[3]     Beginning of Ministry: Calling of Disciples (1:19-51)

Section B. The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry (1:19-51)

o        This section describes the witness of John the Baptist and the first disciples of Jesus. It relates the chain of events in one week:

Explanation

1:19     The inquisitors were from Jerusalem, from Jewish religious leaders, mainly the Pharisees. “The Jews” is often used to denote Jewish people hostile to Jesus, particularly the religious leaders.

1:20     The emphatic pronoun “I”: “It is not I who am the Christ!” is used frequently in chapter 1.

Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew) means the Anointed One. In OT, priest and kings were anointed; the rite was used to set men apart for special functions. In 2Sa 7:16, the Messiah is the ideal king, from David’s line, who would deliver Israel and reign in righteousness forever.

1:21     Malachi prophesied that God “will send you the prophet Elijah before the Messiah comes (Mal 4:5). Jesus also explicitly asserted that John was “the Elijah who was to come” (Mt 11:14). John the Baptist was in a sense Elijah as he fulfilled the role of preparing for the coming of Jesus but he was not the same Elijah that appeared in the OT. It is also possible that the Baptist did not know he was Elijah. John the Baptist also denied he was the prophet because the Jews were thinking of a prophet like Moses as described in Dt 18:15-19.

1:23     John’s reply was from Is 40:3. He was no more than a voice to point people to Jesus.

1:25     Baptism was the regular rite to admit converts from other religions, not for Jews. But some expected that there would be baptizing when the messianic age dawned (Eze 36:25; Zec 13:1).

1:27     Loosing the sandal was the task of a slave; even a disciple was not expected to perform it.

1:28     This Bethany (east of Jordan) was not the better-known Bethany which was near Jerusalem.

1:29     “The Lamb of God”: “of God” may mean “provided by God” or “belonging to God”. Meanings: (a) the Passover Lamb, pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice, (b) the lamb led to the slaughter (Isa 53:7), (c) the triumphant Lamb in Revelation 14, (e) the God-provided Lamb of Gen 22:8, which foreshadow Christ’s atonement, (f) a lamb as a sin offering (Lev 4:32). The lamb figure may well be intended to be composite, evoking thoughts of several interpretations.

The words “takes away” conveys the notion of bearing off, signifying the atonement. “The sin” (singular) refers to the totality of the world’s sin, not to many individual acts. “The world” refers to the comprehensiveness of Christ’s atonement.

1:32     “I have beheld” is in perfect tense indicating something that had continuing effects; also he saw it with the bodily eye, not a mental vision.

1:34     Both “I have seen” and “I testify” are perfect tense, pointing to the continuing effect.

The “Son of God” is more accurately “God’s Chosen One.” It was used of Solomon (2Sa 7:14) and in the plural of all Israel (Hos 1:10), but here it points to the closest personal relationship to God the Father. For the believers, John uses “children of God” rather than “sons”. The word “son” when linked to God is reserved by John for Jesus alone.

1:35     Disciples (learners) mean those who had attached themselves to a teacher; the other disciple besides Andrew is likely John, the beloved disciple.

1:38     “Rabbi” is the customary address of the teacher by a disciple.

1:42     Both Cephas (Aramaic) and Peter (Greek) mean rock.

1:43     The word “follow” is present tense with continuous force, meaning keep on following.

1:44     Bethsaida was the home city of Philip, Andrew, Peter, the city where Jesus exercised a considerable ministry (Mt 22:20-24; Lk 10:13-14).

1:45     Nathanael is recorded only here and 21:2; his name means “God has given” (today’s Theodore), possibly the same as Bartholomew who was coupled with Philip in Synoptic Gospels. Also, Bartholomew is not really a personal name, but only means “son of Tolmai”

1:47     The term “a true son of Israel” means a straightforward person.

1:48     The fig tree was almost a symbol of home (Isa 36:16; Mic 4:4; Zec 3:10); its shade was used as a place for prayer and meditation and study. It probably refers to Nathanael having some experience of communion with God in his own home. Whatever it was, Nathanael immediately recognized the allusion and knew that Jesus had some miraculous knowledge.

1:49     Nathanael’s response was to salute Jesus in terms implying divinity. “King of Israel” means the Messiah. He acknowledged Jesus to be his own King; he was submitting to Him.

1:50     “You believe” can be taken as “Do you believe?” Nathanael was the first person explicitly said to believe. Jesus promised His new disciple that he will see greater things.

1:51     “I tell you the truth”, original Aramaic or Hebrew word “Amen”, meaning to confirm, to give one’s assent. It was the way the people made whatever is said (by someone else) their own, thus used at the end of a prayer. In the Gospels, it is used only by Jesus, and always as a prefix to significant statements, to mark them out as solemn and true and important.

In the Synoptic Gospels, the word always occurs singly (Mt 31, Mk 13, Lk 6), whereas in John (25 times), it is always doubled. The Greek is “Amen, amen I say….” Similar to the “I am” sayings, such use hints His deity.

The ascent and descent of angels seem to be a reference to the vision of Jacob (Gen 28:10ff). There is the thought of communication between heaven and earth. Jesus Himself is the link between heaven and earth as “the Son of Man” substitutes the ladder in Jacob’s story. It is a figurative expression of saying that Jesus will reveal heavenly things.

The term “Son of man” is a literal Greek translation of the Aramaic simply meaning “man”. It is used by Jesus as His favourite self-designation (50 times in the gospels, 13 times in John).

In the OT, the term means ‘a human being’, man in his weakness in contrast to the Almighty (Eze 2:1), yet he is also destined for authority second only to that of God (Ps 8:4-5). In Dan 7:13-14, it is one whom God is to entrust judgment and sovereignty.

Jesus used this term for different reasons: (a) it had undertones of humanity, taking upon Him our weakness, (b) it had overtones of divinity, as the one in Daniel, (c) it contains mysterious and ambiguous meanings: it was a way of alluding to and yet veiling Jesus’ messiahship.

While Jesus called Himself “Son of Man”, many titles (17 in all) are given to Him in this chapter.

Application

§         Each time we meet Andrew in this Gospel, he is bringing someone to Jesus (1:42; 6:8; 12:22). Are we as anxious as Andrew in bringing others to Jesus too?

§         The name of “rock” for Peter points to him being the rock of the early church; but in this Gospel, he was impulsive, volatile, unreliable; he became a rock only through change by the power of God.

Hymn

Hymns of Universal Praise no.169 “Behold the Lamb of God”

Behold the Lamb of God!

O Thou for sinners slain,

Let it not be in vain

That Thou hast died!

Thee for my Saviour let me take,

May only refuge let me make

Thy piercèd side.

Behold the Lamb of God!

All hail, incarnate Word!

Thou everlasting Lord,

Purge out our leav’n.

Clothe us with godliness and good,

Feed us with Thy celestial food,

Manna from heav’n.

Behold the Lamb of God!

Worthy is He alone.

To sit upon the throne

O God above,

One with the Ancient of all days,

One with the Paraclete in praise,

All Light, all Love!