WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XLIII) 12/14/22

5:6 And Jesus Christ 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 Messianic scholar,[1] Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) speaks about the symbolic meaning of the Water and Blood flowing from His pierced side, on which the Apostle John focuses here in verse six. But, to its external expression in the symbolism of the two Sacraments (baptism and communion), we can only point the devout Christian. The two Sacraments mean that the Anointed One had come and that Death and Corruption had no power over Him who was crucified for us and loved us unto death with His broken heart and lives for us with the pardoning and cleansing power of His offered Sacrifice.[2]

Like a spiritual farmer planting the seed of God’s Word, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) admits there have been endless disputes about what the Apostle John meant by the water and the blood. Yet, both are closely connected with our Lord’s earthly history as witnesses that He was the Messiah, the guiding Light, spiritual and eternal Life. Some scholars understood water to be the water that came from the Savior’s pierced side; some, the baptism commanded for believers in the Great Commission;[3] some, the Word of God;[4] some, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. A careful weighing of the entire section and its purpose leaves hardly a doubt that “water” refers to our Lord’s baptism, a most important event of His earthly manifestation, and pointing, as John shows,[5] to Jesus as the Possessor and Giver of life, and hence the Anointed One. John calls it water because it is an element rather than an act, considered a witness.

Furthermore, says Sawtelle, the water of His baptism symbolized the spiritual Life He had without measure or the Spirit of eternal Life belonging to Him, and hence was a witness that He was the Son of God. Are these not the points John aims to establish on various testimonies that the Anointed One is the Fountain of Life?[6] And if Fountain of spiritual and eternal Life, He is God’s Son. Then, blood is another witness. The blood does not refer to the wine at the Last Supper but to the death of the Anointed One. And John uses the term blood because it is not the death John had in mind, but the spiritual and eternal Life poured out,[7] of which blood is the symbol.[8] The Anointed One’s blood of sacrifice pointed to the spiritual and eternal Life He gave for mankind and hence bore witness to Him as the Possessor and Giver of eternal life. So, our life is in the blood. And the Author of spiritual and eternal Life is the Anointed One. Not by water only, but by water and blood.

And it is the Spirit who also bears witness. The Spirit, given in connection with the Anointed One’s coming, both at Pentecost and as a permanent blessing in the Church, is the most direct witness[9] to the same fact that the Anointed One is the Source and Giver of spiritual and eternal Life, therefore, the Son of God because the Spirit is the truth. Not as a symbol, like water and blood, but the truth itself, directly uttering God’s nature. For that reason, a witness must be at once acknowledged and speak directly about what the others utter indirectly.[10]

With the ability of a linguist’s concentration, Marvin R. Vincent (1834-1921) notes that the true principle of interpretation appears to be laid down in the two canons of Dordrecht.[11] (1) Water and blood must point both to some purely historical facts in the life of our Lord on earth, and some still present witnesses for the Anointed One. (2) They must not be interpreted symbolically but understood as something so real and powerful, as God’s testimony given to believers, and eternal life assured to them. Thus, the sacramental reference, though secondary, need not be excluded. The first proof of the Messiahship of Jesus lay in His complete historical fulfillment of Messiah’s work once and for all, in bringing purification and salvation; that proof continues in the experience of the Church in its two separate parts. Therefore, we are led to the ideas underlying the two sacraments of water and blood.[12]

Noting the Apostle John’s doctrinal implications, John James Lias (1834-1923) comments that the language of the Apostle John certainly implies that the work of Jesus the Anointed One was a double work. Those who only regard one part of that work receive a defective impression of the nature of the Gospel. The first work is the taking away from us what we have – namely, a sinful nature; the second is the giving us what we don’t have – that is, fellowship with the Divine nature. We may also take Water as a type of cleansing from sin. Finally, blood is a phrase used to denote the impartation of the Anointed One’s righteousness. Let us regard each of these:

            (a) The first step is a sense of reconciliation with God. To express this, we have a variety of words in the English Bible. Reconciliation and atonement (both renderings of the Greek noun katallagḗ,) justification, adoption, grace, and the like, are used to convey it. All these imply the removal of the alienation between God and man, which is the necessary consequence of sin, and the substitution in its place of the confidence to speak boldly, the access, the assurance of fatherly love on God’s part which Jesus the Anointed One revealed.

            (b) The next step is stirring us up to fight against sin. God’s object is not merely the removal of the spiritual death sentence but the cause of the sentence. The renewed life is entirely irreconcilable with sin and must be in dead defying hostility with it.[13] And the object of the renewed energy is the expulsion of evil. The cleansing, or washing, involves the gradual detachment of the soul from all sinful habits.

            (c) We are sustained in this conflict by the assurance of victory.[14]  From this point of view, water is regarded as refreshing as well as cleansing aspects. It implies the confidence with which the Christian warrior advances to the battle, armed with the shield of faith; the sustained energy they display in the conflict; the renewed vigor they demonstrate when downcast or wearied when they return to the Fountain and is invigorated by fresh breezes of the water of life.

            (d) But it is the life of the Anointed One which does all. As we have already seen, the water, after all, only represents one particular effect of the blood gift. It is the blood that cleanses us from sin.[15] It is to the blood that we owe our justification, adoption, peace,[16] and all the refreshment and strength that a Christian can receive through faith. But these ideas are not immediately connected in our minds with blood. Hence this aspect of the Divine life is represented to us under the figure of water.

            (e) Exhortation to confidence in the Christian walk.[17] [18]

With his systematic mindset, Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836-1921) also points to water as an implication of Jesus’ baptism. Therefore, our Lord could say, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”[19] Because only through the final baptism of suffering and death, which this baptism in water foreshadowed, could He “put an end of sin” and “bring in everlasting righteousness”[20] to the condemned and ruined world. He could not be “the Lord our Righteousness,”[21] except by first suffering death due to the nature He had assumed, thereby delivering it from its guilt and perfecting it forever.

All this was indicated when He was first “made manifest to Israel.[22] In His baptism in Jordan, He was buried in the likeness of His coming death and raised in the likeness of His following resurrection.[23] His baptism in water was the beginning of His ministry, and His shedding of blood was the closing of that ministry. As Jesus’ baptism pointed forward to His death, our baptism points backward to that death as the center and substance of His redeeming work, the one factor by which we live. We who are “baptized into the Anointed One” are “baptized into His death.[24] That is, into spiritual communion and participation in that death which He experienced for our salvation. In short, we declare symbolically that His death became ours in baptism.[25]

A tried and tested biblical scholar who believes in the up-building of the Christian life, Robert Cameron (1839-1904) points out that in the first part of this chapter, the Apostle John told how our faith overcomes the world, which for a few days tolerated the Anointed One, but in the end, shook Him from its lap, condemned Him to death, and put Him upon a cross. We, however, take that same Jesus crucified by the combined hatred of Jews and Romans and make Him our Lord and our God. We acknowledge that we owe everything to Him, and without Him are nothing and have nothing. Very naturally, then, John asks the question: On what authority do we devote our interests for time and eternity to this Anointed One? What extraordinary facts lead us to accept Him despite such universal condemnation?

John then proceeds to say, notes Cameron, that Jesus came by water and blood; also, that He has three witnesses testifying to His character – the Spirit, the water, and the blood. There has been very much dispute about what is meant by Jesus’ coming by water and blood and how the Spirit, the water, and the blood bear witness to His character. Concerning this, we may say, first, that these words point to some purely historic facts apparent in the life of our Lord on earth. Secondly, it is assumed that these facts are so actual and evident that they serve as the introduction and boundary of God’s testimony to those who put their trust in Him. It will be readily seen and admitted that the two great facts which correspond to these conclusions are the baptism and the death of our Lord. The exact expression here is both by and in, water and blood. The one implies the means through which, and the other the element in which He came.

Hence John says, “He … came by water and blood,” as if to impress his readers with the fact that the Son of God was fulfilling everything that these types caused them to expect. He manifested Himself utilizing water and blood. He came and symbolically fulfilled all the promises made to the apostolic fathers concerning the Messiah in the act of baptism. Thus, the fulfillment was made a reality at His death. Therefore, “He that came” is equivalent to “He has fulfilled the promises to the apostolic fathers, as the Savior sent from God.”


[1] Messianic refers to a Jewish convert to Christianity

[2] Edersheim, Alfred: The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 2, Ch., 15, Crucified, Dead, and Buried,” p. 485

[3] Matthew 28:19

[4] John 3:5

[5] Ibid. 1:31, 33

[6] Ibid. 4:14

[7] Cf. Deuteronomy 12:23

[8] Leviticus 17:11

[9] John 15:26

[10] Sawtelle, Henry A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 56-57

[11] The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands is popularly known as the Canons of Dort (or the Five Articles Against the Remonstrates [members of the Arminian party in the Dutch Reformed Church]). It consists of statements of doctrine adopted by the great Synod of Dort which met in the city of Dordrecht in 1618–1619. Although this was a national Synod of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, it had an international character, since it was composed not only of sixty-two Dutch delegates but also of twenty-seven foreign delegates representing eight countries.

[12] Vincent, Marvin R: Word Studies in the New Testament: op. cit., p. 365

[13] See 1 John 1:6, 9; 2:5, 15; 3:3, 9, 10; cf. Romans 6; 8:2, 4. 7

[14] See John16:33; 1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 Thessalonians 1:5

[15] 1 John 1:7; cf. Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 12:24; Revelation 1:5; 7:14

[16] Romans 3:24-26

[17] 1 John 5:13, 18, 20; Romans 5;1

[18] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 363-369

[19] Matthew 3:15

[20] Daniel 9:24

[21] Jeremiah 23:6

[22] John 1:31

[23] 1 John 5:6

[24] Romans 6:3

[25] Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, op. cit. p. 304

About drbob76

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