Water and Blood
by KEN ALEXANDER
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Water and Blood
Jesus was in his final moments on the cross. John 19:32-34 states: “The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out BLOOD and WATER”. There are various theories as to what this passage means.
One explanation is that John included this fact in his writings to show the humanity of Jesus. The “water and blood” refer to important points in Jesus’ earthly ministry: his baptism (water) and his crucifixion (blood). This is the best interpretation and is followed by most scholars. Historically, Jesus “came” into his power by the “water” of his baptism and even more so by the “blood” of his cross. John writes this letter to counter the Gnostic tendencies of the false teachers. These false teachers, who at one time were part of the fellowship (2:19), were denying the humanity of Jesus, and so John emphasizes the reality of the Incarnation. John’s further qualification that Jesus came “not by water only, but by water and blood” is likely a direct renunciation of the false teaching that claimed that Jesus was born an ordinary human being but became God’s special agent when the heavenly Christ descended upon him at his baptism. The heavenly Christ abandoned him before his death and, consequently, it was only the earthly Jesus who died on the cross. In seeking to refute this teaching, John emphasizes that it was Jesus Christ who experienced both baptism and crucifixion.
Jesus cried out on the cross “It is finished”. With these final words Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John19:30). This rather unusual way of describing someone’s death may intimate that Jesus died voluntarily as an act of His will. After the death of Jesus, a soldier pierced His side, “bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34). From a medical standpoint the mix of blood and water from the spear’s thrust was the result of piercing of the sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium) as well as the heart itself. The author of the Gospel, the apostle John, then offered his testimony that he was a witness to this event and that even to the final moment every detail fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Messiah (19:35–37; compare Exod 12:46; Num 9:12; Ps 34:20; Zech 12:10). Again he proves the humanity of Jesus.
Another theory announces that this passage containing the blood and water was inserted to show that Jesus in fact died on the cross. There were those who did not believe in the resurrection and that Jesus faked His death to escape death. The Gnostics concocted a story that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and went off to lead a normal life. That couldn't very well have happened if His pericardium and heart were both punctured by the sword. John and the other disciples focused very much on the resurrection of Christ following death, so the fact of death was important to them. John the Beloved was the only male disciple to witness the crucifixion.
Ancient Bible manuscripts also had this spear story in Matthew 27:49 reading: “And another [soldier] took a spear and pierced him in the side, and water and blood flowed out.” Whether this sentence was in the original Matthew or added later is unknown. It is nearly identical to John’s rendition.
In order to insure that not the slightest possibility would exist that any life remained in the body of Jesus, one of the soldiers pierced the side of Jesus with his lance or spear. Authorities have claimed that the flowing forth of the blood and water is a physiological evidence that His heart was ruptured, and that death would be almost instantaneous. William Hendriksen in New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Gospel of John, quotes from an article in Calvin Forum written by a prominent physician in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dr. Stuart Bergsma, to the effect that blood and water flowing from a spear wound could have only come from a ruptured heart.
Actually the blood and water has far more significance than mentioned above. Water is symbolic of the Word of God. In 2 Peter 3:5-7 water and word are used almost interchangeably. “…it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men”. The earth and the heavens were created by a Word and not formed from water. However if water means Word Peter is correct and has used the terms interchangeability. This interplay is called a chiastic pattern. It seems unlikely that Peter is seeking to affirm that water was the basic material of creation, though many commentators claim this. He does not use the verb ktizō (“create”) but says that “long ago by God’s word the heavens existed [ēsan] and the earth was formed [synestōsa] out of water and with water.” In Genesis the sky (firmament) separates the waters from the waters by the word of God and the land appears out of the water by the same word.
John 7:38 says: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’”
“Jesus answered and said to her, [the woman at the well] “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”… Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:10, 13-14). Who can doubt that here Jesus is speaking of the Word?
Jeremiah 2:13 says:
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
That can hold no water”.
Jesus was the Word. “IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3). Jesus was the Word of God; the faithful fountain of living water. When He bled water and blood on the cross He was bleeding what He was – the water of the Word. Ephesians says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph 5:25-26).
Blood was a term understood in biblical writings not only as that which is essential to life but also as the seat of life’s power. Though sometimes used simply to designate mortal life (usually in conjunction with flesh), it was often connected with God, the life-giver. Injunctions existed against consuming blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10-16; Deut.12:15-18; 1 Sam. 14:32-35; Acts 15:23-29); spilling it was forbidden under penalty of death (Gen. 9:4-7; Exod. 20:13; 21:23-24; Lev. 24:20-21; Deut. 19:21; cf. Matt. 5:21-26, 38-42). Blood plays an important role in the theology of the OT, the institution of sacrificial atonement, and the work of the priests. Applied to the altar, blood becomes a powerful expiatory agent as sin offering, especially on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). The priest, who is himself set apart by blood consecration (Exod. 29:19-21), alone is qualified to apply the blood (Lev. 1-7). The Passover celebration remembers the blood on the doorposts of Hebrew houses in Egypt (Exod. 12:7) and the deliverance accomplished by the God of the Covenant (see blood of the Covenant in Exod. 24:6-8; Ps. 50:5; Zech. 9:11). Blood can also symbolize woes and terrors (e.g., 1 Chron. 22:8; 28:3; Exod. 7:14-24; Joel 2:30-31).
In the NT the image focuses on the shed blood of Jesus and its atoning character. Interpreted in terms of his obedient surrender of his life to God, it becomes the foundation for God’s new covenant of grace. The people of faith celebrate this grace at the Lord’s Supper; the cup of blessing is the new covenant in Christ’s blood (Mark 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:23-29). The most extensive development of the image is found in Hebrews 9-10 (see also John 6:53-56; 19:34-37; 1 John 5:6-8; Rom. 3:24-25; 1 Cor. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:6-14; 7:14)
The blood Christ emitted on the cross was the blood of Christ by which we are cleansed, atoned for, forgiven and redeemed. The following notes show incidences where the blood of Christ effectively performed its task: Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19); redemption through his blood (Eph. 1:7); you were slain and by your blood ransomed men for God (Rev. 5:9); justified by his blood (Rom. 5:9); having made peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20); he freed us from our sins by his blood (Rev. 1:5); taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood (Heb. 9:12–14); the blood of Christ cleanses the conscience (Heb. 9:14); the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7); for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling by his blood (1 Pet. 1:2); Jesus and the sprinkled blood (Heb. 12:24); blood and water came out (John 19:34); he who came by water and blood (1 John 5:6); the water and blood bear witness (1 John 5:8); brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13); is not the cup a sharing in the blood of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16); robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14); they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:11); the church of God which he purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28); propitiation in his blood (Rom. 3:25); we enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19); Jesus suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people with his own blood (Heb. 13:12)
So when we read that Christ’s body was pierced and blood and water came out what came forth was what Christ was: the water of the Word of God and the precious redeeming blood the life force of the Son of God shed for us.
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