Make Good Wine: “Take” the Water and the Blood
Part of a series of articles by Dr. Jim Reitman
In my previous post I asserted that “eternal life” in John is not just a future destiny for believers but also a present lifestyle characterized by “doing” the righteous work of the Father—the “good wine” of Isaiah’s Vineyard. John 15 offers a transparent picture of this desired “fruit of the vine” and how it critically depends on whether the branches “remain” or “abide” in the Vine. A Free Grace view of John 15 makes it clear that once branches are in the Vine, their eternal destiny is secure (Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, pp. 134-38). The same Beloved who was to tend the Vineyard in Isaiah 5 is now himself the Vine, and the Father is the vinedresser (15:1). To make fruit, the “wine sap” must flow from the Vine through the branches. The “one believing” in 3:16 is the one abiding in John 15 and can “bear fruit” (“deeds done in God,” cf. 3:21) from his “wine sap” of eternal life.
When we stop abiding in the Vine we stop trusting Jesus for life—we stop living out of that eternal life and thus cannot bear righteous fruit (15:4). We can tell when we are abiding in the Vine and “doing righteousness” by whether we love the brethren: No one who hates his brother “has eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn 3:10b-15); such a person is literally detached from the Vine—no wine sap! So, how do we keep the vital sap flowing in the branches in order to “make good wine,” to “do righteousness”? This post will explore the “mechanics” of sustaining communion with the Son to accomplish this end as we “incarnate” him in our world.
Bad Wine to Good: “It is Finished”
The last mention of wine in John occurs in the last scene of the Passion which is strange indeed, if we don’t consider how the symbolism of the event is rooted in imagery already established in John 2-4. John is notorious for dropping hints in editorial comments. If his readers didn’t get the Kingdom imagery of turning water into wine (2:1-10) as the intended result of believing in Him (2:11, 23; 3:3, 5, 16), John has Jesus circle back to Cana “where he had made the water wine” (4:46) and perform another miracle in 4:47-54. It is interesting to see how the word “believe” is used: In 4:50 the nobleman trusted Jesus’ assurance that his son lived, but when he saw that his son was given life in the face of certain death from fever “he himself believed, and his whole household” (4:53); that is, they trusted Jesus for eternal life for they saw he could indeed deliver on his promises. John’s point (see 4:46, above) is, now that they had eternal life they were “suitably constituted” to join Jesus in making wine out of water.
There is no mention of wine again until the last scene of the Passion narrative. Now, remember the vineyard in Isaiah 5: It “brought forth wild grapes” (5:3b-4). And what do you get from wild grapes? Sour wine. Note the connection in John 19:28-31, 33-37 (NKJV, emphasis added):
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away….But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
DID YOU SEE THAT?? The crucified Messiah is inviting us to take communion! They did not break his bones, so “one intact loaf” could be divided among his people to “reconstitute” his one Body! His blood poured out, so each member of his Body could be cleansed of sin! Seen through the lens of Isaiah 5, it is also an invitation for his people to “take” the water and make good wine: Here at the foot of the cross we have sour wine—all the idolatrous, worthless deeds done by the nation Israel in darkness—and Jesus simply “takes” it. (We would expect “swallows it” here, but the Greek is lambanō, “actively receive” [cf. 1:11-12]; see the “Receive?” “Believe?” post under Light Leads to Life.) Then in goes the spear and out comes water and blood!! John is thinking like a Rabbi: Israel’s sin cleansed by the blood of Christ—their “sour wine” turned into water and offered for the people of God to “take” again (as he “took” their sins) and make good wine. John then quotes Zechariah 12:10b. Time for us to put on those rabbinic thinking caps again…
The Second Exodus
Zechariah 12:10 ushers in the Day of the Lord. The ensuing imagery supplies a graphic depiction of that Day in which water and blood play a major role. When “they look on Him whom they pierced” (12:10, LXX), they will all mourn, family by family, (12:11-14), and “a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (13:1 NKJV). The Lord of hosts (the God who executes judgment) will cleanse the Holy Land, which has now become a “second Egypt” with all the idolatry and false prophets (13:2-6). This “clean up campaign” recalls the Lord of host’s intent to “clean up” his vineyard in Isaiah 5, addressed to his “Beloved,” but this time God refers to Messiah as his “Shepherd”:
“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man, My Associate,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; and I will turn My hand against the little ones” (Zech 13:7 NASB).
In “striking the Shepherd” He initiates a “second Exodus,” sending a remnant of His people back into the “wilderness” to purify them (13:8-9). He gathers the nations to Jerusalem, completely purging the Land, “plowing up the Vineyard” with massive geologic changes, as Messiah returns to the Mount of Olives (14:1-6).
At this point, the “fountain” that initially cleansed the remnant (13:1) becomes rivers of “living water” that flow from Jerusalem (where Messiah is installed as King) to irrigate the now leveled wilderness where the gentile nations reside (14:7-9). Jerusalem, however, is “raised up” and inhabited by the remnant who make wine at the King’s winepresses (!) (14:10). When the Lord of hosts gathers all the nations to Jerusalem to purge them with a plague (14:11-15), those who are left from the nations are obliged to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles by bringing their harvest to Jerusalem. Now, look at this: The nations are irrigated by the “living waters” flowing from the King in Jerusalem (14:8) so they can bring in their grapes to make wine at the King’s winepresses (14:10)! Those who don’t bring their harvest to the Feast very simply get no rain (14:17-19), just like the worthless vines of Isaiah’s vineyard (Isa 5:6). In the end, we have a “Vineyard” that now includes all the nations of earth, but the Temple in Jerusalem houses only the sanctified people of God in a state of “Holiness to the Lord” (Zech 14:20-21).
The moniker “Holiness to the Lord” signifies that His people have finally been fully delivered from “Egypt” to be “Holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44-45), as attested in the “harvest” by “good wine for the King.” This wine is the same righteousness and justice amid the nations of earth that Isaiah was sent to elicit from the remnant of Israel (Isa 6). With this imagery of irrigation and harvest, Zechariah 14 thus illustrates the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you, and in you all the families of earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:2-3). Zechariah’s Day of the Lord thus begins with “striking the Shepherd,” a metaphor of Messiah’s “piercing” to bring forth water and blood (Zech 12:10; 14:7), thereby constituting the Body of Christ; however, it is consummated only in the reconstituted remnant of Israel—the “not yet” and the “already” of the Kingdom of God. John’s gospel shows how this imagery of water and blood inaugurates this Kingdom in our communion with Christ.
“Taking” the Water: Drinking from the “Rock”
The piercing of Christ in John 19 is thus associated with Messiah’s piercing in Zech 12:10 and the “bundled” allusions to the “fountain” of cleansing (13:1), “striking the Shepherd” (13:7), and “living water” flowing from the King in Jerusalem (14:8). But John’s readers should also clearly recall the woman at the well, who accepted Jesus’ offer of “living water” that would “become in her a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:10, 15b-16). Indeed, as soon as she “took” the water, it immediately flowed out of her to “irrigate” Samaria, where many of them believed and became her “harvest” to the Lord (4:28-42, cf. Zech 14:16). This was just what the nation Israel was commissioned to do in the first Exodus, where the Lord also instructed Moses to “strike the Shepherd” so that they could have “living water” (Ex 17:5-7). Instead they rebelled and fell in the wilderness (see esp. Ps 78:12-41). Paul recounts this same scenario for a divided assembly of believers (1 Cor 10:1-13), so that they might grasp the critical importance of their communion in Christ (10:14-22): “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (10:2-4). Paul’s point is that we get true life from God, not idols, and just as water from the Rock in the wilderness, the cup and bread symbolize the vital role of sustaining communion in Christ so as to appropriate that life in the “two-way blessing” of Abraham’s covenant (see above).
Paul’s comparison of the Body of Christ to Israel shows how communion is meant to remind us of the critical importance of maintaining fellowship with each other and with the Lord: “Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (10:18). This allusion to eating the OT sacrifices (especially the guilt and peace offerings) is a picture of restoration of “table fellowship” in sharing the sacrifice with one another and with the Lord, to whom the sacrifice is offered. By analogy with these OT offerings, the rite of communion therefore depicts the “maintenance” of both “horizontal” and “vertical” fellowship in the Lord. The next four chapters in the book then reveal how this “dual communion”—from their baptism into Christ to the springing up in them of “living water” in gifts of the Spirit—is meant to culminate in their testimony of life to the unbelieving world (14:22-25), just as in the woman at the well. But in light of the “leaven” of sin in the Body of Christ how do we maintain our “Passover” communion with him (5:6-8) in order to accomplish the mission we were sent to fulfill? In other words, how do we “keep the water pure” in order to make “good wine”?
“Taking” the Blood: Maintaining “Holiness to the Lord”
Here, finally, is where we find that the “gift” of God’s Son as a ransom for sin (John 3:16) is the “gift that keeps on giving.” The blood shed at the Cross, attested by the spear in his side (19:35), is blood that can be applied at the altar whenever we need it to cleanse us of sin and restore table fellowship, depicted by Christ’s footwashing in 13:1-20. When Judas is sent away from the table (13:21-30), it depicts the crucial importance of maintaining table fellowship among the “already clean” (cf. 13:10-11) whom Christ chose to send into the world (13:20). The key implications of footwashing in the Body of Christ are fleshed out in the role of Christ’s blood in 1 John 1:5-2:2. Some take this passage to refer only to the conversion of unbelievers, but this is sadly mistaken. Very simply, the “as needed” foot-washing Jesus enjoins of his disciples in John 13 is fulfilled in the “as needed” application of blood that was shed for sins once for all, so that they might not sin (1:9-2:2); the blood keeps the “water” pure! John is unambiguously clear that fellowship with God—“abiding in Him,” “knowing Him,” “walking in the light,” “the love of God”—will be mirrored in the way we treat each other (cf. 1:5-2:11; 4:19-21). If these are markers of all believers, then “abiding” in John 15 and the entire First Epistle loses all significance for the Body of Christ: Abiding is crucial in maintaining “Holiness to the Lord.”
Hence, the rite of communion shows that we maintain fellowship to sustain a holy community set apart for God’s purposes: to make the “good wine” of righteousness and justice that attests eternal life to a world in darkness; in fact this is the entire “strategic intent” of First John. Strictly forensic views of passages like 2 Cor 5:17-21 and Romans 5 totally miss the vital link between reconciliation and righteousness in order to attest eternal life. In this regard I’ve examined 2 Cor 5:17-21 elsewhere and plan to do the same with Romans 5. All I wish to do at this point is whet our appetites with Romans 5:17, 21, which establishes the key role of “taking” the gift of God in consistently attesting eternal life through righteousness. Keeping in mind the Kingdom imagery of Zechariah 12-14 above, listen to Paul’s conclusion in Romans 5:21:
…so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (NKJV).
An analysis of Romans 4-5 leading up to this conclusion shows that the work of atonement is intended to result in a “righteous reign”; the ensuing opus magnum in Romans 6-8 makes it unambiguously clear that this “righteous reign” is to be lived out in this present life by the lead of the Holy Spirit to ensure an eschatological co-reign with Messiah. The verb “reign” is in the aorist tense, signifying that this event is being viewed as a singular, intact reign that extends uninterrupted into the eschaton (on Greek tenses, see “Receive?” “Believe?” under Light Leads to Life). How can this be if sin in this life “contaminates” our “Holiness to the Lord”? Answer: Ongoing appropriation of the “gift of God” (5:17, cf. Jn 3:16):
For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned [aorist, singular, intact] through the one, much more will those receiving [present, ongoing] the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign to life through the One, Jesus Christ (my translation).
Again, the conspicuous verb is lambanō, to “actively receive,” “take,” “appropriate” (see above, Bad Wine to Good): In order for us to take active part in the singular, intact reign of God and attest “eternal life” through righteousness, we are called to actively appropriate the gracious “gift of God,” Messiah’s righteousness, by repeatedly “taking” his shed blood and the “water” of his Spirit that was given in his resurrection (cf. Rom 4:25).
To conclude the series, therefore, “the ones believing” in John 3:16 obtain an ongoing experience of eternal life because these are “the ones receiving” God’s gift of His Son. They are enabled to “reign in righteousness to eternal life” in this present life because they remain in communion with the King of Righteousness. And they will continue to reign with him in eternal life during the coming eschaton as a direct result of their faithfulness in this life (cf. Rom 8:17). A life of consistent “believing” can be sustained in ongoing communion with our King, because his blood is always available to cleanse any intercurrent sin, so that it does not disrupt our “table fellowship” with him or with one another in attesting eternal life to a fallen world. Now that’s a 3-D gospel. May the God of all grace bless you all in communion with the Son he gave!