Chapter four records a second famous personal conversation with Jesus. He had been spending time around Jerusalem, but decided to leave because he was drawing too much attention from the Pharisees. John 4:4 makes a significant statement: “He had to pass through Samaria.” Geographically, this was not true. Jews frequently traveled around Samaria specifically so they would not go through it. If Jesus “had to” it was only because of his mission.
In this case, his mission was to talk to a woman who had gone to draw water during the wrong time of day far away from the city (John 4:4-26). In a manner shockingly uncharacteristic of any Jewish man, Jesus spoke to her, asking for a drink of water. This led to a conversation about living water, which leaves no thirst at all. As with Nicodemus, the woman could think only physically, whereas Jesus was speaking spiritually. In order to prove himself as a prophet, he pointed out that he knew both her personal history and present status, even though they had only just met. This did convince her and caused her to ask a theological question that she must have wondered for some time. Again, as with Nicodemus, Jesus’ skirted the actual question and moved straight to the point: “God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Apparently discouraged, she sighed that eventually Messiah would come and straighten it all out. At this, Jesus did what he did not even do for Nicodemus: he revealed his identity to her – “I…am he.”
Returning to town, she tried to get people to go see Jesus. Because of her status around town, the best she could do is plant the thought in their heads. The NET accurately translates her attempt: “Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29) During this time he took the opportunity to teach his disciples about true ministry, even in a “questionable” context (John 4:31-38). When the villagers finally did come, they met Jesus, believed in him, and invited him to stay for two days before he moved on to Galilee (John 4:39-42). Back in Cana, he healed an official’s sick son from a distance at the pleading of the father (John 4:46-54).
John noted that this was “his second miraculous sign” in Galilee (John 4:54). This is significant for two reasons. First, it helps fit John into the chronology of the Synoptics. None of them show Jesus spending much time in Jerusalem or Judea this early in his ministry, so this early southern ministry is unique to John. Second, it’s clear that John was referring to the first two Galilee miracles, because he already said that Jesus had done miraculous signs “in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover” (John 2:23). Both the first and second miracles in Galilee were in Cana (John 2:11).