Yesterday I was reminded again of the connection between the “living water” that is referred to in John 4 and John 7 and the prophesied end-times Temple. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). “Dwelt” is literally “tabernacled” among us. Jesus is the true Tabernacle. Then in chapter 2, Jesus’ body is the true Temple (see 2:18-22).
Gregory Beale’s work on tracing out the Temple theme throughout Scripture highlights how John continues to allude to Jesus’ identity as the true Temple by means of the “living water” motif. I’ll quote from two of Beale’s books here. I’ve read the first one, and am currently reading through the second one. After giving the quotes I’ll make a few more comments. I think you’ll agree that this insight is profound and really quite helpful in seeing the significance of Jesus’ claims in John 4 and John 7.
Temple imagery may also be expressed when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that he is the source of “living water” which will “spring up to eternal life” for those drinking from him (John 4:10-14). Just as water had its source in the first sanctuary in Eden and flowed down and became a life-giving element, likewise Ezekiel, alluding to the Garden of Eden, prophesied that the same thing would be the case with the end-time temple to be built in this new Jerusalem (Ezek. 47:1-12): “Then he brought me back to the door of the house [the holy of holies]; and behold, water was flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east” (v. 1); “so everything will live where the river goes” (v. 9b; so also v. 12). Joel 3:18 (“a spring will go out from the house of the LORD”) and Zechariah 14:8 (“living waters will flow out of Jerusalem”) prophesy the same reality. John’s Apocalypse sees the consummate future fulfillment of Ezekiel’s, Joel’s and Zechariah’s prophecies and restoration of an escalated Eden, in which “a river of the water of life, clear as crystal”, comes “from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1), who just a few verses earlier have been identified as the “sanctuary” (Rev. 21:22).
In light of this background and of the discussion so far about Jesus as the new temple in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ offer of “living water” to the Samaritan woman should be viewed as another reference to him being the beginning form of the true temple from which true life in God’s presence proceeds. John 7:37-39 confirms this connection. Teaching in the temple on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus says, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
In verse 38 Jesus alludes to the prophecy of water flowing from the temple in Ezekiel, Joel and Zechariah. The “innermost being” from which “flow rivers of living water” is Jesus himself as the new “holy of holies” and not the one who believes in Jesus. This is apparent, first, from recalling that the Old Testament prophecies identify the source of the water to be from the innermost part of the temple (i.e., the holy of holies) where Yahweh’s presence had dwelt in the past and would dwell again in the latter-day temple. Jesus was that presence on earth. Secondly, John 7:39 interprets the “living water” to be the Spirit poured out at Pentecost by Jesus himself to all those who would believe in him (see Acts 2:32-38).
[G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), pg. 196-197]
In his latest book, Beale develops this a bit further and shows how Jesus’ statement about true worship in John 4:21-24 also ties in with his “living water” discussion.
…Jesus is saying that the place for true worship now and in the future is no longer in one location, such as Jerusalem, but rather is extended. But to where is it extended? True worship is any place where the end-time Spirit is or where worship in the sphere of that Spirit takes place: the time has come and will continue when true worshipers will worship the Father in the sphere of the promised Spirit and end-time truth that has come in Christ (4:23; so also 4:24). Thus, to worship “in spirit and truth” is not a reference to “truly sincere” worshipers or worshipers who are “sincere in their spirit about the truth” …but is a reference to the Spirit, who has come in fulfillment of OT promises…. Here God’s presence in Israel’s localized temple is viewed as foreshadowing God’s tabernacling presence in Jesus now and his people later, after his resurrection and the sending of the Spirit….
The notion in John 4:23-24 of the expanding geography of the place of the true temple and of true worship in the inaugurated new age is likely a continuation of the earlier narrative about the “living water” from Zech. 14 and is part of the anticipation of John 7:37-39, and thus its roots are in the idea of the expanding temple and its holiness prophesied in Zech. 14 and Ezek. 47, as well as elsewhere in the OT. Specifically, God’s special revelatory presnece in the form of the Spirit will no longer be located in the holy of holies of Israel’s temple but instead will break out of its architectural shackeles in the eschaton and spread throughout the earth. The true temple and true place of worship and true worshipers can be found wherever the extending form of God’s holy of holies presence in the Spirit goes and among whoever is included in its sphere. Consequently, wherever a true believer is, there also is the Spirit, as John 7:37-39 affirms.
[G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), pg. 134-135]
Personally, seeing that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, and we have the indwelling Spirit, I don’t see a problem with seeing the river of life flowing from the innermost being of believers – but ultimately the source is Jesus Christ. Also, even if you don’t take “worship in the Spirit” as referring to the Holy Spirit, the ideas of the extension of the temple and that wherever true believers are there is true worship, still hold. Also I should stress that Beale is not saying there is no future and greater fulfillment of these prophecies, but that Jesus’ coming has ushered in this age of the unfolding of the prophecy of all these end-times events. The end-times Temple is in the process of being built and we believers are “living stones” being built on top of the Living Stone – the true Cornerstone – Jesus Christ (see 2 Pet. 2:4-5, 7).
I hope this adds to the richness of these passages for you. It certainly does for me. Seeing how these OT passages stand behind Jesus’ offer of living water and our experience of the Holy Spirit and the special presence of God in Christ — all this leads to greater worship and wonder and praise. We should aim to keep our bodies holy and our churches (a corporate Temple) holy and we should realize how many spiritual blessings we truly have.
Furthermore, this river of life has trees on either side, according to Ezekiel, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. These trees do not wither – a direct allusion to Jeremiah 17:7-8 (and also to Psalm 1:2-3). Our lives are to bring healing to the nations and to withstand the heat of the world and its troubles. The Spirit cleanses and renews us and allows our lives to be a healing influence on this world as we live out and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.