The Model

Biblical Truth: Jesus is our model for effective witnessing.

Initiate Contact: John 4:4-9.

[4]  And He had to pass through Samaria. [5]  So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; [6]  and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

[7]  There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."

[8]  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. [9]  Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)     [NASU]

In chapter 3, John records an interview Jesus had with Nicodemus who was an eminent representative of orthodox Judaism. Now John records an interview Jesus had with one who stood for a class which was wholeheartedly despised by orthodox Judaism. In the former incident Jesus spoke of the importance of the new birth as the work of the Holy Spirit. Here His theme is the living water but the basic message is the same if we take the living water to refer to the Holy Spirit [John 7:38-39]. A feature of this story is the way the woman persistently attempts to avoid the issues that Jesus raises. But just as persistently Jesus brings her back to them until finally He secures the desired result.

[4]  The route normally followed by Jewish travelers heading north from Judea to Galilee passed through Samaria. Geography therefore dictated that Jesus had to go through Samaria when he embarked on the three-day walk to Galilee. The only alternative was to cross the Jordan near Jericho, travel north up the east bank through largely Gentile territory, and cross back to the west bank near the Lake of Galilee. By the first century the Samaritans had developed their own religious heritage based on the Pentateuch (they did not accept the other books of the Hebrew Bible as canonical), continuing to focus their worship not on Jerusalem and its temple but on Mount Gerizim. They were despised by strict Jews because of this false religion and because they had intermarried with foreigners.

[5-6]  Sychar is probably to be identified with the modern village of Askar on the shoulder of Mount Ebal, opposite Mount Gerizim. Jacob’s well lies about a half mile to the south of the village. When the Israelites conquered and settled Canaan, they brought with them out of Egypt the bones of Joseph, and buried them at Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants. Sychar lies about a mile from the ancient town of Shechem. Joseph’s tomb lies but a few hundred yards north-west of Jacob’s well. Jesus arrived at Jacob’s well about the sixth hour, almost certainly about noon when the heat of the day and the progress of the journey explain Jesus’ thirst and tiredness.

[7-8]  Apparently the woman came to the well alone. Women were more likely to come in groups to fetch water, and either earlier or later in the day when the heat of the sun was not so fierce. Possibly the woman’s public shame contributed to her isolation. The connection between verse 7 and the parenthetical explanation of verse 8 suggests that normally Jesus’ disciples would have helped him draw water, but their absence prompted Jesus to breach social custom and ask the Samaritan woman for a drink.

[9]  Given the usual Jewish concern over ritual defilement, the Samaritan woman’s surprise is therefore entirely understandable. Jesus was a Jew and she was both a Samaritan and a woman. But what the woman does not know is that, far from being defiled by what is unclean, Jesus sanctifies what He touches. Others who touch lepers become unclean; Jesus touches a leper and brings healing. A religious, male, Jewish aristocrat like Nicodemus, or an untrained, female Samaritan peasant who had made a mess of her life – Jesus converses frankly with both, and happily breaks social and religious taboos to do so.

Arouse Interest: John 4:10-15.

[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."

[11]  She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? [12]  "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?" [13]  Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; [14]  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." [15]  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw."     [NASU]

[10-12]  The woman sees in Jesus a weary Jewish traveler; she does not yet perceive His glory. If she had known who it was that was asking her for a drink, she would have been pressing Him for a far better drink. The gift of God that she does not recognize is probably the eternal life that only Jesus can bestow. What Jesus promises is living water. The expression has been chosen to allow two levels of meaning. On the one hand, it denotes fresh, running water from springs. On the other hand, the expression belongs to a considerable network of metaphorical uses. The obvious background is the Old Testament. There God declares: For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water [Jer. 2:13]. That is, they have rejected the fresh, running supply of God and His faithful goodness, choosing instead the stagnant waters of cisterns they themselves prepared, discovering even then that their cisterns were cracked, and leaving them with nothing to sustain life and blessing. But the prophets look forward to a time when living water will flow out from Jerusalem. The metaphor speaks of God and His grace, knowledge of God, life, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit; in Isaiah 1:16-18; Ezekiel 36:25-27 water promises cleansing. All of these themes are picked up in John’s use of living water. In this chapter, the water is the satisfying eternal life mediated by the Spirit that only Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of the world, can provide.

[13-15]  The living water Jesus gives bans thirst forever in the one who drinks it. This thirst is not for natural water, but for God, for eternal life in the presence of God; and the thirst is met not by removing this aching desire but by pouring out the Spirit. Indeed, this water will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life [14]; clearly a reference to the Spirit who alone gives life [6:63]. Again there are echoes of Old Testament promises, in the day of God’s salvation, with joy God’s people will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation [Isaiah 12:3]. The pouring out of God’s Spirit will be like pouring water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground [Isaiah 44:3]. The language of inner satisfaction and transformation calls to mind a string of prophecies anticipating new hearts, the exchange of failed formalism in religion for a heart that knows and experiences God, and that hungers to do His will [Jer. 31:29-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32]. It is hard not to think of Isaiah 55:1-3: Every one who thirsts, come to the waters … that you may live. Here God promises to make an everlasting covenant with all who come, not only with Israel but with the peoples, a nation which knows you not [Isaiah 55:4-5]. The woman, like Nicodemus, continues to think on the purely naturalistic plane, as is made clear by her desire not to keep coming here to draw water. If the stranger is speaking the truth, he is indeed greater than Jacob. The Samaritan woman, with what degree of skepticism or hope we cannot ascertain, wants to get in on any blessing that will enable her to abandon these trips to Jacob’s well.

Help Them See Their Need: John 4:16-18.

[16]  He said to her, "Go, call your husband and come here." [17]  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’;

[18]  for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly."     [NASU]

Jesus’ request that she go and fetch her husband has no apparent connection with what precedes. It is best taken as His way of bringing the woman’s sin into the open. He is met with the curt response that she has no husband. In the fewest possible words she tries to stop a dangerous subject. Jesus’ reply is devastating. It shows that He knows all about her misadventures. He knows that she has had five husbands and that the man with whom she now lives is not her husband. We have here an example of Jesus’ more than human knowledge which John reveals to us from time to time. This does not cast any reflection on His genuine humanity, but it does indicate that there was revealed to Him all that was needful for His ministry. What Jesus has just said has forced on the woman the realization that He is no ordinary being. She gives expression to this conviction by calling Him a prophet. The function of a prophet in the Scriptures was usually to tell forth a message he had from God. But there is evidence that among the people of this time a prophet was sometimes held to have special insight into men’s condition [see Luke 7:39].

Focus on the Essentials: John 4:24-26.

[24]  "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." [25]  The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." [26]  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."    [NASU]

[24]  The hour that will change worship is the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. This worship can take place only in and through Him: He is the true temple [2:19-22], He is the resurrection and the life [11:25]. The passion and exaltation of Jesus constitute the turning point upon which the gift of the Holy Spirit depends [7:38-39; 16:7]; but that salvation-historical turning point is possible only because of who Jesus is. The coming of the hour means that the true worshippers cannot be identified by their attachment to a particular shrine, but by their worship of the Father in spirit and truth. The force of this phrase clearly depends on what is meant by the simple clause, God is spirit. Jesus is not suggesting that God is one spirit amongst many, nor simply that He is incorporeal in the Stoic sense, nor that spirit completely defines His metaphysical properties. In this context, spirit characterizes what God is like, in the same way that flesh, location, and corporeality characterize what human beings and their world are like. God is spirit means that God is invisible, divine as opposed to human, life-giving and unknowable to human beings unless He chooses to reveal Himself. As God is light and God is love, so God is spirit: these are elements in the way God presents Himself to human beings, in His gracious self-disclosure in His Son. This God who is spirit can be worshipped only in spirit and truth. Spirit and truth are not two separable characteristics of the worship that must be offered; they must be held together. Spirit and truth means essentially God-centered, made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in personal knowledge of and conformity to God’s Word-made-flesh, the one who is God’s truth, the faithful exposition and fulfillment of God and His saving purposes. The worshippers whom God seeks worship Him out of the fullness of the supernatural life they enjoy (in spirit), and on the basis of God’s incarnate Self-Expression, Christ Jesus Himself, through whom God’s person and will are finally and ultimately disclosed (in truth); and these two characteristics form one matrix, indivisible. To worship the Father in spirit and truth clearly means much more than worship without necessary ties to particular holy places (though it cannot mean any less).

[25-26]  When that One comes, He will declare all things to us is more typically a Samaritan than a Jewish expectation. By and large Jews did not think of the Messiah primarily as a teacher. By contrast, Samaritans pictured the Messiah as one who would reveal the truth, in line with his role as the ultimate prophet. John himself understands that Jesus is the ‘revealer’ in ways that outstrip both Jewish and Samaritan expectation. It is entirely in line with this Gospel that Jesus should unambiguously declare Himself to be the Messiah to a Samaritan, but not to His own people. For many Jews, the title ‘Messiah’ carried so much political and military baggage that His self-disclosure in such settings necessarily had to be more subdued and subtle. Similarly, in the Synoptics Jesus is far more likely to encourage the public testimony of those who have experienced His transforming power if they live in Gentile territory.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Jesus defied the social customs of His culture in how and who He approached. What can we learn from Jesus here? How can we apply that teaching in the way we approach all types of people today?

2.         Note how Jesus continually chooses terms that are both familiar and appropriate to the person He is conversing with. Here He chooses to use the term “living water.” What meaning did that term have for the woman? What metaphorical meaning did Jesus give the term?

3.         What does “worship in spirit and truth” mean? What can you do to make your worship more consistent with this guideline?


The Gospel According to John, D.A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts