John wrote that there are three that testify, the water, the blood and the Spirit, in 1 John 5:7-8:
“For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
John witnessed the water and the blood that flowed from Jesus’ side. He was the only Gospel writer who was standing at the foot of the cross when this spiritually significant, physical reality signifying death happened.
What did John mean when he wrote that the water and blood, along with the Spirit, testify? You can’t help but think he is referring to Good Friday when he references the water and the blood. After it was all finished, Jesus had committed His Spirit to God’s hands, He then proclaimed in a loud voice that IT IS FINISHED! There was one more lesson from the cross. Near the end of the day it came time to speed up the death of the crucified. One soldier had the task of committing yet another act of brutality against the condemned dying this humiliating death. His job was to break their legs so that they would no longer be able to push up with their legs on the nail piercing their feet in order to breathe. When the soldier came to break Jesus’ bones, it was more than obvious that He was already dead. Perhaps he thought it would not be worth the effort it took to break His legs. This soldier had no idea that God had prophesied that not one of His bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20). Rather than break Jesus’ legs, the Roman guard speared Him on His side. What happened was that blood and water flowed out of His side.
What is the significance of this water and the blood? Physicians who have considered this symptom have suggested that Jesus died not from asphyxiation—the normal reason for death by crucifixion—rather this symptom (along with the sweat combined with blood during His prayer in Gethsemane) suggests that He died from a broken heart. That would seem fitting. It does break God’s heart that Jesus offered His body and His blood to conquer death and rose from the grave three days later in order to save the whole world. Yet, the brutal reality is that the whole world will not be saved by His sacrifice. God created us in love, redeemed us in love and allows us to have free will to love Him back.
Most would agree that the water and the blood are communion and baptism. It seems that John clearly meant that these elements were portrayed by the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side. John was an eyewitness to the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side after His death. St. John Chrysostom took this thought even further when he wrote: “There came out from his side water and blood. ‘Dearly beloved do not pass the secret of this great mystery by without reflection. For I have another secret mystical interpretation to give. I said that baptism and the mysteries were symbolized in that blood and water. It is from these two that the holy Church has been born ‘by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit,’ by baptism and by the mysteries. Now the symbols of baptism and the mysteries came from his side. It was from his side, then, that Christ formed the church, as from the side of Adam he formed Eve….That is why in his account of the first man Moses has the words, ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,’ giving us a hint here of the Master’s side. For as at that time God took a rib from Adam’s side and formed woman, so Christ gave us blood and water from his side and formed the church. Just as then he took the rib while Adam was in a deep sleep, so now he gave the blood and the water after his death.”
God speaks to us over and over through the images of water, blood and Spirit. Even the Tabernacle is set up this way. In the outer court the blood sacrifice was offered on the alter, then the laver of water was used by the priests to wash their hands. The Holy Place and the Holy of Holies contained the Spirit of the presence of the Lord. As we seek assurance of God’s love and presence in our lives, we need look no further than the blood that insures our forgiveness through Christ’s blood shed on the cross, the water of baptism that invites us to live out our new life made possible through the power of the resurrection, and the Spirit who makes His home in our hearts, leading us to oneness with God.