Jesus' references to harvest-ready fields spark
a passion for world evangelism.
Christian composers, including Robin Mark, Twila Paris, and
J.O. Thompson, have written songs centered on the harvest theme.
To those who would say, "What's the big hurry?" and
"Where's the fire?" Jesus said, "Look at the fields! They are ripe."
When Jesus used the harvest metaphor, He was saying, "This is urgent!"
Missions: The heart of God
Commentary on John 4
"Don't you have a saying, It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes
and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest" -- John 4:35
Across the years, Jesus' references to harvest-ready fields have sparked a passion in people for
world evangelism. Sermons and songs have frequently featured the harvest idea. For example,
Robin Mark's 1994 "Days of Elijah,"
proclaims: "These are the days of
harvest. The fields are as white in the world."
In exhortations recorded in Matthew 91 and Luke 102, Jesus spoke
of the need for workers to gather the harvest. In John 4, our Lord's words spotlight the urgency
of the task. Delay in harvesting a ripened crop usually ends in spoilage and a sense that hours of
soil preparation, planting, fertilizing, weed control, and watering have been in vain.
Verses 4-42 of John 4 describe an event at what was then a 2,000-year-old well. Jesus and his
disciples had stopped there during a trip northward from Jerusalem to Galilee. On this particular
journey, they went through Samaria, a region whose inhabitants were shunned by the Jews as
When they came to Sychar, the disciples left Jesus at the ancient water source and went to
buy food. While they were gone, a woman came to draw water. To the Samaritan woman's
surprise, the Jewish man at the well asked her for a drink. Then, He talked to her about a kind of
water that could satisfy thirst forever.
When the disciples showed up with lunch, the woman hurried away to call townspeople to
come meet someone who just might be the Promised Messiah. As people from Sychar "made
their way toward Him," Jesus urged His disciples to open their eyes and look at the ripening
fields. Since people were the "fields" Jesus had in mind that day, it's easy to imagine Him
gesturing at the approaching Samaritans -- whom most Jews despised -- as He said, "Open
your eyes and look . . ."
Jesus referred to a common catchphrase of that time: "It's still four months until
harvest." I have never heard anyone use that saying today. However, it would fit well in the
same contexts in which we exclaim, "What's the big hurry?" and "Where's the fire?" To those
with such a what's-the-big-hurry attitude regarding Gospel proclamation, Jesus said, "Look at
the fields! They are ripe."
In using the harvest metaphor, Jesus was saying, "This is urgent!" Talking about
global outreach as a harvest indicates that we face windows of opportunity that open and close.
Harvesting cannot be postponed until a more convenient time. When crops mature, they
must be harvested right away.
Each day, tens of thousands of people go out into eternity each day never having heard about
our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Isn't that a ripened harvest going to waste? Oh, when will we
feel the urgency?
In what ways does Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well illustrate the
urgency of the task of evangelism?
How can Jesus' reference to ripened fields ready for harvest be used to inspire Christians to
engage in global outreach?
Why do you think some people may have a "what's the big hurry" attitude towards Gospel
proclamation? How can this attitude be overcome?
What can Christians do to respond to the urgent need for worldwide evangelism in ways that
ensure the ripened harvest of souls is not wasted?
-- Howard Culbertson,
1"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were
harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest
is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers
into his harvest field.'" -- Matthew 9:36-38
2"After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two
ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is
plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers
his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.'" -- Luke 10:1-3
This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen
articles in the "Heart of God" series
published in Engage
magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.
Harvest-themed songs about Great Commission fulfillment
"Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe." -- Joel 3:1
"Harvest" excerpt from "Days of Elijah" by Robin Mark
Other songs with harvest motif
The Battle Is the Lord's - E. Margaret Clarkson and Meyer Lyon
"The harvest fields are white: How few the reaping hands appear, their
strength how slight! Yet victory is sure."
Seedtime and Harvest - Bill O'Brien and Dick Anthony
Seedtime and harvest, fields full of grain. . . Use me, Lord Jesus."
The metaphor of "harvest" is frequently used in Christian gospel outreach for several
Biblical Foundation: The concept of harvest is deeply rooted in the Bible, particularly
in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus often used agricultural metaphors to illustrate spiritual
truths. For instance, in Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are
few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Here, this
metaphor points the abundance of people ready to be brought into the Kingdom of God.
Seasonality and Timing: Just like physical harvests, spiritual harvests have their
seasons. There are times of readiness and receptivity among people to receive the message of the
gospel. This harvest metaphor underscores the importance of discerning and seizing opportune
moments for evangelism and outreach.
Labor and Diligence: Harvesting requires labor, effort, and diligence. Similarly,
spreading the gospel involves intentional work, dedication, and perseverance. The harvest
metaphor encourages Christians to recognizew that evangelism and investment and
Fruitfulness and Growth: Successful harvests yield abundant fruit. In the context of
evangelism, the "fruit" refers to people coming to faith and experiencing transformation through
the Holy Spirit. The harvest metaphor highlights the joy and fulfillment that comes from seeing
lives changed and communities impacted by the message of Jesus Christ.
Unity and Collaboration: Harvesting often requires teamwork and collaboration
among laborers. Similarly, Christian outreach is most effective when believers come together to
work collectively to share the gospel and then make disciples.