5 January 2013

John 1:43-51

"Jesus … said to him, 'Follow me.'" (v. 43)


In the preceding verses we read firstly of John the Baptist's work of pointing people to Jesus (John 1:19-34), and secondly of Jesus' first disciples, who started to follow Jesus as a result of John's testimony concerning him (John 1:35-42). Here we reach a new stage: Jesus, for the first time, takes the initiative and calls Philip to follow him. Philip was not the only one to receive such a direct invitation from Jesus (eg Mark 1:17; 2:14; 10:21). This kind of approach distinguished Jesus from the other Rabbis of his time, who tended to wait for pupils to come to them rather than actively seeking them out (see John 15:16).

Part of what it means to follow Jesus is to learn more about him, and these verses add to our knowledge. One lesson Philip learnt early on was that Jesus is he "about whom Moses … and the prophets wrote" (v. 45), in other words Jesus is the one to whom the Old Testament indirectly bears witness, even though it does not explicitly name him.

Another lesson Philip and Nathanael learnt was that Jesus has supernatural knowledge of the characters and circumstances of others (verses 47-48), a fact which leads immediately to Nathanael's recognition of Jesus as the Messiah (verse 49), and to his becoming a disciple himself (as John 21:1-2 confirms).

A third lesson they learnt was that Jesus is the one who connects us with God (verse 51). This final verse of the passage alludes to the story of Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-12). Jacob in his dream saw a ladder reaching up from earth to the dwelling place of God on which angels were ascending and descending. Jesus sees himself here as that ladder, and moreover calls himself "the Son of Man" (v. 51), his favourite form of self-reference in the Gospels, which conveys both a sense of his true humanity and also (in the light of Daniel 7:13-14) a sense of his divine splendour and calling.

To Ponder

  • In what ways have you 'heard' Jesus calling you to follow him?
  • How hungry are you to know more about him?

Bible notes author

The Revd Peter Ensor

Peter Ensor is a Methodist minister who teaches New Testament, biblical languages, and Early Church history at Cliff College, Derbyshire. He has also worked as a theological educator in Kenya, Cameroon and Ethiopia, and has served in three english circuits, latterly as superintendent of the Hazel Grove and Poynton Circuit in the Manchester District.