Jesus says come and see
- Main Text: John 1:35-51
- Accompanying text: Psalm 66:1-5
Some scholars see Jesus’ invitation to “Come and you will see” (John 1:39 ESV) as the beginning of stages in discipleship. For, example, Bill Hull notes: “Jesus teaches that His relationship to the disciples is like that of a vine to the branches. The emphasis of this upper room teaching is a fourth stage of their relationship. The ‘come and see’ stage was introductory and was four months in length. The ‘come and follow Me’ phase established the twelve in the basics and lasted ten months. The ‘come and be with Me’ stage was twenty months long and was the twelve’s specialized training in preparation for taking over ministry responsibility. The fourth phase, called ‘remain in Me’, Jesus explained within the analogy of the vine and branches” (1).
Peculiar to John’s Gospel is the initial call of Andrew, Simon Peter, John (most commentators agree that the unnamed disciple in the passage is John), Philip and Nathaniel (assumed to be identified with the Bartholomew of Matthew 10:2 where Bartholomew is listed with Philip). There is no reference to it in Matthew, Mark or Luke. This preliminary association with Jesus might provide a context that explains why, in the later call of Luke 5:11, these disciples “left everything and followed him” (ESV) so readily. Mark 1:18 and Matthew 4:22 also refer to this second event.
Thoughts re application today
In his book about John’s Gospel Ian Galloway writes: “Jesus loves people. He is irrepressible. You can’t turn a page in the Gospel without meeting someone experiencing a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Scholars have shown that one of John’s principles in selecting his material was to tell the story of representative people — people like you and me.
Maybe you are like Nathaniel. Nathaniel is a faithful man. He is longing for people to live God’s way. He sees all the corruption and deception in the world around him and he wants nothing to do with it. But he feels overlooked. Jesus comes into Nathaniel’s life with huge affirmation. Jesus sees the good in Nathaniel and speaks it out loud. The effect on Nathaniel is galvanising (1:45-51)” (2a).
Jesus sees the inner potential of his followers and understands what they can become with the help of his Spirit. His encounter with Simon and Nathaniel shows this. The Israelites had a reputation for being deceitful based on the story of how Jacob deceived his father, Isaac. Christ affirms Nathaniel’s potential when he notes of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (1:47). At first Nathaniel is suspicious of Jesus because Jesus lived in Nazareth, reputedly a bad place to come from, but Nathaniel goes on to declare to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49). Christ then encourages Nathaniel by explaining to him, in what is a reference to Jacob’s famous dream about the ladder or stairway to heaven, how Nathaniel will bear witness to the fact that Jesus, the Son of Man, is the only pathway to God. “Nathaniel is going to see heaven open over Jesus. Nathaniel is going to see the power and the presence of God coming down where Jesus is, down being the traditional direction of travel from heavenly reality to earthly reality. And Nathaniel is going to see all the sins, failings, pressures, pains and prayers of the earth being carried up to heaven in and through the person of Jesus, up being the traditional direction of travel from earth to heaven. This is such an open hearted, extravagant and direct thing to say to someone you have only recently got to know” (2b).
The Old Testament’s history of Israel also provides a helpful background for the discussion Christ had with Simon Peter, who is also called Simeon (see Acts 15:14). Is there a connection here to Simeon, who was Jacob’s second oldest son and who joined with his brother Levi in ruthlessly and mercilessly avenging the defiling of their sister, Dinah? Did Jesus, who knows our thoughts and how we might think evil in our hearts (Matthew 9:4), see in Peter the same propensity to reckless behaviour and to violence that Simeon demonstrated in Genesis 34:25-31? Later “Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear” (John 18:10), and he would go on to deny Jesus in a terse and impulsive manner. Jesus, however, sees what we can become, when he announces to Simon, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter)” (1:42). Cephas means “rock”. Simon Peter will become a strong and stable pillar of the church! This encourages all of us…God looks beyond our weaknesses and thinks positively of who we are and who we can become in Christ Jesus.
The story of what happened with the call of these first disciples is a lesson for us in personal and relational evangelism. It’s interesting that in the passage it is only Philip whom Jesus finds and invites personally to follow him. Prior to that John the Baptist tells his own followers, Andrew and John, to begin to follow Jesus. They “followed Jesus” (1:37). Then Andrew found Simon Peter, his brother, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (1:41-42). After Jesus found Philip, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’” (1:45).
- Matthew 4:18-22
- Mark 1:16-20
- Luke 5:1-11
- Matthew 16:24-25
Footnotes and references
- Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor, published by Fleming H. Revell, USA, 1988:60.
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:3 (a) & 67(b).