Believe It Or Not

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. – John 5:25-29 ESV

The Jewish leaders have deemed Jesus as worthy of death. His claim of equality with God has left them no other choice. According to the law, He has blasphemed and the prescribed penalty for that crime was death. But Jesus, fully aware of their plans for Him, has decided to address their concern by further emphasizing His claim to be the Son of God. Even when facing the threat of death, He refuses to deny His identity. In fact, Jesus only escalates the tension between He and His adversaries by establishing Himself as the judge of all mankind.

For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son…” – John 4:22 ESV

To the Pharisees and Sadducees, this bold claim would have sounded not only blasphemous but highly offensive. Who was this uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth to think that He could stand in judgment over them? They represented the religious elite of Israel and considered themselves to be the epitome of righteousness and holiness. Yet, here was Jesus telling them that He, not God, would be their ultimate judge and the determiner of their eternal fate.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24 ESV

It seems quite apparent that the Pharisees and Sadducees failed to understand the nature of Jesus’ claim. And all His talk about future judgment and eternal life would have caused a major rift within their ranks. These two religious sects, while united in their hatred of Jesus, were divided over several key doctrines, and one of them was the idea of the bodily resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees rejected this doctrine along with the concept of any kind of afterlife. They preferred to believe that, upon death, the soul simply perished. But the Pharisees fully embraced the idea of an afterlife that would be preceded by a physical resurrection of the body and include a judgment by God that would be followed by either reward or punishment according to the deeds done in this life.

So, you can imagine how the words of Jesus must have created an uncomfortable tension between these two disparate factions within His audience. For the Sadducees, just the mention of eternal life would have left them shaking their heads in disbelief and disgust. But the Pharisees, while fully on board with the idea of an afterlife and a future judgment, would have been appalled by Jesus’ claim that He would be their judge.

And Jesus refuses to let up. He continues to expand on this controversial topic, throwing additional fuel on the fire of their anger.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” – John 5:25 ESV

With this statement, Jesus brings the timeline back into the present. With the minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees firmly fixed on the idea of the resurrection and the future judgment, Jesus adroitly shifts the focus to the here-and-now. He is letting them know that the key to securing a reward in the future judgment is to be found in the present. While the Pharisees were convinced that their acts of righteousness were enough to secure their eternal state in God’s kingdom, Jesus is debunking that myth.

He had come to bring new life to the spiritually dead. All who stood in His presence that day were dead in their trespasses and sins, including the Pharisees and Sadducees (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13). They were totally incapable of earning their way into God’s good graces because, according to the prophet Isaiah, all their works were no better than filthy rags in the eyes of God (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

But Jesus is announcing that the spiritually dead can receive new life in this life, if they will only “hear the voice of the Son of God.” He promises that all who hear and believe will live. This claim would have been radical and heretical to the Pharisees. That Jesus would dare to hold the key to eternal life was one thing, but for Him to seemingly negate the need for doing works of righteousness to earn that reward was unthinkable and unacceptable.

But as difficult as it was for them to accept Jesus’ claim, He assures them that this was all part of the Father’s plan. God had granted His Son the divine authority to bestow the gift of eternal life.

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” – John 5:26 ESV

Later on in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus, when He claims to be the door through which all must go if they want to find access to the Father and enjoy the promise of abundant life.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:9-10 ESV

The key to eternal life is to be found in this life, but only through belief in the giver of life. John opened up his gospel with the bold claim concerning Jesus:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:4 ESV

And John went on to declare that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

According to Jesus, the Father has not only given Him the authority to bestow eternal life but to also execute future judgment.

“And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” – John 5:27 ESV

Jesus has the right to execute judgment, not just because He is the Son of God, but because He is the Son of Man. Jesus was God incarnate, deity in the form of humanity. The Son of God had humbled Himself by becoming one of us and choosing to dwell among us. And He would live His earthly life in complete obedience to His Heavenly Father, without sin and in full compliance with every command given by God to Moses. And it would be His sinless perfection that made Him the acceptable sacrifice to pay for the sins of men. That is why John the Baptist had referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

Jesus would eventually “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV). He would pour out His blood “as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many” (Matthew 26:28 NLT). And because He would willingly give His life as payment for the sins of man, He would become the ultimate judge of all mankind. And the future judgment that all mankind must face will be based on belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the point Jesus had tried to make with Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:16-18 ESV

The key to eternal life is to believe in Jesus as the giver of life. It is to believe that His sacrificial death satisfied the just demands of a holy God and paid in full the debt owed by the sinner. But that belief must take place in this life. The guarantee of eternal life comes when we place our faith in Jesus in this life. And Jesus assures the confused and consternated religious leaders standing before Him that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a future judgment.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – John 5:28-29 ESV

But the key to earning entrance into the Kingdom of God will be based on belief in the Son of God. This final statement from Jesus could easily leave the impression that He is tying eternal life to good works. After all, He seems to state that eternal life is reserved for “those who have done good.” But Jesus will later clarify the only “work” that will earn anyone entrance into God’s Kingdom.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29 ESV

Belief. It’s as simple as that. But for the Pharisees and Sadducees, the content of this message from Jesus was anything but simple and it would prove far from acceptable. And Jesus, aware of their stubborn refusal to believe in who He is and what He is claiming to offer, will go on to expose them for their disbelief and inform them of their future fate.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Son Gives Life

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:19-24 ESV

John made it quite clear that the Jewish leaders took a strong exception to Jesus healing on the Sabbath. And when Jesus had deemed His actions as acceptable because He was doing the work of God, His Father, they had become infuriated.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. – John 5:18 ESV

Now, John records Jesus’ bold response to these powerful and potentially dangerous adversaries. Jesus was fully aware of their desire to put Him to death, but He was undeterred in proclaiming His claim of divinity which gave Him full authority to do the things He did. Even when faced with the threat of death, Jesus refuses to back down. In fact, in the short span of 11 verses, Jesus mentions God as His Father eight times, and He refers to Himself as the Son of God 10 times. He ups the ante and heightens the tension by repeatedly declaring His unique relationship with God.

Throughout John’s gospel, he records Jesus explaining His co-equal, yet subordinate relationship with His Heavenly Father. At one point, Jesus declared, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:39 NLT). But, at the same time, He clarified that their unity was marked by a willing submission on His part to the Father’s will.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 ESV

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. – John 5:30 ESV

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” – John 8:28-29 ESV

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” – John 12:49-50 ESV

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” – John 15:10 ESV

Jesus had a role to play. He had been given a divine assignment from the Father and He was in complete agreement with it, willingly accepting His part in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Jesus declared Himself to be one with God, acting and speaking in perfect union with His Father’s wishes. He was not being forced to do what He did. He was a son and not a slave.

Jesus boldly proclaimed that His miracles were nothing more than earthly expressions of His Heavenly Father’s will. He was simply manifesting on earth the very same things God did from His throne in heaven. God had been performing signs and wonders for centuries. He had been healing the lame and even raising the dead long before His Son took on human flesh. And, according to the apostle Paul, Jesus, in His pre-incarnate state, had been integral in the divine

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:15-16 ESV

And Paul went on to explain that Jesus not only took part in the creation of the world, but He became the fullness of God in human flesh so that He might reconcile and restore the sin-damaged world.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven… – Colossians 1:19-20 ESV

And because Jesus is doing only what He sees His Father doing, He cannot be in violation of God’s law. Every miracle Jesus performed was in keeping with the wishes of His Heavenly Father. And Jesus let the Jewish leaders know that there were far greater miracles to come.

“And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. – John 5:20 ESV

In essence, Jesus was telling them that they hadn’t seen anything yet. A paralyzed man walking would be nothing when compared to the future signs and wonders God had in store. This is likely a reference to the resurrection. Remember, in verse 18, John made reference to the intentions of the religious leaders to kill Jesus. And eventually, they would succeed in accomplishing their goal, convincing the Romans to put Jesus to death for claiming to be the Son of God. But the death of Jesus would be followed by the greatest and most important miracle of all: The resurrection of the Son by the Father.

And this seems to be the point Jesus is trying to make in verse 21.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:21 ESV

It will be the death and resurrection of Jesus that makes possible the gift of eternal life. That is the point Jesus made to Nicodemus when He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14 ESV).

Jesus had been sent by the Father to restore to life the spiritually dead. But in order to do so, Jesus would have to die in their place. And the Father, who “raises the dead and gives them life,” would give His Son new life, declaring that His the sacrifice of His life was fully acceptable and a worthy offering for the sins of men.

It is likely that none of this made any sense to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ audience. Even His disciples would have found these words difficult to comprehend. And the next statement from the lips of Jesus would have further confused the disciples and infuriated the religious leaders.

“For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” – John 5:22-23 ESV

Jesus was claiming to be the judge of all mankind, and this would not have sat well with His opponents. According to their Scriptures, God alone was the judge of the whole earth (Genesis 18:25). What they heard Jesus saying was that He was their judge. They would one day answer to Him. And they were right in their assessment of His claim. Every Jew believed in a final judgment day when they would stand before God. They fully expected their works to be judged one day by the Almighty, but it was totally unthinkable and unacceptable to consider that this Jew from Nazareth would be the one to whom they owed their entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

But Jesus tries to explain that their judgment has already taken place. They stood before God as condemned because as the apostle Paul declared, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). And to make matters worse, Paul informed the Jews that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight” (Romans 3:20 ESV).

Those self-righteous, self-assured Pharisees and Sadducees could not believe their ears. They were convinced that they were deserving of entrance into the eternal kingdom because of their good deeds. They prided themselves in their rule-keeping and zealous adherence to all the commands, including those ordained by God and the ones they had made up themselves. Yet, Jesus is informing them that they have already been judged and stand justly condemned. But if they will listen to what He has to say and believe His claim to be the Son of God and their Savior from sin, they can pass from death to life. They can have the assurance of their future resurrection from the dead.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24 ESV

But all of this was more than they could handle. When they looked at Jesus they saw nothing more than a threat to the status quo. He was a thorn in their sides, a deranged individual who had delusions of grandeur and was proving to be a dangerous and divisive distraction. In their minds, He was a lunatic who was in league with the devil and in need of immediate elimination. But the truth is, they were blind to the truth. They loved the darkness rather than the light. And, as a result, they would continue in their quest to put to death the very one who could give them eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Working On the Sabbath

13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:13-18 ESV

A man, who had been paralyzed for 38 years, suddenly found himself physically whole and able to walk. In a rather bizarre encounter by the Pool of Bethesda, a complete stranger had approached him and asked if he wished to be healed. This rather blunt question had only reminded the man of his complete inability to enter the pool when the waters were stirred. He was an invalid, with no one to assist him in his time of need. But to his complete surprise, the stranger demanded. “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8 ESV). And John records that “at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked” (John 5:8 ESV).   

One of the significant facts concerning this story is that the man who was restored to health was totally ignorant of the identity of the one who had healed him. He had no idea who Jesus was and, from John’s description of the event, it would appear that the man didn’t really care. His only concern was that he had once been lame but now he could walk.

And when the Pharisees confronted him for carrying his bedroll and breaking the prohibition against doing work on the Sabbath, he had blamed the stranger.

But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ – John 5:11 ESV

In a sense, the man was excusing his actions by saying, “I was just doing what I was told to do.” And when the religious leaders demanded to know the name of the one who had told him to violate the Sabbath, the man pleaded ignorance. Jesus had simply disappeared into the crowd, having never identified Himself to the man.

This entire miracle appears to have been done in secret. No one seems to have witnessed what had taken place. The religious leaders make no reference to the healing. John mentions no reaction from the crowd. And the man who was healed had no idea that he had just met the Messiah.

While the miracle had been significant, John’s real emphasis seems to be that it had occurred on the Sabbath. This entire encounter has less to do with belief or faith than it has to do with Jesus’ divine authority. By healing the man’s long-term illness, Jesus displayed His authority over the physical world. But by performing this miracle on the Sabbath, Jesus proved His divine authority over even the law. Jesus was not in violation of the law because, as God, He was its author. He knew the true intent behind each commandment found in the law. And while the religious leaders were guilty of turning God’s law into a legalistic and restrictive set of regulations based on their own interpretations, the Son of God was fully aware of its original meaning and purpose.

Jesus would later condemn the religious leaders of Israel for demanding strict adherence to the law while neglecting and ignoring the very heart behind the law.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” – Matthew 23:23 NLT

The religious leaders had made the law all about earning favor with God through outward expressions of obedience. But, in doing so, they had missed the point. As the apostle Paul later pointed out, the law had been given not just to regulate man’s behavior, but to expose his problem with sin.

Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions… – Galatians 3:19 BSB

Therefore no one will be justified in His sight by works of the law. For the law merely brings awareness of sin. – Romans 3:20 BSB

This entire encounter between Jesus and the paralyzed man had been intended as a lesson about sin and man’s need of a Savior. Remember, when Jesus had first found the man, he had been lying by the pool, paralyzed and totally incapable of bringing about his own healing. His illness had left him incapacitated and unable to follow the rules required to experience the healing qualities found in the waters of the pool. He needed help. And Jesus had appeared on the scene, offering him the help he so desperately needed. But notice that Jesus did not help the man get into the pool. The water would not be the source of the man’s healing. It would come from Jesus Himself.

And when Jesus later encountered the man in the temple, Jesus gave him some interesting instructions.

“Look, you have become well. Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you.” – John 5:14 NET

Jesus seems to link the man’s illness to sin. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was inferring that the man had been paralyzed as a form of divine punishment for some past sin he had committed. Jesus’ point seems to be that a life of sin has consequences. The very existence of sickness, disease, and suffering in the world is due to the pervasive presence of sin. And by demanding that the man abstain from committing any further sins, Jesus was requiring the impossible. This unredeemed man could no more refrain from sinning than he could have helped himself enter the waters of the Pool of Bethesda. He was in need of a Savior.

While this man had been freed from his physical paralysis, he still remained spiritually paralyzed by the debilitating presence of sin. He could walk, but he still lacked the capacity to walk in newness of life. He remained condemned by sin, even though he had met “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

This man seems to have been completely satisfied with what He had received from Jesus: His physical healing. He shows no interest in who Jesus was or how He had pulled off his healing. Receiving the ability to walk had been his life-long dream. It had been the reason for his presence at the Pool of Bethesda that day. Yet, while he had received his heart’s desire, he was still missing what he really needed: Salvation from sin and release from the condemnation of death.

Eventually, the man discovered Jesus’ name and reported it to the religious authorities. And John makes it clear that these men had no interest in the miracle Jesus had performed. The man’s healing meant nothing to them. They were only concerned with the fact that Jesus had violated the Sabbath prohibition against work. From their legalistic perspective, He was nothing more than a common law-breaker.

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” – John 5:17 ESV

This rather enigmatic statement from Jesus did nothing to pacify their anger with Him. It only infuriated them further. In their minds, by declaring Himself to be the Son of God, Jesus was claiming to be divine. And that was the unpardonable sin of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death.

Yet, Jesus was simply stating that His actions were in keeping with the will of God. He was only doing what He had been sent to do. To the Pharisees, the Sabbath was all about rest or cessation from work. But for Jesus, even the Sabbath was a day reserved for doing the will and the work of God. There was no rest when it came to accomplishing God’s plan of redemption. The original intent of the Sabbath had been to remind the people of Israel of their complete dependence upon God. By taking one day out of seven and ceasing from any form of labor, they would recognize that God was their provider. He would meet all their needs, even when they were restricted from providing any assistance.

But the Jews had turned the day of rest into a day of duty and a form of works. Rather than resting in the providence and provision of God, they put their hope in their ability to “work” at resting. By fastidiously keeping God’s command to cease from all labor on the Sabbath, they were earning their way into His good graces. They were not looking to God to provide for their needs. They were depending upon their own acts of righteousness as demonstrated by their strict, over-the-top adherence to His law.

And sadly, John reveals that the religious leaders failed to recognize that the Lord of Sabbath was standing in their midst. They firmly and angrily rejected Jesus’ claim to be on equal standing with God. And their frustration with Jesus turned into a firm resolve to see Him put to death.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lord of the Sabbath

1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” John 5:1-12 ESV

With the opening of chapter 5, John begins to explore the growing tension between Jesus and the religious authorities. While the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisees himself, had been somewhat controversial, it had remained cordial. But with Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, the anger and resentment of the Pharisees and Sadduccees will become increasingly more evident and intense.

John will not abandon the theme of belief that has characterized the first four chapters, but he will now juxtapose it with the growing unbelief of the religious elite of Israel. In a sense, John will use the Pharisees and Sadduccees as a counterpoint to Jesus. These men were to have been the shepherds of Israel, leading the people to the truth of God’s Word and exemplifying a life of obedience. But as John will point out, their legalistic, rule-keeping mindset and arrogant self-righteousness stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ commitment to put the will of God above all else.  

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:38-40 ESV

Jesus was on a mission and He would not allow anything or anyone to hinder Him fulfilling the role assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He had divine authority to do the things He did. As the Son of God, Jesus did not need the permission of the legal or religious authorities because He was acting on behalf of God Almighty. The will of God superseded that of all other human authorities and allowed Jesus to perform signs and wonders that appeared to contradict the laws of nature and violate the rules of men.

After His brief excursion into the northern region of Galilee, Jesus made a second trip to Jerusalem in order to attend yet another Jewish festival. There were three annual feasts that all Jewish males were required to attend: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. In recounting this particular story, John leaves the name of the festival out, evidently deeming it as irrelevant to the point he was trying to make.

But John was quite specific when describing the location for this event. The context was critical to understanding what is going on in the story. Jesus arrived at the Pool of Bethesda, just outside the walls of the temple compound. This was a well-known and well-trafficked spot in Jerusalem because the waters of the spring-fed pool were believed to have healing qualities. The setting is key to understanding what is about to take place. As John stated in verse 3, the pool was a magnet for the “blind, lame, and paralyzed.” They all made their way to the pool each day in the hopes that the miraculous powers of the water might make them whole.

While John pointed out that “a multitude of invalids” surrounded the pool, he focused his attention on one particular man whose paralytic condition had persisted for 38 years. It is not clear whether this man had been coming to the pool for nearly four decades or if this was his first time to seek help from its healing waters. But John’s emphasis on the length of time is meant to accentuate the hopelessness of the man’s plight. And Jesus, upon seeing the man, was immediately aware of the decades-long nature of his condition, which makes the question He asks sound so unnecessary and out-of-place.

“Do you want to be healed?” – John 5:6 ESV

Of course, he did. What kind of question is that to ask at a time like this? This poor man had somehow made it all the way to the pool, in spite of his paralysis. He would not have been lying beside the waters if he had not wanted to experience healing.

John does not explain why Jesus chose to single out this one man. There were obviously others at the pool that day, and each and every one of them was there hoping for the same thing: Healing. But Jesus chose to speak to this man. And in response to Jesus’ question, the man explained his plight.

Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” – John 4:7 ESV

His problem was not a lack of desire, but it was a lack of opportunity and capacity. His paralysis made it physically impossible for him to pursuit healing. His very condition proved to be a barrier to ever seeing his greatest desire fulfilled. Evidently, the pool’s healing powers were only available when the water was “stirred up.” It was only at that particular moment that a miracle could be expected, but it was reserved for the one who entered the water first. And this man, completely incapacitated by his illness and without anyone to assist him, was left to watch and wait, helplessly and hopelessly.

The description of the man’s plight is meant to stir the heart of the reader. But it is also meant to reveal the spiritual condition of each and every human being as they stand in need of healing but without the means by which to avail themselves of it. The healing waters were within this man’s reach, but he lacked the power to enter them. In a sense, he couldn’t heal himself. He needed help. And this is where Jesus stepped in.

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. – John 5:8-9 ESV

With a word, Jesus provided what the man lacked: The power to change. In a split second, this hopeless, helpless, bed-ridden paralytic was transformed into a completely healthy and whole specimen of a man. And no waters were necessary. Jesus spoke and the man walked.

But right when the story should be taking a decidedly upbeat turn, John reveals an underlying tension. He rather abruptly states, “Now that day was the Sabbath” (John 5:9 ESV). Rather than mentioning the celebration that would have followed such a miraculous moment, John simply points out that this had all taken place on the Sabbath. It was a holy day and, as such, it was to have been a day of rest. 

This significant detail is meant to point out the seeming problem with what Jesus said to the man and all that followed. Jesus specifically instructed the man to take up his bed and walk. He could have just told him to walk. Why was it necessary for him to gather up his bedroll? Because it was the Sabbath. Jesus knew exactly what day it was and His instructions to the man were given with that knowledge in mind. And His words produced the desired results. Yes, the man was healed, but not only that, the Pharisees were incensed. These religious rule-keepers witnessed the man carrying his bed and immediately confronted him for his blatant violation of the Sabbath law.

“It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” – John 5:10 ESV

It is not clear whether these men had witnessed the healing, but even if they had, they were more concerned with what they saw as a flagrant disregard for the Mosaic Law.

The man, unaware of who Jesus was, told the religious leaders that he was simply obeying the words of the one who had healed him. But they still demanded to know the identity of this Sabbath law-breaker.

Jesus had specifically chosen the Sabbath day to perform this miracle. And His instructions to the lame man had been very precise. This entire scene was designed to set up a contrast between Jesus, the Son of God, and the religious leaders of Israel. He was their Messiah, sent from God to deliver the people from their bondage to sin and death. And as the Savior of the world, He had divine authority to accomplish the will of His Father. But for the religious leaders, their sacred rules and regulations were more important than the will of God. In their minds, adherence to the Sabbath blinded them to the presence of their Savior.

Yet, Jesus would later inform the Pharisees, “the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:8 NLT). This was all about authority and authenticity. Jesus was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. And His audacious decision to heal on the Sabbath was proof of His deity and His divine authority.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Man Believed the Word

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. – John 4:46-54 ESV

After their two-day, unplanned stopover in Samaria, Jesus and His disciples left for the northern region of Galilee. He did so, in spite of the popular proverb He had quoted to His disciples: “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown” (John 4:44 ESV). Jesus was returning to Galilee, but He made His way to Cana, rather than His own hometown of Nazareth. He returned to the scene of His first miracle, where He had turned the water into wine.

In verse 45, John indicates that Jesus received a warm welcome in Galilee because many of the people had been eyewitnesses to the signs He had performed in Jerusalem during the Feast of Passover. With this reference to Jesus’ signs, John provides a link back to the miracle performed at the wedding feast in Cana. While the guests at the feast had no idea that Jesus had transformed ordinary water into wine, His disciples were fully aware of what had transpired.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. – John 2:11 ESV

And when Jesus had gone on to perform additional signs in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, John records, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV).

The basis for their belief was the nature of the miraculous signs Jesus performed. And John makes it clear that the warm reception Jesus received in Galilee was due to “all that he had done in Jerusalem” (John 4:45 ESV). They too were attracted to and enamored by the miracles of Jesus. And His reputation as a miracle worker was spreading rapidly throughout all Israel. Which sets up the next encounter Jesus will experience.

While in Cana, Jesus received a visit from an unnamed government official who came seeking healing for his deathly-ill son. While we know little about this man, it is likely that he was a Jew who was in the employment of Herod Antipas, the unofficial “king” of the Jews, appointed by the Romans. This distraught father had made the 13-mile journey from Capernaum to Cana in the hopes that he could convince Jesus to return with him and heal his son.

But this man’s impassioned plea for help was met with what a somewhat caustic response from Jesus.

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” – John 4:48 ESV

While it is unclear in our English translation, Jesus used the plural pronoun “you,” indicating that His comment was aimed at the Jewish people. Their belief in Him was fickle and focused solely on His ability to entertain them with His supernatural miracles. They loved the idea of a miracle-working Messiah. But Jesus had made it clear to Nicodemus that the key to eternal life was to believe in Him, not just the miracles He performed.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18 ESV

They were believing in the miracle-performing reputation of Jesus, but not in the name of Jesus. It was not enough that He came declaring Himself to be the Son of God. They needed proof. They demanded signs. And the apostle Paul would later condemn his own people for their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the greatest sign ever given that proved the deity of Jesus.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT

Undeterred by the seeming slight from Jesus, the desperate father begged Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son before it was too late. He was running out of time. His son was at death’s door and they still had a 13-mile journey ahead of them. If only he could get Jesus to agree to accompany him back to Capernaum, there might still be a chance that his son could live.

And Jesus answered the man’s impassioned plea with the simple response, “Go; your son will live” (John 4:50 ESV). On that matter-of-fact statement from the lips of Jesus, the official “believed what Jesus said and started home” (John 4:50 NLT). He didn’t argue. He didn’t continue to plead with Jesus to come with him. He simply turned and began the 13-mile return trip home – believing the words of Jesus. No sign. No miracle. No proof.

The belief this man exhibited was of a different sort that those in Cana who believed because of the signs Jesus had performed in Jerusalem. It stood in stark contrast to the belief of Jesus’ disciples which had been based on His ability to turn water into wine. This man had believed the words of Jesus. And this distinction is significant. It brings to mind the testimony of God Himself, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him! – Luke 9:35 ESV

The Jews were enamored by the works of Jesus but they refused to listen to His words. As long as He kept performing miracles, they kept believing, but that belief was misplaced. They were so busy seeking a sign, that they missed the Savior.

Later on in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus declaring the divine origin of His message.

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” – John 12:49 ESV

And this was not the first time Jesus had claimed His words to be divinely inspired and spoken on behalf of His heavenly Father.

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. – John 7:16-17 ESV

The people should have been listening to the words of Jesus, but they were too busy focusing their attention on the works of Jesus. And with their obsession over His miracles, they were missing the meat of His message.

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” –  John 14:10-11 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was stating that there were two sources of belief: His miracles or His message. But the truest form of belief was to receive the words of Jesus as the words of God because He spoke as God. And Jesus went on to assure His disciples that they too would go on to perform miracles and signs.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” – John 14:12-13 ESV

Their ability to perform miracles would be based on their belief in Him and who He claimed to be. He was the Son of God and had the full authority of God to share His power with those who placed their faith in Him.

John’s entire gospel is focused on the divinity of Jesus. He is declaring the divine Sonship of Jesus and providing indisputable proof that this Rabbi from Nazareth was indeed who He claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

And as further evidence of Jesus’ deity, John describes the scene that took place when the father ran into his servants on his way home. They met him alone the way with the good news that “his son was alive and well” (John 4:51 NLT). And when the father asked at what time his son had begun to improve, he was told, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” (John 4:52 NLT). And John closes his account with the following words:

Then the father realized that that was the very time Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus. – John 4:53 NLT

When Jesus had said, “Your son will live,” the man had taken Him at His word and headed home. Now, he received confirmation that His faith had been rewarded. His son was well. Jesus had spoken, the man had believed, and his son had been healed. But notice how John ends this story with the words, “he and his entire household believed in Jesus.”

Their belief was not in the miracle but in the one who had spoken the miracle into existence. They believed in Jesus. Their faith was not focused on the healing of their family member. It was directed at the one who spoke with the authority of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Savior of the World

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. – John 4:39-45 ESV

Like the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish religious leader, had enjoyed a personal, one-on-one encounter with Jesus. He had heard with his own ears how Jesus described the requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God:

“…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

Jesus had gone on to explain the need for spiritual new birth – a birth from above – made possible by God and accessible only through belief in His Son.

“…whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:15 ESV

But Nicodemus had simply walked away from that late-night discussion with Jesus. There was no indication by John that this prominent member of the Pharisees had accepted what Jesus had said and believed in Him for eternal life. But John had opened his gospel with the sad, but accurate news that Jesus would find few among His own people who would receive Him as their Messiah and Savior.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

Yet in the case of the Samaritan woman (who was considered a non-Jew), she had literally run away from her encounter with Jesus, leaving her water jar behind, and making her way into her village so that she could tell them about her experience.

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” – John 4:29 ESV

And John indicates that many of her fellow villagers “believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39 ESV). When they had heard her story of how Jesus had somehow known all about her five former husbands and had exposed the truth behind her current adulterous relationship, they had believed. Their belief was based on her words and nothing else. It was on the basis of the woman’s personal testimony that they made their way to the well to see Jesus for themselves. Their curiosity was piqued and they wanted to see if Jesus just might be the Christ, the Messiah.

As Samaritans, they worshiped the same God as the Jews and shared a common belief with them concerning the Messiah. So, when their neighbor had come to them with her story about an encounter with a strange Jewish man who had revealed hidden secrets concerning her life, they had wanted to know more. According to John, they were so intrigued by Jesus that they convinced Him to remain with them for two more days. And the result was that “many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41 ESV).

John makes it clear that the nature of their belief had changed. They had gone from believing what the woman had said about Jesus to believing in Jesus.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” – John 4:42 ESV

Her story had led them to believe that Jesus just might be the Christ. But, now that they had heard Him for themselves, they were convinced that He was the Savior of the world. This designation concerning Jesus is unique to the writings of John. It appears here and in one other place: 1 John 4:13-14.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

It coincides with the message the angel gave to Joseph concerning his betrothed’s unexpected pregnancy.

“do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 NLT

In Greek, the word “save” is sōzō and it means “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.” It is the root word from which the designation “Savior” is derived. This was a common term among the Greeks and Romans and used to refer not only to their deities but to men of great distinction.

But the Samaritans were using this term to describe Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. Like the Jews, they believed He would come to redeem God’s people from their oppression at the hands of foreign powers. The Samaritans, as half-Jews, were just as anxious to see the arrival of the Messiah because they believed He would restore order to the entire world by establishing His kingdom and righting all wrongs.

It’s interesting that these verses contain no mention of the disciples. But it seems obvious that they would have remained with Jesus throughout His two-day stay among the Samaritans. And it seems equally clear that they would have been appalled at the idea of spending an additional 48 hours among a people whom they believed to be unclean and unacceptable to God. Yet, here was their Rabbi and teacher spending extended time with these unworthy “dogs” and sharing with them His message of new birth from above and the promise of eternal life.

John would have been one of the ones who stood by in amazement as he watched Jesus interact with the Samaritans. And his emphasis on their “belief” in Jesus is intended to drive home the words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus: “so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 NLT).

Jesus had made it perfectly clear to Nicodemus that the Son of God had come to offer salvation to “the world,” not just the Jews.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

And the Samaritan woman and her neighbors were evidence that the Son was no respecter of persons. His message of salvation, while offered to the Jews, was not reserved for them alone. He had come to provide salvation to all who would believe in Him, regardless of their country of origin, economic status, religious affiliation, or educational background.

It was the prophet Isaiah who wrote concerning the coming Messiah:

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.
    He created the earth and everything in it.
He gives breath to everyone,
    life to everyone who walks the earth.
And it is he who says,
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
   You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” – Isaiah 42:5-7 NLT

Jesus had come to fulfill the words of that prophecy and the Samaritans were living proof that He was a light to guide to the nations, opening the eyes of the spiritually blind, setting free those held captive by sin, and bringing release to all those sitting on death row, condemned to suffer the consequences of their rebellion against God. Jesus was the Savior of the world. And while not everyone living in the world would accept His offer of salvation, He made it available to all, and “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not What They Expected

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” – John 4:27-38 ESV

The Samaritan woman had come to the well to draw water. The disciples had gone to a nearby town to find food. John’s emphasis on the contrast between the physical and the spiritual is all over this section of his gospel. With his depiction of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, John accentuates the stark contrast between earthly and the heavenly, the temporal and the eternal. The woman’s life depicts mankind’s obsession with meeting physical needs. The water was a symbol of her insatiable need to satisfy her earthly desires. Jesus’ revelation concerning her five failed marriages speaks volumes about her neediness, insecurity, and susceptibility to her own passions and desires. That she was living with yet another man, outside the bonds of marriage, reveals her deep-seated desire for acceptance and love. She had tremendous physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Yet, she was blind to the fact that her greatest need was spiritual in nature.

All the while Jesus had been attempting to quench this woman’s spiritual thirst, His disciples had been in search for food. And John points out their shock when they returned to find Jesus speaking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. This was unacceptable behavior for someone like Jesus. The disciples, as Jews, would have been appalled that their teacher had been willing to risk becoming ceremonially unclean through interaction with a Samaritan. And while they were dying to know what had prompted Jesus’ actions, they kept their questions to themselves.

Meanwhile, the woman had made her way back into town, anxious to share the exciting news of her unexpected encounter with Jesus.

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” – John 4:28-29 NLT

John’s mention of the water jar is an important part of the story that can be easily overlooked. That jar was an essential part of her daily routine. It was the key to her drawing water from the well, which, as she had told Jesus, was deep. Without the jar, she would have no means of satisfying her thirst. But her willingness to leave it behind is a subtle statement by John that she had found something far more important and significant. It is reminiscent of the words of Jesus, spoken during His sermon on the mount.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Jesus would later reiterate this same thought to His disciples, telling them, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing.” (Luke 12:22-23 NLT). And He would add a further note of instruction:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

By leaving her water jar behind, the Samaritan woman was putting the teaching of Jesus into action. She was illustrating what it means to seek the Kingdom of God above all else. Suddenly, the earthly things that had meant so much to her, lost their value and appeal. She had discovered something of far greater worth.

Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” – John 4:29 NLT

Her interest was piqued. She was curiously intrigued by all Jesus had said to her. And her excitement was contagious because she eventually returned with a crowd of her fellow townspeople in tow.

But John returns our attention to the contrast between the physical and the spiritual by describing the disciples’ attempt to get Jesus to eat. They had gone out of their way to get food, even risking their own purity by entering into a Samaritan town to purchase it, and now they expected Jesus to satisfy His physical hunger with it. But Jesus refused their offer, informing them instead that He had “food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). This admission confused them because they could not imagine where Jesus had found anything to eat. And what Jesus said next did little to clear up their confusion.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 ESV

And just a few chapters later, John records the words of Jesus as He declares His resolute determination to accomplish His Father’s will.

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:38-40 NLT

The disciples were focused on the physical, while Jesus had His eyes set on accomplishing the spiritual and eternal will of His Heavenly Father. And, interestingly enough, just before Jesus made that statement to His disciples, He had told them:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.” – John 6:35-37 NLT

Hunger and thirst. Jesus had come to meet a need the disciples didn’t yet know they had. They were more concerned about a physical meal and the coming of the Messiah’s physical kingdom. But Jesus was on a mission from God to satisfy man’s spiritual hunger and provide a means by which sinners could gain access to the kingdom of God.

This entire exchange between Jesus and His disciples was meant to refocus their attention. They were obsessed with physical and temporal matters. Their attention was focused on their own needs and their own self-centered understanding of the kingdom. Here they were, standing in the middle of Samaria, surrounded by people they believed to be unclean and unworthy of God’s attention. And yet, Jesus said to them:

“You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!” – John 4:35-36 NLT

It seems likely that, as Jesus spoke these words, the Samaritan woman and the townspeople had come into sight. And His mention of eternal life in conjunction with a crowd of Samaritans would have shocked His disciples. But He wants them to wake up and understand the unique nature of the moment. They were standing in the presence of the Messiah, the Son of God, who had come to do the will of His Father. And the need He had come to meet was spiritual in nature, not physical. Even the physical differences between the Jews and the Samaritans were insignificant in light of God’s plan to bring redemption to all mankind through His Son’s death and resurrection.

And Jesus wants His reluctant disciples to understand that they are going to play a significant part in the coming harvest of souls.

“You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.” – John 4:37-38 NLT

Jesus had come sowing the good news of salvation that He had come to offer. He would plant the seeds, but the disciples would reap the harvest. But they would have to be willing to reap wherever the seeds had been sown – even if that meant returning to the “fields” of Samaria.

This was a head-scratching, paradigm-shifting scene for the disciples. And while John does not give us their response to Jesus’ words, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of them staring at one another in equal parts confusion and consternation. Everything about this scenario was distasteful to them. They were in a place they didn’t want to be. They were soon to be surrounded by Samaritans whom they considered unclean and unworthy of God’s mercy and grace. And yet, their Rabbi and teacher was inferring that these very same people would be included in the kingdom of God.

Whether they realized it or not, the disciples were slowly discovering that God’s will stood in stark contrast to their own. His plans for the world looked nothing like what they were expecting or hoping. And this would be just the first in a series of eye-opening, expectation-shattering lessons they would receive from the lips of Jesus.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

In Spirit and Truth

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” – John 4:16-26 ESV

The woman wanted what Jesus had to offer. The thought of a source of freely flowing water that would eliminate her constant need to draw water from the well of Jacob was more than appealing to her. But, like Nicodemus, she was missing the point of Jesus’ words. She had come to the well to meet a physical need. Her mission had been to draw water from the well for use in drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Water was a daily necessity that made living in that arid region possible. Without it, life would be impossible.

But even water has its limitations. It can be consumed to quench thirst, but in time, the thirst will return. Water can be used to wash away the dirt and grime of life, but it can’t prevent one from becoming filthy again. That’s why the woman was forced to return to the well on a daily basis. Her need for water was insatiable.

Yet Jesus had piqued the woman’s interest with His mention of  “living water.” But don’t miss how He had opened His conversation with her.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10 ESV

The woman was clueless as to Jesus’ identity. When she had arrived at the well, she was surprised to find an unknown Jewish man waiting there. And her surprise turned to shock when this stranger dared to speak to her – “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9 ESV). Yet Jesus assured her that, had she known who He was and the nature of the gift He had to offer, she would have been the first to speak that day.

Jesus, in need of water to satisfy His thirst, had stopped at the well. But as the woman pointed out, He had “nothing to draw water with” (John 4:11 ESV). So He had asked her for help because she was the only one who had the means by which to satisfy His need. Yet, the inference behind the story is that the woman had a need for something far greater than water. And if she had only known the true identity of the stranger at the well and what He was capable of offering her, she would have been begging Him for the gift of God. 

It is easy to overlook the fact that both Nicodemus and this woman were worshipers of Yahweh. He was an orthodox member of the sect of the Pharisees. She was a Samaritan. He worshiped the God of Abraham at the temple in Jerusalem. Her people chose to worship Him at Mount Gerizim. Nicodemus prided Himself on his identity as a purebred Jew and a strict adherent to the Mosaic Law. The Samaritan woman, though viewed as a half-breed by the Jews, believed that her people were worshiping Yahweh in the manner prescribed by Moses. But what both failed to take into account was their need for a Savior. While the Jews and the Samaritans believed in the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, they were clueless as to His real mission. 

The primary message found in chapters 3 and 4 is that of need, and Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman had the same need in common. The need for eternal life. But in order to have eternal life, they would have to experience cleansing from their sin. Jesus had described it to Nicodemus as birth from above. He described it to the woman at the well as living water. Both of these individuals, despite their obvious differences, would be denied access into God’s kingdom for the very same reason: Sin.

Nicodemus, while outwardly righteous in appearance, was guilty of hypocrisy, just like the rest of his fellow members of the Pharisees. Jesus would have some harsh words of indictment against these well-respected members of Israel’s religious elite.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” – Matthew 23:25 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” – Matthew 23:27 NLT

But the woman at the well had her own set of issues. Not only was she a Samaritan and, therefore, guilty of practicing idolatry, but she was also guilty of violating the law of God. As Jesus was about to point out, she was an adulteress. When he asked her to go get her husband, she confessed that she was unmarried. But Jesus knew more about her than she could have ever imagined, and He revealed to her the true nature of her need.

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” – John 4:17-18 ESV

Suddenly, Jesus shifted the topic of conversation away from water to sin. He made it painfully personal. And while the woman’s statement had been anything but a confession, Jesus declared that what she had said was more true than she realized. She had no husband because she was in an adulterous relationship. She was guilty of sin.

But in a somewhat awkward attempt to change the subject, the woman declared, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (John 4:19 ESV). She desperately wanted to talk about something other than her five failed marriages and her current live-in relationship. So, sensing that Jesus had some kind of prophetic powers, she decided to ask Him about an important point of controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans.

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” – John 4:20 ESV

By refocusing the topic of conversation, she was hoping to divert attention away from her own personal problems. But Jesus was not going to allow that to happen. He addressed her question, but in a way that brought the focus right back on her. In essence, Jesus let her know that the issue had less to do about where God should be worshiped, but the motive behind the worship. The Jews and Samaritans were busy debating about location, but Jesus was far more interested in motivation. Why were they worshiping God?

And Jesus dropped a bombshell on her that must have left her reeling.

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. – John 4:21 ESV

The worship of God wasn’t about a temple in Jerusalem or a shrine on Mount Gerizim. It was a matter of the heart. While the Jews had a more accurate understanding of God, they were guilty of worshiping Him falsely. Jesus would later declare of the Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:8-9 NLT).

And He told the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know” (John 4:22 ESV). The Samaritans practiced a form of syncretism that blended the worship of Yahweh with that of false gods. Their doctrine was polluted and filled with pagan ideas that rendered Yahweh virtually unrecognizable.

Jesus fast-forwarded the conversation to the future, revealing that a day would come when “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23 ESV). Worship will no longer be about location and the ritual observation of rules and regulations. It will be about a relationship with God based on spirit and truth. And Jesus informed the woman that the future hour to which He referred was actually “now here.” It had arrived. And He had been the one to usher it in.

But what did He mean by “spirit and truth?” And how had His arrival changed the nature of man’s worship of God? The two terms “spirit and truth” are actually meant to convey one idea. Jesus is attempting to define worship that which is “truly spiritual.” In other words, it is not some physical activity practiced in a particular place and according to some man-made set of governing rules. It is a matter of the heart, not the head. It is spiritual in nature and not physical. Going through the religious motions either in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim was not going to cut it. Both the Jews and the Samaritans had been guilty of worshiping the one true God falsely and unfaithfully.

But Jesus had come to make the true worship of God possible, by restoring sinful men and women to a right relationship with Him. To do so, they would have to be born of the Spirit, just as He had told Nicodemus. They would have to have their spiritual thirst quenched by the living water Jesus would provide. And just a few chapters later, John will describe Jesus standing in the temple courtyard, shouting:

Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”(When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.).” – John 7:38-39 NLT

The true worship of God would be made possible by the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. And to receive the Spirit, one would have to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrifice of God’s own Son.

These words left the woman in a state of confusion. She was having a difficult time following what Jesus had to say. But she proclaimed her belief in the coming of the Messiah and her hope that He would clear up all the confusion regarding where to worship God. And that’s when Jesus boldly proclaimed to her, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26 ESV). The not-yet had become the now. The long-awaited Messiah had shown up and He was talking to her. The answer to her question regarding the true worship of God was standing right in front of her.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Gift of God

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:7-15 ESV

It is interesting that John makes special note that Jesus stopped in “a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” (John 4:5 ESV). This reference to Joseph has special significance because of the role he played as Israel’s “savior” hundreds of years earlier. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and he ended up in Egypt. But through a series of divinely orchestrated events, Joseph eventually became the second-highest-ranking official in all of Egypt. Years later, when a famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his remaining sons to Egypt to seek food. But what they discovered was their long-lost brother. And to their surprise, rather than use his position and power to punish them for their past treatment of him, Joseph showed them mercy and grace. He provided them with forgiveness for their sins against him as well as well-watered land for their flocks. So the Israelites, just 70 members strong at that time, settled in Egypt. And, in response to his brothers’ concern that he might seek to harm them, Joseph told them:

Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20 ESV

Jacob and Joseph would both die in Egypt. But, years later, when the sons Jacob returned to the land of Canaan, they brought the bones of Joseph and buried them in Shechem (Sychar), near the spot where Jesus had chosen to take His midday rest stop.

John mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was weary from His journey. This rather oblique reference is intended to remind the reader that Jesus, while fully God, was also fully human. And in His humanity, Jesus experienced the same physical attributes as any other man, including hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain. In this little scenario, Jesus would have looked like any other travel-worn Jew making his way through the region of Samaria. So, when the Samaritan woman appeared on the scene, she would have taken very little interest in this unknown Jewish man – until He spoke to her.

John indicates that Jesus was the first to speak, saying to the woman, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7 ESV). While this scene may appear somewhat innocuous to us, for the original readers of John’s gospel, this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman would have been shocking. Here was Jesus, a Jewish male, daring to strike up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. This kind of thing wasn’t done in Israel. First of all, Jesus broke social protocol by speaking to a woman in public. And to make matters worse, the woman to whom He spoke was a lowly Samaritan. She would have been considered idolatrous and, therefore, unclean. Yet, shockingly, Jesus chose to speak to her. 

Even the woman reveals her surprise that this Jewish man would dare to address her.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” – John 4:9 ESV

Just so his audience understands the gravity of the moment, John adds an important aside: “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9 ESV). This entire encounter was out of bounds and unexpected. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was smack-dab in the middle of Samaria, in the middle of the day, and speaking to an unclean Samaritan woman. Not only that, but He was also asking her to serve Him water from the vessel she used to draw from the well. What Jesus was about to do would render Him ceremonially unclean and in need of purification.

But Jesus shows no concern for His own spiritual well-being. Instead, He seems focused on the plight of the woman and replies to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10 ESV). 

In a sense, Jesus was informing the woman of His true identity. He was much more than an unidentified Jewish man asking for a drink of water. He was someone who had the power and authority to offer her “the gift of God,” a source of “living water.”

Confused by Jesus’ words, the woman responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11 ESV). At this point in the exchange, the reader should recall the earlier conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the highly orthodox member of the Pharisees. He too had been perplexed by the words of Jesus concerning the new birth from above and had quizzically replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 ESV). 

Don’t miss the contrast: A well-educated Jewish Pharisee and an idolatrous Samaritan woman. Both found themselves in a conversation with Jesus, the Son of God. But their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of understanding the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words. The woman, well-acquainted with the task of drawing her daily water from the well, could not understand what Jesus meant by His reference to “living water.” In her mind, Jesus was offering her a source of free-flowing water, like that found in a mountain stream. It stood in stark contrast to the well water to which she was accustomed. Access to water from a stream would mean she would no longer have to go through the arduous task of drawing stagnant water from a well. But as far as she could see, Jesus had no means of providing the “the gift” of which He spoke.

The woman not only found Jesus’ words confusing, but also a bit off-putting. Who was He to denigrate the water from Jacob’s well? Was it not good enough for Him? It had served to meet the needs of Jacob, so it was good enough for her. But Jesus pointed out the limitations inherent in Jacob’s well and the water it provided.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again…” – John 4:13 ESV

Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to understand that there was a physical and a spiritual dimension to life. Being born into the family of Israel was not going to be enough to earn Nicodemus entrance into the kingdom of God. And drinking water from the well of Jacob was not going to satisfy the Samaritan woman’s spiritual thirst. Both of these individuals had a need that could only be met through Jesus. He was the light of life and the source of living water.

And Jesus informed the woman that the gift He was offering her was far greater than any water she might draw from a well.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 ESV

At this point in the story, we know nothing about this woman, other than her status as a Samaritan. Her very presence at the well reveals her need for and dependence upon water in order to survive. But Jesus knew there was a much greater need in this woman’s life. Her thirst was far more than physical. Just as Nicodemus was going to need a different kind of birth if he wanted to enter God’s kingdom, the Samaritan woman was going to need a different kind of water if she ever wanted to have her deep spiritual thirst satisfied. But the woman’s response to Jesus reveals just how blind she was to her own neediness.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:15 ESV

She was intrigued by the thought of a source of free-flowing water. And if this unknown Jewish man could tell her where to find it, she was all ears. The thought of never having to draw water from the well again was appealing to her. But like Nicodemus, she was missing the point. She was neglecting to see her real need. Nicodemus had seen himself as fully righteous and fully deserving of entrance into God’s kingdom. But he had been wrong. Just like everyone else, he required a birth from above. And this woman was never going to satisfy her real spiritual need with water from a well. Her sins, like those of Nicodemus, were great. Yes, they may have been of a different sort, but they were sins nonetheless. And she, like Nicodemus, stood before the Son of God, condemned by her sin and in need of a Savior.

Which brings us back to the story of Joseph and his brothers. The day came when they found themselves standing in front of the brother they had sold into slavery and left for dead. They were guilty and deserving of judgment. But Joseph showed them mercy. He extended grace. He used his power and authority to reward rather than punish them.

And like the brother’s of Joseph, this unidentified woman was going to discover the joy of having her sins forgiven. Jesus was about to let her know that God “brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT). And she would be graciously and unexpectedly included among the saved.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unscheduled and Ill-Advised Rest Stop

1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.  – John 4:1-6 ESV

Chapter 3 featured Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, who was a well-respected member of the Pharisees, an extremely orthodox sect of Judaism. This learned man, who also happened to be a member of the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, with special knowledge of the Mosaic Law. Yet, with all his knowledge and wisdom, he had been unable to comprehend the words of Jesus. In fact, Jesus exposed Nicodemus’ surprising lack of understanding when He somewhat sarcastically asked, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10 ESV).

Nicodemus prided himself in his knowledge of both the written and oral traditions of Israel. But he had been unable to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 ESV). Nicodemus’ wisdom had proved insufficient because his mind was stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of comprehending the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words.

Now, John shifts the scene of the story as he describes Jesus’ departure from Judea to the northern region of Galilee. Jesus is vacating the confines of Jerusalem because the Pharisees have gotten wind of His growing popularity.

…when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. – John 4:1-3 ESV

Jesus had come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover, but He had found the temple of His Father being desecrated and profaned by those who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation. Rather than encouraging the people to “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 ESV), they had turned the house of God into “a house of trade” (John 2:16 ESV). They were using the God-ordained sacrificial system as a means for making money, rather than making atonement for the sins of the people.

So, John describes Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, as turning His back on the city of Jerusalem and heading for Galilee. But to get there, Jesus was going to have to journey through the region of Samaria. And this seemingly insignificant geographic detail is far more important that one might realize.

The seismic nature of the shift in location is easily overlooked by modern readers. But John’s original audience would have recognized the fascinating juxtaposition between chapters 3 and 4 that John was creating. To understand what is going on, you have to know the historic significance of Samaria and its inhabitants. The land of Samaria had originally belonged to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. It had been part of the land of Canaan that God had promised as an inheritance to the nation of Israel. After God had divided the nation in two, due to the sins of Solomon, Samaria had become part of the northern kingdom of Israel. But when the people of Israel had continued to rebel against God and had refused His repeated calls to repent, He had brought the Assyrians against them as punishment for their sin. The book of 2 Kings describes what happened as a result.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.

So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: “The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.”

The king of Assyria then commanded, “Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord.

But these various groups of foreigners also continued to worship their own gods. In town after town where they lived, they placed their idols at the pagan shrines that the people of Samaria had built. – 2 Kings 17:24-29 NLT

These foreigners ended up intermarrying with the Jews who had been left in the land. And 2 Kings describes how these “Samaritans” practiced a syncretistic brand of religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with the worship of false gods.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

To the Pharisees and other orthodox religious groups in Israel, the Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” who had refused to maintain the purity of the nation’s bloodline. Not only that, but they were also guilty of idolatry and, therefore, in violation of the Mosaic Law. And to make matters worse, they had established their own place of worship on Mount Gerazim, refusing to recognize the temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. And much to the chagrin of the Pharisees, the Samaritans rejected all the writings of the prophets and the Jewish oral traditions, which the Pharisees held near and dear.

So, when John describes Jesus as having “to pass through Samaria,” there is an intentional tension in his words. It was impossible for Jesus to travel from Judea to Galilee without having to make his way through this land occupied by “half-breeds” and heretics. And any self-respecting, God-honoring Jew would pass through this region as quickly as possible, making certain to avoid any interaction with the inhabitants. To the Jews, the Samaritans were considered unclean and of no more value than a dog. They were to be avoided at all costs.

All of these details are essential if one is to understand the significance of all that John is about to describe. Jesus’ transition from Jerusalem to Galilee takes on a special significance because He must pass through the region of Samaria. And the intense animosity between the Jews and Samaritans would have been well-documents and fully understood in John’s day. A contemporary reader of John’s gospel would have expected Jesus and His entourage to expedite their passage through Samaria, spending as little time in the region as was physically possible.

But John describes Jesus as arriving at the town of Sychar, located in the heart of Samaria, at about Noon. The inference is that Jesus has only a few hours left before darkness falls, so He should have been in a hurry to complete His journey to Galilee. But instead, He decides to take an unscheduled and highly unrecommended rest stop at the base of Mount Gerazim, where the Samaritans practiced their syncretistic brand of religion.

Again, the details are critical to understanding what follows. Sychar, also known as Shechem, was located in the valley between Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal, and this spot held a special significance for the Jewish people. It was there, during the initial conquest of the land of Canann, that Joshua had instructed the people to build an altar to the Lord, to recommit themselves to the covenant, and to give thanks for their recent victories over Jericho and Ai.

Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal. He followed the commands that Moses the Lord’s servant had written in the Book of Instruction: “Make me an altar from stones that are uncut and have not been shaped with iron tools.” Then on the altar they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. And as the Israelites watched, Joshua copied onto the stones of the altar the instructions Moses had given them.

Then all the Israelites—foreigners and native-born alike—along with the elders, officers, and judges, were divided into two groups. One group stood in front of Mount Gerizim, the other in front of Mount Ebal. Each group faced the other, and between them stood the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. This was all done according to the commands that Moses, the servant of the Lord, had previously given for blessing the people of Israel.

Joshua then read to them all the blessings and curses Moses had written in the Book of Instruction. – Joshua 8:30-34 NLT

Notice the reference to “all the Israelites – foreigners and native-born alike.” Here, centuries later, the Messiah of Israel was making His way to this very same spot, accompanied by native-born Jews, and He would encounter a woman who was considered a foreigner and a violator of the covenant of Israel. But the message Jesus had to share with her would be similar to that which He had shared with Nicodemus, a native-born Jew, a Pharisee, and a so-called keeper of the law.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson