Have you ever thought about how a certain thing began? I am fascinated by freeway interchanges, especially those multilevel “mixmasters.” I often wonder what the engineers and workers did on the first day they went out to the site to start work on one of those projects. The same thing is true of skyscrapers and housing developments and stadiums (or is “stadia” the correct plural of stadium?) On a more sober note, have you ever found yourself in a mess – maybe a sinful situation or addiction of some kind, and suddenly you think to yourself, “how in the world did I ever get to this point? Where did it all begin?
It is credited as a Chinese proverb, but the Bible says it too, in various ways that “the longest journey starts with a single step.” And in the passage to which we come now in our study of the gospel of John, we come to the beginnings “of the body of Christ,” the very first believers in Him. Technically speaking, there may have been a few before these – Luke records the shepherds and the wise men and Anna and Mary and Joseph and Simeon and a few who were exposed to Jesus in His childhood. But we don’t know how much they knew or understood. But these were the first people who came to Jesus personally, physically as He revealed Himself to them. And that little trickle of five individuals in this passage who first followed Jesus grew to a mighty river of Christianity that has filled the whole earth.
By way of outline we are referring to these last 17 verses of John chapter one as the inception of ministry by Jesus. (The other divisions were the introduction of the book in verses one through eighteen and the introducer of Jesus in verses 1 through 18 and the introduction of Jesus in verses 19 through 34.) And interestingly enough, of all of the marvelous things that Jesus did during His ministry on earth, it all began with the selection of two individuals (another example of the longest journey beginning with a single step.)
Verses 35 through 39 contain the calling of Andrew and John as disciples. Their introduction to Jesus is described in verses 35 through 37:
Again the next day, John[the Baptist] stood talking with one of his disciples (36) And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the lamb of God.” (37 The two disciples heard him speak and they followed Jesus.
Here is an example of the humility of John the Baptist and his faithfulness to what God had called him to do. From a human standpoint John had just lost two disciples here. But from the divine viewpoint he was two steps closer to accomplishing his mission! From verse 40 we see that one of these two must have been Andrew. The other one is not named, but from the knowledge that he has of the next events, and from his usual humility we can assume one was John, the author of the gospel.
So that is his introduction to Jesus. But in verses 38 and 39 we see their induction into His inner circle.
Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, “Teacher”) where are you staying?”
The first response of two men to their first glimpse of Jesus takes place so quietly and simply that it is easy to forget that they represent that “trickle” of followers that grew into a mighty torrent of Christianity. Andrew and John, who had been baptized by John the Baptist, and taught by him about the Messiah, were not content to hear about Him second-hand. They wanted a direct, personal relationship with Him. It is interesting that the focus of what John had told them about Jesus was not that He would deliver Israel from Rome, but that He was the Lamb of God who would take away sin. And this is the focus of the teaching of Jesus and the scriptures as a whole. The direct emphasis is never on political or material things, but on spiritual ones. But when that focus is understood, those political and material things fall into their proper perspective. Jesus was later going to say, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” It is significant in the first line of verse 38 that it was Jesus who spoke first! Apparently they were too shy to speak directly to Jesus, so they just followed along behind Him, hoping he might notice and make the first move – and that is exactly what happened! And this demonstrates the wonderful truth that God always responds to a sincere seeker, because He was drawing them to Him in the first place, even though they didn’t know it. If you are thinking about coming to Jesus – for salvation or restoration – don’t hesitate another minute, He will lovingly meet you half way.
But even though Jesus makes the first move, He does make them think. Notice that He asks them, in effect, “What do you want from me?” You see, He wanted them to know their own hearts. Because of what they were in for if they did follow Him, He wanted them to be sure that they knew what they wanted and what there were doing. And these questions are worth asking ourselves. If Jesus were to suddenly ask you, “Why are you following me?” what would you say?” Maybe it will help in answering that question to look at the way Andrew and John answered it. Look at the last half of verse 38:
“. . . they said to Him, “Rabbi, (which is to say when translated, Teacher) where are you staying?” Even though this question probably caught them by surprise, Andrew and John did know what they wanted. They didn’t just want something from Him, they wanted Him. They used the word “Rabbi” which literally means “my great one.” It was used by Jews as a sign of deep respect. Andrew and John didn’t just want a casual acquaintance with Jesus, they wanted to go to His home, to talk with Him about their problems, to learn from Him whatever He had for them. In effect, they were saying, “Rabbi, we just want to be with you. Where do you live? Jesus’ response is in verse 39” Come and see.’ So they did go to His home and stayed the rest of the day. John includes the fact that “it was about the tenth hour,” which would have been between three and four PM by Jewish reckoning. This shows the significance of this event in John’s life. He was probably an elderly man by the time he wrote this book; the events had happened fifty or sixty years before, but he remembered the exact hour of the day that he met Jesus! And well he should, because that was the hour and the day that changed his life forever.
Verses 40 through 42 deal with the third disciple who comes into the picture: Peter. His contact is described in verses 40 and 41:
“One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. (41) He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messiah.”(which is translated “the Christ.”
Andrew is one of the “indispensable nobodies” that we run across from time to time in scripture and in life. And he teaches us a couple of extremely important lessons: First, he was the first person to become a disciple of Jesus, and the one who introduced his brother to Him, yet in the narrative of the life of the disciples he never indicates any resentment or self pity when Peter becomes the “spokesman” for the disciples. His focus was on serving the Lord, not his own position in the group. (We would almost think that his last name was “Simon Peter’s brother,” he is referred to in that way so often.) Second, the only specific thing we are ever told about him was that he brought people to Jesus. He brought Peter – and thank the Lord he did! He was the one who brought the boy who had the five loaves and three fish to Jesus at the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6:9. In chapter 12 he is going to bring the first gentiles to Jesus. Notice that the first thing he did was to go and find Peter. Andrew’s first priority was for his loved ones; his own family. A good question to ask about someone who is seeking a position of Christian leadership is, “how do they treat their own family members? And notice what the message was: the finding of the Messiah. Not “a movement,” or “a great teacher” But the Son of God Himself. Let’s be careful that that is always our message too.
Peter’s “contact” was in verses 40 and 41. But in verse 42 we find his conversion.
And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon, the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas (which is translated “A Stone)
Andrew was not satisfied with just “telling” Peter about Jesus, he actually “brought him” to Jesus. And what was the first thing Jesus did to Peter? The immediate answer might be that He changed his name – and He did, but before that, notice that He looked at him. The Greek word used here indicates a deep, penetrating gaze that would pierce the innermost core of Peter’s soul. Jesus then said, in effect, “your name is now Simon, but I am going to give you a new name – Cephas (Aramaic) or Peter (Greek) both of which mean “rock.” (This is why we often find him referred to as “Simon Peter” – so that people who might have known him before his conversion would know who was being talked about.) The words “you are Simon” spoke of his present, natural personality and character. The New Testament record often records Peter as violent, short tempered, impetuous – even unstable. In fact Jesus even sometimes used that name for him when these kinds of weaknesses were in control in his life. (For example, in Luke 22 when there was a dispute about who would be he the greatest in the kingdom, and even in Matthew 16:17 when he recognized Jesus as the Son of God (because “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you”) His new relationship to God through Christ was going to change Peter’s whole personality, so he needed a new name.
And Peter is not alone in all of this. It is repeated in our lives today. We come to the Lord as we are. He knows the worst about us, as well as He knows the best about us. But when we come to Him he in effect gives us a new name – His name and makes us “partakers of His nature” according to according to Second Peter 1:4 if we will understand that and allow Him to accomplish it in our lives, we can be changed, as Peter was.
The third set of disciples who come to Jesus in this passage is Philip and Nathaniel in verses 43 through 51 Verses 43 and 44 tell us about the finding of Philip
The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee and He found Philip and said to him, (44) “Follow Me. Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Apparently the next day after talking with Peter, the Lord wanted to go north to Cana in Galilee. On that trip he found Philip and invited him to join the group. We don’t know why Jesus wanted to go to Galilee or what the details were of inviting Philip into the group, but it demonstrates that people can be genuine followers of Jesus without our knowing their “pedigree.” We can assume that Andrew and Peter may have told Jesus about Philip, because verse 44 tells us that he was from their hometown. For the same reason we might also assume that possibly he, too, had been a disciple of John the Baptist and was prepared to meet The Lamb of God” as they had been.
So that was the finding of Philip, then in verses 45 through 51 we see Nathaniel, a friend of Philip. The announcement to Nathaniel is in verse 45
Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Philip, like Andrew, could not keep this glorious good news to himself, but went and found his friend Nathaniel. Many New Testament scholars think that Nathaniel’s name was also changed to Bartholomew because the two names are coupled in the other gospels (see Matthew 10:3, Mark 3;18, and Luke 6;14) Because of the way Philip refers to “the law and the prophets” in describing Jesus, and from Nathaniel’s comments in the next verses, it is probable that Nathaniel was a careful student of the Old Testament. And this is a reminder of the fact that the Old Testament is a vital link in understanding who Jesus is, and the significance of many of the things that He said and did. But notice the antagonism of Nathaniel expressed in verses 46 and 47
(46)And Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “come and see.” (47) Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward Him . ..
Nathaniel was evidently well versed enough in the Old Testament to know that the Messiah was not supposed to come from Nazareth. But it is significant to see that he was willing to “go and see” for himself. And possibly because of that openness, in verses 47 through 49 we see Nathaniel’s acceptance.
(47) Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold an Israelite in whom is no deceit.” Nathaniel said to Him, “how do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (49) Nathaniel answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Even though Nathaniel had questions and doubts about Jesus he was not a stubborn man who would refuse to listen to reason. And it was this openness to truth and understanding that Jesus saw in him when he said “behold and Israelite in whom is no deceit in verse 47. Nathaniel didn’t use his questions and doubts as an alibi to cover some inner rebellion and hatred of light such as John had talked about in the beginning of this chapter. Nathaniel demonstrated that he was “in the light” in that he came to Jesus with an open mind. In verse 48 Nathaniel couldn’t understand how Jesus could size him up so thoroughly at a glance. But Jesus explained that He knew him even before Philip brought him there that day. He had “seen him under the fig tree.” Fig trees are very commonplace in Israel, and because of their overhanging branches, many devout Israelites used them as a private place to pray. Jesus, of course, would have known this, and communicated it to him. And Nathaniel immediately accepted this knowledge of his private life that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. That kind of knowledge could have only come from God Himself.
And interestingly enough, verse 49 brings out that Nathaniel immediately had a depth of understanding that none of the others in this chapter, because he called Jesus “the son of God, the King of Israel.” And because of that, in verses 50 and 51 we find Nathaniel’s assurance.
(50) Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? (52) Most assuredly I say to you, hereafter you shall see greater things than these. And He said to him, most assuredly I say unto you, hereafter you will see greater things than these.” (51) And He said to him, “hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
Nathaniel was a consummate student of the law, so Jesus gives him an illustration from the law. His reference to angels ascending and descending to Jacob is from the story of the dream that Jacob had in Genesis chapter as he fled from his brother after deceiving him out of his inheritance. In that dream the angels descending to Jacob represented God drawing near to Jacob, while the ascending angels represented Jacob’s prayers ascending up to God. And in this way God promised to be with Jacob and Jacob took hold of that promise with all of his heart. All of these Old Testament dreams and visions are always a picture of the reality of coming events in the New Testament age. And at least a part of the fulfillment of that dream was the unbroken fellowship and communion between God and man that these disciples are going to see in the person of Jesus Christ in the days ahead.
Jesus, like that ladder in Jacob’s dream, is the only way to God. By Him we draw near to God, and by Him God draws near to us. These men were going to enjoy indescribable joy and excitement during the coming three years (and throughout their lives, really) But it was all because they took Him at hi and believe that He truly was the Son of God and that the things of God could truly be theirs through Him. After centuries of familiarity and ritual and tradition it easy for us to forget the feelings that those “discoverers” of Christ must have felt. If the things of God have become commonplace to you, why not confess that to the Lord right now and ask Him to renew the joy and excitement of these truths about Jesus – and start to look at them in that way!