In chapter 3, John (the author) gives essentially the same sermon twice: that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” He does this first in the context of a visit from a Pharisee, and later by checking in on John the Baptist.
Chapter 3 launches a new story with, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus…” John has just set up the Jewish leaders as antagonists when he introduces Nicodemus, who “came to Jesus by night.” The setting is clandestine; a Pharisee, teacher of the law, member of the ruling class, who knows there’s something different about Jesus but can’t be seen with Him.
The passage turns from conversation to sermon in verse 16. The original text doesn’t indicate whether this is a continuation of Jesus’ conversation or a reflection by John. In any case, it pronounces “…the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil.”
The scene moves from Jerusalem out to the wilderness, where John the Baptist continues to deal with questions about the nature of Jesus. It’s apparent here that, to this point, John’s and Jesus’ ministries have run concurrently. However, the Baptist makes it clear that a change is coming, and that change is necessary for God’s ultimate plan to be fulfilled.
Most of chapter 4 is occupied with a narrative event in Samaria. The Samaritans of that time believed that they were a faithful remnant of Israel. Their scripture was the five Books of Moses alone. Hence they believed that Gerezim, and not Jerusalem, should be the true center of worship, since it was the home of Jacob. There is much more to the story (and I’ve added a brief synopsis of the situation on the YouCanReadTheBible site), but it’s sufficient to note that Jews looked sharply down at Samaritans, and this woman had every reason to be cautious of this Jewish teacher.
Note throughout this passage that every time Jesus pushes the discussion into the spiritual, she pulls it back into the physical. Also note how Jesus responds each time she does. Then listen to how John allows the Samaritan witnesses to declare what he preached in chapter 3: that “this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Our verse for this week is John 3:16, of course: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John chapters 3 and 4. Now let’s read it!