“The woman said to [Jesus], ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’ ”
Samaritan religion, because it accepted only a corrupted form of the Five Books of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy), did not have a fully developed idea of the Messiah as the descendant of David. However, that does not mean the Samaritans lacked messianic expectations. Drawing from passages such as Deuteronomy 18:15, the Samaritans looked for a Messiah who would serve primarily as a prophet and restore the “authentic religion” of the Samaritans to God’s people (they called him the Taheb).
When the Samaritan woman first recognized that Jesus was a prophet (John 4:19), it is unclear whether she thought He was the messianic figure. However, as Jesus spoke about the coming change in worship, it apparently became clear to her that He was at least implicitly claiming to be far more than an ordinary prophet. Perhaps in order to figure out if He claimed to be the Messiah, she said to Jesus that the Messiah would tell them all things when He came. And in order to clear up any confusion the woman might have had, Jesus told her that He was indeed the Messiah (vv. 25–26).
Jesus was forthright with the Samaritan woman about His messianic identity when He usually did not make such direct claims to be the promised Son of David. This reticence is best explained by the fact that for first-century Jews, the title “Messiah” frequently had military connotations. The Jews thought the Messiah would be the one to overthrow the Romans and establish a new, politically independent Jewish state. If Jesus were to have announced His messianic office so plainly to the Jews, they would have likely been incited to revolt against Rome. Because the Messiah was not a political or military figure for the Samaritans, Jesus could speak of His messianic office more straightforwardly. That Jesus was unafraid to have gentiles tell others about Him (Luke 8:26–39) would seem to confirm that Jesus refrained from calling Himself the Messiah among Jews lest it cause problems for His ministry.
Of course, Jesus did not hide His true identity from all Jews. When Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, our Lord did not rebuke him but confirmed the truth of his confession (Matt. 16:13–20). But the disciples had seen His ministry and had a better idea of what the Messiah should be, though even they misunderstood. In any case, unless Jesus reveals His identity to people by the Spirit, no one will receive Him as Messiah (John 3:3–5).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We are called to present the gospel accurately and to be able to answer any questions from critics of Christianity. However, our best arguments will convince no one that Jesus is the Messiah and move them to trust in Him. Only the Holy Spirit can do such convincing. We must pray that the Spirit would bless our efforts, for if He does not, no one will be converted as the result of our outreach.