From:  Busy Person’s Guide to John 1 to 10                                    Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


All reproduction of text in paper, electronic, or computer

form both permitted and encouraged so long as authorial

credit is given and the text is not altered.








Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding John


(Volume 1:  Chapters 4 to 5)








Chapter Four




Passing Through Samaria After Leaving Judea, Jesus Violates Contemporary Jewish Social Norms By Talking with a Samaritan Woman and Asking Her For Water to Drink (John 4:1-9):  1 Now when Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was winning and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were), he left Judea and set out once more for Galilee.

   But he had to pass through Samaria.  Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.”  (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.)  So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?”  (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:1       Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John  If Jesus’ accomplishments alarmed the most dedicated followers of John (cf. 3:25-26), the Pharisees were not happy about it either.  When word got back to Jesus of their learning of His successes, He recognized that their anger would be so great that the most prudent course would be to return where they had little influence (verse 3).    


            4:2       (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples).  Yet 3:22 had said, “He remained with them and baptized,” a statement that could easily imply that He personally did so.  By the adding of this parenthetical remark, John makes plain that though the teaching leading to change had been done by Jesus it was “His disciples” that carried out the actual immersion part.  One might suspect that this was because of the large numbers involved--but this did not stop John who also baptized large numbers.  (Although one can’t help but suspect that if the numbers were large enough on a given day, that others might have helped John as well.)  But even if our supposition is correct, that never entered the picture with Jesus--he had one consistent, ongoing practice of allowing His disciples to carry it all out. 

            The most likely reason was to protect against later egotistical bragging:  “Oh, you just had Peter baptize you?  Well I had Jesus personally do it!”  Think of the bragging among the Corinthians (1:10-17) to see how who baptized a person could lead to a warped sense of superiority.  Hence Paul stressed that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (verse 17).  Limited numbers knew the contents of the gospel so their priority had to be on preaching it; in contrast who baptized you mattered not in the least so far as it was motivated by faith (Mark 16:16) and repentance (Acts 2:38).  

            The practice instituted by the Lord argues that Jesus was fully aware that there was a day coming when He would no longer be present on earth and that it was through His disciples that people would need to be baptized.  He was, if you will, preparing His disciples for that very time.

            Sidebar:  John 1:33 stresses that the baptism which Jesus performed had nothing to do with water and was one that only He personally was qualified to bestow:  “This is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  In a somewhat similar vein see Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16.      


            4:3       He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  Jesus left Judea where the Pharisees had their maximum strength and returned to Galilee where they were least likely to be able to significantly obstruct His ministry.  What type of obstruction He feared is not spelled out.  Perhaps it was not so much concern of a particular type of hindrance being thrown in His path as concern that, at this stage, that this was neither the time nor place to engage in a major conflict with them.

            Sidebar:  The “again” raises the question of when was the first time.  In John 1:43 we find Him going to Galilee; hence He is here repeating that trip northward and the word “again” is inserted for that reason.


            4:4       But He needed to go through Samaria.  To reach Galilee from Judea required Him go through Samaria since this was the shortest route and Josephus speaks of this as being the one normally used by Jewish travellers.  In contrast Pharisees preferred to go the longer route through Perea to avoid any danger of “contamination” by the locals or the region.     

            Sidebar:  The hostility felt toward Samaria in both Galilee and Judea:  “In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, efforts on their part to share in the honors and independence of Judah were sternly interdicted, and the interdict avenged by angry recriminations which delayed the progress of reconstruction [of the Temple in Jerusalem].  The antagonism commenced then was deepened into a deadly rivalry by the erection of a temple to Jehovah on Mount Gerizim (B.C. 409), and by Manasseh, brother of the high priest of Judah, being driven from Jerusalem by his refusal to renounce Sanballat's daughter, and by his becoming high priest of the heretical temple. . . .

            “There were mutual recriminations between Jews and Samaritans, which led to strained relations and fierce condemnation, and yet, strange to say, the rabbis did not treat the land as ‘unclean’ (Edersheim, Life of Jesus the Messiah, book 3, 100, 7), and consequently the disciples were not precluded from purchasing articles of food from the Samaritan village. They were the ‘foolish people,’ ‘abhorred’ of devout Jews (Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] 50:25-26); and Rabbi Chuda treated them as heathens, yet Simon ben Gamaliel regarded them as Israelites, and the Mishnah shows that in many of their customs they resembled the Jews.

            “The opposition was felt so strongly by some Jews in the northern province of Galilee that they traveled to Jerusalem through Perea in order to avoid it.  Our Lord’s treatment of Samaritans in this narrative seems at first sight inconsistent with Matthew 10:5, where the apostles are advised to avoid cities of the Samaritans on their first experimental journey.  Still, there is a difference between Christ's ‘passing through’ Samaria, on his way to Galilee, and His limiting the early proclamation of the kingdom to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’  The disciples were not then to be entrusted with a commission which, not until after Pentecost, they would fulfill with so much joy (Acts 8.)”  (Pulpit Commentary)  More in verse 9 on the limits of hostility.


            4:5       So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Whatever contemporary Jews might think of Samaritans, this tie-in with their own history was still recognized.  The wording seems to imply that the location was not well known by the readers and the most he can do for even Jewish ones is to describe where the community was “near.”


            4:6      Now Jacob’s well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  Jesus was tired out and rested beside a well around noon of that day.  He felt the aches and pains of the journey and needed, as we would say, “a breather” from all the walking.

            Although there would be a large number of women getting water for their households in the morning and evening, at this time of day there would be few.  Indeed, since the woman was known for her extreme immoral behavior (John 4:18), she may be there for the very reason of avoiding women who could find her an easy target for their verbal jabs.

            Sidebar:  We assume that John is using Jewish timekeeping here.  If using Roman time keeping, this would place it about six in the evening.  Although it is not impossible to fit all that comes afterwards before sunset, it is a very surprising amount to be done in that limited a time frame.


            4:7       A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.”  In that agricultural society, water drawing and carrying was considered woman’s work or servant’s work--John2:5-7 for the latter; Genesis 24:15-16 for the former.  Hence it was far more likely for him to encounter a woman doing this than a male.

            The oddity was that it was a Jew waiting at the well.  Surely not unprecedented, but not common either.  The bulk of those who used it would naturally be local Samaritans such as this woman.  Being a local she would have a large container with her to carry the water home as well. 


            4:8       For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  Fruits, vegetables, wine, perhaps even a few prepared foods might be found as they scrounged the community to see what was available for purchase.  Our text leaves the impression that all of them were out doing this, but is amenable to the reading that only the bulk of them were doing so.  Although John stresses that he was an eyewitness of the life of Jesus (John 19:35; 21:24-25), he is normally quiet as to which specific events he personally observed.  Hence it has reasonably been speculated that this is one such case.  After all, would it have been necessary to send out all the disciples to search for food?


            4:9       Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  To grant Jesus’ request would have been a “standard” courtesy of the day--if she could overcome her surprise at His ethnicity:  She was quite shocked that a Jew would speak to any Samaritan since the two groups held each other in disdain and had as little to do with each other as possible.  (She may have recognized His Jewishness from His accent or attire.) 

            The surprise was heightened by the fact that the request was made by a male Jew of “a Samaritan woman:” there were large sections of that part of the world in which such informal conversations between unrelated men and women were socially frowned upon.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He considered His teaching role as far more important than such arbitrary restrictions--and rationality would surely cause physical discomfort to trump it as well.

            Sidebar:  Contempt for the Samaritans was both intense and common, but as time went by the religious leadership of the people kept trying to intensify it even further in ways that the Lord would doubtless have looked upon as ridiculous:  There are very discordant statements as to the degree of separation which the Jews insisted upon between themselves and Samaritans.  The later rabbis greatly aggravated the feeling.

            “They refused to eat the bread of Samaritans, as though it were more defiling than swine’s flesh; objected to drink their wine or vinegar; and, if this animosity at the time of Christ had been equally pronounced, would have limited the disciples in their choice of food to uncooked eggs, fruits, and vegetables, and possibly to meal and wine. But it seems, from the earlier rabbinical books (Edersheim quotes several, which modify Lightfoot's authorities), that the meat of a Samaritan was lawful food if an Israelite had witnessed its killing, and that their bread, wine, etc., were not forbidden.”  (Pulpit Commentary) 

            It should also be remembered that the development of this extremism came from Judea and there is little reason to believe that those of Galilee “bought into” these ideas as much:  After all, for one thing, they too were looked upon as rather inferior as well!



Their Conversation Provides Her Evidence That Jesus Is At Least a Prophet (John 4:10-19):  10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water?  12 Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you?  For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.”

13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again.  14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 

16 He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.”  17 The woman replied, “I have no husband.”  Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband.  This you said truthfully!”

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:10     Jesus answered and said to her, “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.”  Jesus responded that if she recognized His true identity she would have asked Him to provide water beyond her ability to give--“living water.”  It would be through Him that she would have access to “the gift of God”--which, ultimately is not something temporal but eternal life.

            The imagery of living water as representing spiritual blessings in contrast with religious systems (polytheism in particular) that provided no real blessings is found in Jeremiah 2:13:  For My people have committed two evils:  They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  God is similarly pictured in Isaiah 12:1-3 as a spiritual well which freely provides forgiveness for the repentant:  “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (verse 3). 

            The “water” of spiritual blessings is so great that it is pictured as “a river of [Divine] pleasures” (Psalms 36:6-10).  In Zechariah 13 we read of a fountain that would arise after the Jews repudiated idolatry; it would bring, if you will, the water of salvation:  “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (verse 1).  

            Although these passage are quite logical links to what Jesus is saying, it must be remembered that this would just be true of the Jewish reader.  The Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch--the first five books of the Old Testament--as authoritative and their acquaintance with the rest would be minimal.        


            4:11     The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do You get that living water?  Although the expression “living water” was a bit odd, she decided to take the remark literally rather than probe its meaning further.  There seemed no logical way that “living water”--whatever it might exactly be--could be harmful to a human being so she asked how could He possibly get “living water” out of the well when he did not even have a bucket?

            Sidebar:  Probably she took the words in the sense of “a well of running water” / “fresh flowing water,” i.e., “spring water” (ESV) (Genesis 26:19) . . . which would have a different taste to it than water drawn out of your normal well.  In other words:  “You claim you can get even bettering tasting water out of this well--or some well, some where--but you have no way to get to it!”   


            4:12     Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”  She recognized that there was an important connection between the existence of the desirable “living water” and Jesus being the only one able to provide it:  It implied a unique importance for Him.  So she reaches into her Samaritan heritage to try to find something comparable:  Since the Samaritans provided special honor to the ancient Jacob, she enquired whether he was claiming to be “greater” than he who had dug this well so many centuries before and which still provided water for man and beast.

            Sidebar:  There is nothing in the books of Moses specifying what she takes for granted.  It is certainly logical, however, since Jacob bought a piece of land nearby to live on (Genesis 33:18-20) and digging such a well to assure a steady water supply--or using an existing one--would be quite natural. 


            4:13     Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,  Jesus did not dispute the impressiveness of the fact that the well had remained usable after the passage of many centuries.  Instead He emphasized that water from such a well would only temporarily remove thirst.  It was good--but not for everything one might have a thirst for . . . spiritual and redemptive things.


            4:14     but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  Those who drink of the “water” that Jesus provided would never thirst again:  They would never again have to seek a source to fill their spiritual needs; Jesus and His teaching would always fully provide it.  The water would become in that person “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  It would provide everything needed in this world and assure gaining “everlasting life” in the next.  Behind the language is a basic and fundamental religious truth:  Any one who drank of the nourishing “water” of Jesus’ word could find satisfaction in it and never need some other teaching to replace it.  Nor, if they are wise, want to.


            4:15     The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”  Perhaps in belief—more likely half-mockingly—she puts a literal connotation on the words and asks for this water that meant she would never need to use Jacob’s Well again.  Even on a quite literal basis of mere physical water, that would be a perpetual blessing for she could stop her time consuming walks to the well to get more.


            4:16     Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  Instead of answering further, Jesus diverted the subject into an area that would prove His credibility and establish that even the “outlandish” claim of providing a “water [that would produce] everlasting life” could be performed by Him:  He instructed her to fetch her husband.  (Whether literal or spiritual, the “water” He speaks of would be needed by both.  But Jesus is using the natural request to share it with her closest loved one as a way to convince her of His power to fulfill His promise:  due to His supernatural powers He is well aware that she can not meet His request.)


            4:17     The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”  Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’  18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”  The woman had spoken the truth but it was only a modest segment of the truth for the full story would have embarrassed her:  She had previously been married to five husbands and the man she was currently living with she was not married to at all.  In other words she truly did not have a husband--but that was mere verbal veneer over the more embarrassing reality.  (The idea of cohabitation without marriage was hardly an invention of the twentieth century!) 

            How many of these remarriages were the result of death and how many of divorce we have no idea.  With such a large number, one can easily assume that the latter dominated and one can’t help but wonder “why?”  Was she one of that obnoxious breed of people (both male and female) that “instinctively” makes life miserable for the spouse?     


            4:19     The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Being an outsider Jew and therefore unable to know such details about the local citizenry, she recognizes that this stranger is, indeed, far more than a mere traveler.  He must be “a prophet” to know such things no outsider could know.  This was a very logical deduction and His supernatural insight provided the means to make His teaching credible in her eyes.

            Sidebar:  This is high praise from someone of a group that did not recognize the canonical prophets.  Regardless of what status those should have, for Him the claim of being a true prophet might just be true.  It is quite possible she may even be drifting toward the idea that He is the long awaited prophet like Moses that Deuteronomy 18:18-19 promised would come.  The Messiah of Samaritan thought is conceived of in that image rather than that of King, the one embraced most enthusiastically among Jews.  (In reality, He was to perform both roles.)



She Learns That Acceptable Worship Hinges Not on Where It is Carried Out But on It Being Done “in Spirit and Truth” (John 4:20-26):  20  “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You people worship what you do not know.  We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 

23  “But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.  24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.”  26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”      --New English Translation (for comparison) 



            4:20     Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”  However much Jesus’ words may intrigue her, she was also aware that there were profound religious differences and she immediately asks His judgment on that matter:  Since time immemorial her ancestors had worshipped “on this mountain” (Gerizim) while the Jews considered Jerusalem to be the only right place for the temple to be. 

            At one time they had a temple on the site but it was torn down in about 130 B.C. by John Hyrcanus.  That did stop worship from being conducted later, but did remove the impressive structure that they had taken great pride in.  Animals continued to be sacrificed there and the yearly feasts of the Mosaical Law as well.

            In talking about this subject, many suspect that she was trying to shift the topic from her own disastrous marital record to something more abstract.  Even if so, she is about to learn a truth she does not suspect.  It is one that both Jews and Samaritans would feel extremely uncomfortable with:  the day was coming when it would no longer matter where one worshipped:  Being sincere and being in conformity with Divinely revealed truth would be all that would matter (verse 26).


            4:21     Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  Jesus’ answer did not deny that the Jews were right as of now, but that did not cover the future.  “The hour is coming” when it would no longer matter at all.  This is far more radical than she herself may be immediately ready to acknowledge:  Although it meant that Jerusalem would not be the sole place to worship, that was also true of the mountain the Samaritans made the center of their religious practice. 

            (Somehow I can’t help but suspect that she--as a Samaritan--paid far, far more attention to the “Jerusalem” part than to the “this mountain.”  It would be the impact of her upbringing that would determine which took priority and the intense hostility of the far more numerous Jews would seem to inevitably have given preeminence to the Jerusalem warning.  The local reference would be disturbing, but the Jerusalem one encourage jubilation.)


            4:22     You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  They think they know what they are doing and who they worship and His true nature, but it is the Jews who really know.  The reason for this is that the Samaritans’ spiritual knowledge is based only upon the Mosaical writings and omit the prophets who provided additional insights and information.  Hence true salvation must come from the Jews and not the Samaritans.  Samaritan sincerity did not change this fact in any way.

            Sidebar:  Is from (ἐκ, not ‘belonging to,’ but ‘proceeding from’ [as in] John 1:46; John 7:22; John 7:52the Jews.  The Jews have been the school where the highest lessons have been taught, the richest experiences felt, the noblest lives lived, the types and shadows of good things to come most conspicuous.  We cannot avoid reading between the lines the sublime enthusiasm which Paul gathered from this class of teaching:  ‘To whom pertaineth the adoption . . . and covenant, . . . and to whom were committed the oracles of God, . . . and from whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.’  The utterance is profoundly significant, as it is a powerful repudiation of the theory which makes the author of this Fourth Gospel a Gentile of the second century, with a Gnostic antipathy to Judaism and Jews.”  (Pulpit Commentary)


            4:23     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.  Even the Jews’ current preeminence did not mean that they would continue to enjoy it.  The hour was approaching when such would be an irrelevancy.  That time “is coming and now is”--i.e., is now beginning--when all that matters will be whether one worships God inwardly (“in spirit”) and accordingly to His will (“in . . . truth”).  That last expression could, however, be taken as a reference to the inward attitude as well, i.e., one is not going through rote ritual but is meaning what is being said and done.  That seems unlikely since if there is no standard to judge religious right and wrong, how could anything ever be condemned as inappropriate or improper when done out of good intent?  (Think of the various religious traditions well meaning rabbis imposed but which Jesus denounced as undermining proper religion.)

            Sidebar on what else is involved by valid worship being “in spirit:”  The word ‘spirit,’ here, stands opposed to rites and ceremonies, and to the pomp of external worship.  It refers to the ‘mind,’ the ‘soul,’ the ‘heart.’  They shall worship God with a sincere ‘mind;’ with the simple offering of gratitude and prayer; with a desire to glorify Him, and without external pomp and splendor.  Spiritual worship is that where the heart is offered to God, and where we do not depend on external forms for acceptance.”  (Barnes’ Notes)   


            4:24     God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  Since God Himself is Spirit we must worship Him in our own “spirit:”  the outward forms and external rituals of the Temple weren’t wrong but were worthless unless the inner being was using them to express devotion, respect, and love for the Creator.  Likewise worship must be according to “truth”--the revealed will of God--because part of God’s essence is truth.

            Sidebar:  The special relevance of “God is Spirit” in a discussion with a Samaritan:  The appeal is here made to a doctrine of special prominence in the Samaritan theology.  They had altered a number of passages in the Pentateuch, which seemed to them to speak of God in language properly applicable to man, and to ascribe to Him human form and feelings.  But to believe in the spiritual essence of God contained its own answer both as to place and mode of worship.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)    


            4:25     The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ).  “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”  Even though she was a Samaritan and not a Jew she shared in the Jewish expectation of a coming Messiah.  The Messiah would serve as a teacher of “all things” to the people.  That would imply that He has things to say that are not currently being taught and advocated.  By doing this He would function in the role of a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18-19), exercising the teaching and law giving role that Moses had.

            Sidebar:  Speaking to a Jew she uses the preferred terminology of that group--“Messiah.”  Greek speaking Jews preferred “Christ” and Samaritans spoke in terms of “the Returning One” or “the Converter.”


            4:26     Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.  Jesus explicitly claims to be the Messiah the Samaritans longed for.  But note that He embraces the role of Messiah as teacher (verse 25), not as the militant revolutionary war hero preferred among Jews (as in John 6:15).  The fact that so many of His own embraced the latter expectation goes far to explain His reluctance to openly claim the role when ministering to them.



The Samaritan Woman Brings Other Locals to Listen to Jesus Teach (John 4:27-30):  27 Now at that very moment his disciples came back.  They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman.  However, no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?”

28 Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?”  30 So they left the town and began coming to him.  

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:27     And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?”  Jesus’ disciples were surprised to see Jesus personally talking to a Samaritan—and a woman at that.  By going into the city to do the shopping for the group they had removed the need for His “contamination” with outsiders, yet here He was freely speaking with this foreigner!  Furthermore in surviving rabbinic opinion it was considered extremely inappropriate to speak to a woman in public--even one’s own wife.  (At least if you were a man of importance.)  Though they regarded it as strange--more likely because she was a Samaritan rather than a woman--they could not summon the courage to ask why He was acting in this manner.

            Sidebar:  One of the miracles of the Lord's ministry was to break down the wretched rabbinical prejudice against the spiritual capacities of woman, and the Oriental folly which supposed that she contaminated their sanctity.  He lifted woman to her true position by the side of man.  Women were His most faithful disciples.  They ministered unto Him of their substance.  They shared His miraculous healing, feeding, and teaching.  They anointed His feet, they wept over His agony, they followed Him to the cross, they were early at the sepulcher.  They greeted him as the risen Lord.  They received the baptism of the Spirit[--probably having Acts 10:24, 44-48 in mind].  In Christ there is neither male nor female.  Both are one in Him.”  (Pulpit Commentary)


            4:28     The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men,  The fact that she left it behind shows both her intent to return and common sense--why carry the weight needlessly?


            4:29     Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?”  Based on her own experience this man was unlike anyone she had ever met:  He had told her “all things that I ever did”--but He had done this though there was no way He could have known about it since He was unacquainted with her . . . and an outsider as well.  Hence her wondering aloud, whether this could be “the Christ.”  Since the Samaritans did not recognize the existence of true prophets above and beyond Moses, what other alternative did she have than that this was the “second” Moses, the “like Moses prophet” predicted by the Torah (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)?  She implies--without quite actually saying it--that she sees no other alternative.  She’s presented the evidence and challenges them to draw their own conclusion.


            4:30     Then they went out of the city and came to Him.  They thought her experience so intriguing that not merely one or two but a large crowd followed her out to  meet Jesus to investigate further.  Note how the text shows that the well was not within the physical boundaries of the community itself but a ways outside of it--yet without explicitly asserting it.  (As good an example of “necessary inference” as any you will ever find.)  This location would have increased the walking distance of any person who came to use it.   



The “Food” Jesus Craved to “Eat” Was To Do The Work the Father Had Sent Him to Do (John 4:31-38):  31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”  33 So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” 

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Don’t you say, ‘There are four more months and then comes the harvest?’ I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest!  36 The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together.  37 For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  38 I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.” 

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)


            4:31     In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”  Before she departed the disciples had returned (verse 27) and here we find that they must have been successful in the quest for food because they urged Jesus to take time to eat.  Perhaps they were genuinely concerned with how long had passed since He had last done so.  (After all He is described as “wearied” at the time they had begun  their search for nourishment--verse 6--and, when you are, the natural result is to seek both rest and nourishment.)  Furthermore, they had gone out to get food while He remained behind.  Shouldn’t He take advantage of their successful effort?  Quite possibly they also wanted to divert Him from thinking and talking about the Samaritan woman and returning to an agenda they could all understand--the need for a meal.

            Sidebar:  Note that they call the Lord “Rabbi.”  He was exactly that in their minds:  a learned and respected teacher of the scriptures.  In contrast, we tend to think of His rabbinic foes by that title and forget that Jesus’ spiritual analytical skill and miracle working capacity had more than earned Him that courteous title as well. 


            4:32     But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  This had to be startling, since He clearly did not have any when they first left and since there were no evidences of any remaining.  But it turns out He is speaking in terms of spiritual nourishment rather than literal food (verse 34). 


            4:33     Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?”  They took His words literally since they had gone out in search of literal food:  Hence they naturally wondered to each other whether someone had brought Him food while they were absent.  A not illogical thought:  if they could return and find Him in conversation with one foreigner, might not a different one have brought Him nourishment as well?

            Sidebar:  “[This is] another instance of dullness as to spiritual meaning.  In John 2:20 it was the Jews; in John 3:4 Nicodemus; in John 4:11 the Samaritan woman; and now the disciples.  Compare John 11:12; 14:5.  These candid reports of what [argues] against the disciples add to the trust which we place in the narratives of the Evangelists.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  If this were falsified history, such embarrassing lapses would be missing.


            4:34     Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Jesus responded that he was speaking in a figurative manner rather than a literal one:  For Jesus having “food” to eat was equivalent to doing God’s will.  That was what provided Him even greater nourishment and strength . . . but on a spiritual rather than physical level.

            Sidebar:  Jesus had touched on the edges of this idea at least twice before.  When, as a youth, He was challenged by His earthly parents about remaining in the Temple He had responded “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) and when tempted by Satan He had rebutted it by reminding Satan, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’ ” (Luke 4:4).  Cf. the words of Job:  I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (23:12).


            4:35     Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  He challenged them to open their eyes and abandon their complacency:  if they would just look around, they would see that the fields (= people) would soon be ready to be harvested (= made disciples).  The fascinating thing here is that this remark is given in a Samaritan context rather than a strictly Jewish one.  Surely He implies that even among outsiders such as these there was great potential for gaining converts.

            Sidebar:  The comparison is between literal and spiritual “crops” of course.  The physical crops in the ground around them were only four months away--a short span of time--from being harvested.  Similarly the time for the apostles to be spiritually harvesting lay not far in the future either.

            Sidebar:  Impact of the four month time frame on the dating of this conversation:  These harvests generally occurred between the middle of March and the middle of April.  The time must, therefore, have been either the middle of November or of December.  Tristram (Westcott) says the (wheat?) harvest began about the middle of April and lasted till the end of May.  This would bring the time forward another month.  This makes our Lord to have spent some eight months since the Passover, either in Jerusalem or in the Judean land, on His earliest mission. . . .”  (Pulpit Commentary)  


            4:36     And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  Whether one sowed the seed (a reference that carries with it the idea of the parable of the sower in the Synoptics--of God’s word being taught) or one was involved at the other end of the crop growing process in actually doing the reaping (i.e., being the individual directly involved when individuals reached the stage of openly professing their new faith) they would be rewarded with “eternal life.”  Both stages were equally important and without both there would be no crop.


            4:37     For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’  They needed to remember the spiritual application of this truism of the day about physical agriculture:  Both sowing and reaping functions were vital.  Without the first, there would be nothing to reap.  Without reapers, the sowing would be in vain.  Whichever role the future might cast them in, they should be pleased to provide whatever their talents permitted.


            4:38     I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”  In the short term they were cast in the role of reapers.  Others had prepared the way—John the Baptist and his disciples would be one obvious example—and by their own contribution they would be completing the work they had begun.

            Paradoxically they might also play the role of the seed planter or seed enhancer as well, according to how circumstances developed in a particular case.  Whatever needed to be done, they were supposed to provide it--and without hogging the credit for themselves.  As the apostle Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 5):


                        Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you                        believed, as the Lord gave to each one?  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters,     but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are   one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.



After Two Days of Teaching the Samaritans, Jesus Proceeds into Galilee to Provide Further Instruction to Those Who Had Reacted Positively to Him During the Last Feast in Jerusalem (John 4:39-45):  39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the report of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I ever did.”  40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they began asking him to stay with them.  He stayed there two days, 41 and because of his word many more believed.  42 They said to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days he departed from there to Galilee.  44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)  45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him because they had seen all the things he had done in Jerusalem at the feast (for they themselves had gone to the feast).     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:39     And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.”     No outside stranger could possibly have known such things about her past.  Hence their faith was based upon evidence rather than upon popular opinion, upbringing, or self-advancement.  And for outsiders to seek out what a Jew could teach them was itself powerful evidence of just how compelling was her testimony.  But though they were willing to listen they were not gullible:  They wanted to hear more and test out just how perceptive this Teacher might be.  “Trust but verify,” as a great American President once said.  And what they heard convinced them that they wanted to hear even more. 


            4:40     So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  At their request, Jesus remained with them rather than continue on His journey.  How seldom was it likely for Samaritans to desire a Jew to stay after he had finished his business!  But this Jew intrigued them and they wanted to learn even more from Him.

            Sidebar:  It seems a bit odd that John would stress the duration when it was so short, a “mere” two days.  Could it be that it so impressed him--this incredible positive reception among Samaritans of all people!--that it burned deeply into his memory for the rest of his life? 


            4:41     And many more believed because of His own word.  As the result of hearing Jesus’ teaching (“word”) yet more came to have belief in Him during His short stay.  This was surely the foundation that Philip built on when he preached the gospel to them after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 8:5-8; cf. verse 25).  But until then, intentionally going out of their way to share the new teaching with either Gentile or Samaritan was contrary to Jesus’ operating plan--as can be seen in the fact that when He sent the twelve apostles out on their “limited commission” they were specifically ordered not to include such communities (Matthew 10:1-8).  Jesus’ teaching was difficult enough for many Jews to accept; to graft on a large number of Samaritan converts this early was to simply give His foes something additional to object to.   


            4:42     Then they said to the woman, “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.”  At this point, the people could say to the woman that their faith was now based upon personally hearing the convincing message.  She had gotten them to listen, but Jesus had convinced them on the basis of what He said to them as well. 

            His words had convinced them that He was both the “Christ” and “the Savior of the world.”  A Jew would more naturally have linked the ideas of “Christ” and “King” and a Samaritan--in light of their regarding the Messiah as the new revealer of the Divine will--would have more naturally linked “Christ” and “Teacher” (or “Prophet”).  The fact that they linked the Messiah role with that of redemption (“Savior of the world”) is an unexpected twist in what happens yet a rather logical one.

            Reading this from the Samaritans’ own perspective (rather than a post-resurrection standpoint), this likely meant that Jesus was willing to bringing His redemptive message (i.e. teach about these things) not only to His own people but even to those like the Samaritans who were despised outsiders.  Only with the death and resurrection would they come to recognize that not only was He the bringer of the saving message, but that He, also, was the Saving Person. 

            Sidebar:  This is one of the only two occasions when John applies “savior” to the Lord; the other is in 1 John 4:14. 


            4:43     Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee.  With this brief sojourn completed, the traveling party completed its journey back into Galilee but not to His hometown of Nazareth for they were hostile to Him (verse 44).  In contrast, in His ministry years Capernaum became his base of operations (cf. Matthew 4:13).


            4:44     For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.  Jesus Himself had earlier warned the disciples that a prophet received (at least relatively speaking) “no honor in his own country.”  Hence the preaching stay had not only the purpose of being of value to the Samaritans, but also to reassure the disciples as well:  even when they went through periods and places that were unreceptive, there were still places that gave Jesus the respect and honor He deserved.  Even if it was as unexpected as the Samaritans!

            There is a “subtext” here as well:  If those who ought to be willing to listen refuse, take the word to others who will even though your own background insists that they would be the last ones to be receptive.  Results count; not personal preferences.

            Sidebar:  Jesus had in mind mainly, of course, a specific place in Galilee--His hometown of Nazareth.  However much other places in the region might have varying degrees of courtesy and respect toward Him, it was there that the lack of “honor” was most common and persistent and outright antagonistic.  Indeed, the expression “His own country” is used in describing His rejection in Nazareth:  twice in Matthew (13:54, 57), twice in Mark (6:1, 40) and once in Luke (4:23) and never in a context where it clearly refers to Galilee as a whole--which drastically reduces the probability that it should have a broader meaning here.

            Sidebar:  Others argue that though the language certainly fits Nazareth, that in this context the reference is to Galilee.  As Vincent’s Word Studies sums up concisely the case for that option:  John’s Gospel, however, deals with the Judaean rather than with the Galilean ministry of Jesus, and the phrase, His own country, is appropriate to Judaea as ‘the true home and fatherland of the prophets, the land which contained the city of Messiah’s birth, the city associated with Him alike in ancient prophecy and in popular expectation.’  Hence, at Jerusalem, the people said, ‘Hath not the Scriptures said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was’ (John 7:42)?  In John 4:1-3 it is stated that Jesus left Judaea because of a controversy excited by the Pharisees, whom John always marks as the leaders of the opposition to Jesus.  Further, we are told that at Jerusalem, though many believed on His name, yet Jesus did not trust them (John 23-24).”  This approach would also fit well with the fact that “the Galileans received Him” along with the implied flip side of that, “The Judeans (generally) rejected Him” (verse 45).


            4:45     So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast.  The Galileans who had been at the last feast in Jerusalem had spread favorable word of the things they had seen Him do even before He arrived back:  During it “many believed in His name when they saw the signs [= miracles] which He did” (John 2:23).  Hence they are happy to see Him again.  (The fact that He had clearly annoyed some of the Judean religious leaders would have been a further impetus:  Galileans knew full well just how contemptible was the Judean opinion of them.  Anyone who could seriously get on their nerves deserved extra respect!)



In Cana of Galilee, Jesus Heals the Son of a Royal Official Without Even Entering His Home (John 4:46-54):  46 Now he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had made the water wine.  In Capernaum there was a certain royal official whose son was sick.  47 When he heard that Jesus had come back from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and begged him to come down and heal his son, who was about to die. 

48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe!”  49 “Sir,” the official said to him, “come down before my child dies.”  50 Jesus told him, “Go home; your son will live.”  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and set off for home.

51 While he was on his way down, his slaves met him and told him that his son was going to live.  52 So he asked them the time when his condition began to improve, and they told him, “Yesterday at one o’clock in the afternoon the fever left him.”  53 Then the father realized that it was the very time Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he himself believed along with his entire household. 

54 Jesus did this as his second miraculous sign when he returned from Judea to Galilee.     --New English Translation (for comparison)   


            4:46     So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  Presumably Capernaum was where the nobleman’s family lived on an ongoing basis.  Within the family unit there was a son now in  critical condition (verse 47).  Due to pride of position he was hardly likely to “lower” himself to seek out this itinerant “Rabbi” unless the situation were dire and there seemed no alternative.  But why did he believe Jesus could successfully deal with the tragic situation? 

            The knowledge of the wine incident when there should have been no additional wine available (John 2:1-11), surely made the “gossip circuit” far and wide--quite probably even to Capernaum.  As an important man in the regional political/economic hierarchy he may well have been a guest as well.  In addition there were the fascinating stories about Jesus’ miracles (John 2:23) brought back by Galileans who had attended the most recent Feast in Jerusalem (4:45).

            Sidebar:  “Nobleman” is a misleading translation for to our ears it normally suggests someone of an aristocratic background rather than someone simply working for royalty:  The Greek word is an adjective formed from the word for ‘king,’ and as a substantive occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.  It is frequent in Josephus, who uses it in our sense of courtier, or for a civil or military officer, but not for one of the royal family.  The king, whose ‘king’s man’ is here spoken of, was almost certainly Herod Antipas, who was left the kingdom in his father’s first will, and is called ‘king’ by St. Matthew (Matthew 14:9) and by St. Mark (Mark 6:14).  The person here named may therefore be a ‘royalist’ or ‘Herodian’ (compare Matthew 22:16; Mark 3:6), but in a domestic incident like this the reference would be to his social position rather than to his political opinions. . . .   It is not improbable that the person was Chuza, and that his wife’s presence in the band of women who followed Christ (Luke 8:3) is to be traced to the restoration of her child.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)       


            4:47     When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  He had heard of Jesus’ reputation for healing--for what he does next makes no sense unless that knowledge were present--but that knowledge did no good when the Lord was elsewhere.  Learning of His return to Capernaum, he promptly came and pled with Jesus for His intervention since the son was nearly dead.  Since the distance--round trip--was over forty miles, that surely added to the despair since time was clearly short.  


            4:48     Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”  Although Jesus could understand the fatherly interest in the welfare of a child, He also felt sad that the inherent power and rightness of His message was not sufficient to assure acceptance.  After all, the Old Testament prophets worked few miracles.  To convince men like this to believe, “signs and wonders” would be required--signs that affected them directly rather than just signs heard of or witnessed that benefited others.  Of course, He is criticizing everyone present as well and not just the royal official alone for the sentiment was widespread.  (Compare Paul’s rebuke of the mindframe:  “Jews request a sign . . . ,” 1 Corinthians 1:22.)  But it is especially relevant to that person because he is the one seeking a miracle. 


            4:49     The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!”  However great a truth Jesus had expressed, this was not the kind of response he was seeking since the father was (naturally) preoccupied with his own situation.  So he repeated the plea for Jesus to come with him yet again.  Perhaps he felt that only with the personal presence of Christ could the miracle be assured.


            4:50     Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.”  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.  Jesus declined to accompany the man but simply assured him that the child would live.  The father accepted this promise as true with full confidence it would occur.  Hence he was now able to “believe” without the miracle having to be performed in front of Himself.  Up to this point he had believed on the testimony of others, but he, too, now believes on account of [hearing] the word of Christ Himself.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  


            4:51     And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!”  Knowing the nobleman’s quite natural concern, they knew that he would want to know as soon as possible and went to inform him, encountering him as he was returning home.


            4:52     Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.”  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  Note the “yesterday:  At first that seems surprising.  But Cana and Capernaum are around twenty or so  miles apart.  So he would be likely to wait till very early the next morning to make his return or to have sought accommodations somewhere en route.  Either way there would be a delay in arrival home.  Although travel at night was certainly possible, the lack of outdoor lights discouraged it lest accidents occur.           

            But that still left the question, “Could the burst of health have somehow just been coincidence?”  Discovering that the time of day he had met the Lord had been the same time the young man “got better” absolutely ruled out that possibility.  This deepened his own belief and created it in the hearts of the rest of his household as well. 


            4:54     This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.  What was the “first” sign?  The answer seems to hinge upon where we put the emphasis in determining where the miracle was performed:  after leaving Judea or after re-entering Galilee?  In either case, one could see here an indication of an unnarrated healing; however the emphasis that this was both the “second” and that it was a “sign” makes us expect something that was quite visible and obvious and that John has already told us about.

            If we put the emphasis upon after leaving Judea, the only incident between doing so (4:3) and the present healing, is Jesus’ successful ministry in Samaria.  Jesus’ knowledge of the past of an unknown woman at the well provided a directly miraculous “sign” after leaving Judea.  The acceptance by the Samaritan city of His message was a “sign” as well--though a non-miraculous one:  It was a “sign” of Jesus’ willingness to breach the wall of generations of hostility and accept anyone and everyone as disciples.

           If we put the emphasis of the verse upon the event being after entering Galilee only one incident comes close to fitting.  He had left Judea on an earlier occasion as well (John 1:43) and the miracle worked at the marriage feast (John 2) occurred soon thereafter.  If we take this to be the reference point, then the idea would be that Jesus for a second time after entering Galilee had worked a major miracle.  Differententerings” would be under discussion rather than the same one though the latter is the easiest conclusion to make from our text. 

            In favor of the earlier narrative is the fact that “sign” would more naturally suggest a physically miraculous event and we read no hint that He performed any such among the Samaritans.  This also fits better with the idea that both miracles are most naturally interpreted as happening within Galilee while the Samaritan enclave would not have been counted as part of Galilee.  The Samaritan incident only makes sense if we interpret the text with an emphasis upon after leaving Judea.      







Chapter Five



In Jerusalem on the Sabbath Day, Jesus Heals a Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9):  1 After this there was a Jewish feast, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool called Bethzatha in Aramaic, which has five covered walkways.  A great number of sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people were lying in these walkways. 

Now a man was there who had been disabled for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and when he realized that the man had been disabled a long time already, he said to him, “Do you want to become well?”  The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.  While I am trying to get into the water, someone else goes down there before me.” 

Jesus said to him, “Stand up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  Immediately the man was healed, and he picked up his mat and started walking.  (Now that day was a Sabbath.)           



            5:1       After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  These annual festivities were not set up for the benefit of the world at large but for those who were descendants of Abraham and for those who were full or partial converts to Judaism.  (A full convert took upon himself the observance of all the rituals of the law—difficult for either convert or born Jew to practice in Gentile society.)

            Sidebar:  What feast was this?  Some ancient manuscripts read “the feast of the Jews” but very few translations embrace this reading, but those commentators who do consider this definitive proof that Passover must be under consideration.  In addition to the questionable Greek rendering, John seems to persistently call it the Passover when he has that particular feast in mind (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55 for example).

            Almost every other feast, and even the Day of Atonement, have been suggested; but the only one which fits in satisfactorily is Purim.  We saw from John 4:35 that the two days in Samaria were either in December or January.  The next certain date John 6:4, the eve of the Passover, i.e. April.  Purim, which was celebrated in March (14th and 15th Adar), falls just in the right place in the interval. . . . It was a boisterous feast, and some have thought it unlikely that Christ would have anything to do with it. But we are not told that He went to Jerusalem in order to keep the feast; Purim might be kept anywhere.  More probably He went because the multitudes at the feast would afford great opportunities for teaching.  Moreover, it does not follow that because some made this feast a scene of unseemly jollity [= excess], therefore Christ would discountenance the feast itself.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)      


            5:2       Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  The “pool” was deep and wide enough that at least one person could immerse themselves into it--as the man in verse 7 wanted to do.  The large crowd nearby argues that it could hold a number of people at one time though the most coveted timing was when the water was strangely “stirred up” (verse 4).  The modern equivalent would be a “swimming pool” though the recreational use of it was the furthest thing from their minds!  In John 9:7 Jesus refers to “the pool of Siloam” in Jerusalem and it is possible that was the name specifically applied to this body of water while the “Bethesda” mentioned here refers to the building complex in which it was located.


            5:4       For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  The second half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are omitted by modern critical texts on grounds of lack of adequate documentation.  On the other hand, verse 7 clearly indicates that the sick and injured anticipated healing if they were the first to enter when the water was “stirred up”--in other words, what is stated in this verse or something very akin to it.  Whoever inserted these interpretive words thought in terms of a miraculous healing by an angel and (whether the sick attributed it to an angelic action or not), the sick clearly thought the waters would somehow heal the otherwise incurable.

            That their interpretation of why the dipping worked was wrong is rightly argued from the fact this would be a disembodied idle wonder--however useful to some fortunate individual it might allegedly be.  No prophet or inspired man is having his words confirmed by the action.  No new truth is being revealed nor any old one reaffirmed.  And if it were a genuine miracle, why was only one person healed each time?  Did Jesus, for example, choose only one person out of a crowd to heal?  The pure arbitrariness argues against it as well.             


            5:5       Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  This was not a person with a recently developed problem but one who had painfully endured it for almost four decades.  How old he was at the time the malady overtook him we are not told.  His inability to move around except in extremely difficult and slow motions (cf. verse 7) argues that he survived on the generosity of others (probably family) and that all the normal innocent pleasures of life were now beyond his ability.  He was reduced to being a mere spectator to life and not a participant.


            5:6       When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  From one standpoint, this sounds like a silly question.  On the other hand, a goodly number would have been laid there many times and never gained healing; continuing to do so could have become almost a virtual end in itself.  True, they still wanted healing but the delay reduced it from a vivid passion to a mere strong longing.  And he in particular was in more danger of falling into that trap than many:  Notice that in his answer in the next verse the emphasis is not on “Yes I want healing!” but on the impossibility of his gaining it.  Yes, he still desires it, but it seems a totally unrealistic goal.  

            Sidebar:  Interestingly, He does not say how the man would “be made well.”  For reasons examined in verse 4, it is thoroughly improbable that Jesus had any confidence in the healing power of the water.  Wording His question this way avoided getting diverted into that subject.

            Sidebar:  There were three times when Jesus initiated a healing without being approached by someone seeking His assistance.  Two are in this gospel:  The one found here and the second is that of a man born blind (John 9:1-12).  The third is of the man whose ear was cut off during Jesus’ arrest (Luke 22:50-51).


            5:7       The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”  The crippled man did not know that this was Jesus (verses 12-15).  Even if he had, he might well have calculated that at this spot the “ordained” means of healing was still strictly with those waters.  Hence he responded that it was impossible for him, in his condition, to gain the opportunity of being the first into it.  The healing was considered for one person alone and healing became, effectively, a race to get in first; there was simply no way he could be first since there was no one to help him.  He knew by personal experience; he had tried in spite of his severe physical limitations. 

            So why did whoever had left him there leave him rather than remain to assist?  Some other responsibility that he had the obligation to fulfill--relying on the oft chance that he would be back at just the right moment to help out?  Or was it done out of an effort to “humor” the man’s hopes and dreams--feeling that it was next to hopeless to be sure of being the first person in the healing waters since no one could be sure of when they would “stir” again (verse 4)?  


            5:8       Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”  Just do it; the water was not necessary.  And if he tries to stand and walk, that vividly shows he has sufficient faith to at least give it a try.  An “acted out” profession of faith, if you will, rather than a verbal one.     


            5:9       And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.  And that day was the Sabbath.  Whether out of full faith in Jesus or the partial faith that he had nothing to lose by trying, he attempted to rise . . . was successful . . . and carried his bed away as instructed.  And it mattered not to the man involved that it was the Sabbath Day.  If a Man had the raw power to miraculously and instantaneously cure you, surely He had the power to interpret the Sabbath day laws correctly!

            What he may have said to the Lord in his happiness we are not informed.



Because It Was the Sabbath, the Local Religious Authorities Are Outraged That the Healed Man—on the Instructions of Jesus—Dared Carry Away the Mat That He Had for So Many Years Been Confined To (John 5:10-15):   10 So the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and you are not permitted to carry your mat.”  11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 

12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?”  13 But the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped out, since there was a crowd in that place.

14 After this Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “Look, you have become well.  Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you.”  15 The man went away and informed the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the one who had made him well.     

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:10     The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”  Certain local Jews--presumably prominent rabbis and quite possibly even members of the Sanhedrin since he knew where to go to provide the information they sought (verse 15)--were quite upset when they saw the man carrying the bed-pallet because they considered it “work” and work was forbidden on the Sabbath (Saturday).  Under normal circumstances they might have had a case--though if it was “sinless” to carry him there on it, it would seem an extreme stretch to consider it “sinful” to carry it away when it was no longer needed. 

            In the case of this healed man it would also have been to ignore the orders of the One who had just healed him and quite probably lose the “bed” if he left to return for it later.  Furthermore the instruction he had been given was simple and easy to carry out.  Why in the world would he even wonder whether to do it?

            Sidebar:  Jesus angered religious “experts” on two other occasions in this gospel by carrying out Sabbath day healings (John 7:23; 9:13).

            Sidebar:  In addition to the general command to avoid work on the Sabbath, they even had a text that verbally could be taken as directly covering this situation.  In Jeremiah 17:21-22 it was commanded through the prophet:  Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.”  In light of the immediately following words “nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem” the reference to carrying a burden and the carrying stuff out of the home seem clearly aimed at conducting business on the Sabbath rather than the type of thing Jesus has in mind.  (As in the case of Nehemiah 13:15.)  An excellent “proof text” for throwing “sand in the air” and making people feel needlessly guilty however.

            5:11     He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’   The unspoken undercurrent to these words:  If the Man who could do such a clearly impossible thing gave you a simple order to carry out, would it not be irrational to refuse to obey it?  Furthermore wouldn’t such a person be qualified to give the proper application of Divine Sabbath day law?


            5:12     Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”  If the man’s answer had been a mere self-serving excuse, they could at least have carried the controversy further with the man himself.  But he had defended his action by insisting “I was following orders.”  It was obvious to the challengers that the one who had given the instruction could not possibly have done so rightly and they are determined to set Him right.  Furthermore does it seem wrong to mentally hear a sneer behind how they pronounced the word “man”?  As in “ignorant, no good, nobody.”


            5:13     But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Not knowing the name of Jesus, he presumably looked about to point Him out if He were still near.  The large size of the crowd (“a great multitude” of the sick [verse 3] and those present with them) made it difficult to do so.  Jesus intentionally drawing away into the crowd made it completely impossible. 

            Perhaps Jesus had done so to avoid a needless confrontation on this occasion--there are times to “do battle” and there are times when it is better to pass it by till later.  Perhaps because so many were there seeking healing, He calculated that one healing was adequate to make His point to the religious authorities.  For that matter, if He remained He would be faced with many more individuals seeking healing and thereby massively escalating the collision with the authorities. 


            5:14     Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”  Being healed, it was natural for the man to go to the temple to give thanks.  There he encountered Jesus, who urged him to beware of a life of sin.  If he made it a lifestyle something far worse than a severe physical calamity could come upon him.  Jesus had spoken of how one purged of evil could become besieged with even worse evil (Matthew 12:45, speaking of demonic affliction).  The apostle Peter specifically applies the point to those who have been liberated from moral evil:  they can “again [be so] entangled” in sins that “the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20).  

            Jesus’ language could also carry the connotation that sin had been the cause of his physical calamity in the first place.  However if there is a connection in some cases, it is far from universal.  As we have the words of Jesus Himself to prove:  Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (John 9:3). 


            5:15     The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.  Remembering the enquiry as to who had healed him, he then took word to them that he now knew that it was Jesus.  Perhaps they had demanded such information if their paths crossed again or perhaps it was simply an act to protect against any further recriminations aimed at himself:  “If you insist upon complaining, complain to Him!”  Perhaps he simply figured that any person who could work such an astounding wonder was at least a prophet and that the pre-eminent religious authorities needed to become well aware of His identity.  



Jesus Defends His Willingness to Heal on the Sabbath On the Grounds That He Was Following the Example and Instruction of His Heavenly Father (John 5:16-21):  16 Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him.  17 So he told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.”  18 For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God.

    19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.  20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed.  21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:16     For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  Daring to act in even a beneficial way on the Sabbath so angered their sense of propriety, that they considered nothing adequate to justify it.  Rather than allowing the evidence of a walking “cripple” to cause them to reconsider their interpretation of the nature of Sabbath day “work,” they pushed such matters under the mental rug of their prejudice.  It simply wasn’t the right time to heal people and that was that. 

            And if you did differently they were going to try to kill you. 

            Sidebar:  Modern critical texts prefer a reading omitting the “sought to kill Him,” though verse 18 indicates they certainly had that intent and that a good part of it lay in regard to action(s) on the Sabbath day.  We have no descriptions of earlier Sabbath day healings in Jerusalem.  However the broad language used to describe His actions while there in John 2:23 (“signs”) and 4:45 (“having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast”) could well include them.  It should be noted that neither of these texts specify the day of the week the actions were performed on and our current verse refers to how “He had done these things on the Sabbath,” which would only logically refer to the curing of the crippled man.         


            5:17     But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”  Jesus defended Himself on the ground that through such actions both God and Himself had been working--not for self-benefit but for that of others.  Indeed both God’s observation of what is happening on earth and regular interventions in it are recorded throughout the Old Testament.  This includes His impact on nature and external temporal conditions under which we live.  References to God being “all knowing” refer not just to His “intellect” but also to His knowledge of all things happening within the creation.  This all encompassing knowledge results in His intervention in ways that promote the long term results He desires.  His is often the “hidden hand” that moves behind the screen of external forces.


            5:18     Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.  They took this “fathership” reference to mean far more than that Jesus was a righteous man.  In the broadest sense, Jehovah/Yahweh was the father/creator of all humankind.  In a more restricted and elevated sense, He was the father/creator of the Jewish people as a people.  But when Jesus used such language they regarded it as deeply alarming for He used it as if language that uniquely applied to Himself alone.

            There are two additional possible reasons for their hostility.  First of all, since a supernatural act had been done, they interpreted Yahweh being Jesus’ “father” as an implicit claim that He was supernaturally “equal with God.”  Especially when He has implied that there was something far more than the normal human/Divine relationship in His own case:  note how He bluntly refers to “My Father” rather than “our father” in verse 17. 

            Alternatively (or additionally) they had heard Jesus clearly or implicitly teaching along the lines of the first verses of this gospel.  With their assumption of the worst when it came to Jesus, it would not have required much beyond a vague allusion to set off their alarm bells!  Especially when combined with these other factors.    

            How could any man claim such?  Is it not idolatry--not of a carved image but of a physical person?  What they found unimaginable but which John embraced was that the pre-existing Word (1:1) was embodied in the Jesus who they saw.  It was not a fleshly man who was “equal with God” but the incarnated Word within.

            Sidebar on “making Himself equal with God:”  This shows that, in the view of the Jews, the name Son of God, or that calling God his Father, implied equality with God.  The Jews were the best interpreters of their own language, and as Jesus did not deny the correctness of their interpretations, it follows that he meant to be so understood.  See John 10:29-38.  The interpretation of the Jews was a very natural and just one.  He not only said that God was his Father, but he said that he had the same right to work on the Sabbath that God had; that by the same authority, and in the same manner, he could dispense with the obligation of the day.  They had now two pretences for seeking to kill him - one for making himself equal with God, which they considered blasphemy, and the other for violating the Sabbath.”  (Barnes’ Notes)


            5:19     Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  Jesus defended His behavior on the ground that He acted perfectly and unswervingly in the same manner as His Father.  He could originate “nothing of Himself” because His sole and exclusive role model was that of His Father. 

            This would not have set well with His foes either.  If Jesus did what the heavenly father wanted, then clearly His foes did not.  For that matter, if they were doing something different than Jehovah wanted, whose father did they really have?  (John 8:44:  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”)  Would this line of reasoning not have gone through their minds as well--if not immediately, then as they thought over His words later?


            5:20     For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  The Son was the perfect imitation of the Father because the Father held nothing back.  Indeed, if they were shaken by what they had already seen, the Father would show Jesus even “greater works” to perform that they might “marvel” even more.  Hence there would be many more awesome miracles--such as His raising the dead (verse 21)--and then even His own resurrection from the dead.

            He makes no claim that they will embrace Him as the result of their amazement and “marvel[ing].”  He only indicates that He will provide such powerful evidence that they should have taken the final step to overt belief.    


            5:21    For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  On whom Jesus exercised this power was left up to Himself:  note the “to whom He [i.e. Jesus Himself]” decided.  In light of His “oneness” with the Father it would inevitably be the same as if the Father had spoken directly to do it. 

            The man He had healed that day had been among the “living dead”--physically alive but dead so far as being able to do anything economically useful to himself or others.  But if that startles them so much, they had best learn that He can also bring back those literally and physically dead and in the tomb for several days--as He does for Lazarus later in this gospel (John 11:17, 43-44).  The “death” of a crippled life and the literal death of having passed away--both are within the power of both the Father and His Son, Jesus.  Yet all of this is but a shadow of the even greater power and authority of bringing all the buried back to life and bringing them to judgment for their behavior in this life (verses 26-30).  

            Sidebar:  In addition to passages relating to the general resurrection from physical death, there are others that speak specifically of the power and willingness to do so for individuals.  In Deuteronomy 32:39 we finding Jehovah describing Himself in these terms:  And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal. . . .”  God’s power, if you will, is both destructive and reconstructive in nature. 

            As Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel 2:6:  The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up.”  Thus she prays to express her joy that the Lord could do the “impossible:  Her utterly improbable pregnancy had occurred after so many years and fits with the “impossible” ability of God to even overcome the grave.  Perhaps also fitting here is Psalms 68:20:  Our God is the God of salvation; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death.”      



Jesus Defends His Willingness to Heal on the Sabbath On the Grounds That His Father Had Even Given Him the Power to Judge and Raise from the Dead (John 5:22-30):  22 “Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

24 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.  25 I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming—and is now here—when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  26 For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself, 27 and he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation.  30 I can do nothing on my own initiative.  Just as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.”     --New English Translation (for comparison) 



            5:22     For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son,  The religious leaders in Jerusalem thought they had the supreme spiritual judgment over all.  Jesus challenges their assumption and undoubtedly angers them by claiming that these matters are clearly His own prerogative.  And this from a Galilean!  How much they must have been outraged! 

            There are two forms of judgment in the current context:  (1)  His absolute authority over establishing moral and spiritual truth--without that assumption verses 23-27 make no sense.  (2)  His authority to apply the Divine standards of truth to the physically dead as well (verses 28-29).  In exercising “judgment” in both senses, He absolutely follows the standards set by His Heavenly Father (verse 30). 


            5:23     that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  The reason for this vast dispensation of power was to assure that the Son receive the same “honor” (= respect, reverence, obedience) that the Father Himself received.  To these religious foes, if anyone was to receive such respect it was not an “ignorant Galilean” but themselves.  They had the right endorsements, the right educational and spiritual credentials, and the respect of those who were recognized as “spiritually important.”  They had everyone on their side but God.

            And the price for their arrogance was high indeed:  By disrespecting the Son they were actually doing the same toward His Father as well. 


            5:24     “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.  25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  In verses 24-25 Jesus insists that “now”--today, at this time . . . through My teachings--those who are spiritually and morally “dead” can leave their state of “living death” in sin and be “resurrected” to life in God’s sight to a new and purified existence.  Salvation, in other words, is a form of resurrection--from spiritual death--and this hinges upon the combination of accepting (“hearing”) Jesus’ word and belief in the Father who had sent Him with that message.  (For how can Jesus’ words possibly produce that result if He had invented it all Himself?)  If the two are interlinked in the person’s mind and heart, the result is “everlasting life.”

            Sidebar:  This idea of such a spiritual and moral resurrection Jesus referred to upon other occasions as well.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26).  Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” (John 8:51). 

            In the gospel of Luke the message is also conveyed but in easier language for most people to understand.  For example, through the parable of the prodigal Son:  for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).  Then there is the concept of a living death (spiritually/morally) that Jesus presents in Luke 9:60:  Let the dead bury their own dead.” 


            5:26     For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,            The Father not only was the embodiment of eternal life, He had “granted” the Son the right to continue with that same “essence” of life even while sent to earth to live in a fleshly body.  Hence a Jesus-less eternal life could not exist.  (Hardly likely to appease His orthodox critics in the Temple!)

            Sidebar on the implications of “have life in Himself:”  There is much that is remarkable in this expression.  It is in Him as it is in God.  He has the control of it, and can exercise it as he will.  The prophets and apostles are never represented as having such power in themselves.  They were dependent; they performed miracles in the name of God and of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6; 4:30; 16:18) but Jesus did it by His own name, authority, and power.  He had but to speak, and it was done (Mark 5:41; Luke 7:14; John 11:43).  This wonderful commission He bore from God to raise up the dead as He pleased; to convert sinners when and where He chose; and finally to raise up all the dead, and pronounce on them an eternal doom according to the deeds done in the body.  None could do this but He who had the power of creation - equal in omnipotence to the Father, and the power of searching all hearts - equal in omniscience to God.”  (Barnes’ Notes)

            Sidebar on the theology of this gospel compared to the others:  “ ‘The relation of the Son to the Father is seldom alluded to in the Synoptic Gospels.  But a single verse in which it is, seems to contain the essence of the Johannean theology, Matthew 11:27:  All things are delivered unto Me of My Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.  This passage is one of the best authenticated in the Synoptic Gospels. It is found in exact parallelism both in Matthew and Luke . . . And yet once grant the authenticity of this passage, and there is nothing in the Johannean Christology that it does not cover.’ . . . The theory, therefore, that this discourse is the composition of the Evangelist, who puts forward his own theology as the teaching of Christ, has no basis.  If the passage in Matthew and Luke represents the teaching of Christ, what reason have we for doubting that this discourse does so?”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            5:27     and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.  He has known the flesh, He has known the temptations, He has known the physical weaknesses and trials of a human being.  He can judge with complete equity because He has known not only the glories of life with the Father but the difficulties of life on earth as well.


            5:28     Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice.  If Jesus is the arbiter of the spiritual resurrection to salvation, then there is no logical reason why He would not play the central role in the physical resurrection as well.  Who would be better fit?  Hence He makes the transition from spiritual to literal by speaking of those who are dead in their earthly “graves.”  Jesus’ voice will be heard by them--implying their continued existence as rational, intellectual beings in some form--though physically dead.


            5:29     and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.  The resurrection is inescapable.  The only difference—but what a vast one!—is that some will be resurrected to eternal “life” but those who have practiced “evil” will awake to a “resurrection of condemnation.”  If the first implies a continuing life of joy and happiness, what can the second imply but the diametrical opposite.  He does not bother to spell out the details, but merely the fact.

            Sidebar:  This passage, and Acts 24:15, are the only direct assertions in New Testament of a bodily resurrection of the wicked.  It is implied, Matthew 10:28; Revelation 20:12-15.  A satisfactory translation for the Greek words meaning ‘judge’ and ‘judgment’ cannot be found: they combine the notions of ‘separating’ and ‘judging,’ and from the context often acquire the further notion of ‘condemning.’   (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

            “It is elsewhere said that they shall then be condemned to everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46), and that they shall be punished with everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9); and it is said of the unjust that they are reserved unto the day of judgment to be punished (2 Peter 2:9).”  (Barnes’ Notes)


            5:30     I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.  There is no need to fear that Jesus will judge unjustly due to personal animosity or favoritism.  Rather, He will judge strictly according to the standards He “hears” from God (= has been given by Him).  Everything will be strictly in conformity with the One who is even greater than He.  This is why He was willing to die painfully on the cross even when it was obviously vastly far from his preference:  O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).  Anyone who will adhere to the Father’s instructions in that extreme a case, will adhere to them in all cases.

            “. . . [H]e claimed the power to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven;’ ‘The faith hath saved thee;’ ‘It is better for this man that he had never been born;’ ‘Come unto me;’ ‘Depart from me;’ ‘I never knew you.’  These and all his other judgments on scribes and Pharisees, on devils and hypocrites, on Pilate and Herod, on Jerusalem and the world, are revelations of the Father's mind--are in themselves just judgments, absolutely free from any selfhood, from any reflex influence or reaction from men to Himself.  They are the true and infallible expression of the Divine will.  Because of the entire conformity of His will and himself to the Divine will, the judgment must correspond to that which is, in its very nature, right and true.” (Pulpit Commentary)



If They Truly Respect John the Baptist, They Must Also Respect Jesus for John Had Spoken About Him (John 5:31-35):  31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.  32 There is another who testifies about me, and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true.  33 You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 

34  (“I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved.)  35 He was a lamp that was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice greatly for a short time in his light.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:31     “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  If the evidence for Jesus’ claims had to stand on His word alone—unsupported by witnesses or other evidence—then it was blatantly inadequate.  (The Old Testament standard was that of having two or three witnesses:  Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15.) 

            That did not mean that Jesus’ word was not reliable (John 8:14:  Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true”) but that it needed supporting evidence to verify it, that evidence being an additional “witness” that His claims were true.  For example when Jesus spoke of bearing truthful witness He added, “It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.  I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me” (8:17-18).  God bore that witness in a variety of fashions, one of the most obvious being Jesus’ varied miracles.  Another witness lay in Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah--which could be described as God testifying of Him (as the inspirer of scripture) or the varied prophets themselves as testifying of Him (as referring those who actually wrote down the words for posterity).  

            But these evidences He does not immediately invoke.  Instead He begins with a prominent and respected contemporary religious figure they would hesitate to speak ill of . . . whose words He could also introduce . . . if He wanted to. . . .  (Note Jesus’ ambivalent attitude toward introducing this source in verse 34.) 


            5:32     There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.             A second person who bore witness to Jesus was the well known and widely honored Baptizer; what he had to say of Jesus was quite true and accurate.  Many think this refers to God--note the capitalization of “He witnesses” in the NKJV--but since Jesus immediately introduces the Baptizer (verse 33) that seems to be the individual He has in mind.  Then, lest this be misinterpreted as His sole evidence, He quickly moves to something even more powerful--the verification God Himself gave to Jesus’ claims and teachings through His miracles (verses 36-38) and that of inspired prophecy (verses 39-40).   


            5:33     You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  John the Baptist had said favorable things of Jesus and shared them with these Jerusalem religious leaders (John 1:26-34).  The nature of them is not spelled out here.  With critics as intense as these, any commendatory words would have been adequate to justify the reference.  They had such a pervasive rejection of Jesus, that anything that suggested He was worthy of respect drastically undermined their case.


            5:34     Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.  Even though praising words had been spoken, Jesus did not rest His case on the words of any man however great and honorable in his own right—not even John.  Yet He felt the necessity of appealing to him so that their prejudices might be removed and that they might be “saved” from their blindness and prejudice, not to mention the sin that grew out of it.  If they would not accept the witness of His own miracles, were they not willing to accept the endorsement of someone they claimed to respect?  And they had once thought kindly of him. . . .


            5:35     He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.  For a while they had viewed John with great favor.  Note the limitation--“for a time,” i.e., he had then said or done something that offended their sensibilities and that time of acceptance had passed.  His words of praise for Jesus would be one motivating factor.  His rebuke of their treating his baptism as a mere formalistic ritual rather than symbolizing a drastic turning away from sin and pride would be another.

            Sidebar on the “lamp” imagery in Jewish thought:  The term was in common use to denote a distinguished hero or teacher.  The Rabbis were often called ‘Lamps of the Law,’ and David was ‘the Lamp of Israel” (2 Samuel 21:17).  Compare the remarkable parallel spoken of the Baptist’s great prototype [in the Apocrypha], “Then stood up Elias the prophet, as fire, and his word was kindled like a lamp” (Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] 48:1).”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers).

            From the Talmud:  “Rabbi Menahem said that Solomon (Proverbs 6:23 [‘For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life’) compares ‘prayer’ with ‘lamp,’ and ‘teaching’ with ‘light,’ because the one flashes for the twinkling of an eye, comforts in the moment during which it shines; while the other, like the shining of the sun, burns evermore, and leads to eternal rest.”   



Great as John the Baptist Was, Jesus’ Own Miracles and the Testimony of Scripture Provided An Even More Powerful Reason to Accept Jesus’ Authority (John 5:36-47):  36 “But I have a testimony greater than that from John.  For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete—the deeds I am now doing—testify about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me.

“You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, 38 nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent.  39 You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, 40 but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.

41  I do not accept praise from people, 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God within you.  43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me.  If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.  44 How can you believe, if you accept praise from one another and don’t seek the praise that comes from the only God?

45 “Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father.  The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope.  46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.  47 But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:36     But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.  Although the Baptizer bore witness (verse 32-33) that was but a small part of the actual evidence in Jesus’ behalf.  The supernatural “works” that Jesus repeatedly performed provided powerful confirmation that God had, indeed, sent Him.  No mortal could work these wonders; a power greater than mortal had to lie behind them.

            And this reality was often recognized:  Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him”--Nicodemus in John 3:2.  Or as friendly eyes wondered whether He might also be the long promised Messiah:  When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done? (John 7:31). 

            Yet if the will to disbelieve the plain evidence in front of your eyes was strong enough, you would reject it; it was too “impossible” to be true.  It undermined and repudiated too many of your preferences and convictions.  And Jesus refers to this sad reality (John 10:25-26) and how it could lead to outright hate (15:23-25) and the effort to arrest Him (10:37-39).


            5:37     And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me.  You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.  This was unlike Jesus who had “seen” the Father and, by necessary implication for that remark to make sense, His “form” as well (cf. 5:19).  His voice had neither spoken to them nor had they seen Him in some visible form. 

            Two obvious references to hearing the Father’s testimony/voice can seemingly be ruled out:  The Transfiguration had not yet taken place, and very few if any of Christ’s hearers [who are present in Jerusalem at this time] could have heard the voice from heaven at the Baptism.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  Hence hearing the Father’s “voice” and seeing His “form” would seemingly have to refer to what had been the case in Jesus’ pre-incarnation interactions with the Father.  They wish to think ill of Jesus when Jesus had enjoyed a unique relationship with the Father that was impossible for any of them to share.    


            5:38     But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.  It disturbed Him greatly that God’s word they already had--the “Scriptures” of verse 39--they had not permitted to truly “abide” in them the way they should have.  Oh, they might, perhaps, have a copy of the text for themselves (a very expensive proposition for handwritten manuscripts), but they never let the message pour into their hearts and ferment their reasoning.

            The reason for this was that if they permitted it to “ferment” within and properly shape their thinking and reasoning, they would have had to accept (“believe” in) Jesus and that they absolutely refused to do.  Anything pointing in that direction had to be rejected, reinterpreted, or otherwise removed—even the intent inherent in the scriptures of the Old Testament.  It “couldn’t” refer to Jesus and, therefore, it didn’t. 

            Nor did any texts He introduced to prove His arguments have any relevance either.  They were the experts in scriptural interpretation and not Him.  And if you (Jesus) were as smart as you ought to be, you would already know it as well.  In effect they claimed an authority greater than scripture though they were neither prophets not inspired.


            5:39     You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  They gave lip service to the ability of the scriptures to save them yet they were determined to overlook those texts that described Jesus’ nature, actions, and intents.

            The Greek can reasonably be translated either as a command to do what they weren’t doing (“Search the Scriptures”) or a reference to what they were already doing (“You search the Scriptures”).  The KJV embraced the former but the bulk of modern translations opt for the second.  Rendering the text as a command would actually be rather odd:  these were folk who already did so in great detail--otherwise they couldn’t come up with their exotic theories and exegesis.  Hence it was not the “searching” they were in need of but the insight and wisdom to accept its true intent rather than conjuring up glosses and elaborations that had nothing beyond creative imagination behind them.

            Sidebar:  The idea of Scripture study being a desired norm was rooted in the text of the Scriptures themselves.  For example:  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8).  “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalms 1:2).  Oh, how I love Your law!  It is my meditation all the day.  You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me.  I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalms 119:97-99).  “To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).         


            5:40     But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.  Even the offer of eternal “life” was not sufficient to motivate them to accept the evidence and become followers of Jesus.  No greater gift was possible for the Lord to give; no greater rejection more foolish.  It was not that they could not come due to some personal incapacity but they would not/will not come (KJV) due to Jesus’ teaching being incompatible with what they preferred.  In this case it was the intellectual / “spiritual” delusion of the proud; for most it would be because their behavior (lifestyle) was evil (John 3:19).  Though, in fact, isn’t what they were guilty of actually a variant of the same?  

            The lesson is wide in its bearing.  The Rabbinic spirit is not confined to Rabbis, nor is the merely literal study of the Scriptures limited to those of Judæa.  Dictionaries, and grammars, and commentaries, are tools; but the precious ore is in the mine, and is to be extracted by every man for himself.  He who wisely uses the best means will know most of God and His truth; but this knowledge no man can purchase, and the essentials of it none need lack.”  Each must do it for him or herself.  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)


            5:41     “I do not receive honor from men.  They were not to misunderstand Jesus’ rebuke.  He wasn’t really interested in receiving “honor” (praise) from them.  (The bulk of translations prefer “glory,” a term which, if anything, is even more emphatic on the matter.)  In other words, ego-satisfaction wasn’t His purpose or intent.  Curing their intellectual and spiritual blindness was; deepening their commitment to the Father was. 

            The words can also be read as a rebuke of their refusal to give Him the honor He fully deserved and the reason they refused being given in the next verse.  But our first approach seems far sounder since His highest priority was clearly full hearted commitment to the Father’s will (as explicitly claimed in John 6:38) and since that was inherently far more important than any mere outward display of support for the Son (as demonstrated in John 6:15).


            5:42     But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.  His concern wasn’t so much their rejection of Himself, but that it betrayed a lack of the “love of God” being in their hearts.  Without that, even if every religious act they performed faithfully matched every precept of God--profoundly unlikely as that was to be!--they would still not be acceptable to Jehovah unless they also had the right mind-frame and attitude.  Even perfect obedience is empty if it is not grounded in a profound love of the Deity.

            Even the Torah itself stressed that love comes first and the obedience to Jehovah is the fruit of it:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).  As the result of this, “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you” (verse 17).        


            5:43     I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.  What made the situation worse, was that if someone came strictly on their own “authority” without ever being commissioned by God, they would accept him.  That man’s message would match their preferences and agenda and since they matched, they would embrace and endorse Him.

            Hence all Jesus had to do to gain their support was to alter His agenda to one that embraced His opponents’ plans and goals.  But “following your supporters” rather than following God--that was a price He was utterly unwilling to pay.     


            5:44     How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?  The Jerusalem opponents of Jesus were far too preoccupied with prestige and position.  They were obsessed with receiving “honor from one another” rather than in doing the right thing.  If doing the right thing cost them respect in the eyes of their peers, they would sacrifice even “the honor that comes from the only God” in order to avoid the loss of face.  In a very real sense they feared the reaction of their fellow man more than they feared God; the flip side of this was the sad reality that such folk “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). 

            And for the Sadducees at least this actually made a great deal of sense:  Since they were convinced that one would not survive death and that death meant quite literally ceasing to exist anywhere and in any form, there would never be a direct answerability to God.  The only “honor” they would ever receive would be here on earth and what a self-serving agenda could produce.   


            5:45     Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust.  Jesus would have no need to repudiate them to His Father.  It had already been done for Him:  They trusted in Moses and his writings would accuse them quite adequately.  And not just in regard to his writings foreshadowing the coming of the Messiah.  There were also fundamental principles like just judgment and intellectual honesty that his writings embraced that they were quite willing to cast aside if either worked to Jesus’ advantage.  (Or that of any opponent, for that matter.) 

            Sidebar:  “ ‘I will accuse’ (κατηγορήσω).  From κατά, against, and ἀγορεύω, to speak in the assembly (ἀγορά).  Hence, properly, to bring an accusation in court.  John uses no other verb for accuse, and this only here, John 8:6, and Revelation 12:10.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

            “If this refers to the day of judgment (and the future tense seems to point to that), there are two reasons why Christ will not act as accuser (1) because it would be needless; there is another accuser ready; (2) because He will be acting as Judge.  There is one:  Your accuser exists already; he is there with his charge.  Note the change from future to present:  Christ will not be, because Moses is, their accuser.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)   


            5:46     For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  Moses had written of the coming of the Messiah and now, when it was finally occurring, they sought reasons to avoid accepting the fulfillment of the prophecies.  Hence they fully embraced Moses as their guide--except when he led them where they did not want to go!

            Sidebar: “ ‘he wrote of me:’  Christ here stamps with His authority the authority of the Pentateuch. He accepts, as referring to Himself, the Messianic types and prophecies which it contains.  Compare Luke 24:27 [‘And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself’] and Luke 24:44 [‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me’].”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            5:47     But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”  Divine revelation whose contents they did not like, they refused to accept as authoritative and truly believe in it.  But this was not confined to the rejection of Jesus; it also shaped their treatment of the Torah and prophets as well.  If what they said was contrary to their preferences, they rejected it just as certainly as they turned aside at Jesus’ own words. 

            Oh, they wouldn’t be so bold as to express it their way:  They would self-servingly “interpret” their way around it.  For fascinating examples of how they took seemingly clear-cut concepts and found ways to “nickel and dime” them to near oblivion, see the examples Jesus gives in Matthew 23:16-22. 

            And, on some matters, cleverly find a way to bind teaching on others while freeing themselves from any such obligation:  “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4).