Living water. It sounds wonderful. But what is it? How can one get it? These are the questions that the woman here in John 4 was faced with. There is so much more to be said about this passage than what I will cover in this brief blog post, but let’s just take a few minutes to consider verse 10.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
Notice that the conditions that define whether or not a person receives living water are these:
1. Knowing the gift of God
2. Knowing who Jesus is
which above two result in…
3. Asking Jesus for living water (which presupposes that one understands what it is)
From the context, it would appear that the “gift of God” is the living water. So knowing the gift of God would mean understanding what the living water represents and understanding that it is God’s gift to those who ask.
Unless we understand what God offers us, we will never ask for it. This is the woman’s problem. She doesn’t understand what Jesus is offering. The reason people do not receive God’s salvation is because they do not understand/see what is being offered.
The second condition goes hand in glove with the first. To know who Jesus is, is to understand that the gift of God comes through him. It is to see that it is only through Jesus that we receive the gift of God. People do not receive what God has for them because they do not see who Jesus is. The reason that knowing who Jesus is is so important in receiving the gift of God will become clearer as I continue my analysis of the passage.
This brings us to the nature of the living water. What is the living water? One is not going to ask for it (rightly) unless he understands what it is. The woman asks for it in v. 15, but it is clear that she is not in a position to receive it yet because she doesn’t know what it is.
There are several clues as to the nature of the living water.
1. Whoever drinks of it will never be thirsty again.
2. It becomes in the drinker a spring of water that wells up to eternal life.
3. It is something that Jesus gives.
4. Jesus’ use of the same metaphor in John 7:37-39.
In addition to these, the second condition given in v. 10 is also a clue as to the nature of the living water: Knowing who Jesus is. Why is it that knowing who Jesus is, leads a person to ask for and to receive the living water? I think it is because Jesus himself is the living water. This interpretation here in John 4 is supported by the way Jesus uses the same metaphor in John 7 where “drinking the water” is equated to “believing in Jesus”.
The living water cannot just be eternal life because eternal life is mentioned as the result of drinking the water.
So Jesus is the living water, and what he offers is himself. The reason it wells up to eternal life is because there is life in Jesus himself. He is life. This also fits with the context of the passage in which Jesus challenges the woman as to his identity leading up to his statement in v. 26: “I who speak to you am he.” It also fits with the context of the entire gospel of John in which Jesus’ identity is the key theme.
To believe in Jesus is to be eternally satisfied (never be thirsty again) and to receive the eternal life that is in him.