John 1:43-51


John 1:35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.

In this chapter we have three notations of days (verses 29, 35, 43). Therefore, the account of the delegation from Jerusalem (verses 19-28) must have happened on the first of four days. John does not record either Jesus' baptism or the temptation. Therefore, Jesus was likely returning to the place where the Baptist worked on this first day. The next day (verse 29) the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and makes the memorable statement in that verse. Edersheim came to the conclusion that "the next day" in verse 35 was a Sabbath day. If that is so, the Baptist spoke the words of verse 29 on a Friday, a truly Good Friday.

The Baptist had seen Jesus the day before and repeated what he had said then. How many disciples the Baptist had, we do not know. But here we have two, Andrew (verse 40) and, with almost absolute certainty, John, though his name is not mentioned.

John 1:36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" 

The versions are divided as to whether this means "as He walked" or "as He passed by."  In any case, it is not "as He approached"  (verse 29) nor did He force Himself on anyone. Then the Baptist said: "Behold the Lamb of God." 

John 1:37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

It was the Word of God, the Gospel, which caused Andrew and John (the Apostle) to follow Jesus.

John 1:38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 

Jesus gave them His full attention. Jesus, unlike us sinners, never snubbed anyone.

Stoeckhardt: It was the intention and will of the Baptist that his disciples would now attach themselves to Jesus. For, not John, but Jesus was the Lamb of God, the Savior of sinners.
Fahling: A loss for John, it is true; but it was in accordance with his mission--to prepare the way for Christ.
Lenski: A hidden promise lies in the question 'What are you seeking?'
Kretzmann: In order to help them overcome their timidity, He began a conversation with them.

Jesus knew what they were seeking. But by asking this initial question Jesus elicited a question from them which clearly proceeds from faith.

Ylvisaker: They express thereby a desire to speak privately, to know Him better, to hear Him explain the Scriptures.

Fahling notes that their question meant, in effect, that they were seeking HIM. They address Him as "Rabbi" (teacher). John found it necessary to translate this word for the sake of his Greek readers. At first they recognize Him only as Teacher. Their visit with Him caused them to recognize Him as much more. Jesus grows in the estimation of believers when they listen to Him speak.

We know not where Jesus stayed. Some have suggested that there were some huts or tents occupied temporarily by people who came from a distance to be baptized.

John 1:39 "Come," he replied, "and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

Note the graphic historic present here and in verse 38. A clear indication that John the Apostle was a witness to this.

Ylvisaker: They were not only given an opportunity to see where He dwelt, but they also realize how blessed it was to abide with Him. A truth there is in the words of Psalm 65:5!
Lenski: To come, to see, to abide, with Jesus has well been called an epitome of the entire Christian life.

"About the tenth hour" has evoked much discussion. Using Jewish reckoning, Ylvisaker, Fahling, Kretzmann favor 4 p.m., while Hendricksen, Edersheim and Robertson, using Roman reckoning, opt for 10 a.m. Lenski leaves it unanswered. In any case, they stayed long enough to be convinced that He was not only a Teacher but also the Messiah. And the occasion was so memorable that John remembered the exact hour.

John 1:40 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.

Fahling: Andrew is the one to receive the honor of becoming the first disciple of Christ. We don't know much about Him.
Lenski: The other is John, the Apostle, who never mentioned his own name in his Gospel nor the name of any of his relatives.

Fahling is one of the opinion that John, the Apostle, was about 17 or 18 when he first met Jesus and that Simon must have been 35 years old at this time.

John 1:41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah"  (that is, the Christ).

The word "first" has evoked much discussion. NEB and NIV follow this reading: "The first thing he did etc."  KJV, RSV, AAT and NASB evidently follow the variant (adjective): "He first finds etc."  If the first is the correct reading, the meaning is that Andrew was the first to find Simon and John then found his brother James. This seems to be the meaning for two reasons: 1) "His own"  implies that John also found his own brother James. 2) Mark 1:16-20 and Matthew 4:18-22 tell us of the two pairs of brothers. That would seem to indicate that here in John 1 we are told that John, also, found his own brother, James.

After the account in John 1 they went back to fishing and later were called permanently. Note the graphic historical present and the perfect which denotes lasting results. It was a remarkable discovery. This discovery caused Andrew and John to find their respective brothers. The Nestle Greek text notes Psalm 2:2 in the margin. This implies that they knew the Old Testament.

The fact that John translates the word "Messiah" indicates that this was written for Gentiles who did not know Aramaic.

John 1:42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).

"He led him to Jesus." That's real evangelism. Note that thus far in our text Jesus has been called "The Lamb of God,"  "Teacher,"  "Messiah,"  and "Jesus."  There will be much more.

Note forms of "to see," verses 29, 36 and here in 42. The whole pericope is interesting concerning the words which mean "to see."  Look at 39,47,48,50 and 51. In 36 and 42 we find "to look at with full attention."  Note emphatic "you are."  Jesus omnisciently knew Simon's current name. Now another emphatic "you will be."  This does not only mean that he would receive another name but also that he would be known and recognized for what Cephas means. Jesus recognized Simon as a sinful, weak creature but Jesus Himself would make him firm as a rock. Cf. Matthew 16:18 in the margin. It is remarkable that at Galatians 2:11, which introduces the incident of Peter's hypocrisy at Antioch, when he was confronted with his sin by Paul, he is called Cephas, the Rock. Apparently Peter did not defend his hypocrisy. He repented. Repentance of sin and faith in Christ make a man rock-like.

John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." 

If Edersheim is correct about verse 35, the day in verse 43 was a Sunday. The commentators and translations are agreed on what is summarized by Hendricksen in one sentence: "Perhaps while he was busy with his preparations for this journey, he found Philip." 

Fahling: On the next day, Sunday, Jesus intended to go forth again into Galilee, when He found Philip.
Kretzmann: As He was about to leave, He finds, by design and intention, Philip of Bethsaida.

The Gospel, from the mouth of the Baptist, and the direct invitation of Jesus had caused Andrew and John to follow Jesus. But Philip is the first one, so far as we know, to whom Jesus said: "Be following Me."  Very likely all five of these were disciples of the Baptist. All five were from Bethsaida.

Ylvisaker: Philip is not brought to Jesus like the others. In his case, the call is direct. God has different methods to save the sinner. He is not bound to any definite order or means.

Pastors experience that truth in their ministry.

Fahling: Of all the apostles he is the only one who had a typically Greek name, being named perhaps after the tetrarch Philip.

John 1:44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.

John 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 

That Philip followed Jesus is implied. Andrew found Simon, John found James, Jesus found Philip, and Philip found Nathanael. And now we are told that the disciples of the Baptist had found Jesus, the Messiah, in the Old Testament. It is clear that all five of them (Andrew, John, Simon, James, Philip) believed in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. They matched what the Old Testament  said with what Jesus was. Nathanael is enumerated among the apostles after Jesus' resurrection (John 21:2). In the lists of the apostles he is called Bartholomew.

Ylvisaker: It is a notable fact that Philip designates Jesus as 'the son of Joseph' and His birthplace as Nazareth in Galilee. One statement is as little in accord with the facts as the other. But Philip merely voices a popular belief of the day, which was current among the people in Galilee.

John 1:46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

Jesus was from Nazareth. Five of these disciples were from Bethsaida. Nathanael was from Cana. Nazareth, Bethsaida and Cana were close to each other geographically. But though these six disciples grew up close to Jesus they did not "find" Him until the Baptist testified of Him or they compared the Old Testament prophecies with what He was or until He called them directly. The WORD led them to Jesus.

Very apparently Jesus made Himself of no reputation until He was 30 years of age. The apocryphal Gospels portray Him as performing miracles as a child. That is clearly contrary to the facts.

Bengel: The comment implies there were many worthless characters in Nazareth. . . Christ did not owe His excellence to His native land on earth. But Philip did not argue with Nathanael. . . the best remedy against preconceived opinions. What Jesus had replied to the disciples the day before (verse 39) Philip now replies to Nathanael.

John 1:47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." 

Evidently Nathanael, too, was a disciple of the Baptist. He did not argue with Philip but did as he said. The Baptist made one of the most memorable statements about Jesus which we know. And Jesus paid the highest compliment possible to Nathanael. He did not say it to him, but of him.

Bengel: This is an affirmation showing intimate knowledge. 'An Israelite' one worthy to see angels ascending and descending as Jacob did. . . No mere creature could bear the name 'Israel' unless it were divinely given him. . . A pre-eminent virtue truly is guilelessness. This speech contains two proofs: 1) Of Jesus' omniscience; 2) Of His benignity. Nathanael had been hasty. The Lord gives Himself to Nathanael as "THE"  Good.

"False" means "bait" with which to catch fish. The point of comparison is "deceit."  The fisherman, by using bait, deceives the fish. Deceit was the characteristic fault of the Jew. Nathanael is not deceitful. Psalm 31:1.2 is the best commentary on this word. On the whole sentence compare Romans 9:6.

Kretzmann: Jesus wished to give Nathanael a practical demonstration of the truth of Philip's words. . . This man belonged to the small number of those in Israel that were members of God's people in truth, not merely by carnal descent, but by spiritual knowledge and faith. His hope was in the Messiah and His spiritual kingdom.
Lenski: A man who is absolutely sincere about Israel's hope and salvation, so sincere that he does not allow the mention of Nazareth to turn him away from Jesus.

John 1:48 "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." 

Though Nathanael had the one true faith in the Messiah Who was to come, he is staggered at the omniscience of this man. But he has more to learn. He is also omnipresent. That is remarkable. But isn't it always so? Even the true believer, the person without duplicity, always has more to learn about the person, Word and work of Jesus. A whole sermon could be preached on the basis of verses 47-48.

"Before Philip called you, while you were under the fig-tree, I saw you."  The "saw" in verse 47 is different from the "saw" in verse 48. In the former it means Jesus according to His human nature and in the latter it plainly means the omnipresence attributed to Jesus' human nature by His divine nature.

Bengel: With the divine eye.

Bengel is of the opinion that "called" denotes a loud voice, meaning that Philip called him from a distance. Some commentators are of the opinion that the phrase "under the fig tree"  means that Nathanael was reading the Scriptures, possibly Genesis 28, or that he was praying. Perhaps that is so. At any rate, verse 48 clearly indicates the omniscience and omnipresence of the God-man, Jesus.

John 1:49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." 

Nathanael did not argue with himself or others as did the woman at John 4:29 (it's a question which indicates some misgiving). Nathanael immediately calls Jesus "Teacher, the Son of God, the King of Israel." 

Fahling: He virtually admitted that Jesus did know Him, indeed, had a very intimate knowledge of him.

Nathanael is not only confessing what Jesus is but also what Jesus means for him personally.

Lenski: Men like Nathanael understood Psalm 2 and 110 and other pertinent parts of the Old Testament quite well. . . 'Son of God' rightly stands first as expressing the true relation of Jesus to God; 'King of Israel' rightly stands second as expressing the true relation of Jesus to Israel.

So far as we know, the first to use the expression "the Son of God," after Jesus' baptism, was Satan (Matthew 4:3) but he did not believe it. The next to use it was the Baptist, John 1 :34. Very likely Nathanael had heard the Baptist speak of Jesus as the Son of God. Now Nathanael, based on the Baptist's testimony, the Scriptures, and his direct experience with Jesus, calls Him "The Son of God." 

John 1:50 Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 

Is the first part of this verse a question (KJV, RSV, NASB) or a statement (NIV, AAT)? NEB reads: "Is this the ground of your faith, that I told you I saw you under the fig-tree?" In any case Jesus is acknowledging that Nathanael is believing but that there is more to come: "You will see things greater than these." 

Kretzmann: The open and unequivocal confession of Nathanael pleased the Lord, but it was not yet based upon a sound enough foundation.

But it is a promise, not a criticism. Even though a believer is without deceit, acknowledges the God-man as the Son of God and King of Israel, Jesus is always promising him that he will see greater things. Just think of our many sins, doubts and weaknesses! Even the most brilliant theologian must listen to Jesus' promise: "You will see things greater than these." The longer he lives the more he must realize his own selfishness and unworthiness but also the wonders of the person, Word and work of Jesus.

John 1:51 He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." 

Note that Jesus addresses Nathanael individually "you" (singular) but actually addresses all "you" (plural).

This is the first of the twenty-five occurrences of "I tell you the truth" in the Gospel of John. It always denotes divine, irrevocable Truth. Note also that in verse 50 Jesus had promised Nathanael individually but here promises all. They would all see and experience. And He is saying that to the reader of these Notes too.

Bengel: You shall see the greatest signs which are to show that heaven is open. . . Jacob saw some such vision, Genesis 28: 12. How much more shall Israelites without guile under the New Testament see it!
Hendricksen: Jacob's ladder finds its antitype or fulfillment in Christ. The Son of man is here represented as the link between heaven and earth.
Ylvisaker: Communication has been re-established between heaven and earth through the Son of Man. This occurrence was the fulfillment of the prayer of Israel as recorded in the prophet Isaiah ( 64:1)
Fahling: Jacob beheld in his dream was realized in Christ. Not only once, but doubtless on many future occasions did he and his companions see this promise fulfilled.
Kretzmann: There is now direct communication between God and man, Jesus Himself being the Mediator. Something much more beautiful than the ladder of Jacob, Genesis 28, has now united earth and heaven -- the full atonement through the blood of the Savior.
Lenski: Nathanael has just called Jesus 'the Son of God', and now, it seems as though to counterbalance that true title, Jesus adds this other one as also being true, 'the Son of man'. The two belong together. Jesus carefully avoids the use of any title that might be taken in a political sense. Nathanael calls him 'the King of Israel' but Jesus does not adopt this as the usual designation for himself. . . We may say that by most frequently calling himself 'the Son of man' he desired to do what he could to denationalize his Kingship and his Messiahship and to lift it to its true universal plain. Whence does Jesus derive this title? The answer is: from Daniel 7:13.14. . . . Daniel 7:13.14 pictures the Messiah, yet the Jews had not drawn a title for the Messiah from it. This Jesus himself did.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 28-31. Used with permission.

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