Monday, February 2, 2009

Jesus' First Disciples in John (John 1:19-51)

In John 1:19-51, John the Baptist (JTB) and the first five disciples all testify about the identity of Jesus. This passage is primarily about the identity of Jesus as anointed ruler, teacher, and sacrifice. The quality of the first followers’ discipleship is revealed by its basis in faith (even with no "signs" yet) and its expression in open testimony to others.

Random observations on John 1:19-51:

John the Baptist denies being the Christ, the Prophet, or Elijah. The reason for the first denial is obvious. He denies the second title because it is a reference to the “Prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15-18; cp. John 7:40-41). He denies the third title, perhaps because in John, Jesus fills many of the Elijah roles (more on this below, and in John 2, 4, and 6).

Titles/Roles for Jesus: The Lord; Lamb of God (2x); The one who takes away the sins of the world; The one who comes after John / came before John (2x); The one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit; The Son of God (2x);Rabbi / Teacher (2x); Messiah / Christ; The one whom Moses and the Prophets wrote about; Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth; King of Israel. This might count as seven titles for Jesus, plus four descriptive phrases; but in John, we have to watch the tendency to spot 7s whenever we wish, conveniently stopping our count at seven.

Seeing: John sees Jesus; “Look! The Lamb of God”; “I have seen the Spirit descending”; “I have seen and testified”; and seeing Jesus, he said; “Look! The Lamb of God”; turning and seeing them, he said…; “Come, and you will see”; Then they came and saw; When Jesus saw [Simon Peter]; Philip said, “come and see” ; Jesus said about Nathanael, “Look , an Israelite indeed” ; “I saw you under the fig tree”; “You will see greater things”; “you will see the heavens opened.” Greek note: John uses four essentially synonymous words for seeing in this chapter: blepo, emblepo, horao, theaomai.

Seeking/finding (zeteo / heurisko): Jesus says to them “What do you seek?” ; Andrew first finds his own brother Peter; “We have found the Messiah” ; Jesus finds Phillip; Phillip finds Nathanael; “We have found the one that Moses wrote about.”

Following (akoloutheo): The two disciples heard John and followed Jesus; Jesus saw them following; Andrew was one of the two who followed Jesus; Jesus said to Phillip, “Follow me.” Note pattern: JTB speaks, Andrew (and John?) follow; Andrew speaks, Peter follows; Jesus speaks, Phillip follows; Phillip speaks, Nathanael follows.

Misunderstanding: Phillip and Nathanael think that Jesus is from Nazareth, but Jesus is from Bethlehem (a private joke between John and his readers, see also Jn 7:41-42, 52). More importantly in John, Jesus is from God more than he is from any town. The disciples incompletely (but not incorrectly) understand Jesus – all their titles for Jesus refer to his kingly and teaching roles. Only JTB knows that Jesus will die for sins.

Jesus reveals God: “ You will see the heavens opened” recalls the vision of God in Ezek 1, and “angels ascending and descending” recalls the vision of God in Gen 28. The disciples will experience God through Jesus. Some irony here, since Jn 1:18 claims that no one has ever seen God, and Jn 1:51-52 alludes to two OT visions of God.

Other OT allusions:
  • “Spirit remaining on him” in Jn 1:32 alludes to Isa 11:2, “The Spirit of God will rest upon him,” referring to the Spirit’s empowerment of the messianic Branch (Isa 11:1-2). Perhaps it also reminds us of David, on whom the Spirit remained, unlike Saul.
  • The disciples ask where Jesus is staying; Jesus says “come and see” (Jn 1:39, 46). The king of Aram tells his servants to “come and see” where Elisha is staying (2 Ki 6:13 LXX).
  • Jesus finds Phillip and says “follow me” (Jn 1:43). Elijah finds Elisha and Elisha says “I will follow you” (1 Ki 19:19-20).

These last two are very subtle allusions, and are open to challenge. But since John often compares Jesus to Elijah / Elisha, it is possible that John intended his readers to see these allusions.

The picture: Philip brings Nathanael, painted by one of the Mafa tribe of North Africa.

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