One of the themes of John 1:1-34 was the concept of "witness." In either noun or verb form the word appeared seven times in the opening 34 verses. The witnessing of John the Baptist is described in John 1:19-34. The concept of witness does not disappear from John's (the gospel writer's) mind in the following verses but the method of dealing with it changes. The witness shifts from John the Baptist providing the testimony to the evidence of Jesus himself.
John 1:35-51 - The First Disciples
These verses are divided into two sections by the phrase, "the next day." The phrase first appeared in verse 29. Thus verses 35-42 describe the third day in the time sequence John is relating. Verses 43-51 are placed on the fourth day.
John 1:35-42 - Jesus Discipling
Verses 35-36 make the transition from John the Baptist's witness to the ministry of Jesus. John stands with two of his disciples. The section is in the form of historical narrative. However, John has described the events in a way that focuses our attention on important theological issues.
First, the two would-be disciples begin to follow Jesus according to verse 37. The word "follow" in the New Testament and especially in the gospels speaks of discipleship. The reader would immediately think of them as disciples. However, Jesus speaks the first word, "what are you seeking?" in verse 38. It is important for John (and for us) that Jesus takes the initiative. No matter how much we may want to be religious, no matter how hard we may try to follow Jesus, nothing seems to click until Jesus speaks a word. The theological term for this is grace. Our relationship with God always begins with His invitation to us.
The question that Jesus asked the disciples is also important. "What are you seeking?" has meaning on at least two different levels. In the narrative it simply begins the dialogue between Jesus and the two disciples. But at a deeper level the question, "what are you seeking?" is the most basic question of life. What is most important to you? Where are you looking for satisfaction and meaning?
The reply of the two men is also important. They called Jesus, "Rabbi." John provides the translation, "teacher." But even the word "teacher" does not communicate the depth of respect in the Hebrew word Rabbi. Rabbi literally means, "My great one," in Hebrew. The Jews' respect for knowledge was so great that the teachers were the great people of their culture. There is really no higher compliment the two would-be disciples could have paid another human being than to call him, Rabbi.
The two would-be disciples ask Jesus, "Where are you staying?" This question also operates on two levels of meaning. Superficially, it is simply part of the dialogue - a curious, perhaps polite, inquiry into Jesus' lodging arrangements. But the Greek word translated "staying" is quite important in John's gospel. It is the same word that was already used of the Holy Spirit staying, remaining, or abiding on Jesus in John 1:32 and 33. It is the same word that is used in John 15 several times and usually translated "abide." 15:4 - "Abide in me and I in you." 15:7 - "If you abide in me and my words abide in you." 15:9 - "abide in my love." Thus the question, "Where are you staying?" is much more than asking about Jesus' room at the inn. It was a way of asking, "What is the center and meaning of life for you?" "What relationship do you have that is lasting and secure?" "Where is your safe place in the storms of life?"
Jesus' reply also works at both levels of meaning. "Come and you will see," answers the superficial question. At the deeper level it offers an invitation to examine the life of Jesus to find meaning and purpose. It is Jesus' way of acknowledging the truth of John 1:14. The Word has become flesh and he invites us to examine his tent and to see the glory of God. At a much deeper level than most of us achieve Jesus was saying that his life would be a witness. Verse 39 goes on to say that they went and saw. They examined Jesus and the life that he lived. They observed the center and meaning of his life. That examination became the basis for their conversion. They stayed with him. They chose to make Jesus their abiding place, the center and meaning of their lives.
Out of that experience with Jesus, Andrew found his brother Peter and witnessed to him. Verses 40-42 provide an interesting and significant sequence. Andrew first speaks to Peter declaring that Jesus is the Messiah. Secondly, Andrew brought Peter to Jesus. Finally, Jesus spoke a life-changing word to Peter. It is a fact that most people who make a decision for Christ do so because of someone they know and respect. Mass evangelism, cold-turkey calling, and witnessing to strangers on airplanes all produce converts. However, the most productive form of evangelism occurs when a significant person models Christianity and then invites their friend or relative to Christ.
The story of Jesus' encounter with Peter is very abbreviated. Perhaps John felt the readers of his gospel already knew enough about Peter. What is significant is the change of name that happened to Peter. In the Old Testament one's name revealed one's character or nature. A change of name thus indicated a change of nature. The Old Testament stories of changed names also involved a changed relationship with God.
Cephas is Aramaic and Peter is Greek for "rock." As William Barclay notes, "Jesus does not only see what a man is; He also sees what a man can become. He sees not only the actualities in a man; he also sees the possibilities." Jesus saw Peter's potential as the rock upon which the early church would be built. The change of name was the first step in the process that brought Peter to the role of leader in the early church.
John 1:43-51 - Phillip and Nathanael
The process of making disciples continues in verses 43-51. There is no subject expressed in the Greek text of the first sentence in verse 43. "On the next day he wanted to depart to Galilee and he found Philip." Most versions assume that Jesus is the subject. (The NASB correctly translates, "He," but capitalizes it to show their opinion that it was Jesus.) The natural grammatical flow would make Peter the subject. If that is the case then Andrew brings Peter to Jesus; Peter brings Philip; and Philip brings Nathanael. However, Jesus is clearly the subject of the second sentence in verse 43, "And Jesus said to him, "Follow me."
Regardless of the subject in verse 43, the role of Philip is to bring Nathanael into the story. Philip's witness to Nathanael represents another stage in our increasing awareness of Jesus. Verse 45 describes Jesus as the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament. The phrase, "the Law and the Prophets," was a common expression in New Testament times for the Old Testament. There are no hints as to which Scriptures Philip believed to have been fulfilled in Jesus. The New Testament itself gives considerable evidence of specific Old Testament texts that the early church believed were fulfilled in Jesus. However, the fulfillment theme mentioned by Philip is not a matter of proof-texts. Rather it shows that Jesus was part of the plan of God all along. Jesus was the goal God had in mind throughout history.
Nathanael's reply in verse 46 reflects awareness of Scripture also. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" It is possible that town rivalry existed between Nazareth and Bethsaida, Nathanael's hometown. His prejudices against Nazareth were backed up, in his mind, by the lack of mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament, the Talmud, or the Midrash. Philip's response is the best response that can be given to the skeptic, "Come and see." In verse 39 Jesus had issued such an invitation. Philip echoes the invitation here because he is sure that Jesus will come through the examination with flying colors. The Word may be flesh, but we still can see the glory of God in him.
The dialogue shifts in verse 47 to an interchange between Jesus and Nathanael. Jesus greeted Nathanael with the words, "Behold, an authentic Israelite in whom there is no deceit." There is a pun involved in the use of the word "Israelite." Israel was the new name given Jacob after his Peniel experience with God (Gen. 32:22-32). The name Jacob meant deceitful or conniving. Thus Nathanael is genuinely a descendent of Israel - not of Jacob the deceiver.
Most of us would have been flattered by such a compliment. If Nathanael knew Psalm 32:2, "How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit," (NASB) he would have felt very good. He does not dispute the compliment, but asks how Jesus knows him. Jesus' reply does not answer the question, but it implies that Jesus is divinely insightful. Nathanael's response in verse 49 is a shocking reversal of the skepticism he demonstrated in verse 46. Nathanael affirms Jesus to be the Son of God and the king of Israel. The reference to the king of Israel is probably another way of confessing Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ). Thus Nathanael becomes a spokesman for all who believe. John's purpose (John 20:30-31) was that readers believe that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God.
John's account of Nathanael is very compressed but it describes the movement of a person from skepticism to full Christian faith. Lindars perceptively notes that Nathanael represents, "the devout Jew whom the Christian may hope to convert by a reasonable exposition of the messianic claims of Jesus." The witness of Philip (verse 45), the testimony of Scripture (verse 45), Philip's ability to turn attention to Jesus (verse 46), and Jesus' encouraging affirmation of Nathanael (verse 47) are all useful in opening Nathanael to faith in Christ. Perhaps we could learn from the way Nathanael was brought to faith.
This section closes with Jesus giving a final statement about his identity. "You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." Though the exegetical details are complex the general picture is clear. Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man. He alludes to the story of Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28:12. Jesus as the Son of Man is the ladder that connects heaven and earth. Thus Jesus provides access to God. Later on John will make it clear that Jesus is the only access to God.
John 2:1-12 - The Wedding at Cana
The shift from the ladder connecting man and God to the wedding at Cana of Galilee seems very abrupt to many. Perhaps it illustrates for John the reality that the Word became flesh. We have a hard time making the transition from the sublime, profound theology of who Jesus is to the nitty-gritty of life. Jesus (and John) seemed to have less difficulty. If the Word has really pitched his tent among us, if Jesus is really the ladder connecting God and man, then it is not too surprising to find him in a tiny town at a wedding.
The fact that Jesus would begin his public ministry at a wedding in a small village has struck many as unusual. The comment is often made, "If I were Jesus, I wouldn't have started my ministry that way!" Fortunately, the better we can understand this text the more likely we are to appreciate Jesus' wisdom in beginning a new thing a Cana. His participation at the wedding tells us something of God's understanding of human life. His providing the wine tells us of God's care for aspects of life we often disregard. John's final comment points us toward a theological understanding of the miracle.
The text gives a certain prominence to Mary, which suggests that she was present at the wedding in a position of responsibility. She was more than a guest. The most logical explanation is that she was related to one of the families in some way. Though no provable evidence supports it, later tradition suggested that Mary was an aunt of the bridegroom. Some tradition even identified John the apostle as that bridegroom. If Mary were related to the family, Jesus would have also been related. We find him here attending a relative's wedding (an experience most of us have enjoyed and/or endured).
Weddings in humble villages in Palestine were major social events. Most people in the little villages like Cana lived in considerable poverty and survived without extravagance or frills. However, the wedding was the one time that the limitations of economy were ignored as much as possible. The stops were pulled out and a great celebration took place. The festivities usually lasted for an entire week with the host family providing food and drink for the guests. Instead of small portions twice a day (the norm in Palestine) the meals were lavish. The guests expected to eat well and to enjoy a brief reprieve from the harshness of life. In addition to the eating the wedding was a time of celebration and rejoicing through a variety of social activities.
Part of the reason that weddings were the single time of breaking through the restraints of poverty is that Jews believed that weddings were very much an expression of the will of God. After all, God had started things off for the human race with a wedding. His first commandment was to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). A wedding was the beginning of a new family that would obey that commandment and produce love, happiness, and children to train up in the faith. The wedding gave social sanction to a couple to begin the life of obedience to God's design for human beings.
That Jesus would begin his ministry at a wedding and that John would place it here near the beginning of his gospel tells us that Jesus affirmed the values of home, family, and marriage. It tells us that he was prepared to celebrate those important aspects of life when he could have been preaching or praying. It tells us in story form what John 1:14 has already stated. The Word entered our human situation and made himself at home in the most basic parts of our home life.
Jesus was at home with joy at home. Too often we declare that joy is one of the products of a relationship with Christ, but we narrowly define it as "religious" joy. For Jesus joy included the love of spouses, the happy chatter of children, and the hustle and bustle of many relatives gathered to simply be family together. It is true that spouses are sometimes uptight with each other. Children whine as well as happily playing together. Relatives can sometimes be a nuisance. But that does not need to cancel the sense of joy at home. It is because joy is our expectation that tension bothers us. If we deny Jesus a place in the everyday joys and tensions of marriage, children, and family, we become docetic like the early heretics and deny that the Word really became flesh.
Within the Palestinian wedding wine was a very essential part of the celebration. The Jewish rabbis claimed, "Without wine there is no joy." This does not mean that they were alcoholics. The wine was diluted with a considerable amount of water so that there was no drunkenness unless a person was totally immoderate in their drinking. The place of wine was so significant that failure to provide enough would have created a serious breach of hospitality. Mary's report to Jesus that the wine had run out was not just a comment about the level of the larder. Jesus would have immediately recognized that a young couple and their families would live in embarrassment for the rest of their lives for failing to provide adequately for the wedding celebration. Social failure is not easily lived down in a small town.
Jesus' initial response in verse 4 was that it was not yet time to reveal who he really was and why he was among them. The word "hour" is used elsewhere in John to refer to the crucifixion (John 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; and 17:1). We cannot know why Jesus then decided that it would be right to perform the miracle. Perhaps it was his concern that the couple's marriage not be embarrassed by this social failure at its beginning. Perhaps he decided that this miracle at this time would affirm the importance of marriage and family. We cannot know why. We do know that he did intervene to solve the problem and to provide the needed wine. The method was unobtrusive. The results were overwhelming.
The water jars would have held between 18 and 24 gallons. Six of them full would have provided between 120 and 140 gallons of wine. Some scholars believe that the number six has symbolic significance. As one less than seven, the number for completeness or fullness, the water jars represent the incompleteness of Judaism. Whether that is an intended message of the story or not it is clear that we see the adequacy of Jesus. One hundred twenty gallons of wine would have been far more than would have been necessary to finish serving the guests. We see extravagance in both the quantity and the quality of the wine. It is the truth in story form that we sing in the words, "His grace is sufficient for me. His love is abundant and free."
It is interesting that though the results were so amazing little attention was paid to Jesus. The headwaiter and the bridegroom apparently didn't know what had happened. Only the servants are said to know the real story. But as a result the disciples believe in Jesus.
John describes this in verse 11 as a "sign." He never uses the regular Greek words for miracle and he calls all the miracles of Jesus signs. The significance of this for John is not that Jesus performed a miracle, but what it means for us in our understanding of Jesus. The miracles are important only because they are signs - pointers, directions - that enable us to find the meaning of Christ for our lives. Verse 11 also mentions that Jesus, "revealed his glory," by means of the water made into wine. This is the first mention of the word glory since John 1:14. Obviously John understands the miracle at Cana to reveal the glory of God. 1:14 had said that we saw that glory in the Word made flesh. At Cana a small portion of the world understood that God was present. In a humble village wedding, with rough stone water jars, unobtrusively, God was there. Shortly after the first wedding mentioned in Genesis 2 the glory of God was lost. At Cana, the glory of God was back at a wedding again, a sign of a new beginning.
John 2:13-22 - Cleansing the Temple
The theme of beginning new is continued in the story of the cleansing of the temple. The actual event of the cleansing poses a historical difficulty. However, the Scripture quotation in verse 17 and the response of Jesus in verse 19 point to the deeper meaning that John saw in the event.
The cleansing of the temple creates a problem for those who approach Scripture simply in search of history. John presents the cleansing as taking place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The Synoptics present it as occurring during Passion Week at the end of Jesus' ministry. Some argue that Jesus cleansed the temple twice - at both the beginning and the end of his ministry. The difficulty with this view is that both John and the Synoptics connect the cleansing with Jesus' death. It is hard to imagine how the Jews would have allowed Jesus to cleanse the temple a second time. It is hard enough to understand how Jesus "got away with it" once regardless of when it happened. We will not be able to solve the historical problem with great confidence. However, John's purpose is to point us toward the meaning of the event. Jesus' words and Scripture are the keys to that meaning.
Jesus' first comment is recorded in verse 16. "Take these things away from here. Stop making my Father's house a house of business." The command to stop conducting business in the house of God appears to reflect a promise of Zechariah 14:21. There it states that when the Messiah has come and the present evil age has ended there will no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord. Thus by cleansing the temple (throwing out the traders) Jesus was showing that the age of the Messiah had come. Life (and worship) would become new because Messiah had come.
Verse 17 contains a quotation from Psalm 69:9, "The zeal of your house has consumed me." Several verses in Psalm 69 seem to point to the death of the Messiah. The early church saw Psalm 69 as a Messianic psalm prophesying the death of Jesus. By verse 17 John draws our attention to the point that the cleansing of the temple will lead to Jesus' death.
When the Jews asked about a "sign" in verse 18, Jesus responded with a prophecy about his own coming death and resurrection. The key to understanding this passage comes in verse 21. John comments that the Jews did not understand that Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. It is only after the resurrection that the disciples remembered this and believed. The reference to the post-resurrection disciples in verse 22 suggests to some that John is again working with two levels of meaning. The "temple of his body" in verse 21 seems to be a direct reference to Christ's physical body. It is also possible that John knows some readers will think of the church - the body of Christ. The church is called a temple in 1 Corinthians 3:16.
As John presents the cleansing of the temple several elements of newness appear. New worship is presented. The old temple and worship of Judaism is purged. True worship in the body of Christ, the church, was being instituted. Lambs, bulls, and doves would not be needed. Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus would be.
John 2:23-25 - John's Summary
Both the sign of the water turned to wine and the cleansing of the temple end on the note of faith (see v. 11 and v. 22). The goal of John (20:30-31) was being achieved in people's lives. Verses 23-25 form a little summary statement. They do not describe any specific event that Jesus did. Rather they provide a generalizing comment on the effect of Jesus' ministry during the Passover.
John comments that many believed when they saw the signs Jesus was performing. The signs are not described, but the Greek grammar indicates that Jesus was performing them on a regular or repeated basis. The result was that many believed. In contrast Jesus was not "entrusting himself" to them (the believers or the Jerusalemites?). The Greek word for "believed" and "entrusting" is the same. Perhaps John was setting up this contrast. If many believed that Jesus was Messiah, why did Jesus not follow their "faith" in what Messiah should do?
The answer is that Jesus understood human nature. In fact, Jesus shared the characteristic of God who is described by Psalm 94:11 as knowing the thoughts of man - that they are vain. Human nature is fickle; cheering support can easily be turned to jeering rejection. Jesus would not cash in on his early success to set up a Messianic kingdom. The meaning of his messiahship was still to be taught.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you begin each day pray for the Lord to speak to you through the Holy Spirit as you open yourself to His Word.
First Day: Read the notes on John 1:35-2:25. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new thoughts that seemed important to you.
2. Select a truth for which you see a particular personal application in your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
Second Day: Read John 3:1-21. Focus in on verses 1-10.
1. What can we learn about Nicodemus from these verses? What additional insights do you gain from John 7:50-52 and 19:39-40?
2. Why do you think Nicodemus did not understand Jesus' statement about being born again and asked the question of verse 4?
3. What do you think Jesus meant when he said in verse 5, "Unless a person be born of water and of the Spirit, he is not able to enter the kingdom?
Third Day: Read John 3:1-21. Now focus in on verses 6-15.
1. What new title describing Jesus appears in these verses? Compare the use of the same title in John 1:51.
2. What point do you think Jesus was trying to make in verse 8 by comparing the work of the Spirit with the wind?
3. Jesus compared himself and the serpent lifted up in the wilderness. Read Numbers 21:4-9. What are the points of comparison between Jesus and the bronze snake?
Fourth Day: Read John 3:1-21. Now focus in on verses 15-21.
1. List three or four words or phrases that seem to be especially significant in these verses. (Remember, the more a word is repeated the more important it is.)
2. John 3:17; Romans 8:3-4; Galatians 4:-5; and 1 John 4:9-10 are called sending formulas. What purposes do these verses give for God sending His Son?
3. Read John 3:16; Romans 5:5-11; and Romans 8:31-39. Briefly describe what the love of God means to you. How do you want to respond to God's love?
Fifth Day: Read John 3:22-4:3. Focus in on 3:22-30 and 4:1-3.
1. What indications are there that Jesus had a successful ministry during the time described in these verses?
2. What is the joy that John the Baptist claims to have in verse 29? How is it complete or fulfilled?
3. John the Baptist states in verse 30 that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. What are some ways Jesus could increase and you decrease in your life?
Sixth Day: Read John 3:22-4:3. Now focus in on John 3:31-36.
1. Who do you think speaks verses 31-36? Why?
2. In what ways is Jesus described in verses 31-36? What honors or attributes are given to Jesus in these verses?
3. Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Joshua 24:15-20 as background to John 3:36. What do these Old Testament passages imply about how important the choice to believe in Christ is? Have you made the choice to accept Christ?