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Eve of Pentacost
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Bible Commentaries
John 4

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

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Verses 1-3

The Samaritan Woman And The High Official's Son (chapter 4).

In these two incidents we have a direct contrast with Nicodemus (John 3:1-7) and an indication that the old ritual water was being done away because the new wine had come (John 2:1-12). Once again we discover that the writer was familiar with the topography of Palestine (this time of Samaria) and gives almost incidental touches that reveal him or his sources as an eyewitness.

Verse 4

‘And he had to pass through Samaria.’

The road through Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee, and although some Jews would take the long way round through Transjordan because they saw Samaria as an unclean land, and they wanted to avoid the danger of becoming ‘unclean’ as a result of the failure of many in Samaria to follow rigid rules of ritual cleanliness, Jesus clearly did not see this as applying to Him.

‘He had to pass’ . ‘Edei’ - ‘it was necessary’. Was this the divine necessity? (Compare John 3:7; John 3:14; John 3:30; John 4:24; John 9:4; John 10:16; John 12:34; John 20:9). Or was it just the geographical necessity? While there was a recognised longer route to take it would have smacked of racial and religious prejudice. The truth is probably that we are again to take the double meaning. The Gospel is full of these nuances.

On His journey He passed through the land of the Samaritans. The Samaritans were a people despised by the Jews, and yet not looked on as Gentiles. It is doubtful if they were descended from the intermixture of the Israelites left in the land when Samaria was sacked in 722 BC, and the people brought in from other lands to replace those who had been deported, with whom they intermarried. They may, however, have been descended from YHWH worshippers who had remained in the land and had come together to form a community in order to preserve their own form of worship. Or they may have resulted from a group who arrived later seeking a home for themselves where they could follow their own religious beliefs. Certainly some of the people left in the land by the Assyrians had at least continued to look to the Temple at Jerusalem (Jeremiah 41:5), but after Judah’s exile, when the Temple was being restored, the Samaritans had offered their help, and had been refused any part in it. They were looked on as being religiously unacceptable. And there is no doubt that their religion was not orthodox Judaism. The hellenisation of that part of the world by Alexander the Great had resulted in the disappearance of most people in the region into the mass of hellenists. The Samaritans stood out among them, being centred around Shechem and following a distorted form of Yahwism.

Certainly it seems that the later ‘Samaritans’ were connected with the area around Shechem ( Sir 50:26 ; 2Ma 5:22 on; John 6:2), and one of Josephus’ sources describes them as ‘Shechemites’. After a long period of desolation Shechem had been rebuilt in the late 4th century BC, and at that stage they had built their own Temple, with a genuine Aaronic priesthood, on Mount Gerizim, which was later destroyed by John Hyrcanus (about 128 BC). They accepted the Law, but had their own version of it in the Samaritan Pentateuch, which named Mount Gerizim as the place of sacrifice. They believed in the one God, and the coming of a deliverer, ‘the Taheb (restorer)’, identified by them with ‘the prophet’ in Deuteronomy 18:15. They were therefore not looked on as pagans, but as second rate worshippers of the one God, and for that reason tolerated, but only in order to be dismissed as heretics.

Thus their connections with the earlier ‘Samaritans’ may have been tenuous. They may have been a group who had kept themselves relatively clean from the introduction of the various gods of the nations, and maintained their own relatively pure system of worship, or they may have been a group that arrived later and settled there. They were, however, despised by men like the Judaisers, and indeed by most Jews.

Nothing therefore would have seemed less likely to most Jews than the spiritual transformation of a loose woman who, on top of that, was a despised Samaritan. Yet here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He demonstrates that there are no barriers of race or past morals to prevent anyone from coming to God, once the heart is set in the right direction, and that God is ready to accept them.

Verses 4-42

The Samaritan Woman (John 4:4-42 ).

In this story of the Samaritan woman in John 4:4-42 Jesus depicts Himself as the Gift of God Who can give men living water (John 4:10), and can thus give men a spring of water within which will well up to eternal life (John 4:14). This is in line with the promise that in God is the ‘fountain of life’ in Psalms 36:9, and the indication that God is the spring of living waters in Jeremiah 2:13. Thus Jesus is here portraying Himself as fulfilling what God would be to His people. His words also tie in with the many references in the Old Testament to God as being like a water source Who satisfies men’s thirst (e.g. Psalms 23:2; Psalms 46:4; Isaiah 44:3-4; Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 48:21 etc.), and this includes the going forth of ‘His word’ like the effects of rain and snow producing life (Isaiah 55:10-11); the reference in Isaiah to a coming king who will be like rivers of water in a dry place (Isaiah 32:1-2); and the reference to the mirage becoming a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water at the time when the lame and blind are healed (Isaiah 35:5-7). These prophecies had in mind the days of restoration, the says of the Messiah. So Jesus claim may here be seen as both Messianic, and a claim to be the Son of God.

In context it illustrates well what we have seen in chapter 3 that the Spirit works where He wills (John 3:8), and the picture of life-giving water is again used, this time referring to a spring bubbling up within to give eternal life. The heavenly rain is falling and men may now drink of it abundantly. Here is full proof that Jesus sees the Spirit as now at work.

Once again we also have the contrast of the old with the new, the old water of Jacob’s well is replaced by the new living water which is the gift of God through Jesus, the old worship in Jerusalem and on Mount Gerizim is replaced by the new worship in Spirit and truth.

The story then leads up to an admission by Jesus that He is the Messiah (John 4:26), whilst the Samaritans themselves declare that He is ‘the Saviour of the world’, a title almost certainly having Messianic significance. Jesus’ Messiahship shines out throughout the whole account.

Note the vividness with which the writer recounts the story. Much of it is put in the present tense in order to carry the reader along with it, and its incidental detail cries out that it is an eyewitness report. We get the decided impression that whoever was responsible for the recounting of this story was there. This is backed up by the fact that examination of the account reveals that it was written by someone who was very familiar with Samaria, just as elsewhere familiarity with Judea and Perea has been obvious. He knew of the road that led through this part of Samaria. He not only knew of the well, but was aware that it was a deep one. He seems aware of the overhanging steeps of Gerizim. He knew that it was an area where ripened corn might be expected. Those who have lived in Palestine say that they feel as they read these accounts that they are breathing the air of Palestine once again. Indeed such factors are continually true of this Gospel, underlining that the Gospel was written by an eyewitness, or someone who obtained his information from eyewitnesses and faithfully recorded what he was told.

Verses 5-6

‘So he comes to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph, and Jacob’s well was there.’

Sychar is commonly identified with Askar, a village about one mile (one and a half kilometres) North East of Jacob’s Well, on the Eastern lower slopes of Mount Ebal. For the giving of the land to Joseph see Genesis 48:22. Jacob’s Well is still there on a site almost universally recognised as authentic. It is 100 feet (30 metres) deep.

Verse 6

‘Jesus, therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. It was about the sixth hour.’

The demands of Jesus’ ministry had caught up with Him, and on their journey through the heat of the sun Jesus grew weary. We are reminded here that He Who was the Word, the Creator of the world, was also truly human and suffered from the weakness of the body like the rest of us do. The true humanity of Jesus is stressed here. He was ‘very tired’.

When they came across the welcome sight of Jacob’s Well (well = pege, a fount of running water, thus fed by a spring) He sat down to rest, while the disciples went into the nearby town for food. Whether all the disciples who were with Him went we are not told, and it may well be that one or two remained with Jesus.

‘Sat thus --’. ‘Thus’ could refer back to His weariness. He sank down exhausted. It could alternatively mean ‘just where He happened to be’. Unless He had specifically commanded all to the disciples to go (there may only have been three or four) it must seem probable that at least one remained behind with him, possibly John. But if so he does not appear in the story.

The writer remembers it was about the sixth hour. If this was by Jewish reckoning it would be around twelve noon (reckoning from sunrise), if by Roman reckoning around six-o-clock in the evening (reckoning from noon). In John 20:19 the writer clearly uses Roman reckoning which was from midnight to noon and then noon to midnight, and not Jewish reckoning which was from sunset to sunrise and then from sunrise to sunset, and that is probably so here. It is in fact more likely that a woman would come at in the evening rather than during the heat of the day.

Verse 7

‘There comes a woman of Samaria to draw water.’

The fact that she was alone is probably significant. Normally women would make sure they were in company with others when visiting a well outside the town. There is already a hint in this that she was not of the best reputation.

But as we will learn, probably unbeknown to others she was thirsty in soul despite her pleasure loving life. When she saw a Jew sitting there she would ignore him. It was not seemly for a woman to speak to a strange man, and she would know that the Jews generally despised the Samaritans with a hatred combining strong religious and racial prejudice. They avoided all contact except for business purposes, and looked on the Samaritans as ritually ‘unclean’. No good Jew would ever eat with them or use their drinking vessels. But as Jesus demonstrated in the parable of the good Samaritan, He had deep sympathies with them. Indeed it was possibly this experience that revealed to Him what His attitude towards the Samaritans should be, just as later His experience with the Syro-phoenician woman would cause Him to preach among the Gentiles.

However, the woman was unaware of this, and knew nothing about Jesus. Thus she would have totally ignored this stranger at the well, simply pretending that He was not there, unless He had made an unexpected approach to her. But to her great surprise that is what He does. He does not ignore her. He turns and speaks to her.

Verses 7-8

‘Jesus says to her, “Give me a drink”. For his disciples had gone away into the town to buy food.’

The point of the second statement would appear to be that they had taken all their vessels with them with the purpose of filling them, leaving Jesus nothing to drink from. The statement may not, therefore, indicate that He was totally alone. Someone, such as John, may have stayed with Him although keeping out of the conversation. If we do see Him as alone it might suggest that the reason why all the disciples had gone off to find food in the nearby town as a body was because of the fear of an unpleasant welcome (there may only have been four or five of them). But it would have been normal for thirsty travellers to draw water immediately on reaching a well. It may be, therefore be that we are to see this as divinely pre-planned. It is also possible that Jesus’ thirst had previously been assuaged but had now returned, or, indeed, that it was mainly a conversation opener.

The woman was so surprised when He spoke to her that she forgot her prejudice for the moment and, overcome with curiosity, made a reply. Who is this Jew who would lower his pride and his prejudices to ask for water at the hands of a Samaritan, and a woman at that?

Verse 9

‘The Samaritan woman therefore says to him, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask drink of me who is a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.’

Amazed the woman asks the pertinent question. Why should such as He have dealings with her? Why would a Jew ask for a drink at the hands of a Samaritan woman?

‘For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans’, possibly better rendered ‘for Jews do not use with Samaritans’ (with ‘vessels’ understood). Jews had certain levels of dealings with Samaritans but would not drink from the same vessel, as they would look on it as probably ceremonially ‘unclean’. It could, however, signify ‘generally prefer not to have dealings with’. Either way Jesus is overcoming prejudice.

That Jesus followed strict practices of avoiding uncleanness generally is apparent from the fact that He Himself is never attacked by the Pharisees for failing to follow the correct procedures. They seemed to recognise that He was punctilious in His observance of what were seen by them as the necessary requirements with regard to cleansing. But here, away from Judea, Jesus shows no regard for such practises. It is clear that He observed them in order not to cause unnecessary offence, not because He saw them as basic.

No Jerusalem Rabbi would even have spoken with a woman, but the Galilean Rabbis were not so closed minded so that there would be no reason for Jesus to differ from them. It appears that the writer is fully aware of the distinctions that applied in Judaism.

Verse 10

‘Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked of him and he would have given you living water”.’

Jesus’ reply was significant. “If you knew the gift of God ---”. In the light of John 3:16 this must mean Himself as God’s gift to men, and stresses immediately that He is given to all men, Jew and non-Jew alike. God’s love reaches out to the world in His giving of His Son, not only to Jews.

‘And Who it is Who says --’. This confirms that it was He Who was the gift of God. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. Certainly it would indicate to the woman, even at this stage, something of His huge religious significance.

“You would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water”. He was saying that if only she knew who He was, and how extensive and all embracing was God’s gift in giving Him, she would have asked and she would have received the water of eternal life springing up within her.

This picture of living water as a source of spiritual blessing is a familiar one in the prophets (Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13; Zechariah 14:8 cf. Isaiah 44:3-4). So is the thought of a well or fountain giving life and deliverance (Psalms 36:9; Isaiah 12:3; Zechariah 13:1). Indeed the one who meditates on God’s word day and night will be like a tree planted by rivers of water, producing abundant fruit (Psalms 1:2-3). The idea of spring water in a hot and dry land reminds us of its thirst quenching and reinvigorating power, something very true of the work of the Spirit in people’s lives.

‘You would have asked of Him and He would have --’. So the same ‘eternal life’ offered to Nicodemus, the highly respected Jewish councillor, is also available to the despised, lowly Samaritan woman on the same terms. ‘Ask and you will receive.’

Even more interesting is the thought that Jesus was saying that He was the One Who could give the Spirit (John 4:10; John 4:14), the One who works where He wills, to whoever came to Him. This was an indirect claim to deity (see Isaiah 40:13). He was confirming that He was the Baptiser in the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit acted under His direction.

‘Living water’ could also mean running water from, say, a spring, so the woman, confused, asked in puzzlement where He would get this running water from.

Verse 11

‘The woman says to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. From where then have you that living water?” ‘

The well was one hundred feet deep, and this man had no vessel to draw with. What on earth could He mean? From where could He obtain living water? Her mind was still fixed on the idea of the physical water in the well.

Verse 12

“Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons and his cattle?”

She was a little in awe and certainly felt that this man was something special. But surely not that special? So she asked Him whether He was claiming to be even greater than Jacob who first gave them the well. Jacob had had to dig the well to find water. Could this man obtain water in any other way? In both cases she uses ‘phrear’ for well, which means any well, not necessarily one fed by a living spring. The reader would pick up the contrast as representing the attitude of mind, prosaic rather than inspirational.

‘Our father Jacob, who gave us the well.’ The Samaritans too traced their ancestry back to Jacob and were proud of the fact. They also saw the well as given to them by Jacob. We can regard it as certain that this therefore resulted in a kind of veneration of the well. It was Jacob’s gift to them and spoke of their religious past. This gift contrasts with the ‘gift of God’ in John 4:10. Jesus is agreeing that He is greater than Jacob and is offering to turn the old into the new, to as it were turn water into wine, to replace all that they had looked to with something new, that is with Himself, a direct gift from God.

Verses 13-14

‘Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him, will never thirst, for the water that I will give him will become in him a well (pege as in John 4:6) of water springing up producing eternal life”.’

Jesus made clear that He was in fact greater than Jacob. The water that He was offering was not of temporary satisfaction like the water of this well, but was permanent and constantly self-renewing. That is because the one who drank of it would receive within himself an inner source of water, a spring of water resulting in eternal life. It is deeply significant that Jesus was at this stage offering spiritual life, the life of the age to come, to a Samaritan, without requiring conversion to Judaism. He recognised the valid worship of the Samaritans and knew no barriers in His offer of salvation to them, even though it would still be a problem for His followers for some time to come.

‘Springing up’ - ‘allomenou. The verb is nowhere else used in Scripture of water bubbling up but its equivalent is so used in other literature. Its literal meaning is ‘leaping up, leaping on’. It is used in the Septuagint (LXX) of the Holy Spirit ‘leaping on’ men (Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19; Jdg 15:14 ; 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10) but it can be used figuratively of the quick movement of inanimate things as here. The combined use is especially significant here in view of the fact that the water symbolises the Spirit.

Verse 15

‘The woman says to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, nor come all this way here to draw”.’

The woman was intrigued and not quite sure what He meant, but His offer sounded delightful, an answer to many problems. She still did not realise that what was required was a spiritual transformation. But she did want this exciting-sounding water.

Verse 16

‘Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband and come back here”.’

The gift of living water could only be given if she turned from sin, so Jesus now began to probe her past life (John 4:16-18). ‘Go and call your husband and come here’. Such an innocent suggestion, and yet so deep in its significance. He knew already what the answer would be as John 4:18 demonstrates.

Verse 17

‘The woman answered and said to him, “I have no husband”.’

The woman felt a little disconcerted but tried to hide it from Him, she probably thought successfully. ‘I have no husband’, she said guardedly. Her loquaciousness had turned into noticeable abruptness. This was a sore point with her.

Verses 17-18

‘Jesus said to her, “You have well said that you have no husband. For you have had five husbands and he whom you now have is not your husband. This you have said truly”.’

She soon learned better. Like a bolt of lightning the reply came, tearing into her heart as He replied, “You are quite right when you say ‘I have no husband’. For you have had five husbands, and the man you are now living with is not your husband. When you say that you only speak the truth.” At these words she must have felt that all her defences were down and that she had been totally laid bare. This man knew all about her!

Whether she had been genuinely married to all five we do not need to ask. ‘Husbands’ may have been intended to be a euphemism. But the one she was living with now she was not married to, either because she had not bothered or because Jesus was hinting at the idea that it was not a real marriage due to the other four.

The woman had, unknowingly to her, come to the light and it was now shining into her innermost being seeking to reveal the truth about her (John 3:18-21). The question was how she would respond.

Verses 19-20

John 4:19 ‘The woman says to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”

John 4:20 “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”“Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Her next comment reveals that she clearly felt that between Him and her there could be little agreement. They disagreed on crucial points. He could really have nothing to say to her. She believed that God revealed Himself on Mount Gerizim, and that they should worship God there. He would insist that that was not so and that she should worship in Jerusalem. Had He anything to say that could give her a new perspective?

In accordance with Samaritan teaching, and the Samaritan Scriptures, Samaritans were told that it was at Mount Gerizim that God had revealed Himself, and that that was the place towards which they ought to turn. For in the Samaritan Pentateuch Genesis 22:0 and Deuteronomy 27:4 had been altered to refer to Mount Gerizim. This then, to them, was the place where God had chosen (past tense in the Samaritan Pentateuch) to put His name (Deuteronomy 5:12). But this was in stark contrast to the Jews who saw Jerusalem as the central place of worship and the place where mediation with God should take place. For as far as they were concerned Jerusalem was the central place of worship to which all should come, and apart from which there could be no sacrifices. So if she sought this living water would she have to become a Jew and worship at Jerusalem? The thought was totally unacceptable.

Verse 21

‘Jesus says to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. You worship that which you know not, we worship that which we know, for salvation is of the Jews”.’

Jesus did not reply that both religions were as good. He acknowledged that the Jews had been the vehicle of God’s revelation to man, ‘salvation is of the Jews’. But He did put both in perspective. The time had come, He said, when such matters would be unimportant. Men would in future worship God away from either centre of worship, as indeed many Jews were already doing throughout the known world. And attachment to these centres would cease to be important (this the Jews had not yet realised).

‘Woman’. As with His mother earlier( see on John 2:4), a polite word for addressing women.

‘The hour is coming.’ His hour would introduce this hour, a time when worship would not be restricted to places but would be spiritual and from the heart. Then Mount Gerizim and Jerusalem would both cease to have importance. What would matter would be a heart right towards God and centred on Him.

‘You will worship the Father’. The ‘you’ (plural) here referred to Samaritans as a group and made clear that He recognised that some of them would come to experience this spiritual worship.

‘You worship what you do not know.’ Their means of revelation was limited to the Pentateuch. They had therefore rather a narrow view of God and were lacking the greater level of revelation through the prophets and the ‘holy writings’ (Psalms etc.). And because they lacked the fuller revelation given to Israel, their knowledge of God was lacking. They did not have the full knowledge of the intimacy of God as revealed to the Jews.

‘We worship that which we know, for salvation is of the Jews’. Israel had a more complete revelation in the books of the Old Testament. And furthermore, that fuller revelation promised that salvation for the world would come through the Jews and their promised Messiah. Jesus therefore acknowledged that the Jews thus had a fuller understanding of the ways of God and a greater privilege, and were to be the channels of God’s blessing to the world. As Paul summed it up ‘To them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ’ (Romans 9:4-5). The Samaritans could parallel some of these but not all. So He did not deny that the Jews were greatly privileged.

On the other hand He did not deny that the Samaritans genuinely worshipped God. Their faith might be somewhat lacking but it was a real faith. And now that He was here it could become a transformed faith.

The statement that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ is certainly one that we would expect from a Jewish prophet. But it is not one that we would expect to be inserted by an inventor, especially by a member of the early church who had suffered much at the hands of the Jews and was aware of rivalry with them. There can really be no doubt of the Jewish emphasis and the fact that this conversation took place.

Verse 23

. “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such does the Father seek to be his worshippers. God is Spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”.’

Jesus reply was that the essence of the matter was not to be found in holy places, but in the inner heart. He pointed out that God does not have a physical form limiting Him to one place, for He is Spirit. Solomon had in fact recognised this principle long before (1 Kings 8:27. See also Malachi 1:11), as indeed had some of the Psalmists. And this was something all had to learn, both Samaritan and Jew. This fact that God is Spirit, and therefore non-spatial and outside space as we know it, is important to remember. That is why He is accessible everywhere, and why we cannot even begin to understand His Being, apart from revelation. He is simply not definable in earthly terms.

And that is why those who would worship Him must worship Him “in Spirit and in truth”, looking to Him as the Father. This idea of ‘spirit and truth’ is amplified throughout the Gospel and especially in John 14-17. What Jesus had come to bring was far too large to be limited to holy places and religious ceremonies, it was something that would transform the heart and bring a new relationship with God wherever men were, and it centred on truth.

‘In spirit and in truth.’ ‘In spirit’ emphasised the non-physical nature of the worship and its positive vitality. It was to be worship from the inner heart, as moved by the Spirit, made directly towards God, and irrespective of place. The danger with formal worship was that it could become cold and of little meaning. True worship had to be alive. What mattered was that such worship came from the heart. ‘In truth’, however, stressed that such worship must also be in accordance with revealed truth. His words were not just a recipe enabling men to do what they liked and have free rein in their thoughts. That could only lead to error. There was a certain body of truth which had to be remembered and taken into account. God must be worshipped as He was revealed to be in the Scriptures and in the teaching and life of Jesus. The Greek construction makes the one idea run into the other. We might say, ‘in Spiritual truth’.

The description of God as ‘Spirit’ connects up with John’s general teaching about the Spirit in his Gospel. The Spirit is the life-giver and revealer of truth, thus those who come to God truly will receive life and enter into the truth, and this will raise their hearts in spiritual worship.

The use of the capital letter for Spirit in the phrase ‘in Spirit and in truth’ is surely justified in the light of the Gospel as a whole, although we must recognise that both meanings are contained here. The Spirit awakens man’s spirit. The work of the Spirit in bringing men into this relationship with God had already been established (John 3:1-15). While the woman may not have recognised this, the writer did. Now it was the Spirit’s work that would make this new way of worship possible.

Of course through the ages there had always been men and women who worshipped God in spirit, as the Psalms make clear. But worship connected with particular holy places, using formal ceremonies and physical sacrifices and other paraphernalia, could and had replaced the real thing for the majority. The danger with formality is that it becomes a formality. The work of the Spirit would now release men from this.

The ideas of ‘spirit’ and ‘truth’ bear a superficial comparison with the teaching of the Dead Sea scrolls. They too emphasised spirit and truth. This was therefore terminology current at the time in Palestine. But to them ‘truth’ was what they themselves believed and taught, and the ‘spirit’ was not seen as divine. There is no real correlation in meaning with here.

‘The hour is coming, and now is’. Stressing that the new work of the Spirit had now begun in the presence of Jesus.

‘True worshippers’. Here there is the deliberate distinction between those who worship God externally and those who worship Him from the heart in truth (compare Isaiah 1:10-20).

‘Such does the Father seek.’ God does not desire outward worship and paraphernalia, except in so far as they are helpful in producing inner worship. He wants no sycophancy and bootlicking. He seeks worship from the heart in accordance with the truth and obedience which will demonstrate the genuineness of the worshipper. He could well have quoted here Isaiah 1:10-20. There the paraphernalia was rejected, and the heart that is right towards God and man is demanded. God desires fellowship and relationship with man. He does not seek slaves but sons. While it is right that we should look on ourselves as His slaves, as well as His sons, it is the latter that is prominent in God’s eyes.

Verse 25

‘The woman says to him, “I know that Messiah is coming, who is called the Christ. When he is come he will tell us all things”.’

Such words led the woman to speculate about the possible coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It is possible that she used the term ‘Messiah’ to represent the hope because she knew that Jesus was a Jew, but she would herself know the deliverer as ‘the Taheb’. This was the one the Samaritans longed for who would one day come as the revealer of truth (v. 25). On the other hand the conversation would have been in Aramaic, so that she may well have used Taheb with the explanatory translation ‘Messiah’ being the author’s. Thus her words may have been ‘the Taheb, who is called (by you) the Messiah’. That is certainly what she meant.

‘He will tell us all things.’ An admission that she was aware that much was lacking in their knowledge of God and His ways. The Jews were aware of the same and awaited Messianic figures who would bring them the full truth.

Verse 26

‘Jesus says to her, “I who speak to you am He”.’

Jesus had no hesitation in quietly letting her know that He was the promised One Who was to come. In Him the truth had come. Even if the term Messiah has been used there was no danger of a misunderstanding of the term in Samaria. They held completely different ideas from the Jews. There was no danger here of a popular uprising on these grounds. To the Jews He presented Himself as ‘the Son of Man’. But to the Samaritan He could be ‘the Messiah’, the ‘Taheb’, the Revealer of truth. They would not understand ‘Son of Man’.

So He gently shows her that He has come as God’s gift to men, offering living water to revive men’s hearts and bubble up within them so that their spiritual thirst can be continually satisfied. The result will be that they receive eternal life, the life of the Spirit, and can worship God in Spirit and truth.

Verse 27

‘And upon this came his disciples and they marvelled that he was speaking with a woman, yet no man said, ‘What are you looking for?’ or ‘Why are you speaking with her?’

At this crucial point the disciples returned with food. ‘They marvelled that he was talking with a woman’. It was not usual for women who were alone to chat with unknown men, unless they were of unsavoury reputation, and for the same reason men of reputation were wise to avoid it. And this was especially true of Rabbis, some of whom would not deign even to speak with a woman.

‘But none said, ‘what do you want?’ or ‘why are you talking to her?’ They dared not challenge the Master. This suggests that the writer is looking back and remembering the incident. He could still remember the questions that sprang into their minds but which they dared not ask. What did the woman want? Why was Jesus risking His reputation in speaking to a lone woman? You can almost see the disciples discussing the matter quietly among themselves. This was the memory of an eyewitness. There would be no real purpose in anyone inventing this, and it is very unlikely that a later Christian who admired the Apostles would do so. Once again we have evidence that the source of this narrative was there. John 4:28-29 ‘So the woman left her water pot and went away into the city, and says to the men, “Come and see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” ’

The woman solved their dilemma by leaving, as indeed she would feel she had to. But the writer remembered that ‘she left her water pot’. This act in itself was an indication that she intended to return, and was clearly noted and probably commented on among the disciples. It was certainly unusual. She had come with the purpose of drawing water. But now that had been forgotten in her excitement. Perhaps there is also an indication in it that she considered that her water jar no longer mattered. Her thirst had been satisfied by better water and she wanted to take that with her.

John may have seen a deeper significance in it. The waterpot that contained within it the gift of Jacob was no longer needed because she had now received the gift of God. The old was replaced by the new.

When she met the men she would have said in Aramaic, ‘Come and see a man who has told me my whole life story. Is not this the Taheb?’ The writer, translates it into Greek as Messiah. It is quite clear that it was Jesus’ knowledge of her inner thoughts that had impressed her most, and it is repeated again in John 4:39 for emphasis. Thus John wants to bring home to his readers the prophetic omniscience of Jesus.

Verse 30

‘They went out of the town and were coming to him.’

Her hearers were so intrigued that they left the town and returned with her. ‘They were coming to Him.’ Again we have a Johannine double meaning. They were coming to see the man she spoke of but they were also coming to Him as the One Who had brought life for the world.

Verses 31-33

‘Meanwhile the disciples begged him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have meat to eat that you do not know about.” The disciples therefore said to one another, “Has any man brought him anything to eat?” ’

The disciples meanwhile begged Jesus to eat. They could not understand His reluctance. But His mind was on other things. He was waiting in expectancy for needy men to come to Him. So He replied, ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about’ (compare Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; John 5:36; John 6:38). The disciples looked at one other. ‘Has someone brought Him food?’ they asked each other. Like the woman’s had been, their minds were very caught up in material things. Their spiritual minds had not yet been awakened. Once again we have the sense of someone who was there and remembers it clearly.

Verses 34-35

‘Jesus says to them, “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘there are yet four months and then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields that they are already white for harvest.”

Jesus patiently explained His attitude. ‘My food is to do the will of Him Who sent me and to bring about what He wants me to do.’ His Father’s work must come first. This was far more important than food, and He knew that that work was at hand in this unexpected place.

The passage is very moving. Meeting the woman had sparked off in Jesus a realisation of the wonder of what was to come. He had been very successful in Judea, but now there had come home to Him that others needed Him as well, and He wanted His disciples to realise it too. This ‘chance’ meeting with the woman had made Him realise afresh that the Father had a wider work for Him to do. He had been thinking in terms of the Jews. Now He recognised that He must not limit Himself so much. There were other fields waiting to be harvested. In the light of this He realised that food was unimportant.

It was true that His first message was to be for the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24). That was still His priority and they had to be given the first opportunity. But He now clearly saw Samaritans as included in that number. They too worshipped the God of Abraham and Moses. Later He would recognise that Israel was rejecting Him and would turn to a wider audience, influenced by His contact with the Syro-phoenician woman. Jesus Himself grew in His understanding of His ministry. It was an indication of his true humanness.

It is possible that even as He spoke He could see the white clothing of the Samaritans coming out to see Him, and was deeply moved. Was it on them He was looking as He spoke, and on them that He was directing His disciples’ gaze when He said, ‘Lift up your eyes and look on the fields -- they are white for harvest’? His heart was reaching out to them.

‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest.’ This phrase may have been a well known proverb indicating the certainty of something to come but which is for the time delayed, or it may simply have indicated the time of the year, but it may also have hinted at the fact that the disciples saw Jesus and themselves as sowers, with the harvest some way away. (Again a Johannine double meaning). But now Jesus wanted them to recognise that the time for harvest was here. ‘The fields are white to harvest.’ He could have added, ‘See, you can see them coming over there.’ His disciples had to learn that they were living in the last times (Acts 2:17; Romans 13:11-12; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:3) when the harvest must be gathered. Great was their privilege. And great was their responsibility.

Verses 36-38

‘He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For in this the saying holds true, ‘one sows and another reaps’. I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’

Jesus now took the opportunity to press home the lesson. The opportunity was not only His but theirs. They too must take every opportunity to proclaim His message, for then they will receive great rewards and they will ‘gather fruit for eternal life’. This latter refers to those who would be saved through their labours. They will have the joy of knowing they have changed the lives of others and brought them into the life of the age to come. By their fruits they will be known.

He then reminded them that they were not the only ones involved. There have to be sowers as well as reapers, and often the former is the harder task. The prophets had sown, and had suffered. John the Baptiser had sown, and he too would suffer, although he at least had seen some of the harvest. Simeon and Anna the prophetess were sowers (Luke 2:0). But the disciples were in the privileged position of being reapers. They would harvest the work of others. The work of the Spirit had now begun. They must not hesitate to reap the harvest. Then both sowers and reapers would be able to rejoice together.

Verse 39

‘And from that town many of the Samaritans believed on him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all things that I ever did.”

The woman’s testimony had convinced the townspeople that here might be the Taheb. It was a time of great expectation in Palestine, and there are special times when small things produce great results. The writer recognises that this could only be as a result of the activity of the Spirit. God was clearly at work. It would appear that they saw some change in this woman who had candidly told them that this man had laid bare her past life, something of which they also knew, and that it helped to convince them. It was apparent to them that something had happened, that she was no longer the loose woman that she had been. To some extent they believed even before they met Jesus Himself, for they would never have believed that this woman would ever be involved in religious excitement. Their rapid and genuinely responsive faith was intended to be in deliberate contrast with those Jews whose faith was lacking (John 2:23-25) and with Nicodemus the ‘ruler of the Jews’ who continued to hesitate.

Verse 40

‘So when the Samaritans came to him they begged him to stay with them, and he stayed there for two days.’

Their faith having been aroused they wanted to know more, and they wanted their fellow townsfolk to have the opportunity to hear Him. Jesus was happy to agree and spent the next two days with them. It may in fact have been longer because ‘two’ often means ‘a few’ (compare 1 Kings 17:12). And we are told that it was a time of great revival.

Verses 41-42

‘And many more believed because of his word, and they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of your words, but because we have heard for ourselves and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world”.’

Jesus, considerably revived by the experience and no longer tired, taught them for ‘two’ days. And it was to their credit that they recognised what the majority of the Jews would not, that here indeed was the Saviour of the world (compare Isaiah 45:21). The words deliberately bring out that they had gone beyond belief in Him as the Taheb, as a result of His teaching, and had recognised the significance of His coming in greater depth. They now knew that He had come to save the whole world. This would be partly apparent from the fact that this Taheb was a Jew not a Samaritan, and yet was reaching out to the Samaritans. The only other use of this phrase ‘Saviour of the world’ is in 1 John 4:14, where it is connected with the giving of the Spirit. Clearly John, who had possibly written the epistle earlier, recognised that here the Spirit had been at work and their eyes had been opened. The idea is summarised in Acts 1:8. The title would have even more significance to John’s readers who would be aware of the ascription of this title ‘Saviour of the world’ to Roman emperors. Here was the One Who was the true Saviour of the world.

Verses 43-45

‘And after two days he went out from there to Galilee, for Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honour in his own country. So when he came into Galilee the Galileans received him having seen all the things that he did in Jerusalem at the feast. For they also went to the feast.’

After His successful ministry Jesus departed for Galilee, for ‘Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honour in his own country’. The reference to ‘his own country’ here must be to Judea to make sense of the context, although later it would also apply to Nazareth as well (Luke 4:24). (His birthplace was in Judea). We have already been told that He had come to His own home (Jerusalem and Judea as the centres of the Jewish religion) and His own people had not received him (John 1:11). ‘No honour’ means from the Jewish authorities and influential people, for His ministry to the common people had been successful. It was the authorities who would not give Him His due. Thus for the time being He would concentrate on work in the North. (Both Judea and Galilee could be looked on as His own country for He was born in one and brought up in the other).

In Galilee He was at first welcomed because of ‘all they had seen He had done in Jerusalem at the Feast’. But once again we are reminded of John 2:23-24. They believed because of the signs, but He could not trust their belief for its foundation was insecure, and as far as we are aware He carried out no public ministry at this stage. Did He recognise that they were not yet ready and that their superficial attitude could do more harm than good? They were proud of their fellow-countryman because of His successes, but did they want the inner change that He would require of them? There are times when it is better to be silent than to speak. How different they were from the Samaritans. Had their welcome been for the right reasons it is hardly conceivable that He would not have done for them what He had done for the Samaritans.

Verse 46

‘He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine, and there was a certain high official of the king whose son was sick at Capernaum.’

So He arrived back in Cana where He had turned the water into wine. The reference to the fact encapsulates the section from John 2:1 to this point, for John’s side references are always significant. The replacement of the old by the new has been well illustrated in between.

And now in nearby Capernaum (twenty five miles/forty kilometres away) lived ‘a court official’, probably of the court of Herod Antipas, whose son was very ill. The side reference to the water turned to wine may indicate a similarity with what was about to happen. Here we have a miracle without fuss indicating the power of One Who has but to determine what shall be for it to happen. But it has to be accepted in faith by those involved. In that it involved the giving of life to a dying man it illustrates the arrival of the Coming One. The turning of water into wine had been the first sign in John’s list (John 2:11), this was the second (John 4:54). But He had performed many miracles in between (John 2:23-25; John 3:2).

Verses 46-54

The Healing Of The High Official’s Son (John 4:46-54 ).

We now come to John’s ‘second sign’ (the first being the turning of water into wine - John 2:11). This consisted of the healing of the High Official’s son at a distance simply by a word from Jesus. The Word was giving life (John 1:4). It would result in a whole household being brought to true faith in Jesus.

Verse 47

‘When he heard that Jesus was come from Judea to Galilee he went to him and begged him that he would come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.’

‘When he heard that Jesus was come from Judea to Galilee’. It was well known that Jesus had been very successful in His ministry in Judea alongside John the Baptiser. His presence here was thus unexpected. This confirms that Judea had been in mind in the proverb. Everyone saw Judea and Jerusalem as His sphere. Yet it was they who had not honoured Him.

So he went to Him and begged Him to heal his son, who was at the point of death. We are intended to see in this that Jesus is the Lord of life Who can give life by a word.

Verse 48

‘Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you (plural) see signs and wonders you will never believe”.’

It does not really matter whether Jesus saw the man as a Jew or a Galilean, or as a courtier and politician. What mattered was that He saw him as one of the wonder-seekers. Whereas the common people sought Him gladly, these rich city dwellers just wanted signs and wonders (John 2:23-25; John 3:2). Jesus was challenging the man’s faith. It is of interest that Jesus’ ministry was mainly carried on in the smaller towns and cities and that He avoided cities like Caesarea. He knew that His word would find no acceptance in the big cities which would be cosmopolitan and have little time for a Jewish prophet.

Jesus' reply shows how disappointed He was at the attitude that had been revealed in Jerusalem (John 2:23-25). He did not want it repeated here. There they had followed Him only in order to see signs and wonders. They had only believed when signs were given, and it had not been a reliable faith. There had been nothing deep about it. It had meant that His work was being ineffective.

In Judea the common people had flocked to hear His words. In Samaria there had been a mini-revival and men and women had genuinely sought God. But these rich city dwellers, like those in Jerusalem, would only want signs and wonders.

He linked this high official with Nicodemus (John 3:2) and with the authorities in Caesarea. ‘Unless you (plural) see signs and wonders you will not believe’. The inference is that the man has only come because he had heard of the sign at Cana. He is not a man of deep faith in God, he is another wonder-seeker, as are they all. Such people wanted to see signs and wonders, either because they were looking for someone who would do such things and by them bring about deliverance from the Romans, or because they were cynical, or because by them they hoped to win the people to join their particular group. Thus the generality of men wanted someone who could do spectacular things and who would back up their viewpoint. They were not seeking God. It was the signs and wonders that had brought Nicodemus to Him, and he had come by night. And now was this high official here for the same reason? Jesus had just come from a place where revival had broken out. He did not now want to pander to the signs and wonders brigade.

Jesus had not come to feed wonder-seekers. Nor had He come to build up a particular group. Nor indeed had He come to heal, although in His compassion He healed all who came to Him. He did not want simply to do another work which would pander to men’s ideas. He was seeking those with genuine faith, given to them by the Father. The last thing He wanted was to feed expectations of lots of miracles. (He had not as yet done any healing miracles in Galilee that we know of). He was challenging this man as to where his real interests lay. Was he just similar to the others?

Alternately Jesus might have been looking at him with his background as an Herodian official. They regularly wanted to observe a miracle being done (Luke 23:8). It was exciting and something to talk about when the wine flowed. He did not want to be seen as supporting such behaviour, or to pander to it. Or to be seen as a supporter of Herod. The question was, how deep was this man’s faith? What was he really here for? How great really was the need? How genuine was he? Once He knew that He met his need.

Verse 49

‘The high official says to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies”.’

Again the official pleaded with Him. ‘Come down before my child dies’. It was the cry of a father’s heart. He would not argue the point or excuse himself. He longed only that his son be healed, and he was confident that Jesus could do it. His simplicity confirmed his faith. He was not a wonder-seeker. He was a heartbroken father.

Verse 50

‘Jesus says to him, “Go on your way, your son lives.” The man believed the words that Jesus spoke to him and he went his way.’

So Jesus put his faith to the test. ‘Go your way, your son will live’, He said. Compare, ‘Draw out now and bear to the ruler of the feast’ (John 2:8). There too the drawers had had to exercise faith simply because Jesus had commanded it. Many would have hesitated and wanted more assurance, or pressed Jesus to come in person, but crucially the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him. Here at least was one man who had confidence in Jesus and His word. He had no doubts. He went confidently on his way. Jesus had thus achieved a number of things. He had not openly done a wonder and thus brought about a desire in people for more wonders. He had made the man think deeply about what and why he was seeking. And He had revealed that compassion that never failed those in need.

Verses 51-52

‘And as he was now going down his servants met him to say that his son lived. So he enquired of then the hour when his began to improve. They said therefore to him, “The fever left him yesterday, at the seventh hour.’

As he went on his way the man was met by his servants who told him that his son had recovered. Then he enquired as to what time his son had begun to mend and learned that it was at the very hour that Jesus had spoken His words of healing. We are not told of His immediate reaction but we can have little doubt that he worshipped God and praised Jesus.

‘Going down’. Going to Capernaum from Cana one must go east across the Galilean hills and then descend to the Sea of Galilee. The 20 mile (33 kilometre) journey could not be made in a single day. The author is clearly familiar with Palestinian geography.

Verse 53

‘So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”, and he himself believed, and all his house’.

There is a contrast here between differing forms of belief. Previously his faith had been that of those who saw signs and wonders, but gradually it had grown. Now it was a deep faith of commitment (expressed by the inceptive aorist of the verb) that responded to Jesus and His words. That was what was lacking in others.

‘He himself believed, and all his house.’ That is, those who were of an age to believe. The whole household responded to what had happened on hearing the father’s testimony. Like the Samaritans the family of the court official responded with full heart.

It is quite clear that this is a very different story from that of the centurion’s son in Luke 7:2-10 and Matthew 8:5-13, the only thing in common being the healing at a distance which was something that Jesus must have done a number of times. These particular stories were recounted because they carried a specific message in a context. In the account of the centurion’s son the centurion did not ask Him to his home, was confident that Jesus could heal at a distance without being told, and asked Him to speak only the healing word, whereas in this account the man’s faith was not as great, although it was growing. For the centurion there was no rebuke, only praise, whereas for this official rebuke preceded action. The end result, however, was the same. They both finally come to a full faith.

Verse 54

‘This is again the second sign that Jesus did when He had come from Judea to Galilee.’

Up to this point Galilee had not been the scene of His miracles. Judea had been given the first chance to respond to its Messiah. They had been His prime target, His own country. Indeed even as a young teenager He had recognised Jerusalem as the centre of His ministry (Luke 2:46). Now He will bring the good news to His adopted home. The first sign in Galilee had revealed that Jesus had come to bring in the ‘good things’ of the age to come. The second revealed the power of His word to act instantaneously even at a distance, and the need to accept it and respond in full faith. Both revealed that He only had to think and it was done. It was then made clear by being followed by a word of power from the One Who is the Word. Jesus was being revealed as the Son of God.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/john-4.html. 2013.
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