Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
Two Days in Samaria, Then . . .
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (John 4:19-23)
The second sign in the gospel of John is recorded in the closing nine verses of chapter four (vv. 46-54). This chapter begins with a reference to Jesus leaving Judea, where He had been ministering (vv. 1-3). Then the chapter continues with Jesus traveling to Galilee by going through Samaria and spending two days ministering to the Samaritans (vv. 4-42) prior to continuing His journey on into Galilee (vv. 43-54).
Thus, the chapter begins with a brief mention of Christ’s ministry in Judea, where signs had been performed (John 2:23; 3:2; 4:45). Then, most of the chapter is taken up with Christ ministering in Samaria (apart from any reference to signs) prior to His continuing on into Galilee and performing a second sign in the village of Cana.
The Samaritans were generally hated and despised by the Jews. In fact, this hatred was of such a nature that the Samaritans were, at times, cursed in Jewish synagogues; and they were not even allowed to become Jewish proselytes, being thought of as eternally damned.
Many Jews traveling between Judea (south of Samaria) and Galilee (north of Samaria) refused to even go through Samaria. They would cross the Jordan River before reaching Samaria and travel along the eastern side of the river, avoiding both the land and the people (cf. John 4:9, 27).
But, according to the account in John chapter four, Jesus, traveling from Judea to Galilee, “needed to go through Samaria.” Why? After all, He would later command His twelve disciples at the time they were commissioned,
. . . Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.
But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. . . .” (Matthew 10:5b-8a).
In a respect, it would appear that it was necessary for Christ to do something that He would later command the Twelve not to do. But this could not have been the case at all. Had this been the case, Christ would have been acting contrary to that which He was about to command His disciples. In a larger context, this would be to say that the One who was God manifested in the flesh would have been acting contrary to His revealed Word — an impossibility.
Christ’s command concerning not going to the Gentiles or the Samaritans had to do with the message being proclaimed. This message, accompanied by signs, was to be proclaimed only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”— for the Jew “require a sign” (1 Corinthians 1:22).
This was not a message for the Samaritans in the land or the Gentiles either in or out of the land. This was a message solely for those specified in Christ’s command to His disciples (Matthew 10:6), those to whom Christ had been sent (Matthew 15:24; cf. John 1:11), a people whom God had previously made the repository for both heavenly and earthly promises and blessings in the theocracy (cf. Genesis 9:26, 27; 12:1-3; 14:18-22; 22:17, 18).
Christ’s ministry in Judea, prior to traveling through Samaria in route to Galilee, had to do with the same message that He would later commission the Twelve to carry to Israel. And Christ’s ministry after He had traveled through Samaria and arrived in Galilee had to do with a continuance of this same message.
Christ’s ministry in both Judea and Galilee had to do with a message surrounding the kingdom being at hand, a call for national repentance on the part of the Jewish people, and an exhibition of supernatural signs of an unprecedented nature.
But, during the two days spent in Samaria, the matter, of necessity, was completely different. The kingdom could not be proclaimed as being at hand, there was no call for national repentance, and there was no exhibition of signs. Christ’s two-day ministry in Samaria did not, it could not, have anything to do with the message being proclaimed to Israel or with the signs being manifested in connection with this message.
In this respect, Jesus, during the two days spent ministering to the Samaritans, did not, in any manner, act contrary to that which He was about to command His disciples.
That which Jesus would later command His disciples, recorded in Matthew 10:5-8, had to do with the proclamation of the kingdom to Israel, attended by supernatural signs. This message and these signs had to do with that which was being proclaimed to the Jewish people alone. The Samaritans and/or the Gentiles were not included; and any ministry among the Samaritans or the Gentiles (cf. Matthew 15:21-28), of necessity, would have had to be of a different nature.
The origin of the Samaritans, as they existed at the time of Christ’s first coming, would date back mainly to events that followed the Assyrian captivity of the northern part of the kingdom, the northern ten tribes, about 722 B.C. Because of a continued disobedience of the Israelites forming the northern ten tribes, occurring over centuries of time, God had allowed the Assyrians to come down and take His people captive, removing a large segment of them from the land, and transporting them into Gentile lands controlled by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:4-23).
Then, following the captivity, the king of Assyria moved Gentiles from the Assyrian kingdom into the conquered land to occupy the land and control the people that had been left in the land (2 Kings 17:24). And the resulting intermarriages between these Gentile immigrants and the Hebrews, over time, eventually resulted in a mixed racial state of the Samaritans, something continuing to exist throughout the ensuing centuries and existing at the time of Christ’s first coming, during the first century A.D.
Then the spiritual state of the Samaritans during the same time had evolved along corresponding lines — a mixture of an already corrupted Hebrew faith with that of paganism. With the existing corrupted form of the Hebrew faith and the immigration of pagans into the land, followed by the eventual intermarriages of the people, this could only have been expected.
But problems of a different nature surfaced when the immigrants first entered the land. And, from what is stated, this resulted from Gentiles, who neither recognized nor understood the one true God, entering into and settling down in God’s land (cf. Joel 3:2).
Note how the matter is stated in 2 Kings 17:25, 26: The Lord “sent lions among them, which killed some of them”; and this was done because the pagan immigrants did not know “the manner of the God of the land,” resulting in their not fearing the Lord.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, the king of Assyria took a priest from among those whom he had taken captive and sent him back into the land to teach the pagan immigrants about the one true God (2 Kings 17:27, 28). But this proved to be of no avail. The immigrants simply added Jehovah to their list of gods. They “made gods of their own,” and placed these gods “in the houses of the high places” — the places previously used by the Israelites in their spiritual degeneracy. They even appointed priests and sought to worship both the true God and their false gods at the same time.
And this type syncretistic worship on the part of those in the land continued throughout succeeding generations (2 Kings 17:29-41).
The descendants of the mixed race with their corrupted form of worship, introduced during the years following the Assyrian captivity, were in the land when exiles from the following Babylonian captivity of the southern two tribes were allowed to return under Zerubbabel (about 538 B.C.). These exiles returned following a decree by Cyrus, in order to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:20-23; Ezra 1:1, 2; cf. Isaiah 44:28). And those already in the land, the Samaritans, as they existed almost two hundred years following the Assyrian captivity, offered to help these returning exiles build the temple (Ezra 4:1, 2).
But those offering to help were repulsed and turned away (v. 3), which resulted in a long-lasting antagonism between the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian captivity and the Samaritans already in the land (vv. 4ff).
About two hundred years later, the descendants of those who had been repulsed and turned away by the returning exiles under Zerubbabel built a rival temple in Mt. Gerizim (about 330 B.C.), which was destroyed about two hundred years later by John Hyrcanus (a Maccabean ruler of Judea). And in this rival temple, the people, as their ancestors in the high places had sought to worship both the true God and false gods, produced an unholy and forbidden mixture of truth and error (cf. Exodus 20:3-5).
All of this set the stage for the existing conditions in Samaria, along with the attitude of the Jews in Judea and Galilee toward the Samaritans, at the time of Christ’s first coming.
(Questions have been raised by some individuals [others leave the matter open] concerning whether or not a co-mingling of the races actually occurred in Samaria following the Assyrian captivity. Scripture though does not really leave the matter open to question.
The New Testament makes a distinction between the Samaritans and the Jews, as well as a distinction between the Samaritans and the Gentiles. The Samaritans were placed in a category separate from either Jew or Gentile [cf. Matthew 10:5, 6; Acts 1:8]. And since race is the matter being dealt with, this distinction that the Samaritans held could undoubtedly be traced back to only one thing — a mixed racial condition of the people.)
Christ’s Ministry Following Judea, in Samaria
The entire account of Christ’s ministry in Samaria surrounds an encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and that which resulted from this encounter (4:6-42). This woman, with five previous husbands, who was living with a sixth in an unmarried state (vv. 16-18), was the person Jesus singled out at Jacob’s well to work through in order to reach the Samaritans (vv. 28-30, 39-42).
(The woman, following her encounter with Christ [4:7-26] expressed a type belief that was more negative than positive. Note her question in verse twenty-nine after she had left her water pot at the well, went into the city, and found certain men: “Could this be the Christ?”
The manner in which the question is asked in the Greek text shows that the woman’s belief relative to Jesus being the Christ was more negative than positive. The particle meti is used, same as in Matthew 12:23 where the question is also more negative than positive.
The negative me, forming the opening two letters of the particle, expects a negative (No) response when used in a question in the Greek text [as opposed to the negative ou, which would expect a positive (Yes) response]. However, the negative nature of the question is softened through the use of the particle rather than the negative alone, which is seen in both Matthew 12:23 and John 4:29. This particle places the question in a somewhat middle-of-the-road status, but leaning more toward the negative than the positive.
The question in Matthew 12:23, “Could this be the Son of David?,” in the light of the Greek particle meti used in the verse, should more literally be translated, “Possibly this is the Son of David, but we really don’t think so”; and, in like manner, the question of the woman in John 4:29, “Could this be the Christ?,” where the particle meti is again used, should be translated in a similar respect, “Possibly this is the Christ, but I really don’t think so.”)
Though the woman may have expressed more unbelief than belief, the same is not stated concerning the men of the city whom she reached first, who asked Jesus to “stay with them” (v. 40); nor is it stated concerning other Samaritans who subsequently came to Christ (because of the woman’s testimony, even though somewhat negative). In fact the latter group, after hearing Jesus for themselves, stated,
. . . Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. (v. 42)
Thus, Jesus used a loose-living woman, who expressed more unbelief than belief, in order to reach individuals in Samaria. Though this may not necessarily be the manner in which one might think of conducting ministry today in order to reach people, note that which is stated in Isaiah 55 about the way God does things:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (vv. 8, 9)
Of course, matters were being conducted by the One who could see the outcome from the beginning, something that Christians cannot do. But the lesson from John chapter four, in the light of Isaiah 55:8, 9, must not be overlooked (evident elsewhere in Scripture as well [e.g., Matthew 21:28-32; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; 19:1-10; John 8:1-11]).
Attention in ministry must be given to the leadership of the Spirit, which at times, in man’s eyes, may not be understood at all (note, for example, the attitude of the disciples in Samaria after they had returned from the city and had seen what Jesus was doing [John 4:27; cf. v. 9]). And while following the leadership of the Spirit in ministry, one thing above all else must be kept in mind. The servant does not have to answer to other servants in the house. That which other servants may think about a particular servant’s ministry and the manner in which it is being conducted is really of little to no moment. The final accounting is to one day be rendered to the Master of the house, not to other servants in the house (cf. John 21:21, 22).
1) Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal
The woman in Samaria, during the course of her conversation with Jesus, knowing that He was a Jew but realizing that He was no ordinary Jew, referred to a mount where the Samaritan fathers had worshipped. This could only have been a reference to Mount Gerizim, the site of their destroyed temple. And even though long since destroyed, the Samaritan priests at this time still offered Paschal sacrifices among the temple ruins, in keeping with that which is stated in Exodus chapter twelve (something that continued down through the succeeding centuries and still exists during modern times [i.e., Samaritan priests today, over two millennia after the destruction of their temple, still offer sacrifices among the temple ruins on Mount Gerizim]).
The Samaritans built their temple on Mount Gerizim because they believed that this was the place that God had chosen (Deuteronomy 12:5-14), rather than Jerusalem. And this could only have been based on a history of the Israelites as it pertained to two mountains — Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.
These two mountains were located next to one another, with a valley lying between (about 35 miles north of Jerusalem). Mount Gerizim lay to the south and Mount Ebal to the north, with both rising to an approximate 3,000-foot elevation. And Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman occurred near these two mountains.
These were mountains that God had singled out over fourteen centuries earlier, during Moses and Joshua’s day, when the Israelites were preparing to cross the Jordan River and enter the land. One mount (Gerizim) was to be associated with blessings, and the other mount (Ebal) was to be associated with curses.
And that which the Israelites were commanded to perform on both Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal once they had entered the land (Deuteronomy 27:1-26; cf. Joshua 8:30-35), contextually (Deuteronomy 28), could only have been an object lesson for the Jewish people in the theocracy.
Blessings would be realized if the people obeyed all that the Lord had commanded; curses, on the other hand, would befall the people if they did not obey all that the Lord had commanded.
Note the twelve curses (a number signifying governmental perfection) that the Levites were to speak before all the people in Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:14-26), indicating that which would befall a disobedient people within the theocracy (that which would befall those from the twelve tribes, again pointing to governmental perfection).
Then, the following chapter, chapter twenty-eight, relates both sides of the issue — blessings, associated with Mount Gerizim (vv. 1-14); and curses, associated with Mount Ebal (vv. 15-68).
The Samaritans could only have gone back to this point in history to determine the location where their temple was to be built; believing that Mount Gerizim rather than the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was the correct place for the temple’s location.
(The Samaritans possessed a Pentateuch-based form of worship, rejecting all of the Old Testament except the Pentateuch [the five books of Moses] and claiming to possess an older copy of the Pentateuch than the one that existed in Jerusalem. And to further strengthen their claim concerning the correct site for the temple, the Samaritan Pentateuch reads “Mount Gerizim” rather than “Mount Ebal” in Deuteronomy 27:4, which was the place where an altar “to the Lord” was to be built after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River and entered the land [v. 5].
The Samaritans also believed that Mount Gerizim was the place where Abraham had not only met Melchizedek [Genesis 14] but where he had later offered his son [Genesis 22].)
2) But the Hour is Coming, and Now Is, When…
Since the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was occurring at Jacob’s well and the woman had recognized Jesus as a Jew, she sought to carry matters in the conversation all the way back to Jacob, almost eighteen centuries prior to that time, where there would be common ground. Then she moved to a point where there could only have been uncommon ground between the Jews and the Samaritans, calling attention to a disputed issue relative to the correct place of worship — Mount Gerizim, or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (John 4:5-20).
Jesus though, in His response to the woman, ignored all dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans. And the reason is quite simple and obvious. It is the same reason why signs or the associated message, “Repent: for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand,” had no connection with Christ’s ministry in Samaria.
That which Christ’s two-day ministry in Samaria foreshadowed had no connection with Mount Gerizim or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It had no connection with any part of the Jewish form of worship. Rather, it had to do with the one new man “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17) who is neither Jew nor Gentile (note that those in Samaria, foreshadowing this new man about to be brought into existence, were looked upon, racially, along similar lines — neither Jew nor Gentile).
This one new man, a completely new creation, separate from the creation emanating from Jacob (Isaiah 43:1), can have no possible connection with the Mosaic economy. Things associated with the Mosaic economy have to do with the nation of Israel alone. And to bring anything from the Mosaic economy over into Christianity today would be completely out of place. Christ didn’t do it during His two-day ministry in Samaria; and neither should man attempt to do it today, in that which is foreshadowed by the historic account.
In fact, rather than bringing something from the Mosaic economy over into the matter in John chapter four, Christ, instead, announced a sharp distinction and separation between that seen under the Mosaic economy and that which His ministry in Samaria foreshadowed.
No earthly place or form for worship exists for the one new man “in Christ.” Worship is to occur wherever two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name (Matthew 18:20); and God, who is Spirit, is to be worshipped “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24).
This worship is to be in keeping with God’s nature, of a spiritual nature; and it is to center around the Truth (whether the living Word or the written Word, for the two are inseparable [ref. chapter 4 of this book, “The Word Made Flesh”]).
(It should be noted that the KJV rendering of John 4:24a — “God is a Spirit . . .” — is not correct. The Greek language does not use indefinite articles, only definite. And the inclusion or omission of the definite article in the Greek text is for particular reasons [ref. NKJV, NASB, NIV].
The omission of the article, as in John 4:24, calls attention to quality or character (“God is Spirit”), the same as seen in the statement, “God is love” [1 John 4:8]. And the inclusion of an indefinite article in the KJV text of John 4:24 does away with that to which attention is called by the omission of the article in the Greek text [refer to comments regarding this matter as it pertains to John 1:1 in chapter 2 of this book].)
Christ’s Ministry Following Samaria, in Galilee
Christ’s ministry in Galilee, following a two-day ministry in Samaria, points to that time when God will complete His dealings with Israel, with the Messianic Era in view. Seven years yet remain to complete the past dispensation, which will be fulfilled during Daniel’s Seventieth Week, during the coming Tribulation.
Signs will once again come back into the picture, with a view to healing for the Jewish people, exactly as foreshadowed by the healing of the nobleman’s son immediately following Christ’s ministry in Samaria (John 4:43-54; ref. chapter 10 of this book).
And this is what the eight signs in John’s gospel have to do with — each showing a different facet of the same thing, each showing a different facet of that which the future holds for Israel.