The Inception of Ministry
Tim Temple


Open your Bibles to John, chapter 1. We are continuing our study of John's Gospel. In this lesson, we come to the last verses of this chapter. We will begin our lesson with verse 35.

Have you ever stopped to think about how a certain thing begins? I am fascinated by freeway interchanges, especially those big mixmasters that they have in bigger cities. Sometimes when I drive by those things, I wonder where they started. What did they do on the first day to build something like that? When looking at a skyscraper or some monstrous complex, you just wonder what they did that first day. Just where would you start on something like that?

Maybe you have had the situation of finding yourself in a mess—maybe a sinful mess or some other kind of mess—and you thought, “How did I get here? Where did this all start? How did this begin?” It is credited as a Chinese proverb, but the Bible really says it, too, in various ways: “The longest journey begins with a single step.”

As we come to these last verses of John, chapter 1, we see the beginnings of the Body of Christ, the very first believers in Jesus Christ as Savior. Technically speaking, there may have been others before this. We know that Simeon and Anna, those Old Testament saints, understood Who Jesus was when He was born and very likely trusted in Him as their Messiah. The shepherds also got the news and perhaps trusted Him. We don't know that. Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and a few other people who were exposed to Jesus in His childhood trusted Him; but, in terms of people actually stating their belief in Him, there were few.

The people whom we come across in these last verses of chapter 1 are the first people we have recorded who actually came to Jesus as He physically revealed Himself to them. Out of the little trickle of five individuals who are recorded in these last seventeen verses of John, chapter 1, grew the mighty river of Christianity which has really filled the whole earth. It hasn't grown at the rate that we might like to see it grow, and we feel frustrated when we think of the Great Commission, but Christianity really become a mighty power in the world today beginning with these first few people who recognized Him at His birth and perhaps some who realized who He was during His childhood, especially these five who are mentioned here in these verses.

The Selection of Andrew and John as Disciples

In verses 35-51, we come to the inception of Jesus' ministry, and of all of the marvelous things that Jesus did during His ministry on earth, it all began with the selection of two individuals as His disciples. It is another example of the fact that the longest journey begins with a single step.

In verses 35-39, we have the story of the calling of Andrew and John as disciples. Their introduction to Jesus is described in verses 35-37. Look at verse 35:

John 1

35Again the next day after John [John the Baptist] stood, and two of his disciples;
36And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
37And 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 do what God had called him to do. From a human standpoint, John the Baptist had just lost two disciples in these verses, but from God's viewpoint, he was two steps closer to accomplishing his mission. John did not come to build a following. John came to build a flock—the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said later on, “I must decrease, but He must increase,” and that is exactly what happens here. By losing two of his disciples, John was accomplishing his mission.

From verse 40, we see that one of these two must have been Andrew. The other disciple is not named, but Bible scholars down through the years, based on the knowledge that he has of the next events that took place, think that it must have been John, the author of this Gospel. It just seems logical that John was the other disciple. We know that John was one of the disciples, and we don't have a record of when he was called. He knows everything that happens after the calling of these two, so the general consensus of opinion down through the years has been that John was the other disciple who was called here.

Their Introduction to His Inner Circle

This is their introduction to Jesus. They were pointed to Him by their former teacher, John the Baptist, and they went and followed Jesus. In verses 38-39, we see their introduction into His inner circle. Notice verse 38:

John 1

38Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?

The first response of these two men to their first glimpse of Jesus takes place so quietly and simply that it is easy to forget that they represented this trickle of followers that grew into this mighty torrent of Christianity. Andrew and John had been baptized by John the Baptist and taught by Him about the Messiah, and they were not content to hear about Him secondhand. They wanted to know Him personally and have a more direct personal relationship with Him, and so they began to follow Him.

It is interesting, too, to notice that the focus of what John had told them about Jesus was not that He would deliver Israel from Rome, not that He would be the great King of the Jews Who had been anticipated all those years, but simply that He was the Lamb of God Who would take away the sin of the world.

John's Emphasis Was a Spiritual One

The emphasis that John the Baptist made with these two disciples of his and all of the teaching that he did was a spiritual emphasis. That was also the focus of Jesus and the Scripture as a whole. The direct emphasis of Jesus' teaching and of the other men of God who were used in the writing of the Bible is never political or material. The direct emphasis is always on the spiritual aspect of life.

Now, when that spiritual aspect of life is understood, and when we as individuals take these principles into our lives and make them a part of our lives and God begins to work through us, then those political and material things begin to fall into place. But that is not ever the primary focus of Scripture; the primary focus is always spiritual.

Later on, Jesus was going to say this very same thing in Matthew's Gospel. It is recorded as, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” If you want the correct focus in life, if you want that common denominator which will make everything else fall into place, seek God's righteousness and, Jesus said, “…all these things will be added to you.”

I think so many of us, even as Christians, have our focus in the wrong place. We look for the right leader, or we look for the right results, or we look for the right practice; but what we need to do is to look for the Savior and come to know Him as well as we can. He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Come to know Him by coming to know His Word. As we live what we learn, then those other things will take care of themselves. Those other things fall into place.

It is true that Jesus was the King of Israel Who will someday rule over the whole world, and it is true that someday Jesus' rule will free all nations from oppression, but that is not what John the Baptist talked about. He talked about the Lamb of God Who would take away the sin of the world.

God Always Responds to a Sincere Seeker

As Andrew and John began to follow Jesus, notice who speaks first. We see, there in verse 38, that Jesus turned and spoke to them. If you read that verse literally, Andrew and John were too shy to speak directly to Jesus, so they just started following Him. Jesus was God, but Jesus was also a human being, and I think it was purely out of His human instincts that He sensed that somebody was following Him. You can sense if someone is following you, and Jesus was no dummy. He sensed that these men were following Him. He turned around and, in His humanity, He probably didn't know who they were. He said to them, “What do you want from Me?”

Jesus spoke first and this demonstrates a wonderful biblical truth, which is that God always responds to a sincere seeker. Technically, we know that He responds to that seeker because He is calling that seeker to Himself in the first place, but from a human standpoint, the seeker doesn't know that. Andrew and John did not know that God the Father was calling them to Jesus. Jesus had said that the Father would draw men to Him and that whoever came to Him, He would never cast out. God the Father was drawing Andrew and John to Jesus, but they didn't know that. They thought that they were seeking Jesus, but they didn't have the nerve to say anything. Jesus, as God, turns around and speaks to them.

If you are thinking about coming to Jesus for salvation or for restoration of fellowship or for closer fellowship with Him, don't hesitate another minute, because He will lovingly meet you at least halfway, and probably more than that. Jesus always makes the move to us when we indicate a desire for fellowship. In Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20, he says:

Revelation 3

20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

All He wants to see is a willing heart and He will take it from there.

Jesus Questions Their Motives

Even though Jesus does make the first move, He makes them think. Notice what He asks them. He says in effect, “What do you want from Me?” He asked them what they wanted from Him because He wanted to make them think about their motives in following Him. Jesus wanted them to know their own hearts. They were in for some tumultuous times if they followed Jesus. Jesus knew that, and He wanted to make sure that they knew what they wanted and what they were doing.

These are questions that are well worth asking ourselves. If Jesus were to suddenly, audibly ask you, “Why are you here tonight?”, what would you say to that? If Jesus asked to you, “What are you seeking?”, what would be your answer? That is a healthy question for us to ask ourselves as Christians. Maybe it will help to answer that question by looking at the way Andrew and John answered. Look at the last half of verse 38:

John 1

38…They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, teacher,) where dwellest thou?

Even though the question caught them by surprise, Andrew and John did know what they wanted. It seems like a strange answer, and maybe they just couldn't think of a better way to phrase it. I don't think that they were so curious about where He was staying as to express that they just wanted to be with Him. They didn't really want something from Him, they just wanted Him. They wanted to know where He was staying so they could go there with Him and sit down and hear more from Him.

They used the word Rabbi , and we see that word all through the Gospels. The word Rabbi literally means “my great one,” and it was used by the Jews for their teachers as a sign of respect and honor. Andrew and John didn't want just a casual acquaintance with Jesus. They wanted to go to His home and talk to Him about their problems and to learn from Him whatever He had for them to learn. In effect, they were saying, “You are our great One, and we just want to be with You. Where do You live? Can we go there with You?” Jesus' response is in verse 39, and He says very simply:

John 1

39…Come and see…

They did go to His home and they did stay the rest of the day. Maybe they spent the night there. John includes the fact that it was about the tenth hour. It seems that it was almost an afterthought with him, but I think that there is a very special reason that that little phrase is there. The tenth hour would have been between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon by Jewish reckoning. The Jews started the day at six in the morning, and so it would have been three or four in the afternoon. I think that is there to show the significance of this event in John's life. He was an elderly man by the time he wrote this book, and the events that he is describing here happened probably fifty or sixty years before, but he remembered the exact hour of the day when he first met Jesus.

Some of you are like that. You can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you first understood that Jesus Christ is the Savior. Some of us accepted Christ as little children and can't really remember that much about the details, but this was a life-changing experience for all of us who have met Christ as we have grown in Him. Whether we have grown slowly or suddenly, that day that we really came to an understanding of salvation through Jesus Christ was a day that changed our lives radically, and that was certainly true for John, even from a physical standpoint.

John, in the next three years, was going to see things that he never imagined possible. Of course, fifty years later he would remember exactly where he was and what he was doing.

A Third Disciple Comes Into the Picture

Moving on in the text, verses 40-42 deal with the third disciple who comes into the picture, and that is Peter. His contact is described in verses 40-41:

John 1

40One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
41He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.

Incidentally, here is one of the places where the Bible itself tells us what the word Christ means. Many times we say that the word Christ is a synonym for the Old Testament term Messiah . Here it is written out specifically in Scripture.

Andrew is one of those indispensable nobodies that we run across in Scripture from time to time, and he teaches us a couple of extremely important lessons. First, here he is, the first person to actually follow Jesus, or one of the first two to actually become a disciple of Jesus. He is the one who introduced his bother Peter to Jesus, and yet, very shortly and from then on Peter is the main one we hear about. Peter becomes the spokesman for the other disciples, but we never see any indication of any kind of jealously or any kind of self-pity. The normal response of many of us would have been, “Who does Peter think he is? I got here first and I'm the one who brought him to Jesus, and now here he is being a spokesman for the rest of us.” There is no indication that Andrew ever felt that way at all. Andrew was content to simply introduce his brother to Jesus, and he seemed to understand what Jesus was going to have to teach Peter personally two or three years after this, and that was, “What I do with someone else is none of your business. You follow Me.”

Andrew seems to have understood that right from the start. He is a very humble person who brings people to Christ and whose major focus is on serving the Lord, not on his own position. He was interested in serving the Lord, and those things about position and prominence could just take care of themselves. We would almost think that he was Simon Peter's brother, because almost every time you see him referred to in the Scripture, he is referred to in just that way: “Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.” However, it is really just a description.

The second thing that we can learn from Andrew is that the only thing that we are ever told specifically about him and the only actions that are recorded about him is when he is bringing someone to Jesus. He brought Peter to Jesus, and thank the Lord that he did. What would it have been like if we hadn't had Peter? The Lord would have accomplished just as much, but it wouldn't have been nearly so interesting if we hadn't had Peter in the picture, and a lot of Christians wouldn't have had a person to identify with nearly as much if we hadn't had Peter. Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.

In John, chapter 6, we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand men, women and children, and the little boy who had the five loaves and three fishes. Do you remember who it was that brought that little boy to Jesus? It was Andrew. Andrew was the guy who noticed that this little boy had that sandwich, and he was the one who told Jesus about that. In chapter 12, he brings the first Gentiles to Jesus. Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus. The only action that is recorded of him is bringing people to Jesus. Notice, in verse 41, the first thing that he did was to go and find his brother:

John 1

41He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.

Andrew's first priority was for his loved ones, the people in 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? If a person wants to be a leader, what would the people who live with him every day say about him or her as a recommendation? Andrew's primary concern was for his brother—we will assume his whole family, but he must have known that Peter had some interest or potential.

If we don't have a testimony at home, if we are not interested in our own family, then chances are we are not going to be that interested in what other people's needs are either. There are lots of folks who want to serve the Lord and want to reach the millions, but don't bother with their own family.

I know that there are family members who are not interested and there are people with tears in their eyes who have tried to reach their own family and have not been successful. I'm not talking about that. I am talking about where the person's primary interest is. If you try to reach your family and God doesn't allow that, then that is another matter, but the point is the interest we have and the goal we have in reaching out to our own family.

Peter's Conversion

Notice the message that Andrew gave to Peter: “We have found the Messiah. We have found the Christ.” Notice that Andrew didn't come home and say, “I have found this movement that we can get into which will meet all our needs.” He didn't say, “I have found a great teacher.” He didn't say, “I have found something that we need to be a part of.” He simply said, “I have found the Messiah. I have found the Son of God.”

That was the message of John the Baptist. I think that Andrew learned from his mentor, John the Baptist, what the real focus ought to be. That should always be our focus. Our focus needs to always be on God and the Word of God and what He has revealed to us of Himself. If that is our focus, then the other aspects will fall into place, and we will have the emphasis that God wants us to have on everything else if our primary emphasis is on God and on the Word of God. That was how Peter was contacted for Christ, and in verse 42, we find his conversion:

John 1

42And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.

Andrew, you see, was not satisfied with telling Peter about Jesus, but he actually brought him to Jesus. What was the first thing that Jesus did to Peter? The immediate answer might be that He changed his name. That is the primary thing that we see here in verse 42, but if that is your answer, you are skipping over something. Look at what Jesus did before He changed his name. Before He changed his name, He looked at him. Jesus looked at Peter, then He said that about changing his name.

The Greek word that is used for look in verse 42 is a word that describes a penetrating gaze that would pierce into the soul of Peter. In the strictest sense of the word, Jesus was the only One Who could look into a person's soul, but He probably, because of His own sinlessness and sincerity, was one of the few human beings who could look directly into someone's eyes and discern what their life was really about. Jesus, after looking into Peter's life, said, “Your name is now Simon, but I am going to give you a new name and that name is going to be Cephas .” The Aramaic word is Cephas; the Greek word is Peter . Both of those languages were in use in that first century, and so sometimes we find in the New Testament important words being given in both languages. The meaning of both of those words is a rock or a stone.

This is probably why we find Peter referred to as Simon Peter in the New Testament many times. The reason for that is so people who might have known him before his conversion would know who they were talking about. If they just called him Peter , his former friends wouldn't understand, so the writers of the Gospel, when they refer to him (even though Jesus changed his name to Peter ), refer to him as Simon Peter so people would know who he was.

When Jesus said, “You are Simon,” He was speaking about his personality and his character. The New Testament often records Peter as impetuous, short-tempered, maybe unstable in some cases. In fact, Jesus even sometimes used that name for him, even after he was saved, when those kinds of weaknesses were in control in his life. For example, in Luke, chapter 22, the disciples were having a dispute about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, and Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat.” That was an indication that Peter was looking at this thing from a purely human standpoint. The Kingdom of God was not about who would get to be the greatest when the Kingdom was established. The kingdom was about serving the King, so He called him Simon .

Interestingly enough, another time that He used that name for Peter was in Matthew, chapter 16, verse 17. Jesus said to the disciples:

Matthew 16

15…But whom say ye that I am?
16And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

I think He used that old human name, that pre-salvation name to emphasize the fact that this was not something an unsaved person like Simon could know. The only way that a person like Simon could know something like this was if God Himself would reveal it to him.

Of course, that is the essence of salvation. God opens our eyes to Who Jesus is and the Holy Spirit enlightens us. We understand the message not because of our human ability—we are not saved because we are smart enough to understand the Gospel—but purely and simply because the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to Who Jesus is. We have that flash of insight and understanding given to us by God, and that is why we read in Ephesians that even our faith is a gift of God. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes just as He did with Peter there in Matthew, chapter 16. Jesus used that pre-salvation name to remind him of the miraculous nature of understanding Who Jesus is. This new relationship to God that was characterized by his new name was going to change Simon's whole personality, so he needed a new name. God gave him that name—Peter, the rock.

Peter's experience is repeated in lives today—not the name change, but any one of us comes to the Lord as we are, just as Peter did. He looks deeply into our soul and He knows the worst about us and He knows the best about us and He saves us anyway. He knows that the worst is enough to disqualify us for salvation; He knows that the best of us is not good enough to qualify us for salvation, and He saves us anyway. In effect, He gives us a new name. He gives us His name, and we become a part of His family. Peter said that we become partakers of His nature. If we will understand that and allow Him to accomplish that in our lives, we can be changed in the way that we live just as Peter was.

Philip and Nathanael Come to Jesus

We have seen three disciples come to Jesus—Andrew, John, and now Peter. The third set of disciples who come to Jesus in this passage is another group of two: Philip and Nathaniel. This is described in verses 43-51. The finding of Philip is found in verses 43-44:

John 1

43The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
44Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

John has this reference to the following day all through this part of the Gospel. Bible teachers have tried to put that together as one week or a certain number of days, but it is really impossible to make that into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday chronology. John is remembering things in detail of what happened after what, and so the following day after Peter's conversion, apparently, Jesus decided that He wanted to go up north to Cana of Galilee. We don't know why He wanted to go, but John tells us that on that trip, He found Philip and invited him to join the group. We don't know what the details were of inviting Philip into the group, how He saw him or what the details were.

John gives us the details about the other men, but he just tells us that Jesus invited Philip to follow Him. I think that there is even a reason for that. The Holy Spirit had John leave out some of those details, I think, to demonstrate that people can be genuine followers of Jesus without a pedigree. We don't have to know who somebody's family is or what the circumstances were in their following Jesus. If their testimony is that they have trusted Christ as Savior, then that is really all that matters to us. If we can sense a genuiness in their love for Christ, that is all that matters. It would be interesting to know how they came to Christ, what their background is, and where they have studied, but John puts this down in the simplest language to remind us that people can come to Christ without our knowing the details.

We can surmise that Andrew and Peter may have told Jesus about Philip, because verse 44 tells us that he was from their home town; and it is very likely that Andrew and Peter, as they were talking with the Lord, said, “We know a guy who would fit right in with this. We know a guy who would love to know all of this that You are telling us.”

That is only a guess, because the only clue we have about that is that John tells us that he was from Bethesda, the same town that Andrew and Peter were from. It is possible that he had been a disciple of John the Baptist as Andrew and John had been and, because of that, he was prepared to meet the Lamb of God whom John was preaching about. But again, we have to guess at that.

In verses 45-51, we see the friend of Philip, a man by the name of Nathanael . The announcement to Nathanael is in verse 45:

John 1

45Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

Philip was like Andrew. He couldn't keep this great news to himself. He had to go out and tell somebody else about it, so he went out and found his friend, Nathanael. We don't know much about Nathanael except that he was a friend of Philip. Many New Testament scholars think that Nathanael's name was changed like Peter's was, to Bartholomew, because Bartholomew is one of the disciples who appears in various lists of disciples. In each of the other Gospels, Bartholomew's name appears with Phillip's name.

Notice, going back to verse 45, how Philip describes Jesus to Nathanael. He said to him:

John 1

45…We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

Look at those Old Testament terms that Philip uses. Probably the reason that he talked that way was because Nathanael was a careful student of the Old Testament. Nathanael probably had been studying about the Messiah, and he knew what Moses and the prophets had said. Philip came to him and said, “I have found the One you have been searching for.” Nathanael was this Old Testament student, and Philip knew just how to approach him.

That is an important little tip about witnessing. We need to approach people where we know their interest is if that is possible. If we know what their interest is—and it is worth trying to find out what their interest is—we can use that as an opening for the conversation, steering things in the direction of being able to give the Gospel.

Philip had the perfect opening. He knew what Nathanael had been looking for, and he comes to him and he says, “We have found the guy.” More technically, “He has found us.” This is also a reminder of the fact that the Old Testament is vitally important in understanding Who Jesus is and the significance of the things that He did and said. Most of the things that Jesus said and did in the New Testament would make very little sense if we didn't understand that Old Testament background from which it comes.

I think Christians, particularly new Christians, have a tendency to focus on the New Testament and to concentrate on that, and that is fine. We need to know the New Testament, but without the Old Testament as a background, we don't have nearly the depth of understanding of the New Testament that we would otherwise. Here is a perfect example of that.

The Antagonism of Nathanael

What happens next is kind of surprising. In verses 46-47, we find the antagonism of Nathanael. The announcement was made to him, then he said:

John 1

46And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him…

Let me stop right there in the middle of verse 47. You never know what someone is going to answer when you ask them a question or give them a challenge. Nathanael must have been one of those people who never quite give the answer that you are expecting. Here was Philip all primed to bring his friend to Jesus, and Nathanael messes it up completely. Look at his answer:

John 1

46And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?…

I can just see Philip hitting himself on the head. “Oh man. Whoever thought of that? Why would it be a problem that Jesus is from Nazareth?” Of course, the problem was that the Old Testament said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, not that He would be from Nazareth. That was a problem that a lot of the Jews had and it became a scapegoat for the guilty conscience of a lot of Jews, because Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as the Old Testament had said, but then He lived in Nazareth in His childhood and was referred to as having come from Nazareth. Nathanael doesn't give the answer that Philip is expecting, but Philip shows his wisdom. Look in the middle of verse 46 and notice what Philip said:

John 1

46…Come and see.

He couldn't explain how this guy could be the Messiah as He obviously was and be from Nazareth. Philip was probably not the Old Testament scholar that Nathanael was, and he didn't know how to answer that technical question. But he knew that if Nathanael could see Jesus, that wouldn't be a problem.

The reason that I went on into the first part of verse 47 is that it is significant to notice that with all of his knowledge of the Old Testament and with all of this skepticism about Nazareth, Nathanael was still willing to go and see for himself because that first part of verse 47 says:

John 1

47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him…

That is real openness. Nathanael knew the Old Testament and he was looking for a Messiah. He had this trusted friend who was telling him that he had found the Messiah, but there was a problem. The friend said, “Come and see.” Nathanael needs to receive a lot of credit for going to see. In the last part of verse 47 and going on into verse 48, we see Nathanael's acceptance. We will read all of verse 47 again:

John 1

47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
48Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
49Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

Let's go back and think about this. Even though Nathanael had questions and doubts about Jesus, he was not stubborn and He was not deceitful. He was open and honest about his questions; He was not a man who would refuse to listen to reason. It was this openness to truth and this willingness to come and see that Jesus saw in him when He said in verse 47:

John 1

47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

Nathanael had nothing to hide. He wasn't afraid to question what Philip said to him. He knew what he believed, but he was open enough to come and see for himself, and that is what Jesus saw in him. Nathanael didn't use his questions and his doubts as an alibi to cover up some inner rebellion and hatred of the Light that John had talked about in the first part of the chapter. He demonstrated that he was in the light when he came to Jesus with an open mind.

In the first part of verse 48, Nathanael has a question. He asks, “How do you know me?” Nathanael knew about his own openness and he was struck probably with the fact that Jesus could see that about him. He wondered how Jesus could size him up so thoroughly just at a glance like that, but Jesus explained that He not only knew that Philip had brought Nathanael to Him, He saw him when he was under the fig tree before Philip had even called him. Jesus knew that Philip had called Nathanael. He could have surmised that from the fact that Philip came walking up with Nathanael, but look what He said:

John 1

48Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

That was apparently the thing that opened Nathanael's heart to Jesus. Fig trees are very commonplace in Israel. The fig trees that they had were very much like weeping willow trees that we have today. The branches would bend over and provide a place of shade. Sometimes the branches would swoop almost to the ground and a common practice was to sit under the shade of the fig tree and meditate and pray.

We need to be careful not to inject too much into this, but it could be that Nathanael had been sitting under his fig tree and praying for the Messiah to come, or praying that he would understand more fully about the Messiah. At any rate, when he was under the fig tree, Jesus saw him there. Jesus, in His deity, knew about Nathanael and communicated that to Nathanael. Nathanael immediately accepted that knowledge of him as proof that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. That knowledge could only come from God, and Nathanael knew that. He was a godly enough man that he understood that.

Verse 49 shows us that Nathanael immediately leapt to a point higher than any of the others in this chapter because he says:

John 1

49…Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

The others had told other people that He was the Messiah, and we know that they believed it, but Nathanael immediately blurts that out and states it to Jesus. He expresses his faith more clearly than any of the others had, and because of that in verses 50-51, we find Nathanael's assurance:

John 1

50Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
51And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Jesus is addressing himself to this student of the Old Testament law, so He draws an illustration from the Old Testament when He talks about the angels ascending and descending. You probably recognize that as the story from Genesis, chapter 28, when Jacob was fleeing from his brother after he had deceived him about the birthright. He had stopped for the night, and he had that dream about a ladder extending into Heaven with angels descending and ascending to him. It represented God's drawing near to Jacob and prayers going up to God. He didn't understand that at the moment but, as we studied through that story, we realized that. God promised to be with Jacob, and Jacob took hold of that promise with all of his heart there in chapter 28. The dreams and visions that are recorded in the Old Testament are always a picture in some way of coming events that will be real in the future. At least part of the fulfillment of that dream is in what Jesus says here to Nathanael. The unbroken fellowship and communion between God and man was made possible by Jesus Christ. Nathanael was going to have the privilege of seeing that first hand.

We have the privilege of reading about it and knowing about it because the Holy Spirit opens our eyes because we have the privilege of reading it in the Bible, but Nathanael is going to get to see that. He is going to get to see Heaven opened and direct communication between God and man through Jesus Christ.

Jesus, like that ladder in Jacob's dream, is the only way to God. By Him only, we have access to God. But also by Him, God descends to us. Nathanael and the other disciples were going to get to see that.


As we wrap up, these five men whom we have read about in the end of chapter 1 are going to have indescribable excitement during the next three years—really throughout life after that. It was all because they took Jesus at His Word and believed that He truly was the Son of God and that the things of God would truly be theirs through Him.

After all these centuries of tradition and ritual, it is easy for us to forget the feelings that these first discoveries of Jesus must have brought up. What an exciting thing that must have been, to discover Jesus for the first time, not having all the baggage of tradition and Church history behind them.

It may be that for some of us the things of God have become commonplace because we have heard these stories so many times all these years, and we don't have that new excitement that these men had. If that is the case with you, why not confess that to God and ask Him to renew the joy and excitement and the thrill that these first discoveries must have had. Start to look at these things in that way.

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