As I’ve mentioned in both of our first two studies, it’s not an accident John ties the beginning of his Gospel to the creation narrative provided in Genesis. As a matter of fact, as we’re going to see this morning, so much of what John writes takes on a whole new level of significance and depth of meaning through the prism of Genesis.
In Genesis 1:1 we read, “In the beginning God created.” Sadly though, it didn’t take long for man to rebel against God, sin to enter the equation, and creation to be marred from its original design. By opening his Gospel with the phrase “In the beginning was the Word” John is intentionally presenting Jesus as both God and Savior within the context of Genesis 1.
While Genesis records God’s original creation, in his account, John will present Jesus’ re-creation reversing the effects of sin… Light entering the darkness… Life in place of death.
Additionally, if you go back to the original narrative presented in Genesis 1, you will notice a similar phrase following each phase of creation. After creating the sun and stars, the sea and sky, trees and flowers, birds - fish - and land animals, God would evaluate what He’d done by declaring that “it was good!” And note, God was not taking pride in His handiwork, but was instead judging what He’d made based upon how mankind would enjoy it.
With this in mind, what becomes interesting about John’s approach is that, following his initial thesis recorded in the first 18 verses of this first chapter laying out Jesus’ identity and ministry purpose, he immediately transitions to the ministry of John the Baptizer.
Though God’s initial creation was considered by the Creator to be good, because of man’s sin all of His created order had soured. Man’s rebellion instantly tarnished God’s perfect work. What had been declared “good” was no longer as it had been originally designed. Because of sin man had fallen and this world immediately rebelled against him.
Understand, John the Baptizer was sent by God to specifically prepare the hearts of the people for the ministry of Jesus. To accomplish this aim his mission was simple… John wanted Israel to admit things weren’t good. What God had declared to be good was no longer. Mankind was lost in their sins and in need of a Savior who’d provide salvation.
John 1:35-39, “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), ‘where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’”
Back in verse 28 we’re told John the Baptizer was specifically operating in a region known as “Bethabara” which was, interestingly enough, outside Israel proper “beyond the Jordan.”
Geographically, most scholars believe “Bethabara” was located on the eastern side of the Jordan River across from the ancient city of Jericho. Historically, it is believed “Bethabara” was the ancient site where the Israelites originally crossed into the Promised Land.
Though we’re told by another Gospel writer this area was nothing but wilderness, strategically it served John’s purposes perfectly. Since “Bethabara” was the turn-stop for pilgrims making their way down from the Sea of Galilee along the Jordan River valley before then making the trek west through the Judean wilderness up to the city of Jerusalem, the area was not only well traversed but easily accessible by most of the population.
As such there should be no surprise John the Baptizer was able to attract multitudes not only from the region surrounding Galilee, but also from Judea and the capital city of Jerusalem.
For context it’s important to keep in mind John the Baptizer had not only come to see Jesus as the Christ when he baptized Him and declared Him publicly to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, but Jesus has already spent 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted on three occasions by the Devil before this exchange happens.
We’re told in this particular instance that “John stood with two of his disciples” when he again sees Jesus. Though we have no idea where Jesus was “walking” from or to, John again takes the opportunity to identify Him to these “two disciples” as being the “Lamb of God!”
While John will give us the identity of one of the “two disciples” as being a man named Andrew, it’s like the second was none other than our author himself. As an eyewitness to these very events, the Apostle John is recalling his initial, first-hand experiences with Jesus.
Notice, upon this statement as to Jesus’ identity, these “two disciples” immediately begin “following Jesus.” Literally, they begin to tale Jesus as He’s nonchalantly making His way.
I love what comes next… John tell us that as they were following Him, presumably at a distance, “Jesus turned, and seeing them said, ‘What do you seek?’” Aside from Andrew and John being terrible private investigators, consider these are the first recorded words of Jesus in John’s Gospel! There is no doubt, as the Apostle thinks back to his first encounter with Jesus, this initial question is still ringing in his ears… “What do you seek?”
I hope you know this is the same question Jesus asks of all who encounter Him for the very first time - for how you answer this question really defines everything that will follow!
If you come to Jesus seeking nothing more than a good example to live by, there is no question He’ll show you the most excellent way any human being can live. If you come to Jesus to be taught spiritual truths, undoubtedly you will find yourself incredibly enlightened.
And yet, the irony is you’re subsequent experience with Jesus will be severely limited because you’re actually seeking the wrong thing from Him. Understand… You can seek Jesus as a moral example or as a wise teacher, but if you fail to seek Him as a Savior you’ll never experience what He came to really provide - salvation. In Luke 19:10 we’re told Jesus primarily came “to seek and to save that which was lost!”
I’m also struck by the underlying implications of the question… If you’re coming to Jesus seeking the correct thing, the idea is that the object of your quest will be found in Him.
Friend, if you’re seeking love, Jesus will provide you love unconditionally. If you’re seeking healing, He came to heal your broken heart. If you’ve lost your way, Jesus came that you may be found. If life has left you disoriented, He came so that the blind may see. If you feel stuck in your current situation, Jesus came so that the lame might walk. If you’re life is marked by chaos and turmoil, Jesus provides a peace that surpasses understanding.
If you’re seeking to be liberated from a destructive sin or addiction ruining your life, He came to set the captive free. If you’re seeking a satisfaction that never comes, Jesus came to quench your thirst. If you’re looking for life, He came that you might have life and that more abundantly. If it’s a direction, meaning, or purpose, Jesus invites you to take up your cross and follow Him. If you lack a destiny, He came that you might have a future and a hope. If you feel like you’re dying inside, Jesus came to raise the dead to life.
The question Jesus is asking you this morning is simple, “What do you seek?” And it’s in light of this question you should also consider another statement Jesus made in Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
I’m also so encouraged by the interaction that follows. In response to Jesus’ question “what do you seek?” Andrew and John reply honestly… “Rabbi (which is to say, Teacher), where are You staying?” Then Jesus replies with a simple invitation that they “come and see.”
In fairness to Andrew and John, while they had enough information to follow after Jesus based upon John the Baptizer’s specific testimony - enough to begin a quest for truth themselves, when Jesus asks what they were seeking these men really weren’t sure.
Notice, in their reply, Andrew and John refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” or “Teacher.” Though they understood enough to realize Jesus was a virtuous man who deserved their honor and respect, neither was ready to refer to Him as being the Christ or the “Lamb of God.”
And yet, I love Jesus’ response to their honesty. He doesn’t reply with a rebuke nor does He heap upon them some type of guilt trip. Jesus isn’t entitled or presumptive. Instead, He simply meets them where they were by inviting them to “come and see.” What grace!
John 1:39-42, “They came and saw where Jesus was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated, A Stone).”
As John reflects on that first day he spent with Jesus it was simply to much to put into words. Though we’re not given any of the specifics of what happened or what Jesus shared with them, the occasion was so impacting John recalls how Andrew left and immediately sought out his brother “Simon Peter” to tell him they had “found the Messiah!”
Understandably intrigued by the prospects of meeting the Christ, Simon Peter agrees to go with Andrew to see if this claim was indeed true. I mean what did he really have to loose? As the scene unfolds in John’s mind (and remember he was present for the entire exchange) so many years later he’s still amazed by what Jesus did upon Simon’s arrival.
Before even a word exists Peter’s mouth, John first remembers the way “Jesus looked at him!” In the Greek this word “looked” or “beheld” as it’s translated in the KJV implies that Jesus observed Peter or literally He sized him up. His “look” was contemplative.
Imagine meeting someone like Peter (a man who’d be known to shoot first and aim second and who’s life would be a series of extreme highs and terrible lows) and instantly know everything about his past as well as everything that would occur in his future!
Don’t forget that upon meeting Peter Jesus already knew him. Jesus knew the mistakes he’d make and he also knew the man he’d become. In that moment Jesus could see Peter denying Him three times the night He’d be betrayed and crucified, and He could see the day Peter would be crucified upside down for His names sake. As “He looked” He could see it all.
It’s only with this in mind that what Jesus says to Peter makes any sense. John records that Jesus looks at him and declares for all to hear, “‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated, A Stone).” What is important for our purposes this morning is the two phrases Jesus uses… He says, “You are” and then adds, “You shall be!”
I want you to know in this act of tweaking his name Jesus is letting Peter know that a transformation of who he fundamentally was was going to occur. While he came as “Simon the son of Jonah” Jesus was going to transform him into someone completely different.
Friend, this is the ministry of Jesus Christ in a nutshell. In coming to Jesus He says to us all by His grace, “You are (broken, hurting, perverse, selfish, condemned, wicked, separated), but you shall be (whole, healed, pure, kind, forgiven, righteous, restored)!”
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions and it always bears repeating… While Jesus loves you just the way that you are, He loves you enough not to leave you that way! Like He did with Peter, to those who come to Him Jesus impart a new identity - He makes you into something new. Life in Christ is not about reclamation, but total regeneration!
Before we continue, I want to take a quick moment and make an important observation about this man Andrew. Though the Bible tells us he was from the Galilean town of Bethsaida, was a fisherman by trade, obviously an early disciple of John the Baptizer, immediately became a followers of Jesus after just one afternoon with Him, and was later chosen to be one of the twelve Apostles, the truth is there is very little else we know of this man!
Scripture provides no record of Andrew ever preaching a sermon, preforming a miracle, articulating theology, nor does he write anything included in the Cannon. As a matter of fact, apart from the listing of the Apostles in several place in the Bible and his only recorded words being “we have found the Messiah”, Andrew is only mentioned on three other occasions.
In this passage we see Andrew bringing his brother Peter to Jesus. Then again, in John 6, we witness him bring a young boy to Jesus with five loaves and two small fish. And then finally, in John 12, Andrew brings a group of Gentiles who are seeking to meet with Jesus.
And yet, do you see a commonality in these three occasions? Every time you see Andrew in Scripture he’s always bringing someone to Jesus! Andrew isn’t preaching at people. Instead, he’s working his natural relational connections to bring people to Christ. Christian, every single one of us is called to an “Andrew Ministry” of one on one, relational evangelism.
John 1:43-45, “The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”
What an interesting contrast to everything we’ve just read. Andrew and John became disciples of Jesus after spending a day with Him. Peter encountered Him after his brother Andrew witnessed to him and brought him to Jesus. But Philip’s experience is radically different! Determined to leave “Bethabara” and head north back to the Sea of Galilee, Jesus seemingly goes out of His way to “find Philip” and call him to be a follower!
Because John tells us that “Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter” it’s likely this was not his first experience with Jesus. Though we have no record of any previous interactions, it’s only reasonable to assume - since he was connected with Andrew and Peter (who are already following Christ) - that Philip had spent some time around Jesus.
It should also be pointed out, aside from the obvious influence his time with Jesus coupled with the testimony of his friends had on him, John intimates that Philip responded to Jesus’ invitation based upon of the evidence provided to him in the Scriptures.
This statement Philip makes to Nathanael that they had found “Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote” indicates he’d been actively evaluating Jesus through the evidence the Old Testament clearly conveyed about the coming Messiah. In his own quest for truth in the Word of God, it became clear in Jesus this very “Word had become flesh!”
Before we move on I find it deeply encouraging that before Jesus decided to leave the area He went out of his way to “find” and call Philip! I want you to know no matter where you’re at with Jesus He will never leave you behind. Jesus will always find a genuine seeker!
It’s funny, but look again at Philip’s statement to Nathanael. While there was no doubt Jesus had gone out of His way to “find Philip”, he tells his friend, “We have found Him!” So many people get hung up on the election / freewill debate when it really is this simple.
The Bible attests that from Philip’s earthly vantage-point he “found Jesus.” And yet, the Bible is also clear from the perspective of heaven it was quite the opposite - “Jesus found him!” Both were equally true! You see no one finds Jesus apart from His pursuit of them!
Well, upon hearing that Jesus was from Nazareth… John 1:46, “Nathanael said to Philip, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’”
Before we look at this exchange, there is one component to this story I want to address for the serious Bible student. While in John 21:2 “Nathanael of Cana in Galilee” is mentioned as one of the twelve, this is the only time he’s mentioned by this name. Since in all the other listings of the twelve “Bartholomew” is connected with Philip it’s likely he went by two names. Nathanael being his Hebrew name with Bartholomew being a Roman surname.
Upon Philip’s testimony that he, Andrew, Peter, and John had found the Christ, Nathanael’s hang up centers on the fact Jesus was from the town of Nazareth. He even communicates his skepticism to Philip by scoffing, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Now before you simply write of his question, in many ways it had a measure of credence. To be fair Nazareth was an unlikely place for the Christ to come out of - especially when the prophets said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Nazareth was basically a truck-stop between Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. Not exactly the hometown of the King of Kings!
I like Philip’s approach to Nathanael’s question. Philip doesn’t have an answer and therefore he doesn’t attempt to mount one. Christian, if you’re ever asked a theological question by a skeptic you don’t have an answer for, the worst thing you can do is attempt an answer anyway! It’s ok to humbly admit you don’t know everything about everything.
When facing such a situation I would encourage you to take a page out of Philip’s playbook - who ironically took a page out of Jesus’. Knowing Jesus Christ is pretty good at proving He’s Jesus Christ, simply invite the skeptic to “come and see” for themselves. The truth is you don’t have to answer every question to still extend an invitation.
John 1:46-51, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’
Jesus answered and said to 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, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”
Admittedly this is a bizarre exchange that’s compounded by the way it’s translated into English. That said, to a Jewish audience what’s being conveyed is incredibly profound. As Nathanael approaches, Jesus says, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit.”
While the implications of this statement are lost in our tongue, in the original language Jesus is making a powerful observation about Nathanael. To help understand what’s being articulated please note this word “deceit” literally means guile or craftiness. Beyond this, Jesus’ use of the word “Israelite” in contrast to this idea adds a deeper level of meaning.
It’s with this in mind the scholars behind the Septuagint actually translate “no deceit” as “no Jacob!” The verse can read, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no Jacob!”
When you consider in Genesis 32 Jesus changed the master con-artist Jacob’s name (which meant “heal-catcher”) to Israel (“one ruled by God”) after he finally quit wrestling, you begin to pick up on what Jesus is saying… “Nathanael, I know you are a true Israelite (a man ruled by God) and not a Jacob (a crafty man pretending to be someone you aren’t)!”
It would appear in this contrast Jesus affirms the fact Nathanael had a genuine love and devotion for God - that he was a man serious about his obedience. Since his name means “gift of God” scholars believe Nathanael may have even come from a religious background.
To further validate this point, when Nathanael responds, “How do you know me?” Jesus adds, “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” In line with Rabbinical tradition a “fig tree” was a place for religious meditation and prayer. It’s likely Jesus is publicly confirming what Nathanael had been privately praying. The moment is so radical for Nathanael his only response is to declare of Jesus, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Beyond this, in leu of Nathanael’s faith in Jesus being stirred by such a simple revelation, this statement “most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” takes on a whole new depth of meaning when you connect it back to Jacob and his dream in Bethel (Genesis 28).
Jacob having his name changed to Israel with his dream of a ladder with “the angels of God ascending and descending” from earth to heaven had been interpreted by the religious leaders in Jesus’ day to mean God’s work on earth would occur through the Nation of Israel (Jacob). What Jesus seems to be implying to this religiously inclined man (Nathanael) is that God’s work would from that point forward take place not through Israel, but in Him!
Not to get overly typological, but Jesus seeing Nathanael “sitting under a fig tree” ties in with this idea perfectly. Once again to the Rabbinical mind a “fig tree” had come to symbolize the Nation of Israel. Tying back to Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover the shame caused by their sin using fig leaves in Genesis 3, this particular tree had come to represent Israel’s religious attempt to provide effective covering through their obedience to the Law.
As a religious man Nathanael understood the symbolism. He took pride in his religious covering. As an Israelite (not Jacob) he was faithfully sitting under the covering of the fig tree. And yet, Jesus is not only telling him God’s work would be accomplished through Him and not Israel, but that what their religious system had failed to do He had come to accomplish.
Look again at Jesus’ statement, “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Just as God was still able to see the nakedness of Adam and Eve through their fig leaves, Jesus is telling Nathanael He could see his sense of shame and brokenness despite his religious works. Jesus is saying, “Nathanael, I’ve come to do what Israel and this religious structure couldn’t. I’ve come to provide the covering you desperately desire as the Lamb of God.”
How interesting that in Genesis 3, in place of the inadequate covering of fig leaves, God would sacrifice a lamb to provide an effective covering? Aside from this is there any surprise that during His week of Passion Jesus actually goes out of His way to curse the fig tree?
Friend, “what do you seek?” If like Nathanael you’re tired of trying to be good enough, tired of seeking to prove your worth, tired of seeking to earn God’s favor, tired of failing, shame, and feelings of inadequacy over your sin, Jesus not only sees you, but He seeks to cover you! Where religious works fail the spotless “Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.”
As we close, if any of these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
No Additional Links.