ESV - 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.
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In my opinion, Jesus was referring to all those (beginning with the Old Testament prophets -- including both those who had recorded their prophecy, and those such as Elijah and Elisha whose deeds were recounted by others -- all the way down to John the Baptist and Jesus Himself) who had been sent by God to either convict Israel of its sin (as Jesus had just done with the woman at the well), or to foretell the events that would occur in connection with the coming of the Messiah (in order to validate Jesus' identity as that Messiah). (At the time that Gabriel told Zechariah of John the Baptist's coming birth (Luke 1:16-17), he said that John would "turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah...to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." This, in turn, was a fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy in Malachi 4:5.) Performance of all this prior activity had been necessary to set the conditions that would make the people ready and willing to respond both to Jesus' teaching, and to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus' finished work of salvation by His apostles following His resurrection and ascension.
Reading the previous few verses helps us understand what Jesus is saying. “Jesus said to them, "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. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."” John 4:34-38 ESV So the ones who have labored are the ones who sowed the seed of the Gospel, who told others the good news. Sometimes we get to witness someone turning to Christ even though we were not the one to tell them about salvation. One sows, or tells a person about Jesus. And another reaps, meaning that they get to help the person take the next step: they may clarify what the person learned, lead the person to make a personal commitment, or perform a baptism signifying that commitment.
I believe this verse and the prior four are another reference to Christ's teachings that spirituality and judgment do indeed correspond to the agricultural cycle or season of sowing and reaping. Sowing begins the season where the fruit of the Word is implanted in the earth and begins to grow up to full maturity. Reaping is the time of harvest where the grain is cut, separated from the chaff, and stored in the barn for the winter. The other men who labored from the time of the sowing up until the time of the reaping (4:38) are those who returned from Babylon to construct the temple and reinstitute and enforce the Mosaic laws and other regulations pertaining to Jewish people and land (the kings and priests), and also the prophets to provide prophetic guidance over the centuries. These all labored to maintain the Jewish heritage of the land of Judah during the very difficult times of the Gentiles, especially under the Romans. In talking with his disciples, Christ says that they were sent to reap (even though they had not labored). In this sense, the disciples reap by converting as many Jews to Christianity as possible. The chaff would then be separated at the time of the Roman invasion in 70 AD where many Jews died or were enslaved, and the temple was destroyed. The entire season thus begins around 539 BC and ends at about 70 AD. Both the sowers and the reapers receive the reward for their labor.
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