Brethren Archive

What is the Meaning of the Water in John 19 and 1 John 5

by Inglis Fleming

A frequent answer to that question is “The washing of water by the word of God.”

A little consideration however should show that that answer is incorrect.

Referring to John 19:34, we learn that both the blood and the water flowed from the side of our Lord when He was dead. No one would say that the Scriptures came from that spear-pierced side.

The Scriptures tells us of what took place at the cross of Calvary, and unfold for us the value of the precious blood. This all true Christians recognize.

Do the Scriptures bring before us the value of the water also? We believe that they do. And the association of the two, of the blood and the water, in the passage referred to, would show the equality of their importance. Why is it that as a rule we hear so little of the latter? We do well to enquire.

Is it not evident that we have two views of the death of Christ in the use of these two expressions. Both are clearly associated with our Lord in His death. He had cried the triumphant cry, “IT IS FINISHED.” Bowing His head He had yielded up His spirit to the Father.

Thus He was dead already when the soldier pierced His side. Then both the blood and the water flowed evidencing the fact of His death. Therefore:

1. The blood speaks of His death.

2. The water speaks of His death, likewise.

Thus two aspects of that same death are presented.

1. The blood speaks of propitiation by death.

2. The water speaks of purification by death.

1. The one is Godward, heavenward,

2. The other is manward, earthward, shall we say?

1. The blood expiates—It meets the holy claims of the majestic throne of God. It opens the way in righteousness for God to fulfil the good pleasure of His goodness, and (clearing us of all our sin) have us in happy relationship with Himself in His holy presence. With this and much more most of us are familiar, happily so.

2. The water purifies. In the death of Christ, as brought before us under that figure, for God and in His account, and to faith, we are separated from all that we were in our sinful state. “Our old man has been crucified with Christ.” We “are dead with Christ.” Our Adam standing is ended. We live now in Christ risen.

The two aspects are seen typically in the book of Exodus, in the saving of Israel from Egypt.

1. The blood of the passover lamb, a type of the death of Christ, met the holy claims of God, and sheltered them from His judgment.

2. The waters of the Red Sea (another type of the death of Christ) which they crossed, cleared them from their former condition of slavery.

1. The death of Christ for us is figured in the one, and

2. Our death in His death—with Him is brought into view, on the other.

It is in this latter truth that so many of the beloved saints of God are deficient. And this to their great loss. The absence of teaching upon the subject, or the non-reception of that teaching, leads to uncertainty and distress of soul on the part of many true believers.

The figure of baptism may help us (Rom. 6). “So many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto His death. Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism unto death (vv. 3-4). This is the figure of the glorious fact that in Christ’s death we have died—and that now we live in Him risen. Thus in Colossians 3 the fact is stated “Ye have died.” In Romans 6 we are exhorted in faith to “reckon” ourselves “dead indeed unto sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11). This does not mean pretend to be dead, but to hold oneself as dead to the old sinful life. So the fact, the faith and the figure all indicate the purification by death witnessed by the water flowing from the side of our Saviour in death.

The believer has been removed (not improved) in that death, as to his former standing, and death is the end of a man’s will, so that now having life in Christ risen he may “walk in newness of life” in a way well-pleasing to God.

The Epistle of John confirms this. There we read “This is He that came by water and blood even Jesus Christ, not by water only, but by water and blood and it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. . . There are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit and the water and the blood and these three agree in one. . . And this is the record (the witness) that God hath given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life and he that hath not the Son hath not life” (1 John 5:6-12).

Four glorious facts are presented here:—

1. The Son of God has come into manhood.

2. He has died and by His atoning blood has made atonement—glorifying God.

3. In His death we have died (have been ended as to our Adam state and standing) and now live in Christ risen. We have the Son and have life.

4. The Holy Spirit has come anointing us for power and intelligence.

The three witnesses—“The Spirit, the water and the blood,” fully concur in the witness that the Adam life has been condemned and closed in death on the one hand, and on the other hand that eternal life is ours in the risen Son of God.

To sum up then,

1. The question of sins has been met by the blood being shed in Christ’s death.

2. The sinful state has been ended in that same death and a new life conferred.

3. The Holy Spirit has been given to enable the believer to walk in newness of life.

What part have the Scriptures in the matter under consideration?

Indited by the Holy Spirit they bring before us both aspects of the death of our Lord. And they are for our moral cleansing as we answer to both presentations. They are the very truth of God, and by hearkening to them our feet are kept from the paths of the destroyer and led in the ways of righteousness. They search out and discern for us the inward motives and intentions of the heart, and grace from God enables us to turn away from all that they condemn and to walk in what they approve.

This paper is suggestive and not didactic.


S.T. 1937

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