WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XLI) 12/12/22

5:6 And Jesus the Anointed One was revealed as God’s Son by His baptism in water and shedding His blood on the cross – not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with His testimony.

As a faithful and zealous Bible aficionado, William Graham (1810-1883) infers that the Witness of the Spirit concludes verse sixth – “And it is the Spirit that bears witness, for the Spirit is truth.” How does the Spirit bear witness to Christ? (1) The Holy Spirit gave witness to the Son of God in the person of the Redeemer, for the power of the Holy Spirit generated Him.[1]Furthermore, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove at His baptism.[2]The Spirit then guided Him into the wilderness and the rest of His ministry in humility and self-denial.[3]He also performed His miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit.[4] Finally, the Holy Spirit raised Him from the grave. And after His resurrection, our Lord was filled with the immeasurable power of the Holy Spirit, whereby He became the head of the new dispensation of grace, from whom all the needy creatures of God are to receive the divine mercy and goodness forever.

(2) The Holy Spirit also testified about the Redeemer. Especially to His death and resurrection and His gifts[5]of a miraculous spiritual endowment to the Church. From the Day of Pentecost to the present, it enabled the Church to testify of the resurrection and glory of the Lord Jesus the Anointed One. There is no testimony so noble, so convincing, none so overpowering to the convictions of sinners, or so unassailable to the infidel, as a Church filled with the fruit of righteousness walking in the ways of the Lord. Such a Church is the work of the Holy Spirit. He built the house, inhabiting it; He formed the temple and worshiped in it.

(3) The Holy Spirit bears witness to the Savior by the prophecies which are fulfilled and fulfilling in Him, and hence it is written, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”[6]The Holy Spirit is the divine inspirer, and all holy Scripture is inspired by God,[7] for “holy men of God spake as the Holy Spirit moved them.”[8] So, then, the Holy Spirit bears testimony to the Lord Jesus in His person and work, the persons and results of the redeemed Church, and the great system of providence and prophecy. Therefore, the Apostle John might well say, “And it is the Spirit that bears witness because the Spirit is truth.”[9]

With the spiritual zeal of a sacred text examiner, William E. Jelf (1811-1875) comments that the Apostle John forcibly states the object and grounds of this faith. Faith is such an essential element, or rather, so indispensable a foundation of the Christian character, that John repeatedly refers to, “this is God’s Son.” Others state that it is an acknowledged fact that Jesus was baptized and crucified. The point to be insisted on against Jews, Gentiles, and certain heretics was that Jesus the Anointed One, or the Messiah was and is the Son of God who came.[10]There are many interpretations of this most challenging passage: (1) The water and the blood which flowed from our Lord’s pierced side as evidence of His actual death, or as types of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (2) The sacraments. (3) The water signifies our Lord’s baptism; the blood, His death. (4) The water signifying the sacrament of baptism; the blood, the Anointed One’s death; and others which it is not worthwhile mentioning.

We may observe that the “water” and “blood” are not yet spoken of as witnesses but as circumstances accompanying our Lord’s mission on earth. “Is come” expresses properties or qualities, or additions to the action defined by “has come,” and, therefore, it is in our Lord’s mission on earth that we must find the meaning of “water” and “blood.”  We need not look in anything that He instituted or in anything merely viewed as evidence; they must express His characteristics on earth. In our Lord’s life as the Messiah, there are two circumstances where the notions of water and blood find a place. One in His baptism, which was, as it were, His inauguration into the Messianic office, the first step in carrying out God’s will as the Anointed One, a fulfilling of all righteousness. Another was His death on the cross as the Redeemer’s last of His mission on earth.

We might agree that “by water” is more challenging to assign a particular meaning. Everybody probably would at once connect “by blood” with Jesus’ death. But, whatever sense we give to this, we must provide an equivalent one to “by water” so that we may not suppose the former to mean a circumstance belonging to the Anointed One and the latter a rite instituted by Him. The best interpretation is that His water baptism and crucifixion blood characterized His Messianic mission. The Apostle John may have mentioned the water and blood because of what he relates in his Gospel.[11] He may also have had the water and blood of the two sacraments in his mind. But this notion is a needless refinement to the passage, which adds nothing to its force, and confuses its meaning.

If Jesus’ mission had been marked only by His baptism, He might have been merely a Prophet, coming from God indeed, to save mankind by a moral system. His shed blood on the cross gives the Christian structure its characteristic of redemption, and therefore it is thus definitely stated by John. The article “by” marks the identity of each with the water and blood mentioned above. There are also a variety of interpretations given to the word “Spirit,” which commonly refers to the Holy Spirit. He bore witness to the Anointed One’s mission, either in His miracles on the Day of Pentecost, or perhaps both. The force of the witness borne by the Spirit lies in that He is Truth itself and cannot deceive or be deceived.[12]

With an inquiring spiritual mind, Johannes H. A. Ebrard (1819-1893) asks what power “the Anointed One has come” has that causes Him to work in us, activating true belief. We see this unfold in verse six. It is self-evident that the verse serves as the confirmation of the central proposition of verse five, “Who is he that overcomes,” and not to the support of the lesser clause, “that Jesus is the Son of God.” It is not necessary now that the Apostle John should establish the general proposition that Jesus is the Son of God, for he has already amply and comprehensively revealed the consistency and harmony of this proposition in chapter four with the principles of all knowledge of God. The fact that verse six does not establish the suggestion that Jesus is the Son of God will be shown by carefully examining the meaning of  “Jesus the Anointed One is the one who came. He came with water and with blood. He did not come by water only. No, Jesus came by both water and blood.” On the whole, these easily understandable words have been explained in various strange ways by different expositors.

To begin with, it is plain that “witnessing” cannot stand without knowing its object. Therefore, it will not suffice to supply “that Jesus is the Anointed One” from verse five. “Witnessing,” in verse six, must have its object; and even more, because in verse seven, it stands without one, which would be acceptable by specifying the item in verse six. Therefore, “the Spirit tells us that this is true because the Spirit is the truth” as an impartial proposal. The Spirit of God, who is effectual in us as the Spirit of faith and love, lays down His testimony before the world to this: That this spirit of Christian faith and of Christian love is the truth. The Spirit demonstrates by His power and operation what is true.

That begs the question, to what is the Spirit bearing witness? Is it meant to be assumed, from the fact that the Spirit of God is truth, that He cannot possibly keep silent but must offer His testimony? The emphasis, however, does not rest here upon the assumed idea but upon the affirmed fact that the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with His testimony. Therefore, because the Spirit is truth, His testimony is steadfast and sure. But has it been revealed what the Spirit is testifying? Yes! “Jesus the Anointed One is the one who came by water and blood.”[13]

After inspecting John’s train of thought, William Kelly (1822-1888) comments that here we are led from the person of the Anointed One, which had just been before us, to the work of the Anointed One characterizing His person. For His ministry is that which furnishes the witnesses. God deigns to give us more than sufficient testimony. The Law required two witnesses in the things between humans; three were better still.[14] Here God provides fully. He presents three witnesses of the most significant conceivable weight for leading to the truth. “This is He that came,” neither by human birth, might, or wisdom, nor yet by divine power or glory.

It was not through His incarnation nor His unequaled ministry. “This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus the Anointed One.” He who was the true God and life eternal came to die as any human, yet as no other could die, He came from God to save sinners and wash them, not only purified inwardly but in God’s sight whiter than snow through His blood.[15] Yes, His death alone could blot out sin and glorify God.[16] The allusion is unquestionable to our Lord on the cross, dead already, pierced by the soldier to make sure of His death, out of whose side flowed blood and water. In history, the blood caught the eye first, of course, and so there was first named. Had anyone heard that blood and water should issue out of the side of a dead man? Yet so they did here.[17]

Familiar with the Apostle John’s writing style, William B. Pope (1822-1903) states that this is a problematic passage. First, it is governed by human and Divine testimony that “Jesus is the Anointed One” and “the Son of God.”  Secondly, the terms used in verse six imply a symbolical meaning underlying the literal, for we cannot understand “water” and “blood” as merely pointing to historical facts. Thirdly, the Apostle John has in view the misinterpretations of his time concerning the manifestation of Jesus in the flesh. “This Person Jesus the Anointed One” who “came” not into the world, but His Messianic office as the Anointed One, “by water and blood.”

There are two leading interpretations of those words. One of them understands by “water” the instituted baptism of John the Baptizer, which inaugurated Jesus into His Messianic office, and by “blood” His passion and death. The other explanation regards John fixing his thought upon the mysterious “sign” that he watched after the Savior’s death. It occurred when the piercing of His side was followed by the double stream of blood and water – the blood of atonement and water of life – flowing together as the symbol of one eternal life from His sacrifice. The latter we hold to as the true meaning. But let us do justice to the former.[18]

With precise spiritual discernment, William Alexander (1824-1911) extensively exposes verse six. He focuses on the fact that “He did not come by water only.” It may have been that the Apostle John had the followers of Cerinthus in mind. They separated Jesus from the divine Spirit placed upon Him at His baptism, then left before His death on the cross. These misled people could not bring themselves to believe that a person could be both human and divine in one body without some infusion of power from above. But John utterly denies such thinking. There is only one authentic Lord Jesus, the Anointed One – declared to be One in His baptism and by the passion of His blood on Calvary. The Jews already incorporated this by pouring water and wine on the sacrifices at the Altar. As the Lamb of God, we read that when Jesus died on the Cross, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.[19] [20]


[1] Luke 1:35

[2] Matthew 3:16

[3] Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1

[4] Matthew 12:28

[5] Romans 1:11; 12:6; 1 Corinthians 7:7; 12:4, 9,28,30-31; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Peter 4:10

[6] Revelation 19:10

[7] 2 Timothy 3:16

[8] 2 Peter 1:21

[9] Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., p. 322-323

[10] Cf. Matthew 16:16

[11] John 19:34

[12] Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 70-72

[13] Ebrard, Johannes H. A., Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 315

[14] Matthew 18:16

[15] Isaiah 1:18

[16] John 13:31-32

[17] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., p. 362

[18] Pope, William B., The International Illustrated Commentary on the N. T., Vol. IV, p. 37

[19] John 19:34

[20] Alexander, William: The Holy Bible with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary, op. cit., Vol. IV, pp. 341-342

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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