John 1 and the Stairway to Heaven
I never planned to write so much about John 1! Only 20 more chapters to go... At this rate, we should finish up in time for the Spring thaw!
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
For someone who writes as much as I do, sometimes I find Bible stories almost comical in their lack of details. My college writing instructors would have failed John for this account of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. There is no scenery, no character development, and the dialog is rather lacking.
Taking what is written at face value, it humorously seems like Jesus just walked up to random strangers and said nothing but “follow me” and they just shrugged their shoulders, jumped up and said, sure! Then they were immediately all in. (Which paints a picture of them being either super holy people completely in-tune with God or big losers just sitting around looking for something to do!)
Ancient writers didn’t have laptops or copiers so what they wrote was mostly read outloud for a large audience, so our descriptive writing wouldn’t have been appealing to them. Also, John’s audience didn’t need any background information on ancient Jewish culture (what with them being ancient Jews and all!!) LOL
Ancient Jews were used to young men devoting themselves to the teaching of a Rabbi and following him for a few years to learn everything that he had to teach them. So, Jesus’ actions at the end of this chapter make total sense in the context of their culture.
John wanted his audience to know that these early disciples recognized Jesus as the Messiah. These first disciples recognized from the beginning that Jesus was the one that Moses and the other prophets had written about.
In the next part of the story, Phillip goes to find Nathanael and tell him to come follow Jesus. As Nathanael is approaching, Jesus compliments Nathanael and Nathanael says, “How do you know me?” This is another one of those parts where I wish there were just a little more detail. Jesus says, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree…” and then there is this huge jump in the story and Nathanael makes the very bold statement that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and King of Israel.
Again, it seems laughable to us if you only consider what is presented!
"I saw you while you were still under the fig tree."
"You must be God."
Obviously, there is something we are missing. Culturally, fig trees are a symbol for Israel and I’ve been told by several pastors that Jews used to pray under fig trees. Whatever it was, all we know for sure is that something impressed Nathanael.
The important super-cool part is when Jesus said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” and made one of many, many, statements about what his purpose was. A statement that the disciples struggled with and every follower since has struggled to wrap their mind around:
Jesus basically said, I just showed you a miracle and that's cool. But later, you are going to see the greatest thing ever: The stairway between heaven and earth is going to be opened!
John’s original audience would have immediately understood Jesus’ reference to the Old Testament story of Jacob. Jacob had a vision and some kind of pathway between heaven and earth opened and God revealed his plan for Israel to Jacob. The story was so well known that when Jesus spoke of the angels ascending and descending, they would have immediately gotten the reference.
It is kind of like if I said, “you came in like a wrecking ball.” You would immediately have this whole cultural background about Miley Cyrus and her song…(only Jesus’ reference wasn’t raunchy like her video, but anyway... cultural background, they would have known the story just from the reference!)
The story of Jacob can be found in Genesis 28.
I have never thought this intensely about John 1 as I mentioned earlier, I just love the stories of Jesus' interactions with people in this book. I tend to skim through these parts that I usually consider preachy and boring… but this time, it hit me how amazingly cool this intro is.
All those cool stories that I like about how Jesus loved the outcasts and challenged the leaders, they are all introduced by John saying: "Jesus was with God in the beginning and he is God. He is everything God wants to say to us. He came to reveal God to us and to open the gateway for us to have a relationship with him. The stories that follow, they demonstrate what God wants you to know about him."
I can’t wait to share what happens next! I think I love these stories a little more every time I read them. I hope I do them justice.
I’d love to hear from you.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org