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.