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Blood & water. You find these two words, these two ideas, swirling around a lot in 1 John 5. And John isn’t exactly clear on what they mean. Look at verses 6-8:
“This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
Ok, you might say. But was does that mean? At least, that’s what I said after I read that. So much so that I went and got a commentary off my shelf. Then spent some time reading up on the passage. You know what it means?
Long story short: we don’t know. (Isn’t biblical research fun!)
There are several different ideas out there but two rise above all the others (in my humble opinion).
First is the idea that water and blood serve as bookends to Jesus’ earthly career and the practices left for the Christian church in its wake. Water reminds us of Jesus’ baptism and how we practice baptism today as a result. Blood represents Jesus’ death on the cross as well as the Last Supper in which Jesus taught his disciples that the cup of wine served as a symbol of his blood, blood of a new covenant. With this understanding we see that all of Jesus’ life is important, start to finish. He was born and he died. And the Spirit of God testifies to that reality.
Next, let’s look at the one other place where we see the elements of blood and water brought together, John 19:33-34 –
“But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
This serves as proof of Jesus’ death. One author I read said something along the lines of “This passage serves to show that Jesus’ real death is what results in mankind’s real life.”
Either way you choose to understand “blood and water” you have to admit that the main point comes across: the incarnation of God matters. That is what John is getting at here as he is taking aim at the gnostic heresy that Jesus wasn’t a real man, that he just looked like one.
So as you walk away from this passage today and leave your Bible/quiet/God time I hope for two things for you. First, that the real-ness of God is made real to you. That you can participate in “real life” because of Christ’s “real death.” Not the mockery of life much of the world will try to push on you. And second, that you have a healthy respect for the role of mystery in our faith and our scriptures. That, try as we might, we still don’t have it all figured out.
Grace and peace.