Welcome to Day one or Chapter one of the Gospel of John! I am praying for you as we read together. Below is some commentary on each verse that we are reading. Commentary is a helpful tool, use it as you feel necessary. I know it is a lot of information, I edited down the content as much as possible. It is broken down by verse. Here’s how to use commentary, if you have a question or something is unclear about a verse, read that portion of the commentary. If you want background or more information about the verse or topic, check out the commentary. I also added parts called, “Life Application” and you can scroll down and read those parts only. Thanks again for reading God’s word! Let me know if you have any questions or feel free to write comments or share things God is saying to you! Darrell
God Became a Human / 1:1-18 /
John starts at the “beginning,” with the first eighteen verses of John, called the prologue. Historians consider the prologue to be a poem or, at least, rhythmical prose. They suggest that verses 1-5, 10-12, and 14-18 may have been parts of one or several early Christian hymns. Others have thought that verses 14-18 were used as an early church confessional statement, to which John added his stamp of approval.
1:1 When John wrote of the beginning, he was paralleling the words of the creation account. John called Jesus, “the Word.” John did not identify this person immediately, but described his nature and purpose before revealing his name (see 1:17). As the Word, the Son of God fully conveys and communicates God.
Theologians and philosophers, both Jews and Greeks, used the term “word” in a variety of ways. The Greek term is logos. It could mean a person’s thoughts or reason, or it might refer to a person’s speech, the expression of thoughts. As a philosophical term, logos conveyed the rational principle that governed the universe, even the creative energy that generated the universe. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, “the Word” is described as an agent of creation (Psalm 33:6), the source of God’s message to his people through the prophets (Hosea 1:2), and God’s law, his standard of holiness (Psalm 119:11).
John may have had these ideas in mind, but his description shows clearly that he spoke of Jesus as a human being he knew and loved (see especially 1:14), who was at the same time the Creator of the universe, the ultimate revelation of God, and also the living picture of God’s holiness. Jesus as the logos reveals God’s mind to us.
By using the expression, he was with God, John was explaining that the Word (the Son) and God (the Father) already enjoyed an intimate, personal relationship in the beginning. The last verse of the prologue (1:18) tells us that the Son was at the Father’s side; and in Jesus’ special prayer for his followers (chapter 17), he expressed that the Father loved him before the foundation of the world.
Not only was the Son with God, he was himself God. John’s Gospel, more than most books in the New Testament, asserts Jesus’ divinity. One of the most compelling reasons to believe the doctrine of the Trinity comes from the fact that it was revealed through a people most likely to reject it outright. In a world populated by many gods, it took the tough-minded Hebrews to clarify the revelation of God’s oneness expressed through “three-in-oneness.”
*LIFE APPLICATION: BAD NEWS
Often little words become large issues. Cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to insert an indefinite article in verse 1, making it “and the Word was a god” (New World Translation, a specific “translation” by Jehovah’s Witnesses). It is a small addition with devastating results. The added a serves to bolster the teaching that Jesus was a created being who “earned” divine qualities that are attainable by the rest of us. If Jesus is only a god, then the so-called gospel is only bad news. However, John was writing not about gods but about God, and he clearly claimed that “the Word was God”!
1:2 The second verse of the prologue underscores the truth that the Word, the Son, was in the beginning with God. A wrong teaching called the “Arian heresy” developed in the fourth century of Christianity. Arius, the father of this heresy, was a priest of Alexandria (in Egypt) during the reign of Emperor Constantine. He taught that Jesus, the Son of God, was not eternal but was created by the Father. Therefore, Jesus was not God by nature. Arius’s views gained some support. At the Church Council in Nicea in a.d. 325, Athanasius defeated Arius in debate and the Nicene Creed was adopted, which established the biblical teaching that Jesus was “one essence with the Father.” Yet this controversy raged until it was defeated at the Council of Constantinople in a.d. 325. This heresy still exists, however, in several cults. Yet John’s Gospel proclaims simply and clearly that the Son of God is coeternal with the Father.
1:3 The New Testament portrays the Son of God as the agent of creation, for all things were created through him (see 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). Everything came into being through Christ and ultimately depends upon him.
*LIFE APPLICATION: SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
When God created, he made something from nothing. Because he created us, we have no basis for pride. We must remember that we exist only because God made us, and we have special gifts only because God gave them to us. With God we have value and uniqueness; apart from God we have nothing, and if we try to live without him, we will miss the purpose he designed us to fulfill.
1:4 Creation needs to receive life from the Word—for life itself was in him. Christ gives physical life to all. But he also gives eternal life to all those who believe in him. The Greek term used for “life” is zoe; it is always used to describe the divine, eternal life in the Gospel of John. Jesus used this specific term during the Last Supper when he told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6).
The divine life embodied in Christ gives light to everyone—revealing divine truth and exposing their sin. Everywhere Christ went, he brought light (see 3:21; 8:12). Light means understanding and moral insight, spiritual vision. But more than just shining or reflecting, the light of Jesus penetrates and enlightens hearts and minds. Everyone who comes into contact with Christ can be enlightened. When Christ’s light shines, we see our sin and his glory. We can refuse to see the light and remain in darkness. But whoever responds will be enlightened by Christ. He will fill our minds with God’s thoughts. He will guide our path, give us God’s perspective, and drive out the darkness of sin.
1:5 John used the past tense in the previous sentence, saying that Jesus was the light of all people by virtue of being their Creator; but John shifted to the present tense: the light shines through the darkness. The timeless light has invaded our time, and we can see it in our darkness. As the light shines, it drives away the darkness, for the unsaved world is blinded by the prince of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 5:8). Christ’s light shined to a hardened, darkened humanity—and he continues to shine. But the darkness can never extinguish it. This statement indicates the struggle between the darkness and the light. Unregenerate humanity under the influence of Satan, the prince of darkness, has not accepted the light and even resists the light. Thus, “darkness” indicates ignorance and sin, active rejection of God’s will. Those in darkness reject Christ, his light, and his followers. But no matter how deep the darkness, even a small light can drive it back. The power of Christ’s light overcomes any darkness in the world.
1:6-8 John abruptly introduces Jesus’ forerunner and herald, John the Baptist. God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah. John the Baptist has a prominent position in the prologue because his ministry prepared the way for the Messiah—he pointed people to Jesus. John the Baptist’s function was to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. He was the first to point people to Christ, so in a very real sense, all who have come to believe have done so because of his witness. John himself was not the light, but he came as a witness to the light. He was first in a line of witnesses that stretches through the centuries to this day.
*LIFE APPLICATION: REFLECTORS
Like John the Baptist, we are not the source of God’s light; we merely reflect that light. Jesus Christ is the true Light; he helps us see our way to God and shows us how to walk along that way. But Christ has chosen to reflect his light through his followers to an unbelieving world, perhaps because unbelievers are not able to bear the full blazing glory of his light firsthand. The word witness indicates our role as reflectors of Christ’s light. We are never to present ourselves as the light to others, but are always to point them to Christ, the Light.
1:9 The word everyone here could be nationalistically inclusive, referring to both Jews and Gentiles, or it could refer to all individuals. Every person has life from God, thus they have some light; creation reveals God’s power and divinity (1:3; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:19-20; 2:14-16); and our conscience also bears witness to God’s existence. The Gospel writer’s description captures the transition between the ministry of John the Baptist as herald and the ministry of Jesus, the true light. Jesus, as opposed to any other “luminaries,” is the true and exclusive revelation of God to man. Because of this, we can count on him.
1:10 John notes one of the greatest tragedies: the world—humankind—didn’t recognize its own Creator. They were blinded and could not see his light. Although Christ created the world, the people he created didn’t recognize him. He was denied the general acknowledgment that should have been his as Creator.
1:11 He came to that which belonged to him. The expression can even be used to describe a homecoming. This phrase intensifies the description of Christ’s rejection. Jesus was not welcome in the world, or even his home. His own land and his own people refer to God’s chosen nation, Israel, which was particularly Christ’s. He was not accepted by those who should have been most eager to welcome him. As a nation, they rejected their Messiah. This rejection is further described at the end of Jesus’ ministry (12:37-41). Isaiah had foreseen this unbelief (Isaiah 53:1-3). In spite of the rejection described here, John steers clear of passing sentence on the world. Instead, he turns our attention on those who did welcome Christ in sincere faith.
1:12-13 Though the rejection of Christ was universal, individuals did respond personally—some believed him and accepted him as the Son of God, the Savior. To them he gave the right to become children of God. In this context, it speaks of God granting the right or giving the privilege for the new birth. No one can attain this new birth by his or her own power, merit, or ability. Only God can grant it. One is not in God’s family because he or she is a Jew by physical birth (or even born into a Christian family). The new birth cannot be attained by an act of human passion, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any human plan. It is a gift of God.
Many believed superficially in Jesus when they saw his miracles, but they did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God. They “believed” in him while he fulfilled their expectations of what the Messiah should be, but they left him when he defied their preconceived notions. We must believe in Jesus as Jesus, the Son of God; we must wholeheartedly believe in Jesus, not limiting him to our ideas and misconceptions; we must regard Jesus as the Bible truly presents him.
*LIFE APPLICATION: ALL IN THE FAMILY
John claims that those who do not believe in Jesus are not children of God. We expect to hear a chorus of protest: “Aren’t we all children of God?”
What do we say to those who claim that every person is a child of God? We are all children of God in the sense that God has created each person and given each of us life and light. But God is more than Creator; he is the Guide and Controller. The question remains, What kind of children are we? A child can merely live in a home, partaking of benefits without love or gratitude for the father. Such a child neither cooperates nor truly helps the father. Those claiming that every person is God’s child generally mean, “I want all the privileges but none of the responsibilities.” God’s true children follow him in commitment, gratitude, friendship, and fellowship. What kind of child are you?
*LIFE APPLICATION: INSIDE OUT
All who welcome Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives are reborn spiritually, receiving new life from God. Through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out—rearranging attitudes, desires, and motives. Being born makes us physically alive and places us in our parents’ family (1:13). Being born of God makes us spiritually alive and joins us with God’s family (1:12). The question then becomes, Have you received Christ in order that he can make you a new person? God makes this fresh start in life available to all who believe in Christ.
1:14 Returning to the powerful term used at the beginning of the Gospel, John continues the theme of the prologue. The first thirteen verses summarize “the Word’s” relationship to the world as its rejected Creator, Visitor, Light, and Savior. Yet throughout the opening paragraph, John does not identify the Word as being human, except in the personal pronouns.
The phrase, became human, is striking and arresting, despite its familiarity. Understanding its meaning simply increases our wonder. When Jesus was born, he was not part man and part God; he was completely human and completely divine (Colossians 2:9). Before Christ came, people could know God partially. After Christ had come, people could know God fully because he became visible and tangible (Hebrews 1:1-3). Christ is the perfect expression of God in human form. The two most common errors that people make about Jesus are minimizing his humanity or minimizing his divinity. Jesus is both divine and human (see Philippians 2:5-9). God, in Jesus, lived on earth among people. The man living with the disciples was God incarnate! John was overwhelmed with that truth. He began his first letter by describing the experience of seeing, touching, and hearing this Word who became flesh and was with them (1 John 1:1-4). In Christ, God came to meet with people; through Christ we can come to meet with God. John described him as full of unfailing love and faithfulness.
Glory refers to Christ’s divine greatness and shining moral splendor. (For a specific instance of “seeing his glory,” see 2:11.) This is perhaps the clearest example of what John was thinking when he and two other disciples saw Jesus’ Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-13. Peter spoke of it specifically in 2 Peter 1:16-18). This was the glory of the only Son of the Father. The Son was the Father’s one and only, his unique Son. Although all believers are called “children” (1:12-13), Jesus is one of a kind and enjoys a special relationship with God. Eastern thought teaches a cycle of reincarnation. Many Hindus believe that Jesus was one in a series of reincarnations of Krishna. But John teaches that Jesus, as the unique Son of God, has a special glory and an unrivaled, unparalleled, and unrepeatable place of honor.
*LIFE APPLICATION :WHAT CHRIST BECAME
By becoming human, Christ became:
The perfect teacher—in Jesus’ life we see how God thinks and therefore how we should think (Philippians 2:5-11).
The perfect example—as a model of what we are to become, Jesus shows us how to live and gives us the power to live that way (1 Peter 2:21).
The perfect sacrifice—Jesus came as a sacrifice for all sins, and his death satisfied God’s requirements for the removal of sin (Colossians 1:15-23).
1:15 John the Baptist declared that Christ is far greater than I am, for he existed long before I did. Although Jesus was humanly born after John the Baptist, Jesus existed from eternity past. For this reason, Jesus outranked John the Baptist.
1:16 The rich blessings indicate superabundance and completeness. When John spoke of Jesus’ benefiting his people with one gracious blessing after another, he was affirming that he had never found Jesus lacking in any way. John’s description conveys a subtle invitation for us to trust Jesus’ ability to meet our needs.
That we have all benefited includes all the believers, not just John and the apostles. All believers receive Christ’s blessings, but nothing can deplete Christ—no matter how much the believers receive of him, he keeps on giving. His strength is not diminished by helping us. Believers do not need to seek any other source of spiritual power but Christ. Christ himself fulfills our Christian life; we do not need to seek anything beyond him. The blessings given by Christ can never be exhausted.
1:17 John introduced one of the central questions Jesus would answer: Because law and God’s unfailing love seem to contradict, what action should people take? Both law and love express God’s nature. Moses emphasized God’s law and justice, while Jesus Christ came to highlight God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness. Moses could only be the giver of the law, while Christ came to fulfill perfectly the law (Matthew 5:17). The law revealed the nature and will of God; now Jesus Christ reveals the nature and will of God. Rather than coming through cold stone tablets, God’s revelation now comes through a person’s life. As we get to know Christ better, our understanding of God will increase.
1:18 This statement, no one has ever seen God, seems to contradict passages like Exodus 24:9-11, which says that the elders of Israel “saw God.” What then does John mean? Very likely, he is affirming the fact that no human being has seen the essential being of God. Some men experienced “theophanies” (special appearances of God in various forms), but no one saw the essential being of God. Only the Son, who is himself God, can communicate his glory to us. The Son is near to the Father’s heart, picturing the Son as a child in close dependence on his Father—enjoying a close and warm relationship with him. It also reflects the image of two close companions enjoying a meal together. According to an ancient custom, the one who reclined next to the master at a meal was the one dearest to him. This is the Son who has told us about God. The Son is God’s explainer; he came to earth and lived among people to explain God to us—with his words and by his person. No one can know God apart from Christ, God’s explainer. Again, this mirrors verse 1, where the Son is called “the Word”—the expression of God, the communicator of God.
John the Baptist Declares His Mission / 1:19-28
His stirring summary accomplished, John launched into telling the gospel. He had already introduced John the Baptist in the prologue. His overall description of the wilderness preacher leaves out the physical notes of the other Gospels (see Mark 1:1-11; Luke 1:5-25, 57-80; 3:1-20) but focuses instead on his unique role as herald of the Messiah. The messianic expectations of the time, combined with his initial success in attracting large crowds, made John the Baptist the subject of speculation: Could he be the Messiah?
1:19-21 John the Baptist’s calling in life was described to his father even before John was conceived (Luke 1:13-17). John’s mission was to give testimony to Jesus Christ (1:7). He was Christ’s first and most important witness. John disavowed any personal status; he constantly pointed men to Christ. The Jewish leaders, priests, and Temple assistants were respected religious leaders in Jerusalem. The leaders who came to see John were Pharisees (1:24), a group that both John the Baptist and Jesus often denounced. Many Pharisees outwardly obeyed God’s laws in order to look pious, while inwardly their hearts were filled with pride and greed.
These leaders came to see John the Baptist to ask him whether he claimed to be the Messiah. Their question indicates that the Jews were looking for the Messiah. John flatly denied that, making it perfectly clear that he was not the Christ; rather, he was one who prepared the way for the Christ.
John’s role and actions reminded these religious leaders of what had been written of Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:11). The Old Testament predicted that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Messiah (see Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6). John the Baptist, in the spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17), had come to prepare the way for the Christ, but he did not claim to be Elijah. So then they asked him if he was the Prophet foretold by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Again he said no.
1:22-23 His questioners wanted John to claim a special identity; he was perfectly content in his role. He simply called himself, in the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare a straight pathway for the Lord’s coming!’” (Isaiah 40:3). John quoted Isaiah 40, a portion that introduces the Messiah’s forerunner and herald. In Isaiah 40:3-11, this herald announced the coming of the divine Shepherd. In ancient times, a herald (or forerunner) would go before a dignitary to announce his coming and to clear the way before him. John was the Messiah’s herald and forerunner; he came on the scene to announce Jesus’ coming and to exhort people to prepare the way to receive him.
The leaders kept pressing John to say who he was because people were expecting the Messiah to come (Luke 3:15). But John emphasized only why he had come—to prepare the way for the Messiah. Those sent by the religious leaders of Jerusalem confronted a man sent by God; they had run out of stereotypes and were ready to listen. Although their attentiveness was hostile, John gave them an answer.
*LIFE APPLICATION: MAKE IT MATTER
Whenever you are tempted to feel indispensable, remember John the Baptist. The fact that God uses us to do his work is no excuse for pride. God does not need us or have to keep us around. So we should make the most of the time we have. John remained a “voice in the wilderness” and humble right up until his death.
1:24-25 John was being grilled by those who were sent by the Pharisees. They wanted to know what right he had to baptize if he wasn’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet. John had not invented baptism. Gentiles converting to Judaism were baptized as an initiation rite. But John was calling upon Jews to be baptized. Since this was new, the leaders demanded an explanation from John.
1:26-28 It was John’s function to provide the means for God’s cleansing through water baptism; it would be Jesus’ function to provide the people with an infusion of the Spirit. John was merely helping the people perform a symbolic act of repentance. But the one who would be able to truly forgive sins was there in the crowd. The Son of God had taken up his abode among his own people, the Jews; but they did not realize it. John said that he was not even worthy to be that man’s slave. John knew who he was in comparison to Jesus. This took place at Bethany to the east of the Jordan River, a site that has never been determined. This is different than the Bethany Jesus visited during his ministry.
John the Baptist Proclaims Jesus As the Messiah / 1:29-34
The opening portion of John’s narrative provides two witnesses to Jesus Christ’s identity. The first witness is John the Baptist; this is covered in verses 19-36. John the Baptist’s witness had been briefly mentioned in the prologue (1:7, 15) and is here expanded. The second witness comes from Jesus’ first disciples—John (the Gospel writer), Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. Both John the Baptist and the disciples declare and affirm that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
1:29 The title Lamb of God would be associated in the minds of the Jews with the Passover lamb (Exodus 12) and the lambs used in the daily sacrifices for the sin offerings (see Leviticus 14:12, 21, 24; Numbers 6:12). Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38-42). Isaiah 53:7 prophesied that the Messiah, God’s servant, would be led to the slaughter like a lamb. To pay the penalty for sin, a life had to be given—God chose to provide the sacrifice himself. When Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice, he removed the sin of the world and destroyed the power of sin itself. Thus God forgives our sin (1 Corinthians 5:7). In calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John pointed to Jesus as the substitutionary sacrifice provided by God.
Jesus takes away the sin of the world. Jesus took away our sin by taking it upon himself. This is the image depicted in Isaiah 53:4-9 and 1 Peter 2:24. The “sin of the world” means the sin of each individual. Jesus paid the price of our sin by his death. We claim the forgiveness he provided by first taking ownership of our sin.
*LIFE APPLICATION: PAID IN FULL
Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38-42). Isaiah 53:7 prophesied that the Messiah, God’s servant, would be led to the slaughter like a lamb. To pay the penalty for sin, a life had to be given—God chose to provide the sacrifice himself. When Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice, he removed the sin of the world and destroyed the power of sin itself. Thus God forgives our sin (1 Corinthians 5:7).
The “sin of the world” means the sin of each individual. Jesus paid the price of our sin by his death. We claim the forgiveness he provided by first taking ownership of our sin. If we insist we have no sin, then we gain no forgiveness. Repentance precedes forgiveness. If you don’t think you need to repent, check your life again. The Ten Commandments can help you evaluate how you’re doing by God’s standards.
1:30 This verse, which reiterates 1:15, is here put in its chronological context. Although John the Baptist was a well-known preacher who attracted large crowds, he was content that Jesus take the higher place. John demonstrated true humility, the basis for greatness in preaching, teaching, or any other work we do for Christ. Accepting what God wants us to do and giving Jesus Christ the honor for it allows God to work freely through us.
1:31 Since John and Jesus were cousins, John must have known Jesus before this time. But this statement means that John had not realized that Jesus was God’s Son, the Messiah, until God provided the sign of the Spirit descending upon Jesus. Though John had not yet clearly seen the Messiah, he knew that the Messiah was coming and that his mission was to point him out to Israel. But, as John would soon explain, he had been instructed to baptize, and as he was baptizing he saw a sign that indicated the arrival of the one he had come to announce.
1:32-34 Evidently, the action of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven was a sign for John. Only John and Jesus saw this (see Matthew 3:16). The other Gospel writers tell us that a voice accompanied this divine sign (Matthew 3:17). God had sent John to baptize and to prepare the way for the Messiah. This same God promised to reveal the Messiah to John by the Holy Spirit upon him.
In well-known prophetic passages, the Messiah was depicted as having the Spirit resting upon him (see Isaiah 11:1-2; 61:1ff.). The statement that he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit foretells Jesus’ divine mission. It does not just point to the day of Pentecost on which Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to baptize the disciples (see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:4); it characterizes Jesus’ entire ministry. Jesus came to give eternal life to those who believe in him. But no one could actually receive that life apart from receiving the life-giving Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist’s baptism with water was preparatory because it was for repentance and symbolized the washing away of sins. Jesus, by contrast, would baptize with the Holy Spirit, imparting not only forgiveness but also eternal life. He would send the Holy Spirit upon all believers, empowering them to live and to teach the message of salvation. This outpouring of the Spirit came after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven (see 20:22; Acts 2). All true believers have been baptized by Jesus in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:9). As such, we have been immersed in Jesus’ Spirit. Now we can experience the life-giving Spirit and enjoy his presence day by day.
John was declaring Jesus’ special position with God. God had told John that he would reveal his sent one to John—the Spirit would descend upon the Messiah and remain upon him. John saw this happen to Jesus and declared his belief in Jesus as God’s identified Son.
*LIFE APPLICATION: INTRODUCTION
Today people are looking for someone to give them security in an insecure world. We must point them to Christ and show them how Christ satisfies their need. They must hear it first from us. We cannot pass on to others what we do not possess. If we know Jesus, we will want to introduce others to him.
The First Disciples Follow Jesus / 1:35-51
This last section of John 1 records how the earliest believers became disciples of Jesus; it is a drama of salvation revealing the formation of Jesus’ first band of disciples. Andrew and John became Jesus’ followers through the testimony of their teacher, John the Baptist. Peter, Andrew’s brother, became a follower through the testimony of Andrew. Philip became a disciple by Jesus seeking him out and calling him to follow him. And Nathanael became a believer through the testimony of Philip and the revelation Jesus gave to him. This progression provides a model for evangelism.
1:35-36 These disciples of John the Baptist were Andrew (see 1:40) and John, the writer of this Gospel. Both these men had followed John the Baptist until he pointed them to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Why did these disciples leave John the Baptist? Because that’s what John wanted them to do—he was pointing the way to Jesus, the one John had prepared them to follow. This was the second time that John declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God (see comments on 1:29).
1:37 These disciples followed Jesus in two ways. They literally turned and walked after him, and they also became two of Jesus’ close followers, or disciples. This was a great tribute to John the Baptist’s preaching—they heard John and followed Jesus.
*LIFE APPLICATION: TIMED RELEASE
The opportunity to be an example or leader to others has its benefits. It is affirming when people depend upon us. But if we have led someone to faith in Jesus Christ, the time will come when they must follow Jesus beyond the influence of our relationship with them. Both mentor and disciple grow when the time for release arrives. John allowed his disciples to follow Jesus and in that act sealed his obedience to God. The disciples did follow Jesus, demonstrating that they had benefited from John’s teaching.
In our relationship with other believers, we must keep a healthy balance between dependence and independence. Mentors are helpful, but they cannot replace Jesus in our lives. We must also encourage those who follow us to keep their eyes on Christ.
1:38-39 Those coming to Christ, whether for the first time or each day in worship, should ask themselves this question—“What do I want? What do I expect to receive from Jesus?” The question, “Where are you staying?” indicates that John and Andrew were serious followers. They wanted to know where to find Jesus. This indicates a commitment, not an experiment. John recalls the exact time he first stayed with Jesus. It must have been a special opportunity for John and Andrew—a time never to be forgotten. We can only imagine their wonder as they spent the rest of the day alone with Jesus. >From this time forward, these two men became his disciples.
1:40-42 After spending a day with Jesus, Andrew immediately went to find his brother Simon (who would later be named Peter) and tell him that he had found the Messiah (the Hebrew term), or the Christ (the Greek translation of “Messiah,” meaning “Anointed One”; see Isaiah 61:1).
Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Andrew appears two more times in this Gospel; each time he is bringing people to Jesus (see 6:4-9; 12:20-22). Jesus changed Simon’s name to Cephas, the Aramaic word for “stone,” because Jesus foresaw that Peter would become a pillar and a foundation stone in the building of the first-century church (see Matthew 16:16-18; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-5).
1:43 Jesus’ first two disciples (Andrew and John) sought out Jesus. Andrew brought the third disciple, Peter, to Jesus. Jesus sought out the fourth disciple, Philip. Jesus looked for him, found him, and called him to be his disciple.
1:44-46 Philip must have known Andrew and Peter before he began to follow Jesus for they all were from Bethsaida. Earlier, Andrew had found Simon (his brother) and had brought him to Jesus. Philip does the same with Nathanael.
In saying we have found the promised one, Philip was probably referring to himself, Andrew, and Peter. If this was the case, the first five disciples (John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael) may have been acquainted or even friends. What a delightful experience for a Christian to witness a circle of friends or to see a family be drawn to Jesus.
The language referring to Jesus as the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about indicates that Philip was also a thoughtful seeker—one who read the Old Testament Scriptures and was looking for the Messiah. Moses had written about the Messiah in the Law (see Deuteronomy 18:15-18), and the prophets had foretold his coming. That Jesus is called the son of Joseph refers to Jesus’ family line; in other words, this was how Jesus was known among the people (see Luke 3:23—it was supposed that Jesus was Joseph’s son). In reality, Jesus was not Joseph’s son; he was (and is) God’s Son.
Nathanael’s statement about Nazareth does not necessarily mean that there was anything wrong with the town. Nazareth was possibly despised by the Jews because a Roman army garrison was located there. Some have speculated that an aloof attitude or a poor reputation in morals and religion on the part of the people of Nazareth led to Nathanael’s harsh comment. Nathanael’s hometown was Cana, about four miles from Nazareth. Nathanael’s expression seems to indicate that he did not expect that anything related to God’s purpose could come from that place because Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament. The prophets, moreover, never said that the Messiah would come from Nazareth. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); and, in fact, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But his parents’ flight to Egypt and soon return to Galilee, where Jesus was raised, gave Jesus the reputation of being a Galilean, even a Nazarene. This was offensive to many Jews because they could not accept a Messiah who had not come from Bethlehem.
Philip did not argue with Nathanael about Jesus; he just said, “Come and see for yourself.” Fortunately for Nathanael, he went to meet Jesus and became a disciple. If he had stuck to his prejudice without investigating further, he would have missed the Messiah! We must not let people’s stereotypes about Christ cause them to miss his power and love. We must invite them to come and meet Jesus themselves.
1:47 Jesus’ statement about Nathanael reveals that Nathanael was an honest man. Jesus’ direct, intimate knowledge of him must have taken Nathanael by surprise. He was not offended, just intensely curious. If we remember that God’s grace and love come to us even though he knows all about us, we may find ourselves being even more grateful to him.
*LIFE APPLICATION: GOD KNOWS
Jesus knew about Nathanael before the two ever met. Jesus also knows what we are really like. An honest person will feel comfortable with the thought that Jesus knows him or her through and through. A dishonest person will feel uncomfortable. We can’t pretend to be something we’re not. God knows who we really are and wants us to follow him.
1:48-49 Here Jesus unveiled his omniscience to Nathanael. Jesus had been aware of Nathanael’s exact location before Philip called him. According to Jewish tradition, the expression “to sit under the fig tree” was a euphemism for meditating on the Scriptures. Thus, Jesus had seen Nathanael studying the Scriptures before Philip had called him to come and see Jesus. Instantly, Nathanael realized that Jesus is the Son of God (see Psalm 2:7) and the King of Israel (see Psalm 2:6; Zephaniah 3:15).
The early disciples of Jesus were well versed in the Scriptures. Life in the small towns of Israel revolved around the synagogue, where the Old Testament was constantly read, taught, and argued. Unlike many of the studied religious leaders of the day, these simple men understood the Scriptures, and knew what to look for. So when the Messiah came, they recognized him!
1:50-51 Jesus now speaks to all the disciples there present. He says that they would thereafter see the angels of God going up and down upon the Son of Man. These words allude to Jacob’s dream of the ladder connecting heaven and earth upon which the angels of God were ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12). As such, Jesus is the fulfillment of this dream: he is the vehicle of communication between heaven and earth.
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