Rev. Haak is pastor of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Elk Grove, Illinois.
The central truth of these verses is very plainly that of Jesus gathering His first disciples and the way in which He brought them to Himself. We read here of the very first contact which five of the disciples had with Jesus. Other accounts (Mark 1:15-20; Luke 5:1-11; Matt. 4:18-22) inform us that at a later date Jesus called these same men to His service. This account in John is of a more personal nature. Here we see how they were personally and powerfully brought to the saving knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah. What rich instruction is given on the truth of how one is brought to union with Christ (cf. Canons III/IV, Article 11). Also the passage sets before us both the example and the duty of witnessing of Christ to others (cf. Heid. Cat., L.D. 32, Q. and A. 86).
It is very instructive to note how these first disciples were brought to Jesus. The first two heard a preacher proclaiming Christ as the “Lamb of God,” and they followed Jesus. Simon Peter, the next one, was brought by his brother to Christ. Philip was found directly by Jesus. And Nathanael was summoned by Philip to “come and see,” which resulted in Christ’s making Himself known to him. In all of them we see the wonderful and irresistible grace of Christ drawing His sheep to Himself (John 6:44). Christ must make disciples by revealing Himself to them as God’s Messiah. God is sovereign through it all, yet He is pleased to use means. Those means are first the preaching of the Word, as we see John the Baptist proclaiming Christ. Then, having heard the Word, we are moved to witness to others to “come and see” Him themselves (John 4:42). Always it is Christ who draws and causes His sheep to hear His voice (John 10:27).
Finally we should see that Christ gathers men of widely different temperaments and callings. As the perfect Shepherd He knows His sheep and deals with each one according to his own situation. It is blessed to see here how the truth of Christ’s gathering His church out of every type and personality among men is so strikingly illustrated. Consider these first five disciples:
John: Unnamed in verse 35, as is John’s custom in this gospel narrative. He is the disciple of intense devotion and affection who leaned on the Master’s bosom. He was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), and the only one of the twelve who stood by the cross.
Simon Peter: Strong-headed, impulsive, full of zeal.
Nathanael: Evidently of a meditative and retiring disposition. A man of an open and frank nature, one “in whom there was no guile,” trustworthy.
“Yet each of these men found in Christ that which met his need and satisfied his heart!” (Arthur Pink).
Outline of John 1:35-51
1. John, Andrew, and Peter are brought to Christ (vv. 35-42).
A. John the Baptist heralds the Lamb of God to two of his disciples (vv. 35, 36).
B. John and Andrew are questioned by Jesus and abide with Him (vv. 37-39).
C. Andrew witnesses to Simon, his brother (vv. 40-42).
2. Philip and Nathanael are brought to Christ (vv. 43-51).
A. Jesus calls Philip (vv. 43-45).
B. Philip finds Nathanael (vv. 45, 46).
C. Jesus and Nathanael (vv. 47-51).
1. Discuss the truth of how men are brought to Christ.
a. Does the preaching of Christ as the only sacrifice for sin (Lamb of God) always play a crucial part?
b. How does the wonderful providence of God and the truth of irresistible calling fit together so beautifully? Can you give examples?
c. Show how Christ Himself must speak and reveal Himself personally to a person before that person can know Him as the Messiah.
d. Does not the reality of being made a follower of Christ always result in a witness to others of Him?
2. Show from John the Baptist’s ministry that the content and the vital truth to which the church must always witness in her preaching is the sacrificial work of Christ.
3. Why did Jesus ask the two disciples of John, “What seek ye?” (v. 38).
4. What is signified in their reply, “Where dwellest thou?”
5. What important truth is seen in Andrew’s witness to Peter? What can we learn from this about our calling to witness? What is the relationship between witnessing of Christ and the preaching of the Word?
6. What is the significance of Jesus’ renaming of Simon? Discuss the truth that in reality every saint in Christ Jesus is like Simon Peter.
7. What important idea is found in Christ’s words to Philip, “Follow me”?
8. What attribute of Christ was demonstrated to Nathanael? How is this related to the confession he makes about Christ?
9. What did Nathanael mean by his remark about Nazareth? (See Matt. 2:23.)
10. What is meant by, “In whom there was no guile”?
11. What greater things was Nathanael to see (v. 51).