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.