Word Study
Gospel of John--High Christology

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1:29 - 34--John's Testimony Affirming Jesus


This next section begins with a testimony from John the Baptist not found in the Synoptics, in which he identifies Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." The Baptist's testimony parallels that found in the Synoptics, in that he concedes Jesus as being greater. However, this is clearly meant to be an additional testimony, as he references these occasions in past tense ("This is the one I meant when I said…"). He once again gives testimony that his purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus, and reveal Him to Israel.


Of particular interest in this testimony is that Jesus' baptism has already occurred, and the Baptist refers to it in passing--yet John's Gospel never directly tells us that story. Invoking the language of the Synoptics, he states that he saw the Spirit come down from Heaven "as a dove." That the Gospel does not narrate the actual baptism of Jesus, but instead refers to it in past tense, tells us two things:


--this is another case of the Gospel of John clarifying the story of Jesus, and presupposing that certain events in His life would have been known. A person introduced here to the story of Jesus for the first time might feel he or she had missed a step when coming to John's comment about Jesus' baptism (Jesus was baptized? When?); however, a reader already familiar with the story would place this narrative within its intended pre-existing context. It adds to the story.


--the Gospel of John is showing us, again, that John the Baptist is subordinate to Jesus Christ. Yes, he did baptize Jesus, but he also testifies that Jesus was greater. No doubt there were followers of John the Baptist who pointed to his role as "Baptizer of Christ," perhaps even suggesting this made him superior (I have myself, on one occasion, heard this argument used in modern times); the Gospel seeks to point out that not even John the Baptist considered this to be the case.


1:35 - 51--Jesus' First Followers


The Gospel again places John the Baptist in a position to testify about Jesus, this time to at least one disciple who will make a difference--Andrew, who becomes one of the Twelve. And though the Gospel does not explicitly say, it is often surmised that the other, unspoken disciple may be the author of the Gospel himself, John (the Apostle). The two disciples spend the day with Jesus; Andrew then fetches his brother Simon. Upon meeting Simon, Jesus names him "Cephas," which is Aramaic for "rock"--the Gospels, written in Greek, use the term "Peter" (Greek for "rock").


Once again we see the Gospel of John in its role as clarifier. Consider the Synoptic version of Peter and Andrew's call, as found in Matthew 4:19 - 20. There we read:


"Come, follow Me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed Him.


It does seem rather sudden. Likewise, we are told in Mark 3:16 that Jesus gave Simon the name "Peter," but we are not told why. With John's Gospel, though, these story elements are explained. Andrew was already a disciple of John the Baptist, and was referred to Jesus by the Baptist himself. He and Peter both spent time with Jesus before the call to follow Him, and no doubt were prepared to do so--this was not a suddenly, impetuous decision. Likewise, if the second, unnamed companion of Andrew is indeed John the (soon to be) Apostle, it explains his, and his brother James', sudden decision to follow Jesus as well. Again, we find here an explanation as to why Jesus gave Simon his nickname Peter.


Jesus next calls Philip, another of the Twelve, who in turn goes to find Nathanael. Nathanael has been the object of much speculation: he only appears in the Gospel of John, and is conspicuously absent from other Gospels. Traditionally, it is believed that Nathanael and Bartholomew (one of the Twelve from the Synoptics and Acts) are the same man. Just as Nathanael appears only in John's Gospel, Bartholomew is absent from John's Gospel. In the Synoptics, Philip and Bartholomew always appear side-by-side; in John, the first person Philip goes to get is Nathanael. It was common, in those days, for people to have more than one name, as we've seen already with Simon Peter.


Speculation aside, what is important here is Nathanael's interaction with Jesus. Upon hearing Philip's assertion that the Christ came from Nazareth, Nathanael is skeptical (to say the least). Yet note that his skepticism appears to lie solely in Jesus' association with Nazareth; the manner in which Philip approaches the subject, by invoking the Law of Moses and the Prophets, suggests that Philip and Nathanael were active seekers of the Messiah. It's not that the Messiah has come that stretches credibility in Nathanael's mind, it's that He came from a backwater town like Nazareth. Philip responds in classic form: "Come and see."


Upon meeting Nathanael, Jesus offers evidence of His Messianic identity: "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." It's more than enough evidence for Nathanael, who promptly does an about-face and offers a confession of faith. Jesus says to Him, essentially, "You ain't seen nothing yet."


Of paramount importance in these narratives is the act of testimony: sharing Jesus with others. John the Baptist offers testimony to two of his disciples. Andrew seeks out his brother Simon and offers testimony. Philip promptly finds Nathanael, offering testimony. Indeed, "testimony" is the purpose of John's Gospel, but here we see it in its most basic form: mentors, family, and friends sharing Jesus Christ with others. We are called to do the same. And if our testimony initially fails to impress, we are given Philip's example to bid them, "Come and see."


Which we'll do, next week!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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