February 11, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: The first disciples

See John 1:29-51  

A quick test: Who were Jesus’ first five disciples?

Only John’s Gospel tells us about the calling of Jesus’ first disciples while he was still in Judea. It happened when Jesus returned to the place where John was baptizing and John said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” For the Jews, a lamb was what they sacrificed, such as at Passover. Isaiah spoke of “a lamb led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7). What do you suppose Jesus would have thought about John’s allusion?

“The sin of the world”—This was a reminder that there is a sin of the world, not just individuals’ sins. It was the sin of the first man, what we know as Original Sin, and John recognized that Jesus was to suffer and die to remove that sin.

Two of John’s disciples followed Jesus. One was Andrew and the other, although not named, has traditionally been thought to be John, the younger son of Zebedee. They spent the rest of the day with Jesus, perhaps in a nearby cave where Jesus was staying.

We don’t know anything about their conversation, but it impressed Andrew enough that he told his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah,” and he brought Simon to see Jesus. Jesus immediately changed Simon’s name to Peter. That must have puzzled Simon. He didn’t know anyone called “rock,” which is what Peter meant. He wouldn’t learn the significance of that name until much later.

Jesus had been invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, so he began the journey from Judea to Galilee. Peter, Andrew and John were also from Galilee so they accompanied him. Along the way, they met Philip, from Peter and Andrew’s hometown of Bethsaida, and he too immediately followed Jesus.

Arriving in Cana, Philip ran into his friend, Nathaniel, and enthusiastically told him that they had found the Christ. When Nathaniel learned that Jesus was from Nazareth, he was unimpressed.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” he asked. He couldn’t imagine the Messiah coming from a nondescript village never mentioned in Scripture.

He was impressed, though, once he met Jesus, who complimented him as a “true Israelite” with “no duplicity.” This was one of the few men Jesus praised. Nathaniel seems to have ignored the compliment, though, and wondered how Jesus knew him. We don’t know precisely what Jesus meant when he replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree,” but whatever it was, it was enough to make Nathaniel exclaim, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Jesus then told all five of his new disciples, “You will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Even unlearned Jews were quite aware of Jacob’s dream (Gn 28:12) of a ladder stretched up to heaven with angels on it, and now Jesus was telling them that they would see that.

Just who was this mysterious man they were following? †  


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