05 November 2022

Worship in the Spirit

In Samaria, Jesus reveals the true form and location for worship. With his advent, traditions about holy space and holy time no longer apply, and his arrival renders the historical debate over the location of the Temple moot. From now on, worship must be performed in truth and in spirit.

Even at this early point in his ministry, Jesus experienced opposition from the Temple authorities, and quite possibly, that is why he left Judea for Galilee, seeking more receptive hearts.

And the most direct route to Galilee was through Samaria, a region many traveling Jews avoided by taking a more circuitous route - (John 4:1-3).

  • (John 4:20-22) – “Our fathers in this mountain worshiped, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where we must worship. Jesus says to her: Believe me, woman! There is coming an hour when neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you know not. We worship that which we know because salvation is of the Jews.


On the way, he encounters the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and asks her for a drink of water. This surprises her since devout Jews avoid contact with Samaritans, and it is socially awkward for a Jewish male to communicate with an unrelated and unaccompanied female.

Jesus responds: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is speaking to you, you would ask, and he would give you living water.”

She assumes he means water and asks how he can draw any from the well with no vessel, and then asks him: “Are you greater than Jacob who gave us the well?” Jesus responds again:

  • Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. Whosoever drinks of the water I will give will never thirst; in him, it will become a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”

The woman then asks for this “living water.” In turn, Jesus tells her to “summon your husband.” She claims to have no husband, but he retorts, “You have had five husbands and he whom you now have is not your husband; you have spoken truly.”

The Samaritan woman now perceives that he is a prophet, and she asks about the old dispute between the Jews and Samaritans: “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place necessary to worship!”

The Samaritans also worship the God of Israel, but unlike the Jews, they recognize only the books of Moses as scripture, and they disagree with them over the proper location for the Temple of Yahweh.


Moses directed Israel to worship at the place that Yahweh designated, but he did not specify where that was. Because the Jews accepted the rest of the Old Testament, they assumed the correct site was Jerusalem based on numerous passages from the later books of the Hebrew Bible.

The Samaritans argue in favor of Mount Gerizim in Samaria for the location of the Temple, and they point for scriptural authorization to Genesis where God promises to give Shechem (the city of Samaria) to Abraham and his “seed” – (Genesis 12:6-7, 1 Kings 12:25). But Jesus responds with a most unexpected declaration:

  • There is coming an hour when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for even such as these is the Father seeking as his worshipers. God is spirit; they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” - (John 4:23-24).

He does not attempt to resolve the ancient dispute. Instead, he describes the new order of worship that is being established in him, one in which questions about holy sites and space are pointless - His words indicate the obsolescence of the old Temple and concerns about holy space.

What matters is not where God’s people worship Him, BUT HOW - (“An hour is coming and now is”). The people of God must worship him as Father by means of spirit and truth. Likewise, the division between Jews and Samaritans has reached its termination point.

As elsewhere in John’s gospel, the term “hour” refers to the death of Jesus, the “hour” of his “glorification.” He is ushering in a new reality where external rituals are replaced by spiritual worship - (John 7:37-39).

With his death and resurrection, traditional regulations based on space and time have become irrelevant. The presence of Yahweh cannot be limited to buildings, geographic locations, or specific “seasons” of the year. From now on, Jesus is the true Temple where God is worshiped and His presence dwells.

The “Son of Man,” the “word made flesh,” is the true tabernacle in which the glory of God is manifested, and the means of access between heaven and earth. He is the true Temple raised up by God “after three days” - (John 1:14, 1:47-51, 2:17-22).