John 19:32-34 includes details about Jesus’ crucifixion not recorded in the other three Gospels:
“The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other man who had been crucified with Him. But coming to Jesus, when they saw that He had already died, they did not break His legs; but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.”
Hours after the Lord Jesus was crucified, the soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals who were crucified with Him. The Romans routinely broke the legs of crucified prisoners to hasten their deaths, but since Jesus had already died, they left His legs unbroken. One of them, though, pierced His side with a spear, and out came blood and water.
What is the meaning of these details found uniquely in John? Why did he include them? Some think it was simply to prove Jesus had died. But John already established the fact that Jesus had died by writing that the soldiers saw He had died and therefore didn’t break His legs. So why did John include this word about blood and water? What does it mean?
The emphasis of the Gospel of John
To answer this question, we first need to see the emphasis of John’s Gospel. The four Gospels form a complete biography of our Lord Jesus. In Matthew we see Jesus as the King with His kingdom; in Mark we see Jesus as the slave of God who came to serve God and man faithfully; in Luke we see Jesus as the unique man who expressed God through His fine humanity; and in John we see Jesus as the Son of God, that is, God Himself, coming to bring divine life to mankind. The emphasis of the Gospel of John is life.
Pictures in John
The things of divine life are deep and mysterious, so John uses pictures throughout His Gospel to reveal them. For instance, John 1:29 records John the Baptist saying of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” We know the Lord Jesus isn’t a literal lamb with four legs and fluffy coat, but the picture of Jesus as the Lamb of God shows us something beyond words alone. In it we immediately recognize the meekness, gentleness, and guiltlessness of the Lord who sacrificed Himself for us, even without any explanation.
Some other pictures in John include the heavenly ladder, the serpent on a pole, the living bread, the living water, and the vine with the branches. These pictures help communicate deep spiritual realities more adequately than a thousand words alone could. What spiritual reality, then, does the blood and water from the Lord’s pierced side convey?
The picture of blood and water
The note on blood and water in the New Testament Recovery Version
is tremendously helpful in understanding this picture. (We’ll focus on just some of it in this post, but you can read the note in its entirely here.)
“Two substances came out of the Lord’s pierced side: blood and water. Blood is for redemption, to deal with sins (1:29; Heb. 9:22) for the purchasing of the church (Acts 20:28). Water is for imparting life, to deal with death (12:24; 3:14-15) for the producing of the church (Eph. 5:29-30). The Lord’s death, on the negative side, takes away our sins, and on the positive side, imparts life into us. Hence, it has two aspects: the redemptive aspect and the life-imparting aspect. The redemptive aspect is for the life-imparting aspect.”
This note helps us see that the blood and water signify two important matters: redemption (blood) and the imparting of life (water). In another post, we discussed the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God who shed His own blood on the cross for us. Christ’s redeeming death accomplished a marvelous redemption for us, giving us the forgiveness and washing away of our sins. We can never praise and thank Him enough for His redemption! This is the significance of the blood.
But God doesn’t simply want us to be clean. He wants us to be living. Sin brought in death, making us dead in our offenses and sins. So while an unsaved person needs forgiveness for his sins, forgiveness only solves part of his problem. A sinner needs forgiveness, but a dead person needs life. We need life. Christ’s death absolutely takes away our sins, but it also imparts life into us to make us living. This is the significance of the water.
Jesus’ death released the divine life
Jesus’ death made it possible for us to have divine life imparted into us. Let’s read another section of the note mentioned above:
“…the flowing water and the unbroken bone mentioned by John in vv. 34 and 36 are signs that relate to the life-imparting aspect of the Lord’s death (see note 261). This death that imparts life released the Lord’s divine life from within Him for the producing of the church, which is composed of all His believers, into whom His divine life has been imparted.”
In John 12, Jesus referred to Himself as the grain of wheat that would fall into the ground and die. A grain of wheat is a seed. Within the shell of a seed is a life force, a life element; but as long as the seed remains whole, the life within stays confined to that one seed. For the life to be released, the seed must fall into the ground and “die.” That falling into the ground may seem wholly negative, but actually this is the only way the life confined within the seed can come forth and bear much fruit.
In the same way, the Lord Jesus is the Son of God who became a man in time and space. Within this wonderful God-man was the divine life, confined within a human shell. From the beginning, God’s desire was that we would receive His divine life as our life. But to get into us, the divine life in Christ had to first be released from within the shell of His humanity. So Jesus’ fell into the ground and died, and through His death, life was released!
The water that issued out of the Lord’s pierced side is a picture of the released divine life that can now be imparted into us. Praise God, life was released in Jesus’ death!
Today, as the Lord’s beloved church purchased with His blood and produced with His life, we have the blood and the water to enjoy forever. Let’s read the last paragraph of the note:
“The Lord’s pierced side was prefigured by Adam’s opened side, out from which Eve was produced (Gen. 2:21-23). The blood was typified by the blood of the Passover lamb (Exo. 12:7, 22; Rev. 12:11), and the water was typified by the water that flowed out of the smitten rock (Exo. 17:6; 1 Cor. 10:4). The blood formed a fountain for the washing away of sin (Zech. 13:1), and the water became the fountain of life (Psa. 36:9; Rev. 21:6).”
Praise the Lord for His redeeming and life-imparting death, for the blood and the water. His death opened two fountains to meet all our needs:
Zechariah 13:1: “In that day there will be an opened fountain for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.”
Psalm 36:9: “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”
At the fountain for sin we can continue to be washed from our sins by Jesus’ precious blood by confessing anything that comes between us and God. As we’re cleansed by His blood, we can receive more of the divine life by drinking of Him, the fountain of life. Thank the Lord for His wonderful death for us!
Revelation 21:6: “I will give to him who thirsts from the spring of the water of life freely.”