Christ’s Impression on the Samaritans
From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” (4:39–42)
Following the interlude of verses 31–38, the Samaritans reenter the narrative as the story builds to a powerful conclusion. Many of the villagers believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” Surely we can assume that she gave the details of His supernatural knowledge, not just this summary comment. That supernatural knowledge of the details of her past settled for them that He was in fact the Messiah. Therefore when they came to Jesus at the well, they were continually asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. During that time many more believed because of His word. Though they were influenced by the woman’s testimony, hearing from Jesus Himself was the clincher. So they were saying to her, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” Such words were not intended to denigrate her testimony, but rather to indicate that their time with Jesus confirmed it.
The Samaritans’ confession of Jesus as the Savior of the world (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 2:2; 4:14) was especially significant because they were not Jewish. Had He come only to save Israel as the Jews preferred to think (and not the whole world), the Samaritans would have been excluded. But the Lord did not come to save Israel alone. His saving mission extended far beyond the borders of Judea and Galilee, encompassing men and women from every nation on earth.
Through His conversation with a non-Jewish woman, Jesus gave an entire non-Jewish village the opportunity to receive salvation. In so doing, He set the precedent for the worldwide impact of His saving work. As His forerunner John the Baptist had earlier exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29).
The Savior of the World
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
If ever there was a great spiritual climax to a story, that climax is found in the phrase with which John the evangelist ends his account of Christ’s conversation with the woman of Samaria. The woman had believed in Jesus as the result of his conversation with her and had immediately gone off to her own city to tell others about him. These came and believed. They asked Christ to stay with them. When he did, others believed also. John’s account of this miniature revival in Samaria is then rounded off with the concluding testimony of these new believers concerning Jesus: “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’ ” (John 4:42).
This great phrase—“the Savior of the world”—concludes John’s story and is therefore particularly significant. Of course, no one really wanted a Savior of the world in Christ’s day. The Jews wanted a savior of Jerusalem. The Samaritans wanted a savior of Samaria, as their conduct at a later time indicates (cf. Luke 9:52, 53). The Greeks wanted to save Greece; the Romans, to save Rome. But Jesus was not this kind of a savior. Jesus is the Savior of the world. Jesus appeared on earth for men of all races in order that he might die for them and be the means of their salvation.
It is because he did this that you and I, who are not Jews, have a Savior.
The Human Race
Before we look at this phrase—“the Savior of the world”—we need to look at the very important word “world.” In Greek the word is kosmos. It occurs about 185 times in the New Testament, but what is highly significant for our study is that 105 of these 185 occurrences are in the books traditionally attributed to John. The word kosmos occurs 78 times in the Gospel of John, 24 times in John’s epistles, and 3 times in Revelation. We get a sense of how unusual John’s use of the word is when we realize that Matthew uses the word only 8 times and that it occurs just 3 times each in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. In other words, we are dealing here with one of the great concepts, or themes, of John’s Gospel.
But what does the word kosmos mean? Initially the word probably denoted an ornament; that is, an object that was decorative or beautiful because it was well proportioned or well constructed. This usage appears many times in Homer and is preserved for us in our English word “cosmetic.” From this original use, the word passed quite naturally into a word describing the universe because of its beauty and harmony. The universe is God’s ornament. This sense of the word is retained in one of the three uses of it in John 1:10, which tells us that the world (meaning the universe) was made by Jesus Christ. Since the earth with its order and beauty was the most significant part of the universe for mankind, it was natural that the word kosmos should next be applied to this earth and, after that, to the men who live upon it.
This latter idea is the one normally used by John. In John the word kosmos most often means “the human race.” In the later chapters of the Gospel particularly, the word denotes the human race in its opposition to God. Consequently, those who are called to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are distinguished from it. We find John writing: “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1). Later, Jesus makes the distinction even clearer by praying on behalf of the disciples: “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9).
In these later chapters the line of distinction is drawn between those who are Christ’s and those who are merely “of the world.” In the early chapters (that is, before Jesus has begun to do much of his work) the references deal with Christ’s actions toward the human race generally.
Let us look at some of these references. The first important one is John 1:9, which says, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
What does that mean? If we are to understand this verse, we need to remember, first of all, that it does not refer to some imagined divine light or spark of divinity that is said to be innate to mankind. That is a view which has been held by the Quakers and peripheral Christian denominations, but it is not what the verse is teaching. We discussed this issue in one of our studies of John’s first chapter. The “Light” of the verse really refers to the historical Jesus. The point of the verse is that Jesus shone upon all men—from the outside, as a spotlight shines upon the darkened front of an empty house—rather than there being any light shining forth from within.
The fact that Jesus shines upon all men is, however, important. It is important because it tells us that he is the light, rather than another. The verse says that he is the “true” or “genuine” light. It is important because we are told that the light is for all.
Do you realize that it is only because of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ that you, a Gentile (if you are a Gentile), have spiritual light? Before Christ’s coming, salvation was, as Jesus maintained, “of the Jews.” To the Jews belonged the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises (Rom. 9:4). That is true; it is a fact of our history. On one occasion, when Daniel O’Connell, a nineteenth-century Irish politician, taunted the great English statesman Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons about his being a Jew, Disraeli replied, “Yes, I am a Jew; and when the ancestors of this right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island [he meant Ireland], mine were priests in the temple of Solomon and were giving law and religion to the world.” It was a just rebuke. For centuries the true light of divine revelation was confined to Judaism. Now, however, through Jesus Christ the light of God’s law and true religion have come to us Gentiles.
Have you recognized that the Lord Jesus Christ came to be your Light? If you will allow him to do so, he will use that light first to reveal the darkness of your heart and life to you and then to lead you into the light of his truth and righteousness.
The second important reference to the relationship of Jesus Christ to the world of men is that he came to be the world’s Savior. That is the teaching of John the Baptist who declared, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ ” (John 1:29). Jesus is only the Savior of those who believe on him, for salvation is through faith alone. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” says the author of Hebrews (Heb. 11:6). Yet it is also correct to say that he died in order that all might come to repentance.
I wonder if you have ever pondered on all that is involved in that phrase, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” At the very least it referred to the sacrifices, as I pointed out in an earlier study. The sacrificial lamb had always figured highly in Israel’s religious culture. Abel had sacrificed a lamb and thereby received God’s blessing. Abraham had performed various sacrifices. The offering of lambs figured in the worship at the temple and was practiced daily. Thus, when John the Baptist termed Jesus the “Lamb of God,” he was clearly identifying Jesus as the innocent substitute who would die in place of all those who have sinned.
However, John’s phrase also referred to the culmination and far-reaching effect of the sacrifices. To understand the importance of this truth, we need to go back to the time when God first instituted sacrifices. There in the Garden of Eden, after man had sinned, God shed the blood of one animal for one person and then established this as a repeatable form of worship on the basis of which a sinful man might come to him. When Abel did that, God judged him righteous (Heb. 11:4). He rejected the more beautiful offering of Cain because it was not a sacrifice.
For thousands of years men lived with this basic one-lamb-for-one-person institution. The time came when the Jews were in slavery in Egypt and God was about to bring them out and lead them into their own land. At this time God instituted the Passover. Each family in Israel was to take a lamb and examine it for defects. Only a perfect lamb could be chosen. After three days, on the night of the Passover, the lamb was to be killed and eaten and its blood spread upon the lintel and side posts of the door of the house as a sign to the angel of death to pass over that house as it went through Egypt slaying the firstborn that night. One lamb for a person? Yes! But here God revealed that it could also be one lamb for one family.
The Exodus took place, and several months later the people were at Mount Sinai where God gave them the law. In the law were instructions for the Day of Atonement, on which the high priest was to kill a lamb for the nation and then take its blood within the veil into the Holy of Holies, where it was sprinkled upon the mercy seat beneath the wings of the cherubim. Here was the progression: one lamb for one person, one lamb for one family, one lamb for one nation. … But then Jesus came, and it was John’s role to identify him as one lamb for this world.
For some years now I have been convinced that this was the primary meaning of Palm Sunday. Men who love liturgy and liturgical parades have seized upon this event, as men will, and have built it into a day of triumph in which Jesus supposedly presented himself as King to a warm and enthusiastic populace. But that is not what Palm Sunday is about. Jesus did not present himself as King to the people of Jerusalem only to be surprised several days later by their rejection of him. The day of crucifixion was the necessary prelude to Easter, and Palm Sunday was the necessary prelude to the day of the crucifixion. At Calvary Jesus died as God’s Lamb. Palm Sunday was the day on which that Lamb was led into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was the day on which Jesus offered himself as our substitute.
This was probably true in a very literal way. We must remember that the idea that Jesus was crucified on what we call Good Friday is a tradition inherited from a later period of church history and is therefore not necessarily accurate. In fact, recent studies have indicated that Jesus may have died just before sundown on Thursday of Passover week; that is, before a Friday Passover beginning on Thursday evening. According to this reckoning, there would have been two sabbaths in that particular Passover week, the regular Saturday Sabbath and the Friday Passover Sabbath. Thus, Jesus would have died on Thursday, would have spent three days and three nights in the tomb, as he foretold, and would have risen from the grave before sunrise on Sunday morning, which was (by Jewish reckoning) the first day of the week.
The bearing that all this has upon the matter of the Passover lambs is readily apparent. For if Jesus was crucified on Thursday before a Friday Passover and if he entered Jerusalem on Sunday, as the Bible indicates, then Jesus was entering Jerusalem at the precise moment at which the thousands of Passover lambs were being led into the city to be taken into the thousands of Jewish homes. What better way could Jesus have dramatized the claim that he was God’s Lamb? When he later died, as he did, at the precise moment when, according to John, the Jewish people were actually killing their lambs and feeding on them, the imagery was complete.
Do you realize that Jesus Christ truly is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world? Do you realize that he came to die for you? Each of us should believe these things and commit ourselves to him.
God So Loved the World
The final important reference to the world in the opening chapters of the Gospel is in John 3:16. There we read: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Where can a sinful human being such as you or I learn that God is love? You will not find it taught in books on human history. You will not find it in philosophy or in your own reasoning. You will not even find it in the other religions of this world. You will find this truth only in Christianity, at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. How do we know that God loves us? It is not because someone else tells us so. He may be mistaken. It is not because the universe is beautiful; the universe is also horrible at times. There is no love in space; space is nothingness. Even on earth we must admit that there are tidal waves and hurricanes, earthquakes and disease, just as there are gorgeous spring days and beautiful sunsets. How do we know that God loves us? Only because Jesus of Nazareth died for us! The Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
He died for us even when we were hostile toward him. What did men do when Jesus appeared as the Light? Men rejected the Light. What did men do when he appeared as the Lamb? Men crucified the Lamb. What did men do when Jesus appeared as the great and supreme manifestation of God’s love? Men hated that love and despised it.
So we ask ourselves: Can God really love a race that rejects his Light, crucifies his Lamb, and despises his love? Everything within ourselves would say no. But the reality of the crucified Christ forces us to say yes, for he is indeed the Savior of such a sinful and rebellious world. Samuel Medley expressed this in a song written toward the middle of the eighteenth century:
Awake, my soul, in joyful lays,
And sing thy great Redeemer’s praise:
He justly claims a song from me,
His loving-kindness is so free.
He saw me ruined in the fall,
Yet loved me notwithstanding all,
And saved me from my lost estate;
His loving-kindness is so great.
May the knowledge of the truth of the love of God for our race, found so long ago by the woman of Samaria and her friends, be yours as you come to know our great Savior.
42 On the basis that the corresponding verbal form originally means “to babble or stammer,” some have translated lalian (“what you said,” GK 3282) rather disparagingly as “chatter.” Since “chatter” is an inadequate basis for belief, we need not consider the suggestion seriously. Personal acquaintance with Jesus had led many of the Samaritans in that village to confess that Jesus “really is the Savior of the world.” In the OT, God is often portrayed as the one bringing salvation to his people. In Isaiah 43:3 God says, “For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Although Jesus is often referred to as Savior (Lk 2:11; Php 3:20; 2 Ti 1:10), the title “Savior of the world” is applied to him only here and in 1 John 4:14. Some have suggested that this reluctance stems from the fact that in the secular world it was used as a technical term for a number of pagan gods. Adolf Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910], 364–65) notes that it was often applied to the Roman emperor as well. That Jesus came as Savior of the world is precisely the point of John 3:17, which says that God sent his Son not to condemn the world “but to save the world through him.” The redemptive work of God has no geographic, cultural, or ethnic boundaries. Jesus is the Savior of the world.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 159–160). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 330–335). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 416). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.