John says that Jesus came “by water and blood” (1 John 5:6). Then John adds, “Not by water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” Exactly what is John talking about here?
For the moment, I’ve come to two conclusions: First, either the “water and blood” refer to the “blood and water” that came out of Jesus’ side when a Roman soldier pierced him (John 19:34). Or, second, the “water and blood” refer to Jesus’ baptism, “water,” on the one hand and his crucifixion, “blood,” on the other. For the moment, I’m inclined to favor the latter, “water and blood” as a reference to the baptism and death of Jesus. I have three reasons for this position:
I. In the context of 1 John 5:6, John is addressing that fact that Jesus is the Son of God (vv. 5-12), which is charged with “the Son of God” as the divinely appointed Savior (4:9-10). About this “Son of God”, Jesus, John says he came “by water and the blood,” and that the Spirit testifies to this (vv. 6-7), which Jesus had already declared would be the ministry of the Spirit (John 14-16).
At Jesus’ baptism, when he came up out of the water, and the heavens were dramatically opened, and the Spirit descended like a dove and came to rest on him, the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17, emphasis added). According to John 1:34, at this moment, John the baptizer is reported to have seen and born witness that this is the Son of God, referring to Jesus at his baptism.
II. While what is said by the Roman centurion in his awe-struck moment may be translated “a son of God” (Matthew 27:54 and Mark 15:39), there are good reasons to translate the Greek “The Son of God,” as reflected in the ESV, NIV, and others.
Perhaps behind and beyond the centurion’s acknowledgement is the unquestionable fact that Jesus was the divinely appointed Savior of the world precisely as the Son of God (John 3:16). As Son, Jesus submits obediently to the Father’s will–a will which included the spilling of his blood by death on a cross.
III. Now if the order of the words “water and blood” in 1 John 5:6-8 rather than “blood and water” as in John 19:34 is any interpretative indicator, then this would clearly rule out the first option above, “water and blood” as a reference to the “blood and water” that came from the side of the Savior, when he was pierced. Perhaps this must not be pressed too much.
But then John adds something that is of particular interest to me, “Not by the water only but by the water and the blood” (v. 6, emphasis added). Why a need to include this? It seem to me that John pointing out to his readers that while two separate events are in view, they should not be kept apart but must be viewed together. Then John adds the testimony of the Spirit, who is truth (v. 6), as if to complete his witnesses, in making the case for Jesus as the divinely appointed Son of God.
Remember, the Holy Spirit is the anointing we have received from the Holy One to give us all knowledge (2:20, 26-27). According to Jesus, the Spirit’s ministry is to testify about him (John 15:26). The Spirit is that interpreter of redemptive history (1 Cor. 2:10-16).
No wonder John includes the testimony of the Spirit alongside that of the “water and the blood”: “And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (5:6-8 ESV, emphasis).
And thus forming an unassailable trinity throughout redemptive history.