In John 7:37-39 (NIV), Jesus describes the presence of the Holy Spirit inside a person as "rivers of living water flowing from within":

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Is Jesus describing the Holy Spirit in this way in an attempt to put into layman's terms "what it feels like" to have the Holy Spirit inside? In other words, is the expression "rivers of living water flowing from within" a metaphor for a conscious supernatural experience that takes place when the Holy Spirit manifests inside a person?

  • The issue with your question is not so much layman terms but trying to explain an experience. Experiences are meant to be experienced. Sky diving no matter how well it is described by someone who has never sky dived will not match the simple description of someone who has. Jan 4, 2021 at 1:38
  • Though you can feel the influence of the Holy Spirit (subtle most the time) I think the scriptures are speaking more so of "It means here that those who are Christians shall diffuse large, and liberal, and constant blessings on their fellow-men; or, as Jesus immediately explains it, that they shall be the instruments by which the Holy Spirit shall be poured down on the world." Rather than of a personal experience. That quote is from Barnes commentary on John 7:38.
    – GFFG
    Jan 4, 2021 at 2:13
  • 1
    The 'living waters flowing' are preceded by coming to Christ. And drinking. Only thereafter do 'living waters' flow. The first experience is the experience of coming to, and knowing, Jesus Christ. And drinking in.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 4, 2021 at 4:26

4 Answers 4


I would be careful of using a phrase like "conscious supernatural experience" as it reads more like something from the Nag Hammadi literature concerning gnosticism.

Jesus used the metaphor of "living water" more than once in places such as:

  • John 4:10, 11, with the woman at the well
  • John 7:37-39 when preaching at the temple
  • Rev 7:17 where the lamb leads people
  • Rev 22:1, 17 - streams of water flow from the throne.

This metaphor is taken from Zech 14:8 describing the throne as the source of the river of living water - water that imparts life as also in Eze 47 and Jer 2:13.

The metaphor's allusion is to the life-giving power of the Holy spirit in the life providing supernatural power for daily living, overcoming temptation, re-making us in Christ's image and much else. The Holy Spirit is as essential to the Chrisian as water is to biological existence as per Rom 8:9-11 -

You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.

  • Do you mean the expression is a metaphor for the sanctification process (daily living, overcoming temptation, re-making us in Christ's image and much else), which unfolds in a rather progressive and subconscious manner, rather than a sort of intense spiritual experience that you consciously experience/feel at a particular place and time?
    – user38524
    Jan 4, 2021 at 14:15
  • Jesus uses the metaphor of 'living water' in Rev. 7 and Rev 22? Jan 4, 2021 at 18:05
  • @AnthonyBurg - Rev 7:17 and Isa 49:10 = "living water". Rev 22;1 - river of the water of life.
    – Dottard
    Jan 4, 2021 at 20:32
  • Yes, but it isn't Jesus talking, no? Jan 4, 2021 at 20:40
  • @AnthonyBurg - yes, Jesus is speaking in John 7, John 4, and in Rev 7 we have a description of people beside the river of life and the Lamb = Jesus; In Rev 22 we have the river of the water of life from the throne of the Lamb = Jesus
    – Dottard
    Jan 4, 2021 at 20:43

I'm thinking that the answer to your supernatural experience question is: No, but to understand that one has to learn about God's Spirit. That answer is way too long to go into here but I will touch on it.

However, you mentioned "living water".

The first reference of living water is from Jeremiah 2:13 where God said that He is "the spring of living water" (NIV). John describes "the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb". (Rev 22:1, NIV)

A spring is a source, and living water has been described as life in Rev 22.1. I understand God saying to us in Jeremiah 2:13 that He (God) is the source of life.

In John 7:38 (NIV) Jesus is telling people that if they believe in him as Scripture has said, streams of living water [LIFE] will flow from within them. I believe Isaiah 43:19 is the prophesy Jesus is referring to, as Jesus is the way in the wilderness, and streams of living water (Life) will flow from those who believe in him. This will happen with the gift of God's Spirit.

I made a pretty in depth study of God's Spirit and I feel like I can describe Him in two words: Loving Caregiver. God gives us His Spirit to help us learn who and what He is, and who and what we are. In learning about God and living what we learn, we begin to live the life he wants for us to live. We do this in steps and as we live, others experience the life we have.

Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth and said, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:17)

God lives through His children to bring life to others. God's life flows to others through His children and His Spirit shows us how to do this. Consider that God's Spirit is the primary caregiver of His children.

On a side note, I can see that the broken cisterns mentioned in Jeremiah 2:13 are made new through Christ (see Acts 2).


Yes, I believe here Jesus is giving an apt description of the experience of the holy spirit. This term fits well with my own experience.

Compare John 4:10-13 (in particular "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.").

Actual baptism by the holy spirit is, IMHO, characterized by an experience exactly like this, where there is a 'living water' welling up within oneself, and one does not 'thirst' again in the most important sense.


Is Jesus' description of the Holy Spirit as “rivers of living water flowing from within” a metaphor for a conscious supernatural experience?

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman.

John 4:13-14 (NASB)

13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”

Jesus used this metaphor to explain the manner a person’s mind and heart as being like a fountain that bubbles up benefits, continually strengthening his faith, and guiding his steps on the way to eternal life.

At John 7:37-39, Jesus gives emphasis that when a Christian has an abundance of these spiritual waters-"from within him will flow rivers of living water". This sharing of the message with others seems to be the thought behind what Jesus said at John 7:37-39.

John 7:37-39 (NASB)

37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, [a]let him come to Me and drink. 38 The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘[b]From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 But this He said in reference to the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It was on the day of Pentecost that the holy spirit was poured out by Jesus Christ on the group of about 120 disciples gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem in the year 33 C.E. (Acts 1:13-15) There was no doubt in the mind of those 120 Apostles and disciples (about) gathered in that room that they were anointed with holy spirit. It would certainly have be an unforgettable experience to notice the tongues of fire on their heads.

However, not all who believe, receive the gift of the holy spirit in such a spectacular manner, later that day about 3.000 people were anointed by holy spirit. There appears to have been no supernatural experience, noticed by anyone when they received the promised gift of the holy spirit.

Acts 2:37-38, 41 N(NASB)

37 Now when they heard this, they were [a]pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “[b]Brothers, what are we to do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand [a]souls.

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