What gets you up in the morning? What motivates, what excites you? John, in John 1:35-51, focuses on the most important motivation. He describes enthusiastic calls to follow Jesus as he continues to introduce his Gospel with its purpose of leading you to believe in Jesus.
In response to John the Baptizer again identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God, two of his disciples begin to follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, finds his brother, Simon, whose name Jesus changes to Cephas or Peter, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” (Extending that invitation was one of the greater acts of service anyone has done the church!) Andrew brings his brother to Jesus. The other disciple, unnamed by John, may well be the author of this Gospel, who avoids naming himself in the book.
You sense the excitement in the voice of the Baptizer as he points out Jesus. You see his greatness as he willingly has his disciples transition from following him to following Jesus.
The theme of following continues as Jesus finds Philip and tells him, “Follow me.” Philip in turn finds Nathaniel. He identifies Jesus as the one about whom Moses and the prophets had written, perhaps reflecting their study of the Scriptures as they looked for the coming Messiah. In response to Nathaniel’s skepticism, Philip gives a simple but appropriate response: “Come and see.”
The Gospel of John, even in this introductory chapter, is showing you the urgency and excitement of following Jesus. There is nothing more important that you can do than to follow Him. If you do follow him, you need to be doing what Andrew and Philip both did: invite others to follow Jesus. Simple invitations to neighbors and friends is one way to do that. You don’t need to have all the answers. Philip’s response works: “Come and see.” A crucial place in which to encourage people to follow Jesus is in your own home. The Scriptures that Nathaniel and Philip studied are your guide as well.
Near the end of his Gospel John summarizes his purpose in writing: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). That purpose is anticipated as Nathaniel encounters Jesus. First, Jesus identifies him as a genuine Israelite in whom is nothing false. He then reveals that he saw Nathaniel while he was under a fig tree before Philip called him. That supernatural knowledge prompts Nathaniel to confess that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel.
Those titles, along with others used in the chapter (Word, Lamb of God, Messiah) all prepare for the growing understanding of who Jesus really is. But even more important is the way that Jesus identifies himself.
With a reference to Jacob’s vision at Bethel (Genesis 28) Jesus identifies himself as the One through whom the covenant God brings you into fellowship with himself. Angels ascending and descending with heaven open point to the restored fellowship between God and man that would be accomplished by his work as the Messiah. John Calvin comments: “In short, this passage [John 1:51] teaches us, that though the whole human race was banished from the kingdom of God, the gate of heaven is now opened to us, so that we are fellow-citizens of the saints, and companions of the angels (Ephesians 2:19) and that they, having been appointed to be guardians of our salvation, descend from the blessed rest of the heavenly glory to relieve our distresses.”
Then Jesus draws on Daniel 7:13-14 as he calls himself “the Son of Man.” Although we tend to think of Christ’s humiliation and suffering as we hear that title, it actually speaks of his divinity, glory, and exaltation. As Jesus uses the term here at the beginning of his earthly work, it implies the successful completion of redemption and renewal.
The Jesus who saw Nathaniel sees you today. Do you see his glory and majesty? Is following him what motivates and excites you? Are you enthusiastically inviting others to come and see Jesus?