Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | December 15, 2007

Lesson 5: John 1:35-51

Text: John 1:35-51

35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). 43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” 

Brief Commentary on the Text:

We are continuing in the broader portion of John’s Gospel that is characterized by the revelation of Christ.   As noted in our previous lesson this section will take us through chapter 4, thus will be our theme for the next several lessons.  It is good for us to be cognizant of the broader context, however as we focus on the narrower sense of our text we encounter a deliberate transition from John the Baptist’s ministry to the ministry of our Lord.  This transition was being formed at the beginning of lesson 4 (verse 19) with John indicating that he was not the Christ.  Then it was gradually building throughout the passage until we reach the beginning of our lesson (verse 35).  Although one must concede that the previous passage was primarily about John the Baptist he consistently sought to shift the spot light to his successor rather than himself.  This is especially made evident in the beginning of our text where John seems to intentionally motivating his disciples to follow Christ rather than himself.  Our text then describes the calling of the disciples to follow Jesus, of which the first two were more than likely present at the event we just covered in the last lesson.  We know from the text that one of the first disciples referenced is Andrew.  The other disciple is not identified, however may very well be the apostle John.  Based on the testimony of the synoptic Gospels (Matt 4, Mark 1 and Luke 5) it would have probably been Peter, James or John.  The subsequent verses in our text would rule out Peter as being one of them, which leaves James or John.  Regardless, these first two disciples after hearing John the Baptist’s announcement (probably for the second time) from that point forward followed Jesus.  Andrew identifies Him as the Messiah to his brother, which means the “anointed one” after either being witness too or believing John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus’ “anointing” by the Spirit during His baptism.  We then are given John’s account of Jesus giving Peter his new name.  The apostle John then gives us another account that is not recorded in any of the other Gospels with the calling of Phillip and Nathanael.  The development of this next series of verses is rather interesting and will be examined more thoroughly in our study questions.  Nonetheless, we would like to point out here that Jesus sought out Phillip who in turn sought out Nathanael.  Our text then reveals that Jesus had some prior knowledge about Nathanael, which is considered very significant to Nathanael.  Jesus, surprised by Nathanael’s excitement in what he considered to be a minor matter reveals what Nathanael should really be excited about.  Clearly the allusions to Jacob’s ladder employed in verse 51 would have been familiar to the disciples.  However, they may not yet have considered the relationship between the type and the fulfillment of the vision.

Thus far in our study of John it is conspicuous how many parallels to the book of Genesis actually exist.  We began with the prologue “in the beginning” that would have a parallel with the creation account in Genesis 1.  We find parallels between John the Baptist and Noah who both proclaimed the Gospel to a generation that would undergo a judgment.  Moreover, the water deluge of the flood as we indicated in lesson 4 points to the sign of baptism administered by John (1 Peter 3:20-22).  The foretelling of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which on Pentecost would be revealed in an extraordinary way through the speaking of tongues, has parrallels with the tower of Babel.  In different tongues the Gospel would be preached when the Baptism of the Holy Spirit occured at Pentecost (Acts 2:8-11), which were originally a curse to scatter the peoples of the earth (Genesis 11:1-9).  The call of the disciples in our text has parallels with the calling of Abram who was instructed to leave his home and follow the Lord (Genesis 12:1-4).  The giving of a new name to Peter, also in our text, has parallels with the giving of new names to Abraham and Israel (Genesis 17:5 and Genesis 35:10).  Finally, there is a more explicit reference to Genesis 28 where our Lord equates Himself with Jacob’s ladder. We will seek to examine whether the intent of this analogy is suggesting that we are to climb up the ladder to Christ or if it means that Christ has come down the ladder to us.  These two options will influence the way one will go about their Christian life in a divergent manner.   

Despite the risk of making allegorical connections between the Gospel of John and the Book of Genesis, it seems reasonable to conclude that there are some parallels.  Whether they were deliberately inherent to John’s writing we will never know for certain, however it seems as though the reference in verse 51 is intentional.  It would not be inappropriate for John to have made these allusions to Moses’ work.  The apostle was writing during a period of redemptive history when the New Covenant was replacing the Old.  Moreover, the apostle was writing a different type of Gospel account many years after the publishing of the synoptic Gospel’s.  His work complements the other three and very well could have been designed to convey how Christ was revealed in the previous covenant. This is explicit in our text in verse 45, thus possibly lends some support to the viability of our claim.  Regardless of whether these parallels exist or not we can be certain that Christ is the subject of the Scriptures of the Old and New Covenant.        

Study Questions:

1.  Does John point his followers to Christ in this passage intentionally? 

2.  What is significant about the way Jesus calls the disciples?   Why is Peter given a new name? 

3.  What is significant about Phillips statement to Nathanael?  

4.  How is Christ found in the Law of Moses?  

5.  How is Christ found in the prophets?

6. How did Christ “know” Nathanael?  How did Christ “see” Nathanael?  

7.  What is significant about Jesus’ statement to Nathanael? 

8.  What is the significance of Jesus equating Himself with Jacob’s ladder?  

9.  How does our view of the “ladder’ affect our Christian life?



  1. Thanks for the link. Jesus reference is indeed to Jacob’s ladder. The place where Jacob had that vision was then called Bethel – house of God. When the temple was constructed there were clear parallels to Jacob’s ladder as the Jews believed the temple was the connection point between heaven and earth. Jesus is saying that he is now that connection point and not the temple. Jesus point is not who is going up and who is coming down as much as he is saying that he is the point of connection between the world and God. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on John.

  2. Matt,

    Thanks for stopping in, I agree that we should emphasize Christ as the “way” or only access into heaven. Nonetheless, I think different forms of Christianity will emphasize an “ascent” into heaven or Christ’s “descent” to us.

    I am still working through the material to support this thesis, which will not be dealt with until the responses to question 8 and 9 are posted (about two months away). However, I’d like to continue to get your thoughts on this passage from a different perspective.

    In a nutshell some forms of Christianity emphasize sanctification to the extent that the Christian life becomes a never ending challenge of ascending up the ladder through our good works. This emphasis may swallow up the fact that Christ has already earned this and is evident in the absence of the preaching of the Gospel to believers on the Lord’s Day. This view was probably manifested most explicitly in medieval monasticism where the body was disciplined to the extreme for the spiritual to be freed to make its way up to God.

    I would argue that a better view of this passage would be to emphasize Christ’s descent to us. His taking on flesh and dwelling among us revealing the “fullness” of the Godhead bodily, so that we may know God. Christ fulfilled the requirements for our salvation and eliminates the necessity for us to climb up in to heaven it has been brought down to us.

    That’s about all I have time for today.


  3. I think that hard part is the question many have asked, “where do we fall into the equation?” We aren’t a part of the equation that equals salvation unless you add us in as a big ZERO. Christ has paid it all apart from anything from ourselves. He does expect us to see all of that and respond in faith. In other words he does want us to “stand and be counted.” In Jesus’ ministry in John there is a HUGE dividing line that John gets us ready for in the prologue – between life and death, light and darkness, truth and lies. Jesus is a dividing line in history – some accept him and some deny and reject him.

    Faith is essential but it still doesn’t earn anything. That is the hard part for people to get past.

  4. I agree the distinction between law and gospel needs to be clearly delineated. I would add that the gospel should be emphasized more since our natural tendency is to gravitate towards the law.

    The question is, what is our reasonable response to this good news that we receive in the gospel? First, we should respond in worship to our merciful God who has provided this gracious gift. We do this by gathering with the saints on the Lord’s Day to worship in Spirit and in truth ( ). Second, we should respond with good works in the manner that God has commanded us in His word. Then we must ask a question to whom is the appropriate recipient of our good works…I would argue that it is our neighbor. As Luther says (and I am paraphrasing), “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does”.

    Personal piety, spiritual disciplines and the like are not bad in and of themselves, however they do not do much for our neighbor. It is possible that well intentioned people are emphasizing these types of “good works” to the exclusion of the other. Then the question is why are these things emphasized? It could be to ensure to themselves and to others that they are not “carnal” Christians, but “spiritual”. Inherent with this distinction is an ancient philosophy that identifies “flesh” as bad and “spirit” as good. Self-consciously or not, then the goal is to climb the ladder into the “spiritual” realm to demonstrate the separation with the world and closeness to God. However, we can only draw closer to God through our mediator Jesus Christ who has sufficiently revealed Him in the flesh ( This is related to the original discussion we had about Christians who have Jesus as their Savior and not their Lord. I think we both agreed that this was not an appropriate distinction, right?

  5. “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:29)

    “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
    (2Peter 2:1)

    Point: visible church has Christ as redeemer, but only invisible has him as Lord. Those who are in the church have been bought by Christ and have been sanctified (set apart) by his blood. They have partaken of the sacraments, but are not truly of the faith.

    “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
    (Hebrews 6:4-6)

    I don’t know what it means exactly. But I know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the elect can lose their salvation.

    However, I think we have to affirm that unbelievers who are nonetheless in the church do participate in the redemption of Christ in some limited seed-upon-the-rock sort of way. Jesus has purchased them with his blood, but they have spurned the blood of the covenant which sanctifies them.

    Why? How? Well, it’s not by failing to do good works, although that comes along with it. No, it is by failing to truly believe, for if they had truly believed, the works would have followed as naturally as breathing.

    So even though Christ has purchased them, set them apart to himself with his blood, nevertheless, they impugn him and his sacrifice on their behalf.

    Sure does stretch one’s understanding of Limited Atonement.

  6. Jesus has purchased them with his blood, but they have spurned the blood of the covenant which sanctifies them…So even though Christ has purchased them, set them apart to himself with his blood, nevertheless, they impugn him and his sacrifice on their behalf.

    Shock and Awe!

    Echo, am I understanding you correctly…Christ has purchased unbelievers?

    How do we resolve that with John 10:25-30?

    25Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

    I think that all the texts that you cited are related to either heretics or people who fall away, not people who make a genuine profession of faith and do not manifest outward righteousness that causes others to question their salvation.

  7. You are thinking that I have said more than I do. I’m not talking about anyone who truly believes. I’m saying, because I think the Scripture is saying it, that all those in the visible church have been sanctified (not in the technical “sanctification” sense) by his blood.

    This is sort of like saying that those in Israel in the OT were truly God’s people, even the apostate ones. They belonged to him, and called by his name. But some did not believe, and so they are apostate. That is my point.

    So Jesus is the savior (temporal sense) of all in the church, but only the Lord of those who truly believe; they are the only ones who have been quickened by the Spirit and regenerated and truly believe. It is only those who truly have the Spirit, who truly have been regenerated who will be eternally saved.

    But understand this: only God looks on the heart and knows whether someone has made a true profession. We speak in terms of a valid profession of faith. We don’t look upon the heart. If someone makes a valid profession of faith, they may have lied. MAY have. You don’t know. The church doesn’t know. They may be a hypocrite.

    In the case of these people, what can we say? We say that they have impugned the blood of Christ which bought them. They are apostate. They will have a greater judgment in the age to come.

    We can never say by any evidence that someone is elect or not. We can’t do that. Only God can do that. We don’t even think that someone is for sure a reprobate when they are excommunicated, because even that is to bring them to repentance.

    The atonement is for sure limited – to the visible church. But the atonement is limited still beyond this as being EFFECTUAL only for the elect.

    So yeah, I’m talking about heretics, apostates, etc.

    This doesn’t mean that we tell people that if they don’t have works that Christ will be of no value to them. It doesn’t mean that if you sin that you are causing your salvation to be in jeopardy. That’s not what I’m saying.

    Our salvation is not up to us. It is up to God. But it appears from the texts that I have mentioned above that becoming a member of the church means that the blood of Christ is held out to you as a covering, as a refuge. But that is conditional, and the condition is faith, which is given only by God.

    But no faith, no works. If there are no works, there’s good reason to question the genuineness of the faith. But again, it’s not definitive for things eternal. Someone who is elect may at some point be excommunicated. It can happen.

    WCF 17.3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.

    In the case of someone who is excommunicated, who’s to say that the person is one of these who are regenerate but is just succumbing to sin for a time, OR if they are just a hypocrite who is not saved? No one knows. But the Scripture has something to say about the hypocrite.

    Heb 6:6 says that “they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”

    What about this “once again” business? That’s what I’m trying to get at and answer.

  8. Mike,

    You said: “Echo, am I understanding you correctly…Christ has purchased unbelievers?”

    Echo: Well, I’m open to suggestions on how else to interpret 2 Pet 1.

    In forming our understanding of what it means to be purchased by Christ, we cannot ignore this verse. We have to include it and reconcile it to this verse.

    I take purchase here to refer to a temporal sense, not an eternal sense. That’s what I’m trying to articulate.

    That would mean “savior but not Lord” refers to “savior” in a temporal sense as well, as in 1 Tim 4:10.

    “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1Timothy 4:10 ESV)

    Savior there is to be taken in a temporal sense, not eternal sense. So this is a statement about common grace.

  9. Oops, I mean 2 Pet 2:1, quoted above.

  10. Calvin on 2 Pet 2:1 says:

    Even denying the Lord that bought them. Though Christ may be denied in
    various ways, yet Peter, as I think, refers here to what is expressed by
    Jude, that is, when the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness; for
    Christ redeemed us, that he might have a people separated from all the
    pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness ,and innocency. They,
    then, who throw off the bridle, and give themselves up to all kinds of
    licentiousness, are not unjustly said to deny Christ by whom they have
    been redeemed. Hence, that the doctrine of the gospel may remain whole
    and complete among us, let this be fixed in our minds, that we have been
    redeemed by Christ, that he may be the Lord of our life and of our death,
    and that our main object ought to be, to live to him and to die to him. He
    then says, that their swift destruction was at hand, lest others should be
    ensnared by them.

  11. Now that I understand where you coming from, yes you are correct. But as we discussed this is a little different than what the discussion with Matt was about.

    Technically Christ is the Savior of many more people than just those that are being saved. However, this is “Savior” in a temporal sense as you refer to above.

    Since we are being so techical here, then I must resort to correcting your position just a little. Technically, Jesus is “Lord” of more than just those who are being saved:

    Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    So, it seems that even on a technical level the distinction that is made between having Jesus as Savior and not as Lord is not accurate. 🙂

  12. Hahaha…good one. But if we say that he is Lord in a special sense only of those who do actually submit to him, then we can say that he’s savior in a temporal sense of some who do not submit to him as Lord.

    But of course, this doesn’t mean there’s any such thing as carnal Christians. That’s silly.

  13. Well, I guess your right technically and the point did have the full affect I though it would. Check out this link, specifically look at point 4:

    Is the “multiple intention” view what we are talking about here?

  14. Back to the original topic it appears that Mormons are doing a better job at demonstrating external righteousness than Christians. Check out the survey at the bottom of the post linked here:

  15. I don’t think I got the point of point 4. If they that are sanctified are perfected, why are they spoken of as having trodden the Son underfoot, and why are they threatened with judgment – if in fact they are perfected? (Or will be perfected, whatever.)

  16. […] the two callings there are some definite parallels among them.  As we also alluded to in the opening comments to this text it is conspicuous how several of the events recorded in John’s Gospel, thus far, are […]

  17. That survey is stupid.

    How can attending a Mormon church service every week make you more Christlike? How can attending a Mormon service be called a Christian characteristic?

    And again, how can having Mormonism shape your daily life be a Christian characteristic? How CAN that be? If Mormonism is important to shaping your daily life, you AREN’T a Christian. You’re a Mormon.

    Belief in life after death? How is it a Christian characteristic that Mormons believe in life after death? They don’t believe in eternal life in submission to Jesus Christ. They have some kind of strange belief about becoming a god and having their own planet to rule, and they’ll take off on wonderful adventures on the Starship Enterprise and boldly go where no man has gone before, and all the light years won’t matter because you’ll live forever, so it won’t bother you that it takes 100 years to get somewhere, because you’ll have all eternity to get there. The ultimate Sunday drivers.

    How can you call it a Christian characteristic when every single religion on earth believes in some form of life after death? It’s not a Christian characteristic. Now I find it alarming that the so called Christian numbers are so low, but I would imagine that this is not entirely accurate. If the kids all came from mega-churches with pastors like Rick Warren, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that none of them have ever even opened a bible before.

    Ok, Mormons don’t believe in psychics, and a few supposedly Christian youths do. I’m not impressed by this one. So I suppose the fact that Mormons don’t believe in psychics makes them Christians? Plenty of people don’t believe in psychics, and they aren’t even Mormons.

    I think the question about teaching religious classes is stupid. I don’t know why on earth a high school student should be teaching anybody about anything. They ought to shut up and listen once in a while.

    The question about fasting or denying something as a spiritual discipline is also dumb. They might as well have asked how many have taken two wives to prove their piety. Fasting doesn’t make you a Christian, it makes you an ascetic. Muslims fast, Hindus fast, Buddhists fast and Jews fast. That’s the mark of religion in general, not Christians. The Son of Man came eating and drinking. The Christian who eats a feast to the glory of God with gratitude in his heart shows greater piety than the Mormon who starves himself feeding himself only with tears and long prayers to his own glory, to show God what he is capable of. You can’t earn your salvation by works. Christ must earn it for you. All we can do is look to him in gratitude and hope.

    Sabbath observance? The Mormons profane the Sabbath by entering their temples. It’s not a Christian worship service through Christ. How has one Mormon ever kept even one Sabbath?

    Oh, and of course, there’s the personal Evangelism question. Obviously, if it can be demonstrated that Mormons are more zealous to cram their religion down peoples’ throats, then they are the better Christians. What moronic logic! I don’t care if every single Mormon on the planet goes out to the nearest street corner and starts shouting at strangers about their beliefs, they still haven’t even begun to demonstrate a Christian characteristic. Not only because this kind of street evangelism is silly, but because the beliefs they are bearing witness to are not Christian beliefs! How can they be behaving like Christians while they’re talking about Joseph Smith and his nonsense?

    Oh, I get a kick out of this one. The Mormons talk about “the” Scriptures all the time? Fantastic! So since the book that they call the Scriptures is not the Bible, how can they be exhibiting a Christian characteristic? What nonsense and lies! This would be like saying that I had a classics professor in college who talked about Homer so much, you’d think that he took it to be Scripture. What a great Christian he was! Nonsense! What fallacious logic!

    This one is too much: “Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen.” Seriously? You’re going to take a survey of high school students and ask them how good a job their church is doing of helping their parents to raise them? “Little Johnny, do you think your church helps your mommy and daddy raise you?” “Oh definitely.” Well, this kid is clearly a Christian. This survey has been put together by someone with questionable critical thinking skills.

    “Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality.” “Do you think your church has given you a good sex education, or have you been forced to listen to your health teacher explain it to you?” “No, they don’t talk about sex much in church with us kids. I guess they don’t care what we think about it. I’m sure the adult Sunday School classes are all about sex, and I feel like I’m missing out. I think I’ll go find some girl to experiment on, since my curiosity is so out of control, and my church refuses to help me understand it.”

    Again, this is utter folly and nonsense. Why would it be the church’s job to conduct sex education? What an American point of view! Sex education is not the school’s job either. It’s the job of parents. The job of the church is to preach the gospel, and to train in the law. That means they ought to be telling kids that sex outside of marriage is wrong. That’s it. It’s not their job to help children understand their sexuality. The idea repulses me.

    Well, in summary, the survey is a complete and utter joke. It is in its entirety, one big logical fallacy, designed to blur the line between the Mormon CULT and Christianity, as if they were not two different things. Well, it IS two different things.

    One is the truth, one is a lie. And this survey is not surprisingly one lie after another.

  18. To funny!

    I definetly agree that this survey is ridiculous if it is trying to justify that Mormons are authentic Christians. That’s the point they believe that this does prove that they are better “Christians” than Evangelicals. Sadly, if this were the genuine basis to adjudicate authenticity then they have a strong case.

    Unfortunately, isn’t this where the battle lines are being drawn as to which religion is more authentic? When “deeds not creeds” are emphasized what other way is there in refuting the claims of a false religion?

  19. […] indicated in our opening comments our Lord’s comments here bear the fingerprints of the vision of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:10-18).  This would have also been evident for the disciples who would have no doubt […]

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