18 January 2015

John 1:43-51

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’” (v. 45)

Psalm: Psalm 139


Today marks the beginning of the Octave (or Week) of Prayer for Christian Unity, but this passage is the one set for this Sunday (the second in Ordinary Time) rather than the first day of the Octave.

Verse 43 is the third verse in John 1 to start with the phrase, "The next day" (see also John 1:29, 35); each day involved people bearing witness to Jesus. In the previous scene (John 1:35-42) Andrew and another disciple of John (the Baptist) heard John speak and followed Jesus; Andrew then found his brother Simon Peter and brought him to Jesus. In this scene, Jesus found Philip (who, like Andrew and (Simon) Peter, is from Bethsaida, a fishing village to the north-east of the Sea of Galilee) and then Philip found Nathanael, inviting him to "come and see" (v. 46) Jesus. Nathanael only appears in this passage and in John 21:2.

Philip described Jesus as "him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote" and as "son of Joseph from Nazareth". The first of these parallels what Andrew said to his brother about Jesus, "We have found the Messiah" (John 1:41); the second speaks of Jesus' family background, which is taken up again in the next story, when Jesus is pictured with his mother at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12). Nothing is said about why Nathanael looked down on Nazareth; it may have been because the town is never referred to in the Old Testament; nevertheless, Nathanel went with Philip to meet Jesus.

Jesus had seen Nathanael "under the fig tree" (v. 50), an expression that suggests someone is at peace with God and the world (see Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10), and Jesus recognised Nathanael as "truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit" (v. 48; also see Psalm 24:4). Their encounter radically changed Nathanael's estimation of Jesus and he confessed, "you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (v. 49; also see Psalm 2:7, a verse from a psalm that was probably composed for a coronation). Both these titles relate to Philip's description of Jesus as "him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote" and Andrew's 'We have found the Messiah' (John 1:41).

The passage concludes with Jesus telling Nathanel and others ('you' is in the plural) that they will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (verse 51). Jesus is, himself, the Son of Man who descended from and ascended to heaven (John 3:13), but here the angels ascend and descend on him. This image recalls the story of Jacob at Bethel where he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth that reached into heaven on which the angels of God were ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12). When Jacob woke from sleep he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it!" and, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Genesis 28:16-17).

To Ponder

  • How do you bear witness to Jesus? What images, titles, and expressions do you find resonate and make sense for you and those with whom you talk?
  • What might it mean today to invite someone to "come and see" Jesus? To whom would you like to offer that invitation?
  • Are there people and places that open heaven for you? Who and where are they?

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Stubbens

Neil Stubbens is a Methodist presbyter who is currently the connexional ecumenical officer. Previously, he has served in the Barnsley, Southport, St Helens and Prescot, and Sankey Valley Circuits.