John 1:35–51: The Balance of Salvation (from Sunday, 11/23/08)
(Every Monday, I post my notes from our youth group’s Sunday School lessons. This is primarily for both the youth and their parents, but everyone is invited to join in. By clicking “youth studies,” you can catch up or review. We are currently going through The Gospel of John.
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e are picking up the day after the events we studied last week. This is also the day John the Baptist fades from the scene. His task is over. He sees Jesus walking by, points to Him and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (v. 35–36). The two disciples sitting with John get up and follow Jesus. John disappears from the narrative, leaving us only with a memory of an outstretched finger pointing toward Jesus Christ.
(Ultimately, therein is the task of any preacher, or any one of you for that matter—point to Jesus, and get people to follow Him.)
Our focus for today mainly involves meeting the first of Jesus’ disciples. However, there are some neat aspects of salvation to highlight, which is what we will do. I found an interesting outline in MacArthur’s commentary on this passage, and I want to use that for our purposes today. He calls this section “The Balance of Salvation,” and divides it between the seeking souls and the seeking Savior.
I. The Seeking Souls
There are two sides to salvation presented in the Bible. Philippians 2:12–13 says,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Who is working in these verses, God or us? The answer is yes! We work, but we rest in God promises for strength, power, and hope; not ourselves. It is a mystery, one around which you should try to wrap your brain.
We see this with Paul, who said, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col 1:29). Paul toils, but only with the energy of God.
Given fallen humanity’s total depravity, complete helplessness, and utter lack of spiritual resources, there would be no salvation unless God provided it (Gen. 49:18; 1 Sam 2:1; Pss. 3:8; 21:1; 35:9; 37:39; 98:2; 149:4; Isa 43:11; 45:21–22; Jonah 2:9; Acts 4:12; Rev. 19:1). Thus, the Bible teaches that salvation is wholly by God’s grace and not by human works (cf. Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:20–30; 4:5; 5:1; 6:23; Gal 2:16; 3:8–14, 24; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8–9; Phil 3:9; Titus 3:5; Rev. 1:5). Further, God Himself chose the redeemed for salvation in eternity past (Acts 11:18; 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; Eph. 1:4–5; Col. 3:12; 1 The. 1:4; 2 The. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet 1:1–2; 2:9).
But the Bible is equally clear that no one is saved apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Implicit in the Biblical commands that sinners repent (Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mark 6:12; Luke 5:32; 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20; 2 Pet 3:9) and believe in Christ (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:15–18; 4:39, 53; 5:24; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:38; 9:35–38; 11:25–26; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16; 10:9–10; 1 Cor 1:21; Gal 3:22; Eph 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 John 3:23; 5:1, 13) is their responsibility to do both. In fact, Scripture condemns sinners for not doing them (Matt. 11:20–21; 12:41; John 3:36; 12:36–40; 2 The 2:12; Jude 5; Rev 9:20–21; 16:9, 11).
In short, while we both need Christ alone and are saved by Him alone, that doesn’t mean we are passive bystanders who are one day struck with a bolt of lightning called God’s grace. We must repent.
Now, it’s true that our response is a gift, which makes things more confusing. But, what you can learn from that is this: if you don’t feel like responding to God, you can simply pray that you will desire God. That may sound silly, but unless you do respond to God’s grace, you are not saved. Those who are drawn of God come to Christ, as we will see. Without God, you will not respond. It’s a mystery how the two sides work together.
Back to our text. Jesus noticed the two disciples of John following Him. He turns and asks “What are you seeking?” It’s interesting that Jesus asks “what” instead of “who.” What did they want from following Jesus? Many people will follow Jesus, but not because they want a relationship with God. If you are following Jesus, what do you want?
Now, I’m not sure the disciples knew what they wanted from Him, because they don’t directly answer His question. In fact, they reply with a question, a question seeming to change the subject. They ask, “Rabbi,” (which is a title of respect that means “teacher”) “where are you staying?”
Jesus doesn’t become offensive or irate. He doesn’t demand an answer from them. Matthew 12:19 says, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” He simply replies, “Come and you will see” (v 39).
We should also notice the time of day: it was “about the tenth hour” or around 4:00 pm. With sunset nearing, and without the convenience of modern streetlamps, it would be natural for the disciples to wonder where they should be spending the night. This would suggest their question was not a complete one. What they may have really been asking was “Where are you staying, because if you don’t mind, we’d like to hang out with you.” It’s like the child who asks his mother, “What are you eating?” when he is really asking for a bite. That Jesus says “Come” means He picked up on the rest of the question, and was inviting them to stay with him.
Of course, this, in some way, may have been their answer to His question: they may not have known yet what they wanted, but they did want to get to know more about Him.
So, who were these two guys? Verse 40 reveals that one of the two was Andrew. The other name is not given. In fact, search the entire Gospel According to John the Apostle, and you will never find his name. Who is he? None other than John the Apostle himself. He probably doesn’t want to confuse us since he’s already spent so much time talking about another John. That’s cool. Thanks!
Andrew is not only mentioned here, but we learn that he is the brother of Simon Peter. And what is the first thing Andrew does when he discovers the Messiah? Scripture says he “first” went to find his brother and told him they “have found the Messiah” (v. 41). Then he brings him to Jesus (v. 42). Do you sense excitement on Andrew’s part?
This marks the first time Peter and Jesus meet. Peter and Andrew do not remain “full time” with Jesus at this point; it is later Jesus calls them to be full-time “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17).
Jesus takes the opportunity now to rename Simon “Peter.” (John calls him Simon Peter here, so it is clear that this is the Simon we now call Peter.) Jesus isn’t through with this one. The name “Peter” means “rock.” Jesus is not saying “you rock!” but “you’re like a rock.” Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to really dig in and find out about Peter, the man, the rock-solid (and the sometimes not-so-solid) in the near future.
II. The Seeking Savior
Verse 43 brings a new day and a new side of Jesus. This the fourth day since John the Baptist unveiled Jesus, and now Jesus begins choosing disciples. He (or Andrew, as the text is not clear) finds Philip, Andrew’s friend, and gives a simple two-word command, “Follow me” (v. 43).
This is Philip the Apostle, not to be confused with Philip the Evangelist of Acts 6:5. He is mentioned in the Apostolic lists of Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13, but this is the only place that talks about him.
There may have been more to this than what is recorded, but Philip comes to the realization that Jesus is the Messiah. He obeys, and has a similar reaction to Andrew. Philip seeks Nathanael, saying, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v. 45). The profession is clear enough—Philip is a believer—and that he says “we” evidences that he considers himself now to be a follower of Christ. Note the profession: everything about the Bible has been leading up to Jesus!
Nathanael is an interesting name. Nathan is Hebrew for “he gives” and, of course, el is Hebrew shorthand for God (as in Elohim) and a common ending to names (Israel, Daniel, Ezekiel, etc.). Thus, Nathanael means “God gives” or “God has given.” When we get to John 6, we will learn that people come to Christ only when the Father draws them (v. 44), when the Father gives them to Him (v. 37, 39). Track with me, because I’m going to pick this point back up shortly.
Nathanael is initially skeptical about the Jesus being the Messiah based on Jesus being of Nazareth (he does not know Jesus was born in Bethlehem at this point, of course). Nowhere does prophesy predict the Messiah would come from Nazareth. Plus, Nazareth was not a favorable town, and since Nathanael comes from the town of Cana ten miles to the north, perhaps there was a local rivalry. He could have well asked, “Does anything good come from Castaic?”
Philip’s reply to “come and see” may seem to be a simple one in the face of objections, but he doesn’t necessarily have all the answers after only a few minutes with the Messiah. There was nothing wrong with a humble “come and see.”
When Nathanael arrives, Jesus shows forth His omniscience, making him rightly wonders at this. Jesus knows Nathanael’s personality (“an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit”—v. 47) and where he was (“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”—v. 48). He calls Nathaniel “an Israelite indeed,” meaning, “Really, an Israelite without deceit!” Another version renders this verse, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (NRSV). This may be a reference to Psalm 32:2, which says “Blessed is the man… in whose spirit there is no deceit.” This is high praise, and may indicate Nathanael’s genuine heart to know whether Jesus was the Messiah.
So, Nathanael is left with a question: Who sees things no one else sees, both in distance (around corners) and in depth (into hearts)? Who is this Jesus?
(By the way, this is one reason I believe it is wrong for Christian parents to perpetuate the myth of Santa Claus. There is only One who “sees you when you’re sleeping,” “knows when you’re awake,” and “knows when you’ve been bad or good.” However, He calls you to be good because “your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matt 5:48, an allusion to Lev 19:2; 20:7–8], not for “goodness’ sake.”)
Nathanael’s response to Jesus was firm: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (v. 49).
Jesus replies, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?” (v. 50). Another way of rendering this question is as a statement: “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ you believe.” It was not that Jesus was astonished at the quick response from Nathanael; Jesus said what He said in order to make Nathanael believe. However, Jesus promises even more impressive feats.
Why does Nathanael already believe when he has seen relatively little so far? The same reason any of us believe: the Father granted it. Remember, Nathanael means “God has given,” and I mentioned that John 6 teaches that people come to Christ only because God gives them to Him. We see this throughout the Gospels. Compare, for instance, how similar Peter’s response was when calls Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16), Jesus replies, “Blessed are you… For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (v. 17).
One final verse awaits us in this chapter, and there is a great deal of truth in it to unpack in a very short amount of time. The “angels of God ascending and descending” refers back to Jacob, the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Jesus will be the “father” of all those who have eternal life (cf. “everlasting father,” Isaiah 9:6). “Son of Man” refers to Daniel 7:13, where one from heaven “like a son of man” is given eternal dominion. Hey, the Old Testament really does talk about Jesus!
This is the Savior. We seek Him, but we find that He really seeks us. Here we have four examples of what happened to people when they first met Jesus. It’s going to be interesting to see what else transpires!
We are starting the second chapter next week. Read it sometime next week! Its only 25 verses. Then, before class, read the first part of the chapter again, verses 1–12.