Summary: Discipleship is not a one-time decision; it’s a lifelong journey.
In these verses, Jesus gains five of His original twelve disciples:
(2) An unnamed disciple (probably John)
(3) Simon Peter (Andrew’s brother)
What is a disciple? “Disciple” = one who FOLLOWS another:
• Disciples of Jesus follow His TEACHING (John 8:31).
• Disciples of Jesus follow His EXAMPLE (1 Peter 2:21).
Discipleship is not a one-time decision; it’s a lifelong JOURNEY.
1. The journey of discipleship is best traveled with OTHERS (vv. 40-42a, 43-46).
Andrew found his brother Simon; Philip found his friend Nathanael.
Every time we meet Andrew in this Gospel he is bringing someone to Jesus (1:41; 6:8; 12:22).
“Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
2. The journey of discipleship brings personal TRANSFORMATION (vv. 42b).
Jesus changed Simon’s name to “Cephas”/“Peter” (“rock”):
• In Jewish culture naming is a significant event. Names unveil something of the character of the person (e.g., Jacob means “he clutches” [his brother’s heel], Genesis 25:26), and renaming indicates something of the authority of one person over another (as God gave Jacob the name “Israel,” Genesis 32:28).
• Peter is anything but a rock in the Gospels; he is impulsive and unstable (John 13:37-38; 18:10, 15-27).
• The pronouncement by Jesus was really a diagnosis of Peter’s personality. Simon, or Simeon (cf. Acts 15:14), was the name of Jacob’s second oldest son (Genesis 29:33), who, with his brother Levi, ruthlessly avenged the violation of their sister (Genesis 34:25-31). The rash and impulsive character of Simeon was mirrored in Peter’s tendency to violence (cf. John 18:10). Jesus accepted Simon as he was but promised that he would become “a rock.”
• Jesus changed Peter’s character to fit his new name (Matthew 16:16-18 – “this rock” refers to Peter’s confession of faith; Acts 1:15; 2:14; 4:18-20). Jesus named Peter not for what he was but for what, by God’s grace, he would become.
3. The journey of discipleship leads one into GOD’S PRESENCE (vv. 47-51).
Jesus knew about Nathanael before the two ever met. Jesus said, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree” (v. 48). What was Nathanael doing under the fig tree? We are not told. My guess is that he was meditating upon the OT story of Jacob. When Jesus approached Nathanael, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom is nothing false [no deceit, NASB; no guile, KJV]” (v. 47). This is probably a reference to Jacob—the biblical character most known for deceit (“Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing,” Genesis 27:35). Nathanael is unlike Jacob; he is an honest man. Nathanael’s honest evaluation of Jesus was “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (v. 49).
Nathanael (and the other disciples; “you” is plural in verse 51) were told that they would “see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (compare with Genesis 28:10-19).
The most requested and most played song on radio in the United States is Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The song is about a materialistic woman who thinks she can buy a stairway to heaven. The Bible says there is only one stairway to heaven.
Jesus is the STAIRWAY to heaven (1 Timothy 2:5):
• Jesus is God who CAME DOWN to man.
• Through Jesus we can GO UP to God (John 14:6).
Because of Jesus, there is now access between God and man:
• “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain [veil] of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51).
• “…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, but a new and living way opened up for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
“Cephas” (v. 42) – Neither “Cephas” nor “Peter” are usual names but actually nicknames (like the American “Rocky”), which often point to some feature of a person’s character.
“The Law and ... the prophets” (v. 45) – This is a common Jewish designation for the Hebrew Scriptures in their entirety.
"Nazareth!” (v. 46) – Nathanael was from Cana, a village north of Nazareth (John 21:2); Nazareth was a small, insignificant town of no more than two thousand people.
“Son of Man” (v. 51) – The expression is fused in John’s Gospel to denote both Jesus’ heavenly origin and destination (John 15:1; 3:13; 6:62; cf. Daniel 7:13) and his “lifting up” (substitutionary sacrifice) on the cross (John 3:14; 6:53; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31).
JOURNEY THROUGH JOHN / The First Week