirit, the human and the divine in Jesus. "To them gave
he power to become sons of God . . . which were born, not of blood . but of God"
(Jn.1 :12,13). "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but my Father
which is in heaven" (Mt.16 :17). In contrast with these: "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" (Jn.4 :14).
Blood and water and hyssop were the symbols associated with
the inauguration of the Mosiac Covenant at Sinai (Heb. 9:19). Here, in John
19:34,29, are the same three symbols, now signifying the bringing in of a New
Covenant: "This is my blood of the New Covenant." "As for thee also, by the
blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is
no water (i.e. from the grave)" (Zech. 9:11). It may be asked: Why should these
particular symbols be elements of ratification of God's Covenants?
They are Covenants with sinners—people afflicted with
moral leprosy, the incurable disease. Blood, water and hyssop again combine for
the cleansing of God's lepers (Lev. 14 :6,7). In that day when Jesus died on the
cross there was "a fountain opened . . for sin and for uncleanness" (Zech.13
:1). And this follows immediately after: "they shall look upon me whom they have
pierced . . (Zech. 12 :10), words quoted in John's account.
Yet another symbol finds eloquent reinforcement and fulfilment
in the piercing of the side of Jesus: "Behold I will stand before thee there
upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come
water out of it, that my people may drink" (Ex. 17 :6). It was with allusion to
this that Jesus cried out in the temple court on the very day of the Feast ot
Tebernacles which celebrated the giving of water in the wilderness: "If any man
thirst, let him come unto me, and he that believeth on me, let him drink, as the
scripture hath said, Out of his belly (I.e. from the Messiah, typified by the
smitten rock) shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn 7:37,38).
On another , occasion Moses was commanded to give the people
water by speaking to the rock (at Kadesh, this time). Instead he smote it twice.
In this particular place (Numbers 20) the Jewish Targum of Jonathan elaborates
the story remarkably, telling that when Moses first struck the rock it dripped
blood, and at the second blow water gushed forth! Undue emphasis should not be
placed on this uninspired elaboration of Numbers 20, but its insight is
But the most immediate and satisfactory interpretation of the
water and blood is to be found in the Lord's own words: "Except a man be born of
water and the spirit he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3 :5). "Except ye
eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood ye have no life in you.
Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will
raise him up at the last day" (6:53,54).
Here is plain anticipation of the two sacraments Jesus
instituted —sacraments which are not really two, but one, for the meaning
is fundamentally the same. Baptism, a birth out of spiritual water, is the
beginning of a man's life in Christ; by this means he is identified with the one
whom he acknowledges as Saviour, Master, Lord. The Bread and Wine are the
outward tokens of the grace and power by which that New Life, begun in baptism,
may be maintained and matured. Hence John is able to say with palpable truth:
"This is the One who comes in the water and in the blood"-that is, in baptism
which begins the life in Christ, and in the Communion which maintains the life
in Christ. "Not in the water only," John persists, putting his case negatively
as well as positively, "but in the water and in the blood." Baptism by itself
will achieve nothing. Its work must be consolidated and nourished by a sharing
of the fulness of Christ through the life that he can impart.
Not content with this emphasis, John underlines yet again:
"And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth, for
there are three that bear witness, in the earth, the Spirit, and the water, and
the blood: and these three agree in one." Probably here the Spirit which bears
witness (called in 5:9: "the witness of God") is the inspired unfolding of the
work and teaching of Jesus which John has set out in his accompanying gospel. In
other words John is here asserting that the Gospel he has written is not his own
but the Holy Spirit's. With these words should be compared the challenging claim
that John deliberately joined on to his narrative of the stabbing of his Lord:
"And he that hath seen it hath borne witness (here in this gospel), and his
witness is true: and he (the risen Lord) knoweth that he saith true, that ye