Gospel: John 1:43–51
Epistle: 1 Cor 6:12–20
Lesson: 1 Sam 3:1–10 (11-20)
Psalm: Psalm 67
CLB Commentary – Prof. Brad Pribbenow
The church season of Epiphany, meaning manifestation, traditionally begins with the visit of the Magi (Matt 2:1-12) and ends with the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9; this year, February 15). The First Sunday after Epiphany told of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:4-11) and the Second Sunday after Epiphany, this Sunday, records the initial calling of Jesus’ disciples. John 1 has recorded not just one epiphany but five (1:29, 35, 41, 45, 49). The first two epiphanies come from the mouth of John the Baptist; the next three come from Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael, respectively.
In this pericope commentary I want to provide less of a sermon guide and more of an exegetical analysis of the text. I trust and pray that the following content will help you, the preacher, understand the details of the text and craft your homiletical presentation.
1:43 – Once Jesus is identified by John as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), events happen in quick succession. The striking nature of this opening verse is founded on the succinct call of Jesus to Philip: “Follow me.” This present imperative verb occurs twice in each of the first three Gospel accounts, and three times in John. In all but two occurrences (Matt 8:22 and Luke 9:59), the response to Jesus’ concise command is positive. Jesus, the Word of God, needs only to issue forth these two words and a disciple is called into existence.
1:44–45 – Philip shared the same hometown as Andrew and Peter, who were the first to join Jesus’ growing entourage (1:40-42). In this same area Nathanael was dwelling. As Philip, brimming with excitement, finds Nathanael, he describes the source of his enthusiasm by “fronting” in the sentence the Object of his finding: “the one Moses (and also the prophets) wrote about.” The certainty of his conviction is demonstrated in the perfect form of the verb, “to find” (the perfect aspect in Greek denotes completed action with on-going results). John highlights Jesus’ divinity (e.g., the prophecies concerning Jesus from from Moses and the prophets) as well as his humanity (e.g., that he was from Nazareth, and the son of Joseph).
1:46 – Nathanael initially questions Philip’s testimony about Jesus. Here is where the Holy Spirit may be bringing the conviction of the Law to us. Note: Epiphany falls in January, a month (if there ever was one) of great optimism and potential. Many people are still riding the wave of their new year’s resolution, hoping against hope that they’ll be able to fulfill what they set out to accomplish. Yet most of us will soon encounter situations which cause us to doubt and question God.
Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” We might ask, “Can God’s word and his promises really be trusted? Is everything God says in his Word really true?” Interestingly, Philip offers no answer, but only an invitation to “come and see.” We do not need to defend God; only invite others to turn to him in faith (even if that faith is weak!).
1:47 –It’s our human tendency to look for potential in something or someone, and to then credit that potential as the reason for success. This is not to be done theologically. We bring nothing to our relationship with Jesus. Even our faith is best described as an empty sack that is then filled with the Person, Word and work of Jesus Christ. Faith does not save us as much as the One in whom our faith is placed. Thus we should not see in this verse the conferring of any sort of special status to Nathanael. What Jesus affirms with this statement is that he was looking upon someone in whom there was true, saving faith. Nathanael did not let his questions about Jesus’ origins prevent him from coming to meet the Messiah. As Lenski writes, “‘They are not all Israel, which are of Israel,’ Rom. 9:6, but Nathanael was one of them” (167). We might hear in Jesus’ words about Nathanael, the words of Psa 32:2, “blessed is the man…in whose spirit there is no deceit.” The sense of “deceit” in this verse connotes moral laxity. To be without “deceit” is only possible through the imputation of righteousness from God (Rom 3:28; 4:1-8; cf. 2 Cor 5:21). So Jesus’ evaluation of Nathanael was not on the basis of Nathanael’s inherent worthiness, but was a confirmation of the work of God in Nathanael through faith in God’s promise.
1:48–49 – We are not given all the details concerning what it meant that Jesus saw Nathanael while he, Nathanael, was under the fig tree. This practice of sitting under a fig tree describes the pattern of pious Jews who sought this location out when they engaged in Scripture study, meditation, and prayer. Nathanael apparently needed little if any coercion to see Jesus’ words as affirmation of Jesus’ true identity: “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel.”
1:50-51 – Jesus’ response in these verses clarifies Nathanael’s confession and makes our fundamental understanding of the nature of Jesus’ ministry historical, theological, and eschatological, and not political (e.g., a political kingship). Three passages come to mind at this point. First, in Isa 64:1 Isaiah calls on God to “rend the heavens and come down.” He did just that in Jesus’ first advent; he will do it again at Jesus’ second advent. Secondly, it’s hard to overlook a reference here to Jacob’s dream as described in Gen 28:10-22. For Jacob, this was an experience which offered assurances of God’s promises both to Jacob and to his descendants. And, third, Jesus’s use of the title “Son of Man” makes us think of the eschatological vision in Dan 7:13, where the Ancient of Days confers upon the Son of Man “dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve him” (NASB).
A summary exegetical statement of this text might be: Jesus’ coming fulfills the word spoken about him in the Scriptures, and offers assurance that his purpose will be accomplished: namely, to make a way for sinful humanity to gain access to the Holy God.
May God bless you as you study, meditate on, and preach this text!