The Gospel of John: Part 6 The Calling

John 1:40–51 (ESV) — 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”


We will be covering two encounters with Jesus and 4 people today. Last time we studied John and Andrew spending the day with Jesus. They had told Him they wanted to be his disciples, but He has not yet gathered them together to follow Him. So Andrew spends the day with Jesus and He tells Him you have to come meet my brother Peter. He is a great guy. He runs the family fishing business. He is the coolest big brother of all. So Andrew tells Jesus, “Stay here I’m going to go get him and bring him back.”


Andrew finds his brother Peter and he is like, “dude come on you got to meet this guy he is the Messiah, you know the Christ.”

So let’s talk about those two words now; Messiah and Christ. How many think that Jesus’ last name is Christ? It isn’t. People did not have last names at this time like we do. You would be referred to by your father’s name or where you lived[ref]Surnames as we know them did not come into being until much later in most countries.[/ref]. For example Dustin would be called Dustin son of Scott or Dustin of Jacks Creek. The bible often refers to son of as Bar which is Aramaic for son of, So it would say Dustin Barscott. Jesus would be referred to as the son of Joseph. An example of this would be in Matthew 16:17[1]. Jesus calls Peter, Simon Bar-Jonah or Simon son of John.

Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah. It is a title. When we say Jesus Christ we are saying Jesus the Messiah. And Messiah means one who is anointed. The one God sent.

So Andrew drags his brother back to Jesus. Jesus looks at Simon and says so you are Simon the son of John; I’m going to rename you Cephas. John the author puts a note here to let us know that Cephas which is Aramaic means Peter in Greek. If you are using a King James it tells you that in English this means stone. Which also is what I’m about to tell you.

The Stone

It is not uncommon for God to rename someone He is about to use for His Glory. Abram became Abraham(Genesis 17:5), Sarai became Sarah(Genesis 17:15), Jacob became Israel(Genesis 32:28). Simon, or Peter, or Cephas; however you want to remember him is going to change. The name Simon is basically paying homage to Simeon the second son of Jacob. It’s an Old Testament name.

Peter means stone. Through the gospels Peter was anything but a stone. We see a man that will speak boldly and without thought, at times getting rebuked strongly by Jesus(John 13:8, Matthew 16:23). He swears his allegiance to Jesus and then denies him three times. Afterwards he becomes rock solid in his witness for Jesus.

Jesus isn’t Lost

The next thing we see is in verse 43. Jesus is going to Galilee, but first He finds Philip. We often hear a person refer to someone that has been saved and has been changed by their encounter with Jesus as having found Jesus. Jesus is not lost. Jesus has never been lost. You are or were lost. A lost person has to be found. You don’t wonder through the woods for three days and when you find someone say, Wow, am I glad I found you.” They weren’t lost if they were, then both of you have a problem.

If you try to come to Jesus on your own terms then you haven’t met Him. Jesus finds us. That isn’t to say that we won’t cry out for help and he comes to us, but it’s just like the lost in the woods illustration. You are calling out because you are lost. When Jesus says, “Follow me” it’s definite you have been found. You will know. Just as you would know when you have found someone to lead you out of the woods and you start following them. Everyone else will be able to see that you have been found and are being led out of the woods by somebody. When Jesus finds you and you follow Him everyone will know you are being led by somebody. You are going to be led out of sin. It’s going to show. Things you used to like to do will start to appeal to you less and less. You will start to get a conviction, a feeling that you are doing something wrong when you sin.


The next thing that gets me about his passage is that it tells us that Phillip is from Bethsaida the city of Andrew and Peter. It is also the town of James and John and apparently Philip and Nathanael. Jesus takes six men from a river town and changes the world. Jesus started with six men went to twelve and then it exploded. Jesus can do extraordinary things through anybody. Just give in and when He says Follow me, GO!

Next thing: Phillip finds Nathanael and tells him about Jesus (vs.45). Are you starting to see a theme? A pattern! Andrew tells Peter about Jesus. Phillip tells Nathanael about Jesus. Mark Driscoll did a sermon[2] on this passage a few years ago and before he started he had everyone take a sheet of paper and make a circle around their name. Then he had them start drawing around it other circles orbiting it. These circles had groups of ten that they were involved in. Clusters of people they knew. It could be people you work with, share a hobby with, go to little league games with. If you do this exercise it will amaze you how many people you can influence with the news of Jesus. If you had everyone in just one of your clusters make a list of their clusters it would really amaze you how many people you could influence. It might amaze you who you could influence.

Quick example I am only three people away from president Obama. I know a man and he goes on mission trips to Africa, and the place he works there is right next to the village where Obama’s mom lives. Last time he was there, he got to meet her. The people in this room tonight are in the perfect position to change the world for Jesus and all it requires is telling those we know about Jesus.

Let’s go on to verse 45 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.” Phillip goes to his friend Nathanael. Nathanael is a student of the bible. He loves to study and meditate upon what it says. Phillip knows his friend will be excited that the Messiah the Old Testament talks about is finally here. So Phillip goes to Nathanael and introduces him to Jesus.

Nathanael like many people first coming to Jesus are skeptical. His response in verse 46 is “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Bethsaida was a fishing town located on the North East point of the Sea of Galilee. Nazareth was a small town of about 1600 people.[3]about 16 miles south west of the Sea of Galilee. It was a high valley located on the southern hills of the Lebanon range.[4] No major trade routes headed through it. It was one of those towns in the middle of nowhere that you wander why anyone would want to live there. It is not the place you would expect a glorious Lord and King to come from.

Phillips response was not to argue, but to simply say, “Come and see.” There is nothing we can say to make someone accept Christ. We are not salesman trying to sale a religion because we think it is the best product. We are trying to introduce someone to an amazing man. God with us. Jesus the Christ. We just make the introduction Jesus is the one that shows them what it is like to meet God.

The Encounter

The next few verses are very interesting. Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”(John 1:47-49 ESV)

Jesus simply says to Nathanael as he is walking up, Now here is an honest man. A man that can truly be trusted. Like any of us, when someone we have never met starts paying us such compliments we are skeptical. Nathanael challenges Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus simply says, “Before Phillip came and got you I saw you under the fig tree.” This simple statement turns Nathanael from skeptic to full fledged worshipful believer. Notice what Nathanael says. Phillip only said we have found the one Moses and the prophets talked about. He even calls Him the son of Joseph. Nathanael, the student of the bible says, this isn’t the son of Joseph. This is the Son of God. This is the King of Israel.

Why does he believe

If you are anything like me you are now asking, “What in the world was Nathanael doing under the fig tree that He would go from skeptic to believer so quick?” The first thing we need to understand is that the reference to a fig tree is a reference to studying. A man under a fig tree is symbolization of being home (1 Kings 4:25; Zechariah 3:10).A fig tree grows very large and it branches way out. It creates an awesome shade[i]. Jewish people would sit in the shade of these trees and study, pray and meditate on scripture.

Jesus basically said, “I saw you studying and praying.” Okay now I’m going to speculate because I know you are still wondering why that would impress him so much. Remember that Jesus can see into our very hearts and minds (John 2:25). I imagine Nathanael had been studying Genesis 27. This is where Jacob steals his brother Esau’s blessing. Issac tells Esau the older son to bring him some game to eat and he will give him his blessing. This was a big deal. This is where a father would basically pass everything including his authority as head of the house to the elder son.

Jacob puts animal skins on his arms to impersonate his hairy brother, so that Issac will bless him instead. Once this is done the blessing can not be taken back. Jacob takes the blessing by deceit, along with this blessing is the promise that a great nation will come from him and Jacob has his name changed to Israel and becomes the father of the Israelites. I believe, and remember this is what I think and not what the bible says. This is just what makes the most since to me. I believe that Nathanael had been studying this and had been praying God do not let me be deceitful. Do not let me seek dishonest gain. For Jesus to know his very prayers would prove to Him that Jesus was the Messiah.

Greater Things Than This

In verse 50 Jesus tells him he will see greater things than this. Jesus sees into our hearts and knows our prayers, but what is even more amazing is how he can change our hearts. In a later lesson we will study the Samaritan woman and how Jesus took a woman living in adultery and sexual immorality and turned her into a witness that led a town into revival. We will study a Pharisee who at the risk of his position in religious society took a stand for Jesus and made sure He received a proper burial.

Nathanael was going to see Jesus change the lives of people. He was going to witness diseased people healed, paralytics walk, blind men see, and the dead rise. Nathanael was going to witness the things he read about in the Old Testament and he was going to be a part of them.

Where is Nathanael?

So that begs the question where was Nathanael throughout the rest of the gospels? Why is he not mentioned again, if Jesus had told him that he would witness these things? If you read the rest of the gospel accounts you may notice that Nathanael does not get mentioned. You will also notice that there is a disciple called Bartholomew. You will also notice that he is always listed with Phillip. If you think about what I said earlier about the word bar you will realize that Bartholomew means son of Tholomew or as it should be said son of Tolami. Phillips friend Nathanael Son of Tolmai was a disciple.

We end with verse 51, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” First we need to realize what truly, truly means. If you have a King James you probably see verily, verily. It is an affirmation. It’s stating that what I’m about to say to you is very important so listen closely. The Greek word (am-ayn’) is translated a different way in other parts of our bible. If you will quickly turn to the back of your bible and look at the very last word of revelation. …Amen.

Jesus is saying take notice this is trustworthy. Another thing I want to point out about the Greek here is that the Greek language has two words for you. One is singular the other is plural this last sentence contains the plural you. So Jesus goes from talking to Nathanael to telling everyone there this is for them. You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the son of Man.

The Ladder

So what does this mean? Remember that I stated earlier that I believed Nathanael had been reading about Jacobs’s deceit. Well as a result of his deceit he had to run for his life. On his way he stops and sleeps, and dreams; (Genesis 28:12-15)

12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

I am going to start with an Old Testament interpretation and then we will move to what Jesus is saying. Again we need to understand what the Jews were thinking at the time the statement was made to understand more fully what is meant.

I imagine Jacob is feeling pretty low. There has always been a born in desire to have the first born rights, but being born as the later twin he does not have a right to them. The rights of a first born were very important at this time. It’s kinda of like if Amy and I go out we leave the oldest child in charge. The rights would belong to the older child. All the possessions and power the father had would be passed down. Jacob had already earned the rights basically through force. When his older brother was weak and needed to be fed, Jacob only did it if he would give up the first born rights.

So Esau has already lost his rightful position in the family, now he loses his blessing to Jacob. This is basically a father prophetically and through commands telling everyone where your place in the family would be. It is sort of a God guided prayer of what your son would do and become.

Jacob has had to leave his family due to his deceit; his brother hates him and wants him dead. His dad Isaac is disappointed and hurt. As he lays down in the wilderness feeling as low as a man can, he probably thinks to himself even god should forsake me.

I want to stop and ask there; have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like; Lord I am such a failure and disappointment that even you should turn your face from me. My guilt is so deep and my sin so dark that I do not deserve to even be known to you. Jacob is there.

But God responds, this dream Jacob knew was from God. God tells him in the symbolization of a ladder, which the Jews believed symbolized divine providence[5] that he was guiding him and was with him. His angels were keeping watch on him and God still had a plan for him to prosper. No matter where you are at God has a plan for you. God has forgiven you and is there for you.

So God also promises that through Jacobs’s offspring all families of the Earth will be blessed. Jump to the time of Jesus and Jesus is saying that time of blessing is here.  He is that providence. He is that ladder. We do not go through priest anymore we go through Jesus. Jesus death on the cross brought Jacob’s dream to fruitation and these men were there and were going to get to witness it.


I’m going to conclude by saying we should be like Andrew and Phillip. If we have met Jesus then we should have an overwhelming desire to introduce others to Him. We should go to family, friends, and coworkers and tell them about Jesus the Christ. We should share our testimonies and what He is doing in our life. It is not our responsibility to make them a believer or sell them on Christianity. It is our responsibility to introduce them and let Jesus convince them that He is who he says He is. With Christ living inside of us our very lives should convince others that Jesus is who He said He is.


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  1. [1] Unless your translation translates it “Son of” for you
  2. [2]
  3. [3] Paul J. Achtemeier, Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 689.
  4. [4] D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 808.
  5. [5] Calvin’s Commentaries Genesis 28:4

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