- Main Text: John 7:37-52
- Accompanying text: Psalm 147:1-11
There is a gap in time between the “feast of the Jews” (John 5:1 ESV) and “the Jews’ Feast of Booths” (7:2) during which Jesus “went about in Galilee” (7:1), and, according to most scholars, this is when he ministered in Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24), in Decapolis (Mark 8:1), and in Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27).
One of the notable aspects of John 7 is the detailed description of what happened during the Jews’ Feast of Booths (Tabernacles/the autumnal feast of ingathering, which traditionally celebrated the end of the harvest of fruit, wine, and oil). Thus, it is recognised that the details recorded by John add to the historicity of his writing — in other words, that they are authentic in their settings. The use of temporary booths was in memory of the journeying of the Israelites before they reached the promised land. During this Jewish Feast various sacrifices and ceremonies took place, one of which was the fetching of water from the pool of Siloam to be poured out on the altar.
As we read John 7 it’s worth remembering that the earliest manuscripts of John do not include the text from 7:53 to 8:11, which is regarded as a later insertion into the flow of the narrative. This means that Jesus’ statement about being the Light of the world would have followed Nicodemus’ defence of Jesus in John 7:50-52, and therefore would have been part of the story of what happened at the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles. In one way this fits well in that, during Tabernacles, the great golden candlesticks in the Court of the Women would be lit to disperse the darkness, thus providing a visual context for Jesus’ words, when he spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). “It seems clear that this illumination of the Temple was regarded as forming part of, and having the same symbolic meaning as, ‘the pouring of the water’. The light shining into the darkness around, and lighting up every court in Jerusalem, must have been intended as a symbol not only of the Shechinah which once filled the Temple, but of that ‘great light’ which ‘the people that walked in darkness’ were to see, and which was to shine ‘upon them what dwell in the land of the shadow of death’.” 
Thoughts re application today
“Jewish” festivals and events are referenced throughout the book of John, and some have wondered why John makes this differentiation whereas the other Gospel writers do not. Is it because, writing well after the events of the Book of Acts, John wishes to make a distinction between Jewish “shadowy festivities” practised by those “who still love the shadow”  and Christian celebrations? Had the church by the time of John’s ministry in Ephesus begun to move away from the annual Jewish holy days of Leviticus 23?
Another point of interest is how the half-brothers of Jesus changed after the reception of the Spirit. They go from being non-believers in John 7 to being numbered among those who wait for Pentecost in Acts 1:14: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers”. His brothers included “James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19) and Jude (see Jude 1 and Mark 6:3).
Many scholars see OT references and stories linking into this section of John — for example, Moses and the Rock (see Exodus 17:1-17), and Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple (especially Ezekiel 47:1). John himself wrote of “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1). “Very wonderfully, this is both the Exodus story and Ezekiel. In the Exodus story, the people of God are in the wilderness. They are on their long journey towards their new land and new life. But, as is so often the problem in deserts, they run out of water. The running out of the water story comes immediately after the running out of food story and God giving them bread from heaven…despite their grumbling and unbelieving and forgetting all that God has done to deliver them, on their great journey out of slavery and to their new land, God provided life-giving water for them in the dry and dusty desert.
In Ezekiel, the prophet sees an extended vision of the rebuilding of the Temple…From the Temple, with God among his people, flows a river of water that brings life to the nations…Both the Exodus story and the beautiful vision of Ezekiel have the water of life as a gift from God. The Temple and the Rock are the source. Both are Jesus. He invites us to himself. He is the Rock in the dry space. He is the glorious revealing of God in the garden space. He invites us to come and drink deeply from him. An unending, ever-deepening flow of life will come from him. Wherever the Spirit flows from within us, abundant life will spring up around us. Trees will grow and nations will be healed…we receive the outpouring of God’s Spirit within us, bringing life all around us”. 
- Revelation 22:1-5
- Isaiah 55:1
- Isaiah 66:12
Footnotes and references
- Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Christ, published by Eerdmans, USA, 1987:285.
- Quoted from Ancient Christian Texts: Commentary on John by Cyril of Alexandria, translated by David Maxwell and Joel Elowsky, published by IVP Academic, USA in 2013:262.
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:166-168.