05.04.02 Jn. 1:35-51
THE FIRST DISCIPLES
35 Again the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”
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 10 in the morning.
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 means “Anointed One”), 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 means “Rock”).
43 The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus 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.
47 Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”
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 only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus in the following manner:
- His preaching prepared the hearts of the people for what Jesus would say, especially in the lives of those who would become disciples of Jesus.
- He acquired disciples who would eventually leave him and follow Jesus.
- His ministry would be a fulfillment of the prophetic Scripture of the “voice in the wilderness (desert).”
Simon Peter, Andrew, in partnership with James and John, had a fishing business with employees and a home that was much larger than the average house in Capernaum. Peter and Andrew were originally from Bethsaida, but probably moved to Capernaum for a number of reasons. Bethsaida was in the territory of Herod Philip and Capernaum was in the territory of Herod Antipas. Transporting goods from one region to another meant paying taxes at the border. So one of those reasons could have been to legally avoid paying Matthew (a tax collector at this time) the tax on transporting on fish they caught. Another reason, for Peter anyway, was that he got married and established his home in Capernaum, which may have been the home of his bride.
The passage in John 1:35-51 clearly reflects the typical anticipation of a coming messiah. Andrew was evidently a disciple of John the Baptist, heard John identify the “Lamb of God” and, therefore, “followed Jesus.” These two words provide an important clue as to how first century disciples became associated with their teaching rabbis. There were many itinerant rabbis who went throughout the countryside teaching in synagogues, at the temple, or elsewhere. They generally had a group of disciples who went with them, not only imitating their teaching, but also the lifestyle of their teacher.
The association or relationship between rabbi and potential disciple began in this manner: A young man would listen to the teaching of a certain rabbi, and if he was interested in becoming a disciple, he would follow the rabbi for several days or weeks. The act of following was done in a polite manner as not to be invading the rabbi’s privacy, but not so distant as to be out of sight or hearing. After a while, the aspiring disciple would ask the rabbi – in this case Jesus – “Where are you staying?” (cf. Jn.1:38b). The question was not necessarily to be taken literally, but in essence meant, “Would you consider me to be one of your disciples (or students)?”
If the rabbi invited the young man to come and see (cf. Jn. 1:39a), that was a polite way of the rabbi accepting him. If the rabbi refused to tell him, the message was that the rabbi did not accept him as a disciple. In the case of Jesus and the two disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus accepted both of them by saying, “Come … and you will see” (Jn. 1:39a). With this statement, the rabbi would tell the followers to continue following him. The courtesies of saving face and preventing humiliation reflect a high degree of respect and dignity lost in modern Western culture. Not knowing where the rabbi was staying for the evening was not as humiliating as not being accepted as a disciple. For more information on the establishment of a disciple-rabbi relationship, see 02.03.04.Q1 “How did one become a rabbi or a disciple of a rabbi?”
“Rabbi.” This was not an official title, but a word spoken with the highest respect meaning, teacher, or great one. In a similar manner, the title also meant lord. This was not a title of divinity, but rather a synonym for master or great one, in the same manner that kings and other figures of royalty were addressed. It was not until the disciples recognized and confessed Jesus as Messiah that the title Lord took on a meaning of divinity.
At this time, to be a rabbi all what one had to do was to have disciples. But for that to happen, most men first went to a yeshiva (seminary). Jesus, of course, did not attend a yeshiva, but gathered disciples once they heard His excellent teaching. The term rabbi did not have any reference to an ordained position in the synagogue until later in the first century.
Finally, there is an interesting irony related to John 1:38 above. In that verse, as well as in John 20:16, Jesus isn’t just called a rabbi, but he is called a didaskalos, a Greek word meaning master teacher. Luke, however, used the word epistata meaning knowing or knowledgeable person. The only other document with this Greek term is found the Mishnah which was written in the second century (A.D.).
As an interesting side note, critics claimed the Mishnatic text was proof that the gospel of John was written in the second century. The implication is obvious – in effect, they said that this gospel has errors, as it was written more than a century after Jesus. However, in 1930 E. L. Sukenik conducted archaeological excavations on Mount Scopus, near Jerusalem, and discovered an early (B.C.) ossuary. On the side of the stone bone box was inscribed the title didaskalos of a man named Theodotion. Again, the proverbial “stones cried out” the truthfulness of God’s Word, yet the opinions expressed by textual critics remains unchanged.
“We have found the Messiah.” This was spoken with a great deal of excitement! According to John, the term Christ meant the Messiah or the Anointed One. By definition, the title in Hebrew is Mashiah, in Aramaic, Meshiha, and Greek, Messias, while the Greek, Christos, means Anointed One. The Septuagint translated Mashiah some forty times to Christos. The Messiah was a key figure in Hebrew prophecies whom the Jews thought would deliver them from the bondage of the Romans. Instead, Christ delivered them from the bondage of sin. Moses had written of the coming Messiah who would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). Isaiah (53:6) said He would carry the sins of the world and Daniel had counted the years of His coming (Dan. 9:24-26). Little wonder then, that Peter referred to Jesus as the One for whom Israel had been waiting for centuries (Mt. 16:16). Evidently, others were also waiting for His coming.
“You will be called Cephas.” Peter grew up in Bethsaida, and like other villages in northern Galilee, it had a very nationalistic passion. His father Jona probably named him “Simon” in honor of the high priest who sacrificed his life during the Maccabean Revolt. In fact, during the time of Jesus, many boys were named after Maccabean Revolt heroes. Therefore, when Jesus changed Peter’s name, more was said than merely a name, but rather, a nationalistic destiny was changed to a heavenly destiny that would establish the kingdom of God. Simon was derived from the Old Testament name of Simeon, meaning to hear, as to hear the voice of God (Gen. 29:33).
“Follow me.” As stated previously, usually a student would go to the master teacher and ask indirectly to become one of his disciples. But this time Jesus broke the traditional custom; it was not the custom to have the master select the disciples. Therefore, to hear the words “follow me” from a rabbi was considered a sacred calling. One had to make an immediate decision whether to become a life-long disciple of a master teacher. The invitation was an honor because most people did not feel worthy of such a calling. One of several examples from the Talmud reads
Rabbi Shesheth said “Whoever teaches the Torah in this world will be privileged to teach it in the next, as it is written, ‘And he that waters shall water again too’ ” (Prov. 11:25).
Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 92a
A good rabbi, or teacher, was considered to be as one who provides someone a refreshing drink. Its significance is emphasized in a land that has no rain for half the year. Therefore, the imagery here is quite remarkable in that there is an association of the Word of God with water (living water?). The disciples who dropped their nets understood the sacredness of being asked to enter the ministry of being teachers and preachers.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The history of the village is rather humble and unbecoming. Some archaeological evidence of human occupation has been found dating from the Iron Age 1 (1200 – 1000 B.C.), but that has been minimal and the village clearly did not have a continuous occupation. The village was in the land that was allotted to the tribe of Zebulun by Joshua. His book identifies some fifteen villages in the area of Nazareth (Jos. 19:10-15), but the village of Mary and Joseph is not among them. Centuries later Josephus named approximately forty-five lower Galilean towns when he was a military commander, but he failed to mention this insignificant town. Ironically, nothing has been discovered to suggest any wealth or Greek influence in Nazareth, which may account for the number of temple priests who settled there after the A.D. 135 destruction of Jerusalem. More specifically, archaeological evidence reveals it was founded in the second century B.C. and the oldest extra-biblical reference is from the third century A.D. Scholars believe that as a result of the victorious Maccabean Revolt many Jews left Babylon and relocated in the Galilee region, including Nazareth. Therefore, the new villagers had some distinct cultural differences that were different from their fellow Jews in Jerusalem. Among those differences was their language dialect as demonstrated by Peter during the Passion Week.
As little as the land of Israel was, there was plenty of room for regional discrimination. Not only were there serious cultural conflicts between the Jews and Samaritans, there were also social stigmas between Jewish communities. The Jews of Jerusalem looked down upon those in Galilee, and those in Galilee looked down on Nazareth. This is evident by the fact that Nathanael, a Galilean, made a degrading comment about the village that was the home of Jesus. An example of the negative attitude toward Galilee is found in the Mishnah concerning the beginning of the Passover observance.
Rabban Simeon ben Gabaliel says: “A man should always behave as the disciple of the Sages.” Moreover, the Sages say: “In Judea they used to work until midday on the eves of the Passover, but in Galilee, they used to do nothing at all.”
Mishnah, Pesahim 4.5
The suggestion is obviously that the men of Nazareth are lazy. As to the question, did “anything good” ever come from Nazareth? Yes! Today the world recognizes the small village as the place that brought forth the greatest gift that God ever gave to humanity.
The passage John 1 has a unique phrase, “under the fig tree” (v. 48). When rabbis were not teaching in the village synagogue or temple, it was customary to teach under a fig tree. It was a tradition that after a lesson, students would depart to a quiet area, sit under a different fig tree, meditate, and pray about what they had just learned. Not only did the tree provide a comfortable shade, but also a desirable fruit as they meditated upon the Word. In the course of time, the fig tree not only became symbolic of national Israel, but also as a place to study the Scriptures. Therefore, to sit under a fig tree was an ancient body language that said one was a serious student of Scripture. If someone said, “Levi enjoys sitting under a fig tree,” it meant that he enjoyed reading his Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, the Torah was associated with the fig tree because most trees, such as olives, dates, and pomegranates, have fruit that ripens at the same time. Furthermore, the fig tree is harvested continuously because there are figs that ripen throughout most of the year. And so it is with the Torah, one learns a little today and a little more tomorrow and a little more the next day. The man who “sits under the fig tree” is a man whose passion is God. The tradition of sitting under the fig tree started centuries earlier when rabbis taught their students that the Word of God was as sweet as the fresh fruit of the fig tree.
Therefore, when Jesus said that He saw Nathanael under a fig tree, it was more than a literal meaning. Jesus saw both his godly character and the fact that he was meditating on God’s word. Jesus saw that Nathanael had a heart for righteousness and for God – an ideal candidate for a disciple. Oddly enough, little is said about him after this encounter.
“The Son of God … the king of Israel.” Again, Jesus is thought to be a political figure. To this Jesus responded by saying that He is much greater than an earthly king. The phrase “son of God” was evidently in common use, especially among the Essenes, whose writings mention it. This small scroll fragment has caused great interest, study, and debate among scholars because it reads, in part,
“… All shall serve [him and he] shall be called [son of] the [gr]eat God, and by his name shall he be named. He shall be hailed the Son of God, and they shall call him Son of the Most High. As comets [flash]to the sight, so shall their kingdom …”.
Dead Sea Scroll Fragment, 4Q246
While this fragment cannot be attributed to Jesus, it does indicate that some Jews of the early first century B.C./A.D. expected their messiah to come with the title “son of God.”
05.04.02.A. DEAD SEA SCROLL “SON OF GOD” FRAGMENT 4Q246. The phrase “Son of God” was found on a fragment, one of 15,000 in Dead Sea Scrolls Cave Four. It predates the birth of Jesus.
“Then He said, ‘I assure you.’ ” In John 1:51, there is a Hebraism that has been lost in most modern translations. It is translated in the King James Version as “Verily, verily I say unto you.” Yet even with a high degree of accuracy in translation, the significance of the meaning is lost unless one understands the cultural meaning of the archaic English words verily, verily, which could also be stated as truly, truly. The meaning of the phrase I assure you or verily is that the spoken message is true, dependable and certain. The lost Hebraism is the cultural significance of a repeated word. The term amen (Gk. amen, 281)  is a confirmation of truthfulness, as seen in Isaiah 65:16 where God is a witness to a particular confirmation, and He is called the God of the amen, in Greek – theos alethinos (the Revised Standard Bible reads the God of truth). When numerous Old Testament passages are examined, Amen is said by God to mean, it is and shall be so, and by men, so let it be.
The repetition of truly, truly, was the ancient way of emphasizing the importance of what was spoken. Repeating a word does not double its value, but the duplicated term can best be understood with a simple illustration from mathematics. If a number such as “10” were multiplied by the power of “10,” its value would be far more increased than if it were merely doubled. Furthermore, there is an increased degree of emotion associated with such a duplicated Hebrew expression. Later, when the crowds were shouting passionately and relentlessly to Pilate to crucify Jesus, Luke wrote, “Crucify him, crucify him,” to emphasize the increased passion of the mob at the moment.
The most unusual feature of this passage, and the parallel passages that record only one “amen” or “truly,” is the fact that the word(s) is/are at the beginning of the sentence. This is totally out of character with other authors of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, New Testament, and rabbinic writings where “amen” is always at the end of a sentence. The most probable solution to the mystery is that the word is not part of the verse, but is in fact an independent sentence, such as “amen!” or “amen, amen!” Since Jesus was a dynamic teacher it would be natural for him to hear either a statement or say one, followed by a hearty “amen.” Therefore, this one or two-word phrase is a confirmation of the preceding statement. Keep in mind that ancient Hebrew and Greek did not have punctuation marks. Consequently, proper translation of Scripture was a challenge for translators of the early Reformation Period.
“Angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John painted a picture reminiscent of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:12, when the patriarch saw a ladder that reached into heaven. There were angels ascending and descending on the ladder and at the top was the Lord. Then the Lord promised him land and a great number of descendants that would cover the earth. In fact, the whole earth would be blessed by what the Lord promised Jacob in this dream.
Now John moves on to Jesus and in the next chapter he begins to describe the miracles Jesus did in and among the descendants of Jacob. John now used that imagery to say that the Lord was among His people bringing a divine presence to them. There was no literal ladder, but it was obvious that our Lord had come down to them.
Finally, the phrase Son of Man, or Bar Enosh in Aramaic, in the book of Enoch is a figure who is waiting in heaven until God sends Him to earth where He would establish His kingdom and rule over it. This popular book was common knowledge, so when Jesus used the phrase about Himself, He was clearly claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah. That is quite interesting, because the book of Enoch was written in the Inter-Testamental period, and the expressions of “son of Man” and “son of God,” when used of Christ, do so to express His deity. Of course scholars have questions if the writer of Enoch knew that the Son would be Deity?
05.04.02.Q1 What were the Jewish expectations of the Messiah?
There is no question that Jesus came during the time of great messianic expectations as evidenced by various writings in extra-biblical literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The historian Josephus provided a series of hostile yet tantalizing glimpses of various characters who claimed prophetic and/or nationalistic inspiration. The heightened expectations of the public must also be considered as part of the fulfillment of Galatians 4:4, that states that “in the fullness of time,” Jesus came. But most importantly is that absolutely no one expected a Messiah – that is God in the human form of Jesus. For centuries God had been preparing the people for the coming of their Lord. Nearly all Jews agreed upon was that he would be a political figure who would overthrow the Roman occupiers. The challenge that Jesus had was for them to see Him as the true Messiah, even though He had no intentions of overthrowing the Romans.
The Jewish expectations are addressed numerous times throughout this e-Book, because understanding their opinions is so critically important. There is no question that they expected a political figure that would redeem them from Roman occupation. If the Jews were unified on anything, this was it. However, on other issues, such as how long he would rule and reign, there was a great diversity of opinions. For example, in the Talmud are statements from several rabbis concerning the length of the messiah’s reign.
- Rabbi Eliezer said the “days of the messiah would be forty years.”
- Rabbi Dorsa said it would be four hundred years, while another rabbi said three hundred sixty-five years.
- On the other hand, Rabbi Abbahu said the messiah would reign seven thousand years.
While these periods of rulership may seem rather ridiculous to the modern reader, they are significant because these rabbis believed the messiah would be “like the son of man” (Dan. 7:13), Daniel’s prophetic phrase was interpreted to mean that the messiah would not be an ordinary human, but in some manner be super-human. They examined the various terms expressed by Daniel, such as “weeks,” “70,” “times, time, and a half time,” and attempted to calculate when the messiah would arrive. They used all forms of Gematria and mathematics. Obviously they were confronted with a major paradigm shift because Jesus looked like an ordinary man and He was not the mystical deliverer they expected. Therefore, He had to carefully change their preconceived opinions.
. Bauder, “Disciple, Follow, Imitate, After.” 1:480-87.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, pages 1-3.
. See Appendix 26 and 02.203.04.Q1.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 737-38.
. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 7.
. Hillyer, “Scribe, Writing.” 3:477-78.
. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus, 119.
. Free and Vos, Archaeology and Bible History. 255-56.
. Schultz, “Messiah.” 10:1238.
. Bauder, “Disciple, Follow, Imitate, After.” 1:480-81.
. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 91b; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 328.
. Lauterback, 92; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:467-68.
. Rivkin, 311.
. Farrar, The Life of Christ 82-84.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, pages 1-3.
. Breshit Rabba 46.1 as paraphrased from Beth Uval, ed. Self-Guided Tour Trail “C.” Neot Kedumim Ltd. Lod, Israel 1987. 15.
. Shanks, “An Unpublished Dead Sea Scroll Text Parallels Luke’s Infancy Narrative.” 24-25. Letters within brackets inserted by translators.
. https://mail.google.com/mail/?shva=1#inbox/135861d7fcdfed9d Retrieved February 22, 2012. See also Green, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament; Berry, Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament.
. Vine, “Amen.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:25.
. Bietenhard. “Amen.” 98; Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:247-48; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 279. See also 11.02.26 and 15.01.05.
. Vine, “Amen.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:25.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 279.
. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 198.
. Lindsey, “’Verily’ or ‘Amen’ – What did Jesus Say?” 2:1, 3, 6-8; Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:247-48; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 279.
. Wijngaards, Handbook to the Gospels. 44.
. Jn. 3:13; 5:27; 6:27; cf. Mt.26:63-64; Tenney, The Gospel of John. 105.
. See 12.03.01.Q1 “What ‘Messianic problems’ did the Jewish leaders have with Jesus?” and 12.03.01.A “Chart of Key Points of the Messianic Problems.” See also 02.03.09 “Messianic Expectations” and Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, and Rebellions that Impacted the First Century Jewish World.”
. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.1; 20.5.1-2; 20.8.6; Wars 2.13.4-6. See also a partial listing in Appendix 25.
. The opinion of a 400 year reign probably originated in 2 Esdras 7:27-31. For more information, see William Barclay, Jesus. Ch. 7.
. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a.
. See “Gematria” in Appendix 26.
. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel. Boston: Beacon Hill. 124, 243-45.