Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
1 John 5:6-12
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. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 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. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. 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. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Islam in the Neighborhood
A few Sundays ago, as I was walking across the street to go home, I heard someone call, “Kenny!” It was a Bethlehem brother. He was in a conversation with one of our Muslim neighbors. Clearly they had been talking about Christianity and Islam. We ended the conversation with friendship but disagreement.
You know if you have ever had a conversation with a Muslim that our primary differences center on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Incidentally, that is not all that different from Christianity and every other religion—or self-described “non-religion.” What separates Christians from other faiths is at the center the person and work of Christ.
Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur'an. Most Muslims sincerely believe that they honor Jesus. Jesus is considered a prophet, a messenger of God. Islam affirms the humanity of Jesus, Jesus as the Messiah and a word from God, his virgin birth and miracles, that Jesus was taken into heaven at the end of his life, and that Jesus is alive today and is coming back.
However, Islam clearly and unequivocally denies that Jesus is the Son of God, his deity; that Jesus was crucified and died; that Jesus was resurrected from the dead; and thus Islam denies that Jesus atoned for sins.
False Teachers in the Church
I am struck by the contemporary relevance of our text. The false teachers 1 John confronts apparently also diverged from the truth concerning Christ’s person. The first century false teaching the Apostle John confronts has similarities with the teaching of Islam—and other world religions—regarding the person and work of Christ. In 1 John, the Apostle corrects two false teachings: the Greek or early Gnostic view that Christ was not fully human and the Jewish notion that Christ was not fully God.
The world has come here. I like the dynamics of globalization that has brought the peoples of the world into close connection with one another through commerce, the Internet and geographic mobility. But I don’t like the American cultural pressures of relativism and pluralism that would seduce Christians into believing that all religions are the same when in reality, Christianity makes very exclusive claims.
The Basis of Christianity’s Exclusive and Staggering Claims
Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Our text says in 1 John 5:12, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” The exclusivity of salvation in Jesus is central to Christianity. Spurgeon writes,
Christianity puts forth very lofty claims. She claims to be the true faith, and the only true one. She avows her teachings to be divine, and therefore infallible; while for her great Teacher, the Son of God, she demands divine worship, and the unreserved confidence and obedience of men. Her commands are issued to every creature, and though at present her authority is rejected by millions of mankind, she confidently looks forward to a time when truth shall obtain universal dominion, and Jesus the Lord shall take unto himself his great power and reign. Now, to justify such high claims, the gospel ought to produce strong evidence, and it does so.
My aim is to strengthen your faith by calling you to trust the testimony about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in this text. So let’s look at the text to answer three questions:
- Who or what are these three that testify to Jesus Christ?
- What is the testimony?
- Should we believe them?
1. Who or What Are These Three That Testify to Jesus Christ?
Verses 6-8, “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. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”
The three witnesses to Jesus Christ that are named in this passage are named, “the water and the blood” and “the Spirit”. And from verse 8 we can say “these three agree.” They concur with one another and say the same thing.
Common Identifications of the Water and the Blood
The first two of these three ‘witnesses’, the water and the blood, are harder to identify than the third, the Spirit. So the question we need to answer is this: Who, or what, is John referring to when he speaks of the “water and the blood” testifying?
1. Water Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Throughout church history, some have interpreted “the water and the blood” as referring to the two ordinances of the church, water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Among those holding this view have been the Martin Luther and John Calvin, leaders of the Reformation. The idea being, each time we practice water baptism and each time we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we testify to the Lord Jesus and his death until he comes again.
This view feels forced. We see no clues in the text that John is referring to the practice of baptism or communion. Rather, John is straining to anchor our faith in the Son of God who took on flesh and came and lived among us. He is not looking forward to future testimonies, but rather, he is looking back to “he who came” in the past tense (aorist tense). Therefore, it seems unlikely that John is referring to Christ’s coming in our baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
2. Blood and Water that Flowed from Jesus’ Pierced Side
Others have interpreted “the water and the blood” as referring to the bodily fluids that flowed out of Jesus’ side after his death. John 19:34 says, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” Among those who have held this interpretation is Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. In the next verse, John says, “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:35). Those who take this view have taken the water as a symbol of cleansing from sin and the blood as a symbol of the atonement.
But this too feels forced. First, the witness John refers to is himself in John 19:35. Second, what he is witnessing seems to be the simple fact that the Lord Jesus died. There is no hint of a deeper meaning to the water and the blood other than that. Third, I do not comprehend how this blood and water flowing out of Jesus’ side is, back in 1 John, to represent his “coming by water.” Fourth, I am even more baffled on what it would mean to come only by water, which is then denied (1 John 5:6, “Not by the water only but by the water and the blood.”)
3. Water as Christ’s Baptism and Blood as Christ’s Death
I am not inclined to think that this testimony of the water and blood refers to the ordinances, nor to the life fluids flowing out of the body of Jesus at his death. If not those options, what is a better interpretation? I am inclined to take the water as referring to Christ’s baptism and the blood to his death because it fits with the recurring Christological theme in this letter, namely that the Messiah is Jesus (the human person who died), the eternal Son of God. I’ll explain as we answer the second of our three questions.
2. What is the Testimony?
Since I am inclined to take the water as referring to Christ’s baptism and the blood to his death, what is the testimony? What is the message?
Testimony of the Water: Jesus is the Son of God
Turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 1. Here in the first chapter of John’s gospel is an account of Jesus’ baptism. All over the account it is screaming in testimony to Jesus Christ.
In verse 29, John the Baptist bears witness that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—and remember lambs take away sin by dying—“The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”’”
In verse 31, John the Baptist says the purpose for which God sent him was that Christ be revealed. In verses 32-33, God tells John the Baptist the manner of this revelation would be that the Holy Spirit would visibly land and remain on Jesus like a dove. “‘I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32 And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he [namely, God] who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”’”
Then in verse 34, the Apostle John bears witness, “And I [the Apostle John] have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” The other gospels tell us that a voice from Heaven audibly spoke, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; cf. Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35).
From that I conclude that the testimony of the “water” is that Jesus is the Son of God. But John makes clear in 1 John 5:6—“not by the water only but by the water and the blood”—that the water is not the only piece.
Testimony of the Blood: Jesus, the Son of God Died
Turn to John 19:33-35. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” This is the Apostle John again. What is it that he bore witness to in this account? Jesus died.
This says, “No!” to Muslims, who say Jesus was a prophet anointed by the Spirit but not the Son of God nor a Savior who died for sins; “No!” to Gnostics who believed the divine part of the Messiah left before Jesus was crucified and died; “No!” to Jews who stumble on the stumbling block of the gospel—a crucified Messiah; and “No!” to anyone—secularists, liberal ‘Christians’ or whomever—who would seek to deny that the Christ took on human flesh and became the man Jesus without ceasing to be what he always was, the Son of the Living God.
The testimony of the water and the blood is this: Jesus, the Son of God, died for us. (Note: It may be that John things of the “water and blood” as one thing not two, representing all of Jesus’ earthly life because it would generally accord with the Gospel of John and because he does not reverse the word order as would be expected in the chiasm.
Testimony of the Spirit
1 John 6b says, “And the Spirit is the one who testifies [present tense], because the Spirit is the truth.”
Jesus speaks of the role of the Spirit in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” And also, in John 15:26, Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (cf. 1 John 2:20, 27).
The testimony of the Holy Spirit is when the Spirit of God teaches you about Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for us. This happens, not once like the testimony of the ‘water and the blood’ but it happens over and over again to this day. We can see evidences of it when pride is replaced by humble openness to be submissive to the facts of Jesus’ life and death; when the secular and religious objections are overcome by the gift of faith; when a “doubting Thomas” type of cynic is turned into a believing worshiper.
3. Should We Believe Them?
Should we believe the testimony of the water, the blood and the Spirit? John answers this question head on. He writes in 1 John 5:9-10, “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. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. 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.” This is the testimony of God: the Spirit, the water and the blood conspiring to declare Jesus as the Son of God.
Having Christ is Having Life
To believe the testimony of the water, the blood and the Spirit is to believe the testimony of God. If you believe the testimony, you 'have the Son, and whoever has the Son has life. 1 John 5:12, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
And so, if by the Spirit you confess, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” you have life! Skeptics will be skeptical. Pluralists will call you arrogant and closed-minded. Muslims will tell you that have committed the unforgivable sin and damn you to destruction. And so too Judaism, as she stumbles on the stumbling block of the crucified Messiah.
They will all say what they want to say. But the Bible says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). This is the center of Christianity. Anchor your faith in the center. Root your faith in Jesus, who was eternally with the Father —the Son of God, who took on human flesh, who is the Christ—the Messiah, who came and really died on the cross for our sins. And in his dying, he paid for our sins —the sins of his people.
I aim to anchor your faith in the person and work of Christ. If we lose this Christ, we have no gospel. If we lose Christ and the gospel, we lose everything! My fear is that good, gospel-grounded, bible believing Christians and churches will as time goes on be caught up in the wind of pluralism and lose hold on Christ and, therefore, lose the gospel.
Having Life in Having Losses
Not only do I see this text as preserving biblical Christianity in the future, but I also see in the text grounded hope for our lives—especially in the wake of our losses.
My wife and I visited a woman and her husband last Wednesday night. Kathy sensed that we should go see them. We walked in and the couple was sitting at the table with some friends. Both husband and wife are believers. They had just come back from the Mayo Clinic to seek help for her cancer and had been told, “There is nothing more that we can do for you.” The doctors had taken out different body parts and she had gone through chemo and radiation.
The thoughts that framed my prayers were from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” She said, “Amen!”
Do you know why I can pray like that? Because “whoever has the Son has life.” To have eternal life is another way to say that we have the love of Christ now and forever!
In this life we have losses, many losses. You might say we lose everything in this life by the moment of our death. And yet, in Jesus, we have something, one thing that cannot be taken away: “whoever has the Son has life.” Since we have life eternal, the love of God for us in Christ, we have everything.
I am concerned about doctrinal purity in the church because I am concerned that we live out doctrinal truth in our lives. When the losses come and mount up—loss of a spouse, loss of a child, loss of a friend, loss of a job, loss of functioning— may we have a settled sense that ‘whoever has the Son has life’. We will be with Christ forever, receive a new body in the new heavens and the new earth.
Lets pray for that doctrinal faithfulness Jesus Christ, boldness to witness and perseverance in faith when we face the losses of life all because, “Whoever has the son has life!”
 “The Greek view that Jesus was not fully man (hence the emphatic claim that he was truly baptized and crucified); and the Jewish assertion that the Christ was not fully God (hence the insistence that these experiences were undergone by “Jesus Christ,” ʼησοῦς Χριστός, using the full title, the divine bringer of life everlasting; cf. 5:20).” Smalley, S. S. 1,2,3 John. WBC vol. 51 (Dallas: Word, 2002), 279.
 Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon's Sermons. Vol. 20 (electronic ed., Logos Library System), 1998.