Through the Bible in One Year

Day 122

John 1:35-51

Yesterday we saw John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus.  And today we will see the impact that John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus had.  For in today’s section of John’s Gospel we see John’s account of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples.  And that is what our focus is going to be on today: the Calling of Jesus’ first disciples.

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!”—1:35-36

In this section John recounts the testimony of some of Jesus’ earliest followers.  The titles ascribed to Jesus here are impressive: Lamb of God, Rabbi, Messiah, Son of God, and king of Israel.  The encounters with these disciples preceded Jesus’ call of the four fisherman in Mark 1:16-20.  John the apostle continues to recount the opening days of Jesus’ ministry.  Two of John the Baptist’s disciples stood beside him as Jesus passed by.  John the Baptist again declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God.  And that is the turning point upon which the rest of today’s passage hinges.  Because all of the rest of the events that happen from verses 37 through 51 happen because John the Baptist again made this bold statement and two of his disciples were standing close enough to him to hear it and something amazing happened when they heard it.

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.—1:37-40

The two disciples followed Jesus, and he invited them to spend the evening with him since it was late in the day, about 4pm.  Only Andrew is identified specifically by name.  He is identified also as Simon Peter’s brother, even though Peter has yet to be introduced into the narrative.  Jesus’ response was much more significant than it appears on the surface.  His invitation to come and see was a call to salvation.  And we are about to see the huge impact that this call to salvation will have not only on these two men and those around them, but also on those of us who are followers of Christ today.

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.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).—1:41-42

The following morning Andrew found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus.  John translates the term “Messiah” as “Christ” for his readers.  Jesus changed Simon’s name to “Cephas.”  “Cephas” is an Aramaic name; “Peter” is the Greek equivalent.  Both mean “rock.”  In the Old Testament, when God changed someone’s name, the change had important implications for their future.  Peter became a leading figure in the early days of the church in the book of Acts.

If you notice there are two big things that happen in these two short little verse stuck in the middle of John’s account of the early days of Jesus’ ministry.  We see the behaviors and actions of Andrew, and we see the name change of Peter.  And before we go any further we need to explore these two things in greater detail.

  1. Andrew’s behavior and actions—We should notice Andrew’s behaviors and actions that we are shown in this section and there are two behaviors and actions that we should take note of.  The first behavior and actions that we should notice is that he followed Jesus without hesitation (vv. 37-39).  The second behavior and action that we should notice is that he immediately proceeded to introduce someone else to Christ (vv.41-42).  This pattern that Andrew established should be the pattern adopted by all of those who chose to follow Christ.
  2. Simon-Peter’s name change—Both “Cephas” and “Peter” mean “rock,” as we have already said.  However, ironically, throughout the Gospel accounts, Peter is definitely no rock in the sense of being unmovable and reliable in his speech and actions.  In fact, he is often shown as one who was driven to extremes by his emotions and spiritual instability.  Yet in Acts he becomes a bold, powerful and faithful leader of the church.  For you see Jesus named Peter not for who he was, but for who he would become.

Now that we have seen John’s account of how Andrew and Peter came to know Jesus and to begin to follow him.  It is time to turn to how Philip and Nathanael came to know and follow Jesus, and we see that starting in verse 43.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 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.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.—1:43-46

The next day, as Jesus left for Galilee, he called Philip to follow him.  So, in ancient Judaism a person would typically approach a rabbi about becoming a disciple rather than the other way around.  And we should again notice that Philip followed Jesus by immediately finding Nathanael.  You should by now have noticed a pattern of behavior among Jesus’ first disciples.  They met Jesus and they would then turn around introduce their friends and family to Jesus.  And they did this because they clearly believed that is Jesus is the Messiah.  They cleared believed that Jesus was and is the one who came to save people from their sin.

Now let’s turn to Nathanael because Nathanael had an interesting response to Philip’s declaration that he found the promised and longed for Messiah.  Because you see Philip told Nathanael that Jesus was from Nazareth and Nathanael responded by saying this “Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?” (v. 46). This comment from Nathanael is surprising since Nathanael himself came from Cana, which by the way is located in Galilee which is where Nazareth is located.  Nathanael’s negative response could have been the result of thinking the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  However, as we will see Nathanael still chose to go and see Jesus even though he had his doubts.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”—1:47-51

Jesus knew Nathanael’s character even though he had never met him.  Nathanael’s opinion of Jesus changed immediately after meeting Jesus, and he confessed Jesus to be the Son of God and king of Israel—both of which are Messianic titles.  Jesus’ promise of greater things points in part to the very next episode in Cana.

The words “very truly” are used often in this Gospel to introduce an authoritative statement by Jesus.  The pronouncement was that angels would be ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  The title “Son of Man” was one of Jesus’ favorite self-designations.  The background is found in Daniel 7:13-14, where the Son of Man is presented as a heavenly figure who is entrusted by God with authority, glory and power.  Jesus alluded also to Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28:10-17.  That passage describes a stairway extending from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it.  Jesus’ point was that he is the one who connects heaven and earth. And we will pick from there tomorrow as we begin the next section in John’s Gospel that starts in Chapter 2.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Judges 17-18, John 3:1-21, Psalm 104:1-23 and Proverbs 14:20-21


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