What does John 4 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
The gospel of John frequently uses contrast as a teaching tool. In chapter 2, there is a distinction between the joyous, secretive miracle at the wedding (John 2:6–10) and the public, dramatic cleansing of the temple (John 2:13–16). Chapter 3 presents another contrast. This passage moves from the loud, public, confrontational temple incident to a quiet, private, instructional conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1–2).

Chapter 4 once again presents meaningful contrasts. Nicodemus was a man of power and prestige, well educated, and one who sought out Jesus of his own free will. The Samaritan woman mentioned here is poor, outcast even among the outcast Samaritans, and not expecting to meet the Lord at all. Nicodemus needed to be reminded that his knowledge was incomplete (John 3:9–10). The Samaritan woman needed to be confronted with her sin (John 4:17–18), but also encouraged and given value (John 4:23). These contrasts help demonstrate how the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only for all people, in all times, but that it will reach each person wherever they are, spiritually speaking.

The first major portion of the chapter is Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman. Their back-and-forth banter reveals Christ's mastery of personal evangelism. This passage is also an excellent example of the principle of ipsissima vox, or "the very voice" of Scripture. Almost certainly, this conversation involved more words and more time than are recorded here. Rather than a verbatim transcript, John reports the substance of the conversation, probably as related to him by Jesus at some later time. As part of that discussion, Jesus reveals that He knows very personal details about the woman's life (John 4:1–16).

Christ's remark about the woman's troubling lifestyle might seem blunt. The woman immediately tries to change the subject. She is confident and clever, but Jesus knows exactly what she needs to understand. The Savior knows what she has done, and who she is, and seeks her anyway. To worship "in spirit and truth" is the role of a true believer. That Christ seeks all people, despite our former sins or our current circumstances, and wants to make us sincere disciples is the great message of His conversation at the well (John 4:17–26).

When the woman goes into town, Jesus tries to get His disciples to understand the purpose of their mission. This hinges on the idea of reaping and sowing: a process of creating more true believers in Christ. In many cases, one person will lay the early foundations, and a later person will be there to follow through to conclusion. As Jesus is speaking, He apparently sees the people from Sychar coming in a large group. This might have led to a moment of embarrassment. The disciples of Christ went into town as a group and brought no one back to meet the Lord. Yet a single, untrained, outcast, female Samaritan not only told others, but she also brought them to see Jesus face-to-face (John 4:27–38).

This chapter presents a very practical foreshadowing of a command given by Jesus elsewhere in the Scriptures. At this point, Jesus has traveled from Jerusalem (John 2—3), through Judea and into Samaria (John 4). The Samaritans respond to Jesus by proclaiming Him "the Savior of the world." At His ascension, Jesus will declare His disciples to be His witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Just as He had done, He called His followers to do (John 4:39–45).

Chapter 4 also includes the second of seven "signs" recorded in the gospel of John (John 4:54). Part of the lesson in Christ's healing of this official's son is the difference between belief based on miracles and belief rooted in trusting faith. Jesus essentially forces the man to demonstrate actual trust, which is validated soon afterward. While this miracle is more open than that at the wedding, it is still relatively quiet. Later miracles will become more public, more spectacular, and invite more hostility from the local religious leaders (John 4:46–54).
Verse Context:
John 4:1–4 explains Jesus' decision to travel away from Jerusalem, heading back towards Galilee. The primary reason is to avoid conflict with the Pharisees, for now. The shortest path is through Samaria. Yet most Jews would have chosen to detour east, avoiding the hated Samaritans entirely. However, Jesus is not only committed to the Father's timeline, but He is also submissive to the Father's will. Christ ''had to'' take this route to cooperate with that mission. His discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well implies a divine purpose for His visit.
John 4:5–26 describes one of the most famous moments in Jesus' earthly ministry. Here, He converses with a Samaritan woman. She is not only an ''unclean'' Samaritan, but also an outcast among her own people. At first, she attempts to avoid Jesus' teachings. Her answers suggest a clever mind, but they are also flippant and sarcastic. Despite that, and despite knowing all about her sin, Jesus encourages her with the love of God. This breaks through her hard heart; as a result, many others are brought to meet Christ. The disciples are also taught a valuable lesson about the purpose of their mission.
John 4:27–45 is an object lesson for the disciples. Jesus has just finished a conversation with a Samaritan woman, while the disciples were in town buying food. As it turns out, this supposedly unclean woman will bring many people to meet Christ. The disciples have brought no one. Jesus explains that some work to plant spiritual seeds, while others collect the harvest. Both are valuable and we should be ready for opportunities in either case.
John 4:46–54 records the second of Jesus' seven miracles in the gospel of John. The primary lesson of this miracle is the importance of biblical ''faith,'' which is really ''trust.'' Some people won't believe—won't actually ''trust'' in Christ—without seeing a miraculous event. Jesus then asks the miracle-seeker to act in trusting faith: to leave without any hard proof that his request has been granted. As it turns out, the man has actual, trusting belief, and obeys. He finds his faith has already been rewarded on his way home. This also demonstrates the fact that God may sometimes answer our prayers long before we know He's done so.
Chapter Summary:
Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman who is drawing water from a well. He confronts her about sin, yet He also comforts her with the truth of the gospel. Even though He knows her sins, He still seeks after her, and those like her. The woman returns to town, eventually bringing many people to meet Jesus. The disciples, meanwhile, are reminded of the purpose of their mission. Jesus also heals the son of a government official in a way that demonstrates the importance of trusting faith, rather than reliance on spectacle.
Chapter Context:
John chapter 4 continues the use of contrast. Jesus goes from conversing with an educated, powerful, prestigious man (John 3:1–2) to talking to an outcast, unlearned, self-conscious woman. The combination of this passage, along with Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus, makes an important spiritual point: the gospel is for all people, in all places, and all times. Christ can reach each person exactly where he or she needs to be reached.
Book Summary:
The disciple John wrote the gospel of John decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls "signs"— to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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