Summary: Jesus introduces a shift in worship, focusing worship on the spiritual instead of the physical. The future of worship as Jesus was describing it would be a spiritual more than a ritual activity.
The original worship must have been amazing. Eve and Adam, surrounded by the Garden of Eden, something between a botanical garden and an orchard. Discussions at dusk of keeping trees, naming animals, new things they tried, and gratitude for the bounty and beauty they discovered every day.
We know how it ended. They fell into sin eating from the Conscience Tree. Starting with Cain and Abel, they worshiped God with offerings. They killed animals on altars made of earth or unshaped stone.
After the Israelites leave Egypt they are given the formal plan for a tent structure called the Tabernacle. It is designed to be moved when the people move. When they settled in Canaan, the Tabernacle was placed in Shiloh and there it stayed until David.
David’s son Solomon built The Temple, an extravagant place of worship. Over the centuries, there were times when it was highly used and other times when it fell into disrepair, but it was renovated and used until it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
When the exile was over, Haggai, Zechariah and Ezra spearheaded the building of a new Temple. This was a functional structure built by refugees without the political clout of Solomon, so the structure had no where near the awe inspiring presence of the former structure. In fact the Bible describes a confusing scene at the laying of the foundation:
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:11-13 (NIV)
This new temple served the people until Herod built a magnificent new Temple complex during the time between the Old and the New Testaments. This was the Temple during the time of Jesus that made the Apostles gawk like tourists when they saw it. Jesus and His apostles worshiped there.
Jesus, like many devout Jews went up to the Temple in Jerusalem during the Passover. Part of the ceremonies of the Passover demanded Temple sacrifice. In our passage, Jesus is just coming from the Temple during Passover season. During His visit there, he witnessed the people extorting those bringing sacrifices and for the first time, Jesus attacked and drove out the extortioners. It is following this episode that he comes to Samaria.
After introducing the Samaritan woman at the well to Living Water, Jesus has this conversation about the Temple with her.
“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 (NIV)
Worship in Spirit
Jesus introduces a shift in worship. Old forms included:
• Direct conversation
• Open air altars
• The Tabernacle
• The three Temples
And now Jesus says He represents a transitional period into a new type of worship. The first important facet of this new type of worship is Spirit. Jesus explains this part well. He says that worship in the Spirit is in keeping with the nature of God.
God is Spirit
Until now, the primary vehicles of worship have demanded specific physical dynamics.
• Written procedures
Jesus is saying that the new worship, that is ushered in with His coming, does away with the physical as the primary focus. From this time forward, the primary focus of worship will be spiritual instead of physical.
One big problem with worship was that people began focusing so much on the ritual that they forgot the purpose of worship. They thought the sacrifice was more important than the state of their hearts.
Jesus is introducing a refocus on worship that does away with the distraction. He is saying that from now on the physical facets of worship will not be as important as they have been in the past.