“Chapter 23: John 5–7,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 23,” New Testament Student Manual
In addition to being doctrinally rich, chapters 5–7 of John highlight a wide assortment of attitudes toward Jesus Christ, including some of the opposition and hostility that eventually resulted in His death. After commanding a man with a 38-year infirmity to “rise … and walk” (John 5:8), the Savior taught that all those who would believe in the Son of God and follow Him would be raised up to everlasting life (see John 5:21–29). The feeding of the five thousand provided the opportunity for the Savior to teach that He was the Bread of Life, the source of eternal life (see John 6:35, 48). Many who had been His disciples previously would not accept this teaching and “walked no more with him” (John 6:66). Amid the growing intensity of various opinions concerning Jesus’s identity and purpose, He proclaimed during the celebrations of the Feast of Tabernacles (see John 7) that only through faithful obedience to His word could people know the truth of His identity and His teachings.
The word Bethesda can be translated as “house of mercy” or “house of grace” (see Bible Dictionary, “Bethesda”). Archaeological excavations have identified the site for the pool of Bethesda as being just outside a north gate of the ancient temple precinct in Jerusalem, possibly a gate through which sacrificial sheep were led into the temple grounds (see John 5:2).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote regarding the pool’s supposed curative powers: “Any notion that an angel came down and troubled the waters, so that the first person thereafter entering them would be healed, was pure superstition. Healing miracles are not wrought in any such manner” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:188).
At the pool of Bethesda, the Savior healed a man who had “had an infirmity” for 38 years, and the man was immediately made whole. Bishop Merrill J. Bateman, while serving as the Presiding Bishop, examined the personal significance that the healing at the pool of Bethesda can have for us today:
“Just as the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda needed someone stronger than himself to be healed (see John 5:1–9), so we are dependent on the miracles of Christ’s atonement if our souls are to be made whole from grief, sorrow, and sin. … Through Christ, broken hearts are mended and peace replaces anxiety and sorrow. … As Isaiah stated concerning the Savior: ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. … And with his stripes we are healed’ (Isa. 53:4–5). …
“The Savior’s atonement in the garden and on the cross is intimate as well as infinite. Infinite in that it spans the eternities. Intimate in that the Savior felt each person’s pains, sufferings, and sicknesses. Consequently, he knows how to carry our sorrows and relieve our burdens that we might be healed from within, made whole persons, and receive everlasting joy in his kingdom. May our faith in the Father and the Son help each of us to become whole” (“The Power to Heal from Within,” Ensign, May 1995, 13–14).
After the healing at the pool of Bethesda, the Jews sought to kill the Savior because the healing had occurred on the Sabbath (see John 5:10, 16, 18). The Savior’s lengthy reply to the Jewish elites who were opposing Him is recorded in John 5:17–47. Of this important discourse, Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “[The Savior’s] reply to their charges is not confined to the question of Sabbath observance; it stands as the most comprehensive sermon in scripture on the vital subject of the relationship between the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 208).
The Jews persecuted the Savior not only because He healed a man on the Sabbath, but because He said that God was His Father (see John 5:18). Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained what it meant for the Savior to be “equal with God” during His earthly ministry:
“‘Equal with God!’—awful blasphemy or awesome truth!—one or the other. There is no middle ground, no room for compromise; there are no principles to compose: either Jesus is divine or he is blaspheming!
“‘Equal with God!’—not, as yet, in the infinite and eternal sense, but in the sense of being one with him, of being his natural heir, destined to receive, inherit, and possess all that the Father hath.
“‘Equal with God!’—not that he was then reigning in glory and exaltation over all the works which their hands had made, but in the sense that he was God’s Son, upon whom the Father had placed his own name and to whom he had given glory and honor and power” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 2:71).
As He continued to teach the Jews about His mission, the Savior declared that He could do “nothing of himself,” but rather He did what He had seen His Father do (John 5:19). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified that Jesus came to earth to “reveal and make personal to us the true nature of His Father, our Father in Heaven. … To come to earth with such a responsibility, to stand in place of Elohim—speaking as He would speak, judging and serving, loving and warning, forbearing and forgiving as He would do—this is a duty of such staggering proportions that you and I cannot comprehend such a thing. But in the loyalty and determination that would be characteristic of a divine child, Jesus could comprehend it and He did it. Then, when the praise and honor began to come, He humbly directed all adulation to the Father [see John 5:19; 14:10]” (“The Grandeur of God,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 70–71).
The Savior’s words recorded in John 5:19–21, 23 emphasize the unity between the Father and the Son, teaching that the work of the Father is also the work of the Son. The Father shows the Son “all things that himself doeth.” The Father “raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them [brings them to life]; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” And all people “should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.” Such teachings clearly testify of the complete unity between the Father and the Son.
As part of His discourse on His relationship to His Father, Jesus Christ testified that Heavenly Father had “committed all judgment” unto His Son and “given him authority to execute judgment” among men (John 5:22, 27). Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that because of His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ will be our Judge:
“The Atonement was a selfless act of infinite, eternal consequence, arduously earned alone, by the Son of God. Through it the Savior broke the bonds of death. It justifies our finally being judged by the Redeemer. …
“Lehi taught his son Jacob, ‘No flesh … can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah’ [2 Nephi 2:8].
“Jesus Christ possessed merits that no other being could possibly have. He was a God, Jehovah, before His birth in Bethlehem. … Our Master lived a perfect, sinless life and therefore was free from the demands of justice. He is perfect in every attribute, including love, compassion, patience, obedience, forgiveness, and humility. …
“I testify that with unimaginable suffering and agony at an incalculable price, the Savior earned His right to be our Redeemer, our Intermediary, our Final Judge” (“The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 42).
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the Savior’s prophecy that He would preach to the dead: “While yet in life, Jesus prophesied that He would also preach to the dead [see John 5:25]. Peter tells us this happened in the interval between the Savior’s Crucifixion and Resurrection [see 1 Peter 3:18–19]. President Joseph F. Smith witnessed in vision that the Savior visited the spirit world and ‘from among the righteous [spirits] … organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness’ [D&C 138:30]” (“The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 9).
While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Merrill J. Bateman explained how the Son of God had “life in himself”: “Unlike mortals who inherit the seeds of death from both parents, Jesus was born of a mortal mother but an immortal Father. The seeds of death received from Mary meant that He could die, but the inheritance from His Father gave Him infinite life, which meant death was a voluntary act. Thus, Jesus told the Jewish people, ‘For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself’ (John 5:26)” (“A Pattern for All,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 75).
It was while pondering John 5:29 that the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received the vision that became section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a vision that gave them additional understanding about the Resurrection of all mankind (see D&C 76:11–19). The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) recorded: “From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one. Accordingly, while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision” (Doctrine and Covenants 76, section introduction).
John 5:29 affirms that all mankind will be resurrected—the just as well as the unjust. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared: “When the Savior rose from the tomb, He did something no one had ever done. He did something no one else could do. He broke the bonds of death, not only for Himself but for all who have ever lived—the just and the unjust” (“Sunday Will Come,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 29).
Many Jews of Jesus’s day studied the scriptures, believing that through this study they would have eternal life: “[Ye] search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life” (John 5:39; italics added). The Savior tried to correct this false belief by teaching that the scriptures, which the Jews looked to as the final authority, testified that eternal life is found not in the scriptures but in following Jesus Christ. The Jews also failed to realize that the scriptures are the words of Christ and their purpose is to bring people to Christ, for He is the ultimate source of truth and life. Peter acknowledged Jesus Christ as the source of eternal life when he declared: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how the scriptures are a source of testimony concerning Jesus Christ:
“Jesus taught that we should ‘search the scriptures; for … they are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39). These words provide insight and inspiration to all who sincerely seek to know and understand the truth about Jesus Christ. The scriptures are rich in history, doctrine, stories, sermons, and testimonies, all of which ultimately focus on the eternal Christ and His physical and spiritual mission to Heavenly Father’s children. …
“The first testament of Christ is the Bible’s Old Testament, which predicted and prophesied of the coming of the Savior, His transcendent life, and His liberating Atonement.
“The second Bible testament of Christ is the New Testament, which records His birth, His life, His ministry, His gospel, His Church, His Atonement, and His Resurrection, as well as the testimonies of His Apostles.
“The third testament of Christ is the Book of Mormon, which also foretells Christ’s coming, confirms the Bible’s account of His saving Atonement, and then reveals the resurrected Lord’s visit to the earth’s other hemisphere. The subtitle of the Book of Mormon, the clarifying purpose statement printed on the cover of every copy, is ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ.’
“Each of these three testaments is a part of the great, indivisible whole of the Lord’s revealed word to His children. They contain the words of Christ” (“The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 81–82).
The Savior’s question recorded in John 5:44 teaches that as long as we are focused on what other people think about us, rather than on what God thinks about us, the development of our faith will be hampered. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained why this is so: “Struggles for the honors of men keep men from believing in and centering their hearts upon Christ, and they therefore lose their salvation” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:201).
When the Savior visited the Nephites, He told them that He was the prophet like unto Moses referred to in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18–19 (see 3 Nephi 20:23). Significant similarities between the ministry of the Savior and the ministry of Moses are found in John 6 and the book of Exodus. The events recorded in John 6 occurred at the time of the Passover (see John 6:4), an event strongly associated with Moses (see Exodus 12). When Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee (called by its official Roman name, the Sea of Tiberias), a large multitude followed Him (see John 6:1–2); the children of Israel were led by Moses through the wilderness by way of the Red Sea (see Exodus 12:38; 13:18). Jesus miraculously fed the multitude of five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fishes (see John 6:5–14); Moses fed the people with manna miraculously provided from heaven (see Exodus 16:3–4; John 6:31). When the multitude seemed likely to take Jesus by force to make Him a king, He left them and walked that night across the Sea of Galilee to His disciples (see John 6:15–21); led by Moses, Israel crossed through the Red Sea at night (see Exodus 14:21). The day after feeding the multitude, Jesus declared Himself to be “the bread which cometh down from heaven” (see John 6:22–65), another similarity to the manna provided from heaven.
Perhaps one of the most striking similarities between the ministries of Moses and the Savior is the use of “I Am” statements. When Moses asked the Lord what to say when the children of Israel asked for His name, the Lord responded, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:13–14). “I Am”—one of the names by which the Savior is known in the Old Testament—is recorded repeatedly by John, and Moses was told to use this name so the Israelites would know that Jehovah had spoken. John recorded that the Savior declared, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48, 51; italics added). He made other similar “I am” statements during His ministry (see John 8:12; 10:9, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).
For more information about the feeding of the five thousand, see the commentary for Mark 6:32–44.
Following the feeding of the five thousand, the Savior was perhaps at the height of His public popularity. John recorded that some sought to “take him by force, to make him a king” (John 6:15). What was it at that time that elevated Him in the eyes of the people? Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of a long-cherished tradition:
“There was a tradition, taught by the Rabbis and firmly entrenched in the public mind, that when Messiah came, he would feed them with bread from heaven. … It had even become a fixed belief that the Messiah, when He came, would signalize His advent by a repetition of this stupendous miracle. ‘As the first Saviour—the deliverer from Egyptian bondage,’ said the Rabbis, ‘caused manna to fall for Israel from heaven, so the second Saviour—the Messiah—will also cause manna to descend for them once more’ [Cunningham Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ (1886), 516–17].
“Thus, when Jesus multiplied the five barley loaves and the two small fishes, it was as though the traditional sign had been given. The peak of his popular appeal had come. In their eyes he stood on the summit. He was the Messiah, they reasoned, and must reign as their king” (Mortal Messiah, 2:367–68).
To read about Jesus Christ walking on the Sea of Galilee, see the commentary for Matthew 14:22–33.
After Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand, as recorded in John 6:3–14, the people who had been fed sought more food from Jesus. He taught them instead that He was the “living bread” and that they should seek the spiritual food He offered them. After that, many of His disciples no longer followed Him (see John 6:26–27, 66). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said of this account:
“In that little story is something of the danger in our day. It is that in our contemporary success and sophistication we too may walk away from the vitally crucial bread of eternal life; we may actually choose to be spiritually malnourished, willfully indulging in a kind of spiritual anorexia. Like those childish Galileans of old, we may turn up our noses when divine sustenance is placed before us. …
“… We invite you to join in the adventure of the earliest disciples of Christ who also yearned for the bread of life—those who did not go back but who came to Him, stayed with Him, and who recognized that for safety and salvation there was no other to whom they could ever go [see John 6:68]” (“He Hath Filled the Hungry with Good Things,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 65).
For further information about the Savior’s feeding of the five thousand, see the commentary for Mark 6:32–44.
As a common food staple in many cultures, bread serves as an ideal metaphor for the fundamental role the Savior and His teachings should have in our lives. As Jesus taught people about “the bread of life,” He drew upon the background of His listeners. He used their religious history as a teaching tool—the feeding of the five thousand and the Bread of Life discourse took place as the Jews were preparing for the Passover, during which the children of Israel ate unleavened bread in memory of their deliverance from Egypt and the manna that God had provided for them in the wilderness. He drew upon the people’s personal experience—many of those who listened to the Master on this occasion had also been among the five thousand who had eaten the bread He miraculously provided just the day before (see John 6:1–14).
The Savior also drew upon his listeners’ geographical location—they were now hearing Him teach in Capernaum, a region that appears to have been associated with bread making; more remnants of grinding mills have been discovered at Capernaum than at any other place in Israel. When the crowd referred to the manna provided for Israel in the days of Moses, the Savior reminded them that the same God who had provided that “bread from heaven” now offered to them the “true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Jesus had demonstrated that He could indeed provide for them temporally, but He was also “that bread of life” (John 6:48) who could give eternal life to those who would partake of the spiritual nourishment He now offered (see John 6:51).
In His discourse to the Jewish leaders, the Savior highlighted ways God helps people come to His Son. The Father will “draw” us to the Savior—to “draw” is to attract or to pull gently, as with “the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (see John 6:44; Mosiah 3:19). Also, we cannot come to the Savior unless it is “given” unto us by the Father. To have faith or repentance “given” to us means receiving divine help to believe and follow Jesus Christ (see John 6:65; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Nephi 31:19).
While the metaphor of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Savior may seem startling to some readers, the Savior made it clear that He was using “eating” and “drinking” figuratively (see John 6:58, 63). Jesus explained that to eat in the way He was describing meant to “live by [Him]” (John 6:57). The Savior’s words also foreshadowed the ordinance of the sacrament, which He instituted during the Last Supper. Elder James E. Talmage explained:
“To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ was and is to believe in and accept Him as the literal Son of God and Savior of the world, and to obey His commandments. By these means only may the Spirit of God become an abiding part of man’s individual being, even as the substance of the food he eats is assimilated with the tissues of his body.
“… The figure used by Jesus—that of eating His flesh and drinking His blood as typical of unqualified and absolute acceptance of Himself as the Savior of men—is of superlative import; for thereby are affirmed the divinity of His Person, and the fact of His preexistent and eternal Godship. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper, established by the Savior on the night of His betrayal, perpetuates the symbolism of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, by the partaking of bread and wine in remembrance of Him. Acceptance of Jesus as the Christ implies obedience to the laws and ordinances of His gospel” (Jesus the Christ, 342–43).
John 6 records a drastic shift in public opinion toward the Savior. He went from the high point of His popularity to a drastic decline. We may wonder how the same group of people who wanted to make Jesus Christ a king one day (see John 6:15) could abandon Him the very next day (see John 6:66). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote about why people abandoned Jesus and why we must be willing to accept the hard doctrines of the gospel, even when they are unpopular with the world:
“When Jesus first began to preach strong doctrines (the scriptures refer to these as ‘hard sayings’), many of those who followed Him ‘went back, and walked no more with him.’ (John 6:66.) Once His doctrines really began to make demands of people, it was too much for many.
“There are equivalent ‘hard sayings’ about our secular societies that one hesitates to utter but which need to be heard. They are not popular. … A truth may touch us, bore us, or merely make us uncomfortable. But those are reactions to truth, and reactions do not alter the reality of truth itself. … Hard sayings … when pondered, may make it easier to let go of the world. …
“Nephi lamented the fact that so many people will not ‘understand great knowledge.’ (2 Nephi 32:7.) Complexity is scarcely the cause, for the gospel is so plain and simple. Rather, the failure to comprehend seems to be rooted in a resolute refusal to let go of the world long enough to ponder the precious truths in the message of the Master” (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward , 6–7, 22).
Under the law of Moses, ancient Israel celebrated three great annual pilgrimage feasts, during which many Jews traveled to Jerusalem: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Harvest (Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost), and the Feast of Ingathering (Tabernacles) (see Exodus 23:14–17; Deuteronomy 16:16).
In New Testament times, the Feast of Tabernacles was considered “the greatest and most joyful” of the feasts. Celebrated in the modern months of September and October, “the events celebrated were the sojourning of the children of Israel in the wilderness (Lev. 23:43) and the gathering-in of all the fruits of the year (Ex. 23:16)” (Bible Dictionary, “Feasts”). During the weeklong celebration, Israelites occupied booths (also called tabernacles) that they built out of palm and myrtle branches (see Leviticus 23:42–43; Nehemiah 8:14–15). More sacrifices were offered at the temple during this week than during any other religious commemoration.
The events recorded in John 7 occurred during the week of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus had been staying in the Galilee area, where he had experienced great popularity, and avoiding the regions surrounding Jerusalem because they were heavily influenced by Jewish leaders who sought to kill Him. “The Jews” referred to in John 7:1 are the Jewish leaders, not the Jewish public in general. “His brethren” mentioned in verse 3 are Jesus’s half-brothers. (To read more about His half-brothers, see the commentaries for Matthew 13:55–56 and for Acts 1:14.) Jesus’s half-brothers urged Him to go to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus told them no, but He later went to the feast secretly and began to teach in the temple (see John 7:1–14).
Water and light were used as important symbols during the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Savior used these symbols to call the people to believe in Him as the Messiah. On the temple mount, four large golden candelabras (also called menorahs or candlesticks) illuminated the temple grounds during dances and other festivities held late into the night and early morning. The golden candelabras, which were 50 cubits tall (approximately 73 feet or 22.25 meters), not only provided light for the celebrations, but they symbolized that Israel was to be a light to those who walked in darkness. The most renowned and anticipated ceremony of the feast was the daily procession, during which an appointed priest drew water from the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher and poured the water into the silver basin at the base of the temple altar, along with the morning wine offering.
During “the last day, that great day of the feast,” after the crowds had celebrated the final pouring of the water, “Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (John 7:37). His words are a fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 14:8 that when the Messiah comes, “living waters shall go out from Jerusalem.” Early in the morning of the next day, which would have been the Sabbath, the Savior again returned to the temple. As He taught near where the large golden candelabras stood during the feast, He declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). It is Jesus Christ who gives light to all.
As Jesus taught in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles, some Jews marveled that He could teach as He did without having studied their theology. Jesus taught these people that His doctrine came from His Father and that those who applied the doctrine would know of its truth (see John 7:14–17). Of this teaching, President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency said: “We acquire a testimony of the principles of the gospel by obediently trying to live them. Said the Savior, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine’ [John 7:17]. A testimony of the efficacy of prayer comes through humble and sincere prayer. A testimony of tithing comes by paying tithing. … I testify that if you continue in the purposeful process of searching for and accepting spiritual light, truth, and knowledge, it will surely come. By going forward in faith, you will find that your faith will increase” (“Lord, I Believe; Help Thou Mine Unbelief,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 22).
Many Jews refused to listen to Jesus because they believed He was not obeying the Mosaic law, which over the centuries had become corrupted. They were angry with Him because He had healed a man on the Sabbath day, which was not allowed by the Mosaic law of that time (see John 5:8–9; 7:21–23). Jesus taught them, “Judge not according to your traditions, but judge righteous judgment” (Joseph Smith Translation, John 7:24 [in John 7:24, footnote b]). This is an important doctrine not only for the Jews in Jesus’s day but for our time as well. At times, we may need to abandon certain traditions in order to keep the laws of God.
Some people heard the Savior’s teachings and believed that He was the Messiah. The Pharisees, knowing that Jesus was helping the Jews to see the truth, sent officers to arrest Him. Jesus told them that soon they would seek Him but not find Him, for “where I am, thither ye cannot come” (see John 7:30–34). To better understand what the Savior meant by those words found in John 7:34, see the commentary for John 8:21–24.
The Savior taught that when someone believes in Him, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). This phrase suggests that the “living water” will be within the believer. It will not be poured out by a priest on the altar as was done at the Feast of Tabernacles; it will arise and flow miraculously from within the believer. This metaphor aptly describes the gift of the Holy Ghost.
In John 7:39, we read a parenthetical comment from John, explaining that the “living water” the Savior mentioned in John 7:38 refers to the Holy Ghost, whose main mission is to testify of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The Savior’s imagery of “living water” drew upon a long Israelite tradition that water represented important spiritual truths. In the arid climate of the ancient Near East, access to water was crucial for survival, and the scarcity of water made it both a valuable resource and a powerful symbol. The Lord saved Israel in Horeb when Moses miraculously brought forth water out of a rock (see Exodus 17; Numbers 20). The Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel used water as a symbol of the Lord’s Spirit, provident care, and healing power (see Isaiah 41:17–18; 58:11; Jeremiah 2:13; Ezekiel 47:1–12).
The Savior’s promise that those who believed in Him would at some future time have “living water” within them reflected the fact that “the Holy Ghost was not yet given” (John 7:39). “For some reason not fully explained in the scriptures, the Holy Ghost did not operate in the fulness among the Jews during the years of Jesus’ mortal sojourn (John 7:39; 16:7). Statements to the effect that the Holy Ghost did not come until after Jesus was resurrected must of necessity refer to that particular dispensation only, for it is abundantly clear that the Holy Ghost was operative in earlier dispensations. Furthermore, it has reference only to the gift of the Holy Ghost not being present, since the power of the Holy Ghost was operative during the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus; otherwise no one would have received a testimony of the truths that these men taught (Matt. 16:16–17; see also 1 Cor. 12:3)” (Bible Dictionary, “Holy Ghost”).
For additional information about Nicodemus, see the commentary for John 3:1.