John 1:40-50

Simon – Cephas 

40 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John’s remark and followed Jesus. 

The Gospel did not identify the companion of Andrew. (Some commentators have supposed that it was the apostle John; others the Beloved Disciple. Many commentators, indeed, believe that John the apostle and the Beloved Disciple are the same individual. The uncertainty remains.)

41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him,  
“We have found the Messiah” – which translated means Christ.

The identity of Jesus was fleshed out further. Andrew drew from his familiarity with the Hebrew 
Scriptures and applied to Jesus the title Messiah, the Christ (or the Anointed One: the three words mean the same thing). He was yet to learn that the popular sense of Messiah was too constricting to sum up the essence of Jesus.

42 He brought him to Jesus.  
Looking closely at him,
Jesus said, “You are Simon son of John.  
You will be called Cephas” – which translated means Peter.

Andrew’s short experience of Jesus was such that he wished to share his enthusiasm with his brother. Similar encounters with Jesus would have a similar effect on other disciples.

Jesus not only looked at Simon – he looked closely at him. He saw his inner potential, his destiny, and named it. The Aramaic name Cephas, translated as Peter, means “Rock” (though the Gospel narrative would, in fact, say nothing explicitly about the reason for the change of name).

Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day he wanted to go into Galilee.

According to the narrative’s counting, this was the fourth day. Galilee lay to the north of Judea, requiring a walk of about four or five days to get there.

… He found Philip.  
Jesus said to him “Follow me!”  
44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.

Bethsaida was a major town on the northern banks of the Sea of Tiberias (the Lake of Galilee), separated from Galilee to its East by the River Jordan that entered the Sea from the North. It was located in the territory of Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great and brother of Herod Antipas of Galilee. It had a large Greek-speaking population, as well as Jews [The name Philip is of Greek origin]. (The synoptic Gospels had Peter and Andrew living and working in Capernaum, a lakeside city in Galilee, to the East of Bethsaida, about a forty-minute walk distant.)

45 Philip found Nathanael, and said to him,
“We have found the one
whom Moses wrote about in the Law,
and the prophets, too.
He is Jesus, the son of Joseph, the one from Nazareth.” 

As had happened with Andrew and Simon, Philip wished to share his enthusiasm for Jesus with his friend Nathanael. Again like Andrew, Philip drew from his acquaintance with the Hebrew Scriptures to express his sense of the specialness of Jesus. His journey of faith had still a long way to go – but it had started. Jesus was the one whom Moses wrote about in the law, as had the prophets.

Though Philip was yet to learn otherwise, at this stage he knew nothing of Jesus’ mysterious origin and was content to name him simply as son of Joseph.

46 Nathanael said, “Can there be anything good from Nazareth?”

Later in the narrative, the point would be made that Nathanael came from Cana in Galilee [21.2]. His disparaging remark about Nazareth may have had no basis beyond small-town rivalry. At best, Nazareth would have been a little known town or village in rural Galilee, quite close to a major administrative city, Sepphoris (whose existence was never alluded to in any of the Gospels).

The comment was included for the sake of irony. In time Nathanael would come to know better!

… Philip said, “Come and see!”

Philip’s invitation echoed that made by Jesus to Andrew and his companion.  At another level, the Gospel was making the same invitation to its readers. The “seeing” required would be that of the inner eye, rather than of the physical.

The Value of Witness

Andrew and his companion responded to Jesus on the basis of the witness given by John. Similarly, Simon Peter responded because of the testimony of Andrew, and Nathanael of Philip. They responded because the opportunity resonated with desires already present in their own hearts.

People learn to desire from the desires, articulated or otherwise, of others, or even of the culture in which they are immersed. Andrew, Simon and Nathanael caught the enthusiasm evident in the witness of John, Andrew and Philip, and became alert to the same desires stirring in their hearts.

They were open to the witness presented to them because of the respect, trust or friendship that they had already for the witnesses. People relate more spontaneously, perhaps, to the desires of others who respect or love them.

If Christians are to engage the desires of others and lead them to Christ, it helps if those others can see, and be attracted by, their enthusiasm, and recognise that they are respected and loved.

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, and said of him,
“Here is an authentic Israelite.  There is no guile in him.”
48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know about me?”  
Jesus said to him in reply, “Before Philip called you,
I saw you under the fig tree.”

Calling Nathanael an authentic Israelite, the Gospel was referring not to Nathanael’s ethnicity, but to his religious faithfulness. Generally, it would reserve the word “Jews” for those who opposed the work of Jesus. The further comment echoed the words of one of the Psalms:

Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit [Psalm 32.2]

Since Nathanael seemed to have belonged to the company of disciples of John, he may have been pondering the role of John and the fact of the unexpected arrival of Jesus from Galilee – though the narrative gave no obvious hint.

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the son of God;
you are the king of Israel.”

The Gospel gave two more titles for Jesus: Son of God and King of Israel. Nathanael was yet to discover the true meaning of Jesus as Son of God. His final title was equivalent to Andrew’s earlier identification of Jesus as Messiah.

50 Jesus answered,
“You believe because I said of you that I saw you under the fig tree.  
You will see greater things than these”.

Commentators can find no satisfactory explanation for the reference to the fig tree, beyond its association with an experience of salvation:

I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. 
On that day, says the LORD of hosts, 
you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree”
[Zechariah 3.9-10].

The unfolding narrative would detail the greater things than these, and would serve to lead the readers of the Gospel into deeper reflection on their own experience of Jesus.

Next >> John 1:50-51