The Spirit, The Water, and The Blood
1 john 5.6-12
When I was pastoring in Kentucky there was an old man named Bob Rice who was a member at our church. Bob actually stormed the beach at Normandy. I just saw him a few months ago and told him that he’s got one of the coolest stories I’ve ever heard. He was physically there. That opening scene from Saving Private Ryan; he was there. He was a witness to that victory. There’s something unique about hearing the story of that victory from someone who was wearing boots on the ground.
This is exactly what John is talking about in 1 John 5.6-12. Last week we ended with vv. 4-5 where John declared that our faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Because of the victory of Jesus, we too share in God’s victorious kingdom. Now he refers to three witnesses to the victory. Witnesses give you first hand account. Witnesses verify whether an event actually happened. Under the old covenant Moses wrote, a single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established (Deut 19.15).
Remember the setting of this letter. John’s writing to rebuked the Gnostics and reassure doubting believers. For all of Christian history this letter has confronted those who sinfully reject Christ and comforted those struggling in Christ. Every one of us in the sanctuary this morning fall into one of these two categories. And John brings three witnesses to make his case for the victory of Christ. The big idea this morning is you must accept God’s testimony concerning his Son, Jesus Christ.
John writes in verse 6, this is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. The phrase he who came is the Greek verb ἐλθὼν. It’s an aorist substantive participle, which “typically refers to a simple event…in the past…from the author’s time frame.” That Jesus came by water and blood refers to two historical events. Remember the Gnostics believed that “the Christ” came upon Jesus at his baptism and left him before he died on the cross. John turns the tables on their teaching and declares that Jesus baptism (water) and his death (blood) both witness to his victory.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him and the Father declared, “this is my beloved Son with whom I’m well pleased” (Mark 1.9-11). Jesus’ baptism was the announcement of his messianic vocation. John is arguing that Jesus didn’t become the Christ at his baptism; Jesus Christ came through baptism (ἐλθὼν διʼ ὕδατος). It wasn’t that Jesus went into the water and Jesus Christ came out; Jesus Christ came through the water.
Not only that, but the blood also. The death of Jesus on the cross is a witness that the man Jesus is, and in his death was, the Christ. The Gnostics taught that the Christ left the man Jesus before he died. So he became the Christ at his baptism, and he was not the Christ anymore when he died. John says “no!” Jesus Christ came through the blood. He was Jesus Christ before, during, and after his death. And that’s the gospel.
The blood is the witness that Jesus is a sinless man who shed his blood for the sins of his people. He could only do so because he was also the holy God who required the payment for sin. On the cross blood and water flowed from the side of Jesus; this is where his baptism was leading. We only have victory because the Christ died on the cross to pay for sin. Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, and he raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.3-4). These two theological and historical events bear witness to the fact that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. They testify to the victory of Jesus over Satan, sin, and death.
The consistent thread between them both is the third witness, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit testifies to this reality and he is the truth. The Spirit was there at the baptism, He was there at the crucifixion, and now he’s here in the church. He indwells believers and he is a consistent witness to the victory of Jesus Christ.
For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. At this point we have to make mention of a textual variant for any of you that happen to be using the KJV. In verse 7 the KJV says, for there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. This verse isn’t included in most major English translations including the ESV, NASB, NIV, CSB, NLT, and RSV. It’s not included in the NA27 because it’s not in the oldest Greek manuscripts. So I think it’s appropriate for us to mention two truths about the KJV verse 7 here. (1) John certainly didn’t write it. We ought not preach it as inspired Scripture. With that being said, (2) it’s certainly true. There are other places in the Bible where we derive our doctrine of the trinity; this just isn’t one of them.
Back to the inspired text, John explains that this three-fold witness comes from God. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. He’s arguing for a higher authority. You could ask me a question about baseball and I may or may not be able to give you an answer. Or you could ask Zack McGuire a question about baseball. What’s the better option? Zack’s testimony is greater. Why? He’s got more clout; he carries more weight. He played D1 baseball for 4 years. I’ve just watched baseball.
That’s what John’s saying. If you believe people when they testify, how can you not believe the testimony of God concerning his Son? The testimony of God carries more weight. The Greek word for “greater” is μέγας. God’s testimony is mega compared to ours! God is the sovereign author of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his Spirit testifies to Christ. And if you’re a believer, the Spirit indwells you. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. When you trust in the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit changes your heart to love God. The Bible says he raises your heart from the dead; he takes a heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. This is the testimony that each one of us receives when we repent and believe.
On the flip side, the text says, whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. If you deny Christ, it’s not simply that we agree to disagree. When we reject Jesus, you call God a liar. If the Spirit testifies to Christ, then the only logical conclusion is that denying Christ is calling God a liar. To call someone a liar is a serious claim. It’s to assert that they’re untrustworthy; that they intentionally lead others astray. If we deny the biblical doctrine of Christ, if we don’t love the church, if we live in disobedience to God’s commands, we call God a liar.
This is most certainly a matter of life and death. Verses 11-12 say, and this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. The call of the gospel this morning is to repent of your sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When you do, you will have life. God will make you new. He’ll give you his Spirit. You will have the hope of resurrection and life with King Jesus forever.
If you don’t, you will have death. The Bible uses a lot of different language to describe this reality. You will be lost. Apart from Jesus you will face God’s eternal wrath for your sin. Jesus called this hell. My plea for you this morning is that you would repent of your sin and trust in Christ. Don’t call God a liar. The wages for that worldview is death. You must accept God’s testimony concerning his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Spirit that bore witness 2,000 years ago still bears witness today. And I can’t help but think that when John wrote of the water and the blood that those churches would have looked at their weekly worship services and seen these testimonies. Jesus knew that we needed this testimony in front of use regularly and that’s why he left us the two sacraments – baptism and the Eucharist.
The Reformed tradition has long interpreted this passage, at least in part, to refer to baptism and communion as the continual testimony of the gospel to the church. They are means of grace left for us to see the continual testimony of the gospel. Baptism, the water, is the initial testimony of the Christian community. When God saves you, the first step of obedience is to be baptized. Like Jesus began his ministry with his baptism, so we begin our Christian journey in the water. It’s the first testimony of the gospel to the life of a Christian in the church.
Like baptism is our initiation into the church, the Lord’s Supper is the ongoing testimony of the gospel to the church. The bread and the wine, the blood, testify the gospel to us every week. The Lord’s Table reminds us that we are dining with the King of creation who has won the victory for his people. The Eucharist calls us to give thanks for the victory over our sin won at Calvary. Communion beckons us to commune with Christ weekly for he has overcome the world. The bread reminds us that his body was broken for us. The wine reminds us that his blood was shed for us. We relive the gospel together every week as the Spirit testifies Jesus Christ to us.
I remember hearing the story from Bob Rice about storming the beach at Normandy. It was a great victory, but it came at a great cost. He said that he could still remember the feeling of the water that day. He can still remember the smell of blood in the air. Brothers and sisters, the waters of baptism and the blood of the New Covenant are a constant reminder to us of a great victory that has come at a great cost. It cost God is one-and-only Son. Jesus died for our sins. But through his death and resurrection he won the great victory. Jesus walked out of that tomb the first born of the New Creation. He has overcome the world. Please hear the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood this morning. You must accept God’s testimony concerning his Son, Jesus Christ. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!