Water of Life

John Chapter 4

“Whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14 NASB).

by Kome Ajise

In the opening verses of John Chapter 4, we learn that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist. This should not be surprising since Jesus, after talking to Nicodemus, left Jerusalem for the countryside of Judea preaching and baptizing (John 3:22). In John 3:30, John prophesied that Jesus must increase, as he (John) decreased. Since the Pharisees knew that Jesus was baptizing more disciples than John, it compelled our Lord to leave Judea and travel to Galilee. By the time Jesus arrived in Galilee John had been imprisoned (Mark 1:14).

The geography of the region required Jesus to travel through Samaria, which is between Judea and Galilee. After a long trip of over 30 miles, he came to the Samaritan city of Sychar, wearied by the journey and thirsty for water. It was about the sixth hour or noon when he arrived at Sychar (verse 6). Sychar (likely Shechem of old) was an interesting rest stop for Jesus because it was the place where Jacob had secured land for Joseph and had dug a well. This location that Jacob picked over 1600 years prior would become the site of an important lesson given by Jesus.

The Samaritan Woman

The Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at Jacob’s well takes up most of the 4th Chapter. This suggests the Apostle John thought it was a significant lesson to record. The woman came to the well while Jesus was alone because the disciples had gone to get food. Naturally, Jesus was thirsty after the long trip. Therefore, he asked her for a drink of water. The Samaritan woman’s response was interesting. She wondered why a Jew would ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink (verse 9). There were other incidents where the Jews remained separate from the Samaritans. For example, Jesus told the 12 disciples in Matthew 10:5 to avoid Gentile and Samaritan cities. Given the strict dietary requirements of the Law, it is likely a Jew would not be comfortable with taking any food from non-Jews, especially from a Samaritan.1

(1) In many translations a statement in parenthesis says that Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, explaining this reaction to Jesus’ request for a drink. However, this statement may not belong in scripture, as it is omitted in a few older manuscripts.

This Shechem was built by Jeroboam over 900 years earlier (1 Kings 12). Later, to consolidate his rule, Jeroboam appointed priests contrary to Levitical requirements. This led to the end of the kingdom of Israel at the hand of the Assyrians and the subsequent replacement of Israelites with Assyrians and Babylonians (2 Kings 17). Thus, Samaritans were essentially Gentiles who, because of proximity, may have learned of Jehovah and the Jewish patriarchs. Thus, when the disciples came back from town, they “marveled that he [Jesus] had been speaking with a woman,” most likely because she was a Samaritan (John 4:27 NASB).

The Water of Life

Jesus responded to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God and, who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (verse 10 NASB). Not understanding what Jesus had said, the woman incredulously observed that Jesus was in no position to offer water to her due to the depth of the well and having no tool to draw water from it. Jesus went further into the lesson, saying: “Everyone who drinks this water shall thirst again, (14) but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life”
(verses 13,14 NASB).

Our Lord was clearly talking about the water of life. This water requires a thirst for it to be given freely as stated in Revelation 21:6. “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” This water, without cost, is a gift! In contrast, our Lord was thirsty for natural water due to the long trek from Judea to Samaria. He asked for water, but we are never told he was served.

The water of life is a gift. However, Jesus also referred to himself as the gift of God. This idea is captured in John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son [to redeem us from Adamic condemnation], that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Our Lord is that seed of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. This gift of God, Jesus, offers the water of life to those athirst. We know from Galatians 3:14 (NASB) that “in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” We are, in fact, part of Abraham’s seed through Christ.

This water of life is the truth or gospel of Christ and is the basis of our faith. It is the word of God we freely receive and must freely give (Matthew 10:8). A further review of John 4:14 shows this true gospel leads us by faith to life eternal. It is interesting how Jesus phrased it in the latter part of the verse. Not only will we never thirst from the water he gives, but this water will become in us a well of water that springs up to eternal life. The Greek word translated “well” has the meaning of a fountain or spring of water. Jesus added that this fountain of water “springs up” or gushes in its flow, ever fresh and refreshing. This illustration is quite different than our normal concept of a well, without an appreciable flow to its water. Jesus speaks about the spirit-begotten believer becoming a source of this lifegiving water in John 7:38-39, saying, “The one who believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ (39) But this he said in reference to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (NASB).

Her Question

The Samaritan woman did not fully understand the Master’s teaching. While this illustration on the water of life was compelling enough to attract her attention, she saw it primarily in terms of the convenience of not thirsting anymore. She would no longer need to travel to the well for water. Jesus then transitioned the conversation to reveal himself as the Messiah. By asking for her husband and displaying his knowledge of her five previous husbands and a current male companion, Jesus impressed the woman so much that she perceived him to be a prophet. Finding herself in the company of a holy man of God, true to human nature she chose to raise a generational dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans over where to worship.

This led to Jesus’ second lesson for the Samaritan woman. The dispute over whether to worship in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim was meaningless when the true worship of Jehovah must be in spirit and in truth. For “God is a spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 NASB). Jesus’ response rejected the belief that God resides in a fixed location where He should be worshipped. Today, it is common to assign a place of worship where we meet God at scheduled days and times or on special holidays. But those circumcised in their heart must worship Him in spirit (Philippians 3:3), wherever we find ourselves. Here the expectations of Israel for a Messiah (Deuteronomy 18) came into focus for the Samaritan woman. Jesus confirmed that he was the Messiah, or Christ, and the Samaritan woman’s lesson was complete.

Even more remarkable is what the woman did after her brief discussion with Jesus! She was so excited that she left her waterpot behind and ran to the city to proclaim what she had just learned. Thus many Samaritans came out to hear Jesus (verses 39-42). They were so enthralled to become acquainted with the true gospel, the water of life, they asked Jesus to stay two more days in Samaria! Could these 2 days represent the 2000 years of the Gospel Age following the rejection of Jesus by the Jews?

Not only the Samaritan woman, but many more Samaritans believed. They told the woman that it was not just what she said, but they “have heard for [themselves] and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42 NASB). This enthusiastic reception of the truth by Samaritans is in stark contrast to the Jews back in Judea (our Lord’s homeland) whose opposition caused Jesus to head to Galilee. At the same time, the Jews were putting John the Baptist in prison for pointing to Jesus as the Christ. This great contrast caused our Lord to conclude that a prophet has no honor in his own country (John 4:44)!

The Disciples Returned

Verse 27 tells us that the disciples returned during Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. They were gone just long enough for this beautiful example of witnessing to occur uninterrupted. Afterward, the disciples were concerned about him eating to be refreshed. His response in verses 32-38 reminded them of the work he was there to do. “But he [Jesus] then said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ (33) The disciples therefore were saying … ‘No one brought him anything to eat, did he?’ (34) Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (35) Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest’” (NASB). While the disciples were gone to find food, Jesus was doing the work of the harvest. As the Samaritans streamed out to meet Jesus following the woman’s testimony, Jesus was encouraging the disciples to see them as a field ready for harvest (John 4:39,40).

Arrival in Galilee

Finally, Jesus and his disciples arrived in Galilee, their original destination. Immediately, they were met by a royal official whose son was sick and near death. The father’s love for his son and his belief that Jesus could heal him is part of this story. When Jesus told the official that his son lived, the man believed (John 4:50). Given that Jesus and the royal official were far away from the son, the official needed to confirm the moment the son’s health improved. It was exactly when Jesus said, “your son lives” (John 4:52,53). As a result, he and his household believed! This was the second miracle Jesus did in Galilee (John 4:54).

This is a remarkable record of Jesus’ interaction with non-Jews with a positive outcome. His humanity is expressed in weariness and thirst. But how exemplary that he used the situation to witness to the Samaritan woman. Jesus was humble in his approach. He did not look down on the Samaritans, as common at that time. He was open to her responses and used them to present the truth in the most compelling way. The Samaritan woman was of the “good soil” that was receptive to the seed of truth (Matthew 13:8,23). She opened her heart to teaching that connected to her memory of the traditions taught by their fathers like Moses.

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