Come and see for yourself.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for John 1:40-51
John wastes no time developing his theme of being a witness for Jesus. John the Baptist tells some followers about Jesus who meet Him and follow Him. They tell some friends about Jesus who meet Him and follow Him. It's a model that worked for the church for thousands of years. (Plus, we meet the first disciples!)
“Come and see,” Philip answered. (1:46)
(Yes, the event depicted in this mosaic happens later, but I wanted something easily recognizable as a thumbnail.)
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Your Most Recent Endorsement
We all love to share about things that we like. For example, I love to encourage people to go to Buc-ee's. (Wait? You don't know about Buc-ee's? I might tell you some time.)
If you use Facebook, scroll back through recent posts. What's the last thing you endorsed and shared on Facebook? If you don't use Facebook, then pick any other communication tool, or just go from memory. (Yes, what we share with other people tells us a lot about ourselves and our priorities, but that's not my point here! I just want to illustrate our desire to share things that we like.)
Who's Your Endorsement Audience?
A variation of that topic is a question like this: when you discover something that you really like, who's the first person you tell? (or group if it's not a single person)
Who Told You About Jesus?
One last variation on this topic is to just focus in on where we're going with all of this: who told you about Jesus? We've talked about this before in our Bible studies, but it never gets old. Remembering who shared Jesus with us keeps us aware of our role as part of a long chain of Christian witnesses. And it's a fun way to get to know other people in your group.
In this week's passage, we learn that some of the first disciples to meet Jesus couldn't wait to tell their friend/sibling about Him. That is how the Christian church has been built for thousands of years. I said that "witness" was a key theme in the Gospel of John -- we don't even get out of the first chapter before we find all kinds of examples.
Take Advantage of Visual Media!
Unlike the Minor Prophets, you can find multiple versions of the Gospel of John. Here are the two most popular (if you want to watch the whole thing):
I've said before how much I like the video version of the Gospel of John in "The Visual Bible" series -- it follows the Good News Bible translation word-for-word, no additions. The whole thing is about 3 hours long. I found someone on YouTube who broke it up into chapters.
This week's passage starts in this video ~6:30. You'll notice two things about the way they filmed this: (1) why Nathanael was so quick to believe in Jesus, and (2) that John clearly telescoped his Gospel. When we see someone try to put John's words into video, we realize that a lot had to happen in between the verses. This helps explain the differences between the Gospels -- the authors picked different events to skip over.
This Week's Big Idea: The First Disciples and a Harmony of the Gospels
I don't want to do this every week because our purpose is to study John's version of these events, but "the calling of the first disciples" is a good topic to demonstrate the differences between the Gospels. Here are two different attempts at "harmonizing" the Gospels:
The first one is The Blue Letter Bible version I linked last week; the second is from a Wikipedia page. The Blue Letter Bible takes John's sequence of events at face value; the Wikipedia chart implies that John got his order wrong.
So, how do we reconcile the different Gospel accounts?
I think the Blue Letter Bible has it right. Andrew (and one other disciple) had been disciples of John the Baptist, and John the Baptist told them about Jesus. They then told their circles about Jesus (which we will cover in more depth in the study), and eventually we have the conditions for the "formal call" to discipleship we read about in the other Gospels.
16 As he passed alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 “Follow me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 Going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat putting their nets in order. 20 Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1)
Have you ever thought it strange that Simon and Andrew just left everything and followed Jesus "on a whim"? This really bothered me when I first started reading the Bible. Well, the Gospel of John explains how this happened -- they already knew Jesus. In fact, I think that Jesus gave them time to understand who He was and what He was about before He gave them His call. Far from being "on a whim", I believe Jesus carefully and thoughtfully planned out His callings.
About These Disciples
We really know very little about these guys, and that's intentional. The story isn't about them. It's about Jesus ... and us (the reader). The disciples' job was to deliver the message about Jesus to others. The fact that we heard about Jesus thousands of years later is the proof that they did their job.
We know that Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, implying that he was spiritually sensitive and a bit of a radical. John the Baptist was the ultimate prophet and reformer, confronting anyone who had deviated from God's path (the religious leaders/John 1, the people/Luke 3, and even King Herod/Matt 11). He taught his followers to fast and live ascetic lifestyles (Mark 2, Matt 11). Consequently, we assume that Andrew must have been attracted to this more "extreme" form of religious expression.
Andrew was a fisherman (Matt 4) from Bethsaida (John 1:44), which is where Philip and Peter were from. It was on the NE side of the Sea of Galilee, about as far from John the Baptist's tradition ministry site (on the Jordan near the Dead Sea) as one could get and still be a fisherman. Archeologists have not firmly identified its location, suggesting it was not a large town. It was also renamed Julius by Philip the tetrarch. This would simply mean that Andrew and Peter and Philip knew each other, living in the same small town.
Simon and Andrew were in a fishing business with James and John (Luke 5:10). (That's John as in "John the Gospel author", explaining why he put things in the order he did. He would have heard Andrew's stories about John the Baptist and thus Jesus.) "Simon" is the common form of the Hebrew "Simeon". Jesus almost immediately gave him the nickname "Cephas" (which means "rock" like the Greek word petra hence "Peter"). We'll talk about that nickname many times in this Gospel. We know that Simon's dad's name was John and that he was married and lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-31) with his mother-in-law. Because Jesus healed her of an illness, there is a long-standing tradition that she was also one of Jesus' followers.
As you know, Simon Peter became the leader of the disciples and was part of Jesus' inner circle (Peter, James, and John, Andrew being the odd (even?) man out). His walk with Jesus was marked by incredibly high highs and even lower lows. Many authors have speculated about the dynamic with his brother Andrew.
We don't know anything about Philip except that he was from Bethsaida. All of the data you might find online is oral tradition and folklore. He will be a part of two of the most important events in John's Gospel -- bringing Gentiles to Jesus (John 12:21) and asking Jesus to show them the Father (John 14:8) -- which makes us think that his words to Nathanael ("Come and see") must be a function of his personality.
Note: that makes him an evangelist, but this is a different Philip than the man known as "Philip the Evangelist" -- an early deacon whose story is told in Acts 8.
We know even less about Nathanael than Philip, except that he was from Cana (John 21:2). His only action in John is recorded here in chapter 1. The synoptic Gospels don't even mention him by name! (A common theory is that he was also known as Bartholomew.) But he is the first to correctly identify Jesus as the Son of God, the King of Israel, making him very important to John the author.
Again, I think it's intentional that we don't know much about these disciples. As we will see, John puts minimal information even about himself. Because it's not about them -- it's about Jesus.
As time went by and these guys were elevated to "saint" status, the desire to know more about them became common. Unfortunately, it is impossible today to separate the possibly-accurate bits of folk history from the totally-made-up bits.
Where We Are in the Gospel of John
I understand that we can't cover every verse in John and finish in six months, so hard choices have to be made. An equally hard choice for you is how to summarize everything we skip from week to week.
After the official prologue, John kinda puts a bow on the story of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was the ultimate witness to Jesus Christ, and John simplifies his story to make him a model for us:
(1:19-28) He explains who Jesus is (and who he himself is). (Note that John the Baptist offers three denials of his own that bookend Peter's denials at the end of the Gospel. John's are the "right" kind of denials.)
(1:29-34) He was always aware of what God was doing, and so he saw God's activity in Jesus. These verses sound like his perspective of when he baptized Jesus. Remember that John was Jesus' relative (a cousin of some kind?), so Jesus would have almost certainly grown up knowing John.
(1:35-36) He pointed his own disciples to Jesus. Remember that every religious teacher would have had a group of followers that we would call disciples. John understood that his role was to point his followers to Jesus, not keep them for himself. (Aside: That's really the only solution to our increasingly fractured churches.)
And that's where we are. John the Baptist was the first witness to Jesus and "supplied" Jesus with His first disciples. Their official "calling" to be part of "The Twelve" happened later, but this was where it all started.
Part 1: Andrew and Peter (1:37-42)
37 The two disciples heard him say this and followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and noticed them following him, he asked them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come and you’ll see,” he replied. So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John and followed him. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated “the Christ”), 42 and he brought Simon to Jesus. When Jesus saw him, he said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated “Peter”).
The official passage starts with verse 40. I have no idea why they didn't just back up a few verses. This is one of the great awkward first impressions. We have no parallel for meeting Jesus in the flesh (the Messiah/Savior of the World/Son of the Living God), so let's back down a bit. If you were to meet one of your "heroes" on an elevator, what would you say to them? Or maybe you could look at it like this -- imagine you've been trying to publish a book or appear in a movie or get a job, and you unexpectedly get on an elevator with the one person who could make it happen -- what would you say to them?
The Visual Bible movie clip does a pretty good job of capturing what I would think to be an awkward first encounter with Jesus. Andrew (and the other unnamed disciple) had been following John the Baptist and thought very highly of him; John sent them to follow Jesus; they start following Jesus (probably at a distance -- looking like we might think of as a stalker fanboy); Jesus confronts them. I imagine that they had been debating amongst themselves how they should approach Jesus when Jesus intercepted them. 😎
What they decided on was "Where are you staying?" It's a weak first question, but it turned out to be the right one. Let's point out all of the key elements in 1:37-39:
(1:37) Andrew and the other disciple immediately "followed" Jesus. To "follow" Jesus is the shortest definition of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The word for "follow" is the word we get "acolyte" from. It means to "watch closely" "investigate" or "accompany". It demands a commitment and a sacrifice. Andrew didn't fully know what he was getting into, so his first reaction was literally to follow Jesus and ask to be around Him. I really like the simplicity of that.
(1:38) Note that John the author realizes his audience won't all be familiar with Hebrew concepts, so he includes Greek and Roman parallels. These are going to be very helpful to us as we go through this Gospel.
(1:38) Some translations put Jesus' question as "What do you want?" In our culture, that has a pretty negative connotation. The literal question is "What are you seeking?" which is very open ended and invites a conversation.
(1:39) "Come and see" is such a great question, and it will be a theme in John. "Don't take my word for it -- see for yourself." It might seem like a strange answer to Andrew's question, but Jesus knows that Andrew isn't just asking for a place to sleep for the night -- Andrew wants to get to know Jesus. It's an open-ended response to the already open-ended question Jesus started with.
(1:39) About time. This is actually kind of confusing. Both Jews and Romans had "official" starts to the calendar day, and both also had informal starts to the day. The common reckoning of things had sun-up (about 6:00 am) as the start to the day, which would mean that Jesus asked them this in late afternoon. That's important in that Andrew and the other disciple probably ended up staying in that house for the night, and the events in our passage took place the next day.
Anyway, the official passage picks up in verse 40.
Andrew and the other disciple had probably spent the evening peppering Jesus with questions. The more they talked, the more their hearts because convinced of the things John the Baptist had told them about Jesus. But it was no longer because of what John the Baptist said, it was because they confirmed it for themselves. Have I convinced you of what John the author is doing? Evangelism and disciplemaking -- you tell someone about Jesus, you "introduce" them to Jesus, and you encourage them to investigate ("follow") Jesus for themselves. By the time Andrew got to Peter, he was not expressing John the Baptist's faith, he was expressing his own. That's why Andrew can tell Peter that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ.
[Yes, this means I take a different approach than the leader guide. They imply that Andrew believed that Jesus was the Messiah based solely on John the Baptist's testimony -- he needed "no other proof". I don't think that's the case at all. John pointed Andrew to Jesus, but Andrew got to know Jesus for himself. Our faith has to be our own.]
[Aside on Messiah/Christ. The word "messiah" (translated into Greek as "Christ") simply means "anointed one" -- someone anointed by God to God's purpose. We've talked about this a few times. By Jesus' day, the Old Testament concept of a Messiah had been transformed into a political figure, usually someone who would lead the rise to rise up against their political oppressors (by then, the Romans). (Incidentally, this was probably why Jesus didn't want people saying He was the Messiah -- the people had a wrong idea of who the Messiah would be.) There had been all kinds of self-proclaimed "messiahs". A lot of people thought that John the Baptist was the messiah. So this is going to be an important confusion that John the author addresses over and over again -- Jesus was the Messiah, but by God's definition of Messiah.]
So, Andrew brings Peter to Jesus. (At that time, he was stilled called Simon.) This is the model of personal evangelism that John the author pushes us toward: bringing a friend to Jesus. Now, today we can't physically bring a friend to "meet" Jesus, so your discussion would be How can we "bring" people to Jesus today?
The word "first" is important. It tells us that Andrew thought about his brother before anyone else. That says a lot about Andrew's priorities, and it would have eternal significance for God's church. Jesus hints at this by immediately giving him the nickname "Peter". How did Jesus know to do this? I'm quite comfortable with "Jesus knows everything". However, I really like the creative license that the writers of "The Chosen" series took -- they create a backstory for Peter that predicts his future hotheadedness and steadfastness. In other words, Jesus gave Simon this new name based on the future, but it was also a name that everyone else kinda understood. I know for certain that Jesus was predicting the future, but I love the creativity of that other possibility.
Yes, I think Andrew had become a devoted follower of Jesus that very first night. Perhaps that's why John the author didn't say very much about Andrew in his Gospel -- there was no conflict with him. Peter, on the other hand, would experience all kinds of conflicts: doubts, failures, betrayals, boasts, insights. My guess is that people can relate better to a try-hard with faltering faith than someone with a rock-steady faith like Andrew's.
There are two discussions you might have at any point in your group time: which of these first disciples are you most like? -or- in what ways has Jesus changed your identity?
Part 2: Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43-46)
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. He found Philip and told him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” 46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him. “Come and see,” Philip answered.
This map handily identifies all of the locations in John 1 ("Bethany across the Jordan" is the traditional site for John the Baptist's ministry). "Galilee" and "Sea of Galilee" are two different things. More Gentiles lived in Galilee than Judea.
We know that Jesus was going to Cana for go to a wedding with his mom (among other things like important miracles). Philip was a part of Andrew's and Peter's circle of acquaintances, so I think we can assume that Andrew had been talking with him. We aren't told why Jesus took the initiative with Philip -- perhaps he was "on the fence". I think the point we can take away from this is that Jesus is also a part of our gospel encounters. It's not all about our powers of persuasion.
We don't know the relationship between Philip and Nathanael. Perhaps that point is that we aren't just to share the gospel with family members and business associates.
Pointing to Moses and the prophets suggests that Philip had an accurate understanding of "Messiah" -- he wasn't caught up in the political hoopla but cared about what the Bible said. So, what did Moses and the prophets say about the Messiah? I don't have the time or space to go into detail, but here is a massive list:
(To be fair, some of the Old Testament verses references may not have been written for the purpose of describing Jesus, but Jesus has those characteristics.)
1:45 is a great example of the kind of misunderstanding that would surround Jesus. In this case, it's as simple as confusing where someone grew up with where someone was born. "Jesus of Nazareth" would mean something very different to a Jew than "Jesus of Bethlehem".
So, why didn't they call Him "Jesus of Bethlehem"? Because they didn't know. Think about this from Joseph's perspective. They had fled Bethlehem (after being given a great deal of wealth by strangers from the East) because Herod wanted to kill all baby boys in Bethlehem. I'm sure Joseph didn't want to call attention to any of this! "Didn't you go to Bethlehem to registered?" "Yep." "Where have you been all this time?" "Oh, you know, around." I'm confident that Jesus' siblings had been born in Nazareth, and that by this point Joseph was dead. That means the only person who knows all of this was Mary, and John the author will make it clear that Mary has her doubts about what's going on. She wanted to protect her son.
Nathanael's response is iconic -- "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Nazareth apparently had a bad reputation. Matthew tapped into this in 2:23
23 Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
This isn't found anywhere in the Old Testament, so the prevailing theory is that by referring to "the prophets" instead of a specific text, Matthew was talking about the prophetic theme that the Messiah would be held in low esteem. We then conclude that Nazareth was that town. Nathanael was putting voice to an impolite prejudice.
Philip's response was perfect -- "come and see". Don't debate! Let them experience Jesus for themselves!
Aside on "Come and See": At First Baptist Church, we have a fund called the "Go and Tell" fund. That name comes from this passage (and was named by our dear friend Tinye Harding). The phrase combination "come and see / go and tell" is pretty common in American churches. We love it for its simplicity and directness. We were studying this passage when created our missions fund, and everyone immediately loved the suggestion of giving it the name "Go and Tell". A little FBC history for you.
Part 3: Nathanael (John 1:47-51)
47 Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered. 49 “Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
With Nathanael, things all of a sudden get real. Andrew called Jesus the Messiah. Nathanael takes it to another level.
This is such a strange thing to say to someone the first time you meet them. Why would Jesus say this about Nathanael? I think this is related to what Nathanael had just said in verse 46. Nathanael was coming to Jesus with doubts/questions, and he wasn't going to hide those doubts. Jesus embraced that about him and used it to bring Nathanael to His side. But Nathanael didn't know that Jesus knew that, so he was taken aback. "How do you know me?" ("How did you know that?")
Jesus' response is cryptic to us. In The Visual Bible video clip I shared above, they had Nathanael praying under a fig tree and seeing a sign from heaven, which is why he was so quick to believe in Jesus. I like that. It's a simple explanation.
Other explanations have to do with what a fig tree symbolized in that day -- prosperity, peace, and plenty. Perhaps Nathanael had been "daydreaming" about living in a world of peace and plenty while walking with Philip. That could have gotten his attention!
In any event, he immediately realizes who Jesus is. This combination of titles is a big deal. The true king of Israel in the Davidic (Messianic) sense would be a Son of God like no other. Nathanael was making a politically radical statement, but much moreso religiously radical. What he said would have been considered blasphemy by a Jewish leader -- unless it were true.
Jesus immediately backs his statement up with something even more amazing -- "if that's what you believe now, what will you believe when you start seeing the true signs?"
This is how John sets up the rest of his Gospel. The very next verse will begin the first of seven signs -- great miracles -- that John will highlight, proving that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. After all, that's the purpose of this Gospel, to convince the readers that Jesus is the Messiah.
Will you agree with me that John chapter 1 is an astounding literary achievement?