WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XLIV) 12/15/22

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.

In the First Covenant, water and blood were everywhere connected with the service of the sanctuary. The Anointed One existed before the act of baptism, and He lives now since He died. However, He did not exist in person before His baptism, and He is not visible before the world now. This Epistle of John is entirely about the embodiment and revelation of the Anointed One. John speaks of that which was seen, heard, gazed upon, and handled. He, therefore, treats only that part of our Lord’s life exposed to the senses of the world. The water and the blood point to two distinct historical events in the earthly life of our Lord. One is the point a quo (from which), and the other is the point ad quem (to which).

Baptism in water was the beginning of His human form as the Messiah, and His death on the cross was the conclusion. Hence, He came by water and blood. The Lord Jesus did not show Himself to the world as the Son of God before His baptism, nor did the world get a view of Him after the cross. He came in by water and passed out by blood. One was the entrance, the other the exit. He came to fulfill all righteousness in His baptism and accomplished that upon the cross, crying, “It is finished.” John the Baptist came baptizing in water so that Jesus might be shown to Israel. The only contact that Jesus had with John the Baptizer was at His baptism and during the subsequent testimony given by John a few days afterward. It will thus be seen that Jesus entered His personified form on the earth, among men, at the time of His baptism. He terminated that physical existence at the time of His death by pouring out His blood on the cross. As He disappeared from the world’s view in blood, He also passed before God’s face through His blood. It was the blood of the brazen altar before the mercy seat combined. It was the body without the camp and the blood within the veil. Mankind saw one, and the other was visible to God alone.[1]

With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) sees the Apostle John appealing to the daily experience of every victorious Christian that Jesus is God’s Son. The faith that conquers is no vague belief in the existence of God but a definite demand in the Incarnation.[2] This verse shows that John’s “liar”[3] does not mean “supreme liar.” Therefore, here in verse six, “He that overcomes” cannot mean “the supreme conqueror.” The sole Victor is the Anointed One in the highest and most unique sense.[4] Belief in the Anointed One is confidence in God and man at once. It lays a foundation for love and trust toward our fellow believers. Thus, the instinctive distrust and selfishness, that reign supreme in the world, are overcome.

Closely connected with what precedes, is that this Son of God is He that came. The identity of the historical person, Jesus with the eternal Son of God, is once more insisted upon as the central and indispensable truth of the Christian faith. Faith in this truth is the only faith that can overcome the world and give eternal life. And it is a truth attested by witnesses of the highest and most extraordinary kind, water, and blood. It is the most perplexing passage in the Epistle and one of the most mysterious in the Final Covenant. A significant number of interpretations of water and blood have been suggested. But a few of the principal explanations, and the reasons for adopting the one preferred, may be stated with an advantage. The water and the blood have been interpreted to mean: (1) The Baptism by means of water in the Jordan River and the Death by means of blood upon the Cross. (2) The water and blood which flowed from the Anointed One’s pierced side. (3) Purification and Redemption. (4) The Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

These are representative interpretations; the first two making the water and blood refer to facts in the earthly career of the Messiah; the last two making them symbolical of mysteries. It will be observed that these explanations are not all exclusive: either of the last two may be combined with either of the first. The problematic passage in John 19:34 and the difficult passage before us do not explain one another. That these two passages alone, of all Scripture, are blood and water placed together would, if true, amount to nothing more than a presumption that one may relate to the other. The change of order would at once weaken such a presumption: instead of the “blood and water” of John’s Gospel, we have here “water and blood” in this Epistle. But the statement in John’s Gospel has nothing to do with crucifixion and baptism.[5] It would be ridiculous that John would speak of outpourings of the blood from the dead body of Jesus as the Son of God “before water?”

Moreover, on this interpretation, what can be the point of the emphatic addition, “not in the water only, but in the water and the blood?” At the piercing of Jesus’ side, the blood (representing the crucifixion), not the water (indicative of baptism) came first. So that, to make the reference clear, the whole sentence ought to run somewhat in this manner: “This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus the Anointed One; not by water only, but by water and blood.”[6]

Prolific writer on the Epistles, George G. Findlay (1849-1919) comments that by the time of the Apostle John, “Jesus the Anointed One” and “Jesus the Son of God” had become terms synonymous in Christian speech. John insists upon the oneness of Jesus the Anointed One and makes it the test of genuine Christianity.[7] The name thus appended to verse six is no idle repetition; it is a solemn reassertion and summation of the Christian creed in two words – Jesus the Anointed One. And He is Jesus the Anointed One since He “came through water and blood – not in the water only.” This passage brings to a point the verbal attack aimed towards which the whole Epistle, in one way or other, has been directed: “I am writing these things,”[8] John explained, “to warn you about those who want to lead you astray,[9] namely, the “antichrists” and “false prophets.”[10]

The heretics whom the Apostle opposes allowed, and maintained in their way, that Jesus the Anointed One “came by water” when He received His Messianic anointing at John’s baptism and the man Jesus thus became the Anointed One, but the “coming through blood” they despised. They regarded the death on the cross, happening to the human Jesus, as a punishment of shame inflicted on the flesh, in which the Divine Anointed One could have no part. Upon this Cerinthian view, the Anointed One who came “through water” went away rather than came “through blood.” In the death upon the cross, the Docetists saw nothing that witnessed to the Godhead in Jesus the Anointed One, nothing that spoke of Divine forgiveness and cleansing,[11] but an eclipse and abandonment by God, a surrender of the earthly Jesus to the powers of darkness.

This error revived in a new form what the Apostle Paul had called “the scandal of the cross.”[12] As the crucifixion seemed to him, in his Jewish unbelief, a disproof of Jesus’ Messiahship, so to these later misbelievers, it was evident that Jesus, who had been one with the Anointed One, was a helpless, forsaken man. But John found in the shedding of the Anointed One’s blood grander evidence of His Sonship to God, the demonstration of His perfect harmony with and understanding of the Divine will and love to humankind.[13] [14]

With his stately speaking style, William Macdonald Sinclair (1850-1917) says that “water” and “blood” are referred to as two of the three great witnesses, or sets of evidence, for the Anointed One. They are symbols and look back to two of His personal history’s most characteristic and significant acts. The one is His baptism, the other His cross. Why His baptism? The baptism of John was the seal of the Law. It served as the outward sign by which those who repented at the Baptizer’s preaching showed their determination to keep the Law no longer in the letter only but also in the spirit.

Jesus, too, showed this same determination. Baptism in water was His outward seal to the First Covenant: He did not come to destroy but to fulfill the Law; not to supersede the prophecies, but to claim them. It was to show that in Him, the righteousness and purification which the Law intended was to be a reality, and through Him to be the law of His kingdom. Thus, it pointed to all the evidence that the First Covenant could afford Him, and, through the First Covenant, it pointed to the dispensation of the Father. Thus, when this most symbolic act was complete, the Almighty Giver of the old Law or covenant was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”[15] [16]

Undoubtedly, says Charles Gore (1853-1932) the dependence of The Apostle John’s First Epistle on the Gospel is nowhere more evident than in this passage. The meaning of “water” is to be found by reference to John the Baptizer’s testimony as given in John’s Gospel to the significance of the baptism of Jesus.[17] The witness of the blood is to be interpreted in the light of where “flesh” expresses our Lord’s human nature, given for the life of the world. Also, when the word “flesh” causes scandal,[18]blood” is added to it to emphasize the reality of sacrificed manhood – of which the “blood is the life.” The combination of water and blood that flowed from our Lord’s pierced side is emphasized without explanation in John’s Gospel,[19] and here interpreted as the union in Jesus of the divine and human elements. The term “witness of the Spirit” must be thought of in the light of (1) When Jesus said, “living water,” He was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in Him.[20] (2) Of the last discourses about the Spirit,[21] were, to a degree not commonly recognized, the Spirit is spoken of as “the Spirit of truth.” Again, the idea of a divine witness to the Anointed one overshadowing the human witness, which is to be appropriated as divine by the individual, requires interpreting by John[22] and other passages.[23]

Esteemed ministry veteran James B. Morgan (1859-1942) says we see that the Apostle John, the author of this epistle, records a circumstance that occurred during the crucifixion of our Lord – “One of the soldiers, with a spear, pierced His side, and out came blood and water.”[24] Some suppose there is a reference to this incident here in verse six and that John suggests in it an illustration of the design of the Anointed One’s mission. Thus, the water and the blood are theoretically suggestive of the two great blessings of redemption, purity, and pardon, more technically expressed sanctification and justification. The blood represents justification and water is illustrative of sanctification. Such expositions are to be handled with care. There is a much more natural meaning in the facts recorded by the evangelist.


[1] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Light, Life, and Love, op. cit., p. 221

[2] Cf. 5:1; 2:22; 3:23; 4:2, 3

[3] 1 John 2:22

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:57

[5] Leviticus14:52; Hebrews 9:19

[6] Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, N. T., Vol. IV, pp. 157-160

[7] 1 John 5:1; cf. 2:22; 3:23; 4:2, 3 15

[8] Ibid. 5:13

[9] Ibid. 2:26

[10] See ibid. 2:18, 26; 4:1-6

[11] See ibid. 1:7, 9

[12] 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5

[13] 1 John 4:9, 10

[14] Findlay, George G: Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 381

[15] Matthew 3:17; 17:5

[16] Sinclair, William M., New Testament Commentary for the English Reader, Charles J. Ellicott (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 491

[17] John 1:32-34

[18] Ibid. 6:52-55

[19] John 19:35

[20] Ibid. 7:38-39

[21] Ibid. 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15

[22] John 3:31-34; 5:31-47

[23] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 196

[24] John 19:34

About drbob76

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