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Note of the Day – May 21 (John 4:21-24)

By | Exegetical/Study Series, Note of the Day | No Comments

John 4:21-24

In discussing the “living water” (u%dwr zw=n) which Jesus gives (4:10-14, cf. the previous note), I mentioned that it is to be identified with the giving of the Spirit. This can be inferred from a number of passages in the Gospel (beginning with the earlier statement in 3:34), but it also is confirmed if we continue on in the discourse of chapter 4. Following the Samaritan woman’s (second) reaction in verse 15, there is a second exposition by Jesus in vv. 16-26, which takes the form of a mini-dialogue, and which may be characterized as a “Messianic dialogue”. The woman’s reaction continues the motif of misunderstanding, common to all of the Johannine discourses; she continues to think of this “water” in an ordinary (physical) sense, though perhaps now with a glimmer of its deeper meaning:

“(My) lord, give to me this water, (so) that I might not thirst, and would not (have to) come through (here) in (this place) to take up (water).”

The dialogue-exposition by Jesus, in response, may be outlined as follows:

  • Miracle—demonstration of Jesus’ (divine) foreknowledge (vv. 16-18)
    • Declaration by the woman:
      “I look (on and perceive) that you are (the) Foreteller” (v. 19)
      and statement relating to the role of the Messiah (v. 20)

      • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24)
    • Declaration by the woman:
      “I see [i.e. know] that the Mashiaµ {Messiah} comes” (v. 25a)
      and statement regarding the role of the Messiah (v. 25b)
  • I Am saying—identification of Jesus as the Anointed One of God (v. 26)

As with several other episodes (and discourses) in the Gospel, a miracle, demonstrating Jesus’ God-given power, leads to an “I am” statement by which Jesus effectively declares his special status (and nature) in relation to God the Father. This is the framework for the dialogue in vv. 16-26, within which the portion spanning vv. 19-25 is, as I have already indicated, a kind of “Messianic dialogue”—with a central exposition by Jesus (vv. 21-24) flanked by two declarations by the woman. Each of these declarations has a Messianic significance.

There is some ambiguity regarding the first of these, as the word profh/th$ (“Foreteller”, i.e. Prophet), without the article, could mean either “a Prophet” or “the Prophet”. Jesus’ demonstration of foreknowledge in vv. 16-18 certainly would mark him as a prophet (lit. “foreteller”); yet the woman’s entire statement in vv. 19-20, taken as a whole (and in context) suggests that she believes that he might be the Prophet to Come—i.e. the end-time (Messianic) Prophet expected by the Samaritans. This Prophet-figure is derived from Deut 18:15-19, and the expectation of a “Prophet like Moses”, who would appear at the end time, was shared by many Israelites and Jews (cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). A number of references to “the Anointed One” (Xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) in the Gospels may refer to such a Prophet-figure, rather than the more familiar Davidic Ruler figure-type. Similarly, there are specific references to “the Prophet”, especially in the Gospel of John (1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40), which would seem to confirm this. Jesus is specifically identified as the Prophet of Deut 18:15ff in Acts 3:22-23.

In the second declaration (v. 25), the woman apparently uses the term M¹šîaµ (j^yv!m*), transliterated in Greek as Messi/a$ (and translated by the Gospel writer as Xristo/$, “Anointed One”). There is some question whether, at the historical level, a Samaritan would have used this title. According to (later) sources, the Samaritan “Messiah” had the title Taheb, presumably related to the root bWv (šû», Aramaic bWT, tû»), “turn (back), return”, and thus meaning either “the Returning One”, or “the One who returns/restores (things)”. For the Samaritans, this figure would have been related to the Messianic Prophet figure-type (from Deut 18:15ff), and not the Davidic Ruler type with its origins in Judean (Jewish) royal tradition. There is some thought that the Taheb was expected to restore true/proper religion for humankind, and this would seem to be reflected by the woman’s statements in vv. 20 and 25b. The sharp divisions between Israelites/Jews and Samaritans were both ethnic and religious in nature, most particularly, with regard to the central sacred location—Mt. Gerizim vs. Jerusalem (i.e. Mt. Zion). The woman brings out this religious difference in v. 20, perhaps expecting Jesus (if he is the Prophet) to arbitrate or judge the question. Her statement is worth citing in full:

“Our fathers kissed toward [i.e. worshiped] (God) in/on this mountain, and (yet) you [i.e. Jews] say that the place where it is necessary to kiss toward [i.e. worship] (God) (is) in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}.”

This serves as the immediate basis for the exposition by Jesus in vv. 21-24. If she expects Jesus (as the Prophet) to explain/resolve this religious difference, it may be parallel to her statement in v. 25b regarding the role of the “Messiah” (Samaritan Taheb): “…when that (One) should come, he will offer up a message to us (about) all (thing)s”.

Let us now turn to the central exposition by Jesus, examining briefly, but carefully, the main statements. His initial statement in verse 21 is a direct response to the religious differences (between Samaritans and Jews) mentioned by the woman:

“Trust me, (my dear) woman, that an hour comes when (it will) not (be) in/on this mountain, and not in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem} (either), that you will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father”.

This declaration essentially abrogates and removes the religious-cultural differences between Samaritans and Jews, as represented by the central difference regarding the place for worship. It is presented from an eschatological point of view—”an hour comes”, i.e. in the future. At that time, worship will transcend specific (sacred) places, etc, rooted in ancient ethnic and religious traditions. For the present—that is, at the moment when he is speaking with the woman—it would seem that Jesus recognizes (and even affirms!) the religious differences (v. 22). He appears to speak from the Israelite/Jewish standpoint, which represents the “correct” religious tradition, expressed in the Johannine (dualistic) vocabulary of “knowing” vs. “not knowing”—i.e., worship done in ignorance, without true knowledge. He even goes so far as to state that “salvation” comes “out of the Jews”—that is, out of the Jewish milieu and religious heritage (in which Jesus was born).

If Jesus seems to confirm the religious-cultural distinctions in v. 22, he eliminates them again, repeating (even more forcefully) his statement in v. 21:

“But an hour comes, and now is, when the true kissers toward (God) [i.e. worshipers] will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father in (the) Spirit and (the) Truth—for (it is) even (that) the Father seeks these (very sorts of people) kissing toward him.” (v. 23)

I have translated the verb proskune/w literally, according to its probable fundamental meaning—to kiss (kune/w) toward (pro/$) someone, i.e. as a gesture of adoration, homage or respect. The ancient symbolism of the expression came to be used in the more general and abstract sense of “worship, adoration”, etc. However, I think it is worth preserving the sense of the action underlying the idiom. At any rate, what Jesus characterizes as true (a)lh/qino$) worship is said to occur, not in a specific place, but, rather, “in (the) Spirit and Truth” (e)n pneu/mati kai\ a)lhqei/a|).

Yet when and how will this true worship take place? Jesus has modified the eschatological orientation of v. 21; instead of saying “an hour comes”, he states: “an hour comes, and now is [kai\ nu=n e)stin]”—that is to say, it is here now, in the present. This is another example of the “realized” eschatology expressed numerous times in the Johannine discourses of Jesus. Believers experience now, in the present, what traditionally would be experienced by the righteous at the end time (in the Age to Come). The basis for this realized eschatology is trust in the person and work of Jesus. The Johannine Christological theme of Jesus (the Son) making God the Father known to believers is very much central to this passage. Worship in the Spirit, which is the only true worship (“in the Spirit and Truth”), can only be realized through the gift of the Spirit. Jesus (the Son) gives the Spirit, which is given to him by the Father (3:34-35)—the ultimate source of the Spirit is God the Father. Jesus expresses this clearly enough in the concluding verse 24:

“God (is) Spirit, and the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] him, it is necessary (for them) to kiss toward [i.e. worship] (him) in (the) Spirit and Truth.”

We cannot truly worship God, who is Spirit, unless we are in the Spirit. This is not a temporary, charismatic phenomenon, but an essential and permanent condition—it is the very Life (eternal, divine Life) given to us by Jesus (the Son) from the Father.