The other week Phil mentioned this quote in his first sermon on John:
“The Gospel of John is like a swimming pool: shallow enough that a child may wade and deep enough that an elephant can swim.” – Leon Morris.
I have to say that as I’ve been preparing to teach it, I’ve found this to be true of John’s gospel! There are great depths of truth to explore in each passage – far too much for a single sermon to get through. And so I thought I’d share a few things that I didn’t get to say from the passage I spoke on last Sunday (1:19-51). My hope is that by noticing a few of these interesting things, we can begin to see just how much great stuff there is in each chapter of John.
When did Jesus first meet his disciples?
This actually came as a feedback slip question: How do we match up Andrew and Peter’s meeting Jesus with Mark’s gospel, which is a bit different?
The other gospels do recount Jesus calling those first disciples at a later point, and he does so in Galilee, not beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist was. The difference between the two occasions is one of purpose. It seems Andrew and Simon Peter first met Jesus beyond the Jordan and this was simply becoming acquainted. Perhaps Jesus did share some of his life and teaching with them at this time.
Then it seems that later Jesus specifically sought out Andrew and Peter (and James and John) when they were back home in Galilee in order to officially kick off his ministry. We see this most clearly in Mark’s gospel - Jesus began his ministry “after John was arrested” (1:14), and he called them to the specific ministry of “fishing for men” (1:17) which they then went on to do. This also makes sense of why they dropped their nets immediately and followed him – they already knew who he was and that they should do whatever he says! Perhaps he’d even already briefed them and invited them to go with him when he kicked off his ministry in the near future.
So it seems there was some short passage of time between Jesus’ time at the Jordan and his official start to his ministry around Galilee. The wedding at Cana, and it seems all the events of John 2-4, happened at this time before John’s imprisonment (see 3:24). It seems John was imprisoned and possibly already executed by the time we get to John 5 (see 5:35).
Who is Nathanael?
Nathanael, one of Jesus’ first disciples in John is actually never named anywhere else in the Bible, which is a bit strange when he’s connected with a few of the other apostles so early on, and (even more surprising), he sees Jesus raised from the dead (John 21:2). It seems he qualifies to be an apostle, but he’s not mentioned in the apostle lists in the other gospels.
This has led many to say that Nathanael and the apostle Bartholomew are one and the same person. This is because the name Bartholomew simply means “son of Tholomew”, so it’s possible that he had another given name – Nathanael (“gift of God”). Also, Bartholomew is always mentioned with Philip in the other gospels, just as Nathanael is mentioned with Philip in John. This seems to make sense and I think this is the best explanation for who Nathanael is.
Who really “knows” Jesus?
One of the themes that keeps coming up in John’s gospel is what it means to truly “know” Jesus, and that many do not really “know” him, as 1:10 says: He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize (know) Him.
Then we see John the Baptist say, “Someone stands among you, but you don’t know Him.” (1:26) And, “I didn’t know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water told me…” (1:33)
So early on in the gospel, we see that people don’t really know or understand Jesus, but that God the Father is revealing Jesus to some, so that they can know him and follow him (see John 6:37-40, 44-46). What’s the lesson for us? We need God to remove our spiritual blindness for us to see Jesus clearly and know him.
This is just a sample of some of the other things we can see in just one passage! Let’s keep swimming in the deep pool of John’s gospel and finding its treasures!