Today we return to our study of John’s gospel and pick up our exposition at the beginning of chapter 4. Jesus has been in Jerusalem and Judea, cleansing the temple, teaching, and meeting with Nicodemus (2:13–3:36). Jesus’ ministry was growing in popularity, and the Pharisees took notice. This led Jesus and His disciples to leave Judea (4:1–3). The text does not say explicitly why the Pharisees’ growing awareness of Jesus prompted Him to head for Galilee, but given that He came to do the will of the Father (v. 34), it must have been the divine will for Him to head north at that time.
In order to get to Galilee, Jesus and the disciples passed through Samaria, the region between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north (v. 4). Samaria had been part of the northern kingdom of Israel, which fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:7–41). Per Assyrian custom, the Assyrians took most of the Israelites away from their land and into exile, leaving only a few of them behind. Then, they resettled the northern kingdom with peoples from other lands that they had conquered. The Israelites who were left behind intermarried with these pagan peoples and adopted many of their religious practices.
By the first century AD, the Samaritans were a people of mixed Jewish-Gentile ancestry who followed a compromised form of the Old Testament religion. Consequently, first-century Jews considered them unclean. The Jews who interpreted the ceremonial purity laws in the strictest fashion viewed the region and its people as so defiling that they would take a circuitous route around Samaria as they traveled to Galilee instead of the straight road through the area. Jesus and the disciples, however, took the straight and shortest road through Samaria, resting in the town of Sychar at about the sixth hour, that is, noon (John 4:4–6).
Jesus had His famous encounter with the Samaritan woman at a well in Sychar (vv. 7–9). We will discuss this episode more over the coming days, but today we note the contrast between her and the man with whom Jesus had recently spoken, Nicodemus (3:1–15). Nicodemus was a respected leader in Jerusalem. The Samaritan woman, we will see, was an outcast. Nicodemus and this woman had nothing in common but their need for Jesus. There are many differences between people, but all people have one thing in common—all of us need Christ.