Commentary on John’s Gospel
It is our prayer that you are blessed through this series.
The Gospel of John
Larger Context: Jesus’ Self-Disclosure in Word and Deed (1:19-10:42)
The Witness of the Forerunner (1:19-34)
The Witness of the First Disciples (1:35-51)
A. The Witness of the Forerunner (1:19-34) – To Top
V. 19-20 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
Here we receive some of the “testimony” or “witness” of John.
John the baptist must have caused quite a stir that a delegation of men would be sent by the religious leaders to see what he was all about. Since some people were thinking that perhaps he was the Christ, John vehemently denied any suggestion that he was the Messiah. “I’m not even worthy to loose His sandals,” was His response to such a thought.
Throughout this testimony, we see the great humility of this witness of the True Light. He is, and we ought to be, clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5).
V. 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
When he is asked if he is Elijah, John responds with a definite, “No.” Yet, when we read Matthew 11:13-15, Jesus says that John the baptist is that Elijah. Jesus fully grasps the Scriptures! John the baptist proclaims more truth than he fully grasps. Even when he proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God, I do not think he fully understood all the implications of the cross and the kingdom Jesus would bring in.
When John was asked whether he was “the Prophet,” they were referring to the prophet Moses spoke of in Deut. 18:15-18. This Prophet like unto Moses is Jesus Christ, God’s own Son.
V. 22 – 23 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the LORD,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
John identifies himself to them in quoting from Isaiah 40. He is a herald – a warning voice. In the original context, the call went out for a leveling of hills and valleys, and a straightening of curves to accommodate the return of the covenant people from exile. This serves as a type of a greater redemption. One event pictures the other. See Isa. 40:3-9. The Scripture is full of such pictures, which often causes confusion for many readers. (i.e. Matt. 24 – where destruction of temple and Jerusalem becomes a picture of the second coming; and 2 Sam. 7 talking of Solomon – but also Christ).
V. 24-25 Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
They want to know why John is baptizing the already covenant people of God. They believed their circumcision already marked them as God’s covenant people. They did not grasp that John was paving the way for the promised new covenant.
V. 26-28 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John baptized with a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3-6; Acts 13:24-25; Acts 19:3-4). All sinners, whether Jews or Gentiles, need to repent. The flesh profits nothing and can make no one perfect before God. John’s baptism and call to repentance was the preparation – a humbling of oneself under the mighty hand of God – for the Anointed One.
John testified that they did not know Jesus – the Christ. (Compare with John 1:11 – the greater part of Israel died in their sins). How many here will perish though there is a great Savior presented to you? The spirit of slumber is upon many and they do not behold the Lamb of God. Money and pleasure and the world they know, but they do not know Christ.
To know Christ is to be humbled. To know Christ is to repent, falling on your face and crying out, “Lord, what will you have me do?”
V. 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
What a testimony! Remember Gen. 22? There God states that He Himself will provide a lamb. And John says that Jesus is that promised Lamb! He is the true (ultimate) Lamb. He is that which all the others foreshadowed. That old passover lamb which brought about the Old Covenant deliverance foreshadowed Jesus, the new Passover Lamb sacrificed for us to bring about the New Covenant deliverance. Every morning and evening under the law, a sacrifice of a lamb was made. The One of whom those sacrifices testified is here in Jesus. Behold Him! Look ye saints, the sight is glorious. Let us prize Him as our sacrifice! Jesus came to save sinners by taking their sin upon Himself. Thus He takes my guilt and carries my sin out of the sight of God and it is remembered no more, for He “Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” that they might be taken off me. He died under the judgment of God, accursed of God on the cursed tree. How can we not tear up as we behold our Savior? When we see the love of Christ on the cross, doesn’t it make you think that if you were not saved, you’d want to be converted?
It is not looking at yourself and all your badness. Many look and behold their badness. It is not looking at yourself and all your goodness. Many look and behold their goodness. No – behold Jesus, the Lamb of God. And believers, let continually looking at Him keep you from sin. I hope that every time you leave here, you leave occupied with Jesus Christ. We don’t want you to be occupied with looking at each other, because you’re a mess, and I’m a mess. But there is One who is altogether lovely – perfect in every way.
Don’t just look “at” but look “to.” Look to Him as your sin-bearer and Lord. For example, let’s say a wealthy man promises to help you. He tells you to call on him if you ever have a need. Your situation worsens and you find yourself in big trouble and go to his house. You watch the man come and go, and see others go to him and be helped and have their debts cancelled. You can look at the man all day, but until you look to him to help you, all your watching and holding back will not help you. The same is true of the Lamb of God in whom is the promise of hope. Go to Him. Humble yourself before Him. Submit to Him. Surrender to Him as your only hope. Behold the Lamb of God. Go to Him!
Poor lost sinner, this testimony is for you. This book is written that you
might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Where is your help and hope? Do you look to yourself? That would be very foolish. Do you look to others, who themselves are perishing? Do you look to the church as if it can dish out grace? Do you look to the preacher? Then you are doubly foolish! Oh, if you could see Him, the Lamb of God. If you ever saw your need and beheld Him who takes away sin, you’d run to Him. The God who saved Saul of Tarsus, the God who saved Murray McLellan can save you.
Jesus is the Savior of the world. He is the one official, God-appointed, Savior for the world. There is no other. Go to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
V. 30-33 This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
Jesus is the one who will pour out the Spirit as promised in the Old Testament Scriptures – in that great age of blessing that John is announcing and preparing the way for. (See Isa. 44:3-5, 32:14-19; Ezek. 36:25-27; 37:14)
V. 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
See Isaiah 42:1-9 (and Psalm 2 and Isa. 9:6-7) – Jesus is that One! Oh let us behold the Son of God – Jesus – the Lamb of God – for He is:
- the subject of Holy Scripture,
- the preacher’s only message,
- the gospel’s glorious revelation,
- the sinner’s only hope,
- the believer’s only rule,
- the worshipper’s only object
- the embodiment and glory of the Triune God.
Are you burdened with sin? Behold the Lamb of God!
Are you troubled with affliction? Behold the Lamb of God!
Are you in need of comfort? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you need reviving? Behold the Lamb of God!
Are you fearful for your soul? Behold the Lamb of God!
Are you concerned about the future? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you need instruction in practical godliness? Behold the Lamb of God!
What can be more inspiring to godliness than Christ crucified?
Do you want to learn how to give? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you want to know what kind of father and husband you ought to be? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you want to know how to set priorities and serve Christ’s church and kingdom? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you want to know how to love one another? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you want to know how to endure and bear affliction? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you want to know how to pray? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you want to know how to live? Behold the Lamb of God!
Do you want to know how to die? Behold the Lamb of God!
Jesus Christ is the greatest, most glorious subject in all the world! Trust Him. Worship Him. Love Him.
B. The Witness of the First Disciples (1:35-51)
V. 35-39 Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”
He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).
Here we have two of John’s disciples who come to faith in Christ through the public preaching of the word. This is certainly one way that God has used over the years to gather in His people. (Not just a pastor’s preaching, but the public testimony of the saints.)
Jesus invites them to “come and see.” (i.e. come and be acquainted with me!)
V. 40-42 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).
Simon Peter became a believer through the testimony of his brother. It is often difficult to witness to family members, and yet when backed up with a changed and holy life, many have been converted through members of their own family. May we pray for courage and zeal to talk to those who are closest to us. We want to testify to the truth of Christ, so we need to pray for courage and wisdom.
V. 43. The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.”
Philip gets a direct call from Jesus.
V. 44-45 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Nathanael is found by a friend.
As Andrew declared to Peter, “We have found the Messiah (i.e. the Christ),” Philip declares, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote.” Note how much of Christ is in the Old Testament Scriptures. Christ is the sum and substance of the Old Testament. He is the fulfillment. To Him every sacrifice pointed. Of Him every high priest was a type and every part of the tabernacle was a shadow. Every judge and deliverer of Israel was a figure. He is the Prophet like unto Moses, the Son of the virgin, the Lamb foretold by Isaiah, the Righteous Branch mentioned by Jeremiah, the true Shepherd foreseen by Ezekiel, and the Messiah who was to be cut off but not for Himself, as predicted by Daniel. The Spirit which was in them testified of Christ! (1 Peter 1:11)
V. 46. And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Philip doesn’t dispute with him but rather calls him to “come and see.” This is also a call to the reader to examine all John has recorded. John, also, is saying, “Come along with me and see!”
V. 47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
“in whom is no deceit” – i.e. who is no Jacob (Jacob means deceiver)
Jesus calls Nathanael an Israelite who is no Jacob. He has no hidden agenda. He is a real and true seeker of God.
V. 48. Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Being under the fig tree seems to be a place of studying and meditating on the Scripture on one’s own. Only God would have known.
The fig tree symbolized a time of peace, safety, rest, and refreshing in the days of Solomon as king (see 1 Kings 4:25). The prophet Micah spoke of the coming days when the Lord will establish His kingdom and reign.
“But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all people walk each in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. ‘In that day,’ says the Lord, ‘I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant and the outcast a strong nation; so the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever.’ ” (Micah 4:4-7)
Nathanael was a true Jew anticipating that day!
Zechariah describes the day in a similar way.
“‘Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign; for behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. For behold, the stone that I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’ ” (Zech. 3:8-10)
V. 49-50. Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”
Nathanael was amazed and convinced and acted upon what he knew. Jesus tells him he has only just begun to see!
V. 51. And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Jesus opens up this final statement with “most assuredly”, which is literally, “Amen, amen.” Jesus uses this to signal something that He really wants to emphasize as important truth. It is interesting to note that the word “you” now switches to the plural form in the original language.
I think that this statement is an unmistakable allusion to Genesis 28:12 in which Jacob dreamed “and behold, a ladder set up on the earth and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.” This may also indicate that perhaps this was the passage of Scripture Nathanael had been meditating upon under the fig tree. Maybe that is why Jesus specifically made the reference to Nathanael being no “Jacob” and why Nathanael was so amazed. Jesus is telling us that He is that ladder. He alone is the one Mediator between God and men. The word “open” is written in a tense that refers to a once for all opening. In otherwords, Jesus says that heaven will be opened and will stay open! Praise God. The veil is torn, we stand before God with open face in Christ and heaven is opened to us!
It was necessary that our Mediator be both God and man so that he might bring God and man together. It is by Christ, the Ladder, and only by Christ, that believing sinners ascend to heaven and find acceptance with the holy Lord God (John 14:6). The distance between earth and heaven is infinite. How can we possibly get there? Behold, a Ladder! Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world that heaven might be opened to all who believe.
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.