Blood and Water - What Do They Mean?

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
It is a historic fact recorded by the Apostle John (John 19:34) that a soldier with a spear pierced the side of the dead Christ, and “forthwith came there out blood and water.” From the solemn way in which the Apostle pauses to attest to this fact as a personal eyewitness (John 19:35), we might naturally conclude that he attached some very special importance to it, even if no further reference to it were made. We are not, however, left to surmise, as in his first epistle he returns to the subject and supplements the historic record of his gospel with instruction as to the bearing of the fact. He says, “This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood” (1 John 5:6). And further, in 1 John 5:8 he speaks of the Spirit and the water and the blood as the three witnesses to the Son of God. Thus we see that both blood and water are connected with the death of Christ and that, though they are connected, they are distinct.
Guilt and Moral Defilement
Speaking in a broad sense, we may say that they connect themselves with the two great effects of sin, namely, its guilt and its defiling power. The blood sets before us the death of Christ in atonement for our sins, thus cancelling our guilt and bringing us judicial forgiveness (1 John 1:7). The water indicates the same death, but rather as that by which our sinful state has been dealt with in judgment and ended, so as to deliver us from the old condition and associations of life in which once we lived. Thereby we are cleansed morally and the power of sin over us is broken.
The virtue and power of the blood of Christ are set before us in Hebrews 9-10. We find there:
1. The blood of Christ purges, or cleanses, the sinner’s conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14).
2. It has removed the transgressions of saints of old, which had been for centuries accumulating under the first covenant, that is, the law (Heb. 9:15).
3. It has ratified a new covenant of grace (Heb. 9:15-18).
4. It has removed the believer’s sins and laid the basis for the putting away of sin in its totality (Heb. 9:22,26).
5. It has so completely done so for faith that, once purged, the believer’s conscience is cleared forever as far as the judicial question of his sins is concerned (Heb. 10:2).
6. It therefore gives the believer boldness to enter into the very presence of God (Heb. 10:19).
7. It has once and forever sanctified—set apart—the believer for God (Heb. 10:10,29).
Access to God
The great subject here is the believer’s access to God in virtue of the blood of Christ. His judicial clearance is perfect by that one offering and never needs to be repeated. Hence the word which characterizes these chapters is “one,” and “once,” and it is repeated seven times over.
Judicial and Moral Cleansing
But though judicial cleansing by blood is the great theme of these chapters, the need for moral cleansing is not forgotten. We draw near to God having not only “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,” but “our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). This is, doubtless, an allusion to the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priestly office recorded in Exodus 29. They were washed with water (Ex. 29:4) as well as sprinkled with blood (Ex. 29:20). They had the shadow; we have the substance —the death of Christ. In the very nature of things, this moral cleansing by water needs to be kept up; the idea of repetition is therefore appropriate enough here. We find it if we refer to the type. Aaron and his sons were bathed with water from head to foot at their consecration, as we have seen; that was not repeated, but nevertheless a laver was provided (Ex. 30:17-21), and there the priests washed their hands and feet. The instructions were most explicit: “When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not.”
Washed and Bathed
When we turn from type to antitype, the same thought appears. In the upper chamber in Jerusalem, probably just before He instituted His supper, the Lord Jesus girded Himself and, pouring water into a basin, began to wash His disciples’ feet (John 13). Peter’s reluctance brings forth the truth that such washing is necessary if communion with the Lord in His heavenly position was to be enjoyed. “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me” (John 13:8). His rapid change to enthusiastic haste leads the Lord to say, “He that is washed [bathed] needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit” (John 13:10).
Here the twofold way in which cleansing by water is presented in Scripture is very carefully distinguished. Once for all we have been “bathed.” The death of Christ has cleansed us from the old life, but for all that we need the constant application of that death to our souls day by day, moment by moment. We cannot approach the sanctuary nor enjoy “part with” Christ without it. With these thoughts before us, we may perhaps return to the words quoted at the beginning from 1 John 5 and find a greater depth of meaning in them.
By Water and Blood
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came by water and blood; by both these things was His coming characterized. The Spirit of God specially guards this point, saying, “Not by water only, but by water and blood.” Why so? Perhaps one reason is that there has always been a tendency to teach that Christ did come by water only—to cleanse man morally by setting before him the highest ideals and living out those ideals Himself as an incentive to others. Foreseeing this error, the Spirit says, “Not by water only, but by water and blood.” Not by moral cleansing only, but also by expiation for sin. And it is the Spirit that bears witness, and “the Spirit is truth.”
The Three Witnesses
And so the three witnesses, the Spirit, the water and the blood, remain: the Spirit the living, acting, speaking witness; the water and the blood two silent witnesses, and all three agree in one. They testify that He who came in this way is the Son of God, the fountain of eternal life, and that in Him eternal life is ours, who believe on the name of the Son of God.
But if the blood cleanses us from all sin, what need is there for the water? It is needed because men need cleansing from the love of sin as much as from the condemnation of sin. There is a great need for the water, that we should hate sin as God hates it. To be bathed all over (as were the priests at the start) means that, being made possessors of a new life, we abhor and forsake the old life, seeing that Christ’s death was necessary to put away all that we were. His death was ours. Moreover, in this defiling world, we need that daily cleansing of which the laver speaks. Is there not much about us personally that needs removing, to say nothing of the subtle influences of this world which often insensibly affect us? Every Christian with a sensitive conscience will surely agree that there is.
Cleansing by Water
This daily cleansing by water is obtained by the Word. The water and the Word are clearly connected in such a passage as, “That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). The Word of God brings home to our souls the death of Christ in its power and wealth of spiritual meaning. Sin in its true hideousness stands revealed, and our affections are cleansed thereby. We may overlook this cleansing effect of God’s Word, while eager, perhaps, for a better textual acquaintance with it. Let us dwell much upon the Word of God, for our lives and ways will be cleansed thereby.
Is it only when we sin that we need the water? We do need it when we sin, but even apart from actual sins, being in a world of defilement, we need it if we would worship, hold communion with, or serve God. In Numbers 19 we find, in type, the water as purification from sin; then in Exodus 30:17-21, in type, we have water removing every earthly defilement in view of drawing near to God in the sanctuary without reference to actual sins. In the New Testament, John 13 is more connected with the latter aspect than the former. How dependent we are upon not only the blood, but the water!
F. B. Hole (adapted)