A Bible Lesson on John 1:35-51

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This passage is Day #3 of the three day serial involving John the Baptizer.  We see the effect that John’s testimony has on some of his own disciples.

John 1:35  The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,

There are two of his disciples.  One is Andrew.  The other is unnamed.   Tradition has that it is John the Apostle, and that’s  reasonable on several accounts.  For one, John never mentions himself by name.  And it makes sense for him to then know the details of these happenings.  In any event, some of Jesus’s disciples were first followers of John the Baptist.

36  and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

John the Baptist said this on the previous day.  Here he repeats himself, and implicitly invites/tells his followers standing there to follow Jesus.

37  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

The disciples take the hint and take out after Jesus.

38  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

Notice that in this situation (as always) it is Jesus who really takes the initiative in these guys coming to Himself.  They are following along behind Him, but He turns and speaks the first word.

At a surface level, the question He asks is just a conversation starter.  But (as is often the case in John’s Gospel) the question also has meaning on a deeper level.  “What is it that you fellows are really seeking?  Are you really looking for the Messiah?  Are you looking for right relationship to God?  What do you want?”

Andrew and the other fellow (we’ll call him John) reply “Where are you staying?” they ask.  They’re really asking if they can go home with Him and have a private discussion.  Little do they know at this point how intimately they will come to know Jesus!

39  He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

Jesus invites them to wherever He’s staying.  There’s again probably some intentional double meaning in Jesus’s invitation.  “Come, and you will see, not only where I am staying, but you will see the kingdom of God.  You will see with a big ‘S.'”

40  One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

It’s interesting that it is only in John that deeds of Andrew are reported.  John knows that his readers will have heard of Peter, but probably not of Andrew.  In fact, according to this account, it is first Andrew (and not his more famous brother) who recognizes Jesus for who He is and determines to follow Him.

41  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).

The time that Andrew spent with Jesus convinced him.  This is God’s Messiah.  His first act after leaving the presence of Jesus is to go tell someone else.  I’ve heard Andrew nicknamed “Andrew the bringer,” a lovely name.  The other 2 recorded acts of Andrew are in chapters 6 and 12.

John 6:8  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,

9  “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

John 12:20  Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.

21  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

22  Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Andrew was concerned with others making their way to Jesus, beginning with his brother Simon.

John 1:42  He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

Jesus “looked at him.”  This is not a casual glance.  This is a fixed, intent gaze.  “You will be called Cephas (Peter).”  In the Aramaic and Greek both, this was not a common proper name.  It has to be heard more as a nickname, something like “Rocky.”  Jesus says, “You’ll be called “Rock/Rocky.”

At this instant, Simon is closer to water than to a rock.  He’s hot-headed and unreliable, more concerned about his own position than the good of the group.  However, by God’s grace he is eventually made into something quite different.  Jesus is looking not at what is presently the case, but what will be by the mercy and work of God.

In Matthew 16:13-20 it is Simon’s confession of Him as Messiah, Son of the Living God that prompts Jesus to call him Peter.  In I Peter 2, Peter reminds us that Jesus is the rock and that we too (on confession of Him) become living stones, being built into a spiritual house and holy priesthood.

43  The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

44  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

It’s worth reflecting on this phrase “Follow me.”  Consider what the phrase ultimately means to these guys.  Consider how the plain meaning of this invitation to Philip contrasts with modern evangelistic technique.  Consider how it squares with some of our notions of how God ought to be at human beck and call, ought to make our paths smooth and all we do succeed?

45  Philip found Nathanael 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.”

Again, the first thing that Philip does upon finding that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, God’s promised Deliverer, is to go tell somebody.  This time it is one Nathanael who hears the report.

46  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Nathanael is skeptical.  It may be that he’s expressing a typical human rivalry between small towns in roughly the same vicinity.  Perhaps it’s roughly like someone from Ames saying “Can anything good come from Nevada?”   Or it may be that Nathanael know his Scriptures and is expecting the Messiah to come from Bethlehem, not Galilee.  At any rate, he’s not buying the story on first report.  Note that he is not condemned by the Scriptures.  At this point he doesn’t have enough information to believe, and he’s not condemned for then failing to do so.

Philip says, “Come and see.”  He doesn’t argue with Nathanael, but invites him to investigate for himself.  The phrase he uses is again one loaded with double meaning.  He invites Nathanael to come to Jesus and see with a big “S.”

47  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

Jesus sees Nathanael coming and knows immediately what kind of fellow he is.  See John 2:24-25 regarding Jesus’s knowledge of what a person is.)  This is an honest heart and Jesus knows it immediately.  In contrast to those referred to in John as “the Jews,” this is a true Israelite.  This is one who when confronted with the Truth will embrace it.  Those John refers to as “the Jews” reject the Truth when it comes to them and plunge further and further into the darkness, seeing less and less clearly.  This might remind us of Paul’s statement in Romans 9:6 that not all who are descended form Israel belong to Israel.  The true Israelite believes in Jesus.

48  Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

Nathanael recognizes that Jesus has correct knowledge of who he, Nathanael, is—what kind of person he is.  He is also sure that there is no natural way for Jesus to know as much about him as He does.  So Nathanael asks how this can be.

Exactly what Jesus means about the fig tree has been the subject of much debate through the centuries.  There are many theories.  The simplest is simply that Nathanael was having a lemonade under the tree when Philip arrived and Jesus is just saying that I know everything about your physical whereabouts.  Whatever was meant exactly, Nathanael recognizes that he’s in the presence of the Son of God (nobody has to spell it out for him) and he reacts accordingly.

49  Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

“Son of God” and “King of Israel” make sense in the same sentence coming out of the mouth of Nathanael, a true Israelite, because for a true Israelite, Israel’s true king is God.

50  Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

Jesus is referring primarily to His own death, burial and resurrection that brings us reconciliation with God.

51  And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

The picture is that of Jacob’s ladder, a direct pathway to heaven and the Father.  Jesus is going to open and in fact BE that pathway.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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