John 4:21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 4:22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
A Fundamental Maxim
Jesus is teaching that outside the medium of spiritual communication with God, all externals are superfluous and wasted.
John 3:6 (DRB) That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.
1 Corinthians 15:50 (DRB) Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God: neither shall corruption possess incorruption.
John 6:63 (DRB) It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life.
If one does not worship God according to the truth, they worship another God, since God cannot be both who He really is, and who He is imagined to be by men who don't know Him as He truly is.
Romans 10:1-2 (DRB) Brethren, the will of my heart, indeed, and my prayer to God, is for them [Israelites] unto salvation. For I bear them witness, that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
A Theological Reading
Jesus said He is quote "the Truth," (John 14:6) and called the Spirit who "recieves of what is [His]," and whom He sends from the Father, (John 15:26) "the Spirit of Truth." (John 16:13-15)
Christians might do well to see here a prophecy of the worship of the Father through His Son, by the Spirit. For example, the Roman/Westner Rite Liturgy says, in the Post-Consecration Prayers (namely the Libera Nos):
Deliver us, we beg Thee, O Lord, from every evil, past, present, and to come; ... mercifully grant peace in our days, that through the assistance of Thy mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all disturbance.
Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen."
Another two Scriptures are relevant:
Romans 8:9, 26 (DRB)
But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. ... Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.
John 16:26-27 (DRB)
In that day you shall ask in my name; and I say not to you, that I will ask the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
We are spirit, soul, and body (1 Thes. 5:23). In Rom. 8:16, the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God. Jews worshipped at the temple and people like that woman worshipped at the mountain. But believers are to worship in their spirit.
In truth means that Christ living out through us as our genuineness and sincerity in our worshipping God. The Jews offered sacrifices to worship. But Christ is the reality of the sacrifices. In truth also has the sense of worshipping God with Christ as the reality of the sacrifices.
The coming hour which was at that time also was/is when the spiritually dead would hear the gospel (John 5:25).
In John 4:21-23 What does “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” means?
Jesus makes an amazing statement to the Samaritan woman, He tells her that the hour is coming that the Jews will cease to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem. The magnificent temple in Jerusalem was the center of their worship for centuries, but that all this would cease.
John 4: 21, 23-24 NASB
21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
The Jewish people saw the temple as a tangible place to worship, but now Jesus continues and says:
23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
"But the hour cometh."
The hour came when Jesus, by means of his sacrificial death ended the Jewish religious custom of worship based on the Law of Moses, the end of such religious worship ceased completely when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 C.E.
Galatians 3:24 (NASB)
24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
Romans 10:4 (NASB)
4 For Christ is the [a]end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
"Worship the Father in spirit and truth"
Jesus states:24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
This means that we must allow ourselves to be guided and influenced in our daily life by God's holy spirit and which also helps us to get an accurate knowledge and understanding of the scriptures, "the truth".
1 Corinthians 2:9-12 (NASB)
But just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 [a]For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God
"But the hour cometh." refers to the end of the religious practices and customs based on the Law of Moses. Our worship is acceptable to God only if it conforms with the Bible truths that is " our practices, beliefs, and teachings are in agreement with the Bible truths as revealed to us in God's written Word. "Your word is truth" John 17:17 We worship in spirit if we allow the holy spirit to guide our lives and need not be centered in a particular location or building, the veneration of such places are forbidden.
John 4 illustrates an interfaith discussion between a Jew and a Samaritan. Here it highlights and then removes a main point of contention: their physical place of worship.
'The true worshippers' here refer to those who have grasped the truth of the New Testament teachings: specifically that the God they both worship in their different places is now calling all people to a form of worship that isn't constrained by physical location.
To worship 'in spirit and in truth', rather than in the mountain or at Jerusalem, is to recognise a common error of this particular historical conflict: that they have sought not only to contain God within a physical space but, more significantly, to argue that God is present in one place and not another.
What Jesus refers to is not actually a 'new' form of worship, but a clearer, more advanced understanding of the Old Testament teachings. The second commandment states:
"You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no graven image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land, to bow down to them; for I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 26:1)
This is a warning that when we ground our worship in something physical, whether it be an object, a person or a place, we risk closing our minds off to the true immanence of God.
When we recognise God in spirit and in truth, however, we open our minds to also recognise God in every denomination of every religion, in every temple or church and in every manifestation of reality without limitation, rendering this particular schism between Jews and Samaritans irrelevant.
The passage stresses the importance of spiritual realm over the physical realm in terms of space and time in worships.
In terms of time, Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:23
Yet a time is coming and has now come
Before worship starts, we live in physical sequential flow of time. When we worship, we enter spiritual eternal time-dimension.
In terms of 3-d space location, the woman said in John 4:20
"Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
So where do we do our worship? Anywhere.
John 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.
Before we worship, we may be entering a church building. When worship starts, we enter the spiritual realm.
How do we accomplish this kind of non-physical heavenly worship?
John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
1 John 5:6 it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
We can enter the spiritual worship via our indwelling Spirit. Keep in touch with the Spirit in us when we are worshiping wherever and whenever. This is how we can worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
The Greek «ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ» could mean, rather than “in spirit and in truth,”1 “in the Spirit, even in the Truth.” («ἐν πνεύματι» need not have the definite article to be translated as “in the Spirit.”2)
1 as though it were referring to the human spirit
2 Rom. 8:9; Eph. 2:22, 6:18
The copula καὶ may be epexegetical, further identifying πνεύματι—“Spirit,” i.e., the Holy Spirit, as “the Truth.” In his epistles, the author later wrote, «τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν ἡ ἀλήθεια», “the Spirit is the truth.”3
3 1 John 5:6
John Paul Heil wrote,4
To worship “in Spirit and truth” is to worship “in the Spirit of truth” that Jesus promised to send his disciples after his death and resurrection (14:17; 15:26; 16:13) as the advocate, the holy Spirit (14;16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), who will represent him and guide them in matters regarding the truth. Since there is a sense in which Jesus himself personifies the truth (14:6), to worship in Spirit and truth or in the Spirit of truth is ultimately to worship in very close union with Jesus.
4 Heil, p. 28
To be “in the Spirit” means to have the Holy Spirit.5 The Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian, the Christian dwells in the Holy Spirit (hence, “in the Spirit”), and in doing so, the Father and the Son also dwell in the Christian. Indeed, the Father and Son make themselves a home with him.6 Luther on John 14:23: „und wir wollen täglich seine Gäste, ja, Haus- und Tischgenossen sein,“—“and We7 want to daily be his company, yes, house- and table-companions.”8
5 cf. Rom. 8:9: But you are...in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwell in you.
6 John 14:23: «μονὴν παρ᾽ αὐτῷ ποιησόμεθα».
7 the Father and the Son
8 Luther, § 408, p. 444
True worship is in the Holy Spirit (“the Truth”), where the communion9—that is, the participating in and sharing of—the Holy Spirit exists between, not only the Father and the Son, but the entire Church, which is Christ’s own body, for “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”10 Only in the Holy Spirit can Christians worship God how He desires to be worshipped, for “no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received...the Spirit which is of God.”11
9 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1
10 1 Cor. 6:17
11 1 Cor. 2:11–12
Heil, John Paul. 1–3 John: Worship by Loving God and One Another to Live Eternally. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2015.
Luther, Martin. Dr. Martin Luthers Sämmtliche Schriften. Book 8. Ed. Walch, Johann Georg. St. Louis: Concordia, 1892.