What did John mean by “This is He who came by water and blood…”
I John 5:5-21: 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6 This is He who came by water and blood-- Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.
7 For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.
8 And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.
9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.
10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.
11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
1. Water and blood are about his death on the cross.
2. The water and blood are two separate witnesses- one of his baptism the other his death.
This is used two ways- one where we are forgiven by his blood and baptized, the other is focused on Jesus’ baptism and death.
3. The water is used symbolically as the Spirit (but the blood isn’t)
4. Some say this is the two ordinances that are a memorial for the church, “baptism and the Lords supper.”
5. Water and blood refer to His human birth [and death].
Let’s look at the less likely options for the interpretation first
1. The explanation that the “water and the blood” which flowed from the side of the Savior when he was pierced by the spear of the Roman soldier (a number of early church writers held this position).
John 19:34 “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
What this proves that he actually died because of the rupturing of the heart. Except for the fact that Heb.9:14 tells us the eternal spirit bore witness to the death, it has no exact correlation to what John is addressing. The emphasis of the crucifixion is on the blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, not water. There is no other New Testament reference to water with the cross. The order of John’s epistle is not the same order he wrote in his gospel. In John 1, the apostle John uses this as two separate things not both at the same time mingled together, both being witness of the same fact- his death. In his epistle John is explaining how Jesus came by, not how he left.
2. The water is His baptism- to fulfill all righteousness. The blood is the covenant by his death; indicating the beginning and end of his ministry. Both were necessary; water to inaugurate him in his priesthood and the blood which He as our high priest shed for our forgiveness of sins refer to the actual event- proving why He came. But this is about his inauguration into ministry not how he came. “Came” is in the Greek tense is referring to the actual event.
3. Water is an emblem or symbolic. In Ephesians water is used symbolically of the word in its cleansing. This does not fit Jesus coming by water and blood which are both meant to be literally about Jesus.
The water is used symbolically as the Spirit does not make sense in the context, since it says He came- not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness” of the water and blood. The Spirit does not bear witness of himself (water=Spirit).
4. The two ordinances (water and blood) are a memorial for the church; “baptism and the Lords supper.” The water (baptism) and the blood (our communion); both refer to the actual events. But the water has nothing to do with communion. Some see the water referring to John the baptizer who came “by water only;” that is, he came to baptize the people. But this is not referring to Jesus of whom the passage is in reference to so it is not a valid interpretation.
And the blood symbolically is what we take in communion of the actual event. Blood being used in this manner is always accompanied with “this is my body,” not water (1 Cor.11:23-26).
5. John emphasizes the water and the blood several times in these passages. Throughout his epistle there is an underlying theme that seems to make an obvious point and emphasizes these passages as key to his conclusion. Water and blood was a rebuttal about his humanity in light of the Gnostics teaching that God could not become flesh. It is emphasizing his human existence. The Gnostics believed Jesus became the Christ at his baptism and left him at in Gethsemane (or before the Cross). Since John is speaking of witnesses and in particular v. 8 “And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood;” the Spirit bearing witness of the Son on both Earth and in Heaven.V.9 he tells us of the Spirit the witness of God is greater. The Spirit bore witness of who He is by his miraculous birth of the Holy Spirit, by the power of God in miracles in His ministry (Isaiah 11:2; 61:1- Luke 4:18; John 3:34.)
Our options are simplified are:
The spirit bore witness by birth and came upon him at his baptism (Mt.3:16; Heb.10:15)
The water at his baptism Mk.1:9-10
The blood at his death Heb.10:19;9:14
Or it refers to the actual event proving how He came.
A number of verses are questioned as additions (in particular v.7 and 8) but it does flow with the explanation as well as the whole books theme to refute the Gnostics viewpoint of god becoming man (I Jn.4:1).
Water and blood is most likely not about his death but about his birth that He came into the world by “He who came by water and blood.” A.T. Robertson points out:
He that came ho (NT:3543) elthoon (NT:2034). Second aorist active articular participle of erchomai (NT:2034), referring to the Incarnation as a definite historic event, the preexistent Son of God "sent from heaven to do God's will" (Brooke)… a complete refutation of the Docetic denial of an actual human body for Jesus and of the Cerinthian distinction between Jesus and Christ. There is thus a threefold witness to the fact of the Incarnation, but he repeats the twofold witness before giving the third. The repetition of both preposition en (NT:1697) this time rather than dia (NT:1211) and the article too (NT:3543) locative case) argues for two separate events with particular emphasis on the blood ("not only" ouk (NT:3708) monon (NT:3396), "but" all' (NT:232) which the Gnostics made light of or even denied” (from Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament.)
In John 3 Jesus explains to Nicodemus about a spiritual birth and gives an explanation for being born of water.
John 3:5-8 (v. 5) “ ... unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus is having a conversation with Nicodemus, who is a Pharisee. He is speaking in relation to the Pharisee’s teaching- to be born of water meant to be born physically. This is proven by Nicodemus’ remark to Jesus asking if someone can go back into the womb while he is old. Nicodemus thought to be born again meant a physical birth (v.4). In verse 5, Jesus proceeds to say, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, believed like the other Jews that because he was born a Jew, he would automatically enter into the kingdom of God. However, Jesus explains that this is not enough. In verse 6, Jesus Himself interprets the water as flesh (a physical birth). “that which is flesh is flesh” Jesus says of being born of water is to be born of the flesh and then explains the difference to Nicodemus of already having a physical birth that comes first, and the need of a second birth ‘from the Spirit above ‘to enter the kingdom. He is contrasted the natural (flesh) to the spiritual.
Again: “came” is in the Greek tense, referring to the actual event. Heb 10:5: Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
John’s letter is refuting the Gnostics who did not believe Jesus came in the flesh and is the best interpretation for this passage as it is consistent with what John elsewhere writes.
1 John 1:1-3; “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us”