Week 6

John 1:40-51

Come and See

1:40-42 One of the two who heard John and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother, Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (which is, being interpreted, Christ). He brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is by interpretation, Peter).

Very soon after this Andrew sought out his brother Simon and, breathless with excitement, blurted out, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ That’s what (who) they had been looking for. The implication is clear: a group of young men from Galilee had been on a quest to find the Messiah. John the Baptist seemed to be the ‘Elijah who was to come’, so they followed him in the hope and expectation that the Messiah would soon be revealed.[1] This is the first in a series of incidents that include the word ‘found’, which raises the question, who was seeking and who was finding? The usual Jewish answer to a question of this sort is that everyone was both a seeker and a finder. Andrew personified the archetypical disciple/evangelist as he shared the good news that he had just discovered. He did not just share information but also introduced Simon to Jesus.

This information about how Jesus first met Peter, Andrew and John helps to explain the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The impression from Matthew and Mark is that a complete stranger called a group of fishermen to follow Him and, without further ado, they immediately left their nets and families and accompanied Him. Luke’s expanded version includes the miracle of a huge catch of fish, focusing on Peter’s awestruck and terrified response as the identity of Jesus suddenly overwhelmed him. He became acutely aware of his sinfulness and the danger of being close to such power and holiness, as had been the case with Isaiah when he saw a vision of the Holy One.[2] This mismatch of sin and holiness was the problem that the people of Israel had faced in the wilderness, and God had provided the solution in the form of the Tabernacle. Jesus’ human body was God’s true tabernacle, allowing people like Peter to come close to Him. Jesus reassured him with characteristic words, ‘Don’t be afraid.’[3]

When Jesus first encountered Simon, He ‘looked at him’ with prophetic insight and gave him a new name that marked a transition point in his life. Changing names was an ancient practice in Israel. God gave Abram a new name at a critical point in his life, when the promised son Isaac was about to be conceived. Abram meant ‘high father’ and Abraham meant ‘father of a multitude’. Similarly, Jacob was renamed Israel when he had a close encounter with God and was about to re-enter the Promised Land after a long exile in Haran. In those cases and now with Simon/Peter, both names continued to be used while character transformation was under way.[4] Cephas is equivalent to ‘stone’ or ‘rock’, suggestingfirm/unyielding/stable’, which were not native qualities in impulsive and overconfident Simon. Jesus saw what Simon was not yet but would become as they journeyed together.[5]

It is surely significant that John chose to retain three Hebrew or Aramaic words rather than simply use the Greek equivalents. By so doing he is emphasising the Jewish culture of which Jesus, humanly speaking, was a product. It also reveals John’s own Hebrew roots and worldview. Rabbi is simply a transliteration from Hebrew into Greek, and is explained as meaning ‘teacher’. Cephas had Aramaic origins, but a similar word meaning ‘rocks’ is found in two Hebrew texts in the Scriptures.[6]

John’s use of a transliterated version of the Hebrew word Messiah was particularly significant to his purpose of revealing Jesus’ identity, for He was the embodiment of all the promises of the former Scriptures. The Greek word Christ also means ‘Anointed One’, but it lacks the historical and prophetic roots of the Hebrew word. In the apostolic era, when John’s Gospel was written, the word Christ could be used interchangeably with Messiah, but it gradually lost much of its original content as the predominantly Gentile church became increasingly divorced from its Hebrew roots. This eventually became a deliberate policy in response to Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

Many contemporary Christians appear to regard Jesus Christ as the founder of a new religion – Christianity – whereas He is the fulfilment of and central person in the one faith that began with Abraham and will persist until the end of time.

1:43-51 On the next day, he was determined to go out into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, ‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’

Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’

Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said about him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’

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 answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are King of Israel!’

Jesus answered him, ‘Because I told you, “I saw you underneath the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these!’ He said to him, ‘Most certainly, I tell you all, hereafter you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’

The next day Jesus set out for Galilee. It is not clear whether He travelled to Bethsaida on the north shore of the lake or met with Philip and Nathanael elsewhere in the region. What does seem clear is that this first group of disciples consisted of friends who shared a common quest to find the Messiah. Jesus now took the initiative and found Philip, who quickly responded to His invitation to follow Him. At first sight this may seem strange, but perhaps there is a clue in Philip’s subsequent statement to Nathanael: ‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’Philip had been convinced as a result of his personal interaction with Jesus, and from listening to Him as He explained the Scriptures. Probably Andrew and John had previously experienced something similar during their overnight stay with Jesus. Later, following His resurrection, He reminded them, ‘This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me must be fulfilled.’[7] These men were hungry to discover the truth and they were willing to respond, without conditions, when they found it. They were not protecting their personal agendas and ambitions, in contrast with others whom we will meet again later in the Gospel.

Philip’s first thought was similar to Andrew’s: I must share this news with my friend Nathanael who is also seeking the Messiah. Nathanael’s logic suggested that the second part of Philip’s news, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’, cancelled out the first part, ‘We have found [the Messiah].’It seems that Nazareth did not enjoy a good reputation, so ‘good news’ combined with ‘Nazareth’ constituted an oxymoron. Philip could have argued with Nathanael about this but, wisely, he chose a different strategy and invited him to ‘come and see’. Perhaps Philip took his cue from the way Jesus had extended a similar invitation to Andrew and John.[8] Philip’s friendship and honest testimony overcame Nathanael’s prejudice and scepticism and he was willing to investigate the matter for himself. This may be the earliest example of friendship evangelism; we should not reject people who do not immediately respond to our offer of the good news.

So Nathanael came to see for himself. Jesus interacted with Nathanael in a fascinating way that had deep roots in the Scriptures. He began by disarming Nathanael with the statement, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’ Jesus saw a heart that thirsted for integrity and truth.

Nathanael knew that this was no mere flattery, and was hooked and drawn in by this unexpected insight: ‘How do you know me?’

Jesus replied in a way that seems strange unless something else was going on under the surface: ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’

Nathanael’s response, coming from an erstwhile sceptic, was nothing short of astounding, and at first sight it seems inexplicable: ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’

The mystery deepened as Jesus said (in effect), you think that’s amazing, but you haven’t seen anything yet! ‘Most certainly, I tell you all, hereafter you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’[9]

We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is going on here? There must be more than meets the eye.’ Of course there was and, as usual, the keys are contained in the Scriptures. Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree, a place of shalom and a good place to meditate on the Word of God.[10] Possibly he was reflecting on the story of Jacob, whose name implied deceit but who was transformed into Israel by a direct encounter with God. It seems likely that Nathanael had been pondering on the meaning of the dream that Jacob had seen at Bethel, when heaven and earth were joined by a mysterious stairway, thus creating access to God.[11] It was some kind of prophecy, but what could it mean? Could it be pointing to the Messiah for whom they were earnestly looking?

Jesus had seen Nathanael’s location before Philip had spoken to him, and He had read his thoughts and knew the deepest longings of his heart. Who else could do such things except the Messiah, the Son of God and the King of Israel![12] Nathanael had been willing to accept the invitation to ‘come and see’, and now the former sceptic was lost in wonder, love and praise. His scepticism evaporated when he encountered Philip’s new friend, and he was willing to listen to what He had to say and give Him a fair hearing. Jesus subsequently promised that the truth would be revealed to anyone who has a genuine desire to do God’s will.[13] It is sad that many people are unwilling to make the radical changes that faith and commitment will require; others are not prepared to devote the time and effort that would be needed in order to make a thorough examination of the evidence, preferring to respond with stock objections.

Nathanael said to Jesus, ‘You are the Son of God’, but Jesus referred to Himself as the ‘Son of Man’. We will explore the significance of this title in a later chapter.

The stairway connecting earth and heaven could not be constructed from below, for man’s attempts to do this always end in failure and disaster.[14] Jesus came down from heaven, as Son of God and Son of Man, so that we could share fellowship with the Father here on earth, and then live in His immediate presence forever.[15]

Nathanael also called Jesus the ‘King of Israel’. Nathanael, like other Jews of his day, expected that the Messiah would come as king. The angel Gabriel confirmed this when he informed Mary that her son would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was acclaimed as king by the crowds who welcomed Him to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Pilate, perhaps in an act of retaliation against the Jewish leaders, placarded this title on the cross.[16]

Immediately before Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples asked Him if He was about to restore the Kingdom to Israel ‘at this time’. At that moment the question was theoretical rather than practical. It was not relevant to the mission on which He was about to send them, which was to proclaim the good news of salvation to Israel and the world. Nevertheless, while Jesus denied the timing, ‘at this time’, He did not deny the premise of their question. The disciples, like John the Baptist, correctly anticipated that all the promises concerning the Messiah would be literally and physically fulfilled, including His reign as the King of Israel, but they did not understand that this would happen in two stages.[17]

When a prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and His coming out of Egypt, was couched in physical terms, it was usually fulfilled in a physical way,[18] Prophecies that were clothed in metaphorical language were also usually fulfilled in literal and physical ways, even if the manner was not apparent when it was given.[19] We who live in the interval between Jesus’ first and second comings have the advantage of identifying those prophecies of Scripture that still await their fulfilment.

There is no reason to assume that other prophecies, as yet unfulfilled, will happen only in an allegorical or metaphorical sense, rather than the physical and literal sense that characterised His first coming. For instance, the prophet Zechariah predicted that the feet of the Messiah would stand on the Mount of Olives, and this was affirmed by the angels when Jesus ascended from that site. Jesus also said over Jerusalem that He would only return to it when the inhabitants were ready to greet Him with a statement from Psalm 118: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the LORD’s name! We have blessed you out of the LORD’s house.’[20]

[1] Dan. 9:24-27.

[2] Is. 6:1-5.

[3] Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11.

[4] Gen. 17:5, 15-16; 32:28;. 46:2, 5.

[5] Matt. 16:16, 18, 22-23; 26:33; Luke 22:31-34, 54-62; John 21:15-19.

[6] Job 30:6; Jer. 4:29.

[7] Luke 24:44.

[8] John 1:39.

[9] Throughout the text of the Gospels the WEBBE translates amen, amen as ‘most certainly’,whereas in other parts of the New Testament the same two Hebrew words are retained, as is the case in the Greek text. This translation reduces the force of the words from a statement of absolute and final authority to an expression of assurance. Jesus is the Amen: Rev. 3:14. Amen, amen is utilised in all of my subsequent comments.

[10] Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10.

[11] Gen. 27:36; 32:24-32; 28:10-22.

[12] These three aspects of the Coming One are present in the account of the visit of the wise men to Herod, Matt. 2:1-4.

[13] John 7:17.

[14] Gen. 3:5-6; 11:1-9.

[15] John 3:13-17, 6:33, 51, 58, 14:1-6; 17:24-26.

[16] Luke 1:31-33; John 12:12-15; 19:19-22.

[17] Acts 1:3, 6-7; Luke 7:18-23.

[18] Mic. 5:2 and Matt. 2:4-6; Hos. 11:1 and Matt. 2:13-15.

[19] Jer. 31:15 and Matt. 2:16-18.

[20] Zech. 14:3-4; Acts 1:9-12; Luke 13:33-35; Ps. 118:26.

Reflection: This part of the narrative contains many connections with the Hebrew Scriptures. If we want to have a true understanding of who Jesus is we must read the Gospels in the context of all that preceded them. Jesus and the apostles repeatedly emphasised that all the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had been portrayed and prophesied in those Scriptures. He was the goal and climax of it all. Do you ignore this part of the Bible as being of little value as compared to the ‘New ‘Testament’ or do you read the Bible as a book with a single and unified story? These are the Scriptures that are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

(2 Tim. 3:15)

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your word, from Genesis to Revelation. I recognise that it has all been given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is designed to equip me for every good work. Forgive me for choosing to read only those parts that appeal to me, to the exclusion of the rest. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in all of your word, and to see Jesus as he is revealed in all of the Scriptures.

(2 Tim. 3:16-17)

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