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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

John 4

Verses 1-3

This sentence provides the background for what follows. Jesus returned to Galilee from Judea, where He had been baptizing with His disciples, because the Pharisees were becoming increasingly aware of His broadening influence among the Jews. He wanted to avoid unnecessary premature conflict with them.

This is the first time the writer described Jesus as "the Lord." This was appropriate in view of the superiority of Jesus that both Johns had just established (John 3:28-36).

Verses 1-26

1. The interview with the Samaritan woman 4:1-26

There are several connections between this section and the preceding ones that provide continuity. One is the continuation of water as a symbol (cf. John 2:6; John 3:5; John 4:10-15). Another is the continuation of conversation in which Jesus reveals Himself as the fulfillment of what the Old Testament anticipated.

"Nicodemus was an eminent representative of orthodox Judaism. Now John records an interview Jesus had with one who stood for a class that was wholeheartedly despised by orthodox Judaism. From the point of view of the orthodox Jew there were three strikes against her: she was a Samaritan, a woman, and a sexual sinner." [Note: Ibid., p. 225.]

The present section begins with another reference to something that resulted from Jesus’ rising popularity (cf. John 3:22-26; John 4:1-3). This section as a whole is also a model of evangelistic ministry.

"The Samaritan woman is a timeless figure-not only a typical Samaritan but a typical human being." [Note: Tasker, p. 75.]

Verses 1-42

D. Jesus’ ministry in Samaria 4:1-42

The writer now showed Jesus moving north from Judea into Samaria where He had another important conversation with another person who was completely different from Nicodemus. As in the previous chapter, theological explanation follows personal encounter in this one.

Verse 4

The most direct and most popular route from Judea to Galilee went through Samaria. [Note: See the map "Two Routes between Judea and Galilee" at the end of these notes.] Even though the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along, most Galilean Jews chose to travel through Samaria rather than taking the longer route through Perea, east of the Jordan River, which Judean Jews preferred. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:6:1; Edersheim, 1:394.] Therefore John’s statement that Jesus "had to" pass through Samaria does not necessarily mean that divine compulsion alone moved Him to choose that route. However most students of this passage have believed that one of the reasons Jesus took this route was to minister to the Samaritans.

Politically Samaria was part of the Roman province of Judea in Jesus’ day. Nevertheless culturally there were ancient barriers that divided the residents of Samaria from the Jews who lived in Galilee and Judea. Wicked King Omri had purchased the hill on which he built Samaria as the new capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 16:24). The name Samaria eventually came to describe the district in which the city stood and even the whole Northern Kingdom. After the Assyrians captured the city and terminated the kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., they deported the substantial citizens and imported foreigners who intermarried with the remaining Israelites. Most of these foreigners continued to worship their pagan gods (2 Kings 17-18). The Jews who returned to Jerusalem after the Exile regarded the residents of Samaria as racial half-breeds and religious compromisers. The Samaritans resisted Nehemiah’s attempts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:1-2). They built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim opposite Shechem about 400 B.C., which they dedicated to Zeus Xenios. John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean ruler of Judea, destroyed it and Shechem about 128 B.C. These actions all resulted in continued hostility between the two groups. The Samaritans continued to worship on Mt. Gerizim and accepted only the Pentateuch as canonical. A small group of Israelis who claim to be able to trace their ancestry back to the Samaritans survives to the present day.

Verse 5

The site of Sychar is fairly certain because of unbroken tradition and the presence of a water source (John 4:6). It was very near Old Testament Shechem, Joseph’s burial site, near the base of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim (cf. Genesis 33:19; Genesis 48:22; Joshua 24:32). Today the modern town of Nablus stands nearby. Nablus is the modern form of the name that the site later received in honor of the Roman imperial family, Flavia Neapolis.

Verse 6

The Greek words that John used to describe this well were pege (here), meaning a spring, and phrear (John 4:11-12), meaning a cistern. Evidently Jacob’s well was both. It was a hole that someone had dug in the ground that a spring fed. The site is still a popular tourist attraction, and the deep spring still flows. Edersheim estimated (in 1886) that the well was originally about 150 feet deep. [Note: Ibid., 1:404.]

The sixth hour when Jesus arrived would have been noon. Even though Jesus was the eternal Word, He became fully man and shared the fatigue and thirst that all travelers experience (cf. Hebrews 4:15-16).

Verses 7-8

It was unusual for a woman to come to draw water alone and to come in the heat of the day. Perhaps this woman’s morality led her to shun the company of other women and to seek solitude at the expense of comfort (cf. John 4:18). Normally Jesus’ disciples would have drawn the water. Jesus evidently asked the woman for a drink because she was drawing water and to initiate conversation with her. Strict Jews would not have purchased food from Samaritans as Jesus’ disciples were attempting to do. Their willingness to do so may reflect Jesus’ looser views on ceremonial defilement. By "looser" I do not meant that Jesus viewed the Mosaic Law more loosely than He should have but more loosely than most of the Pharisees did.

Verse 9

The Jews typically regarded the Samaritans as unclean apostates. [Note: See Edersheim, 1:401.] Shortly after this incident the Jews made a law stating that "the daughters of the Samaritans are menstruants from their cradle" and therefore perpetually unclean. [Note: Mishnah Niddah 4:1.] The Pharisees prayed that no Samaritan would be raised in the resurrection. [Note: Wiersbe, 1:299; cf. Edersheim, 1:401.] When Jesus’ enemies wanted to insult Him, they called Him a Samaritan (John 8:48).

"The normal prejudices of the day prohibited public conversation between men and women, between Jews and Samaritans, and especially between strangers. A Jewish Rabbi would rather go thirsty than violate these proprieties." [Note: Blum, p. 285.]

This accounts for the woman’s shock at Jesus’ request. At this point she viewed Him as just a Jew. Ironically later some Jews would call Him a Samaritan (John 8:48).

"There was a trace of sarcasm in the woman’s reply, as if she meant, ’We Samaritans are the dirt under your feet until you want something; then we are good enough!" [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 54.]

John explained for his readers who were unfamiliar with Palestinian prejudices that the Jews did not use (Gr. synchrontai) the same objects as the Samaritans. [Note: D. Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, pp. 373-82.] This was so they could remain ceremonially clean.

Verse 10

Jesus ignored the woman’s implied insult. She had drawn attention to the gift of water that Jesus was requesting and to the identity of Jesus as a Jew. Jesus picked up both subjects and used them to whet the woman’s curiosity. He implied that God had a greater gift (Gr. dorea) for her and that Jesus had the authority to give it to her. The word that Jesus used for "gift" occurs only here in the Gospels. It stressed the freeness of God’s gift. Here was another person who did not perceive Jesus’ true glory or identity (cf. John 1:14).

Most interpreters understand Jesus’ reference to God’s gift as a reference to eternal life, though some believe He was alluding to the Torah. [Note: E.g., Odeberg, p. 150.] If the latter interpretation is correct, Jesus meant that if the woman knew her Torah and who He was she would have asked Jesus for something (cf. John 3:10; John 5:39-40). This interpretation seems unlikely to me because her knowledge of the Torah would not have enabled her to ask Jesus for living water. She did not yet recognize Him as the Messiah.

The living water that Jesus promised has two meanings. Literally it refers to flowing water in contrast to stagnant water. Metaphorically it refers to the cleansing and refreshing grace that the Holy Spirit brings as a result of proper relationship with God (John 7:38-39; cf. Isaiah 1:16-18; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Zechariah 14:8; John 3:5). The Old Testament used water to symbolize teaching or doctrine and living water as a metaphor for God (cf. Psalms 36:9; Isaiah 55:1; Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13). [Note: See ibid., pp. 149-69.]

Jesus’ evangelistic method on this occasion was to start where the woman was with something material that they both had in common, namely, the desire for water. He then captured her curiosity by implying that He was not just whom He appeared to be and that He could give her something very valuable though free. She would have wondered, Who is this, what is this gift of God, and what is this living water?

"Whenever He witnessed to people, Jesus did not use a ’sales talk’ that He adapted to meet every situation. To Nicodemus, He spoke about new birth; but to this woman, He spoke about living water." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:300.]

Verses 11-12

The woman responded by trying to find out how Jesus could give her living water and who He was. She said "living water" probably to avoid the embarrassment of asking what "living water" was. Obviously she thought Jesus was a cheap charlatan. Her question expected a negative answer. She could not see how he could be greater than the patriarch Jacob.

Even today this is one of the deepest wells in Palestine being over 75 feet deep, as local guides delight to point out. [Note: Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. "Jacob’s Well," by R. L. Alden, 3:388.] Her reference to "our father Jacob" was probably another barb designed to remind this Jew that Jacob was the Samaritans’ ancestor as well as the Jews’.

Verses 13-14

Jesus explained that He was not really speaking about literal water but a spiritual source of refreshment and fulfillment that satisfied completely. To provide such water Jesus would indeed have to be greater than Jacob. Jesus described this water as welling up within the individual. Clearly He was referring to the Holy Spirit who provides eternal life (cf. John 7:38-39). As in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:5), Jesus again alluded to the Old Testament passages that promised salvation as satisfying water (e.g., Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 49:10; Isaiah 55:1-7; Jeremiah 31:29-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32). The water that Jesus promised provided satisfaction without hard work in contrast to the literal water that the woman had to draw out of the well.

Verse 15

The woman did not pretend to understand what Jesus was talking about, but she did want to avoid the work involved in drawing water from Jacob’s well. Since Jesus had offered it, she asked Him to give her whatever it was that He had (cf. John 3:4; John 6:34).

Verse 16

So far the woman thought only of her physical need for water and rest. Jesus now took the conversation in a different direction to help her realize that she had greater needs than these that He could meet (cf. John 2:24-25). Jesus’ instruction that she call her husband was proper because if He was really going to give her something valuable her husband should have been present. This was necessary to avoid misunderstanding about the reason for the gift and especially in view of Samaritan Jewish tensions.

Verses 17-18

The woman wanted Jesus’ gift, so she admitted that she had no husband. She probably hoped that He would then give it to her. However, Jesus gave her a shocking revelation instead. He knew about her marital relations intimately, but he related what He knew tastefully. He commended her for telling the truth about her present marital status twice, but He also unmasked her past.

We do not know how her previous marriages had ended, by death or divorce. However it would have been very unusual for five former husbands all to have died. The implication is that some divorce had torn her marriages apart. This implication is more probable in view of the woman’s present live-in arrangement with a sixth man. She was not living by the moral code of her religion. Perhaps this explains her coming to draw water alone at such an unlikely hour (John 4:6).

Verse 19

Many women would have simply turned and walked away at such a revelation of their private lives and sins. This woman continued talking with Jesus. Probably she had become used to dealing with people who knew about her sinful life, so she coolly observed that Jesus must be a prophet. She believed He could not have known these things without special insight (cf. John 4:29; Luke 7:39).

"The word ’prophet’ was used to refer to a wide range of ’gifted’ people, and at this point may not, in the woman’s mind, denote a full-orbed Old Testament prophet, let alone a messianic figure." [Note: Carson, p. 221.]

"The Samaritans acknowledged no prophet after Moses other than the one spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:18, and him they regarded as the Messiah . . . For her to speak of Jesus as a prophet was thus to move into the area of messianic speculation." [Note: Morris, p. 236. Cf. Edersheim, 1:414.]

Verse 20

Being a woman of the world she had probably learned that many "religious people" enjoy discussing controversial theological issues. She took the opportunity to divert the conversation, which was becoming uncomfortably convicting, hoping that Jesus would follow her new subject. She must have thought that surely he could not resist the temptation to argue Jewish supremacy in the age-old Samaritan Jewish debate. Moreover since Jesus appeared to have supernatural insight perhaps she could get the true answer to this ancient dilemma from Him.

"There are some people who cannot engage in a religious conversation with a person of a different persuasion without bringing up the points on which they differ." [Note: Bruce, p. 108.]

Perhaps this woman was such a person.

Part of the old controversy involved the proper place of worship. In Deuteronomy 12:5 God had said that His people were to seek the place that He would choose among their tribes where He would dwell among them. The Jews, accepting all the Old Testament as authoritative, saw God doing this later when He commanded David to build the temple in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:13; 1 Kings 11:13; 1 Kings 14:21; 2 Chronicles 6:6; 2 Chronicles 12:13). The Samaritans, who acknowledged only the authority of the Pentateuch, believed that Mount Gerizim near Shechem was the place that God had appointed. They based this belief on the fact that God had told the Israelites to worship Him on Mt. Gerizim after they entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 11:29-30; Deuteronomy 27:2-7; Deuteronomy 27:12). Shechem had long associations as a place where God had met with His people. It was where God first revealed Himself to Abraham and where Abraham first built an altar after entering the Promised Land (Genesis 12:6-7). It was also where Jacob had chosen to live and had buried his idols after returning from Paddan-aram (Genesis 33:18-20; Genesis 35:4). [Note: For more information on Samaritan thought, see R. J. Coggins, Samaritans and Jews: The Origins of Samaritanism Reconsidered; and J. Macdonald, The Theology of the Samaritans.]

"They [the Samaritans] had a tradition that Abraham’s offering of Isaac took place on this mountain and they held that it was here that Abraham met Melchizedek. In fact, most of the blessed events in the time of the patriarchs seem to have been linked with Gerizim!" [Note: Morris, p. 237.]

Verse 21

Jesus avoided the temptation to abandon discussion of living water. He told the woman that the real issue was not where God’s people had worshipped Him in the past but how they would worship Him in the future. This was the more important issue since Messiah had come and would terminate worship as both the Jews and the Samaritans knew it. Jesus urged her to believe Him because she had already acknowledged him as a prophet. This command was an added guarantee that what He said was true. The hour (Gr. hora) or time that Jesus referred to was the time of His passion. [Note: See my comments on 2:4.] The "Father" was a term for God that Jesus employed frequently (cf. John 2:16; John 11:41; John 12:27-28; John 17:1).

Verse 22

By "you" Jesus meant the Samaritans (plural "you" in Gr.). They worshipped a God whom they did not really know. The reason for this was their rejection of most of His revelation in the Old Testament. Moreover the Samaritans had added pagan concepts to their faith that had come from their Gentile forefathers. If the woman truly believed that Jesus was a prophet, as she claimed, she would have had to accept His statement. There was more and truer information about God that she and her fellow Samaritans needed to learn than they presently knew. Jesus was providing that correction and that new revelation.

In contrast, the Jews accepted all of God’s revelation in the Old Testament and therefore knew the God whom they worshipped. Additionally they were the people through whom that revelation had come. Jesus here summarized all Old Testament revelation as being essentially soteriological. God intended His revelation to result in salvation for humankind (cf. John 3:17). In that sense salvation had come through the Jews (cf. Romans 3:2; Romans 9:4-5). Salvation also came from the Jews in that Messiah came from Judah’s tribe (Genesis 49:10) whereas the Samaritans traced their ancestry through Joseph. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 11:8:6.]

Jesus did not take sides on the question of the place of worship, but He did clarify the proper basis of authority as being the whole Old Testament.

Verse 23

The hour coming was the hour of Jesus’ passion when the old way of worship would end. That hour was already present in the sense that since Messiah had come His followers could begin to worship according to the new way. This figure of speech (oxymoron) means that what will characterize the future is even now present. An oxymoron involves the joining of contradictory or incongruous terms to make a point. The time of unique privilege for the Jews was ending temporarily. It hinged on their acceptance of Messiah (cf. John 2:19-20).

True worshippers are not those who will worship in the future in contrast to those who have worshipped in the past. The distinction is not between Jews and Samaritans either. True worshippers are those from either time or group that worship God in spirit and truth.

What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth? The Greek text has one preposition ("in") that governs both nouns ("spirit," "truth") linked by the conjunction ("and," cf. John 3:5; John 4:24). This means that Jesus was describing one characteristic with two nouns, not two separate characteristics of worship. We could translate the phrase "truly spiritual." This is a hendiadys, a figure of speech in which the speaker expresses a single complex idea by joining two substantives with "and" rather than by using an adjective and a substantive. Though the idea is one, it has two components.

What is "truly spiritual" worship? It is, first, worship that is spiritual in every respect: in its source, mediator, object, subject, basis, and method. It rises from the spirit of the worshipper, not just his or her mouth; it is heartfelt. Moreover it proceeds from a person who has spiritual life because of the new birth that the Holy Spirit has effected. It passes from believers to God through a spiritual mediator, namely, Jesus Christ. Its object is spiritual, namely, God who is spirit. Its subject is spiritual matters. This worship can include physical matters, such as singing and studying, but it comprehends the spiritual realm as well as the physical. Its basis is the spiritual work that Jesus Christ did in His incarnation and atonement. Its method is spiritual as contrasted with physical; it does not consist of merely physical actions but involves the interaction of the human spirit with the divine spirit.

For example, many people today associate worship primarily with going to church, as the Jews did with going to Jerusalem. Jesus clarified that true worship transcends any particular time or place. We can and should worship God 24 hours a day as we set aside (sanctify) every activity as an expression of our love and service of the Lord. [Note: See Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, pp. 77-84.] That is truly spiritual worship.

"Truth" in this context contrasts with the hypocrisy that characterized so much of Jewish and Samaritan worship, which is still present in worship today. It is sincere, God-centered worship rather than just going through motions or worshipping for what we can get out of it instead of as an offering to the Lord. True worship is all about Him, not about us. Matt Redman’s song, "Heart of Worship," expresses this well: "I’ll bring You more than a song, because the song itself is not what You’ve required. You search much deeper within than the way things appear. You’re looking into my heart."

"The combination ’spirit and truth’ points to the need for complete sincerity and complete reality in our approach to God." [Note: Morris, p. 239.]

Another view of "in spirit and truth" is that "spirit" refers to the realm in which people must worship God and "truth" refers to Jesus who is the Truth of God (John 14:6). [Note: Blum, p. 286.] However in this context Jesus was apparently contrasting integrity and reality in worship with the externalism and hypocrisy that marked so much worship in His day.

A third view is that "spirit" refers to the heart and "truth" refers to the Scriptures. The meaning then is that worshippers must be sincere and worship God in harmony with His self-revelation in Scripture. This is good advice, but again the context suggests a slightly different meaning of "truth" here.

Verse 24

The AV has Jesus saying, "God is a spirit." One could infer that He is one spirit among many. The NASB and NIV have, "God is spirit." The Greek text has no indefinite article ("a"), but it is legitimate to supply one, as is often true in similar anarthrous (without the article) constructions. However the absence of the article often deliberately stresses the character to the noun (cf. 1 John 1:5; 1 John 4:8). That seems to have been Jesus’ intention here.

The sense of the passage is that God is spirit as opposed to flesh. He is invisible, divine, and essentially unknowable. Nevertheless He has chosen to reveal Himself (John 1:1-18). Since He is a spiritual rather than a corporeal being, those who worship Him must do so in a spiritual rather than a material way. A spiritual birth (John 3:5) is prerequisite for spiritual worship.

The essential reason worship of God must be spiritual is that God is a spiritual being, not a physical idol. Worship of a spiritual God requires spiritual worship, not just going through certain acts of worship at special places of worship. Furthermore, people cannot worship God in any manner that may seem attractive to them. They must worship Him as He by the Spirit has revealed we should.

Verse 25

Jesus’ explanation would have made sense to this woman who lived life on a very physical level. Nevertheless she did not pretend to comprehend all this spiritual talk. One thing she understood clearly, and she believed Jesus would agree with her about this. Messiah was coming, and when He arrived He would reveal divine mysteries and clarify all these matters. The Samaritans anticipated Messiah’s arrival, as the Jews did, but they viewed Him primarily as a teacher (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). [Note: See Edersheim, 1:402-3, for other things the Samaritans believed.] They usually referred to Him as the Taheb (probably meaning "the Restorer" or possibly "he who returns"). [Note: Carson, p. 226.] The writer translated the meaning of "Messiah" for his readers (cf. John 1:38; John 1:41).

Verse 26

Jesus then identified Himself to the woman as the Messiah whom she hoped for. Jesus did not reveal Himself to the Jews as the Messiah because of their identification of Messiah with a military deliverer almost exclusively. If He had done so, He may well have ignited a revolution. However, He did not hesitate to identify Himself as Messiah to this woman because as a Samaritan she did not hold the common Jewish view of Messiah. The writer used Jesus’ own clear testimony here as another witness to His identity so his readers would believe in Him. Jesus’ self-revelation here climaxes John’s account of this conversation. This is the only time that Jesus clearly identified Himself as the Messiah before His trial. However, Mark 9:41 records that He used the term of Himself on another occasion indirectly. His self-identification here constituted an invitation for the woman to come to Him for salvation.

Nicodemus contrasts with the Samaritan woman in many ways. As John used them in His narrative, they seem to typify Jews and non-Jews as well as the normal reactions of those groups to Jesus. [Note: Chart adapted from The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 284.]

Contrasts between Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman
NicodemusThe Samaritan Woman
RacePure JewishMixed Gentile
Social statusHighly respected, ruler, teacherNot respected, servant, learner
PlaceJewish territorySamaritan territory
TimeAt nightAbout noon
SubjectNew birthLiving water
ConversationFaded outContinued strong
ConsequenceNo witness to othersWitness to others

Verse 27

When Jesus’ disciples returned from their shopping trip (John 4:8), they were amazed to see Jesus talking with a woman. Their reaction reflects the typical Jewish prejudices against Samaritans and women. It was uncommon for rabbis to speak with women. [Note: For one of their sayings prohibiting conversation with females, see Morris, p. 242.] However they refrained from questioning her and Him, probably to avoid becoming involved in this unusual conversation.

Verses 27-38

2. Jesus’ explanation of evangelistic ministry 4:27-38

Jesus had modeled evangelistic effectiveness for His disciples, though ironically they were absent for most of the lesson. Now he explained the rewards, urgency, and partnership of evangelism.

Verse 28

The fact that the woman left her water pot at the well suggests that she felt such excitement at having apparently discovered the Messiah that all but telling others left her mind. The Apostle John may have included this detail because her act had symbolic significance. Some commentators suggested that in her excitement she abandoned the old water pot (ceremonial structure) that was no longer necessary (cf. John 4:23). I doubt this interpretation and tend to view this detail as simply evidence of her excitement. There is plenty of symbolism in this story already that Jesus explained.

It would have been natural for the woman to report her discovery to the men in Sychar since they would have had to determine if Jesus really was the Messiah.

Verse 29

Her hyperbole is understandable, and her example as a witness was a good one for John’s readers. What made her think that Jesus could be the Messiah was not only His claim but His ability to know her past, His words and His works. She wisely framed her thinking about Jesus in the form of a question to elicit investigation rather than as a dogmatic assertion that others would probably have rejected out of hand (cf. John 4:12).

Verse 30

The men, probably the community leaders, proceeded out to the well to investigate Jesus’ identity. Some of them may have wanted the secrets of this woman’s past, perhaps secrets involving themselves, to remain buried.

Verses 31-32

Jesus showed little interest in eating even though He was probably hungry (John 4:6). He used the disciples’ urging to teach them something about His priorities. Something was more satisfying to Him than food. They showed interest in physical need primarily, but He had more concern for spiritual need.

Verses 33-34

The disciples continued to think only on the level of physical food, as the woman had thought only of physical water (John 4:15). They were all unspiritual in their thinking. Jesus responded that what satisfied Him more than physical food was the spiritual nourishment that came from doing the Father’s will and advancing His work (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; John 5:36; John 6:38). That mission involved bringing eternal life to people (cf. John 20:21).

"The creative will of God, realized in obedience, sustains life." [Note: Barrett, p. 241.]

Verse 35

Jesus continued to speak of spiritual matters in physical terms. The whitened fields represent humankind in its condition of being ripe for divine judgment. Perhaps as Jesus spoke these words the disciples observed the customarily white-clothed men of Sychar wending their way through the fields toward them as so much living grain.

Jesus’ reference to four months was probably proverbial. It was the approximate time between the last sowing and the earliest reaping. [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 63.] His point was that between the spiritual task of sowing the gospel and reaping belief the intervening time may be very brief.

The disciples needed spiritual vision. They could obtain it by lifting their eyes and looking on the fields of lost people rather than being completely absorbed in their physical needs. As with physical grain, the opportunity for harvesting spiritually is relatively brief. If left unreached, people die in their sins.

Verse 36

The reaper in view was Jesus, and potentially His disciples could become reapers. The wages that reapers receive are the reward for their labor. For Jesus this was the exaltation that the Father gave Him and will give Him for carrying out His will faithfully. For the disciples it is rewards that they and we can receive at the judgment seat of Christ for faithful service. Some of this reward comes immediately in the form of satisfaction and perhaps other blessings. The fruit is probably a reference to the people as grain that will obtain eternal life. The one who sows is anyone who proclaims the gospel, but ultimately Jesus (cf. Matthew 13:37).

Verse 37

"Thus" in the NIV is misleading. It implies that this verse explains the previous one. However the Greek term, en touto (lit. in this) can look forward as well as backward. In this case it looks forward. John 4:37, which contains a proverb, summarizes John 4:38. It means that both sowers and reapers are necessary to get a good harvest. Sowers must not think that their work is secondary to reaping, and reapers must remember the important contribution of those who sow. Today some Christians do more sowing than reaping and others experience more fruitful ministries as harvesters. Both are essential in God’s plan (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6).

"The reaping of people for the granary of God is not the task of any one group, nor is it confined to one era. Each reaps the benefit of its forerunners, and succeeding generations in turn gain from the accomplishments of their predecessors." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 58.]

Verse 38

The proverb was true in the situation of Jesus and His disciples. The purpose of the disciples’ calling was reaping believers in Jesus. The Apostle John did not record Jesus’ commissioning them for that purpose earlier, but that was His purpose (cf. John 4:2). The Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist had sowed, but now Jesus and His disciples were reaping (cf. Acts 2).

Verse 39

Harvesting followed the arrival of the Samaritans who had come out from Sychar to see Jesus. Many of them believed initially on Jesus because of the woman’s verbal witness. She had brought them to Jesus. This verse should encourage every believing reader. God uses the witness of all types of people concerning Jesus’ identity to bring others to faith in Him.

Verses 39-42

3. The response to Jesus in Samaria 4:39-42

The response of the Samaritans to Jesus was considerably more positive than the response of the Jews had been (John 1:11; John 2:23-25). This would prove true as Jesus’ ministry continued. Non-Jews normally responded more positively to Jesus than did Jews both in the Gospels and in Acts.

Verses 40-42

The openness of these Samaritans contrasts with the hostility of so many of Jesus’ Jewish hearers (cf. John 1:11). It required considerable humility for these Samaritans to invite a Jewish rabbi to stay with them (John 4:9). During the following two days many more Samaritans than just those who visited Jesus by Jacob’s well became believers in Him. They did so because of Jesus’ words that confirmed what the woman had said about Him. They produced certain knowledge in the Samaritans ("we know," John 4:42). Their faith received a firmer foundation than just the witness of another believer. It rested on personal contact with Jesus. The joint testimony of believers and the word of God is a powerful evangelistic combination. These simple Samaritans understood what sophisticated Nicodemus could not (cf. Matthew 11:25).

The title "Savior of the world" is unique to John occurring only here and in 1 John 4:14 (cf. John 1:29; John 1:34; John 3:17). John’s original readers would have been familiar with the title because the Greeks and Romans gave it to several of their gods and emperors. [Note: Carson, p. 232.] Nevertheless Jesus was the true Savior of the world whom these Samaritans recognized as such. The Old Testament spoke of God in this role (e.g., Psalms 35:9; Jonah 2:9). Jesus was God in action saving the world. This does not mean that everyone will experience eternal salvation, the doctrine of universalism, but that Jesus has made everyone savable, and those who believe on Him obtain salvation.

"It is interesting to trace our Lord’s movements that brought Him to Samaria. He was in Jerusalem (John 2:23) and then came into Judea (John 3:22). From Judea He went into Samaria (John 4:4), and the Samaritans declared Him to be ’the Savior of the world.’ This is a perfect parallel to Acts 1:8 -’And ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ Our Lord has set the example. If we follow, He will give us the harvest." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:302.]

This was the first instance of cross-cultural evangelism that the Gospel evangelists recorded in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ ministry to Gentiles came later, according to their records. Jesus later charged the church to continue cross-cultural evangelism (Acts 1:8). Still later Philip evangelized in Samaria with great success, perhaps in this very region (Acts 8:4-8). Jesus’ ministry here was not only reaping but sowing. Philip reaped what Jesus had sowed.

Verse 43

The two days in view are those that Jesus spent ministering to the Samaritans (John 4:40). He now resumed the trip that John referred to in John 4:3.

Verses 43-45

1. Jesus’ return to Galilee 4:43-45

John again bridged the gap between important events in his narrative with a transitional explanation of how Jesus moved from one site to another (cf. John 2:12; John 4:1-3). John typically focused on clusters of events in Jesus’ ministry (cf. John 1:19; John 1:29; John 1:35; John 1:43; John 2:1). However this move completed a cycle in Jesus’ movements and almost completed one in John’s narrative.

Verses 43-54

E. Jesus’ resumption of His Galilean ministry 4:43-54

Jesus continued to move north, back into Galilee, where He healed a nobleman’s son.

Verses 44-45

These verses seem incongruous. If a prophet has no honor in his own country, why did the Galileans welcome Jesus, since Galilee was His homeland? The Greek word patris translated "country" can mean either homeland or hometown. The Synoptics always used it to describe Nazareth (Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24).

One explanation is that John viewed Judea as Jesus’ homeland or possibly Jerusalem as His hometown. [Note: Westcott, 1:77-78; Hoskyns, pp. 287-88; B. Lindars, The Gospel of John, pp. 200-201.] Perhaps John regarded Judea and Jerusalem as Jesus’ spiritual homeland and hometown as David’s spiritual heir. The "Jews" is a term that John used particularly of the Jews in Judea (cf. John 1:19; John 7:1). However, John referred to Nazareth as Jesus’ physical home frequently (John 1:45-46; John 7:41; John 7:52; John 19:19). Moreover Jesus did not choose where He ministered because of the popular acceptance He received. He did seek to avoid premature conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, but the implication of John 4:44-45 is that Jesus’ honor was the determining factor. Furthermore the reception that Jesus received in Galilee was not entirely positive.

A second explanation is that patris refers to heaven. [Note: Lightfoot, p. 35.] However this view does not explain why John included the proverb as an explanation for Jesus’ going into Galilee from Judea.

Probably patris refers to Galilee in contrast to Samaria rather than in contrast to Judea. [Note: Brown, 1:187; Carson, pp. 235-36; John W. Pryor, "John 4:44 and the Patris of Jesus," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49 (1987):254-63. For several other less probable solutions, see D. A. Carson, "Current Source Criticism of the Fourth Gospel: Some Methodological Questions," Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978):424, n. 50.] Jesus’ own country was Jewish turf rather than Samaritan territory. On Jewish turf Jesus had not experienced the honor that He had among the Samaritans (cf. John 2:18; John 2:20; John 2:22-25; John 3:10; John 4:1-3). The "so" or "therefore" that begins John 4:45 does not explain why Jesus went back into Jewish territory. He did not go there because the Jews typically rejected Him. The "so" or "therefore" introduces the reason for the Galileans’ reception of Him that follows. The people from the Prophet’s own country received Him because they had seen the miracles that He had done at Passover in Jerusalem, not because they honored Him as a prophet (cf. John 4:48). Thus John was contrasting the unbelief of the Jews with the belief of the Samaritans.

Verse 46

John’s reference to Cana and the first miracle seems intended to remind the reader of that event and to suggest the completion of a cycle. John did not reveal the reason Jesus returned there. The royal official (Gr. basilikos) was by his title a man who served a king, in either a civil or a military capacity. [Note: Edersheim, 1:424.] This was probably Herod Antipas in view of where he lived. Antipas was not an official king, but the people popularly regarded him as one (cf. Mark 6:14). This official was probably Jewish (John 4:48). Whether he was the Chuza who was Herod’s steward, mentioned in Luke 8:3, remains a mystery. Jesus also healed the servant of a Gentile centurion in Capernaum (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10), but that was a different individual and a different occasion. An important feature of this sign was the distance between Jesus’ location, in Cana, and where the official’s son lay ill, in Capernaum.

Verses 46-54

2. The second sign: healing the official’s Song of Solomon 4:46-54

This incident completes a cycle in John’s Gospel. Jesus performed His first sign in Cana (John 2:1), and now He returned and did another miracle there (John 4:46). There is even a second reference to Capernaum (John 2:12; John 4:46). John’s account of Jesus’ first miracle in Cana (John 2:11) ended with a reference to the weak faith of the Jews that rested only on miracles (John 2:23-25). His account of Jesus’ second miracle in Cana (John 4:54) opens with a similar reference (John 4:45; John 4:48). In short, this section seems to be an inclusio framed by two miracles in Cana with two conversations occurring between them. Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is typical of the reception that the Jews gave Him, but His conversation with the Samaritan woman shows the reception that non-Jews more typically gave Him. We see these two attitudes toward Jesus not only in the Gospel accounts of His ministry but also in Acts. The center section that the structure highlights is essentially an exposition of Jesus’ mission (John 3:16-36).

A Jesus’ first sign in Cana John 2:1-11

B A reference to Capernaum, Jesus’ headquarters John 2:12

C Hostility toward Jesus in Jerusalem John 2:13-25

D Nicodemus’ response to Jesus John 3:1-15

E The importance of Jesus’ mission John 3:16-36

D’ The Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus John 4:1-38

C’ Acceptance of Jesus in Samaria John 4:39-42

B’ A reference to Galilee, Jesus’ major ministry arena John 4:43-45

A’ Jesus’ second sign in Cana John 4:46-54

This pericope (John 4:46-54) constitutes the closing incident in John’s account of Jesus’ early public ministry (chs. 2-4). It shows Him returning to Cana, Nathanael’s hometown (John 21:2), where He performed another significant miracle. John evidently included it to show that Jesus’ demonstration of His authority resulted in some Jews believing on Him.

"Both the miracles performed at Cana . . . are thus shown to have been prompted by trust. Mary trusted her Son to do something to relieve the embarrassment of their host at the wedding. The father of the sick boy was equally confident that he could rely on Jesus’ help. Both miracles are also shown to have resulted in a personal surrender to Jesus which is full Christian faith. His disciples believed on him after the water had been turned into wine; the father and the rest of his household believed as the result of the healing of the boy: and in both cases the verb in the original is an inceptive aorist ’they put their faith in Him’." [Note: Tasker, pp. 82-83.]

Verse 47

The official appealed to Jesus to make the approximately 13-mile trip from Cana to Capernaum to heal his son. He obviously believed that Jesus could heal people, but there is no indication that initially he believed that Jesus was more than a healer.

"Instances are recorded in the Talmud, which may here serve as our guide. Various cases are related in which those seriously ill, and even at the point of death, were restored by the prayers of celebrated Rabbis." [Note: Ibid.]

He must have felt desperate to seek Jesus from such a distance. Jesus’ first sign came in response to a mother’s request (John 2:1-5), but this second one came in response to a father’s request.

"The nobleman believed that Jesus could heal his son, but he made two mistakes in his thinking: that Jesus had to go to Capernaum to save the lad, and that if the boy died meanwhile, it was too late." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:303.]

Verse 48

The official was responding as most of the Galileans did. Jesus used the plural "you" indicating that this man’s unbelief was typical of most of his countrymen. Jesus’ mention of "signs" (Gr. semeia) pointed to the significance of His miracles. This is the only place in John’s Gospel where "wonders" occurs. This word (Gr. terata) stresses the wonder or awe that miracles produce in those who witness them. Jesus’ use of the word suggests that the people wanted to see miracles just so they could marvel at them.

Jesus implied that the man did not believe in Him. He did, of course, believe that Jesus could heal His son, but he had not yet come to believe that He could heal from a distance. Jesus viewed that second level of belief as the significant one. The official may well have thought, What do you mean I do not believe on you? The man probably felt rebuked by Jesus’ comment, but Jesus’ aim was to bring him to deeper faith in Himself.

Verse 49

The officer showed little interest in the reasons people did or did not believe in Jesus since his little boy (Gr. paidion) lay at death’s door. He desperately appealed again for Jesus to come to Capernaum quickly.

Verse 50

Jesus did not do what the father asked, but He gave him a promise instead: his son would live. The official seized the promise and departed for home alone demonstrating that he believed Jesus could heal from a distance. If he had refused to go home without Jesus, he would have been disbelieving Jesus’ word. He chose not to insist on receiving evidence and exercised faith without tangible proof. Thus he believed in Jesus in a deeper sense than he had at first.

"The official became a model of what it means to believe apart from signs." [Note: Howard, p. 70.]

Verses 51-53

His servants met him on his way back to Capernaum with good news. Jesus had made His promise about 1:00 p.m. the day before the official met his servants. When he met them, he learned that his son’s condition had improved significantly, not just begun to improve as he had expected, when Jesus gave His promise. His recovery was no accident. This resulted in his believing in Jesus to an even deeper level, though he may not have understood that He was the Son of God. The members of his household believed in Jesus too (cf. John 2:11; Acts 10:2; Acts 11:14; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:31; Acts 18:8). He learned that Jesus’ word is powerful to save even at a distance. His faith grew from "crisis faith" (John 4:47), to "confident faith" (John 4:50), to "confirmed faith" (John 4:53), to "contagious faith" (John 4:53). [Note: Wiersbe, 1:303.]

Verse 54

John interestingly identified this miracle as the second sign that Jesus did even though He did other miracles in both Galilee and Judea after He changed the water to wine (cf. John 2:23; John 3:2). Moreover this is the second of several miracles that John labeled in his Gospel as signs, but he numbered only the first two. All this evidence points to his regarding the first and second signs as similar and related to each other. The structure of this part of John’s narrative, as I have sought to explain it above, accounts for his view of this second sign.

John explained further that Jesus performed this sign after He had come out of Judea into Galilee. This appears to be another geographical notice designed to help the reader follow Jesus’ movements. It also suggests a contrast between the unbelief that marked Judea and the faith that was more prominent in Galilee.

This miracle, as the first one that John described, had a limited audience. Only the family and household servants of the official knew of it at first. This was typical of Jesus’ ministry. While Jesus performed many public miracles, and huge crowds followed Him because they witnessed them, they had the desired impact on relatively few individuals (cf. John 1:11-12).

John recorded many witnesses to Jesus’ identity in his record of Jesus’ early ministry (chs. 2-4). The first sign testified to His creative power to change the quality of things. [Note: Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, p. 312.] His cleansing of the temple showed His authority over the institutions of Judaism. Nicodemus testified to Jesus having come from God and His role as an authoritative teacher. John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. The Samaritan woman implied that Jesus was omniscient. Many other Samaritans acknowledged Jesus as the Savior of the world. The official whose son Jesus healed from afar came to recognize Him as the healer whose word can overcome the problem of distance as well as disease. [Note: Ibid.] The first sign in John’s Gospel shows Jesus’ power over time, and the second sign shows His power over space. John the Apostle also called Him the Son of God, the giver of eternal life, and the One from heaven. This section of the book, therefore, makes an important contribution to the advance of John’s argument and the fulfillment of his purpose (John 20:30-31).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.