After Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, the townspeople heard her incredible testimony of salvation and began coming out in droves to investigate her claims about Jesus. Meanwhile, the disciples were concerned about the Lord’s physical state, thinking that He must be tired and hungry. Jesus told them that serving the Father by fulfilling His mission was more satisfying than physical food: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 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” (John 4:34–35, ESV).
The harvest is a common biblical theme associated with the kingdom of God (Isaiah 27:12; Joel 3:13; Amos 9:13; Matthew 7:16–19; 9:37; 13:24–30; Luke 10:2; Revelation 14:14–16). When the fields are “white” for harvest, it means they are “ripe” or “ready” to be harvested. When grain is fully sprouted and in peak condition for gathering, it approaches the color of white. A ripe grainfield looks like a sea of white.
Jesus wanted His disciples to understand the urgency and the immediate opportunity of His mission. People hungry for the truth, ready to receive His salvation, were coming to Him; therefore, “the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, NLT). Harvest time might have been four months distant in the natural world, but the moment for spiritual reaping had arrived.
The disciples were focused on physical, earthly concerns like rest and food. But Jesus saw the spiritual necessity. He was consumed with the more urgent and gratifying mission of winning souls for His Father’s kingdom. He urged His disciples to open their eyes, too, and see the crowd of villagers streaming toward them like a ripened field of white, eager and ready to hear the gospel and be gathered into God’s eternal kingdom.
Some Bible commentators suggest the Lord’s choice of the word white, also reflected the color of the people’s robes, white against the backdrop of ground and sky. The white-robed Samaritan crowd was the harvest Jesus was eager to reap for God, and, indeed, many believed in Jesus and received Him as Lord and Savior (John 4:39–42).
Jesus had a similar passionate reaction in Matthew 9:36–38: “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.’”
God is the Lord of the harvest (see also Luke 10:2). He chooses the right moment to do His work of salvation in the hearts of men and women. At the same time, God chooses to partner with us in that work (John 4:36–38). We must keep our eyes open, seizing the opportunities He presents, both to receive salvation and join with Him in offering it to others.
The fields are white for harvest means the right time to bring people into God’s kingdom is now. Paul tells Timothy to be prepared to preach the gospel “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:1–2). In the agricultural world, farmers must wait between the sowing and reaping seasons. In the spiritual realm, the time for gathering in the harvest is now—whenever and wherever a crop of white-ripe souls exists.