Departure From Judea
4:1 Now when Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was winning and baptizing more disciples than John 4:2 (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were), 4:3 he left Judea and set out once more for Galilee.
‘Competition can be created when none is intended. John and Jesus were not competing. But as others compared their ministries, their analysis gave the impression of competition. Similarly, two churches in a city that both have effective programs in reaching their community for Christ may begin to be compared to each other and described as if they were competing for converts. This not only distorts the purpose of the church, it also trivializes the importance of the eternal destiny of persons. The real issue is not which church wins the “member game” but whether the gospel is being communicated and people are responding. If Christ is not becoming “greater,” then whoever or whatever else is growing doesn’t really matter. Don’t foster the false impression of competition by artificial comparisons.’ (Bruce Barton)
He left Judea – His reasons for doing so are not stated. But ‘a clue to Jesus’s departure might be implied by the word “left” (ἀφῆκεν), which normally carries the meaning “abandoned” (cf. v. 28 in regard to the woman’s waterpot). Such a move is an abandonment of Judea, a temporary but vivid rebuke of his opponents, who after several encounters are only growing in their darkness-filled reproach of the light.’ (Klink)
Conversation With a Samaritan Woman
4:4 But he had to pass through Samaria. 4:5 Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 4:6 Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon.
He had to go through Samaria – Many Jews, despising Samaritans as they did, would avoid travelling through Samaria and take a longer, circuitous route.
‘John may intend a contrast between the woman of this narrative and Nicodemus of ch. 3. He was learned, powerful, respected, orthodox, theologically trained; she was unschooled, without influence, despised, capable only of folk religion. He was a man, a Jew, a ruler; she was a woman, a Samaritan, a moral outcast. And both needed Jesus.’ (Carson)
The plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph – See Gen 48:22.
The site of Jacob’s well is known to this day. It is within sight of Mt. Gerazim, a site holy to the Samaritans, and which will feature in the conversation between the woman and Jesus.
According to the usual reckoning, the sixth hour would have been midday. The heat of the day and the journey now being undertaken explain Jesus’ thirst and tiredness.
4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 4:8 (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.) 4:9 So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)
According to Kenneth E. Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes) Jesus would have been expected to withdraw at least 20 feet in order to allow the woman access to the well. There was certainly a taboo against men talking to women, especially in a place where there were no witnesses. He also ignored the centuries-old hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans. Furthermore, he places himself in a position where he needs what she can offer him (what he can offer her will come later).
‘In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ gift of the Spirit supersedes the ritual waters of John the Baptist, (Jn 1:26,33) ceremonial purification, (Jn 2:6) proselyte baptism (Jn 3:5) and the Feast of Tabernacles. (Jn 7:37-39 9:7) It also apparently supersedes water having other religious symbolism associated with holy sites, such as healing sanctuaries (Jn 5:2-8) and Jacob’s well. (Jn 4:7-26) For John’s readers, who have the Spirit but lack many of the rituals of their opponents, these contrasts would constitute an encouragement.’ (NT Background Commentary)
A Samaritan woman came to draw water – She seems to have come alone, which would indicate that she was not popular. Moreover, it would have been more usual to fetch water earlier or later in the day, when the heat was not so intense.
“Will you give me a drink?” – Jesus breaks with convention here, for, (a) she was a woman; (b) she was a Samaritan woman; (c) she was on her own. He had no jar of his own to draw water with, v11.
‘That this Samaritan woman comes to the well alone rather than in the company of other women probably indicates that the rest of the women of Sychar did not like her, in this case because of her sexual activities (cf. comment on 4:18). Although Jewish teachers warned against talking much with women in general, they would have especially avoided Samaritan women, who, they declared, were unclean from birth. Other ancient accounts show that even asking water of a woman could be interpreted as flirting with her-especially if she had come alone due to a reputation for looseness. Jesus breaks all the rules of Jewish piety here. In addition, both Isaac (Ge 24:17) and Jacob (Ge 29:10) met their wives at wells; such precedent created the sort of potential ambiguity at this well that religious people wished to avoid altogether.’ (NT Background Commentary)
This implies that the disciples would normally have helped Jesus to draw water.
“I am a Samaritan woman” – and would not be expected to associate with a Jewish man on both counts.
Given the inflection of the language, the contrast she draws is even sharper: “Why are you, a Jewish man, talking to me, a woman, a Samaritan woman?”
(For Jews do not associate with Samaritans) – or, ‘For Jews do not use dishes Samaritans have used.’
Bailey writes: ‘The late Nagib Khouri of Nabulus (the modern-day West Bank) once described to me the protocol that he and his family used in the 1950s when the Samaritan high priest at Nabulus came to call at the Khouri ancestral home. The expectations of hospitality required that they offer him something to eat or drink. Knowing the rules he lived by, they would bring him a banana or an orange on a plate. The high priest would take his own (pure) knife from his pocket, peel the fruit, drop the (defiled) skin on the (defiled) plate and eat the (undefiled) fruit that had not touched the (defiled) hands of the Gentiles. There was nothing they could offer him to drink, because all their vessels were, in his eyes, unclean.’
‘Cultural practices must be evaluated by Christ’s standards. This woman (1) was a Samaritan, a member of the hated mixed race, (2) was known to be living in sin, and (3) was in a public place. No respectable Jewish man would talk to a woman under such circumstances. But Jesus did. The gospel is for every person, no matter what his or her race, social position, or past sins. We must be prepared to share this gospel at any time and in any place. Jesus crossed all barriers to share the gospel, and we who follow him must do no less.’ (HBA)
‘A religious, male, Jewish aristocrat like Nicodemus, or an untrained, female Samaritan peasant who had made a mess of her life – Jesus converses frankly with both, and happily breaks social and religious taboos to do so.’ (Carson)
Note the woman’s various ‘cop-outs’ (sociological, v9, intellectual, v11, historical, v12, theological, v20 and procrastinating, v25). Jesus deals with these firmly but sensitively.
‘I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets—that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue—that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions—that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time—that’s fulfilment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing—less than nothing, a positive impediment—measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.’ (Malcolm Muggeridge, quoted by Milne)
4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
‘We have to note that this conversation with the Samaritan woman follows exactly the same pattern as the conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus makes a statement. The statement is taken in the wrong sense. Jesus remakes the statement in an even more vivid way. It is still misunderstood; and then Jesus compels the person with whom he is speaking to discover and to face the truth for herself. That was Jesus’ usual way of teaching; and it was a most effective way, for, as someone has said: “There are certain truths which a man cannot accept; he must discover them for himself.”‘ (DSB)
‘Jesus pointed out to her that she was ignorant of three important facts: who he was, what he had to offer, and how she could receive it. ‘ (Wiersbe)
‘He waives her objection of the feud between the Jews and Samaritans, and takes no notice of it. Some differences are best healed by being slighted, and by avoiding all occasions of entering into dispute about them. Christ will convert this woman, not by showing her that the Samaritan worship was schismatical (though really it was so), but by showing her her own ignorance and immoralities, and her need of a Saviour.’ (MHC)
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink” – All the woman can see is the weary traveller. The ‘gift of God’ is probably the gift of eternal life, referred to in v14. Alternatively, the reference may be to the Torah, the law of Moses, which case, Jesus is saying, “If you really knew your Torah, and who it is who is asking for a drink…” But the former is more likely.
“Living water” – The expression was used for flowing water (springs, fountains and streams, as opposed to water from wells and stagnant pools), but we are probably right to see here one of John’s double meanings. Jesus’ gift of the Spirit supercedes the literal water used by John the Baptist, cf. Jn 1:26,33.
‘That John intends the promise to be understood as the Spirit is evident both from 4:23 (“The hour is coming and now is” when true worshipers worship the Father “in Spirit and truth”) and from his specific equation of the offer of living water with the Spirit in Jn 7:37-39.’ (DJG)
Bearing in mind the hot and arid nature of the environment for much of the year, the metaphor of ‘flowing water’ or ‘living water’ is deeply meaningful. Moreover, the symbolism is found already in the OT: Isa 1:16-18; Jer 2:13; Eze 36:25-27; Zec 14:8. John picks up on the symbolism at various points, Jn 3:5; 4:10-15; 7:38; 19:34.
‘Jesus here means to denote by it his doctrine, or his grace and religion, in opposition to the impure and dead notions of the Jews and the Samaritans.’ (Barnes)
‘This was one of the many instances in which he took occasion from common topics of conversation to introduce religious discourse. None ever did it so happily as he did, but, by studying his example and manner, we may learn also to do it. One way to acquire the art is to have the mind full of the subject; to make religion our first and main thing; to carry it with us into all employments and into all society; to look upon everything in a religious light, and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak, Mt 12:34.’ (Barnes)
4:11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 4:12 Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.”
“The well is deep” – If the well is the same one that is there now, it was at least 100 feet deep.
‘When people were on a journey they usually carried with them a bucket made from the skin of some beast so that they could draw water from any well at which they halted. No doubt Jesus’ band had such a bucket; and no doubt the disciples had taken it into the town with them. The woman saw that Jesus did not possess such a traveller’s leather bucket, and so again she says in effect: “You need not talk about drawing water and giving it to me. I can see for myself that you have not a bucket with which to draw water.”‘ (DSB)
“Are you greater than our father Jacob?” – There is irony here (and not for the only time in this Gospel), for she obviously implies the answer ‘Of course not’, but John knows that the truth is far otherwise.
“Our father Jacob” – This would be something of an affront to Jews, who regarded themselves as the true descendents of Jacob, and who saw Samaritans as half-breeds or worse.
The woman’s meaning is, ‘Can you provide a better source of water than this well, with its long and noble history?’ Our eyes can be shut to new possibilities when we are too ready to cling to the old and familiar. ‘A well from which Jacob, and his sons, and cattle had drank must be pure, and wholesome, and honoured, and quite as valuable as any that Jesus could furnish. Men like to commend that which their ancestors used as superior to anything else. The world over, people love to speak of that which their ancestors have done, and boast of titles and honours that have been handed down from them, even if it is nothing better than existed here-because Jacob’s cattle had drunk of the water.’ (Barnes)
4:13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 4:14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”
Jesus answered – As usual, he does not give a straightforward answer to the question. ‘Jesus did not directly answer her question, or say that he was greater than Jacob, but he gave her an answer by which she might infer that he was. He did not despise or undervalue Jacob or his gifts; but, however great might be the value of that well, the water could not altogether remove thirst.’ (Barnes)
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again” – ‘Jesus contrasts temporary with eternal satisfaction, teaching that all earthly pleasures, even if legitimate, are fading.’ (New Geneva)
See Mt 5:6.
“The water I give him” – Jesus might well have said that he is the living water. But the consistent expression here is that he gives it (cf. v10). This suggests that in the present passage ‘the water is the satisfying eternal life mediated by the Spirit that only Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour of the world, can provide.’ (Carson)
‘Jesus here refers, without doubt, to his own teaching, his grace, his spirit, and to the benefits which come into the soul that embraces his gospel. It is a striking image, and especially in Eastern countries, where there are vast deserts, and often a great want of water. The soul by nature is like such a desert, or like a traveller wandering through such a desert. It is thirsting for happiness, and seeking it everywhere, and finds it not. It looks in all directions and tries all objects, but in vain. Nothing meets its desires. Though a sinner seeks for joy in wealth and pleasures, yet he is not satisfied. He still thirsts for more, and seeks still for happiness in some new enjoyment. To such a weary and unsatisfied sinner the grace of Christ is as cold waters to a thirsty soul.’ (Barnes)
“Never thirst” – ‘He shall be satisfied with this, and will not have a sense of want, a distressing feeling that it is not adapted to him. He who drinks this will not wish to seek for happiness in other objects. Satisfied with the grace of Christ, he will not desire the pleasures and amusements of this world. And this will be for ever-in this world and the world to come. Whosoever drinketh of this-all who partake of the gospel-shall be for ever satisfied with its pure and rich joys.’ (Barnes)
“A spring of water” – This may be an allusion to Joel 3:18, which is a prophecy concerning the restoration of the temple.
“Welling up” – ‘This is a beautiful image. It shall bubble or spring up like a fountain. It is not like a stagnant pool-not like a deep well, but like an ever-living fountain, that flows at all seasons of the year, in heat and cold, and in all external circumstances of weather, whether foul or fair, wet or dry. So religion always lives; and, amid all changes of external circumstances-in heat and cold, hunger and thirst, prosperity and adversity, life, persecution, contempt, or death-it still lives on, and refreshes and cheers the soul.’ (Barnes)
The deepest well, the widest river, the highest flood, may dry up, but the water that Jesus gives will never fail.
“Eternal life” – ‘It is not temporary, like the supply of our natural wants; it is not changing in its nature; it is not like a natural fountain or spring of water, to play a while and then die away, as all natural springs will at the end of the world. It is eternal in its nature and supply, and will continue to live on for ever.’ (Barnes)
The Jews ‘often spoke of the thirst of the soul for God; and they often spoke of quenching that thirst with living water. Jesus was not using terms that were bound to be misunderstood; he was using terms that anyone with spiritual insight should have understood. In the Revelation that promise is: “To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life.” (Rev 21:6) The Lamb is to lead them to springs of living waters. (Rev 7:17) The promise was that the chosen people would draw water with joy from the wells of salvation. (Isa 12:3) The Psalmist spoke of his soul being thirsty for the living God. (Ps 42:1) God’s promise was: “I will pour water on the thirsty land.” (Isa 44:3) The summons was that every one who was thirsty should come to the waters and freely drink. (Isa 55:1) Jeremiah’s complaint was that the people had forsaken God who was the fountain of living waters and had hewed themselves out broken cisterns which could hold no water. (Jer 2:13) Ezekiel had had his vision of the river of life. (Eze 47:1-12) In the new world there would be a cleansing fountain opened. (Zec 13:1) The waters would go forth from Jerusalem.’ (Zec 14:8) (DSB) Of course, Samaritans, such as this woman, might not have appreciated these allusions, since they limited the canon to the Pentateuch.
Although the woman understood Jesus literally, he was in fact making a Messianic claim. ‘In the prophetic vision of the age to come, the age of God, the promise was: “They shall not hunger or thirst.” (Isa 49:10) It was with God and none other that the living fountain of the all-quenching water existed. “With thee is the fountain of life,” the Psalmist had cried. (Ps 36:9) It is from the very throne of God that the river of life is to flow. (Rev 22:1) It is the Lord who is the fountain of living water. (Jer 17:13) It is in the Messianic age that the parched ground is to become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water. (Isa 35:7) When Jesus spoke about bringing to men the water which quenches thirst for ever, he was doing no less than stating that he was the Anointed one of God who was to bring in the new age.’ (DSB)
‘”I shall give” expresses the divine origin of the blessing: “springing up” is its great abundance; “everlasting life” is its endless duration.’ (New Geneva)
4:15 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.” 4:16 He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” 4:17 The woman replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ 4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!”
“Sir, give me this water…” – She seems here to be speaking almost in jest. Like Nicodemus and other characters in this Gospel, the woman takes literally what is intended as figurative. This shows how apt we all are to misunderstand Jesus’ words and thus to distort his teaching.
“Go, call your husband” – Why did Jesus tell the woman to fetch her husband? And why did he ask this question knowing exactly what her relationship were and had been (v18)
‘We may admire the manner which our Saviour took to lead her to perceive that he was the Christ. His instructions she did not understand. He therefore proceeded to show her that he was acquainted with her life and with her sins. His object, here, was to lead her to consider her own state and sinfulness-a delicate and yet pungent way of making her see that she was a sinner. By showing her, also, that he knew her life, though a stranger to her, he convinced her that he was qualified to teach her the way to heaven, and thus prepared her to admit that he was the Messiah, Jn 4:29.’ (Barnes)
“I have no husband” – Her answer was true, but evasive.
“Five husbands” – The word can also simply mean ‘men’, in which case the woman had had a series of unmarried relationships.
Jesus is displaying that insight which was referred to in Jn 2:25. Jewish teaching disapproved of a woman having had more than three husbands (even though the prerogative for divorce lie with the husband, not the wife). Samaritan teaching was no less rigorous in this respect. ‘The deeper point is that Jesus brought to her awareness the relational desert in which she was living.’ (Milne)
“The man you have is not your husband” – Jewish teaching did not countenance common-law marriages.
Writing in the Women’s Bible Commentary, Gail R. O’Day criticises ‘many’ commentators for raising questions about this woman’s moral character. In doing so, says O’Day, they attempt to ‘delegitimize’ the woman as a recipient of the gospel. Unfortunately, this writer does provide any evidence to support her criticism of the ‘many’ commentators. Nor does she seem to understand that it would be a very ignorant commentator who thought that dubious morality ‘delegitimized’ anyone as a recipient of the gospel, for such a commentator would have to ignore the entire tenor of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, summed up in the saying “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. Furthermore, there is a question about the woman’s morality, and this is pinpointed by our Lord, when he says to her, “The man you now have is not your husband.” This question about her morality (though not dwelt upon by Jesus) is also hinted at in the fact that she was visiting the well alone (suggesting that she was a social outcast), and the fact that she hid the fact that she was living with a man who was not her husband.
F.D. Bruner takes a more balanced view: ‘It is not necessary, and it can even be insensitive to paint the woman’s moral life with lurid colors. It is as possible that she was as much or more the victim of thoughtless men’s divorces or of tragic men’s deaths as that she was an immoral waistrel herself. We simply do not know the details, and in their absence Jesus’ courtesy may be the best policy for church interpretation as well…Only Jesus’ last observation, that the man she is now living with is not her husband (he is someone else’s), which Jesus’ sentence emphasizes, marks her as a guilty person. Objectively, therefore, I think we can fairly say that in the eyes of her culturally conditioned readers she will seem to be second-class not only in gender and nationality but also in morality. At best, I think, her moral situation may be described as irregular or unusual.’
And Kruze maintains that the focus of the passage is not moral, but relational: ‘It seems Jesus’ intention in mentioning these things was not to create a sense of guilt, but to confront the pain in her relationships with men. This would accentuate her thirst for a meaningful relationship with God and make her receptive to the revelation he was offering her.’
4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
“I can see that you are a prophet” – Prophets were often thought capable of knowing other people’s thoughts. This (limited) designation of Jesus as a prophet is rather frequent, Jn 4:44 6:14 7:40 9:17.
‘The striking thing about all this is not the number of husbands or lovers this woman had lived with, nor even that the man she now had was not her husband, but that Jesus had such knowledge about her personal life.’ (Kruze, cf. Jn 1:48; 2:24f)
4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 4:21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain” – As already noted, Mt. Gerazim was in full view of Jacob’s well. The expression is put in the past tense because, although the Samaritans still worshiped on Gerazim, the temple they had erected there had been destroyed by the Jews some 200 years before. The Samaritans, for their part, mocked the Jewish temple site and once, under cover of night, had tried to defile it.
The Samaritans recognised only the Pentateuch as scripture, and therefore did not recognise David’s decision to build a temple in Jerusalem (1 Chron 17:1-15)
‘Although the woman’s introduction of the issue of the place of worship may seem a diversion to avoid an unpleasant subject, it is more likely that her realizing that Jesus was some kind of Jewish prophet prompted her to show her acquaintance with Jewish-Samaritan differences over the main place of worship (v20). Worship was closely linked to a sacred place. In the past there had been a temple built on Mt Gerizim to rival the temple at Jerusalem. Even after the Gerizim temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, the Samaritans continued worshiping on the mountain. It is not clear how concerned the woman was about these differences, but she seized on it as a matter worthy of discussion.’ (NBC)
Even if the woman’s statement was not intended to be a means of diverting Jesus from more personal matters, it does remind us of the tendency amongst religious people when discussing spiritual matters to focus on their their differences, rather than on the things they have in common.
Again, there is a note of truthful evasion in the woman’s statement. Political, cultural and religious differences and tensions between Jews and Samaritans then, as between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland in more recent years, can easily obscure the deeper issues.
4:22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews.
“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we [Jews] worship what we do know” – ‘Samaritans’ is not present in the original, but is implied by the use of a plural pronoun.
The Lord’s line of thought is similar to that of Paul in Acts 17:23. Michaels says that Jesus is not here addressing someone on the edges of Judaism; he is, rather, addressing her as a Gentile. The conclusion will be that ‘will be that he is “Savior of the world” (v. 42), but on the way to this conclusion it must be shown that Gentiles either worship false gods as idols (see Acts 14:15; 1 Thess 1:9; Rom 1:21–23) or worship the true God in ignorance (as in Acts 17:23).’
Carson comments that this statement is the clearest indication that the Gospel of John cannot be regarded as systematically anti-Semitic: ‘John’s frequent and sharp denunciation of ‘the Jews’…finds its deepest motivation neither in racial bias nor in pathological sectarianism but in the firm conviction that salvation, for Jews and Gentiles alike, lies in the Messiah announced by the Jewish Scriptures, a Messiah whose claims cannot be ignored without peril.’ Michaels comments that this is the only time in any of the Gospels that Jesus is quoted as referring to ‘the Jews’, and in doing so he takes their side against the Samaritans.
‘No matter how much grace Jesus was to show to the Samaritan woman, it would not be at the expense of truth.’ (Kruse)
“Salvation is from the Jews” – Cf. Ps. 147:19, 20; Isa. 2:3; Amos 3:2; Mic. 4:1, 2; Rom. 3:1, 2; 9:3–5; 9:18.
Samaritan worship was inferior to that of the Jews, because they based their beliefs on the Pentateuch alone. The Jews had been made the recipients of a fuller revelation of God’s redemptive purposes.
‘When Jesus says salvation is from the Jews (22) he is not saying all Jews will be saved, but that through the Jews came the knowledge of that salvation in the Scriptures.’ (NBC)
‘The idea is that, just as the Jews stand within the stream of God’s saving revelation, so also can it be said that they are the vehicle of that revelation, the historical matrix out of which that revelation emerges.’ (Carson)
‘If salvation is from the Jews, it is for the whole world, and if Jesus is Savior of the world, then he too (as the woman was quick to recognize, v. 9) is from the Jews. His words to the woman here are not exclusionary, therefore, but quite the contrary. He offers her the messianic salvation that comes “from the Jews,” but without asking her to become a Jew.’ (Michaels)
‘There is not any promise anywhere of raising up a kingdom unto the Lord Christ in this world but it is either expressed, or clearly intimated, that the beginning of it must be with the Jews.’ (John Owen)
Carson remarks that this saying counts strongly against the notion that the Fourth Gospel is anti-semitic or anti-Jewish: ‘John’s frequent and sharp denunciation of ‘the Jews’ finds its deepest motivation neither in racial bias nor in pathological sectarianism but in the firm conviction that salvation, for Jews and Gentiles alike, lies in the Messiah announced by the Jewish Scriptures, a Messiah whose claims cannot be ignored without peril.’
4:23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 4:24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus makes it clear that it is the object, not the place, of worship that is of paramount importance.
“The time is coming and has now come…” – The Gerazim/Jerusalem debate ceases to have any relevance in the light of the coming of Christ. In him all racial and geographical distinctions are made obsolete.
‘This oxymoron is a powerful way of asserting not only that the period of worship ‘in spirit and truth’ is about to come and awaits only the dawning of the ‘hour’, i.e. Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation, but also that this period of true worship is already proleptically present in the person and ministry of Jesus before the cross. This worship can take place only in and through him: he is the true temple (Jn 2:19–22), he is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25). The passion and exaltation of Jesus constitute the turning point upon which the gift of the Holy Spirit depends (Jn 7:38–39; 16:7); but that salvation-historical turning point is possible only because of who Jesus is. Precisely for that reason, the hour is not only ‘coming’ but also ‘has now come’.’ (Carson)
This states ‘reinforces’ that of Jesus to Nicodemus in Jn 3:5.6. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Only as people are born of the Spirit, only as they receive the gift of the Spirit, can they truly worship God who is spirit.’ (Kruse)
“God is Spirit” – ‘In this context ‘spirit’ characterizes what God is like, in the same way that flesh, location, and corporeality characterize what human beings and their world are like.’ (Carson) As Spirit, God cannot be fully comprehended, yet the effects of his work are apparent (Jn 3:8). Again, as Spirit, God’s power is creative, renewing, life-giving (Jn 3:5; 7:38f). As Spirit, God is invisible, yet has chosen to reveal himself – supremely in the incarnate Word, Jn 1:18. ‘That incarnate Word is the one who baptizes his people in Holy Spirit (Jn 1:33), for unless they are born from above, unless they are born of the Spirit, they cannot see the kingdom of God, they cannot worship God truly. This provision of the Spirit is made possible by the work of him who is the truth (Jn 14:6), and who by his glorification by way of the cross pours out the Spirit, who is called the Spirit of truth (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).’ (Carson)
‘This is the second reason why men should worship him in spirit and in truth. By this is meant that God is without a body; that he is not material or composed of parts; that he is invisible, in every place, pure and holy. This is one of the first truths of religion, and one of the sublimest ever presented to the mind of man. Almost all nations have had some idea of God as gross or material, but the Bible declares that he is a pure spirit. As he is such a spirit, he dwells not in temples made with hands, (Ac 7:48) neither is worshipped with men’s hands as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things, Acts 17:25. A pure, a holy, a spiritual worship, therefore, is such as he seeks-the offering of the soul rather than the formal offering of the body-the homage of the heart rather than that of the lips.’ (Barnes)
‘When our Lord said this, he was seeking to disabuse the Samaritan woman of the idea that there could be only one right place for worship, as if God were locally confined in some way. “Spirit” contrasts with “flesh:” Christ’s point is that while man, being “flesh,” can only be present in one place at a time, God, being “spirit,” is not so limited. God is non-material, non-corporeal, and therefore non-localised. Thus (Christ continues) the true condition of acceptable worship is not that your feet should be standing in either Jerusalem or Samaria, or anywhere else for that matter, but that your heart should be receptive and responsive to his revelation.’ (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 133)
The first of the 39 Articles brings asserts that God is ‘without body, parts, or passions’. God has no body – he is omnipresent, and free from limitations with respect to space and distance. God has no parts – his personality, powers and qualities are perfectly integrated, so that he is eternally the same, Jas 1:17. God has no passions – not that he is unfeeling, but that in contrast to us the divine affections are not called forth involuntarily by external circumstances, but have the nature of deliberate voluntary choices.
‘God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach him with cheerfulness; he is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; he is a Spirit infinitely high, therefore we must offer up our sacrifices with deepest humility; he is a Spirit infinitely glorious, we therefore must acknowledge his excellency…he is a Spirit infinitely provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying mediator and intercessor.’ (Stephen Charnock, Q by Packer, Among God’s Giants, 333)
‘Let us pray to God, that as he is a Spirit, so he will give us of his Spirit. The essence of God is incommunicable; but not the motions, the presence and influences of his Spirit. When the sun shines in a room, not the body of the sun is there, but the light, heat, and influence of the sun. God has made a promise of his Spirit. Eze 36:27. ‘I will put my Spirit within you.’ Turn promises into prayers. ‘O Lord, thou who art a Spirit, give me of thy Spirit; I, flesh, beg thy Spirit, thy enlightening, sanctifying, quickening, Spirit.’ Melanchthon prayed, ‘Lord, inflame my soul with thy Holy Spirit.’ How needful is his Spirit! We cannot do any duty without it, in a lively manner. When this wind blows upon our sails, we move swiftly towards heaven. Let us pray, therefore, that God would give us of the residue of his Spirit, Mal 2:15, that we may move more vigorously in the sphere of religion.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)
“Worship in spirit and in truth” – ‘To worship the Father ‘in spirit and truth’ clearly means much more than worship without necessary ties to particular holy places (though it cannot mean any less)’ (Carson).
‘Worship’ (together with related words) is mentioned 10 times in this account (out of 13 in Jn, and a total of 47 in the NT). To worship ‘in spirit’ is to recognise that a sincere attitude is far more important than physical posture. To worship ‘in truth’ is to be open and honest before God and man, and (no doubt) also to be in accord with God’s word.
‘To say that we must worship God “in spirit” means, among other things, that it must originate from within, from the heart; it must be sincere, motivated by our love for God and gratitude for all he is and has done. Worship cannot be mechanical or formalistic. That does not necessarily rule out certain rituals or liturgy. But it does demand that all physical postures or symbolic actions must be infused with heart-felt commitment and faith and love and zeal.
‘But the word “spirit” here may also be a reference to the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul said that Christians “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). It is the Holy Spirit who awakens in us an understanding of God’s beauty and splendor and power. It is the Holy Spirit who stirs us to celebrate and rejoice and give thanks. It is the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to see and savor all that God is for us in Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit who, I hope and pray, orchestrates our services and leads us in corporate praise of God.’ (Sam Storms)
To worship ‘in truth’ means that it ‘must conform to the revelation of God in Scripture. It must be informed by who God is and what he is like. Our worship must be rooted in and tethered to the realities of biblical revelation. God forbid that we should ever sing heresy. Worship is not meant to be formed by what feels good but by the light of what is true.’ (Storms)
Or it may mean (b) in the Spirit (see Phil 3:3).
4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 4:26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”
‘The Samaritans had a messianic anticipation based on the Pentateuch, so they anticipated the Taheb (meaning ‘converter’), who, in the terms of Deuteronomy 18:15–18, would be a second Moses, revealing the truth, restoring true belief and renewing true worship. Jesus informs the startled woman that she is speaking with the Promised One in person: I who speak to you am he (26). This statement possibly reflects Jesus’ divine consciousness (cf. Temple’s rendering, ‘I that am talking to you, I AM’).’ (Milne)
Jesus is more open here about his Messianic identity that he usually was with the Jewish leaders. His reticence with the latter was, no doubt, due to the nationalistic overtones that they would have heard in the designation. Moreover, this was, of course, a private conversation, and not a public dispute. (See Milne’s brief discussion)
The Disciples Return
4:27 Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman. However, no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” 4:28 Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, 4:29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” 4:30 So they left the town and began coming to him.
Surprised to find him talking with a woman – ‘No Rabbi would have carried on a conversation with a woman. One of their sayings ran: “A man shall not be alone with a woman in an inn, not even with his sister or his daughter, on account of what men may think. A man shall not talk with a woman in the street, not even with his own wife, and especially not with another woman, on account of what men say.”‘ (Leon Morris)
‘It is an indication of the deep impression that had been made upon her that she left her waterpot there. She completely abandoned the business in hand (though the abandoned waterpot meant that she would certainly return). She set about telling what had happened to her instead. She went back to the village and invited the men to come and meet Jesus.’ (Leon Morris)
Workers for the Harvest
4:31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 4:32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 4:33 So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” 4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work.
‘What wonder if that woman did not understand about the water? See: the disciples do not yet understand the food.’ (Augustine) Cf. Mk 6:52; 8:17-21.
4:35 Don’t you say, ‘There are four more months and then comes the harvest?’ I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest! 4:36 The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together. 4:37 For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 4:38 I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
The example of Jesus here shows that keeping the law of God brings joy and strength. It is not wearisome, but refreshing. Obedience to God brings highest happiness; duty and delight are a perfect partnership. See Rom 7:18-22 12:1-2 1 Jn 5:3.
There were four months between the end of seed-time and the beginning of harvest. ‘This might well have given rise to a proverbial saying indicating that there is no hurry for a particular task. The seed may be planted, but there is no way of getting round the months of waiting. Growth is slow and cannot be hurried. But Jesus did not share this view when applied to spiritual things. He had an urgent sense of mission and these words convey something of it to the disciples…The fields are even now ready for harvest.’ (Leon Morris)
“The sower and the reaper may be glad together” – ‘Let it be noted, that in heaven there will at last be no jealousy and envy among Christ’s labourers. Some will have been sowers and some will have been reapers. But all will have done that part of the work allotted to them, and all will finally “rejoice together.” Envious feelings will be absorbed in common joy.’ (J.C. Ryle)
‘It must almost always be the case that those who reap precious souls profit from the work of those who have been before them. Each Christian worker is dependent for success on the labours of his predecessors.’ (Leon Morris)
“Others have done the hard work” – possibly referring to the preparatory work of John the Baptist.
The Samaritans Respond
4:39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the report of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 4:40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they began asking him to stay with them. He stayed there two days, 4:41 and because of his word many more believed. 4:42 They said to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.”
“The Saviour of the world” – This expression was used not only of Greek deities, but also of Roman emperors. Its use here implies that (a) Jesus, and not either a Greek god nor a Roman emperor, is truly the world’s Savour, who ‘takes away the sin of the world’, Jn 1:29, 39); and (b) his saviourhood indeed extends beyond his own people to the Samaritans (cf Acts 1:8). See Carson’s discussion.
Onward to Galilee
4:43 After the two days he departed from there to Galilee. 4:44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 4:45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him because they had seen all the things he had done in Jerusalem at the feast (for they themselves had gone to the feast).
Verse 54 will inform us that this was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed in Galilee (the first being at the wedding in Cana). Jesus brings new life. This cannot be experienced via the worship associated with the old Jerusalem temple. Nor can great religious learning bring it. Nor, again, can simply going our own way give lasting satisfaction. This section ends, as it began, with a notable miracle. And this miracle, being a ‘sign’ points us to the way in which we receive that new life.
Jesus resumes the journey he had begun in v3. It had been undertaken ‘to escape from the unworthy rivalries which had developed vis-à-vis John’ (Jn 4:1).
Ryle quotes Quesnel: ‘It is an instance of self-denial which is very uncommon, to leave those who respect and applaud us, that we may go to preach among others from whom we have reason to expect a quite different treatment.’
Now – or ‘for’.
The logic v43-45 is not easy to follow. The literal meaning is reflected in the NKJV:-
’43 Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.’
A prophet has no honour in his own country – All three Synoptics also carry this saying from the lips of Jesus, Mk 6:4; Matt 13:57; Lk 4:24, although they apply it to those occasions when he was rejected in Galilee (especially Nazareth).
All proverbial sayings admit some exceptions. But, as Matthew Henry observes, this one ‘holds for the most part. Joseph, when he began to be a prophet, was most hated by his brethren; David was disdained by his brother (1 Sam 17:28); Jeremiah was maligned by the men of Anathoth (Jer 11:21), Paul by his countrymen the Jews; and Christ’s near kinsmen spoke most slightly of him, ch. Jn 7:5. Men’s pride and envy make them scorn to be instructed by those who once were their school-fellows and play-fellows.’
Pink suggests that these verses reflect the sad state of Judaism at that time: (a) our Lord declares that a prophet has no honour in his own country: this being in contrast to the reception he received in Samaria; (b) while we are told that the Galileans welcomed him, ‘it was not because they recognized the glory of His person, or the authority and life-giving value of His words, but because they had been impressed by what they had seen Him do at Jerusalem’; (c) Jesus tells the nobleman that ‘you people’ will not believe unless they witness signs and wonders.
Three reasons why a prophet is not honoured in his own country: (a) familiarity (which breeds contempt); (b) pride (‘we made you what you are); (c) obligation (‘you owe us’).
Jesus did not go to where he would be most honoured. He went to where he was most needed.
Boice: ‘We are to keep hunting for effective means of presenting the gospel. No one would question that. Still, we are to learn from Christ’s example that even when we have done our best and have not had success in our witnessing, we are to keep on trying.’
The Gk text of this verse begins with oun, ‘therefore’.
The Galileans welcomed him – Carson understands the connection as follows: ‘Therefore when he arrives, the Galileans welcome him—not as the Messiah, but because they had seen all that he had done at the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. John has already let his readers know how Jesus viewed that kind of faith (Jn 2:23–25), that kind of welcome. The details of the healing that follows make the same point.’
Michaels, on the other hand, thinks that the statement should be taken as face value: ‘Perhaps the best way of reading verse 45 is as a sort of heading to the whole narrative of Jesus’ encounter with the royal official and the healing of his son. That is, the writer makes the general observation that “the Galileans received him” (v. 45), and then provides us with one specific illustration of this (vv. 46–54), possibly with the implication that further examples could have been given if needed (see Jn 20:30–31; 21:25).’
Many interpreters, however, see an underlying irony in this statement, since he was welcomed as a miracle-worker rather than as the Messiah; for his miracles and not for his word. ‘Many Galileans had recently returned from the Passover Feast just as Jesus had done, and the miracles he did there (Jn 2:23; 3:2) were still fresh in their memories. But Jesus knew and so did the evangelist that this faith was not genuine (48).’ (Kruse)
Morris too this as another example of John’s irony. ‘The enthusiasm of the Galileans was not soundly based. It was dependent on the wonder arising from their sight of the signs, not on a realisation that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world. Their very acceptance of him was thus in its was a rejection.’ they gave him honour of a sort, but it was not the honour that was due to him.’
According to Klink, ‘The hapax legomenon “welcomed” (ἐδέξαντο) is a far cry from the term for “acceptance” (λαβεῖν) John normally uses when designating genuine reception (e.g., Jn 1:12; 5:43).’
They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast – Jn 2:23-25, confirming the view ‘that our Lord did many other miracles at Jerusalem at the first passover, when He was there, beside casting the buyers and sellers out of the temple. It is probable that the miracles recorded in the four Gospels are only a selection out of the number that Christ worked.’ (Ryle’ cf. Jn 2:23)
Ryle observes that ‘this sentence is a useful proof of the universality of the Jewish custom of attending the great feasts at Jerusalem, and especially the feast of the Passover. Even those who lived furthest off from Jerusalem, in Galilee, made a point of going to the Passover. It serves to show the publicity of our Lord’s ministry, both in life and death. When He was crucified at the Passover, the event happened in the presence of myriads of witnesses from every part of the world. The overruling providence of God ordered things so that the facts of Christ’s life and death could never be denied. “This thing was not done in a corner.” (Act 26:26.)’
Healing the Royal Official’s Son
4:46 Now he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had made the water wine. In Capernaum there was a certain royal official whose son was sick. 4:47 When he heard that Jesus had come back from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and begged him to come down and heal his son, who was about to die.
‘John 4:46a creates an inclusio with Jn 2:1. The miracle of the wine and the healing of the official’s son are the only two events any Gospel associates with Cana. The device is clearly literary, employed to call attention to this material as a theologically homogeneous unit. John 2-4 stresses the newness of what Jesus is bringing: a new joy, a new temple, a new birth and a new universal offer of salvation.’ (Blomberg)
The two miracles have much in common. But they also differ in one important respect: the first was performed ‘in the midst of life’, as a wedding was being celebrated.
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee – where one of his disciples, Nathanael, came from, and where his mother Mary probably had relatives (cf. Jn 2:1).
These verses begins with another oun (‘therefore’). ‘Precisely because the welcome the Galileans displayed was so dependent on miracles (unlike the faith of the Samaritans!), therefore on visiting Cana and being petitioned to perform a healing, Jesus detects in the royal official a welcome and a faith that desires a cure but that does not truly trust him. Indeed, the royal official, in Jesus’ view, exemplifies what is wrong with the Galileans as a whole.’ (Carson)
Cana…Capernaum – About 25 miles by road, involving a 1,350-foot climb (Klink).
Royal official – Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee and Perea, and this man was probably one of his officials. Here was, of course, a wicked ruler (among other atrocities he had John the Baptist beheaded).
It is possible that this man was Cuza, ‘the manager of Herod’s household’, whose wife Joanna accompanied and supported Jesus (Lk 8:3), and who was also a witness to the empty tomb (Lk 24:10).
‘Jesus was extremely unfavorable toward Antipas (Lk 13:32; 23:9; for reasons, cf. Mk 6:17-29); this man who comes to Jesus would be a wealthy aristocrat, probably much influenced by Greco-Roman culture and not very religious by general Palestinian Jewish standards.’ (IVP Background Commentary)
Although there are similarities between this account and that of the healing of centurian’s servant in Mt 8:5ff; Lk 7:ff, there are also significant differences; and there is no evidence that this ‘royal official’ was a gentile. It is clear the Jesus performed a number of miracles at Capernaum (Mt 11:23), and so similarities between any two of them are to be expected.
However, this man may have been a gentile (see Blomberg’s discussion). ‘If so, we have in clear progression—the Jewish Nicodemus, a Samaritan Woman, and a Gentile officer—parade examples of Jesus’ mission promise in action: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).’ (Bruner)
If, as is more likely, he was a Jew, then (as Bruner again remarks), we observe ‘three (or four if we include the following story) very different human types in close conversation with Jesus: a “high” Jewish official (chap. 3), a “low” or despised female outsider (chap. 4A), now again a “high” secular type (chap. 4B), and finally in the next chapter a “low” Jewish lifelong cripple (chap. 5A).’
Ryle observes that ‘in the first chapter of John’s Gospel we see fishermen converted; in the third, a self-righteous Pharisee; in the beginning of the fourth, a fallen Samaritan woman; and in the end, a nobleman out of a king’s court.’
‘Why are the two Cana sign-stories here at all (water into wine, death into life)? Are we to be taught to expect a miraculous draught of wine at our next social crisis or to expect the healing of a terminally ill loved one at our next deathbed? Perhaps indeed. But more likely we are being taught that Jesus profoundly cares about weddings and deaths and can be of great help in the midst of them.’ (Bruner)
When this man heard – Milne suggests that this man may well have been aware of the earlier miracle at Cana, and comes to Jesus on the basis of this ‘faith’ in his supernatural ability.
Note the sequence: he hears, asks, believes, and receives.
Begged – the royal official begs the carpenter to help!
Come – rather, ‘come down’: Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, was lower than Cana. Presumably, he thought that Jesus would need to touch his son, if he was to heal him, just as Jairus thought that Jesus would have to touch his daughter (Mk 5:23, and the woman with a haemorrhage thought that she would have to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mk 5:28).
His son, who was close to death – v52 will explain that the son had a fever. Such an illness would, of course, be more serious in a child (according to Lincoln, it has been estimated that at this time only 49% of children survived to the age of five).
‘Musculus remarks on this verse, how much more love descends than ascends. In all the Gospels we never read of any sons or daughters coming to Christ on behalf of their parents.’ (Cited by Ryle)
‘Many who come to Christ in trouble do not give him that glory by faith that they ought, but are ready to limit him to a certain way of working, beyond which their faith can see no probability of help; for albeit he conceived Christ could heal his son, yet he ties his virtue to his bodily presence.’ (Hutcheson)
4:48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe!” 4:49 “Sir,” the official said to him, “come down before my child dies.” 4:50 Jesus told him, “Go home; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and set off for home.
Lincoln observes that readers would have readily identified with the plight of the father. It seems surprising, therefore, that Jesus does not deal directly with that plight, but addresses these words to him and to the observers (“you people”).
‘The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men.’ (C.S. Lewis)
“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” – This is the only place in the Fourth Gospel where the expression ‘signs and wonders’ is used.
As Michaels points out, this attitude is not all bad: ‘Humans want evidence; they want verification, which is not in itself a bad thing. Jesus invited his first disciples to “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). Philip invited Nathanael to do the same (Jn 1:46), and the Samaritan woman told the Samaritans, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (Jn 4:29). Each time, sight and hearing led to faith.’
Klink: ‘This royal official, or more specifically, this father with all his paternal sensibilities, is guilty of using Jesus for his own purposes. The criticism is not against signs in total, for what is about to happen is the second sign. Rather, Jesus is criticizing belief that is founded on the witness itself and not on the object of the witness, as well as belief that stems from wrong motivations.’
Klink adds: ‘Let us worship God not for the wonders he can perform but for the wonder that he is.’
So common is this attitude that we have turned it into a proverbial saying: ‘Seeing is believing’. That will be the attitude of Thomas in Jn 20:25.
The centurion had greater faith, for he believed that Jesus could just say the word, and his servant would be healed. See Mt 8:8,10.
This is in contrast to the spectacular success that Jesus experienced in Samaria, where many people believed, not because they had witnessed any miracles, but ‘because of his words’, v41.
See Mt 12:38f; and 1 Cor 1:22 for Paul’s comment.
Some commentators think that these words of Jesus constitute a positive comment about the role of miracles in producing faith. They would therefore regard them as an indication that Jesus is about to do what the man has asked. But it is probably better to regard this as another instance of the rather common ‘request – rebuff – delayed response’ pattern, and consistent with the hesitation about the role of miraculous signs found in Jn 2:23-25, and with Jesus’ refusal to give miraculous signs (Mk 8:11f).
But this remark does sound more like a rebuke. If so, it reminds us that Jesus was unimpressed with signs-and-wonders faith (cf. Jn 2:23–25; Matt. 7:21–23; 24:4). Our NIV rightly indicates that Jesus’ remark was addressed to the many, and not just to the one, to the spectators who were wanting to witness a marvel, as well as to the one in who was in such great need. ‘It is not so much Jesus’ answer to the nobleman’s request as “a reflection which he makes on the occasion of that request”‘ (Morris, quoting Godet).
Jesus is saying, then, in effect, ‘If I didn’t perform miracles, you wouldn’t have any interest in me.’ Note also Jn 7:1-5 – Jesus remains in Galilee, because in Judea his enemies were lying in wait for him. His brothers try to persuade him to go to Judea, “So that your disciples may see the miracles you do.” But the passages concludes, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
‘Some Christian movements specialize in the promotion of signs and wonders in order to elicit faith. Jesus seems to caution such promotion. The health-and-wealth prosperity gospels and some “Word-Faith” movements are placed under serious question by Jesus’ ministry almost everywhere in the Gospels and specifically in these verses.’ (Bruner)
Bruner comments that signs-and-wonders faith is ‘sunshine faith’, which believes when all is going well but falters when the going gets tough. The seed falling in rocky places Matt. 13:5–6 and 20–21 represents this kind of faith. More than that, it focuses on the gift, rather than the Giver; on the sign rather than the One signified.
The royal official believed without seeing. Cf Jesus words in Jn 20:29.
‘If the man had been toying with the idea of viewing Jesus as a wonder-working, cure-all magician, Jesus stopped him immediately in any such pattern of thinking.’ (NAC)
‘Jesus’ reply is at first sight rather harsh. But it is addressed to a wider audience than the officer as the plural “ye” indicates…Jesus is affirming that people such as the man who had come to him were lacking in that deep trustful attachment which is of the essence of faith. They looked for the spectacular, and were linked to him only by a love for the sensational.’ (Leon Morris)
We might regard this as an attempt to get the man to examine his faith (as in Mt 15:24). As Bruner says, ‘our text may be asking us implicitly, as John 2:23–25 might seem more explicitly to have asked us: How trustworthy is a “faith” in Jesus that depends on Jesus being obviously miraculous? Would such miracle faith, e.g., be able to sustain his Cross and its very unmiraculous shame?’
‘Glassius thinks that our Lord, in these words, intends to contrast the faith of the Samaritans with the unbelief of the Galileans. The Samaritans believed without having seen any signs or wonders at all.’ (Ryle)
‘In John’s Gospel, too much interest in the raw miracles themselves is spiritually dangerous, Jn 2:23-25; 6:26. Miracles cannot compel genuine faith, e.g. Jn 11:45f. But the apologetic value of miracles, though often exaggerated, should not be despised: Jesus himself can encourage faith on that basis, especially amongst those too skeptical to trust his word, Jn 10:28; 14:11.’ (Carson)
Wright likens the story that John is unfolding to a treasure hunt with clues. The trouble is, people have become too fascinated with the clues for their own sakes, and haven’t followed them to the treasure itself. Or, suggests Wright, they are behaving like car drivers in a town that has been equipped with a new set of traffic signs: instead of using the signs to get around, they are getting out of their cars to admire the signs, and so actually clogging up the flow of traffic.
The problem was not with their desire to see miracles; but rather with the refusal to believe unless miracles are seen. How many of us have said to God, in effect, ‘Just give me this one thing and I will be believe.’ As Milne says, ‘the request may concern the provision of a life-partner, an employment opportunity, the resolution of some conflict, the elimination of the consequences of failure or escape from some acute danger. The list is endless.’ Of course, God in his goodness may choose to grant such requests, but a ‘faith’ that sets conditions is not true faith at all. ‘Such spurious faith fails to honour God, since by it he serves us rather than the other way round.’
Bruner cites Schnell: ‘John consistently (cf., e.g., Jn 2:4) understands Jesus as one who “does not reject the miraculous as such but rather rejects any demand for a miraculous sign and wonder.” Like the other Evangelists, Schnelle concluded, “John confronts the crass demand for a sign by pointing alone to the sign of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 2:18–22).” We recall Jesus’ same referral to his Death-Resurrection, “the sign of Jonah,” as the sole sign he would give to a skeptical world (in Matt. 12:38–40 and Mt 16:1–4 and pars.).’
Milne notes that as in other recorded cases of apparent brusqueness, Jesus’ reply leads to a fuller and more earnest responses (see Jn 2:4; Mt 7:27). Such persistence was actively encouraged by Jesus in one of his parables (Lk 18:1-17).
Note that the official doesn’t say a word about Jesus’ rebuff. He doesn’t say, “Don’t you know who I am? Who do you think you are?”
‘If only we were only as prompt, and earnest, and urgent in the matter of the soul as we are in that of the body, how much better would it be with us all!’ (Taylor)
“Sir, come down before my child dies” – Previously, the man had referred to his ‘son’. Now, he uses the diminutive, ‘my little one’.
Whereas the rate of child (age 0-5) mortality in a modern wealthy country would be less than 1%, in ancient Israel it was up to 50%.
‘The royal official is not interested in Christology or fulfilled prophecy or even in signs and wonders; he is interested in the well-being of his child.’ (Carson)
But he has underestimated the Saviour in two ways: he does not think that Jesus can heal at a distance, and he does not think that Jesus can raise the dead. It has been observed that the official did not bring faith, but only a spark of faith, to Jesus.
“You may go” – or, rather, the more abrupt, “Go”.
“Your son will live” – lit. ‘Your son lives’ (so AV, NKJB, NASB, The Message). And it is true that the child recovered at the very moment that Jesus spoke these words (cf. v53). Bruner says that there is a remarkable depth to the simple word zē. In context, it includes the meaning of ‘he is alive and well’.
‘Jesus’ words impose a stiff test. He gives the man no sign. The officer has nothing but Jesus’ bare word. But this is enough’ (Morris).
Long-distance miracles are rare by (for example) OT standards. They would have been regarded as more extraordinary than those performed close at hand. The point here, however, has to do with the seeker’s faith in his power.
‘In the ancient world miracles and acts of power were linked to the presence of the miracle worker, but here the healer refused to be present.The story therefore is an important illustration of the purpose for which John wrote the Gospel. Here believing the word is linked with not immediately seeing the sign (cf. Jn 20:30-31; but note Jn 20:29 also).’ (NAC)
The official said, “Sir, come, because my little child is dying,” v49. Jesus replied, “Go, because your son will live.”
‘Jesus gives life in a simple human sentence to a desperate human father. Jesus’ sentence apparently shoots across the miles to distant Capernaum and cures a child. How is that possible? Can a spoken word have such reach and power? We live by this expectation in the Church.’ (Bruner)
The man took Jesus at his word and departed – ‘As in the earlier sign at Cana, attention is thereby focused on Jesus’ powerful word, which is able to effect signs, and the necessity of openness and obedience to that word.’ (Lincoln)
‘The fact that he set off home, without insisting that Jesus come with him from Cana, up in the hills, to Capernaum, down by the lake, is a clear indication that his faith didn’t happen because he saw miracles, but because he heard Jesus’ word.’ (Wright)
Wright adds: ‘The distinction between believing because we’ve seen something and believing on the strength of Jesus’ words remains important throughout the gospel. It reaches its final dramatic statement in Jesus’ gentle rebuke to Thomas in Jn 20:29: “Have you believed because you’ve seen? Blessed are those who haven’t seen, and yet believe!”‘
Kruse notes that such faith – believing without seeing – is also found in Jn 1:47–49; 2:5–10; 4:39–42, 50; 9:35–38. See also Heb 11:1.
‘Although the royal official, like the Galileans, wanted signs and wonders as proof, Jesus gave him only one thing: his word. No visible angels, no flaming bush, no fire in the sky to lead him home, no star above his son’s bed—just the word of the Word. And the narrative is specific in announcing to the reader that the royal official “believed” it. The man believed the word of Jesus, that is, he trusted in who he is and what he said he would do. The contemporary Christian has no other calling than to trust in his word. Do you believe Jesus is who he says he is? Do you believe he will do what he says he will do? Then go!’ (Klink)
4:51 While he was on his way down, his slaves met him and told him that his son was going to live. 4:52 So he asked them the time when his condition began to improve, and they told him, “Yesterday at one o’clock in the afternoon the fever left him.” 4:53 Then the father realized that it was the very time Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he himself believed along with his entire household.
On the way – lit. ‘going down’ – Cana being in the hills, and Capernaum by the lake of Galilee.
He inquired as to the time when his son got better…”yesterday at the seventh hour” – The inquiry is a general one (“When did he start to be better?”; but the response is specific, pinpointing the very time ‘the fever left him’.
The seventh hour – One o’clock in the afternoon, by the Jewish method of reckoning time.
On the general timescale, Michaels suggests: ‘The official may have begun the seventeen-mile trip from Cana to Capernaum immediately and stopped overnight on the way, perhaps at Magdala. The servants would probably not have gone out with the good news until the next day, when the boy was safely out of danger.’ (UBCS)
This was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live” – The fact that the recovery was so rapid, and occurred at that precise time, indicates that it was miraculous, and not due to natural processes.
‘The time confirmation meant that the father/official “realized” or knew (Jn 4:53, a Johannine theme) the healing was directly connected with Jesus. This confirmation of the healing led the man to believe (Jn 4:53). The mention of a multistage believing pattern on the part of the man (“believed,” Jn 4:50, and then “believed,” after confirmation of the time, 4:53) should not trouble western readers because the evangelist was fully aware of stages within the believing pattern of persons related to Jesus. Many Christians have developed single-dimension theories of believing that in fact contradict growth patterns of believing in personal experience as well as biblical perspectives. Theology must be related to actual life patterns if it is to be authentic.’ (NAC)
He and his household believed – See Acts 10:2; 11:14; 16:15,31; 18:8. As Ryle remarks, it was his son’s affliction which led him to Christ, and he and his household to faith in Christ. ‘It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees’ (Ps. 119:71; cf. Heb. 12:11).
‘He was not a man who got out of Christ what he wanted and then went away to forget. He and all his household believed. That would not be easy for him, for the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One of God must have cut across all his preconceived notions. Nor would it be easy at the court of Herod to profess faith in Jesus. He would have mockery and laughter to endure; and no doubt there would be those who thought that he had gone slightly mad.’ (Barclay)
A double miracle. In addition to the healing of the boy, we may observe another miracle here. There is a miracle of faith in the father. He moves from hearsay belief, to desperation, to conviction, and finally to personal faith. ‘Cyril observes on this verse, that our Lord here healed two persons at one time by the same words, “He brought the nobleman’s mind to faith, and delivered the body of the young man from disease”‘ (Ryle). Of this double miracle, Quesnel observes: ‘on the distant body of the son, and on the invisible heart of the father.’
Contagious faith. ‘When one person believes, an entire city at most, an entire family at least, can be brought within the ambit of Jesus’ believing community.’ (Bruner)
‘If, as some suppose, he is the same as Chuza, Herod’s steward, we may perhaps date the conversion of Joanna his wife, to the period of the verse now before us.’ (Ryle)
4:54 Jesus did this as his second miraculous sign when he returned from Judea to Galilee.
This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee – The second, that is performed in Galilee (cf. Jn 2:11). Jesus had performed signs in Judea, Jn 2:23, and the Galileans themselves had witnessed more while in the south, Jn 4:45. The remaining ‘signs’ reported by John are not numbered.
This numbering of the two signs is especially significant, given that the text lacked chapter divisions. Such literary divisions are, therefore, to be carefully noted.
‘This second ‘sign’ thus builds on the first. Jesus’ glory is revealed in his mastery of the personal afflictions which threaten human life, as well as of the inanimate forces of nature.’ (Milne)
‘In both cases there is divine power at work, but there is a progression. There there was a mighty miracle where Jesus was: her a healing at a distance. There there was a transformation in things (water to wine); here life is given to a boy as good as dead.’ (Morris)
Wiersbe remarks that the first miracle demonstrates our Lord’s power over time: he is able to do in an instant what would normally take weeks to happen. The second shows his power over space: his ability to heal is not constrained by distance.
‘The healing miracle finds a close parallel in the synoptic cure of the centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:4-13) and the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). Both are cures effected at a distance. In John the miracle serves to display the new life promised by Jesus in the preceding discourses (Jn 3:16; 4:14, 36). In Cana, as in Samaria, Jesus hopes to inspire belief (v. 50) and in this case, the official’s son is saved (v. 51). The Johannine account underscores one feature of the miracle: Jesus’ word is powerful and effectual. The very hour of healing is the hour of Jesus’ utterance (v. 52). This combination of miracle and belief (vv. 50, 53) is what distinguishes the Johannine term sign. The powerful works of Jesus are designed to evoke a response, to reveal who Jesus is. They are signs that lead elsewhere-to faith. This is the intent of the signs in Cana, Jerusalem, Samaria, and again in Cana. This is the aim that John has even for his reader of the “Book of Signs.” “Many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name” (Jn 2:23).’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)
‘The fact that the healing of the official’s son is designated as the second sign and none of the other signs in the Gospel are numbered also seems to indicate that the evangelist wanted these two signs to be seen as related to each other in a special way. The fact that the two signs move our thinking in a cycle from Cana to Cana argues that John wanted the two stories to form an inclusio. The focus of this story, as with each of the Cana Cycle stories, is on believing. The point of this story is that it illustrates a new dimension of believing: namely, a believing without the immediacy of seeing. Accordingly, it foreshadows the concluding words of Thomas about believing without seeing (Jn 20:29).’ (NAC)
Lincoln concludes: ‘The Fourth Gospel employs this story as part of its portrayal of Jesus as the bestower of life. The first sign at Cana with its extravagant provision of wine showed Jesus as the divine giver of the abundant life of the new age. The significance of the second sign is similar…Jesus’ giving or restoring of human life in the face of death points to his giving of divine life. What is more, his divine power is revealed in his ability to heal without any physical contact and at a considerable distance from the person involved. In the Logos was life and now through the mere word of the incarnate Logos healing takes place. The official’s model response indicates that, if the life Jesus brings is to be experienced, what is essential is belief in his word. This is the sort of faith that entails not merely remaining impressed by the signs but risking trust in the one who performs them.’
Barnes: ‘We may learn from this, 1st. That sickness or any deep affliction is often the means of great good. Here the sickness of the son resulted in the faith of all the family. God often takes away earthly blessings that he may impart rich spiritual mercies. 2d. The father of a family may be the means of the salvation of his children. Here the effort of a parent resulted in their conversion to Christ. 3d. There is great beauty and propriety when sickness thus results in piety. For that it is sent. God does not willingly grieve or afflict the children of men; and when afflictions thus terminate, it will be cause of eternal joy, of ceaseless praise. 4th. There is a peculiar charm when piety thus comes into the families of the rich and the noble. It is so unusual; their example and influence go so far; it overcomes so many temptations, and affords opportunities of doing so much good, that there is no wonder that the evangelist selected this instance as one of the effects of the power and of the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.’
Do I want Jesus for what he can give me, or for himself?
Looking back over the first four chapters, Boice declares: ‘These truths are for everyone. That is the burden of this first great section of John’s Gospel. What has John done? He has shown Jesus at work in the three major sections of his world—Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. He has shown him with the rich and the poor, with the educated and the uneducated, with Jews and Samaritans, with religious leaders and those who show no religious orientation at all. He has shown him as the “light of the world,” “the lamb that takes away the sin of the world,” “the Savior of the world.” In other words, he has shown us that the gospel is for everyone. Thus, the gospel is for you also, whoever you may be.’