Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN Commentary by David Brown
The author of the Fourth Gospel was the younger of the two sons of Zebedee, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, who resided at Bethsaida, where were born Peter and Andrew his brother, and Philip also. His mother's name was Salome, who, though not without her imperfections (Mt 20:20-28), was one of those dear and honored women who accompanied the Lord on one of His preaching circuits through Galilee, ministering to His bodily wants; who followed Him to the cross, and bought sweet spices to anoint Him after His burial, but, on bringing them to the grave, on the morning of the First Day of the week, found their loving services gloriously superseded by His resurrection ere they arrived. His father, Zebedee, appears to have been in good circumstances, owning a vessel of his own and having hired servants (Mr 1:20). Our Evangelist, whose occupation was that of a fisherman with his father, was beyond doubt a disciple of the Baptist, and one of the two who had the first interview with Jesus. He was called while engaged at his secular occupation (Mt 4:21, 22), and again on a memorable occasion (Lu 5:1-11), and finally chosen as one of the Twelve Apostles (Mt 10:2). He was the youngest of the Twelve—the "Benjamin," as Da Costa calls him—and he and James his brother were named in the native tongue by Him who knew the heart, "Boanerges," which the Evangelist Mark (Mr 3:17) explains to mean "Sons of thunder"; no doubt from their natural vehemence of character. They and Peter constituted that select triumvirate of whom see on Lu 9:28. But the highest honor bestowed on this disciple was his being admitted to the bosom place with his Lord at the table, as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (Joh 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20:24), and to have committed to him by the dying Redeemer the care of His mother (Joh 19:26, 27). There can be no reasonable doubt that this distinction was due to a sympathy with His own spirit and mind on the part of John which the all-penetrating Eye of their common Master beheld in none of the rest; and although this was probably never seen either in his life or in his ministry by his fellow apostles, it is brought out wonderfully in his writings, which, in Christ-like spirituality, heavenliness, and love, surpass, we may freely say, all the other inspired writings.
After the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we find him in constant but silent company with Peter, the great spokesman and actor in the infant Church until the accession of Paul. While his love to the Lord Jesus drew him spontaneously to the side of His eminent servant, and his chastened vehemence made him ready to stand courageously by him, and suffer with him, in all that his testimony to Jesus might cost him, his modest humility, as the youngest of all the apostles, made him an admiring listener and faithful supporter of his brother apostle rather than a speaker or separate actor. Ecclesiastical history is uniform in testifying that John went to Asia Minor; but it is next to certain that this could not have been till after the death both of Peter and Paul; that he resided at Ephesus, whence, as from a center, he superintended the churches of that region, paying them occasional visits; and that he long survived the other apostles. Whether the mother of Jesus died before this, or went with John to Ephesus, where she died and was buried, is not agreed. One or two anecdotes of his later days have been handed down by tradition, one at least bearing marks of reasonable probability. But it is not necessary to give them here. In the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) he was banished to "the isle that is called Patmos" (a small rocky and then almost uninhabited island in the Ægean Sea), "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Re 1:9). Irenæus and Eusebius say that this took place about the end of Domitian's reign. That he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, and miraculously delivered, is one of those legends which, though reported by Tertullian and Jerome, is entitled to no credit. His return from exile took place during the brief but tolerant reign of Nerva; he died at Ephesus in the reign of Trajan [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.23], at an age above ninety, according to some; according to others, one hundred; and even one hundred twenty, according to others still. The intermediate number is generally regarded as probably the nearest to the truth.
As to the date of this Gospel, the arguments for its having been composed before the destruction of Jerusalem (though relied on by some superior critics) are of the slenderest nature; such as the expression in Joh 5:2, "there is at Jerusalem, by the sheep-gate, a pool," &c.; there being no allusion to Peter's martyrdom as having occurred according to the prediction in Joh 21:18—a thing too well known to require mention. That it was composed long after the destruction of Jerusalem, and after the decease of all the other apostles, is next to certain, though the precise time cannot be determined. Probably it was before his banishment, however; and if we date it between the years 90 and 94, we shall probably be close to the truth.
As to the readers for whom it was more immediately designed, that they were Gentiles we might naturally presume from the lateness of the date; but the multitude of explanations of things familiar to every Jew puts this beyond all question.
No doubt was ever thrown upon the genuineness and authenticity of this Gospel till about the close of the eighteenth century; nor were these embodied in any formal attack upon it till Bretschneider, in 1820, issued his famous treatise [Probabilia], the conclusions of which he afterwards was candid enough to admit had been satisfactorily disproved. To advert to these would be as painful as unnecessary; consisting as they mostly do of assertions regarding the Discourses of our Lord recorded in this Gospel which are revolting to every spiritual mind. The Tubingen school did their best, on their peculiar mode of reasoning, to galvanize into fresh life this theory of the post-Joannean date of the Fourth Gospel; and some Unitarian critics still cling to it. But to use the striking language of Van Oosterzee regarding similar speculations on the Third Gospel, "Behold, the feet of them that shall carry it out dead are already at the door" (Ac 5:9). Is there one mind of the least elevation of spiritual discernment that does not see in this Gospel marks of historical truth and a surpassing glory such as none of the other Gospels possess, brightly as they too attest their own verity; and who will not be ready to say that if not historically true, and true just as it stands, it never could have been by mortal man composed or conceived?
Of the peculiarities of this Gospel, we note here only two. The one is its reflective character. While the others are purely narrative, the Fourth Evangelist, "pauses, as it were, at every turn," as Da Costa says [Four Witnesses, p. 234], "at one time to give a reason, at another to fix the attention, to deduce consequences, or make applications, or to give utterance to the language of praise." See Joh 2:20, 21, 23-25; 4:1, 2; 7:37-39; 11:12, 13, 49-52; 21:18, 19, 22, 23. The other peculiarity of this Gospel is its supplementary character. By this, in the present instance, we mean something more than the studiousness with which he omits many most important particulars in our Lord's history, for no conceivable reason but that they were already familiar as household words to all his readers, through the three preceding Gospels, and his substituting in place of these an immense quantity of the richest matter not found in the other Gospels. We refer here more particularly to the nature of the additions which distinguish this Gospel; particularly the notices of the different Passovers which occurred during our Lord's public ministry, and the record of His teaching at Jerusalem, without which it is not too much to say that we could have had but a most imperfect conception either of the duration of His ministry or of the plan of it. But another feature of these additions is quite as noticeable and not less important. "We find," to use again the words of Da Costa [Four Witnesses, pp. 238, 239], slightly abridged, "only six of our Lord's miracles recorded in this Gospel, but these are all of the most remarkable kind, and surpass the rest in depth, specialty of application, and fulness of meaning. Of these six we find only one in the other three Gospels—the multiplication of the loaves. That miracle chiefly, it would seem, on account of the important instructions of which it furnished the occasion (Joh 6:1-71), is here recorded anew. The five other tokens of divine power are distinguished from among the many recorded in the three other Gospels by their furnishing a still higher display of power and command over the ordinary laws and course of nature. Thus we find recorded here the first of all the miracles that Jesus wrought—the changing of water into wine (Joh 2:1-11), the cure of the nobleman's son at a distance (Joh 4:43-54); of the numerous cures of the lame and the paralytic by the word of Jesus, only one—of the man impotent for thirty and eight years (Joh 5:1-9); of the many cures of the blind, one only—of the man born blind (Joh 9:1-12); the restoration of Lazarus, not from a deathbed, like Jairus' daughter, nor from a bier, like the widow of Nain's son, but from the grave, and after lying there four days, and there sinking into corruption (Joh 11:1-44); and lastly, after His resurrection, the miraculous draught of fishes on the Sea of Tiberias (Joh 21:5-11). But these are all recorded chiefly to give occasion for the record of those astonishing discourses and conversations, alike with friends and with foes, with His disciples and with the multitude which they drew forth."
Other illustrations of the peculiarities of this Gospel will occur, and other points connected with it be adverted to, in the course of the Commentary.
Joh 1:1-14. The Word Made Flesh.
1. In the beginning—of all time and created existence, for this Word gave it being (Joh 1:3, 10); therefore, "before the world was" (Joh 17:5, 24); or, from all eternity.
was the Word—He who is to God what man's word is to himself, the manifestation or expression of himself to those without him. (See on Joh 1:18). On the origin of this most lofty and now for ever consecrated title of Christ, this is not the place to speak. It occurs only in the writings of this seraphic apostle.
was with God—having a conscious personal existence distinct from God (as one is from the person he is "with"), but inseparable from Him and associated with Him (Joh 1:18; Joh 17:5; 1Jo 1:2), where "THE Father" is used in the same sense as "God" here.
was God—in substance and essence God; or was possessed of essential or proper divinity. Thus, each of these brief but pregnant statements is the complement of the other, correcting any misapprehensions which the others might occasion. Was the Word eternal? It was not the eternity of "the Father," but of a conscious personal existence distinct from Him and associated with Him. Was the Word thus "with God?" It was not the distinctness and the fellowship of another being, as if there were more Gods than one, but of One who was Himself God—in such sense that the absolute unity of the God head, the great principle of all religion, is only transferred from the region of shadowy abstraction to the region of essential life and love. But why all this definition? Not to give us any abstract information about certain mysterious distinctions in the Godhead, but solely to let the reader know who it was that in the fulness of time "was made flesh." After each verse, then, the reader must say, "It was He who is thus, and thus, and thus described, who was made flesh."
The same was in the beginning with God.
2. The same, &c.—See what property of the Word the stress is laid upon—His eternal distinctness, in unity, from God—the Father (Joh 1:2).
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
3. All things, &c.—all things absolutely (as is evident from Joh 1:10; 1Co 8:6; Col 1:16, 17; but put beyond question by what follows).
without Him was not any thing—not one thing.
made—brought into being.
that was made—This is a denial of the eternity and non-creation of matter, which was held by the whole thinking world outside of Judaism and Christianity: or rather, its proper creation was never so much as dreamt of save by the children of revealed religion.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
4. In Him was life—essentially and originally, as the previous verses show to be the meaning. Thus He is the Living Word, or, as He is called in 1Jo 1:1, 2, "the Word of Life."
the life … the light of men—All that in men which is true light—knowledge, integrity, intelligent, willing subjection to God, love to Him and to their fellow creatures, wisdom, purity, holy joy, rational happiness—all this "light of men" has its fountain in the essential original "life" of "the Word" (1Jo 1:5-7; Ps 36:9).
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
5. shineth in darkness, &c.—in this dark, fallen world, or in mankind "sitting in darkness and the shadow of death," with no ability to find the way either of truth or of holiness. In this thick darkness, and consequent intellectual and moral obliquity, "the light of the Word" shineth—by all the rays whether of natural or revealed teaching which men (apart from the Incarnation of the Word) are favored with.
the darkness comprehended it not—did not take it in, a brief summary of the effect of all the strivings of this unincarnate Word throughout this wide world from the beginning, and a hint of the necessity of His putting on flesh, if any recovery of men was to be effected (1Co 1:21).
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
6-9. The Evangelist here approaches his grand thesis, so paving his way for the full statement of it in Joh 1:14, that we may be able to bear the bright light of it, and take in its length and breadth and depth and height.
The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
7. through him—John.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
8. not that Light—(See on Joh 5:35). What a testimony to John to have to explain that "he was not that Light!" Yet was he but a foil to set it off, his night-taper dwindling before the Dayspring from on high (Joh 3:30).
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
9. lighteth every man, &c.—rather, "which, coming into the world, enlighteneth every man"; or, is "the Light of the world" (Joh 9:5). "Coming into the world" is a superfluous and quite unusual description of "every man"; but it is of all descriptions of Christ amongst the most familiar, especially in the writings of this Evangelist (Joh 12:46; 16:28; 18:37; 1Jo 4:9; 1Ti 1:15, &c.).
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
10-13. He was in the world, &c.—The language here is nearly as wonderful as the thought. Observe its compact simplicity, its sonorousness—"the world" resounding in each of its three members—and the enigmatic form in which it is couched, startling the reader and setting his ingenuity a-working to solve the stupendous enigma of Christ ignored in His own world. "The world," in the first two clauses, plainly means the created world, into which He came, says Joh 1:9; "in it He was," says this verse. By His Incarnation, He became an inhabitant of it, and bound up with it. Yet it "was made by Him" (Joh 1:3-5). Here, then, it is merely alluded to, in contrast partly with His being in it, but still more with the reception He met with from it. "The world that knew Him not" (1Jo 3:1) is of course the intelligent world of mankind. (See on Joh 1:11,12). Taking the first two clauses as one statement, we try to apprehend it by thinking of the infant Christ conceived in the womb and born in the arms of His own creature, and of the Man Christ Jesus breathing His own air, treading His own ground, supported by substances to which He Himself gave being, and the Creator of the very men whom He came to save. But the most vivid commentary on this entire verse will be got by tracing (in His matchless history) Him of whom it speaks walking amidst all the elements of nature, the diseases of men and death itself, the secrets of the human heart, and "the rulers of the darkness of this world" in all their number, subtlety, and malignity, not only with absolute ease, as their conscious Lord, but, as we might say, with full consciousness on their part of the presence of their Maker, whose will to one and all of them was law. And this is He of whom it is added, "the world knew Him not!"
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
11. his own—"His own" (property or possession), for the word is in the neuter gender. It means His own land, city, temple, Messianic rights and possessions.
and his own—"His own (people)"; for now the word is masculine. It means the Jews, as the "peculiar people." Both they and their land, with all that this included, were "His own," not so much as part of "the world which was made by Him," but as "THE HEIR" of the inheritance (Lu 20:14; see also on Mt 22:1).
received him not—nationally, as God's chosen witnesses.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
12. But as many—individuals, of the "disobedient and gainsaying people."
gave he power—The word signifies both authority and ability, and both are certainly meant here.
to become—Mark these words: Jesus is the Son of God; He is never said to have become such.
the sons—or more simply, "sons of God," in name and in nature.
believe on his name—a phrase never used in Scripture of any mere creature, to express the credit given to human testimony, even of prophets or apostles, inasmuch it carries with it the idea of trust proper only towards God. In this sense of supreme faith, as due to Him who "gives those that believe in Himself power to become sons of God," it is manifestly used here.
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
13. Which were born—a sonship therefore not of mere title and privilege, but of nature, the soul being made conscious of the vital capacities, perceptions, and emotions of a child of God, before unknown.
not of blood, &c.—not of superior human descent, not of human generation at all, not of man in any manner of way. By this elaborate threefold denial of the human source of this sonship, immense force is given to what follows,
but of God—Right royal gift, and He who confers must be absolutely divine. For who would not worship Him who can bring him into the family, and evoke within him the very life, of the sons of God?
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
14. And the Word, &c.—To raise the reader to the altitude of this climax were the thirteen foregoing verses written.
was made flesh—BECAME MAN, in man's present frail, mortal condition, denoted by the word "flesh" (Isa 40:6; 1Pe 1:24). It is directed probably against the Docetæ, who held that Christ was not really but only apparently man; against whom this gentle spirit is vehement in his Epistles (1Jo 4:3; 2Jo 7, 10, 11), [Lucke, &c.]. Nor could He be too much so, for with the verity of the Incarnation all substantial Christianity vanishes. But now, married to our nature, henceforth He is as personally conscious of all that is strictly human as of all that is properly divine; and our nature is in His Person redeemed and quickened, ennobled and transfigured.
and dwelt—tabernacled or pitched his tent; a word peculiar to John, who uses it four times, all in the sense of a permanent stay (Re 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3). For ever wedded to our "flesh," He has entered this tabernacle to "go no more out." The allusion is to that tabernacle where dwelt the Shekinah (see on Mt 23:38, 39), or manifested "Glory of the Lord," and with reference to God's permanent dwelling among His people (Le 26:11; Ps 68:18; 132:13, 14; Eze 37:27). This is put almost beyond doubt by what immediately follows, "And we beheld his glory" [Lucke, Meyer, De Wette which last critic, rising higher than usual, says that thus were perfected all former partial manifestations of God in an essentially Personal and historically Human manifestation].
full of grace and truth—So it should read: "He dwelt among us full of grace and truth"; or, in Old Testament phrase, "Mercy and truth," denoting the whole fruit of God's purposes of love towards sinners of mankind, which until now existed only in promise, and the fulfilment at length of that promise in Christ; in one great word, "the SURE MERCIES of David" (Isa 55:3; Ac 13:34; compare 2Sa 23:5). In His Person all that Grace and Truth which had been floating so long in shadowy forms, and darting into the souls of the poor and needy its broken beams, took everlasting possession of human flesh and filled it full. By this Incarnation of Grace and Truth, the teaching of thousands of years was at once transcended and beggared, and the family of God sprang into Manhood.
and we beheld his glory—not by the eye of sense, which saw in Him only "the carpenter." His glory was "spiritually discerned" (1Co 2:7-15; 2Co 3:18; 4:4, 6; 5:16)—the glory of surpassing grace, love, tenderness, wisdom, purity, spirituality; majesty and meekness, richness and poverty, power and weakness, meeting together in unique contrast; ever attracting and at times ravishing the "babes" that followed and forsook all for Him.
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father—(See on Lu 1:35); not like, but "such as (belongs to)," such as became or was befitting the only begotten of the Father [Chrysostom in Lucke, Calvin, &c.], according to a well-known use of the word "as."
John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
Joh 1:15. A Saying of the Baptist Confirmatory of This.
15. after me—in official manifestation.
before me—in rank and dignity.
for he was before me—in existence; "His goings forth being from of old, from everlasting" (Mic 5:2). (Anything lower than this His words cannot mean); that is, "My Successor is my Superior, for He was my Predecessor." This enigmatic play upon the different senses of the words "before" and "after" was doubtless employed by the Baptist to arrest attention, and rivet the thought; and the Evangelist introduces it just to clinch his own statements.
And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
Joh 1:16-18. Same Subject Continued.
16. of his fulness—of "grace and truth," resuming the thread of Joh 1:14.
grace for grace—that is, grace upon grace (so all the best interpreters), in successive communications and larger measures, as each was able to take it in. Observe, the word "truth" is here dropped. "Grace" being the chosen New Testament word for the whole fulness of the new covenant, all that dwells in Christ for men.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
17. For, &c.—The Law elicits the consciousness of sin and the need of redemption; it only typifies the reality. The Gospel, on the contrary, actually communicates reality and power from above (compare Ro 6:14). Hence Paul terms the Old Testament "shadow," while he calls the New Testament "substance" (Col 2:17) [Olshausen].
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
18. No man—"No one," in the widest sense.
hath seen God—by immediate gaze, or direct intuition.
in the bosom of the Father—A remarkable expression, used only here, presupposing the Son's conscious existence distinct from the Father, and expressing His immediate and most endeared access to, and absolute acquaintance with, Him.
he—emphatic; As if he should say, "He and He only hath declared Him," because He only can.
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
Joh 1:19-36. The Baptist's Testimony to Christ.
the Jews—that is, the heads of the nation, the members of the Sanhedrim. In this peculiar sense our Evangelist seems always to use the term.
And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
20. confessed, &c.—that is, While many were ready to hail him as the Christ, he neither gave the slightest ground for such views, nor the least entertainment to them.
And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
21. Elias—in His own proper person.
that prophet—announced in De 18:15, &c., about whom they seem not to have been agreed whether he were the same with the Messiah or no.
Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
25. Why baptizest thou, if not, &c.—Thinking he disclaimed any special connection with Messiah's kingdom, they demand his right to gather disciples by baptism.
John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
26. there standeth—This must have been spoken after the baptism of Christ, and possibly just after His temptation (see on Joh 1:29).
He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
28. Bethabara—Rather, "Bethany" (according to nearly all the best and most ancient manuscripts); not the Bethany of Lazarus, but another of the same name, and distinguished from it as lying "beyond Jordan," on the east.
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
29. seeth Jesus—fresh, probably, from the scene of the temptation.
coming unto him—as to congenial company (Ac 4:23), and to receive from him His first greeting.
and saith—catching a sublime inspiration at the sight of Him approaching.
the Lamb of God—the one God-ordained, God-gifted sacrificial offering.
that taketh away—taketh up and taketh away. The word signifies both, as does the corresponding Hebrew word. Applied to sin, it means to be chargeable with the guilt of it (Ex 28:38; Le 5:1; Eze 18:20), and to bear it away (as often). In the Levitical victims both ideas met, as they do in Christ, the people's guilt being viewed as transferred to them, avenged in their death, and so borne away by them (Le 4:15; 16:15, 21, 22; and compare Isa 53:6-12; 2Co 5:21).
the sin—The singular number being used to mark the collective burden and all-embracing efficacy.
of the world—not of Israel only, for whom the typical victims were exclusively offered. Wherever there shall live a sinner throughout the wide world, sinking under that burden too heavy for him to bear, he shall find in this "Lamb of God," a shoulder equal to the weight. The right note was struck at the first—balm, doubtless, to Christ's own spirit; nor was ever after, or ever will be, a more glorious utterance.
This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
31-34. knew him not—Living mostly apart, the one at Nazareth, the other in the Judean desert—to prevent all appearance of collusion, John only knew that at a definite time after his own call, his Master would show Himself. As He drew near for baptism one day, the last of all the crowd, the spirit of the Baptist heaving under a divine presentiment that the moment had at length arrived, and an air of unwonted serenity and dignity, not without traits, probably, of the family features, appearing in this Stranger, the Spirit said to him as to Samuel of his youthful type, "Arise, anoint Him, for this is He!" (1Sa 16:12). But the sign which he was told to expect was the visible descent of the Spirit upon Him as He emerged out of the baptismal water. Then, catching up the voice from heaven, "he saw and bare record that this is the Son of God."
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
35. John stood—"was standing," at his accustomed place.
And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
36. looking—having fixed his eyes, with significant gaze, on Jesus.
as he walked—but not now to him. To have done this once (see on Joh 1:29) was humility enough [Bengel].
Behold, &c.—The repetition of that wonderful proclamation, in identical terms and without another word, could only have been meant as a gentle hint to go after Him—as they did.
And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
Joh 1:37-51. First Gathering of Disciples—John Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathanael.
Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
38. What seek ye—gentle, winning question, remarkable as the Redeemer's first public utterance. (See on Mt 12:18-20.)
where dwellest thou—that is, "That is a question we cannot answer in a moment; but had we Thy company for a calm hour in private, gladly should we open our burden."
He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
39. Come and see—His second utterance, more winning still.
tenth hour—not ten A.M. (as some), according to Roman, but four P.M., according to Jewish reckoning, which John follows. The hour is mentioned to show why they stayed out the day with him—because little of it remained.
One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
40. One … was Andrew—The other was doubtless our Evangelist himself. His great sensitiveness is touchingly shown in his representation of this first contact with the Lord; the circumstances are present to him in the minutest details; he still remembers the Very hour. But "he reports no particulars of those discourses of the Lord by which he was bound to Him for the whole of His life; he allows everything personal to retire" [Olshausen].
Peter's brother—and the elder of the two.
He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
41. have found the Messias—The previous preparation of their simple hearts under the Baptist's ministry, made quick work of this blessed conviction, while others hesitated till doubt settled into obduracy. So it is still.
And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
42. brought him to Jesus—Happy brothers that thus do to each other!
beheld him—fixed his eyes on him, with significant gaze (as Joh 1:36).
Cephas … stone—(See on Mt 16:18).
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
43. would go … into Galilee—for from His baptism He had sojourned in Judea (showing that the calling at the Sea of Galilee [Mt 4:18] was a subsequent one, see on Lu 5:1).
Follow me—the first express call given, the former three having come to Him spontaneously.
Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
44. the city of Andrew and Peter—of their birth probably, for they seem to have lived at Capernaum (Mr 1:29).
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
45. Nathanael—(See on Mt 10:3).
Moses—(See Joh 5:46).
son of Joseph—the current way of speaking. (See Lu 3:23).
And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
46. any good out of Nazareth—remembering Bethlehem, perhaps, as Messiah's predicted birthplace, and Nazareth having no express prophetic place at all, besides being in no repute. The question sprang from mere dread of mistake in a matter so vital.
Come and see—Noble remedy against preconceived opinions [Bengel]. Philip, though he could not perhaps solve his difficulty, could show him how to get rid of it. (See on Joh 6:68).
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
47. an Israelite indeed … no guile—not only no hypocrite, but with a guileless simplicity not always found even in God's own people, ready to follow wherever truth might lead him, saying, Samuel-like, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth" (1Sa 3:10).
Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
48. Whence knowest thou me—conscious that his very heart had been read, and at this critical moment more than ever before.
Before Philip called thee—showing He knew all that passed between Philip and him at a distance.
when … under the fig tree, &c.—where retirement for meditation and prayer was not uncommon [Lightfoot]. Thither, probably—hearing that his master's Master had at length appeared, and heaving with mingled eagerness to behold Him and dread of deception—he had retired to pour out his guileless heart for light and guidance, ending with such a prayer as this, "Show me a token for good!" (See on Lu 2:8). Now he has it, "Thou guileless one, that fig tree scene, with all its heaving anxieties, deep pleadings and tremulous hopes—I saw it all." The first words of Jesus had astonished, but this quite overpowered and won him.
Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
49. Son of God … King of Israel—the one denoting His person, the other His office. How much loftier this than anything Philip had said to him! But just as the earth's vital powers, the longer they are frost-bound, take the greater spring when at length set free, so souls, like Nathanael and Thomas (see on Joh 20:28), the outgoings of whose faith are hindered for a time, take the start of their more easy-going brethren when loosed and let go.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
50, 51. Because I said, &c.—"So quickly convinced, and on this evidence only?"—an expression of admiration.
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
51. Hereafter, &c.—The key to this great saying is Jacob's vision (Ge 28:12-22), to which the allusion plainly is. To show the patriarch that though alone and friendless on earth his interests were busying all heaven, he was made to see "heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon a" mystic "ladder reaching from heaven to earth." "By and by," says Jesus here, "ye shall see this communication between heaven and earth thrown wide open, and the Son of man the real Ladder of this intercourse."