John 1:12–51. How John the Baptist Passed the Baton.
Key Notes: John evades the questions. Jesus the Face of God. Names of Jesus. The meanings of Jesus' baptism. Seeing the Trinity. The first disciples.
The verses of Jn.1:12–18 contain four provocative and memorable texts.
1:12 “As many as received Him, to them He gave power (authority) to become sons (children) of God.” This verse is one of our frequently memorized and recited invitations to become a Christian.
1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, and we have beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Here we are first confronted with God as a human being.
1:16 “And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.” or “grace over against grace.” This verse is difficult to translate but the next verse may help. It speaks of the Law given through Moses, vs. grace and truth coming through Jesus Christ. We infer a connection between two kinds of grace: the grace of God given through the Law, entailing the sacrifice system as a means of forgiveness, and the grace of Christ as the fulfillment of that promise. It is grace upon grace.
1:18 “No one has ever seen God, the only Son (the preferred translation is "the only-begotten God") who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” This verse is crucial for our understanding of the visible revelation of God in the Old Testament. It tells us that Jesus is the visible face of God, whenever that form is revealed, from Adam through Ezekiel and Daniel. The verb “has made Him known” is the Greek word from which we get "exegesis" in English. That is what a good pastor / teacher does; “exegeting” is explaining in the detail what a passage means. Jesus “exegetes” God: He explains in detail what we are to know about God.
We are also told of the intimate fellowship of Jesus with the Father: “in the bosom of the Father” is the closest of the bonds of love and affection.
1:19–34 John the Baptist is the subject of the next section.
1:19–28 Priests and Levites, as well as Pharisees were sent to scout John. He repeatedly deflected his questioners.
Who are you? Not the Christ. Isa.61:1
What are you? Elijah prophesied in Mal.4:5? No.
Are you the prophet? one like Moses, prophesied in Deut.18:15–18? No.
Who are you? “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord.” John quoted Isa.40:3 without elaboration.
Then why are you baptizing? John did not explain except to say that Jesus was nearby, so exalted that John was not worthy to untie his shoes, the task of a slave.
1:29–34 When Jesus was in sight, John came toward Him, and said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. “ That is a breath-taking statement, never said before of any human being.
“Behold!” Do you see Him?
“The Lamb” –the sacrifice has appeared.
“…of God….”—the divine sacrifice.
“…who takes away the sin of the world;” not sins, but “the sin;” not of somebody, but of everybody in the world; not just now, but also past and future.
Why was John evasive? He hid himself. The spotlight was not to be any longer on him as the fore-runner, but on the One behind him, who was above him and before him.
He did not waste his shot on the skeptics and the curious. He put off his visiting inspectors, stalling them, piquing their interest without answering until those who were prepared to hear were on hand. Then he made his announcement and explained how he knew what he was talking about. He was told by God that the One on whom the Spirit descended like a dove during a baptism was the Son of God. He knew Jesus informally, but needed this proof of identity. The baptism of Jesus was especially for John’s benefit. He saw and heard.
It is also for our benefit, because in the Baptism of Jesus we see the Trinity most clearly. If people ask us to explain the Trinity, we should not make analogies like ice, water and steam. That is a modal Trinity—three different energy states of one substance. We should not make diagrams like three intersecting spheres, or a triangle. Instead, we refer people to the Baptism in Matt.3:16–17. There we see Jesus exalted, coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit visible as a dove descending and “remaining on Him” (Jn.1:33), and the voice of the Father from Heaven affirming His Beloved Son. That is our clearest view of the Trinity.
1:35–39 John had one more job to do. He referred two of his disciples directly to Jesus. The baton was passed. Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted. They wanted to see where He lived. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Time to look for supper and rest.
Jesus asked the seekers, "What are you looking for?"
That is the crucial question. What do we want? What are we looking for? Where are we going in our spiritual walk?
The answer they gave was “Show us where you live.” If we can see your place, we will know if we would like to be there. What does your house smell like? What kinds of books and magazines, what decorations, and furniture? If you look at the book-shelves you can read a person’s soul.
1:40–42 Andrew was one of John’s disciples and went to get his brother Simon: We have found the Messiah! Jesus took a good hard look at him and gave him a nickname: Rock, or Peter (in Greek), Cephas (in Aramaic). Simon, you are like a rock—a heavy, rough-cut, blunt person, easily tipped, impossible to ignore, destined to (survive) be a pillar in the house of God.
1:43–51 On the way to Galilee, Jesus found Philip and called him. Philip found Nathanael and told him they had found the Messiah of whom the Law (Deut.18:15) and the prophets wrote (Isa.9, 11, 53). He was Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.
Nathanael doubted that any good could come from Nazareth. He was “without guile” because he said what he thought. Nathanael was surprised at Jesus’ knowledge, but Jesus promised that one day he would see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. That was like the vision that Jacob saw at Bethel. Gen.28:12.
When did this exaltation occur in Jesus’ life? Some commentators think Jesus is speaking abstractly. The Baptism is past. The Transfiguration was only for Peter, James and John. I think the Ascension is prophesied here, when the disciples were all gathered to see Christ ascending with the angels. (I did not find a commentator who agrees, but it is pictured in medieval and renaissance painting, works of Rembrandt, Perugino, Ninaldi, etc.)
The names of Jesus given in this chapter are comprehensive and set the stage for the rest of the book.
The Word 1:14
The Only-begotten Son from the Father 1:14
The Lord 1:23
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 1:29
Rabbi or teacher 1:38
The Anointed, Messiah or Christ 1:41
Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph 1:45
Son of God 1:34, 49
The King of Israel 1:49
Son of Man 1:51
The Spirit descended and lighted upon Him. What does that mean? Was it
An impartation of the Holy Spirit upon a man? (Ebionite)
The Logos uniting with the Man, Jesus? (Gnostics)
The Logos and the Holy Spirit being the same? (Modalists)
Jesus experiencing the awakening of His divine-human consciousness?
The impartation of divine powers? (Nestorians)
None of the above. The visible presence of the Holy Spirit was an objective sign to John the Baptist declaring Jesus to be God in the flesh. (Lange’s Commentary on John, p.88)
What became of these four disciples? Their histories are not the same.
Peter’s story would fill a book. It occupies much of the first half of Acts.
Andrew is noted for bringing people to Jesus.
He brought Peter to Jesus. 1:41
He brought the boy to Jesus with food enough to feed 5000. Jn.6:8, 9
He and Andrew brought Greeks to see Jesus. Jn.12:21–22
Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus
Philip was unsure how to feed the multitude Jn.6:5
He asked Jesus to see the Father. Jn.14:8
Nathaneal disappears. He may be Bartholemew because that name is attached to Philip’s in the lists of the disciples.
How do people become attached to Jesus?
Some come when the evangelist makes his proclamation.
Others bring their family members to Jesus, some willing, some skeptical.
Some are called by Jesus directly.
It is true today as it was then. And we can see that some fade away and others reproduce themselves a hundred-fold.
We watch John the Baptist at work and ask ourselves when are we to sow seed and when are we casting pearls before swine. John carefully sowed seed. He knew what he was doing. Let us also be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Let us point people to Jesus.