6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (ESV)
Yesterday I was witnessing the baptism of my child in faith and one of his Jewish friends was there as well. As I was engaged in some conversation with her she said that this was her first visit to an adult baptism (I on the other hand have hardly been to infant baptisms). Then she made this remarkable statement: “You know what fascinates me? Each one of those who come out of the water [and there were over 100!] is glowing and beaming with joy!” Unfortunately, the response to that came to me at night when I was home talking to my wife. What I could have said is: “And all this thanks to our Jewish Messiah!” Well, God has His ways.
Last week we have seen that if we hold on to the testimony we have received, withstand the pressures of our times, and continue to witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we continue to conquer with love by faith. Today we are going to look into a quite difficult passage in which the apostle John talks about the testimony concerning God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Daniel L. Akin rightly states that “[t]his passage was no doubt clear to the original audience but, unfortunately, is somewhat obscure to us” (NAC, 195). Broad questions we will ponder are:
1. In this passage you will find a certain word-group (a word which is used differently, e.g. as a noun, verb etc.). What is that word-group and what implications does this have for the passage? [hint: it occurs 8x]
2. What could “water and blood” refer to?
3. Is John merely defending orthodox (i.e., right) belief here? What is ultimately at stake?
In 5:6a we read “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.” One question which needs to be addressed here is if “not by water only” (ἐν τῷ ὕδατι μόνον) is yet another belief of the secessionists? Kruse thinks that the “text indicates two things: what was not in dispute (Jesus came ‘by water’), and what was in dispute (Jesus came ‘by water and blood’)” (174, but see Witherington, 542-46 who sees this is not polemical but affirmation of true faith).
Other questions are: To what does “water” refer and to what does “blood” refer? Does it refer to baptism and cross (beginning and end of his ministry)? Jesus own baptizing ministry? Natural birth (water/semen) [which is unlikely in light that the secessionists deny that Christ came in the flesh (1 John 4:2)]? “The whole statement that Jesus came ‘by water and blood’ is then seen as analogous to the author’s reference in 4:2 to Jesus’ coming ‘in the flesh’” (Kruse, 176). If that is true then the phrase refers to Jesus’ true humanity. Most scholars hold to the view that “Water and blood” refer to “the terminal points in Jesus’ earthly ministry: his baptism (water) and his crucifixion (blood)” (Akin, NAC, 196). This seems to be the best explanation of the text. Marshall (Epistles of John, 233–34) eloquently observes:
As soon as we reduce the death of Jesus to that of a mere man, so soon do we lose the cardinal point of the New Testament doctrine of the atonement, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; in the last analysis, the doctrine of the atonement means that God himself bears our sins and shows that the final reality in the universe is his sin-bearing, pardoning love, but if Jesus is not the Son of God, his death can no longer bear this significance. So-called theologies, which reduce talk of the incarnation to the status of myth, may be attractive to modern men, but they take away our assurance that God’s character is sin-bearing love.
In 5:6b we see that the Spirit is a Spirit of truth (which is also taught in John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). The Spirit’s role is to testify about and point to Jesus! [Hence an overly fascination with the Spirit in some Christian communities is quite misled!]
Verse 7 specifies that there are three witnesses. In the OT and NT a case needs to be decided on 2-3 witnesses (see Deut 17:6; 19:15; Matt 18:6; John 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19; Heb 10:28). Witherington (545) sees these three witnesses in their soteriological significance:
1. The coming of Jesus
2. The death of Jesus
3. The coming of the Holy Spirit
In our exegesis of verse 6 we argued that “water” does not refer to Jesus’ birth but to his baptism. Thus the Witherington’s list needs to be modified in the following way:
1. The baptism of Jesus
2. The death of Jesus
3. The coming of the Holy Spirit
Interestingly “[t]he Spirit is given priority because it is the Spirit who testifies through the water and the blood” (Akin, NAC, 198).
Concerning 5:8 Kruse writes (179): “in the Fourth Gospel, when people will not accept Jesus’ own testimony about himself, he points them to his works, for these, too, bear witness, albeit silent witness, to the truth about him (cf. John 5:36; 10:25)”
Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 282) states that John is “implying that the Spirit, water and blood converge on the same point, and work together toward the same result: that of establishing the truth that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God.”
In 5:9the protasis is stated, whereas the apodosis needs to be supplied. Thus Kruse renders the sentence “If we accept the testimony of men [then we should accept the testimony of God]” (180). This is then an a foritiori argument (qal wahomer). The testimony of God is the apostolic testimony as seen in 5:11 with reference to 1:1-4
What is the inner testimony (5:10)? The Holy Spirit? Yes, I think so. In my mind Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, 285–86) is right when he states: “The inward witness of God’s Spirit shows the Christian that he was right to believe in Jesus; and this ‘internal testimony’ (of the Spirit) balances and complements the external and historical witness of the ‘water and blood,’ the baptism and death of Jesus, which marked the limits of his earthly ministry (vv 6–8).” It is the Holy Spirit which converst people and not our brilliance in preaching and witnessing. It is the power of God and not our strength (see 1 Cor 2:6-16).
The clause “the one who does not believe God has made him a liar” is in contrast to a statement found in John 3:33 – “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.” That the opponents of orthodox Christianity are the ones who turn God Himself into a liar has been stated before in 1:10; 2:4, 22; 4:20; 5:10.
In reference to 5:11Kruse (182) writes: “Up to this point the author has emphasised God’s witness concerning the person (came in the flesh) and work (came by water and blood) of the historical Jesus, but here he emphasises God’s testimony concerning the benefit made available to believers through him.” Jesus is eternal life (5:20)! Thus, what John is concerned about here in this pericope (and throughout all his writings!) is not mere orthodox theology—but orthodox theology with its deep implications for you and me! Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the only way to God and “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts, 4:12; ESV).
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (5:12). I praise God for his magnificent and marvelous grace! In giving us His Son He makes us His sons and daughters, if we accept His testimony.