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A common error made by readers of the New Testament is to approach the four Gospels, especially John, as primarily historical texts. Although they do contain much history, their main purpose was to persuade various audiences that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the literal Son of God. – the long-awaited Messiah. The Gospel of John is a magnificent example of persuasive writing. He presents his witness of selected truths about the Savior which he desires to impress upon all who will listen to his words.
The Wedding at Cana
After Jesus was baptized, he performed his first miracle, changing water to wine at a wedding feast in Cana. A little background is needed to understand what is going on here. At weddings in the Near East at that time, people would stay at least a week and up to two or two and a half weeks as guests, and it was a matter of great embarrassment to those in charge of the feast if the needs of the guests went unheeded. (In fact, some sources report that a guest could sue the host if he was not cared for properly.)
Marriage with a maiden usually took place on a Wednesday, which allowed the first days of the week for preparation, and enabled the husband, if he had any complaint about the chastity of his bride, to make immediate complaint before the local Sanhedrin, which sat every Thursday. Jewish men were usually married at 18 to girls about 14.
Scholars generally feel that some member of the family was being married, and that Mary, Jesus’s mother, was supervising and guiding what went on. A third century text was found which contained, in the introduction, evidence that this was the wedding of John, the son of Zebedee. This would explain Mary’s involvement at her sister’s son’s wedding.
John 2:4 “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” The Savior’s response to His mother’s request for help might seem abrupt to our 21st century ears.When Jesus uses the term “Woman,” He uses it as a term of affection or devotion. It is the same term He uses when He speaks to His mother while on the cross when requesting that the apostle John care for this mother. The English makes it sound rather disrespectful. The JST translation clarifies the situation greatly. The Greek says literally, “what to me and to you” which essentially meant, “What do you want me to do?” The Savior’s words to His mother may be viewed as a subtle, yet tender, way for Him to tell her that while His hour had not yet come,” He was now making the transition from being the son of Mary to fulfilling His role as the Son of God (see New Testament Institute Manual).
Wine was an integral part of the wedding celebration. [Throughout this article, you will notice I have included many questions in bold type. This is intentional, and I hope they might prove useful to Sunday school teachers in encouraging discussion in their classes.] What is the symbolism of wine in the scriptures and in the ancient Near Eastern culture?
One Bible scholar reports that wine symbolizes life, blood, and partaking of life. Wine is filled with life (Erwin R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period). The wedding feast itself has Messianic symbolism, where LORD (Hebrew: Jehovah) will bring new wine to “feast of fat things”. . . “in this holy mountain” (Isaiah 25:6). Think of the symbolism of the sacrament. We drink a liquid that represents the Divinity of the Savior. His blood is represented by the water or the wine. We drink and eat to partake of His divinity. Its purpose is to enliven us! The time for the real wine has not yet come, so Jesus performs this “sign.”
John 2:6 According to Jewish tradition, vessels made of stone retained their ritual purity, while ceramic vessels could become ritually impure. The water in the stone water pots was used for the many ritual purifications necessitated by the law of Moses. A firkin was about nine gallons, so two to three firkins meant that each pot held 25 gallons apiece, for a total 150 gallons. According to the Jews, seven is the number which is complete and finished, and six is the number which is incomplete and unfinished. (Barclay’s Study Bible, available online on various websites)
What can we learn from this symbolism? The situation begs the question, “Could one be cleansed completely through Judaism?” The six stone water pots stand for all the imperfections of the Jewish law. Jesus came to do away with the imperfections of this law and to put in their place the new wine of the gospel. It took the Atonement and the blood of Christ, symbolized through wine, to totally cleanse a soul and make it pure.
The Cleansing of the Temple
The synoptic Gospels relate that Jesus cleansed the temple after entering Jerusalem during the last week of His mortal life (see Matthew 21:12–16; Mark 11:15–18; Luke 19:45–48). The account in John 2:13–22 may refer to the same event, which John decided to relate early in his Gospel, or it may refer to an earlier cleansing of the temple that occurred near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. Differences in language between John’s account and the others suggest that there may well have been two cleansings, the second of which so enraged the chief priests and scribes that they sought to destroy Jesus (see Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47; Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:636).
Why did the temple need cleansing? Why was Jesus so incensed with the condition of His Father’s house?
Passover was one of the three required feasts in Jewish law. (The other two were Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles.) Sacrifices had to be offered at the temple by every male who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the population of Jerusalem during Passover would swell from 50,000 to 2 million. There were approximately 250,000 lambs slaughtered at this time. A week’s stay was required, and many stayed for the entire feast season – from Passover until Pentecost, which lasted fifty days.
Temple coinage was required for use in the annual half shekel temple offering. Roman coins were considered unclean, and many of the pilgrims coming to the temple, had different denominations of coins. Those who brought their own sacrificial animals had to have them examined for a fee for Levitical fitness. Oxen, sheep, and doves could be purchased. However, where a pair of doves cost 5 pennies outside the temple, the fee inside the temple was 75 pennies. Rather than having this marketplace outside the temple, business was conducted right in the Court of the Gentiles! What should have been a sacred place was lost in physical filth, noise, and spiritual degeneracy.
John 2:13-16 What feelings do you think Jesus felt when he cleared the temple courtyard? What is the difference between anger and righteous indignation? (D&C 121:41-44) How can we know if our reproofs of family members or others are made in the right spirit?
John 2:17 When Jesus cleared the temple, His disciples remembered a prophecy recorded in Psalm 69:9, “The zeal of thine house hath consumed me.” [Thomas Wayment translation] This scripture teaches that Jesus’s zeal – meaning His fervent love – for His Father and His Father’s house had aroused in Him a righteous indignation that the temple was being used as a house of merchandise. (New Testament Institute Manual)
Notice that when Jesus drove out those doing business in the temple courts, He did not do it in a flash of anger. He carefully took the time to make a whip of cords, and thought carefully about what He would do. Notice the reaction of the people to Jesus’s clearing of the temple. There were no Roman soldiers sent to keep the peace. No one calls for Jesus’s arrest. There is no public outcry. Why?
Alfred Edersheim (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) reports that the temple-market was at this time very unpopular. The people knew of the prevalence of the dishonest behavior of the priests who were abusing their authority and profiting from their monopoly. The outer court of the temple was the only place where Gentiles could come and worship. (The whole account is available for study at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.v.html#fnf_viii.v-p44.1)
Frederic Farrar (The Life of Christ, chapter 8) adds another insight. He says that there was no protest because sin is weakness. “Nothing in this world is as abject as a guilty conscience, nothing so invincible as the sweeping tide of a Godlike indignation against all that is base and wrong… Because Vice cannot stand for one moment before Virtue’s uplifted arm, these money-mongering Jews felt in all that remnant of their souls which was not yet eaten away by infidelity and avarice, that the Son of Man was right.”
The leaders of the Jews asked Him to show a sign to prove He had authority to force those who were desecrating the temple out of His Father’s house. (See John 2:18) John 2:19-21 The requested sign is given. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Those surrounding him had no idea of the meaning of this sign. It was unthinkable that he could rebuild the temple at Jerusalem in only three days! The Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You will raise it up in only three days?” Herod was trying to win the Jews favor by finishing their temple. It had been in the process of restoration for 46 years, and it still was far from complete. Restoration was begun in 19 BC and was not completed until 64 AD. To make such a statement was completely illogical!
President Russell M. Nelson explains what these Jews did not understand – that the Savior was actually speaking about the power to lay down His life and to take it up again: “This great priesthood power of resurrection is vested in the Lord of this world. He taught that ‘all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth’(Matt. 28:18). … This power he subtly proclaimed when he said unto the Jews:
‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. … But he spake of the temple of his body.’ The keys of the Resurrection repose securely with our Lord and Master. He said: ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live’ [John 11:25]”
Just as the Jewish purification rites could not purify and only the atonement could purify, so the Jewish temple could not bring the people to the Father as Jesus could bring them to the Father.
John 2:23 tells us that “many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.” Jesus knew that miracles were not a strong foundation for true faith. Such “faith” was not based on anything but admiration for the spectacular. This superficial belief was a beginning, but it did not warrant Jesus committing Himself to them. In Greek, the word has the connotation of “entrust.” He knew what was in the hearts of men. The KJV John 2:24 is changed from “Jesus knew all men” to “Jesus knew all things” in the JST. He knew that miracles alone were not a good thing on which to base faith.
As John gave the invitation to “come and see” in the first chapter of his gospel, we now have occasion to see an individual who did not see clearly. Nicodemus is not mentioned by other gospel writers. What message is John trying to convey by the inclusion of this episode?
John 3:1-2 Who is Nicodemus? What does “ruler of the Jews” mean?
At this time, the Sanhedrin was the highest court in Judea and regulated the affairs of the Jewish nation in both civil and ecclesiastical matters. The Romans granted them a considerable amount of self-government. Its membership consisted of Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests. Nicodemus, apparently, was one of its seventy-one members.
Why did Nicodemus wait until dark to go see the Savior? John tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, and we are left to assume the meeting took place in a house owned or occupied by John in Jerusalem. If so, the interview may well have taken place in the guest chamber on the roof which would have been accessible via outside stairs. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and a member of the powerful Sanhedrin was impressed by this new rabbi whose miracles bore testimony that he had divine power. Yet, he wished to investigate the gospel in secret, lest his associates in the Sanhedrin turn against him and he lose his influence. So, he sneaked up the stairs at night when he would not be recognized. It was a most compromising step for a Sanhedrist to take! Yet these expressions stop short of total respect, and Nicodemus fails to move on to the next level by addressing Jesus as “prophet” of “Messiah.”
We might consider the ramifications of these questions… What would it take for a man of such stature in the Sanhedrin to acknowledge an untrained Galilean as a teacher from God and to seek his counsel on Jewish theology?
The plural pronoun “we” that Nicodemus used could represent two different things. His use of the plural pronoun makes his inquiry less personal. The fact that he may not be taking direct responsibility for his question further supports the case for his timidity. The use of this expression could also mean that not only he, but others wished to investigate this rabbi. He had much to lose by his association with this man. He was hesitant to come to Jesus in the light of day. But at least Nicodemus came.
Jesus is quick to his purpose. Without any further formal interchange, Jesus jumps right into the issue of spiritual rebirth. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). What is Jesus implying by this response to Nicodemus’s statement? That miracles are not a good foundation for testimony? What is necessary? Total commitment – both physical and spiritual.
John 3:4 How did Nicodemus misinterpret Jesus’s statement that a person must be born again to see the kingdom of God? How could he, a rich educated, master in Israel ask such a ludicrous question, which is either ridiculous or insulting? Up to this point, Nicodemus bluntly confesses his lack of understanding. I wonder what the Savior could have been thinking… He returns his own terse question – “Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?” (v. 10). “Master of Israel” can also be interpreted as “teacher of Israel.” Juxtaposing this next to Nicodemus’s calling Jesus a “teacher come from God,” His reply has a sting to it. Jesus implies that although Nicodemus has had a witness that His teachings are “from God,” he has not accepted this spiritually witness and will not be able to understand the spiritual things he is explaining. Nicodemus has interpreted this statement literally. Literal, as in “of the world,” as opposed to “of the Spirit.” Jesus explains that the things he says can only be understood through the Spirit.
Jesus gives Nicodemus another chance to understand his symbolic words, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Jesus first invited this man to see the kingdom of God, now he invites him to enter it. We might do well to liken this verse unto ourselves. What does it mean to be born again? Do you think being born again is a process or a one-time event? We must be born again and again and again. Often a person will be born again to one aspect of the gospel, but it must be repeated again and again.
Jesus decides to use an example that Nicodemus can understand. Nicodemus has been looking beyond the mark because he does not have the spiritual eyes to see what spiritual birth means. The Savior helps him see what the mark is by using an analogy from nature. John 3:7-8 See ft. 8a. In both Hebrew and Greek, wind (ruach) and spirit(pneuma) are the same word. Jesus is making a play on words here. Jesus wisely illustrates the way the Spirit works with the way we experience the wind. He uses something that is very familiar to Nicodemus, and draws a parallel to something on a higher plane. What about the wind is similar to how the Spirit operates? You cannot see the wind, but you can see its effects. Sometimes the wind is a powerful gust, and sometimes it is a gentle breeze. Spiritual rebirth is just like that. Paul’s experience is dramatic, and he is powerfully reborn almost immediately. But most often spiritual rebirth is a gradual process. Jesus takes a secular man like Nicodemus and shows him something spiritual. Like the wind, the influences of the Holy Ghost certainly cannot be demanded or coerced. We cannot force spiritual things, nor can we cavalierly announce that the congregation is “about to have a spiritual experience.”
Here in the mission field, our 19-year old missionaries deal with this all the time. The adjectives that describe Nicodemus can also be applied to the people in Southern California – spiritually blind, taught incorrect doctrines, literal versus spiritual, very much “of the world,” a little uncomfortable with spiritual things, fearful of the implications of accepting the message. This is the secular world and we are trying to lead them to seek a spiritual one. This doesn’t work too well. We can learn from the way that Jesus approaches people. He discerns where people are, and then goes from there. We will see this more in the next chapter.
One of the most powerful presentations utilizing the Nicodemus theme was given by Spencer W. Kimball in General Conference, April 1958. He began:
“Eternal life is the greatest gift. To obtain it is not easy. The price is high. Nicodemus of old enquired the price. The answer perplexed him. Let us interview that good man who came so near and yet evidently missed the mark.
Your name is Nicodemus? You are a member of the powerful sect of the Pharisees? You are a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin?
“It is night now. You have not been seen. You are addressing our Lord…
What made you refer to our Master as “a teacher come from God”? Do you not believe in prophets? Have you not all your life waited for a Redeemer? After all his sermons, testimonies, and miracles, is he still only an inspired teacher to you? Could he not be the long-awaited Christ? Have you tried to believe and accept, or are you bound down with fetters of tradition, chains of materialism, and handcuffs of loseable prestige? O timid one, awaken, exert yourself, draw back the curtains your training and background have hung over the windows of your soul! You are speaking to no ordinary man, no common philosopher, no mere prophet. You are in the presence of the real Messiah, the great physician, the master psychiatrist, the very Christ. You are questioning the maker of heaven and earth, the Son of God.”
After repeating the entire conversation between the two, elder Kimball summarized his point with this:
“My heart weeps for you, friend Nicodemus. You seem such a good man, philanthropic, kind, generous. You could have been such a power in the Lord’s kingdom. You had a spark of desire. It could have been kindled into a living flame. You might have been one of his seventies, to proselyte as an advance agent, or an apostle, or even the President of his Church… How little we realize the doors of opportunity which we oft close with one wrong decision. But the price was too high, wasn’t it?”
Then Elder Kimball got more personal: “If any of you, my listeners, is a modern Nicodemus, I beg of you to grasp the new world of truths. Your Lord Jesus Christ pleads with you.” (In Conference Report, April 1958, 13-17) To John, and Elder Kimball, the issue was about the cost of discipleship.
Will a true disciple respond to the promptings of the Spirit or will he hesitate?
Why do we occasionally base our decisions on the desire for position, honor, security or peer acceptance rather than what is right?
Can you think of a time that you based a decision on what was right rather than what others would think?
How can we become more committed to making decisions for the right reasons?
It is apparent that, thereafter, Nicodemus believed in Christ and supported the gospel cause. John records that he brought spices to prepare Jesus’s body for burial (John 19:38-42). Tradition says that after the resurrection (which would supply the last outward impulse necessary to confirm his faith and increase his courage), he became a professed disciple of Christ, and received baptism from Peter and John – that the Jews then stripped him of his office, beat him, and drove him from Jerusalem. He was given shelter from his kinsman Gamaliel, in his country house until his death and was given a burial near the body of Stephen.
The Savior spoke to Nicodemus about “earthly things”—like birth and the wind—in order to lift his understanding toward “heavenly things”—like conversion and the Spirit (John 3:12).
The Serpent on a Pole
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). To what Old Testament event did Jesus refer? Follow the footnote to this scripture2 Ne. 25:20and then cross reference to Nu. 21:4-9. The Book of Mormon sheds further light on this event. (Helaman 8:13-15) Jesus used an Old Testament event to foretell his crucifixion. We might wonder about why this imagery is used by Moses. After the children of Israel were bitten by fiery flying serpents, many of them died. Moses takes a nas, upon which tribal emblems can be hung, and places a serpent upon it. In the ancient world, whenever you conquered an enemy, you cut his head off and put it on a stick, to show your dominance over him. This symbolized that the serpent had been vanquished. The people could be healed if they but looked upon the pole. Today, we all agree this is a symbol of Christ, and how he hung upon a cross to bring about his victory over death.
The medical profession has, as its emblem, the Caduceus, a rod with two snakes entwined upon it. If you are teaching, you might consider showing a picture of the Caduceus or drawing it on the board. None of the Wikipedia research acknowledges the origin or this symbol as biblical, but it is hard for me to imagine there is not some tie-in with this ancient symbol of healing. In the ancient world the serpent is also a symbol of the resurrection. As a snake sheds his skin, the old is renewed. [Caduceus: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439707/]
John 3:14-15 Who can be saved, according to this scripture? John’s answer is“whosoever” – anyone who believes can be saved. Who did the Jews (and Nicodemus) think could be saved? Only the Jews.
The Book of Mormon adds another interpretation to this story. In Lehi’s dream, what is the fruit on the tree of life? (1 Ne. 11:20-22, 1 Ne. 8:10). In verse 20, Nephi is shown a baby, and in the next verse he explains that he understands the tree to be the love of God, and the manifestation of that love is the precious fruit hanging on it. If the cross represents a tree, what is the fruit that is hung on it? The symbolism cannot be missed.
As the Savior continued to teach Nicodemus, He expressed important truths about His redeeming mission. He used the symbol of the serpent that Moses had raised in the wilderness to teach about His Crucifixion and Atonement. As Israel had looked to the symbol of the serpent in order to be healed from the bites of poisonous serpents, so the Jewish people were encouraged to look to their Redeemer, who would be lifted up on the cross, and they would live because of Him (See 3 Nephi 27:13-14). The serpent was a symbol of Jesus Christ, who the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
John now presents us with a literary foil:
In John 3 we see one of the highest members of society at night.
In John 4 we see one of the lowest members of society in the day.
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
In order to fully understand this episode, some background information is necessary. While Jesus stayed in Judea, the Pharisees became so antagonistic towards Jesus that they sought to kill him. (See JST John 4:2) Because of increased persecution in Jerusalem, Jesus left for Galilee, the land of his youth. Most people who went from Jerusalem to the Galilee went the long way around, through Perea and up the Jordan valley, because it was safer and allowed them to avoid the Samaritans, a people the Jews had despised for centuries. However, Jesus traveled through Samaria, testifying to a woman at Jacob’s well and then to other Samaritans. Many of these people believed in His word, an attitude that contrasted sharply with reactions from His own people in Judea and Galilee. Jesus stayed in Samaria two days, teaching his disciples and testifying to a growing number of Samaritans.
The Samaritans were primarily a race of aliens, descended from a people transplanted there by the Assyrians when they took much of the northern kingdom captive in 722 BC. They thought of themselves as Israelite, notwithstanding, because they had mixed with the remnant of the Jewish population that was left in the area (although notably, these were not known as the top echelon of the society.) Their worship, originally a compromise with heathenism, was now purely Jewish in form, and Edersheim calls it “spurious Judaism.” It consisted of their former [pagan] superstitions combined with Jewish doctrines and rites. They kept the Sabbath, and the Jewish feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) and observed circumcision and other traditional ordinances. Of the Old Testament, they accepted only the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of Moses, which they interpreted to mean the erection of a temple on Mt. Gerazim. (330 BC) They claimed their own high priest, and their own priestly administrators. In the troublesome time of Antiochus Epiphanes, they repudiated all connection with Israel, and dedicated their temple to Jupiter. The Samaritans did not recognize prophets, but looked for a Messiah who was to come.
It must be concluded, therefore, that although Jesus was on his way to Galilee to do a greater work, he chose to utilize his travel time and bear witness of his divinity to the Samaritans. The fact that he chose to go through Samaria to preach his gospel conveys a message that his gospel is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.
John 4:5 Jacob’s well was located in the “parcel of ground” that, according to Samaritan tradition, Jacob gave his son Joseph. It measured seven to eight feet in diameter and was 150 feet deep. Jesus was hungry and tired, and his disciples had gone to get food in the village. Possibly John, the author of this incident remained to accompany the Savior.
“It was about the sixth hour.” (John 4:6) Time was reckoned from sunrise and divided into 12 portions, so the sixth hour was about noon. Women customarily gathered at the village well in the morning and late afternoon to get water and catch up on the latest news of the village. They used the necessity of this daily task to as an occasion to socialize and visit with friends. What would compel a woman to come alone during the hottest part of the day? The Samaritan woman who went to the well and spoke with Jesus may have come at this unusual time to avoid the women of the village, who may have shunned her as a sinner. If her history is as it is implied from v. 18, these evening visits with the other women would hardly have been pleasant.
In order to fully understand these verses, we need to read the white spaces between the words that are spoken. We would do well to consider what is different in this meeting than in the meeting with Nicodemus in the previous chapter. In contrast to the night visit of Nicodemus, this meeting was unsought. While Nicodemus was a member of the highest class of Jewish society, this was a Sinful, Samaritan Woman, condemned on all three counts.
Jesus’s request, “Give me to drink,” was a natural request on the part of the thirsty traveler, since the woman had come to draw from the well. (The Rabbis later declared Samaritan food as like eating “swine’s flesh,” but at this time it was accounted clean.)
The woman was surprised by Jesus’ request (John 4:9) because Jews customarily had no contact with Samaritans and rabbis did not ordinarily talk to single women. Jesus had broken down the traditional barrier by asking a favor. The woman must have been surprised, hearing his speech, and undoubtedly seeing his dress, and possibly the fringes at the border of his garment, signifying that he was a Jew. Even Jesus’s disciples “marveled that he talked with the woman” (John 4:27). But, apparently, Jesus did not consider Samaritans to be outcasts.
The Savior told the woman that, although he was asking her for a drink of water from this well, had the tables been turned, Jesus would have given her “living water,” that would be “a well of water spring up into everlasting life” (John 4:10, 14). The phrase “living water” is used throughout the scriptures to refer to the Savior. The woman asks Jesus how he could give “living water,” when it was “our father” Jacob who gave them the well. She asks, “Are you greater than Jacob?” Although she did not know it yet, Jesus is greater than Jacob! By her use of the phrase, “our Father,” we can ascertain that the Samaritans viewed themselves as Israelites. The woman soon ascertained that when Jesus spoke about “living water,” he was actually saying, “You never have to come back! I am not speaking of a well, but of a spring! The woman is intrigued with this idea. How could it be that she never has to draw water again? She calls him “sir,” a term of respect that can also be translated as “lord.”
What is the woman’s response to Jesus’s perception of her very personal marital history? (John 4:16-18). She looks upon him as a prophet. She has a man in her company who can give her straight answers about long-unanswered questions. This next interchange might at first appear to be a non sequitur question, but it is not. Because she perceives this individual to be a prophet, she immediately asked him the age-old question, is Gerazim the correct center of worship, as the Samaritans believed, or is it Jerusalem, as the Jews believed?
Here is some background on her question from the New Testament Institute Manual:
“Toward the end of the sixth century B.C., the Jews rejected the Samaritans’ offer to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4:9-10). Shortly thereafter, Manasseh, a priest from Jerusalem who had married the daughter of Sanballat, the Gentile governor of Samaria, was expelled from the priesthood. He then built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria. This was the mountain referred to by the woman at the well (see Bible Dictionary “Gerizim and Ebal”). During the Hasmonean (Jewish) revolt against the Seleucids in the late second century B.C., the Samaritans refused to aid the Jewish cause. Perhaps as retaliation for this lack of solidarity, John Hyrcanus, a leader of the Hasmonean Jews, destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, and it was never rebuilt. The destruction of this temple added to the animosity that already existed between the Samaritans and Jews.
“When the Samaritan woman came to understand that Jesus was indeed a prophet, she desired to know how she could worship. The Samaritan temple had been destroyed, Samaritans were not welcome in the temple in Jerusalem, and she did not know where she could worship (See John 4:19-20). The Savior taught her that true worship is not limited to a certain place; rather, it is a matter of knowing the truth about who to worship and of having one’s heart devoted to the true God.”
Jesus’s answer to her question reflects information that is far beyond that she had requested or could comprehend. (John 4:20-24) He, in essence, answers that her question is immaterial. Because of his ministry, the religion of the future will sweep away all that is transitory, national, local, and ceremonial. In the future, God will accept only the worship of the spirit and the heart.
When Jesus says that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22) He is alluding to the promises to Abraham and to David and to the historic fact that the gospel was to be preached to all nations “beginning at Jerusalem.”
Although John 4:24 reads: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” this does not mean what it sounds like. The Greek text contains no article before the word spirit. Thus, the Greek phrase can also be understood to mean “God is spirit,” or “God is spiritual” (New Testament Institute Manual). Therefore, the meaning is that God must be worshipped with true inward reverence, as distinguished from mere outward observance. JST, John 4:26 “For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.” Since God is a spiritual being, people must worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” not merely through outward rituals performed at certain locations
“The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.” In John 4:25-26, Jesus proclaimed to the woman that He is the Messiah. This is the first recorded instance in the Gospels of Jesus where He has announced who He was. The Samaritans believed only in the Messiah, not in prophets. If a man could prophecy or perceive secrets, therefore He must be the Messiah. The Samaritan idea of the Messiah was religious, not political. Hence, Jesus could here proclaim himself to be the Messiah without causing a political furor, as it would have among the Jews. The pronoun He was absent in the original text – Jesus simply said, “I am” (see John 4:26, footnote a). By using the expression “I Am,” Jesus was declaring that He is Jehovah. The footnote states that the Greek term used here is identical with the Septuagint usage in Exodus 3:14 which identified Jehovah. (I Am That I Am.”) The Hebrew word for to be is closely related to the Hebrew word for Jehovah. In John 8, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” There are many examples in John’s gospel where proclaims himself using the phrase “I am” – I am the true vine, I am the light of the world, I am the living water, I am the bread of life, I am the door.
After the Samaritan woman had tasted of the “living water” from the Savior, she “left her waterpot” (John 4:28) and went to invite others to partake of the “living water” that He offered. Why does the woman leave her water pot? Why would John have included this detail? When the woman left her water pot, it symbolized her leaving behind of the thoughts of this world. She can think only of sharing the “living water” with others. As they listened to His words and felt of His spirit, “many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him” (John 4:39). They declared, “We have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
When Jesus told His disciples that He was not hungry, He meant that in the joy of seeking to save a sinful soul, his hunger and fatigue had vanished, and he no longer needed the food which his disciples had brought (John 4:34).Apparently, at this very moment, Jesus could see Samaritans coming through the cornfields, and they were ready to be “harvested,” even before the grain which would not be ripe for another four months (John 4:35). [Apparently, Jesus is referring to a phrase that is no longer familiar to us about someone reaping, and another sowing (John 4:37-38). Paul also refers to this in 1 Cor. 3:6.]
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, “These latter days are a time of great spiritual thirst. Many in the world are searching, often intensely, for a source of refreshment that will quench their yearning for meaning and direction in their lives. They crave a cool, satisfying drink of insight and knowledge that will soothe their parched souls. Their spirits cry out for life-sustaining experiences of peace and calm to nourish and enliven their withering hearts.
“… Let us work with all our heart, might, mind, and strength to show our thirsty brothers and sisters where they may find the living water of the gospel, that they may come to drink of the water that springs ‘up unto everlasting life’ [D&C 63:23]. (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU Devotional, Oct. 31, 2000)
John beckons us to come and see, open our spiritual eyes, drink the living water, and leave our water pots to proclaim the glad tidings. Retailers place the products they want to sell fastest at eye level. Visual Merchandising and Shelf Placement is a science. In order to best deliver the good news of the gospel, Jesus also brings things to “I”-level. He reaches out to each individual where they are in the moment. He teaches elementary science to a master of the law. He tells the woman at the well things no one could know, and she has her eyes opened. He masterfully juxtaposes these two stories so that the message will be unmistakable. Every soul needs the gospel of Christ. No one is too righteous or too sinful – everybody needs the message. We need to open our mouths, and like the woman at the well, share it with joy!