John 4:26—Why did Jesus confess He was the Messiah here, but avoid doing it elsewhere?
Problem: In the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus seemed to go out of His way to avoid claiming He was the Jewish Messiah. He would ask His disciples in private (Matt 16:13) and would sometimes exhort people who discovered it “to tell no man” (see comments on Matt. 16:20). Yet here in John the woman of Samaria said, “I know that Messiah is coming who is called Christ” (John 4:25). Jesus forthrightly volunteered, “I who speak to you am He” (v. 26).
Solution: Here Jesus was in Samaria, not Judea. The Jews of Jesus’ day had a distorted concept of the Messiah, namely, as one who would deliver them from the political oppression of Rome. In this context, Jesus was more careful to make His claims more covert, so as to elicit from His disciples a more spiritual concept of the one who came to redeem His people (cf. Luke 19:10; John 10:10).
Indeed, this is why Jesus so often spoke in parables, so that those who were truly seeking would understand, but those who had a false concept would be confused (see Matt. 13:13). This is why when Jesus performed miracles He would sometimes exhort the person to tell no one, since He did not want to be thronged by the curious. Indeed, Jesus rebuked those who, having seen Him multiply the loaves, wanted to make Him king (John 6:15), declaring that they followed Him “because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (v. 26). However, in Samaria, where this false Jewish concept of a political deliverer from Rome who could feed the masses did not prevail, Jesus did not hesitate to claim that He indeed was the true Messiah. Furthermore, Jesus said this to only one Samaritan woman in private, not to the masses of Jews in Judea.
Nonetheless, Jesus did claim to be the Messiah in public, in Judea and to the Jews. Usually, however, His claim was more covert, trying to get them to discover for themselves who He was. However, when the chips were down and it became necessary to declare Himself before the high priest, Jesus explicitly answered the question “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed” by declaring, “I am [the Christ]” (Mark 14:61–62; cf. Matt. 26:64; cf. Luke 22:70).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.