Last week, we saw a comparison between John the Baptist and Jesus: John is merely a voice crying out in preparation for the eternal Word; he’s a brief lamp that guides the path to the everlasting light of the world. Today, we read of how some of John’s disciples left him to follow Jesus, as a result of John’s testimony.
John’s Disciples follow Jesus
John 1:35-37 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
John had taught his disciples well. When he pointed out the one who would come after him, they left John to follow Jesus.
John 1:38a Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
Literally, he asks “what are you seeking?” Everywhere else in John, “seeking” refers to a misguided or negative quest: those opposing Jesus are not seeking God’s glory (5:44); the crowd seeks to make Jesus king (6:24, 26; 7:11); the authorities seek to arrest Jesus (many times, e.g. 7:1); Mary seeks the dead body of Jesus (20:15). So here, Jesus may be asking what they are “questing” for, as a precursor to teaching them what they really should be seeking.
John 1:38b They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
This sounds like an odd question. It could be that they are indicating a desire to become his followers, as people would call at their patron’s home each morning to receive instructions. Or it may be that they were politely asking for a room for the night, since in the next verse we find out it’s already late in the afternoon. At any rate, Jesus invites them in:
John 1:39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
At a surface level, Jesus’ reply – “come and see”- is a very natural response to an ordinary question. But it also hints at a greater significance when you know the way in which that phrase is used in the Old Testament:
Isaiah 66:18 And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.
Psalm 66:5 Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!
And there are also links to the Prologue’s presentation of Jesus as the eternal wisdom of God, seen in this well-known second century Jewish writing:
Sirach 51:34,27 [Wisdom is speaking:] Come near to me, you who are uneducated, and lodge in the house of instruction… See with your own eyes…
This is an invitation not just to “come and see where I’m staying” – but “come and see what exciting thing God is doing, and learn from the wisdom of God incarnate.”
Here in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ words invite not merely the two disciples to “come and see” – but us, too, as readers. Come to Jesus and see what new thing God is doing! He’s about to “gather the people of all nations” so that they will “come and see” his glory!
So what do the two disciples do in response?
John 1:40-42a Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Andrew goes and gets his brother, and brings him to “come and see” Jesus. Right from the start, he recognises him as God’s Messiah, his anointed one. And right from the start, he models discipleship by bringing others to “come and see” as well.
And when Jesus sees Peter, he says this:
John 1:42b Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Giving Simon a new name is an act of authority. Almost God-like. (You might remember God was into giving people new names reflecting their new relationship with God: Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Sarai became Sarah.)
Not only that, rabbis would sometimes give their disciples nicknames. “Cephas” (Petros in Greek) is not a normal name; it’s more like a nickname, roughly translated as “Rocky.” In John’s Gospel the significance of the name isn’t drawn out; but in Matthew 16:18 it symbolises the fact that “Rocky” (Petros) would be the rock (petra) on which Jesus would build his church.
To think about
“Evangelism” often seems a scary, daunting practice. But at its heart, it’s simply inviting others to “come and see” what God is up to in the person of Jesus. Is there someone whom you could ask this week to “come and see”?