The First Disciples: A Pattern for Coming to Christ (John 1:35-51)
By Andrew E. Courtis
It is amazing when you look at people throughout the centuries and even today, finding salvation in Jesus Christ. It is exciting when we think of the power of the gospel in transforming people from different ages and stages in life. The gospel of Jesus Christ continues to spread throughout the world according to God’s sovereign plan.Throughout the centuries, people have been coming out of darkness and walking in the light. In this passage we have two scenes that transpire over a period of a couple of days. In both of these events the Lord Jesus Christ is gathering His first disciples. This becomes the beginnings of those who will be witnesses for Christ. In this passage we will glean an understanding and pattern for people coming to Christ.
SCENE 1: ANDREW AND PETER (1:35-42)
The day after John the Baptist provided clear witness concerning the identity of Jesus (1:29-34), with two of his disciples standing by him, John said “Behold, the Lamb of God” (1:36). After John said this, his two disciples immediately followed Jesus (1:37). Who were these two disciples? One of them was Andrew (1:40) and the other is believed to be the apostle John. After they started following Jesus, Jesus then asked them, “What are you seeking?” (1:38). This question was designed to reveal what their expectations were. They replied by saying, “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?” (1:38b). The invitation to “come and you will see” (1:39a) was an opportunity get acquainted with Jesus in a deeper way. The disciples went with Him and remained there that day. (“for it was about the tenth hour”) Andrew then made it his priority to go and find his brother (Simon Peter). When he found him he said, “we have found the Messiah” (1:41). This statement is rich with OT expectation. The word literally means, the “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, kings, priests and prophets (1 Kings 19:16; Psalm 105:15; Isaiah 61:1) were anointed. This anointing with oil symbolically represented the imparting of the Holy Spirit to the individual. Jesus is called “Messiah” because He is the “Anointed One” from God. As the Messiah, He possesses the three-fold office: prophet, priest and king. As Prophet, He brings God’s truth to His people in a complete way that no other prophet could do. The invisible God became visible through Jesus Christ. As Priest, He brings His people to God in a complete way, for He was the perfect sacrifice that bore the wrath of God and brought forgiveness of sin. As King, He rules over His people, and will one day return and reign on earth and for all eternity will be King of kings. He is the Messiah. Andrew’s good news to his brother was, He found Him! We learn that Andrew then brought his brother to Jesus (1:42a). Interestingly, every time Andrew is mentioned in the gospel of John he is bringing someone to Christ (cf. 6:8; 12:22). This is an excellent example of the value of one-on-one evangelism and discipleship. We have no record of any of Andrew’s sermons, but we read of the way the Lord used Peter in the early years of the church. After bringing him to Jesus, Jesus then looks at Andrew’s brother and says, “So you are Simon the son of Jonah? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter)” (1:42b). Here our Lord states what He is going to make Peter. The name “Cephas” (Aramaic version) means “a rock” (Peter is the Greek version).
SCENE 2: PHILIP AND NATHANAEL (1:43-51)
Our second scene brings us to the next day where Jesus decided to go to Galilee. It was there “He found Philip and said to him, ‘follow me’” (1:43). Philip came from the same hometown of Andrew and Peter (1:44). Evidently Philip responded positively because after meeting Jesus, “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’” (1:45). This statement was very similar to Andrew’s (“we have found the Messiah” 1:41), but contains more detail. The OT contains over 300 prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, and Philip with zeal lets Nathanael know that they have found Him. Who is Nathanael? His name only appears in the Gospel of John (1:43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 21:2) and it is best to identify him with Bartholomew. Nathanael would have likely been his given name. In the synoptic gospels, Bartholomew is always linked with Philip (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14). After hearing Philip’s news concerning the one whom the OT writes, Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46). This statement reveals a possible small town rivalry (Nathanael was from Cana cf. 21:2) and furthermore the shock of Messianic fulfillment in a small place of no more than 2,000 people. Philip replies to Nathanael by saying, “come and see”. This is how Jesus answered Andrew’s question (1:39) and it serves as a great response to inquiring individuals. It is important to know that we don’t always have to provide inquirers with all the answers. It is sufficient to invite them to come and see for themselves. This is why the book of John is such a useful resource for people to read and see for themselves. Now the magnificence and power of Jesus Christ is on full display with what happens next. We read, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’” (1:47). This is a Divine declaration of Nathanael’s spiritual condition. He noted that unlike many hypocrites in Israel, he was a genuine believer (cf. Rom. 2:28-29). Nathanael responds by saying, “How do you know me?” (1:48a). Now notice what happens next, Jesus says, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (1:48b). Here we see the work of the all-seeing Saviour (cf. Rev. 2:2; 9; 13; 19; 3:1; 8; 15). Jesus recounts an event only known to Nathanael. He displays knowledge of Him that only God knows. To this, Nathanael says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49). Nathanael trusted in God and in the Messianic promise, but now He declares that Jesus is the Messiah. Knowing how His omniscience amazed Nathanael, Jesus said, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these” (1:50). Nathanael’s glimpse of the power of Christ is nothing in comparison with what he will see over the next few years. In the very next chapter Jesus goes to Nathanael’s hometown and preforms a miracle at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11). Jesus concludes by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (1:51). Alluding to the dream of Jacob (Gen. 28), Jesus declares that He is the ladder between earth and Heaven. The title “Son of Man” finds its origin in Daniel 7:13. This is the most common name Jesus used of Himself. It conveys the reality that He is fully human and fully God. The fact that He refers to Himself as “the Son of Man” (emphasis mine) reveals that He is the one the prophet Daniel spoke of.
LESSONS FROM THE TEXT
Salvation comes by Sovereign Choice
At the foundation of the events that transpire in this narrative is the reality that salvation comes by sovereign choice. Earlier in John’s prologue he writes concerning those who believed in Christ’s Name, “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:13). Later in this gospel Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (15:16). Salvation occurs because of sovereign choice.
Salvation is found Exclusively in Jesus Christ
The second important lesson drawn from this narrative is the reality that salvation is found exclusively in Jesus Christ. Why is this the case? It is because of who Jesus is. This passage is filled with names and titles stating who Jesus is. He is referred to as “the Lamb of God” (1:36), “Rabbi” (1:38; 49), “the Messiah” (1:41), “the Son of God” (1:49), “the king of Israel” (1:49), “the Son of Man” (1:51). This is why salvation can only be found in Him and this is why we must point people to Jesus if they are going to be saved.
Salvation comes through Various Channels
The final important lesson drawn from this narrative is the reality that salvation comes through various channels. What I mean by that is that God has appointed different ways in which people believe the gospel. Though there are various channels, there will always be two realities present – the message of salvation and the messenger of salvation. The message is what we saw in the previous lesson. This passage gives examples of the value of one-on-one witness. John the Baptist told Andrew and John about Jesus, Andrew told Peter and Philip told Nathanael. Pray for opportunities like this and know the value of such personal conversations.