Episode 45 - The First Disciples - Opening Up the Gospels

In Episode 44 we were still hanging around Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and Jesus had just emerged from the wilderness when John made his first public proclamation about Him, saying “behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” I talked about how John understood that Jesus was the one whom He was preparing the way for because of the Spirit’s descent on Him at the baptism. Through his ministry, John had emphasized both the divinity of Jesus and his role as the Christ, the one who will rule the earth from Jerusalem. But before He would take up that throne on the earth, He would first suffer as a sacrificial sin-bearing lamb for the sins of the whole world. In this episode we’ll move forward one day to the moments when Jesus meets His first disciples. Let’s pick up the story today in John 1: “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus 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?” He 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He 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).” (John 1:35–42 ESV) So where and when is this happening? Again, we’re in Bethany beyond the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. This is where John the Baptist based much of his ministry and it’s where Jesus Himself was baptized. And looking at our timeline, we’re still in the early part of 27AD, perhaps about 5 weeks after Jesus was baptized. He was baptized, immediately was driven into the wilderness for 40 days, and now it’s just a couple of days after his return from the wilderness. And this is when He meets His first disciples. Picture this scene in your mind. There’s a good number of people hanging out with John as he’s teaching and baptizing. The day before, he had seen Jesus for the first time since he had baptized Him and he said “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And now it’s the very next day and John sees Jesus again. This time though, he’s just walking by, not walking towards John. And today his words are only heard by a couple of his disciples, namely Andrew and John the Beloved. And so these two now leave John the Baptist and cleave to Jesus. The Gospel records that it was about the tenth hour, which according to our modern day reckoning, is about 4pm. So counting 10 hours from 6am leads us to a time of 4:00pm. These first two followers of Jesus begin to follow Him as He’s walking away. What was stirring inside Andrew and John as they left John the Baptist and started walking quickly to catch up to Jesus? Remember, John was doing more than just baptizing – he was preaching, telling people who he was preparing the way for. And presumably because of what he had seen at the baptism of Jesus, he was now telling people about Jesus too. We can’t just think that there was some invisible magnetic pull on these two disciples as Jesus walked by. They clearly had repentant hearts, they had heard John’s preaching about who Jesus was, and they made a decision to walk away from John and follow Jesus. So they begin to follow Jesus and he turns around and says “what are you seeking?” And they, probably in their desire to have uninterrupted conversation with Jesus, asked him “where are you staying?” So he says to them “come and see”. Oh, imagine the look on their faces when He invites them to the place where He was staying somewhere around Bethany beyond the Jordan. After everything that John had said, they get to go be with the guy he’s been talking about all this time! They use the term “Rabbi” for Jesus, which was just a common term in that day that disciples used to address their teacher. What did they talk about as the sun was setting? Did they share a meal? Did the new disciples have trouble sleeping that night as they pulsed with excitement? And what about Jesus? In whose house was he staying? There’s so much to ponder when we slow down and really think about these real moments in history. Well, the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother, Simon Peter. I want you to feel the significance of the very first thing that Andrew says to his brother after meeting Jesus. Look at this. He says: “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).” So from the very start, Andrew identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the long-awaited king of Israel who will sit on David’s throne and cause the nation to dwell in safety again. This is such an important point to recognize – that from the very beginning, the very first time they met Jesus, they believed Him to be the Messiah. This wasn’t an epiphany they had later on in Jesus’ ministry. Of course their affirmation of Him as the Messiah would go on to be tested, but from day 1 this is who they believed Him to be. And how did they come to that belief? It was through John the Baptist, the one who had seen and testified that Jesus was the son of God. They weren’t ignorant and then suddenly got a revelation. John had been preaching, and they had believed everything he had said about Jesus. So Peter and Andrew come back to Jesus and Jesus looks at him and instantly gives him a new name. He says “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).” This word “Cephas” is word in Aramaic that means “rock”, and it doesn’t seem like it was used as a proper name in ancient times. In the Old Testament, God frequently changed people’s names to indicate their special calling – like He did with Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. For Simon, now Peter, here it seems like Jesus is looking ahead at who Peter will be – long before he reaches maturity, and calling him the rock. His strength of character, his repentant heart, and the pillar he will become for the church is what I think Jesus is seeing and declaring here. Oh, Jesus must have loved Peter so much. I want to zoom out for a second so we can see backwards and forwards from this point in time in the Gospels. We started with John the Baptist near the mouth of the Dead Sea in Bethany beyond the Jordan, baptizing. He had gathered crowds to himself, and among those crowds were these guys Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. These guys become Jesus’ first disciples as we’re looking at today and as we will in the next episode. Now later, we’ll see in the early chapters of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that these same guys are up in Galilee, fishing, and Jesus calls them to be His disciples. So, there’s a couple of questions we have to ask. What were these guys doing down near the Dead Sea if they’re fishermen from Galilee? John hasn’t mentioned that fact yet, but we find that out later from the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that these guys were fishermen. And the other question is, how does John’s account fit with the synoptics related to Jesus calling these guys as disciples? Well I think the main reason why there’s confusion related to this is because we easily miss what I mentioned a few episodes ago – that all of these early chapters of John, basically John 1 through 4, are taking place before anything that Matthew, Mark, or Luke says after Jesus’ baptism. They are primarily focused on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and John is complimentary to them, focusing on Jesus’ ministry in and around Jerusalem and Judea. Here’s what typically happens and here’s why chronology matters. We read Matthew or Mark or Luke and we see Jesus walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee which is in northern Israel, totally different from what we’re looking at here in southern Israel near the Dead Sea, and we see Him calling His disciples as they’re fishing in boats. We all know the story where He says “I’ll make you fishers of men.” And so what’s happened is we just assume that Jesus has these laser eyes or some divine irresistibility or something in him that, as He stretches out his hand, these guys jump out of their boats and are in some trance as they’re drawn to a random stranger and they just drop everything and the boat is just washing out to sea. I’ll talk about this more in future episodes, but that is not at all what’s happening. What’s so crazy is how we sometimes even use this as a discipleship model – drop everything and follow Him though you’ve never met him before! It may be noble to do that, but that’s not what happened here in the Gospels. The only reason why we think that is because we assume that these fishermen have never met Jesus before that moment He called them up in Galilee. But that’s so not the case, because all of these events that we’re looking at in the early chapters of John’s gospel. These are all happening before Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee. So all of these guys – Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, and Nathaniel – they’re all with Jesus for the wedding in Cana in John 2, the Passover in John 3, and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. How do we know that? It’s very simple, and the Gospels tell us. We probably just have never put the points together. In John 3:24, it says that John the Baptist had not yet been put in prison. But in Matthew 4:12 and Mark 1:14, it says that John had been arrested and put in prison. So Matthew 4 and Mark 1 make it clear that everything that they were narrating was after John was put in prison. And in fact, the reason for Jesus going north to Galilee from Judea was because John had been put in prison. So what does this mean? It just means that in the passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke where Jesus calls His disciples, they had already known Jesus and been with him for a while but had returned to their fishing jobs after John had been put in prison. Jesus was calling them into a formal discipleship relationship at that point. It was not as if they had never met Him before. They had real history with him, and that history is what we’re looking at in these current episodes. Well, I’ll get into this more in future episodes, so if it’s not super clear to you right now, don’t worry. I’d encourage you to go and actually look at the passages in your own Bible so you can see the timing indicators that the Gospels are giving us. It’s really helped me to actually see the chronological progression of events, so I hope this will help you too.