Introduction to Jesus

2014-07-26 16.25.26
The Jordan River, near the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism

John’s Gospel narrative opens with the scene of a man preaching in the desert.  He has gained so many followers that he now has the attention of the religious establishment.  Who is this man? This man, John, is leading and baptizing new disciples every day, yet he has no connection to any of the leading religious parties.

I often wonder what it would have been like to be with John at this time. He captivated multitudes yet he had a simple message: “Repent, for the Messiah is coming!” [1]  But John’s excitement has only intensified.  It has been close to 6 weeks earlier [2] when Jesus had come to John, requesting to be baptized.  Here was the coming king that John had been preaching about, and he was requesting that John baptize him.  Jesus had abruptly left after his baptism, leaving John to only reflect on the encounter.

For more information on the promised Messiah, see the link here.

The narrative of John 1 (v. 19-51) gives a very specific succession of days as we see the focus move from John now to Jesus:


Thursday: John is confronted about who he is 

(v. 19-28) At some time during the day on Thursday [4], a delegation reaches John as he is teaching by the Jordan.  This is a group of priests and levites who have been sent from the top religious governing body (the Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem.  Their line of questions is straightforward: “Who are you?”

“Are you the Messiah?”

John’s response is redundant.  He confesses, does not deny, but confesses that he is NOT the messiah (the Christ).

“Are you Elijah?”

Malachi 4:5 promises that Elijah will return before the Messiah.  In Luke (1:17) the angel tells that John will be in the spirit and power of Elijah.  But John is not the answer of Elijah to these people. [5]  His answer is in less detail, “I am not!”

“Are you the Prophet?”

Near his death, Moses promised to the Israelites that God would raise up a prophet like him, who would tell them God’s word (Deut 18:15-18).  The Jews evidently saw in this promise another prophet of Moses’ stature who would come (separate from Elijah or the Messiah).  (Both Peter and Stephen apply this promise to Jesus as the Messiah, Acts 3:22, 7:37). John’s answer is very abrupt, “No!”.

“Who are you”

The delegation needs to give an answer back their senders.  John quotes Isaiah 40:3, saying that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  He is the herald who is to come before the king’s visit to get things ready.

“Why do you baptize, then?”

John replies with, “I baptize you with water but a greater one is among you.”  John has seen the Messiah by this time and is waiting for him to reveal himself.

John seems to become increasingly reactive to all of the questions about him.  It is like he is fighting the temptation himself.


Friday: John sees Jesus

 (v 29-34) John sees Jesus on the next day after the delegation (Friday), and publicly announces him as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.  The depiction of a lamb would be well known to the Jews who were listening to John.  The sacrificed lamb for sin was an essential part of the Jewish beliefs.  However, John also mentions that Jesus is not only for the Jews but for the whole world.  In case the readers were still unsure what John was talking about, he concludes his message on Friday saying, “this is the Son of God”.

John emphasizes his points about Jesus on that day: Jesus outranks him, John did not know Jesus beforehand, but his entire purpose was to reveal the Messiah to Israel.

Jesus has just been on a 40-day fast and would be on the brink of death by the time it ended.  He is still probably very weak and sickly when he comes up while John is announcing him.  He is already defying the Jewish expectations of the Messiah.  They are looking for a magnificent, conquering king, but instead stumbles in a man who has been ignored by the religious authorities and is only announced by this lone preacher in the middle of the wilderness. [6]


Saturday: “We have found the Messiah!”

(v. 35-42) John is spending time on a Sabbath morning with two of his disciples. They would have been especially close to John if they had come to join him on a Sabbath day. [3][4]  We know that one of the disciples was Andrew and the other disciple is traditionally believed to be John (the author of this book).  John points out Jesus to them and indicates again that he is the Lamb of God.

The conversation is almost awkward between the two disciples and Jesus.  Jesus says to them, “What are you looking for?”  They respond with, “Teacher, where are you staying?”, indicating that they want to spend time with him [7].  Jesus invites them to come and they stay with him that day.

Any doubts that Andrew and John may have had that day are erased after spending time with Jesus.  Andrew gets his brother Simon and tells him, We have found the Messiah”.

Jesus looks at Simon, as if studying him him [7], and then changes his name.  Simon will become one of the Jesus’ closest and most well-known of his disciples, yet he is now better known by the new name that Jesus gave him, “Peter” (or Rock).


Sunday: Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael

Jesus is traveling North to Galilee on the next day.  He first finds Philip and simply directs him to “Follow Me”.  Don’t just follow me once, but continually follow me. We learn later about Philip and find that he is one who wants to carefully measure the facts.  Jesus asks Philip to follow him and to stay with him even when he doesn’t understand. [7]

Philip brings Nathanael, who is hesitant.  Jesus is from Nazareth, but can any good come out of Nazareth?  Nazareth was a wicked city with a reputation for trouble.  Jews of his day did not believe that any prophet would come from Galilee (John 7:52), and there was no prophecy pertaining to Nazareth.

Jesus commends Nathanael for his frankness, but Jesus goes further.  Jesus tells Nathanael that he knows that he has been meditating on God, and about the way to God.  Sitting under the fig tree was a colloquial term for spiritual mediation. The reference to angels ascending and descending would be connected to the common thoughts of his day, that Jacob’s ladder was the way to God (See Genesis 28). [7]  Jesus tells Nathanael that he knows what he was doing, what he was thinking, and that Jesus is the way to God!

Jesus commonly referred to himself as the “Son of Man”.  The “Son of Man” was a recognized Messianic title from the Old Testament (See Dan 7:13-14) [8]  Note that Nathanael is called Bartholomew in the other gospel accounts.

Jesus may have been given divine insight into his other disciples as he called them, knowing the right words to say to bring them.  However, Nathanael’s response alone shows that Jesus is given divine insight into this latest encounter.

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