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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Jesus begins to reveal himself to his disciples as the Messiah
Text:John 1:43-51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:All of scripture points to Jesus Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4

Psalm 25:9 (after the law)

Hymn 25:1-3

Hymn 26

Psalm 97:1,4,5

Scripture reading:  Genesis 28:10-22

Text:  John 1:43-51

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Scripture teaches that Christians are disciples.  That means that we are students, but very special students.  Disciples are students who follow their teacher, who are committed to him, and want to be like him.  Disciples spend as much as they can in the presence of their teacher, because they want to learn from him everything they can.  In the verses right before our text for this morning, we see Jesus with three disciples:  Andrew, Peter, and someone else, probably John.

Now in our text we find two more disciples attached to Jesus.  Our passage describes the way Philip and Nathanael became Christ’s followers.  After this, John doesn’t describe how the other disciples came to follow Jesus.  We read of other disciples:  in John 11 we already read of Thomas, John 13 speaks of Judas Iscariot, and John 14 of the other Judas.  But for some reason, John’s gospel doesn’t tell us how all the twelve came to be disciples.  However, you have to realize, neither do the other gospels.  The important thing is that Scripture does portray these people following Jesus as disciples – and that Scripture also portrays Christ’s self-revelation to them.

Revelation about Christ is really the emphasis in this passage.  Prior to this, there is revelation about Jesus, about who he is and what he does and will do.  But it comes mostly through others, especially through John the Baptist and his witness.  There’s some of that in our passage this morning too, there’s some witnessing going on.  But the real focus is on how Jesus reveals himself to Philip and Nathanael – and what he also reveals to us about himself. 

So, I preach to you God’s Word:  Jesus begins to reveal himself to his disciples as the Messiah.  In our text we’ll see:

  1. One call
  2. Two conversations

Before this in chapter 1, Jesus had been somewhere along the Jordan River valley, near where John had been baptizing.  Verse 43 says that the next day he decided to head north, to the region of Galilee.  The fact that he encounters someone from Bethsaida would seem to suggest that he was near there.  Bethsaida was a fishing village on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee.  Officially, it wasn’t considered part of Galilee, but all the common people looked at it that way.  If you were from Bethsaida, you talked like a Galilean, you acted like a Galilean, so you were a Galilean.  Philip was from Bethsaida, so he was a Galilean, according to verse 44, the same was true of Andrew and Peter. 

Do these details mean anything?  Yes, they do.  The center of religious and political power was Jerusalem.  Galilee was considered to be a country backwater.  Galileans were notoriously stubborn, inflexible, and backwards.  Back in Canada, there’s a province called Newfoundland.   It’s on the east coast of Canada, in the Maritimes, and other Canadians are always making jokes about Newfies, people from Newfoundland.  You can imagine that in Jesus’ day they made jokes about Galileans.  Yet our Saviour’s first disciples all seem to come from Galilee.  They’re not from Jerusalem, they’re not highly educated and respected men.  They’re working men with a heavy accent which betrays their Galilean origin.  Remember how Peter was picked out as being Galilean right before he denied Christ?  That was because of his accent.  These are the men who are made Christ’s first disciples. 

But why?  Why the lowly and despised rather than the high and mighty?  This is God’s typical way of working.  God takes what is low and humble and uses it for his purposes in salvation.  As the Holy Spirit says in 1 Cor. 1:26-29, God uses the low and humble to shame the strong and proud.  What’s seen here with the disciples from Galilee continues that divine pattern.  In doing that, Christ is actually revealing something about himself:  he is doing things God’s way.  He does things God’s way because he is God.

So Jesus is in bogan country and then he spots Philip.  He knew who he was looking for and he found him.  Then he said to him two simple words:  “Follow me.”  We know what that means, don’t we?  Jesus was saying, “Become my disciple.”  Our Lord was telling him that it’s time to go to school.  It’s time to have Jesus as your teacher. 

Now there’s something important to note in those two words, “Follow me.”  This is not a suggestion, it’s not a hint.  It’s not a request, as if Jesus is saying, “Would you please follow me?”  No, this is a command.  Our Lord orders Philip to follow him, to become his disciple.  This is extraordinary.  Like Andrew and Peter (and probably John) in the passage preceding, disciples usually voluntarily attached themselves to teachers.  But this teacher is different.  He calls a disciple to follow him.  Jesus has authority to do that.  He can command people to become his disciples and when that call comes, you’re obligated to follow him.  Why?  Because of who he is and the divine authority he carries.

Loved ones, Jesus has said the same thing to us:  “Follow me!”  It’s not a plea, it’s not a recommendation.  It’s a command.  Jesus says to you, “Follow me!”  Brother, he wants you to be his disciple.  Sister, he wants you to sit at his feet and learn from him.  How can I be so sure that the command to Philip is also for you?  It’s because Scripture teaches that there’s a connection between being baptized and discipleship.  In Matthew 28, when Christ gives the Great Commission to bring the gospel to the world, he told his disciples to make more disciples, and baptize them.  Baptism signs and seals that a person has been set apart for God, that they belong to him.  Baptism signs and seals that a person has been marked to be a disciple.  Have you been baptized?  Then Jesus says to you like he said to Philip:  “Follow me!”  Have you been baptized?  Then Jesus says, “I’m showing you that I am the One from whom you’re supposed to learn.  I’m the One you’re to follow.”

Now we’re in verse 45 and Jesus has a new disciple:  Philip.  What’s the first thing that Philip does?  It’s the same thing that Andrew did back in verse 41.  He found someone important to him and shared the news.  The new disciple, still a baby disciple, went out to go make another disciple.  This is supposed to be the pattern for Christian discipleship.  Disciples make more disciples.  Going back to Matthew 28, that’s what Jesus says there too.  He tells his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”  That’s a command that comes to the church today too – disciples of Jesus, go and make more disciples, of all nations – including your own. 

In Philip’s case, he goes and finds Nathanael.  Now as an aside here, some of you children have probably had to learn the names of the twelve disciples.  I think there’s even a song about that.  If you remember the list, probably your list doesn’t include Nathanael.  That’s because if you look at the lists of the twelve in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you don’t find the name Nathanael in those lists.  But you do find Bartholomew.  Bartholomew and Nathanael are very likely the same disciple.  Jewish people sometimes had different ways of naming.  You might have a proper name like Nathanael, but you might also have a name which tells who your father is.  Bartholomew is a name like that.  It literally means, “Son of Tolemaus.”  Nathanael was probably the son of Tolemaus.

When Philip finds Nathanael, he tells him, “We have found the one that Moses wrote about, the one that the prophets wrote about, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  There’s a lot packed into this!  First of all, “we” he says.  That probably refers to himself together with Andrew, Peter, and John.  As a group, they have come upon Jesus.  In Philip’s case, though, it has to be said that Jesus actually found him.  “He found Philip” it says in verse 43.  The more important thing is what they’ve learned about Jesus of Nazareth.  They’ve learned that he is the one that Moses and the prophets wrote about.

There’s a lot left unsaid in those words in verse 45.  Philip implies that Moses wrote about someone.  That’s a reference to Deuteronomy 18.  That passage featured earlier in John 1 when John the Baptist was asked if he was “the Prophet.”  Moses wrote about “the Prophet” in Deuteronomy 18:15-22.  He said that a Prophet like Moses would arise, speaking on behalf of God.  Philip is saying that the prophesied Prophet is here.

This person is also the one of whom the prophets wrote.  Philip implies that the prophets wrote about someone in particular.  That’s not a reference to any one particular passage, but a whole range of passages referring to the coming Messiah.  One of them would certainly be Isaiah 53.  We sang part of the rhymed version of that in Hymn 25.  Isaiah 53 spoke about a coming suffering servant, who would be innocent.  He would suffer and die in the place of the people of God.  Philip was saying that Jesus is that person that Isaiah wrote about, as well as the other prophets. 

At that moment, undoubtedly Philip still had a limited understanding of how Moses and the prophets pointed to Christ.  All the disciples did.  They would only later come to understand how everything pointed to him in the Old Testament.  Today we can read these words of Philip and we can be reminded of what we know.  Brothers and sisters, we know that the entire Bible, Moses, the prophets, the apostles, everyone and everything points us to Christ.  We need to remember this when we’re reading the Bible and studying it, whether by ourselves, in our families, at school, or in study clubs.  At all times, we have to remember that Scripture is first of all about Jesus.  It’s not all about Jesus in the same way.  Philip was only referring to the prophecies – those are some obvious passages pointing ahead to a Messiah, foretelling his coming.  Another classic example would be Psalm 110, a prophetic psalm speaking of Christ.  But when we’re looking at the sacrifices, we also have to think about how those pointed ahead to Christ’s perfect sacrifice.  When we consider the law of God, we have to think about Christ’s perfect obedience to the law and how he’s paid our debt for having broken the law.  When we read those passages about coming judgment, it reminds us of the horrible consequences of sin, and makes us thankful that Christ has borne that for us.  Our Lord Jesus is on every page of the Bible and we should never forget that.  Philip was just starting to get a glimpse of that, but we’ve been blessed with a much better understanding.

Another thing that’s left unsaid here is how Philip came to this conclusion in verse 45.  The way it’s presented, you might think that Jesus says “Follow me” in verse 43 and then, boom, Philip goes to Nathanael in verse 45.  You might think that these events follow immediately after one another.  However, the gospels typically give us a compressed account of how things unfolded.  After all, if every little detail were included, the book would be enormous.  As John himself says in the last verse of the book, if I were to tell you everything Jesus did, “I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  Here too, it seems quite reasonable to assume that Philip spent some time with Jesus, being instructed by his new Teacher, being discipled by him.  Philip reached his conclusion by way of revelation.  It was revealed to him by Christ, one way or another.  Christ showed him that he was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies.  Then Philip brought what he had learned to Nathanael. 

Nathanael heard Philip’s report and he responded with skepticism.  He was skeptical, he didn’t believe it right away, especially because of what Philip had said about Jesus being from Nazareth.  (The part about him the son of Joseph didn’t strike him as odd.  Many people just assumed that Jesus was the biological son of Joseph, even though he wasn’t.)  But Nazareth?  The Messiah coming from Nazareth?  How can it be?  Nazareth was just a little village, an unimportant place, in Scripture, in history and in contemporary times.

But Philip doesn’t argue with him.  He doesn’t debate the point.  Instead, he just tells him, “Come and see for yourself.”  Once you meet him, you may very well be forced to rethink it.  An encounter with the person of Jesus will be enough to convince you that he is the promised Messiah. 

Loved ones, notice the approach here of this baby disciple.  Philip just says, “Come and see…”  In my last congregation, I had these three catechism students, they were all sisters from the same family.  They had a friendly neighbour.  They would talk to him a lot.  He wasn’t a Christian, but they often tried to share the gospel with him.  He was a smart man and he always had some kind of challenge to put to them.  One day these sisters invited me to meet with their neighbour and try to answer some of his questions.  A lot of his questions were just blowing smoke.  He wasn’t really interested in answers, he just liked to debate and get people riled up.  He thought it was good fun.  I only had one visit with him.  At the end of that one visit, I basically told him what Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see.”  I asked him if he’d ever read John’s Gospel.  He said that he hadn’t.  I encouraged him to do that, especially since a lot of his questions were answered in that book.  I said, “You should read John.  If you read John, I’ll come back if you want and we can talk more.”  Unfortunately, I don’t think he did read it, because I never heard back from him again.  But that’s the approach we need to take.  A lot of people have questions about Christianity, and many times the best approach is to encourage them to read the Bible for themselves, or even offer to read it and study it with them.  “Come and see!”  “Come and see Jesus for yourself, meet Jesus in his Word” – that’s still a good approach for disciples today. 

We’re in verse 47 and we see Philip bringing Nathanael along to Jesus.  Jesus sees Nathanael coming and exclaims, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”  When Christ says this, he may very well be alluding back to Jacob in the Old Testament.  Do you remember how Jacob’s name was changed to Israel in Genesis?  Jacob’s life was full of deception, deceiving and being deceived.  For example, I’m sure you remember how he tricked his brother Esau into selling the birthright in Genesis 25.  Now Nathanael is before Jesus, a descendant of Jacob, an Israelite.  Christ looks into his life and he sees that there is integrity.  Nathanael was a godly man.  Obviously, the Holy Spirit had been at work in his life even before he met Jesus.  Notice here how Christ can look into people and see what’s there.  He can do that because of his divine nature.

Nathanael doesn’t know that at first.  His first reaction in verse 48 is, “How do you know me?”  In other words, “Have we met before?”  Nathanael is surprised at what Jesus says, but the surprise deepens when Jesus says more. 

He says, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Now this is remarkable.  Christ knows what Nathanael was doing before Philip approached him.  He knows where he was.  He knows what kind of tree he was under:  a fig tree, a leafy tree where you can find shade.  This is an amazing thing:  Jesus saw Nathanael, he knew Nathanael, before they had even met. 

The amazement deepens when we look at this in the light of what Scripture says elsewhere.  In particular, I’m thinking of what Christ says in his high priestly prayer in John 17.  In John 17:6, he speaks of the people that God gave him out of the world.  God gave to Jesus a specific number of people from out of the world.  These are the sheep, these are the ones that Jesus would suffer and die for.  Now the question is: when did the Father give these people to the Son?  Ephesians 1 tells us that election took place “before the foundation of the world.”  And if you are elected, you are chosen to salvation in Christ.  Therefore, it makes sense that the elect have been given to Christ also before the foundation of the world.  That means that Christ didn’t only see and know Nathanael before they met, while he was under the fig tree.  Christ knew him before creation.  The same with the other disciples.  And the same with us. 

To us, to all who believe, Christ says, “Before you were called, before we met, before the world was created, I saw you.  You were given to me by the Father.  I knew you.  I knew that I would live a perfect life in your place.  I knew that I would die on the cross in your place.  I knew that I would rise from the dead victorious for you and ascend to heaven as your advocate.”  Loved ones, the gospel promises us a Saviour who has not just recently made our acquaintance, but One who has known and loved us from eternity past.  You have a Saviour who has always loved you and always will.  Isn’t that comforting to know and believe?  Moreover, doesn’t it stir up love in your heart for this Saviour?  Some kind of reaction should be there. 

It definitely was for Nathanael.  Look at the way he responded to Christ in verse 49.  He called him Rabbi – teacher.  That popped out of his mouth and indicated that he was going to be a disciple.  But then there’s more:  he confessed that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel.  John the Baptist was the first to say that Jesus was the Son of God, but Nathanael confirms it.  But then he adds something that no else has said about Jesus up to now:  you are the King of Israel.  How fitting that an undeceitful Israelite should acclaim his King!  Combining these two ideas leaves you with the Messiah.  Jesus is the Son of God, with power to do what only God can do, look into hearts and minds.  Jesus is the royal descendant of David, he’s anointed with the Spirit to that office of King.  By speaking to Nathanael, Christ has revealed himself in this way and here the revelation is acknowledged. 

But Christ is not going to leave it there.  There’s something else that Nathanael and the other disciples have to realize about him as the Messiah.  In verse 50, Christ points out that Nathanael’s faith is connected to his saying that he saw him under the fig tree.  Nathanael believed that Jesus is the Messiah and became a disciple, because he was impressed by what Jesus did.  But now Christ says to him, “You’re going to see more impressive things than this.”

In verse 51, there’s an important detail in the footnote in our ESV Bibles.  It says, “The Greek for you is plural; twice in this verse.”  When it says, “you” here, it means, “you all.”  I think I’ve heard the slang expression “youse” here in Australia.  It’s the same thing.  What this means is that Jesus is no longer just speaking to Nathanael – now he’s addressing all the disciples who’ve started to follow him.

This is what he says to his disciples, “You will certainly see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  It’s not immediately obvious what Jesus is saying here.  I puzzled over this at first myself.  Because you think, “When did that ever happen?  Is there a time in the New Testament when heaven was opened and angels appeared going up and down on Jesus?”  And the answer is no.  There’s no such passage.  Maybe it happened and it’s just not recorded in Scripture.  Or perhaps there’s another explanation.  Yes, there’s another explanation and it has to do with what we read from Genesis 28.

In that famous passage, Jacob has a vision of heaven opened.  He sees a ladder, or more likely a ziggurat, a circular flight of steps spiralling upwards.  He saw angels of God ascending and descending on it.  The language is almost exactly the same as what Jesus uses here in verse 51.  This is not coincidental.    Nor is it coincidental that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man.  This is the first time in John that we find that expression, “the Son of Man.”  It’s one of Jesus’ favourite ways of referring to himself and it comes out of Daniel 7.  In that chapter, God takes a man who has been attacked, vindicates him, and gives him divine authority.  The “Son of Man” in Daniel 7 is a Messianic figure who has both human and divine characteristics.  This is Jesus, true God and true man.  He is revealing himself here as the bridge between heaven and earth.  By combining Genesis 28 with Daniel 7, he’s saying that he is the Mediator.  He is the One who will bring God and man together again. 

So what Christ is saying in verse 51 doesn’t have a literal fulfillment, as if there were an actual moment in history when the disciples saw the angels of God going up and down upon Jesus.  Rather the fulfillment is in Christ acting as our Mediator.  The fulfillment is in Christ acting as the go-between, going between a holy God and sinful people, and bringing them together in fellowship.  The Messiah is a true man, and so he can obey God’s commandments perfectly for us.  He is a true man, so he can go to the cross and bear the penalty for our sins.  Because he is God, he could do that for all of us and yet emerge victorious.  Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, is our Mediator.  Loved ones, see him revealed here as your salvation.  He is the fulfillment of Jacob’s ladder, the only way that heaven is open to you.  If you have Christ, you have access to eternal life forever in God’s presence.  Look to him, look to him again, hold on to him only as your hope.  That’s what disciples have to do.

When Christ spoke these words to Nathanael and his other disciples, so much of his work still lay in the future.  That’s why he said, “you will see greater things than these.”  Nathanael did.  So did the other disciples.  And so have we.  Our Lord Jesus was faithful to his Word.  He’s proven himself to be a Teacher you can depend on.  He’s the Teacher you have to follow.  He’s shown himself to be the Messiah prophesied in Scripture, and the Mediator we need.  As his disciples, let’s be committed to continuing to follow him and learn from him.  AMEN.


Our Lord and Master, our beloved Teacher,

Thank you for revealing yourself to your disciples.  You did that with Philip and Nathanael and you’ve done that also with us.  You’ve shown who you are and what you’re really like, so that we would believe in you and follow you.  In our baptism, you claimed us as your own, you call us to be your disciples.  Lord, we want to follow you.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to do that.  In ourselves, we want to follow other ways.  We need power from your Spirit to help us follow you only.  We thank you for your Word which reveals you from Genesis to Revelation.  Lord, please help us to study your Word and discern carefully how you’re revealed in it.  We praise you as our Messiah.  With Nathanael, we say, “You are the Son of God.  You are the King of Israel.”  You are our Messiah, you are our King, worthy of all our worship and devotion.  Lord, we also exalt you as the Mediator, as the One who bridges heaven and earth.  We thank you that you took on our human nature to do what we could never do for ourselves:  living perfectly and dying to pay for our sins.  Even now, you have our human nature, and we find it encouraging to know that you are our High Priest in heaven, mediating constantly on our behalf.  There is no Saviour like you.  And Lord, we also thank you for setting your love on us in eternity past.  Before we were created, before the universe was created, we were given to you by the Father.  You saw us, you knew us, you loved us.  No creature in heaven or on earth can love us more than you do.  We are so grateful for that, so encouraged by that.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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