Pastor of Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg
John 4 can be divided into two major themes. Jesus’ ministry to the Samaritan woman (4:1-42) and Jesus’ miracle for the nobleman (4:43-54). Following the description of Jesus as someone who knew what was in people in John 2:25, the Gospel proceeds to give examples of two very different people that Jesus knew. From this perspective, John 4 can be studied in connection with John 3.
Reading John 4 in the light of John 3.
An attempt to read the story of the Samaritan woman in the light of chap 3 indicate that all kinds of people need to know and respond to the Gospel message. It shows that non-Jews such Samaritans can also participate in the blessings of the Gospel. For that purpose, both John 3 and 4 portray the different needs and world-views of the people who encountered Jesus. Whereas John 3 focuses on Nicodemus, who was a ruler and teacher of the Jews, John 4 concerns a Samaritan Woman. Importantly, both accounts (that is John 3 and 4) in different ways, show the need of all people to come to realize that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (John 20:30-31). Before proceeding to study John 4, it is important to observe the tremendous differences as tabulated by David s. Dockery, in his article: “Reading John 4:1-45: Some Diverse Hermeneutical Perspectives” in Criswell Theological Review 3.1 (1988):
Some Highlights on Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan Woman (4:1-43)
1. Jesus meets the Samaritan? John 4:1-8
The Samaritans were “half-breeds,” part Jew and part Gentile. As such, they were considered outcasts and were despised by the Jews. They had their own religious system in Samaria that competed with the claims of the Jews (4:20-24) and they believed in the coming of the Messiah (4:25). Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (verse 4) because God had planned for this woman to meet Jesus and find in him the water of life. In the dialogue recorded, we see the different stages by which this woman came to believe in Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah.
2. “You are a Jew” and “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” (John 4:9-15)
For a Jewish man to ask a favour of any woman, especially a Samaritan, was surprising to her. She was aware of nothing more about Jesus than that he was a thirsty Jew. The sinner is blind to the Messiah and is more interested in the things of life (like getting water) than in the things of eternity. In verse 10, Jesus tells her that she is ignorant of two things: the gift of God (salvation) and the identity of the Saviour in her presence. Jesus speaks of living water as a water of life but she takes this to mean literal water. This is typical of the unbeliever, confusing the physical and the spiritual! Nicodemus thought the Jesus spoke of physical birth (3:4). Later on, even the disciples thought Jesus spoke of literal food (4:31-34).
Jesus points out to her that the things of the world do not satisfy, and men without the Messiah will always “thirst again.” The parable in Luke 16:19-31 makes this clear. The rich man who thirsted after physical pleasures in this life thirsted again when he found himself in Hades. Jesus promises that the water of life will spring up within the heart and keep us constantly refreshed and satisfied. The woman, still confused, asked for that water. It was a shallow emotional response.
3. “You are a prophet!” (verses 16-24)
Having expressed interest in the living water (even though confused), the woman found herself confronted with her sins. Jesus’ command, “Go, call your husband!” was for the purpose of quickening her conscience and forcing her to face her own sin. No person can ever be saved who hides his or her sins (see Proverbs 28:13). Note how the woman tried to change the topic of conversation.
Like convicted sinners today, she began to argue about differences in religion. “Where should we worship?” “Which religion is right?” Jesus pointed out that the important thing is knowing the Father, and this can be done only through salvation, and salvation is from the Jews. He brought her face-to-face with her sins, her desire for satisfaction, and the emptiness of her own religious faith.
4. “Could this be the Messiah?” (verses 25-42)
Her eyes are now opened to the Person of the Messiah, and on the authority of his Word, she trusts him and is saved. She proves her faith by giving public testimony to the people in the town (and they certainly knew her character). They too came to trust Him. Note the final testimony of these believers, “This man really is the Saviour of the world!” It is interesting to note the disciples’ behaviour in this chapter. They are more concerned about physical food than spiritual food.
Jesus was weary (verse 6) and thirsty and certainly hungry. But Jesus put spiritual matters above physical comfort. While the disciples were buying food (a good thing), the Messiah was speaking about spiritual matters (a far better thing). The disciples, as they were coming to Samaria, had probably said, “These people are hard-hearted and enemies of our people.” But Jesus told them to look on the fields that were ripe for harvest. He reminded them that all of God’s people must work together in the harvest field – some to sow, others to reap. It is God who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
Conclusion and application
John 4 gives us a classic example regarding our witnesses of Jesus. Worthy of note is the example Jesus sets as an evangelist. He did not allow personal prejudices or physical needs to hinder him. He met the Samaritan woman in a friendly way and did not force her into a decision. Wisely, Jesus guided the conversation and allowed the Word to take effect in her heart. He dealt with her privately and lovingly presented the way of salvation. He got her attention by speaking about something common and at hand which was water. He used this as an illustration of eternal life. He did not avoid speaking of sin but brought her face-to-face with her need.
1. State three differences regarding Jesus’ ministries to Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman.
2. Who were the Samaritans and why were they despised by the Jews?
3. Give some examples of physical things that are usually confused with spiritual things in contemporary times? Explain
4. Comment on Jesus’ role as a prophet in John 4 in the light of contemporary prophetic ministries.
5. How did the Samaritan woman proof her faith after she believed in Jesus?