“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4.19-24.
Jesus is passing through Samaria on his way back north from Jerusalem to Galilee. Most Jews went the long way round to the east of the Jordan so as to avoid Samaria because as John reminds us earlier in this story, “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4.9). The rift dated back to about 700 BC when Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians and most of the Jews who lived there were taken into exile. The Jews that remained intermarried with Assyrians settlers and they thus became a hybrid people contaminated by idolatory. Calling a fellow-Jew a “Samaritan” was the ultimate insult and it was one thrown at Jesus (John 8.48).
The animosity between Samaritan and Jew had been heightened in about 400 BC when the Samaritans (with good Scriptural justification) built themselves a temple on Mount Gerizim to rival that on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, and it had been further heightened in 108 BC when the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple. But now that the woman and Jesus are conversing together, it is the worship aspect of the temple issue that the woman wants to raise. If our temple were still here, which would be the right temple? This one or the Jerusalem one?
Jesus’ answer is “Neither”. No temple is the right one. He has come to do away with all temples. With his advent, the woman’s question has become meaningless. Connecting with God in worship is no longer a matter of place and it no longer needs a system. The time for special people in special garments doing special things with special objects has passed. Relationship is to replace ritual and worship is now to be a spiritual response to the truth about God as revealed in Jesus. The worship that Jesus speaks of is worship of “the Father”; and he is the way to the Father. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). A temple system might try and connect me to “God” but only Jesus takes me to the Father.
We need to remember this in our churches. If, once again, we have special people in special garments doing special things with special objects, we need to ask ourselves why? And if ever, as I engage in ministry, I start to act as an intermediary in any way … seeing my role as one of trying to connect people to God … I need to stop it. That is a temple function, and there are to be no more temples. When John had his great vision of the city of God … the age to come … he says: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21.22), and that is the truth that began to be fulfilled 2,000 years ago with Jesus’ first coming and is still being fulfilled now.
My only function is to lift Jesus high. To point to him. For he is the temple. And as people come to him, they will find they have come to the Father and they will worship him, not in outward form and dutiful ritual, but in spirit and in truth.