From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
Let’s begin with a prayer. Lord, we thank You that You have been good to us in ways we don’t often understand. I pray that we would be a people who are receptive to the person and work of Christ and discover more and more through this book and other resources what it means to be one who approaches You, comes and sees You, follows You, remains with You and to discover the terms of discipleship. We pray in Christ’s’ name. Amen.
We have seen that as we looked at the prelude or prologue to John’s gospel that it gives us an extraordinary portrait that is not to be found in the synoptic gospels. In John 1:1-18 we have a picture of Jesus as the cosmic Christ who preceded the heavens and the earth. In fact, it was through Him that all things were made, nothing came into being apart from Him. We saw His preexistence, His work as Creator, His work as the One who illuminates the work of the Father and reveals Him to the world, as the One who is the Word, and the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.
It’s pretty common in our time for people to confuse the idea of Christ with some kind of cosmic consciousness. It’s a common notion that when we hear Christ these days especially from folks who are involved in the new religious synthesis, He is not just Jesus but is a force or principle or a higher level of consciousness that anyone can ultimately attain. This is simply not the case, from the gospels and epistles Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One, and a specific Person as part of the Trinity. He was predicted in the Old Testament, specifically, we learn about who He would be, where He would be born, what He would accomplish and so forth. This is something that is related to a person and not just to a force. Jesus is the Christ and there is no other manifestation there is no other God-Man. There is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved it’s the name of Christ. He makes this message available to all people.
The scriptures, which emphasize this, especially as John was writing later in the 1st century, have to deal with this problem. People were denying that Jesus had come in the flesh because they were becoming a little more Gnostic as time went by. He has to refute that and say that the Word really did become one of us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. So in this gospel, we see the gospel of the divine Christ while we also see His humanness. We see Jesus is the Son of Man but also is the Son of God this is going to be emphasized throughout the connection between the two. He is the One who manifests the glory of the Father.
The Law was given through Moses (v.17) but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. We have this contrast. The Law led up to Christ but you see the Law could never save anybody. The Law could only bring us to a point of seeing God’s perfection and righteous requirements but nobody could keep the Law. The Law was never intended to save people. It instead was designed to be a schoolmaster to drive us to dependence upon the One that God would send the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. He alone fulfilled the perfect and righteous requirements. Now it is possible for us to be righteous before God because Christ offers His very life to those who would follow Him. The perfection of Christ is placed in our account. It is through that then, that we become people who through the power of the indwelling Spirit are capable then of fulfilling the righteous demands of the living God.
As we look at the last part of John 1:19-51, I want us to just walk through certain themes. I’ll comment on various components. I want to tell you that this is a gospel that is so rich and so multi-layered that we could spend an enormous amount of time unpacking all the profound implications that are here. If I did that we would have a very lengthy study indeed so instead I’m kind of moving us through more or less a chapter at a time. Do I expect a lot of people to read these? No, but I’m still going to post them and make a few comments on the material along the way.
In John 1:19 we have a picture of the testimony of John. That’s an important word because I want you to understand that this section relates to testimonies. We will have testimonies of men whose lives were affected by their encounter with Jesus Christ. The testimony of John is followed by the testimony of two of these disciples. We see later in chapter 1:35, the account of Andrew and an unnamed disciple. We also see Philip and Nathaniel. These are all testimonies of their encounters with this One. These testimonials, which are the word martyria, are the word for testimony. Does it have a familiar ring to it? It should – martyr – a martyr was one who bore witness to or testimony of another. These are accounts of people who had some personal encounter with Him so that He is not merely a principle but a Person. They must receive and come to know and welcome Him into their very lives.
If we understand this idea, we’re going to see that this section of John, particularly 1:19-51, gives us a portrait of the nature of conversion and the nature of discipleship. We’ll see men coming even here in slightly different ways to Christ. I want you to observe that there’s an incarnational dimension here where John focuses on these kinds of historical events and uses them to paint a theological tapestry but his primary concern as I see it here, if for us to understand what conversion and discipleship is really about. How does one encounter Him? How does one now grow in relationship to Him?
This is the testimony of John the Baptizer who was introduced in verses 6-8, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.” This is a hint- an anticipation- because people will inquire of him. Who are you? Who do you claim to be? He’ll in effect say I’m not the light. I point beyond myself to the One who is the light.
John 1:19-20, “ Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed – he did not deny but confessed – “I am not the Christ!” That word would be the Anointed One and there is a good history that led up to that particular word.
Before I go any further though you’ll see it says the Jews sent to him priests and Levites. Now it is interesting because the word Ioudaios is used 71 times in John’s gospel. Many have said it’s ascribing to the Jews evil behaviors, disbelief, rejection and rebellion. You must understand it actually and especially focuses on the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and especially those who had authority over the temple. This is not an anti-Semitic gospel. Jews wrote it, about Jews and about One who is, in fact, the Jewish Messiah. It can’t be anti-Semitic. It’s rather focusing on some Jews, in fact, it even says of a Jewish man that the Jews put him out of the temple. You see where I’m going with that? It’s the same sort of misunderstanding that will, in fact, form the kind of anti-Semitic comments or claims about Mel Gibson’s, The Passion, but it’s really lies and misunderstanding of what that term means.
The Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites, leaders from Jerusalem, because he was causing something of a ruckus. After all, thousands were coming to this guy and he was a rough looking character. We find from the other gospels that he dressed in a rough manner with a leather belt. He ate locusts, which by the way were kosher. It was one of the clean insects you could eat. The fact is John was not your ordinary character. He was very much a prophet in the line of Elijah. We are invited to see obvious parallels between him and Elijah. Elisha would be more a portrait in many ways of Jesus. You might even say Elijah is to Elisha as in some ways as John the Baptizer was to Jesus. There’s an analogy there because Elisha had a double portion and you see a lot of miracles like the feeding of a multitude and raising the dead that are similar to some of the miracles we see in the life of Jesus. In any case, John was a rough-hewn character indeed. People were flocking out because you see the concept of a prophet coming back was something radical and fantastic after four centuries of prophetic silence. The last prophet was Malachi in 425 B.C. When the word got out that one who was coming with the authority and power of a prophet everyone flocked out to see him. This spiritual desert, this darkness, this dirth was now suddenly being overcome by one who would point to the light that was dawning. He was not the light but he pointed to the Light that would come.
This was an exciting idea and you could well imagine the more interest it caused the more concerned the Jewish leadership became. Who are you? Who do you claim to be? He answered – I am not the Christ (v.20), if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not the Messiah. I’m not the Anointed One. So then they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” (v. 21a) That’s an interesting thing because if you turn to Malachi 4:5, you see the idea though of Elijah and certainly this was something that was being developed. “Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.” In Mark 8:27- 29 speculation was rife about this concept. “Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said, “John the Baptist (obviously this would be after John the Baptist’s death and so they say you’ve come back from the dead), others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” This is the question all of us must ultimately answer.
There’s this issue here but I’d also like you to turn to Matthew 11:14, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come.” So what does that mean? Turn to Luke 1:17, putting it all together, “And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah…” So in one sense, he’s Elijah but in another sense, he’s actually one who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah. He’s not the fulfillment of all that’s promised yet. There’s this other image of the fullness that will come.
In any case, they ask him about that, he’s not the Messiah, he’s not Elijah, then are you a prophet? This is an illusion to Deuteronomy 18:15, which talked about the fact that Moses predicted, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you- from your fellow Israelites; up must listen to him.” So they ask, are you that prophet, the one who would come? And again he answered no. So John, articulating the essence in one regard of the relationship with Christ is one who denies himself and points beyond himself to another. True discipleship is where you point beyond yourself and lead people to another. Rather than lifting up and exalting himself because he could well have been tempted to so, after all the crowds were large and he had a powerful impact, instead he points beyond himself. This was not just an act of personal humility where he’s focusing on himself. There are certain perverse forms of humility that will do that. The person is actually all preoccupied with himself or herself. True humility occurs when you are preoccupied with another- when you are preoccupied with the grace and person of God. Your eye is off of your self and that is exactly what John is in effect doing.
John 1:22, “Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John then speaks and if you go back to Isaiah 40, a fairly well-known text at the time, we hear about a voice crying in the wilderness. Also Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord; construct in the desert a road for our God.” John 1:23, “John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” In effect John is telling us that, I have come in the wilderness of the world’s need and in doing so the gospel is pointing men and women to the One who alone can satisfy the world’s need- nothing else will do. We seek position, power, possessions, prestige and discover again and again none of those things really satisfy our deepest longing and our deepest needs. Here is the one who can actually prepare the way and in effect, it’s also a hint about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. There’s a very real sense in which you have to prepare a way for the Lord in your life- in your own heart. You have to clear a highway for Him to come so He removes all the crooked in conduct and narrow in outlook and He opens up a way to Himself. There’s an anticipation of that idea or dimension in discipleship.
John 1:24, “(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)” This is already a hint of what’s to come. If we know the gospels at all, we know that just to use the word Pharisee was a hint of opposition and rejection. It’s already anticipating the drama that will continue to unfold and reach a climax with the passion narrative.
They are very persistent. They’re still not quite satisfied with the idea of one crying in the wilderness. John 1:25, “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” What authority do you have? The Jews had these areas where they would baptize Gentiles and so proselytes would go and be baptized, immersed, and they would come out and become Jewish proselytes. They also had ceremonial cleansing. The idea of baptizing a Jew would be something quite different. The only way in which there’d be a basis for baptizing someone who was already Jewish would be that there is a new age, a new dimension, dawning. What is this message that you’re communicating? What is this new thing that is occurring? Some kind of transition is being hinted at here.
John 1:26, “John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize.” Again this anticipates the response of the Pharisees- they never really do get it. They never do know Him. Although it does mention in the other gospels that some of the Pharisees did come to believe Him but they were secretive about that but most of them never came to know Him.
John 1:27, “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” You see when you had a disciple of a master; the disciple even then would still not do the work of a slave- to untie the thong of a sandal was something only a slave would do. He says I’m not even worthy to treat Him as if I were a slave. You see the exaggeration there, the emphasis that he’s making. He’s developing this theme. He is so much higher than I. I can’t even function in the role of a slave before Him- let alone be one who is familiar in a casual way. There’s a sense of authority- One who’s coming in power. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.
John 1:28, “These things happened in Bethany across the Jordan River where John was baptizing.” Frankly, we don’t have a clue as to where that was- somewhere in the province of Perea, which is on the other side of the Jordan but nobody knows what that Bethany was. It’s not the Bethany that’s near Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. This is a different one- all this took place in the wilderness.
John then was a prophet. John was Jewish, in fact, he was related as a cousin- he was connected with Elizabeth. He was fully Jewish.
His water baptism was negative rather than positive. It cleansed but it bestowed no gift by which you could stay clean- only Jesus could supply the gift that would keep us cleansed.
We have this portrait then of John prior to the actual arrival of Jesus but we’ve already seen Jesus in this marvelous prologue that lifts Him up and gives us a marvelous portrait of who He is.
This all takes place on the first day and then there’s the second day. John 1:29, “On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In verse 36 he says it again- Behold, the Lamb of God. Other than Stephen’s use of the phrase, the Lamb of God, you don’t find this until the Revelation. We have this image here- a different way of looking at Him. Paul never calls Him the Lamb of God in that way. We see this picture. What does that Lamb of God imagery mean? John is given an insight. John has already baptized Jesus and he’s been led by prophetic insight to recognize Him as the One for whose coming Israel was seeking.
John 1:30, “This is the one about whom I said, “After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because He existed before me.” This goes back to verse 15 and John’s earlier testimony. He’s referring back to his earlier testimony but now he says and at that point, “I did not recognize Him but I came baptizing with water so that He could be revealed to Israel.”(v.31)
John 1:31, “Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on Him.” It was by divine revelation, divine disclosure, as a gift of God that John was able to recognize Him. By the way, that is how all spiritual truth is apprehended at the end of the day- it is something that is a gift of God. God gives us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the spirit of illumination and the heart who wants to find Him. There’s a divine disclosure in which we can come to grasp that. In this case, it’s when he saw the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven.
John by the way, unlike the synoptics, in this particular account, focuses on the Spirit (mentioned 3 times). The synoptics mention the baptism itself and the testimony of the Father. Part of the reason for this is the idea of that the Spirit- He’s the One who is going to baptize you in the Spirit and with fire- the idea of the Spirit coming upon Him. Now that idea was known in the Old Testament, the Spirit of God. He would come and anoint and empower some kings, prophets, judges and so forth but it was not a permanent affair nor was it really internal. We have something very unique here. This is something for the first time- He remained upon Him. The Spirit is now permanently upon Him and for the rest of His ministry, Jesus will walk in the power of the Spirit. In fact, He will be the One who opens the gate so that we can be baptized with the same Holy Spirit so that we can enter into a communion with Him as members of the body of Jesus Christ. We have these anticipatory concepts that are being conveyed in this text.
We have several dimensions here. How would a Jewish observer, hearing John’s testimony, associate, behold, the Lamb of God? One might associate the offering of Isaac. You recall when Isaac spoke to Abraham, his father, in Genesis 22:7-8, “Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” “What is it my son?” he replied. “Here is the fire and the wood,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together.” Parenthetically in verse 5, “So he said to his servants, “You two stay here with the donkey while the boy and I go up there. We will worship and then return to you.” Abraham didn’t know how that was going to happen but Hebrews tells us he was convinced God could raise Isaac from the dead if need be. That’s a powerful and radical understanding. The point is one could well associate the Lamb of God with one who takes our place, a substitute; which is what actually happens of course in this imagery. God will provide the Lamb.
I want to stress something parenthetically here. We have something that is utterly unique in the world- only in the biblical vision do we have God sacrificing for us. It’s to be found nowhere else. You will not find God suffering for people anywhere else. This is unique. He suffers in order that through His suffering we might know Him. He suffers not only to pay for our sins but also to put us in a condition where now we can be welcomed into His very presence and become a part of His eternal family. His intention then is to go to that great extreme, that level of descent, in order to raise us up into newness of life. It took something that radical. That’s why Galatians puts it so well. If it were possible to keep the law- if righteousness came (by works) by keeping the law- what about the work of Christ? What is he going to conclude? Christ then, if that were the case, died needlessly. Such a radical thing would not have been necessary. The law condemned us. It did not save us. It is a schoolmaster that would lead us to faith and reveal the perfect character of God and His expectations that could not be met by us. He Himself underwrites the cost of His own creation and in doing so makes it possible for us to be people of whom it is said- the sin of the world has now been taken away and placed on the Lamb of God.
Another way of looking at it would be perhaps some might associate it with Isaiah 53 and the passage of the Suffering Servant. Whenever one does Jewish evangelism this is the passage you’d normally start with because it’s the clearest, most explicit portrait of Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. There are obvious reasons why this is the case. Many Jews, especially starting with Maimonides, tried to argue that this was actually talking about Israel- the Suffering Servant. The text makes it very clear that actually, it was Israel who was the cause of the One who suffered. Surely our grief’s He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried. We esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted but He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. This is the people of God now speaking- showing that they realize that they in fact misunderstood and at the crucifixion it was because of their sin He was crucified. Verse 7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open His mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”
I also think you that you can’t miss the obvious image and that is the Passover. If you turn to Exodus 12 you have the clearest presentation of the details associated with the Passover- look particularly at Exodus 12:13-17 and you will discover a wide variety of aspects that portray in anticipation the work of Christ. The lamb that would be the Passover lamb had to be a year old in the prime of life, had to be sacrificed between the 2 twilights; which would be between 3 and 6 in the afternoon, had to be on the 14th day of Nisan which was exactly when this took place- the Great Passover; which is associated with the work of Christ Himself, and many other details such as don’t break the bones and so forth. There are many things that anticipate the work of the Messiah. If you’ve ever been to a Jewish Passover ceremony, they are intriguing especially when you see Christ in the Passover. The matzoh itself is pierced and striped and unleavened. They take it, break it and put half in the afikomen, cover it up and it is hidden for a period. There is a lot of symbolism that goes on.
Jesus then invites us to see this idea- this cup- speaking about the cup of redemption, which would be the 3rd out of the 4 cups in the Passover ceremony-, this cup is the New Covenant in My blood. There’s a connection here that is going on so certainly we would be justified in suggesting there is a Passover image here as well. But notice what it says about it- He takes away, He removes the guilt of sin and He removes it’s power as well. This is the foundation of the gospel.
John 1:30, “He existed before me.” We know that chronologically John was six months older than Jesus. For him to say He existed before me is a powerful picture of His preincarnate nature- an emphasis then on He was around before me and that’s why I’m not even worthy of serving Him as a slave.
The gospel continues verse 32-34; Then John gave this testimony; “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’(Note-This is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. I can only baptize in water. This One will do something far greater than that.) I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” Although it may well be there are some variant readings and the harder reading is chosen and that that’s what’s involved here where the Son of God is mentioned later on when Nathaniel calls him the Son of God- the king of Israel (v.49). It may well be he’s focusing on the Chosen of God which would be an illusion to Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” There’s even a connection there with the Spirit of God and being His Servant, His Chosen One.
We’ve gone through two days and the next day is the third day of revelation. Verse 35-37, “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God! When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.” I must tell you that many people engaged in discipleship ministry are at least tempted to try to get people dependent on them. In other words, it’s natural for you to enjoy people following you, needing to be around you and that sort of thing. The idea of telling them to leave me and go to Him is not natural. That’s exactly what he’s telling them to do. I’ve taken you as far as you can go, this is the Anointed One, this is the Lamb of God, and you must follow that One. In John 3 we know he says, He must increase and I must decrease. John understands that.
John 1:38, “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” Here’s the first question found in all the gospels. What do you seek or what do you want? You can translate it either way. This is a very important question. I think about the questions in the bible that are gripping. The first question for example, where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Those kinds of things are very illuminating questions. They are saying something, aren’t they? What do you seek as you stand before Him? Whom are you looking for? (John 20:15) Remember then He asked that question, whom do you say that I am? I love this other question later in this gospel; do you want to be made well? It is a very fascinating question. Are you sure you want that because it will change the whole way in which you live your life? At least you had an identity before but now what’s going to happen when you can no longer identify with this sickness, this condition that you’ve had? Then this other question later on in this gospel, do you love Me?
See these questions become very, very specific and very, very pointed as we go. You see they’re looking for something so He speaks to them and asks what, not who, are you looking for? It’s almost like He’s assuming like the rest of humanity, they’re looking for something that will satisfy their needs rather than a person. He’s saying the “thing” you’re looking for is in fact, a person and that Person is the One you’re talking to. This is a very, very strong and radical claim indeed. These questions are very revealing. You see, Jesus is what John could never actually be, the Savior of men. Romans 4:25 points us to this position where we see- He was delivered for our transgression and He was raised up because of our justification. John couldn’t do that. John could only point to the One who is in fact, the Savior of the world.
So they reply with a question when He asks them what do you seek? What would your answer be to that question? That’s not a bad question to ask yourself. As I argue this may be in some ways the most important question you could ask yourself. Whatever you are looking for will determine basically what you will find and if you seek Him, you’re going to find Him. “So they said to Him, Rabbi (which means Teacher) where are you staying?” (v. 38b) Now, this might seem to be just a counter question and it seems like a request for information so they could visit Him and get more instruction. Actually, there’s something more. There’s an actual word, meno, being used. The word meno means to dwell or to stay or abide or remain. That is a word that is used of discipleship in this gospel. There’s already a hint of this concept. Akoloutheo basically means follow me- “Come and see.” (v.39a) The idea here is He’s inviting them to come, take a step, and coming to Him and seeing Him and remaining with Him and abiding with Him are portraits of discipleship. One comes to Him, which is a choice one makes, one then sees Him or beholds Him and then one moves beyond that to abiding and remaining with Him. There’s a developing concept here. We have to understand this meno, His home, was something He never had in the sense that it was something He could own. He borrowed and used places but He was dwelling continually in heaven. He is the One bidding them to come and gain from Him the mind and purpose of God Himself because really in effect He is the only One who could provide the fundamental needs that we desire to find. We look in all kinds of substitutes and never find it in this world. He is the One who alone can satisfy the things, which we truly seek in our heart of hearts because remember God has planted eternity in your heart. Thus He creates us in such a way that we long for more than what the world can offer.
John 1:39b, “So they went and saw where He was staying, and spent that day with Him. It was about the tenth hour.” We have the picture of two ex-disciples of John staying with Jesus and coming to understand that discipleship means nothing less than abiding with Him. Commentators disagree about the 10th hour but I think it’s more like 4 p.m. They followed the Roman reckoning but they still followed the Jewish side of it where they would start with 6 o’clock a.m. and that would make it late in the afternoon.
John 1:40, “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said, and who had followed Jesus.” My personal suspicion is that the other one, the one not named, is John himself. It’s just my guess and I can’t demonstrate that but it is significant who the first ones we discover are when Jesus calls them fishers of men. You have Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It may be kind of a hint again, as he never refers to himself or discloses his name, but is referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved. It’s my suspicion and of course, that would make him an eyewitness to these accounts as well.
John 1:41-42a, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” We go back to that imagery where John claimed not to be the Christ but we found the One who really is the Christ. He brought him to Jesus, which is really what a disciple will do. Once you’ve come to know Him, you’re going to bring others to Jesus as well. You’re going to want to be a way in which people are conveyed to Him.
John 1:42b, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which translated, is Peter).” Peter responds immediately as he always will whether for good or ill. He’s going to be given here a new name and so we see this account. This is really a play on words because cephas in the Aramaic is a word for rock and petros in the Greek is a word for rock. It was not so much a proper name as it was a nickname- like Rocky. You have this idea that names in the Jewish mind really had something to do with character and something about their personality. Wouldn’t it seem rather odd to call this one a rock though? After all, isn’t he the one who constantly goes back and forth, he was unstable and later he was going to be the one to deny Him? I think what Jesus is doing here is He sees what he will be. It’s an anticipation of what He will see him to be. You see, Jesus sees things in us that we don’t see in ourselves. He sees potential and He looks at us in a way we might not see. He sees His purposes for a person. It says in Revelation we will be given a new name. This idea of naming is powerful too because for one to give another a name is a picture of authority. It’s not just a random thing for one to name another. It is a very important idea. Remember Jacob is given a new name- he who was known as the supplanter or the heel- now becomes someone different- Israel. We have a picture here of how he is named and it’s in anticipation really of how you and I have a new name and a new identity that follows from that new name.
We see then the next day- this might be the 4th day. Some commentators disagree over this- some take it that there are 4 days altogether. Day one, 1:19-28, day two, 1:29-34, day three, 1:35-42, and day four 1:43-51. There are different perspectives on this so there’s not uniformity in understanding this. Although if you looked at it in that way then you’d have John the Baptist’s self-denial in day one and John the Baptist’s saying who Jesus is in day two. What you’d have then is one disciple in Perea bearing witness to Jesus, then two disciples in Galilee (v. 43-51) bearing witness to Jesus- Philip and Nathaniel.
John 1:43, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.” Galilee is about 100 miles north from Judea. I’d like to know more about that encounter! Jesus is the One in this case who found Philip whereas the others were looking for Jesus. Philip means lover of horses. It’s kind of a Greek name that is associated with that whereas Nathaniel is more of a Jewish name. You can already see in Galilee there is a mix of Roman and Jewish influence and also the Hellenistic culture (refers to the spread of Greek culture that had begun after the conquest of Alexander the Great in the fourth century, B.C) as well.
John 1:44, “Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” Bethsaida would be up on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee just east of where the Jordan River had its’ inlet into the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum would be just west of where that inlet is and they eventually move to Capernaum. If you recall, Jesus did many miracles in Bethsaida and Capernaum and He said they would be culpable because of their failure to believe Him and their failure to respond to those miracles that went on. In any case, He’s moved up into Galilee.
John 1:45, “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Some commentators think that Nathaniel may have been Matthew or perhaps Bartholomew but we don’t know. He may have been one of the seventy. Nathanael is mentioned here and we know from John 21 he was actually from Cana of Galilee. It’s an anticipation of the next verse, 46, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” So here Andrew brought Peter, Philip brings Nathanael and in both cases, they’re bringing someone to Jesus. We have a scene here where Nathanael is somewhat more skeptical. Peter came right away and Nathanael wants to hold back. Maybe Cana and Nazareth had a little rivalry but he has a skeptical stance here. Philip said the same thing Jesus said to the two disciples of John- come and see. You need to check it out. That’s an invitation for all of us. In effect John is telling the reader, come and see. You’re never going to know Him for who He is unless you come and see. You will not come unless a choice is involved. There’s an image here of Him being the Messiah. There’s an image also of Him being One to whom one must come and approach. So here comes Nathanael but he’s not a believer by any stretch.
John 1:47, “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” At least Nathanael was willing to make the move. That’s the key issue here. You may be skeptical but at least you’re moving which means there’s a seeking dimension there. There are other skeptics that won’t get off their duffs! Those skeptics will get hardened in their skepticism because they were unwilling to make the move, consider the evidence, and see for themselves. This is the issue here. There are those who seek and there are those who really do not seek. So at least we see Nathanael coming to Him. There is no guile or falsehood. He’s very different from Jacob- just the opposite- the anti-type. Here is a man who would be really open to the things of God. Psalm 32 would describe such a man where it says, How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit. There’s this image of a person of one who seems to have an open heart before God and he desires to know Him. There’s an idea of a man who has a purity of heart enough to want to know the truth.
John 1:48, “How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Now we have to read between the lines because evidently there’s no way Jesus was where He physically, in the flesh, could see him under the fig tree. What was he doing under the fig tree? As you know, it provides a nice cool canopy and it’s a place where people would sometimes meditate, read and reflect. I wonder if he wasn’t reading something. Perhaps he was reading, for example, Geneses 28. I’m only speculating here but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the kind of text he was meditating on under the fig tree- especially verse 12. It’s the dream of Jacob and it’s quite interesting to me because we have another parallel here with Jacob. He had a dream when he was going from Bathsheba to Haran- Behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. We discover later on in verse 16- 17 he was afraid when he had this encounter with God. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Wouldn’t it be great if he was reading that text as in fact, Jesus used this very image. So we hear Jesus speaking to Nathanael who was previously under the fig tree.
I’ve got to say I’m impressed with Nathanael here because he gives Him three great titles. John 1:49, “Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” These are insights that very few people would grasp. There’s something about this man, his purity, and his guilelessness that allows him to see truth by the grace of God and when he sees it he sees it big time. So all of a sudden you have this triple affirmation- a very, very high Christological section here. This whole text is designed to lift up Christ and for of course to see who this Jesus really is. Many titles are given of Him, as we’ll see in a moment as I wrap up.
John 1:50-51, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” There’s that Bethel image you see there. Wouldn’t that be great if it was the text he was reading? In any case, this is still a great image- a powerful image because Jesus is the House of God. I’ll say it again; JESUS IS THE HOUSE OF GOD! He incarnates the dream of Jacob. He is the Way; the Word made flesh, He Himself the meeting place between heaven and earth. The God-Man being the meeting place between heaven and earth. We see in Him the One who can make contact with earthbound men and lift them up to heaven itself.
Note by the way in verse 51, and you won’t see it in English, when He says truly, truly, He’s speaking to Nathanael but then He goes to the plural you. Why does John do that? It’s as if John is saying, Jesus isn’t just speaking to Nathanael, He’s speaking to all of us. You- plural- will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Again it’s an invitation to come and see, behold who He is, get up and follow Him and then abide with Him. This is where we see amen, amen- truly, truly-it’s an affirmation as in prayer. You’d have this idea- truly I’ve said. The doubling we find so much in John’s gospel is something that is an emphatic picture. The dominant theme of this gospel is how God reaches down and lifts us up and thus becomes the gateway to heaven where you’ll see the angels of God. That’s a fascinating image isn’t it? It’s as if He’s the ladder and the angels are walking up and down Him. There’s this idea of Him being the point of mediation, intimacy, revelation and light.
I’d like to give you some of the names of Jesus that are used in this gospel as we close. I’m going to give you seven particular names. The first one in this first chapter is the Word in 1:13-14, and the Word became flesh.
We also see Him as the Light and as the Light, we see Him particularly in 1:4-13 where people were blind to their own Messiah. It’s needful for us to appropriate or receive that Light for us to find our life in Him.
He’s also called the Son of God in 1:15-28 and verse 49. As the Son of God, we see Him as eternal, combining grace and truth and that He reveals God to us. He alone can explain Him.
He is called the Lamb of God. As the Lamb of God, He takes away the sins of the world particularly in verses 29 and 36.
Fifth, He’s also called the Messiah as we discover Him here in verse 20 and 35-42.
In addition to being the Messiah, He is King of Israel. As the King of Israel in verses 43-49 we see His Lordship and His authority.
Finally, we see Him as the Son of Man in this list in verses 50-51. This is an unusual title for John to use. As the Son of Man, He is the living link between heaven and earth and He identifies with us.
In addition to these seven titles, we also see that He is the Prophet in verse 21. He is called Jesus in verse 29. In verse 33 He is the One who baptizes with the Spirit. In verses 38 and 49 He’s called Rabbi and Teacher. He’s called the son of Joseph and the Nazarene in verse 45.
I want to stress something. This is a highly Christological passage of scripture and it invites us to see that both the mind and the heart must weld together. You must understand truth and appropriate it. Just to have piety, love for Jesus, without really knowing about who He is and how that all connects together, what scripture teaches, is not to be embedded properly. But on the other hand to have an orthodox grasp of theology without a warm heart is also to miss out on the life of Christ. Again it’s important for us to grow in our apprehension of who this One is and the more we can name Him and know Him the greater our own capacity will be then to know Him intimately. We want to know Him, to love Him, but it’s also true that you want to love Him to know Him. You see how they both connect together. The mind leads to the heart and the heart affects the mind. There’s mutuality between the two.
Why is it that John the Baptist and Jesus didn’t just spell it out clearly, everything is kind of mystical and with hindsight?
There’s a kind of gradual revelation. You have to understand that the whole theme in scripture is a movement of progression. There’s a progressive revelation as we go where God gradually reveals Himself. Remember in fact He says even when He would heal people, don’t tell anyone, the time had not yet come. There’s a timing issue as well. It’s not for Him to be fully manifested until His hour would come. John really anticipates a later understanding. There’s a development in that grasp. The issue is always this. There’s always some light to which we must respond. If we come to the light that we’re given, God’s role will be the One to illuminate us. Please keep in mind that He knew Nathanael before Nathaniel knew Him. This is the other side of that coin. We must grasp that God’s grace will be previous to your response. It’s not a game of hide-and-seek but it illumination when the heart is made ready and prepared. God knows in each heart what they need and how they are to respond. Frankly, people come to Him differently. Notice how Peter comes right away and Nathanael hesitates. So we have different personalities, different temperaments and so forth. I think God uses these truths in unique ways that are appropriate to us. There is a theme in scripture of progressive revelation.
Why did John not identify himself when writing this?
It might be almost as John the Baptist who never speaks about himself. He says what he’s not. He doesn’t even name himself. There’s a sense in which the spirit of one whose purpose is not to draw attention to himself but always to focus on the other. He doesn’t want to be a central theme or figure. He wants the attention to be off himself. It may well be he doesn’t even feel worthy of putting himself in that scenario. I think we can be sure that part of it was animated by that concern.
Is this a letter?
This is no letter. Peter would identify himself. Paul would identify himself because that’s a correspondence. This is something more universal. It’s compatible with the universality of the gospel and that it not be particularized by the author himself. He does stress the one who has seen these things bears witness that it is true- I am an eyewitness.