John 1:35–51: Jesus Calls the First Disciples, Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
So far in Chapter 1 of John’s Gospel he has given us a very moving prologue, introduced John the Baptist, and introduced Jesus himself. The focus now starts to move away from John the Baptist toward Jesus, beginning here with Jesus calling some of his first disciples.
In fact, the very next day, after Jesus’ baptism in the last passage, Jesus walks by John, who’s standing there with a couple of his (John’s) disciples, and John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (verse 36). John’s disciples immediately start following Jesus, which he notices:
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?” 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. (verses 38–39)
(The tenth hour is about 4 PM.)
We are told that one of these men is Andrew, who is Peter’s brother—who, at this point, is only called Simon. Andrew goes to find Simon, tells him that they’ve found the Messiah, and then brings him to meet Jesus. When Jesus sees Simon, he says, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (verse 42); the text tells us that “Cephas” means “Peter,” and the ESV footnote tells us that “Cephas and Peter are from the word for rock in Aramaic and Greek, respectively”—in other words, when Jesus meets Simon he names him “rock,” which is why we call him Peter.
The day after that, Jesus goes to Galilee and meets a man named Philip (who happens to be from the same city as Andrew and Peter), and tells Philip to follow him. Not only does Philip do so, he goes and finds a man named Nathaniel and tells him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (verse 45), but Nathaniel isn’t convinced, asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (verse 46); Philip is undeterred, however, and tells Nathaniel to come and see for himself.
Jesus immediately quels Nathaniel’s doubts:
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there 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 the King of Israel!” 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.” 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.” (verses 47–51)
This is a very straightforward passage: simply a series of events highlighting Jesus calling some of his first disciples, and a lot of detail given about certain people’s names.
One part I do find spiritually interesting (if I can put it that way) is the interaction between Jesus and Nathaniel. Nathaniel comes into the interaction skeptical, and Jesus seems amused at how easily he takes away Nathaniel’s doubt.
And incidentally, Nathaniel’s doubt is not simply some kind of prejudice against people from Nazareth, they’re actually deeper than that: Philip has told Nathaniel that he thinks he’s found the one Moses wrote about. In other words, he thinks he’s found the Prophet and/or the Messiah. (I’m fuzzy on what the Jews of that day believed about the Messiah and the Prophet, and whether they believed it would be the same person or two different people. I’ve only started thinking about this term “the Prophet” as I’ve started getting deeper into John’s Gospel.) When Nathaniel asks his rhetorical “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” question, he’s saying that because he knows his Scriptures. He’s expecting the promised Messiah to come out of Bethlehem, not Nazareth—so if Jesus is from Nazareth, he can’t be the one Philip thinks he is!
And maybe “amused” is the wrong way to look at it, but as he points out, it doesn’t seem to take much to convince Nathaniel of Jesus’ authenticity; a couple of quick words, and Nathaniel is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, regardless of where he’s from.
I find this interesting because there are parallels in modern evangelism. Everyone we approach with the Gospel is going to be skeptical, it’s in our nature that we don’t want to believe the Gospel or trust in Jesus with faith, yet many of us do end up accepting and believing, becoming children of God. We simply never know what is going to convince someone to accept Jesus. Some eloquent description of the Gospel? Some faltering words that clumsily get the idea across—but get it across nonetheless? Reading about some miracle in the Bible? Reading some deep religious discussion from one of Paul’s letters? Reading about Jesus’ life in the Gospels? Different people react to different things at different times.
This should impact our evangelism: we should always be willing and eager to share the Gospel with others, even if we don’t feel we’re “good at it,” because we never know what’s going to cause someone to believe. Some of them will be like Nathaniel: they’ll come in skeptical, and some seemingly insignificant thing will cause their eyes to suddenly open, and they’ll believe!
And… I guess the flip side to “even if we don’t feel we’re ‘good at it’” also applies: Folks who feel they’re amazing at giving the Gospel should also remember to trust in God with faith for the Word to take root, and not trust in their own abilities. Jesus himself sometimes spoke very eloquently, but that wasn’t what convinced Nathaniel.