John 1:19-51 | Behold
by Lindsay Kennedy
John chapter 1 leads us into the story. Remembering that the purpose of John’s Gospel is that we believe Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30–31), it is unsurprising that after the prologue, we have two stories about faith in Jesus.
John the Witness (1:19–34)
Jesus’ cousin John is commonly called the “John the Baptist,” though in this Gospel, his primary role is that of Witness.
Some representative religious leaders came to interrogate John. They heard that he was gathering crowds to himself and baptizing them. He was surely someone important—but who exactly?
Their first guess is “the Christ.” This is the Greek word for Messiah (which English derives from Hebrew). The Old Testament predicted a coming deliverer, although this idea had also developed in various forms. Some expected a military warrior who would kill the Roman oppressors. Others expected a priest Messiah, who would lead Israel in religious reform. Others expected two Messiahs, one the “son of Joseph” and the other the “son of David.” The book of Malachi predicted that Elijah would come to purify Israel before the Messiah’s arrival. John denied all these identities (although Jesus identifies him with Elijah in Matt 11:14). Rather, he said that he was merely “a voice” (John 1:23). John quotes from Isaiah 40:3; a passage that declares the coming arrival of Israel’s God, and calls its hearers to prepare the way for him. Since Jesus followed John, this means that the coming of Jesus on the scene is the arrival of God himself.
When John sees Christ, he resumes his witness. He states that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, the one who would baptize in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33), and the Son of God (John 1:34). The lamb recalls the Passover lamb that preserved Israel when God delivered them and judged Egypt. Similarly, Jesus brings forgiveness and rescue. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is another Old Testament theme. God’s Spirit empowers people to serve and obey him. Lastly, Jesus is the Son of God. While Christians today often assume that Son of God always refers to Jesus’ deity as Second Person of the Trinity (which is true!), the title is used of several characters in the Bible like angels, Adam, the nation Israel, David, and the Messiah. However, later in John’s Gospel we will see that Jesus fills this title with greater meaning.
The First Disciples (1:35–51)
Following John’s witness, two of his disciples follow Jesus. One of John’s disciples, Andrew, introduces his brother Peter to Jesus saying that he is the Messiah (John 1:41). Jesus declares that Peter will be called Cephas (“rock”). Peter is now a witness to Jesus and will be a leader of Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus travels to Galilee and invites Philip to follow him, who found Nathaniel and told him that this is the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote (John 1:45). Note that John, Andrew, and now Philip, all tell others about Christ and specifically that he is the promised Messiah. In John’s Gospel they are exemplary disciples, not only real disciples of Jesus in history but also evangelists to the reader, encouraging him or her to imitate them in following Jesus.
Jesus has a strange interaction with Nathaniel that wraps up chapter 1. Jesus perceives that Nathaniel is an Israelite with no deceit (John 1:47). This is an allusion to Jacob, renamed Israel, the founder of the nation (Gen 27:35). Unlike Jacob, who deceived Esau, Nathaniel has no deceit. Jesus declares that Nathaniel is like Israel—the man and the nation—except faithful not deceitful. Moreover, when he declares that Nathaniel was under the fig tree, he alludes to Zechariah 3:8-10. This passage states that when the Messiah comes, each one will invite their neighbor “under his vine and under his fig tree.” Nathaniel, by following Jesus, is experiencing a foretaste of these prophetic hopes that are fulfilled in the Messiah.
Finally, Jesus predicts that Nathaniel will see the heavens opened, and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (John 1:51). This also references back to Jacob, who had a dream where he saw angels ascending and descending upon a stairway to heaven. When he awoke, he concluded that he was sleeping in the very house of God (i.e. a temple). By picking up this story, Jesus is saying that he is the temple of God’s presence!
So in John 1, we find several witnesses to Jesus. Each one brings others to him and he far exceeds their hopes and expectations. We, like Jesus’ disciples, are invited to follow him and see a glimpse of his greatness.
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