50. Promise of Revelation

Short Meditations in John 1:  50. Promise of Revelation

Jn 1:50   Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

If John was a modern thriller-writer he would probably win prizes for this roller-coaster of a chapter that ends with a tantalizing promise. Nathaniel has had this encounter with Jesus, that ends with him proclaiming that, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel,”  so John leaves us at the end of the chapter with Jesus’ response, and what a response it is!

You come to that conclusion simply because I said I saw you under the fig tree? That’s how Jesus starts out. i.e. that word of knowledge impressed you? If you want to be impressed, I tell you, “You shall see greater things than that.” That is the first part of his promise.

 In Jesus’ ministry words of knowledge will be common but they will almost be overshadowed by much greater things happening, people getting healed, and miracles taking place on a daily basis.  Yes, that was what Jesus was like and amazingly it is what he offers to us later in this Gospel: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12)

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there, he adds to the strength of what he has just said: “He then added, “I tell you the truth…..” (v.51) The original here is very strong and might also be rendered, “In all solemnity I tell you….” He is saying, “I am not exaggerating, I really do mean this, this is how it will be.”  It’s his way of saying to Nathaniel, “I really do mean what I am saying to you.”

Then comes the second part of his promise to Nathaniel: “you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Immediately we think, “Did that happen?” Well first realise that this is exactly the picture that Jacob had (Gen 28:12) and it’s meaning was that he was at the place of great accessibility to heaven. Jesus had come to bring heaven to earth and those who traveled with him, may not have had the eyes to see the angelic comings and goings but they would certainly see the ‘Son of Man’ (the prophetic term for the Messiah) bringing the blessings of heaven to the earth. That was the privilege of the disciples of that day.

49. Unrestrained Confession

Short Meditations in John 1:  49. Unrestrained Confession

Jn 1:49    Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Nathaniel and Peter hold the awards for top proclamations in the New Testament, I think. Peter’s, like Nathaniel’s had been directly to Jesus: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16). In the case of Nathaniel it is all the more remarkable because of where he had come from only a few minutes before: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (v.46) Peter’s declaration was all the more remarkable in the light of what followed; “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt 16:23)

So what was it that turned Nathaniel from a sceptic to an outright believer? Well, all we have in the intervening verses were Jesus seeing him, declaring him to be a true Israelite in whom is no guile, and then declaring he saw him under the palm tree. This insight and this knowledge was all it needed to convince Nathaniel. Somehow this interaction between Jesus and Nathaniel, convinced Nathaniel that what Philip has said earlier was true, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote.” (v.45)

Nathaniel starts by calling Jesus, ‘Rabbi’ or teacher for that is how he appears, that is his appearance in the culture of Israel. With the knowledge that he has and the way he imparts it to them, he is clearly a teacher in their society.

But then he declares him “the Son of God”. Now whether he fully understood what he meant by that is unclear but it is a straight forward, simple but powerful declaration of faith and as such is the first one according to John who recognized this so clearly in response to meeting him. John the Baptist may have had similar revelation but it was more instigated through a direct word previously from God. Nathaniel meets Jesus and declares it.

He also declares him “the King of Israel” because that in their understanding was what the Messiah was to be. Psalm 2 has the messiah as both Son (v.7) and King (v.6) one who will rule Israel and then through Israel, the nations, i.e. the whole world. The Wise Men expected him to be a king (Mt 2:2). When Jesus entered Jerusalem, they expected him to be a king (Mt 21:5) for so he was.

48. Rising to the Bait

Short Meditations in John 1:  48. Rising to the Bait

Jn 1:48    How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

In the previous meditation we used the analogy of a fishermen in respect of Jesus when we spoke of him ‘hooking’ people. He says or does things to catch their attention. This is the same principle as the Lord used to catch Moses with the burning bush (Ex 3). It happens with every person when the Lord starts to draw them to himself. He knows the ones who will respond and so he starts what is often such a gentle process we don’t even realise it is happening. We starting having thoughts we hadn’t had before, we find questions arising we hadn’t thought before, we find a growing interest in spiritual things, or perhaps we simply start becoming aware of our spiritual need. One way or another the Lord is drawing us to himself. It may be through a crisis, it may just be through circumstances or it may, like here, be through a relationship.

Nathaniel is hooked: “How do you know me?” The question flows of his lips almost without thought. Jesus has just said something very positive about him. That was enough for him to drop his guard and open up. So often the Lord says something encouraging to an unbeliever but it is just the hook to draw them on.  So without realising it Nathaniel is being drawn into a conversation.

But he doesn’t realise who he is talking to. This man before him is God and he knows everything there is to know about Nathaniel, but he’s not going to throw that knowledge around carelessly, he’s just going to drop one further bit of bait to draw him yet further in. Nathaniel had obviously been in some walled garden out of public view before Philip had called him to come and meet Jesus, and so Jesus simply puts a little piece of knowledge in front of Nathaniel that Nathaniel knows no one else would have known: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

That’s all it needed for this man and we’ll see his response in the next study. But the truth is that God does know us. The psalmist knew this when he wrote, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” (Psa 139:1-3)   I wonder if Nathaniel had been reading or meditating on that Scripture when he was called?

47. Insight that hooks

Short Meditations in John 1:  47. Insight that hooks

Jn 1:47    When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

Over the years, particularly through the prophetic, I have seen Jesus speak specific words to people – and they know the word is for them. He manages to say things that hook them. It may be a word of knowledge about them and they recognise its truth, it may be a word of hope that stirs something within them, it may be a challenge that similarly lifts something within them. In each case he says something that evokes a response within them, a response that acknowledges that they have heard something more than mere pleasantries.

When Jesus ‘sees’ us, he knows us, because he is God and he has that insight, he has that sort of knowledge and so, as Philip brings Nathaniel, Jesus looks at him as he approaches and he does that same thing that I have seen so many times over the years – he hooks him with words. For Nathaniel these are words of affirmation. They say, here is a real member of God’s family, a man of God in whom there is nothing false. The problem that God had had with so many from the nation of Israel was that they had acknowledged God with their lips but their hearts had been far from Him (Isa 29:13). They appeared one thing but were in reality something else. They appeared to be the people of God but their lives were far from that description.  They were, in fact, false and they were not real members of God’s holy family.

That had been the situation with Israel and we’ve commented before that when Jesus came to Israel they were at a low spiritual ebb, but when he comes to Nathaniel, he finds something different, a man whose heart is turned to God and a man who is true and honest in every way.

Nathaniel and Jesus’ words about him thus come as a challenge to us. Are we really Christians or are we simply Christians by self-proclamation? Are we those who put on a show, or a performance, who appear nice and convey all the social niceties required of a church goer, and do we apply the Bible to bits of our lives while retaining sovereign control over the rest of them,  or are we truly a child of God, born of His Spirit, seeking His heart and His will in every aspect of our lives?  Is Jesus truly both our Saviour and our Lord? If not, we are pretending, we are playing at faith and we are in Jesus’ words, ‘false’! That is the challenge of this verse.


46. Question and Answer

Short Meditations in John 1:  46. A Question and an Answer

Jn 1:46    “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

So often I find when talking with people they have questions which appear to hold them back, they have prejudices which are actually unfounded and which would be shown to be so if only they searched a little bit.

Philip has found his friend Nathaniel and told him that they have found the prophet that Moses spoke about and he is Jesus of Nazareth. It is at the mention of Nazareth that Nathaniel balks. Nazareth is up in Galilee and there is no mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament, it is a town with no prophetic heritage, one might say.  Surely if the Messiah is going to come, he’s going to come from Jerusalem?

The wise men seeking Jesus obviously thought this: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Mt 2:1,2) No, the reality was that there was no expectation of the Messiah coming from the north. Indeed when the Pharisees were arguing among themselves and with Nicodemus, they declared, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (Jn 7:52)

The trouble with prejudice is that it comes with a closed mind having set up its own limited beliefs for Isaiah had prophesied, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan– The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” (Isa 9:1,2)  so that had been prophecy about Galilee and the Messiah; it’s just that the teachers hadn’t seen it and taken it in!

When the little family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to the land from Egypt, we find, “he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (Mt 2:23) Now there are not those exact words in the Old Testament but somewhere Matthew found that reference and for him it was quite legitimate for Jesus to come from Nazareth. This conversation would suggest that Nathaniel didn’t in fact come from the north, but that is unclear as we are not told. To his question comes the obvious reply: “Come and see.” Search and you will find!

45. Pass it on

Short Meditations in John 1:  45. Pass it on

Jn 1:45    Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

John shows us again, the tendency there was to pass on the news about Jesus. Andrew had found Simon and told him, We have found the Messiah”. Now Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about.”  On the road to Emmaus Jesus explained to the two disciples his background and we find, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:27)  Jesus said to the unbelieving critics, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (Jn5:46)

Moses had declared, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.” (Deut 18:15) When Peter was preaching to the crowd after the cripple had been healed at the Gate Beautiful, he cited this same scripture: “For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” (Acts 3:22).

But of course it hadn’t only been Moses who had spoken about The Coming One for there were words throughout the prophets of the Old Testament that pointed towards him, and now Philip declares, “This is the one!” Philip’s short encounter with Jesus had somehow convinced him. We aren’t told what it was but obviously something about Jesus and what he said had already convinced Philip and he wants to pass it on to his friend Nathaniel.

What is interesting about these two incidents involving Andrew and now Philip, is that both of them have been convinced intellectually and emotionally in respect of Jesus, simply by being with him and talking and listening. Jesus has performed no miracles and done no signs – yet – and so they have been convinced simply by encounter. Later on the woman at the well in Samaria testified and we find, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:28,29). Now that seems a little bit of exaggeration in the light of what we are told in the account, but did, I wonder, the same sort of thing occur in the conversations that Andrew and Philip have with Jesus? There was something that captured both of these men in such a manner that they felt impelled to pass it on. Is that our faith?

44. Common Background

Short Meditations in John 1:  44. Common Background

Jn 1:44  Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.

It is interesting but we don’t know what Philip did in life. Andrew and Peter, the Synoptic gospels tell us, were fishermen. Bethsaida is thought to have been a fishing village on the west coast of the sea of Galilee. It is probable that most people knew everyone else in such a community and they probably knew of each other even if they might not have been friends. Was it that they all came together from Bethsaida to visit John the Baptist? Did they come down to Jerusalem, at a feast time that was acceptable to the rest of the home community, and then stop off to see John the Baptist?

As so often in Scripture we are only given the bare bones of the story and so there are lots of questions to which we are not given answers, but those don’t detract from the main story. But these men are Galileans and it will be in Galilee that Jesus will start and continue his main ministry, far away from the critical eyes in Jerusalem. And if he is going to work in Galilee and he is going to draw a group around him to help him and be taught by him, and who will continue the work when he is gone, then he had better draw locals to him, locals whose hearts are already inclined to God. Such men Jesus finds here, further south, men who have come seeking John the Baptist, men whose hearts have been prepared to receive him.

Whereas the Synoptic Gospels show us Jesus calling these fishermen from their boats on the Sea of Galilee, John shows us that there is history before those incidents, history that shows their hearts were prepared and ready for Jesus.

What do these things say to our lives today. Well, as a direct follow on, we realise that when we came to Christ, and responded to his calling, the Holy Spirit had already been preparing us. Some suggest that when we responded to a talk or a conversation, there had been anything between six and ten previous ‘contacts’ or links previously, things that gradually prepared us to face the truth about us and our need of him.

But there is also this thing about the lack of knowledge about Philip. This says we don’t have to be well-known stars or celebrities of the Christian world for God to use us. Philip was part of Jesus’ strategy to develop the kingdom – and so are you! It doesn’t have to be a ‘big part’ to be a significant part. Rejoice in your part in his plans.

43. Meeting Philip

Short Meditations in John 1:  43. Meeting Philip

Jn 1:43    The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus’ criteria for who he chooses to follow him is never spelled out in the Bible. I usually assume he calls those who he knows will respond and follow him – and it is this way round. We sometimes hear people say, “I found Jesus” but actually the truth is that he found us and called us by his Spirit and we then, and only then, responded.

As unsure as we are about the location of where John was baptising people and where Jesus had been staying in the nearby vicinity, one thing we are told by inference is that it was NOT Galilee and therefore must have been somewhere in Judea (Mt 3:1) because we read, “Jesus decided to leave for Galilee”.

The other question mark over this verse is the start, “The next day.” This is the third time in a few verses that John uses this phrase. John had been baptising and questioners came. “The next day” (v.29) Jesus came and was baptised. “The next day” (35) Jesus was passing by, and now a third time, “the next day” Jesus decided to leave for Galilee.  We are left with a sense that this all happened fairly quickly and yet all in one day, but spread over several days for Jesus clearly stayed where he was at least for a couple of days.

But now deciding to leave for Galilee, he finds Philip. Philip, we will see shortly, also comes from Galilee and being here in the south we must assume he’s yet another of this group that seems to have come down to see John the Baptist. Philip is named among the twelve (Mt 10:3), is the one challenged by Jesus about food to feed the large crowd (Jn 6:5), and was the one approached by the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (Jn 12:21). He was also the one who asked Jesus to show them the Father (Jn 14:8).

His somewhat negative response about lack of food to feed the crowd (Jn 6:7), the fact that he handed the Greeks on to Andrew (Jn 12:22), and his questioning of Jesus, rather suggests a man who is not strong in his faith and slow to understand, a man not in the inner circle and who needs the encouragement of those closer to Jesus. Now Jesus would have known all this about Philip and so despite all this Jesus calls him to follow and become one of the twelve. Take encouragement in that Jesus doesn’t call perfect people. He knows our shortcomings but those will not put him off blessing and using you.

42. Changed

Short Meditations in John 1:  42. Changed

Jn 1:42    And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

The thing about Jesus is that he knows what we can become. We look into the future and wonder but he looks and he knows our potential. God always knows the future – He knows everything.  It’s the thing I like about prophecy. You look at an ordinary person, even a person in trouble, and then the Lord speaks about them and you hear of a transformed future because the Lord knows what He can do with them.

The lovely example of this is the angel coming to Gideon and says, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Jud 6:12) The humour is beautiful. Here is a man hiding away from the Midianite invaders who thinks he is the least in his family and the Lord calls him a mighty warrior. Why? Because He knows that that is what he is going to become!

So Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus. Again, building on what we said previously, this suggests a man who is open and seeking. He may be a fisherman but he is open to God. And so he comes with Andrew and meets Jesus. Again as we have said before, the thing we do is introduce people to Jesus. Get them talking to Jesus and he’ll do the changing.

Now whether Jesus’ words are prophecy of what will come about or are words of transformation now, is not clear. But they are words of change and it is about name change and names in the Hebrew culture were important. Simon, we are told by scholars means small stone. Peter means a rock.  At the very least Jesus is saying to Peter you may be a small stone at the moment but I am going to make you a rock, one who stands out, one on whom others depend.

Who could ever have thought that this fisherman with a big mouth, as the Synoptic Gospels show him, always leaping in and often saying the wrong thing, who could have imagined that this man would eventually become the first bishop of Rome? What a transformation!

But this is what the gospel is all about – Jesus coming and transforming our lives. We don’t know what the end product of our lives will yet be, but in Jesus’ hands we will be very different from when we first met him.


41. The Simplest of Messages

Short Meditations in John 1:  41. The simplest of messages

Jn 1:41    The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ)

It’s a funny thing about fishermen, I never thought of them as being spiritual, and yet John challenges that idea. Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, the Gospels clearly tell us, are fishermen from the north in Galilee, but we find them further south somewhere on the Jordon where John the Baptist is drawing the crowds with no greater message than ‘repent and be baptised’. Even more than that one of these two brothers has been hanging around with John and is labelled one of his disciples. But it gets worse: Andrew encounters Jesus, spends the day with him and then tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”

Now for that to be a meaningful communication it means that both Andrew and Peter understand and know who or what they mean by the term ‘The Messiah’. We know today that the Messiah was the expected one, the anointed one of God who was spoken about in the Old Testament scriptures. This suggests that these fishermen, as rough as they might have been (or so I have always thought), were nevertheless good Jewish boys who have had some measure of teaching. Either that, or with the coming of John there has been talk around ‘the dining room table’ about who he is or who people say he is and speculation has included talk about the anointed one. The fact is that these two fishermen are better prepared that we might have previously thought; they know who they are talking about.

Having established that, we now find that Andrew, having met Jesus, has drawn the conclusion (already!) that Jesus is the Messiah. Now he may not have had a great deal of idea of what that meant, because even the religious teachers couldn’t agree over scriptures and the sort of person the Messiah was going to be. Nevertheless, meeting him for one day has left Andrew with this conclusion: this is the one!

Now having drawn that conclusion we find that the next thing in Andrew’s mind is, “I must find Peter and tell him.”  Now that must strengthen our conclusion above: Andrew believes Peter would be interested in this knowledge. What the writer John is telling us is that these were prepared men, men whose hearts were inclined towards God, men who had come looking when John turned up, men who went looking when Jesus turned up. When, later, Jesus went to Galilee and called them to leave their fishing, these were men he had already encountered and whose hearts were prepared. Wow!