This is one of the most perplexing passages in the New Testament and that is probably because we do not have full knowledge of the heresies against which John was defending his flock. However, we can clearly state that 'water' and 'blood' in connection with Jesus had a special mystical and symbolic meaning for John. It was he who recorded in his Gospel that Jesus had His side pierced with a spear whilst He hung on the cross and that blood and water came out- John 19 v 34, 35. In this instance, John is referring to the water used at Christ's baptism and the blood He shed on the cross. It appears that John is responding to those who reckoned that the waters of baptism was an essential part of Christ's Messiahship, but the cross was not. We can then turn again to Gnostic belief, which reckoned matter, physical stuff, to be completely evil, only spirit was good. Cerinthus, one of the principal representatives of Gnosticism and a contemporary of John, taught that the divine Christ entered into the human Jesus at His baptism and then departed from Jesus before His crucifixion, so that only the man Jesus died on the cross. What would a belief in this do to our faith? Well, it would rob the life and death of Jesus Christ of all meaning to us and eliminate any thought that we might be redeemed through Christ's blood. It demonstrates afresh that, when you seek to interpret the life of Jesus in the light of some pre-conceived teaching and dogma, you come a cropper. It is only by seeking to read the Gospels afresh with an open mind and without resorting to the trammels of whatever denomination or sect one has grown up with that one can truly find the Light. I think that Evangelicalism has much going for it, but it is very difficult to read versions of the Bible which interpret with a leaning towards Evangelicals and to understand with an open heart. John goes on to speak of a triple witness: 1. The witness of the Spirit. It appears that John is seeing this witness as effectual in three main ways: firstly, by descending as a dove at the baptism of Jesus- Mark 1 v 9-11; secondly, Jesus came to baptise with the Spirit, rather than water-Matthew 3 v 11; thirdly, the history of the early Church was a lasting proof that Jesus had the Spirit and could give Him to men and women- Acts 10 v 44. 2. The witness of the water. Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to John the Baptist through the descending dove at His baptism- John 1 v 32-34 3. The witness of the blood. The life of a person was considered to be in their blood and so it is vital that firstly, we recognise that Jesus shed His blood at Calvary and secondly, that in celebrating Communion regularly we remind ourselves of this and continue to experience its atoning power.
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