Exposition of the Gospel of John
by A. W. Pink
CHRIST AND HIS FIRST DISCIPLES
We first submit a brief Analysis of the passage which is to be before us. We would divide it as follows:—
1. John points to Christ as God’s Lamb, John 1:35, 36.
2. The effect of this on two of his disciples, John 1:37.
3. Christ’s searching question, the disciples’ reply and communion with Christ, John 1:38, 39.
4. The effect of this on Andrew, John 1:40-42.
5. Christ finds and calls on Philip to follow Him, John 1:43, 44.
6. The effect of this on Philip, John 1:45, 46.
7. The meeting between Christ and Nathanael, John 1:47-51.
The central truth of the passage we are about to study is, How the first of Christ’s disciples were brought into saving contact with Him. It may be that some of our readers have experienced a difficulty when studying these closing verses of John 1 as they have compared their contents with what is found in Mark 1:16-20: "Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him" (cf. Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11). Many have wondered how to harmonize John 1:35-42 with Mark 1:16-20. But there is nothing to harmonize, because there is no contradiction between them. The truth is, that Mark and John are not writing on the same subject. Mark treats of something which happened at a later date than that of which John writes. John tells us of the conversion of these disciples, whereas Mark (as also Matthew and Luke) deals with their call to service—a service which concerned the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That John omits the call to service (which each of the other three evangelists record) brings out, again, the special character of his Gospel, for he treats not of dispensational but of spiritual relationships, and therefore was it reserved for him to describe the conversion of these first disciples of Christ.
It is deeply interesting and instructive to mark attentively the manner in which these first disciples found the Savior. They did not all come to Him in the same way, for God does not confine Himself to any particular method—He is sovereign in this, as in everything. It had been well if this had been kept in mind, for then had many a doubt been dispelled and many an heartache removed. How many there are who have listened to the testimony of some striking conversion, and have reproached themselves and made themselves miserable because their experience was a different one. How many churches there are which have their annual two weeks "protracted" meetings, and then conduct themselves as though there were no other souls that needed salvation during the remaining fifty weeks of the year! How many there are who imagine no sinner can be saved except at a "mourner’s bench!" But all of these are so many ways of limiting God, that is, holding limited conceptions of God.
Of the four cases of conversion described in our passage (we say four, for the two mentioned in verse 35 are linked together) no two were alike! The first two heard a preacher proclaiming Christ as "the lamb of God," and, in consequence, promptly sought out the Savior for themselves. Simon Peter, the next one, was "brought" to Christ by his brother, who had followed and found the Savior on the previous day. Philip, the third one, seemed to have no believer to help him, perhaps no fellow creature who cared for his soul; and of him we read, "Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me" (John 1:43). While the last, Nathanael, was sought out by his now converted brother Philip, and was warmly invited to come and see Christ for himself; and while making for Him, the Savior, apparently, advanced toward and met the seeking one. Putting the four together we may observe that the first found Christ as the result of a preacher’s message. The second and fourth found Christ as the result of the personal work of a believer. In the case of the third there was no human instrument employed by God. The fact that the first came to Christ as the result of the ministry of John the Baptist, seems to show that God puts the preaching of the Word as of first importance in the saving of sinners. The fact that God honored the personal efforts of two of these early converts, shows He is pleased to give a prominent place to personal work in His means of saving souls. The fact that Philip was saved apart from all human instrumentality, should teach us that God has not reached the end of His resources even though preachers should prove unfaithful to their calling, and even though individual believers are too apathetic to go forth bidding sinners to come to Christ.
It is also to be noted that not only did these first converts find the Savior in a variety of ways, but also that Christ Himself dealt differently with each one. For the two mentioned in verse 35 there was a searching question to test their motives in following Christ—"What seek ye?" For Simon Peter there was a striking declaration to convince him that Christ knew all about him, followed by a gracious promise to reassure his heart. For Philip there was nothing but a peremptory command—"Follow me. While for Nathanael there was a gracious word to disarm him of all prejudice and to assure his heart that the Savior stood ready to receive him. Thus did the Great Physician deal with each man according to his individual peculiarities and needs.
Finally, observe how this passage brings out the suitability of Christ for all kinds of men. It is blessed to behold here, how the Savior drew to Himself men of such widely different types and temperaments. There are some superficial sceptics who sneeringly declare that Christianity only attracts those or a particular type—the effeminate, the emotional, and the intellectually feeble. But such an objection is easily refuted by the facts of common observation. Christ has been worshipped and served by men and women of every variety of temperament and calling. Those who have delighted to own His name as The Name "which is above every name" have been drawn from every walk of life, as well as from every nation and tribe under the sun. Kings and queens, statesmen and soldiers, scientists and philosophers, poets and musicians, lawyers and physicians, farmers and fishermen have been among the number who have cried, "Worthy is the lamb." And in the cases of these early converts we find this principle strikingly illustrated.
The unnamed disciple of verse 35 is, by common consent, regarded as John, the writer of this fourth Gospel. John was the disciple who leaned on the Master’s bosom, devoted and affectionate. He was "the disciple whom Jesus loved:" he was, apparently, the only one of the twelve who stood by the Cross as the Savior was dying. Andrew seems to have been a man with a calculating mind, what would be termed today, of a practical turn: no sooner had he come to Christ, than he goes at once and finds his brother Simon, tells him the good news that they had found the Messiah, and brought him to Jesus; and, he was the one to observe the lad with the five barley loaves and two small fishes, when the hungry multitude was to be fed (John 6:8, 9). Simon Peter was hot-headed, impulsive, full of zeal. Philip was sceptical and materialistic: he was the one to whom our Lord put the test question, "Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" to which Philip replied, "Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little" (John 6:5, 7); and again, Philip was the one who said to Christ, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us" (John 14:8). Nathanael, of whom least is known, was, evidently of a meditative and retiring disposition, whose life was lived in the back-ground, but of an open and frank nature, one "in who was no guile." How radically different, then, were these men in type and temperament, yet each of them found in Christ that which met his need and satisfied his heart! We regard these first converts as representative and illustrative cases, so that it behooves us to study each separately and in detail.
"Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples" (John 1:35). This is the place to ask the question, What was the fruitage of John’s mission? What results accrued from his ministry? They were very similar to what may be expected to attend the labors of a servant of God, who is used of His Master, today. John had borne faithful witness to Christ: how had his ministry been received.’, In the first place, the religious leaders of his day rejected the testimony of God (Luke 7:30). In the second place, great crowds were attracted, and men of all sorts attended upon his ministry (Luke 3:7-15). In the third place, only a few were really affected by his message, and stood ready to receive the Messiah when He appeared. It has been much the same all through the ages. When God sends forth a man to take an active and prominent part in His service, the religious leaders look upon him with suspicion, and hold aloof in their fancied superiority. On the other hand, the vulgar, curious crowds, ever hungering for the novel and sensational, are attracted; but comparatively few are really touched in their consciences and hearts.
"Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the lamb of God" (John 1:35, 36). Once more the Lord’s forerunner heralds Him as "the lamb of God" (cf. John 5:29). This teaches us that there are times when the servant of God needs to repeat the same message. It also informs us that the central and vital truth which God’s messenger must press, unceasingly, is the sacrificial work of Christ. Never forget, brother preacher, that your chief concern is to present your Master as "the lamb of God!" Notice, also, we are told, "John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the lamb of God." The words we have placed in italics call attention to a most important moral principle: if we would "look upon Jesus," if we would "Behold the lamb," we must stand still; that is, all fleshly activity must cease; we must come to the end of ourselves. This was the first truth which God taught Israel after they had been delivered from Egypt: as they were being pursued by the Egyptians, and came to the Red Sea, God’s servant cried, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord" (Ex. 14:13).
"And the two disciples heard him speak" (John 1:37). These two men were John and Andrew. By calling they were fishermen. I hey had already attached themselves to John, and had not only been baptized but were eagerly awaiting the promised Messiah and Savior. At last the day arrived when their teacher, whom they trusted as God’s prophet, suddenly checked them in their walk, and no doubt with almost breathless interest, laid his hand upon them, and pointing to a passing Figure, cried, "Behold the lamb of God!" There, in actual bodily form, was the One for whom the ages had waited. There, within reach of their own eyes, was the Son of God, who was to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. There, right before them, was He of whom one of these very two men later wrote, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of Life" (1 John 1:1).
How often this experience has been duplicated—duplicated in principle, we mean. How many of us used to hear Christ spoken of while as yet we had no personal knowledge of Him! We sat under a preacher who magnified His excellencies, we heard men and women singing "Thou O Christ art all I want, more than all in Thee I find," and we were impressed by the testimonies of God’s saints as they bore witness to that Friend who sticketh closer than a brother. As we listened, our hearts yearned for a similar experience, but as yet we had no personal acquaintance with Him. When one day, perhaps we were waiting on the ministry of one of God’s servants, or maybe we were alone in our room reading a portion of the Scriptures, or perhaps down on our knees crying to God to reveal His Son to us, or possibly, we were attending to the daily round of duty, when suddenly He who until then had been only a name, was revealed to us by God as a living reality. Then we could say with one of old, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee" (Job 42:5).
And what is the consequence of such an experience? Ah! now the soul has been awakened, it feels some action is demanded of it. Such an one can no longer sit and listen to descriptions of Christ—he must rise and seek Him on his own account. Individual acquaintance with this unique and Divine Person is now desired above everything. The one thus awakened now seeks the Lord with all his heart. Thus it was with these two disciples of John. As they heard their master say "Behold the lamb of God," we read, "they followed Jesus" (verse 37).
"Then Jesus turned and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?" (John 1:38). No sincere soul seeks or follows after Christ in vain. "Seek and ye shall find" is His own blessed promise. Accordingly, we find the Savior turning to and addressing these enquiring souls. "What seek ye?" He says to them. At first sight this question strikes us as strange. Some, perhaps, have regarded it as almost a rebuff; yet it cannot be that. Personally, we look upon these words of our Lord as designed to test the motive of these two men, and to help them understand their own purpose. There are a great variety of motives and influences which make people become the outward and professed followers of Christ. In the days of which our passage treats, many soon "followed" Christ because the crowd streamed after Him and carried them along with it. Many "followed" Him for what they could get—the loaves and fishes, or the curing of their ailments and the healing of their loved ones. For a time many "followed" Him, doubtless, because it was the popular and respectable thing to do. But a few "followed" because they felt their deep need of Him, and were attracted by the perfections of His Person.
So it was then, and so it is now. Christ desired to be followed intelligently or not at all—that is, He will not accept formal or superstitious worship. What He wants is the heart—the heart that seeks Him for Himself! Hence the heart-searching question was put to these two men, "What seek ye?" What, dear reader, would be your answer to such a question? What seekest thou? The true answer to this question reveals your spiritual state. Let no one suppose he is not seeking anything. Such were an impossibility. Every heart has its object. If your heart is not set upon Christ Himself, it is set upon something which is not Christ. "What seek ye?" Is it gold, fame, ease and comfort, pleasure, or—what? On what is your heart set? Is it an increased knowledge of Christ, a more intimate acquaintance with Him, a closer walk with Him? Can you say, in measure at least, "As the heart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God’ (Ps. 42:1)!
It is beautiful to notice the reply made by these two earnest souls. "Master," they said, "Where dwellest thou?" (John 1:38). It seems strange that their answer to the Lord’s query has puzzled so many who have pondered it. Most of the commentators have quite missed the point of these words and failed to see any direct connection between the question put by the Savior and the reply He received. "Where dwellest thou?" Let us emphasize each word separately.
"Where dwellest thou?" How pathetic and tragic! What a question to ask the Son of God! How it brought out His humiliation! There was no need to ask where Caiaphas or Pilate dwelt, for everybody knew. But who among men cared to know, or could have told these two men if asked, where Christ dwelt?
"Where dwellest thou?" This was no question of mere idle curiosity. It showed that they longed to be with Him. What they desired was fellowship, as would have been made more evident if the translators had rendered it ‘‘Where abidest thou?" for "abiding’’ ever has reference to communion.
"Where dwellest thou?" they asked, in answer to "What seek ye?" It was not a "what" but a "whom" that their hearts were set upon. It was not a blessing, but the Blesser Himself that their spirits sought.
Unspeakably blessed it is to listen to the Savior’s response to the request made’ by these two inquiring souls: "He saith unto them, Come and see" (John 1:39). Ah, He knew their desires. He had read their hearts. He discerned that they sought His presence, His person, His fellowship. And He never disappoints such longings. "Come" is His gracious invitation. "Come" was a word which assured them of His welcome. "Come" is what He still says to all who labor and are heavy laden.
"And see" or "look:" this was, we believe, a further word to test them. When Christ conducted these two men to His dwelling place, would a brief visit suffice them? No, indeed. Mark the remainder of the verse, "they came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour." So fully had He won their confidence, so completely had He attracted their hearts to Himself, that though this was the first day of meeting with the Savior, they abode with Him. Yes, they "abode" with Him. This is the word which uniformly speaks of spiritual fellowship. They abode with Him that day; for it was about the tenth hour; that is 4 P.M. We doubt not they remained with Him that night, but this is not expressly stated, and why? Ah, the Holy Spirit would not say they abode with Him "that night," for there is no night in His presence! Notice, too, the name of the place where He dwelt is not given. They "abode with him," where this is we are not told: He was but a stranger here, and those who follow Him must be strangers too. "They abode with him." How blessed! His abiding place was theirs too. And so shall it be for all believers throughout eternity. Has He not said, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3)? "One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ" (John 1:40, 41).
How this tells of the satisfaction which these two disciples had found in Christ! They wished to share with others their newborn joy! Andrew now sought out his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Christ." That it is here said "He first findeth his own brother," implies that John (who ever seeks to hide himself, never once mentioning himself by name) did the same with his brother, James, a little later. This is the happy privilege of every young believer—to tell others of the Savior he has found. For this no college training is required, and no authority from any church need be sought. Not that we despise either of these, but all that is needed to tell a perishing sinner of the Savior is a heart acquaintance with Him yourself. It was not that Andrew went forth as a preacher, for that work he needed training, training by Christ Himself. But he set out to bear simple yet earnest witness of the Savior he had found. The one whom he sought was his own brother, and this illustrates the fact that our personal responsibility begins with those nearest to us. Witness should first be borne in our own family circle.
"And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, He said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona (or, perhaps better, ‘the son of John’): thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone" (John 1:42). Here we find the Lord giving Simon a blessed promise, the force of which must be sought in what he was by nature. By natural temperament Simon was fiery and impetuous, rash and unstable. What would such a man’s thoughts be, when he first heard Andrew? When he learned that Christ was here, and received invitation to go to Him, when he knew that the Master was seeking loyal and devoted servants, would he not say, That is all right for steady, reliable Andrew, but not for such as me? Would he not say, Why, I would be a stumblingblock to the cause of Christ: my impetuous temper and hasty tongue will only hinder, not help? If such thoughts passed through his mind, as we think most likely, then how these words of Christ which now fell on his ears must have reassured his heart: "When Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of John." Thus the Lord showed that He was already thoroughly acquainted with Simon. But, He adds, "Thou shalt be called, A stone." "Cephas" was Aramaic, and signifies "a rock." "Petros" is the Greek and signifies "a stone." Peter is the English form of both Cephas and Petros. How blessed, then, was this promise of our Lord! "Thou art Simon" (his natural name), vacillating and unstable. Yes, I know all about you, "But thou shalt be called Cephas" (his new name), "a rock," fixed and stable. Christ, thus, promised to undertake for him. What a blessed fulfillment did this promise receive after the Savior’s resurrection!
We believe, though, there is a deeper meaning in this verse, and one which has a wider application, an application to all believers. In these verses which treat of the third "day," we have that which belongs, strictly, to the Christian dispensation. Peter must be viewed as a representative character. Thus viewed, everything turns upon the meaning of ‘the proper nouns here. Simon means "hearing." Son of Jona is, correctly rendered we believe, in the R.V. "son of John," and John signifies "God’s gift." We become Christians by hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), and this spiritual hearing is God’s gift, and every believer becomes a stone; comp. "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5).
"The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me" (John 1:43). How precious is this! What a lovely illustration of His own declaration "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). How it shows us the Good Shepherd going after this lone sheep of His! What we read of here is equally true of every case of genuine conversion. Whether the Lord uses a human instrument or not, it is Christ Himself who seeks out and finds each one who, subsequently, becomes His follower. Our seeking of Him is only the reflex action of His first seeking us, just as we love Him because He first loved us.
"Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1:44, 45). Here, again, we see the effect that Christ’s revelation of Himself has upon the newly born soul. The young believer partakes of the spirit of the One in whom he has believed. The compassion of the Savior for the lost now fills his heart. There is a going out of his affections toward the perishing. He cannot remain silent or indifferent. He must tell others of the Savior he has found, or rather, of the Savior who has found him.
"And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). The one who seeks to win souls must expect to be met with objections. Many a sinner is hiding behind queries and quibbles. How then shall we meet them. Learn from Philip. All that he said to Nathanael in reply to his question, was, "Come and see." He invited his brother to come and put Christ to the test for himself. This is the wise way: do not be turned aside by the objections of the one to whom you are speaking, but continue to press upon him the claims of Christ, and then trust God to bless His own Word, in His own good time.
"Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile" (John 1:47). Nathanael was honest and open. His question to Philip was no mere evasion, or hypocritical quibble; rather was it the voicing of a genuine difficulty. This must not be forgotten in our dealings with different souls. We must not conclude that all questions put to us are asked in a carping spirit. There are some people, many Perhaps, who have real difficulties. What they need is light, and in order to obtain this they need to come to Christ. So in every case we cannot err if we present Christ and His claims upon each soul we meet. Nathanael was an "Israelite, indeed, in whom was no guile." We take it, he illustrates in his person one of the qualifications for becoming a good-ground hearer of the Word, namely, to receive that Word into "an honest and good heart."
"Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee" (John 1:48). How this incident evidences the Deity of Christ! It displayed His omniscience. Christ saw Nathanael, and read his heart, before he came to Him. And, dear reader, He sees and reads each of us, too. Nothing can be hid from His all-seeing eye. No guise of hypocrisy can deceive Him.
"Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the king of Israel" (John 1:49). This was sure evidence that a Divine work had been wrought in Nathanael’s soul. The eyes of his understanding were opened to behold the Divine glory of the Savior. And promptly does he confess Him as "the Son of God." It is significant that in this fourth Gospel we find there are just seven who bear witness to Christ’s Deity. First, John the Baptist (John 1:34); Second, Nathanael (John 1:49); Third, Peter (John 6:69); Fourth, the Lord Himself (John 10:36); Fifth, Martha (John 11:27); Sixth, Thomas (John 20:28); Seventh, the writer of this Gospel (John 20:31).
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see the heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:50, 51). Nathanael had been deeply impressed by what he had just witnessed, namely, this manifestation of Christ’s omniscience. But, says the Lord, he should yet see greater things. Yea, the time should come when he should behold an open heaven, and the earth directly connected with it. He should see that to which in the far past, the dream and vision of Jacob had pointed: that which should be the antitype of the ladder which linked earth to heaven, was Christ Himself, and Nathanael with all believers, will see "the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
It only remains for us to point out that here in the last half of John 1 we have three very remarkable typical pictures, treating of three distinct Dispensations. The first is found in John 1:19-28. The second begins at John 1:29—"The next day"—and ends at John 1:34. The third begins at John 1:35—"Again the next day"—and ends at John 1:42.
I. In John 1:19-28 we have a typical picture of the Old Testament Dispensation.
II. In John 1:29-34 we have a typical picture of the Messianic Dispensation (embracing the period of Christ’s public ministry on earth) intimated here by the words "The next day" (verse 29).
III. In John 1:35-43 we have a typical picture of the Christian Dispensation, intimated by "Again the next day" (verse 35);
The following questions are given to be studied so as to prepare the reader for our next chapter on John 2:1-11:—
1. "And the third day" (John 2:1)—after what? And why mention which "day?"
2. Why is a marriage scene introduced at this point?
3. Why is the "mother" of Jesus so prominent?
4. What is signified by the two statements made by the Lord to His mother in John 2:4?
5. What is the typical significance of the "six waterpots of stone" (John 2:6)?
6. Of what is "wine" (John 2:10), the emblem?
7. What are the central lessons to be learned from this first miracle of Christ?