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John 1:35-51


The Disciples and Nathanael.


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Let's read John 1:35-51

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’

They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means ‘Teacher’), ‘where are you staying?’

39 ‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.’

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). 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).


43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 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.’

46 ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.

‘Come and see,’ said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’

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.’

49 Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’

50 Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’ 51 He then added, ‘Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’


(In this study, ‘John’ will still mean John the Baptist)


As we saw in the introduction, in those days it was the custom for itinerant Rabbis to have students or disciples who followed them around, keen to hear more of their message and to become more like them. The Rabbi lived a lifestyle, and taught his understanding of the Scripture to his students, who listened and watched and imitated him, so as to become like him. Eventually they too might become teachers passing on the same knowledge and lifestyle to their disciples.


We also saw that in this Gospel, John the Apostle never mentions himself by name, but it is quite likely that he (who was the younger brother of James), and his fishing partner Andrew (who is named and who was the younger brother of Simon), had both been baptized by John and were his followers or Disciples, eager to listen to his teaching and become like him.


We must also notice that as the Apostle John has not set out to produce a day-by-day account of the life of Jesus, so the term ‘next day’ could probably be read ‘another day’ or ‘later’. In this case at least forty days had passed, as after the baptism of Jesus he was immediately tested in the wilderness (Mark 1:12)


35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’

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


To become a disciple of a Rabbi was a major step and often meant leaving home and trade to spend time learning to live like your Rabbi. I don’t think that verse 37 suggests that these disciples of John the Baptist ‘changed horses’ and immediately started to follow Jesus instead. Rather it started a period during which they spent more time with Jesus, listening to his teaching, but remaining loyal to John.


But they were fascinated by Jesus. John had pointed him out as the one he had been teaching about: ‘the Lamb of God’ – the Messiah. So as he walked past, they left John and followed him. If they found where he was staying, maybe there would be a chance of going to talk with him, or at least hear him preach.


38 Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’

They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means ‘Teacher’), ‘where are you staying?’

39 ‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.’

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.


Imagine the scene: three men are talking, a stranger walks past. Two of the men leave the group and start following the stranger down the track. Imagine the expression on the face of the man being followed, and the tone of voice as he turns and asks ‘what do you want?’


In any other circumstance it would be natural to expect trouble, and turning to face it with veiled aggression was probably the safest approach.


I believe that here though, Jesus turned with a smile, and his question was more ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ as he was to later ask the blind man.


The two men were not expecting this! They would surely have been in awe of the ‘Lamb if God’.


Assuming that his question meant ‘what are you doing following me?’, they could only tell the truth: ‘we wanted to know where you were staying’.


Notice the first words that Jesus spoke as he began his ministry: ‘What do you want’ and ‘come and see’.

How does that mirror Jesus’ response to seekers today?


‘they spent that day with him’

Would someone like to describe the scene, and imagine the questions that were asked and the answers given?

(Just to get everyone thinking – you may not get a volunteer!)


40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). 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).


We are told in 3:23 that John was baptising at Aenon, near Salim. We can’t be certain where that was but the map from our last study (Map017) has a good guess. That shows it as being twenty-five miles or so south of the sea of Galilee. Either Simon had travelled south with Andrew to see John, or Andrew had a long round trip to fetch him!


Either way, it was an important meeting, with Jesus demonstrating that he knew not only who he was, but what he would later become – the Rock on which Jesus would build his church (Matthew 16:18).


Jesus developed his ministry in this same area, gaining followers of whom many would had been baptised by John and had become his disciples (John 3:22-26). When he was arrested and put in prison, the crowds dissipated and ‘When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee’ (Matthew 4:12). Those followers who had come from Galilee returned with him. Again, ‘the next day’ was definitely ‘some time later’:


43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

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


To be chosen by a Rabbi to be a disciple was a great honour, and an offer you couldn’t refuse. How much Philip knew of Jesus we don’t know but his response was immediate, and he hurried to tell his friend.


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.’

46 ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.

‘Come and see,’ said Philip.


Nathanael might be another name for Bartholomew (= ‘son of Talmai’) – in the other Gospels, whenever disciples are listed, Bartholomew follows Philip (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14).

Bartholomew isn’t mentioned in John’s Gospel, and Nathanael is only found there.


It appears that Nathanael had repeated some local prejudice against Nazareth – there seems no reason to single it out, apart from a general prejudice against Galilee as a whole. (Although Mark 6:6 and Luke 4:29 might contain hints.)


Philip’s reply is still the best answer to every objection that people still offer today: ‘come and see’.


47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’


What an odd thing to say: ‘nothing false, no deceit, no guile’. Various expressions have been employed to translate a word which was usually used to describe trapping an animal by using bait, or other trickery.

The equivalent Hebrew word had been employed to describe someone in the Old Testament. Who was that?

Jacob when he took the birthright from Esau, and then ran for his life! (Genesis 27)


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.’


‘How do you know me?’ There was something in Jesus’ statement that had reached straight into the heart and mind of Nathanael, and it startled him.


People would often sit under the shade of a tree to meditate and pray. We don’t know, but it may have been that Jesus words ‘an Israelite in whom there is no deceit’ matched perfectly the train of thought that had been going through Nathanael’s mind as he sat under the fig tree – possibly thinking about Jacob.


49 Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’


It was enough for Nathaniel! Here was someone who could see not only what he was doing, but what he was thinking – he had to be none other than the Son of God himself.


50 Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’ 51 He then added, ‘Very truly I tell you, you will see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on” the Son of Man.’


What passage in the Old Testament is Jesus quoting from?

Jesus was also referring to Jacob, where he had a dream of a stairway to heaven (Genesis 28).

But Jesus changed the quote: Genesis refers to a stairway, or ladder – a way from earth to Heaven. What is the way opened into Heaven that Jesus describes?


To sum up, in this first chapter, the Apostle John has introduced us to four witnesses who have pointed to Jesus. Who were they and what did they say?


All these affirmed John’s opening description of the Word of God who had come to shine light in the darkness.






John 1b John 2a NIV Copyright