“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:35-38).
In John 4:27-42, the Apostle John provides five proofs supporting his overall theme (John 20:30-31) that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The first one is found in vs. 27. It is the proof that Jesus was in immediate control of His immediate circumstances. He did not allow circumstances to control Him.
The second is found in vs. 28-30. It is the impact Jesus had upon the Woman at the Well. Remember, the woman came to the well to draw physical water. Upon encountering Jesus, she received living water. Jesus made the astonishing claim that He is not only the source of spiritual life, but also that He is God. She left her water jar and went to share what had happened to her. She had to tell somebody. Everybody!
The third proof of Jesus’ identity as God is found in vs. 31-34 and His intimacy with God the Father. He compared His relationship to the Father to food or nourishment. Paralleling the metaphor of salvation being like “living water,” Jesus told His disciples that much like physical food sustains the body, so the spiritual food of doing the will of the Father and accomplishing the work He had sent Jesus to accomplish was His food.
The fourth proof of Jesus’ identity as God is found in vs. 35-38. He possessed insight into men’s souls. He knew those who were the elect and ready for salvation. He also knew that the method and means to reach these people with the Gospel would be through the preaching and teaching of His disciples. The Holy Spirit would use such means as the way to accomplish the eternal goal of God: the salvation of sinners.
The setting of this narrative probably happened in December or January, which was four months before the normal spring harvest (mid-April). Crops were planted in November, and by December or January the grain would be sprouting up in a vibrant color of green. Jesus used this as an object lesson, much like the water in the well and the food the disciples brought to Him, to illustrate the fact that they were surrounded by crops growing in the field which were waiting to be harvested. The crops symbolized the harvest of souls the disciple were to reach with the gospel.
Dr. John MacArthur comments that, “Jesus points out the Samaritan woman and people of Sychar (“lift up your eyes”) who were at that moment coming upon the scene (v. 30) looking like a ripened “harvest” that urgently needed “gathering,” i.e., evangelizing. white for harvest. Their white clothing seen above the growing grain may have looked like white heads on the stalks, an indication of readiness for harvest. Jesus knew the hearts of all (2:24), so was able to state their readiness for salvation (cf. 4:39–41).
The Apostle Paul explains this methodology of evangelizing the lost in I Corinthians 3:5-8 in counteracting the sectarianism and pride of the Corinthian church. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”
Another commentator writes, “Of course, Jesus fully accomplished His work of atonement two thousand years ago, but His work of sowing and reaping continues. The disciples participated in this work during our Lord’s earthly ministry, and by extension, all of Jesus’ followers will participate in this mission until the end of the age (vv. 36–38; see Matt. 28:18–20). In fact, the church is the primary means through which Jesus plants the seed of the gospel—through preaching and teaching the Word—and harvests spiritual fruit—as people are called to repent and believe in Him alone for salvation. Within the array of callings and gifts represented by the church, some focus on sowing and some on reaping, but all faithful servants of Christ join in these kingdom labors in some capacity (John 4:37–38).
People ask me, who seek to harmonize the sovereignty of God of sinners with the responsibility of sharing the gospel, as to “who” we are to share the good news of salvation? The answer is “everyone.” They often reply, “How do we know which ones the Lord has chosen to save?” The answer is we don’t. Only God does. Our responsibility is to share. God’s responsibility is to save.
Puritan Matthew Henry explains, “Both they that sowed and they that reaped shall rejoice together; and the great Lord of the harvest shall have the glory of all.”
Another pastor puts it this way: “What is your place in the work of the kingdom? Even now, Christ is working through His church to plant spiritual seed and reap spiritual fruit, and all of us are called to participate in this work by exercising our gifts for the sake of the advance of the gospel. What can you do this day to encourage the proclamation of the gospel and the calling of people to faith in your local community?”
Soli deo Gloria!