CHAPTER 1, PART II verses19-50

"I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols.  I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you instead..."
Ezekiel 36:25-26

"The Lord Yahweh says this: 'I shall take the Israelites from the nations where they have gone.  I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil.  I shall make them into one nation in the country.... My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all... David my servant is to be their prince forever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them.'"
Ezekiel 37:21-26

Historical evidence for John the Baptist outside of Biblical sources:
"Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, .......and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him , if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission ] of some sins [only] but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.  Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise, though it best, by putting him to death..."'Josephus, Jewish historian 1st century AD [Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2].  Herod is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great.

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DAY 1     A.  John's witness to the Old Covenant authority 1:19-28
DAY 2     B.  John's witness at Christ's baptism 1:29-34
DAY 3     A.  The  two disciples talk with Jesus 1:35-39
    B.  Andrew and Peter talk with Jesus 1:40-42
DAY 4     C.  Philip and Nathaniel talk with Jesus


Note: Writing materials in the ancient world were extremely costly and so they were used with great care and economy.  There is no great string of adjectives in long descriptive phrases in ancient documents.  Ancient writers wrote exactly what they meant to write using the least amount of space.  Sacred writers use the same "economy of words".  It is important to remember that every word is important and every word is thoughtfully used.

The Baptism of Jesus:
In St. John's Gospel he does not record the events of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River performed by Saint John the Baptist.  He assumes you have read the other Gospel accounts; therefore, he picks up the thread of the story where the other accounts ended.  Those accounts link Jesus' baptism to Jesus the Messiah's mission as prophet, priest, and king of Israel.  God anointed all true prophets, priests, and kings before they took up their mission:

But John wants to make sure that we understand how Jesus will bring about the redemption of creation and mankind in fulfilling His role of Prophet, High Priest and King of Kings.  Before we answer that question, please read and compare each of the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels of the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus' baptism at the Jordan River: Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-13; and Luke 3:1-22.


(Please consult a map of the Holy Land in the 1st century AD.  Notice the ruggedness and desolation of the country from Jerusalem to the area of Jericho.  It was just across from the city of Jericho, on the east bank of the Jordan River, that a young 30 year old priest who has just begun his priestly ministry (see Numbers 4:3) will call the people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  Luke testifies that John began his ministry in the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.  Tiberius succeeded his step-father, Caesar Augustus (Octavian, the great-nephew of Julius Caesar) on August 19th, 14AD.  The 15th year is, therefore from the 19th of August 28AD to the 18th of August 29AD. However, if Luke is using the Syrian (Assyrian) method of determining the year of a king's reign, the 15th year is from September –October 27AD to September-October 28AD.   The time for repentance in the Jewish liturgical calendar is prior to the Feast of Atonement which comes in the early fall, therefore it is probably a good guess to say this is the year 28AD [see the document "Dating the reigns of the Kings of Israel and Judah" in the Document/Old Testament section].

Of all the places Yehohanan ben Zechariah (John son of Zechariah) could have chosen to begin his ministry why this desolate part of the Jordan River Valley?  Wouldn't he have reached more people in the densely populated region of the Galilee or in the holy city of Jerusalem?  The Jordan River flows from springs in the Golan Heights down through the Sea of Galilee southward through the barren wilderness into the lowest point on the entire face of the earth, the Dead Sea (approximately 1,200 feet below sea level).  Why would anyone want to travel all that way from the lush Galilee or even the 20 odd miles from Jerusalem through a desert wilderness to ford the Jordan River near Jericho and submit to some young priest who had separated himself from the Temple priesthood, and who was wearing such unattractive apparel as a camel-hair tunic and living on a meager diet of locusts and honey as he ritually purifies the covenant people in the muddy Jordan River?  Any modern real estate agent could tell John that it is a question of location, location, location, for any such an adventure. Actually that is exactly true in this case....location is the answer to the question "Why did the people come?"  It was all about "location" and the way this young priest dressed in a camel hair tunic with a leather belt.

For the Jews and Israelites of the Roman provinces of Judea and the Galilee the location of the ritual baptism and the attire of the priest would have spoken volumes symbolically.  This location was the exactly where these people expected God to do great things:

Question: What past event, which resulted in the redemption and salvation of the children of Israel, would the 1st century AD people of Judea and the Galilee connect with John's selected site on the east bank of the Jordan River?  Hint: read Exodus 13:17 and 18 then Joshua 1:10-11; 2:1; 3:1-17; and 4:19.
Answer: They would remember that Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and out into the wilderness and his successor, Joshua (Yehosua) led the people across the Jordan River (from the east to the west) into the Promised Land near the city of Jericho.

The history of the children of Israel is why "location" is everything!  This is the location of the "place of the crossing" (Beth Abarra in Hebrew) where God's holy nation crossed over the Jordan River into the land God had promised them.  As God's holy prophet, and as a legitimate descendant of Aaron, John had called the people out into the wilderness to be purified with a baptism of repentance and afterward to re-enter their land [Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:3; Acts 19:4].  For the people this action of symbolically reenacting the Exodus experience signaled a new beginning with hopes for freedom from their current oppressors-the Romans! No wonder the people came in huge crowds to this desolate site!  All they needed now was another "Joshua" or "Yehoshua" to complete the prophetic picture!
Note: at this time the leadership of the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem was not through the direct descendants of Zadok in the line of Aaron, brother of Moses, the first High Priest.  King David had designated Aaron's descendants "the sons of Zadok" as the legitimate line to succeed to the Aaronic priesthood.  The last legitimate high priest of this line, Onias III, was assassinated in 170BC.  Later when the Maccabees, a priestly family (not from Zadok), defeated the Greek Seleucid Empire that had controlled their country as well as the appointment of the High Priest, they [the Maccabees] usurped the office.  In protest, a community was established near the Dead Sea.  In their sectarian writings they refer to themselves as "the sons of Zadok" and they refer to the Jerusalem priesthood as "the wicked priests."  It is this community that archaeologists call Qumran, and it is in caves near this settlement that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise a library of what in the final count will probably be 1,000 volumes of scrolls, containing every book of the Old Testament [except Esther], Bible commentaries, non-canonical texts, the sectarian writings of the community as well as several cryptic [coded] documents and a treasure map written on almost pure copper..  These books date from 250BC to 68AD when the Romans destroyed the site.  The buildings of Qumran are within sight of where John was baptizing the people.

There were also other prophecies that would have increased the symbolic significance of John's baptismal site like the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5, and 10-11: A voice cries, 'Prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh.  Make a straight highway for our God across the wastelands [deserts].  Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be leveled, every cliff become a plateau, every escarpment a plain; then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.'.....(10-11) Here is Lord Yahweh coming with power, his arm maintains his authority, his reward is with him and his prize precedes him.  He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

In 63BC the Roman Empire had conquered and absorbed Judah, establishing the Roman Province of Syria-Judea.  The Romans allowed the Judeans to administer the civil law and to worship their God in the Jerusalem Temple, provided they made a daily sacrifice to the Roman emperor, but the Jews and Israelites of the 1st century AD desperately longed to be liberated from Roman oppression as their ancestors had been liberated from Egyptian oppression and to be intimately reunited with Yahweh as Isaiah had prophesied.  And it is this very passage from Isaiah that John the Baptist claimed was his prophetic mission: He claimed to be "the voice crying in the wilderness" (Matthew 3:3; John 1:23).  It is interesting that the Qumran [Dead Sea Scrolls] community chose this text as their reason for establishing their community in the desert wilderness near the Dead Sea.
Note: every Jew, a descendant of the patriarch Judah or a citizen of the kingdom of Judah, was an Israelite, but not every Israelite was a Jew.  An Israelite was a member of one of the 12 tribes of the children of Israel.  The Galileans had been part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and were for the most part, Israelites.  Perhaps this is why St. John, a Galilean Israelite is so critical of the Jews of Judea in his Gospel.  Notice in John 1:47 that Jesus calls Nathanael, from Cana in Galilee (see Jn 21:2), an Israelite and not a Jew.

There is another passage that would also strike a longing chord in 1st century AD Jews and Israelites.  It was another unfulfilled prophecy and it came from the prophet Hosea.  The Assyrians had destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC, and the 10 northern tribes had been disbursed into the gentile world.  Only a faithful remnant of those 10 lost tribes of Israel had returned and settled in the Galilee. Then, 135 years later, the Babylonians destroyed the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Temple of Solomon, and the people were taken into exile.  They had been allowed to return 70 years later to occupy the land and to rebuild their Temple, but the Holy of Holies was an empty room.  No sacred "Ark of the Covenant" graced that room and God's presence did not fill and indwell the Temple as He had filled both the desert Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon.  There was a sense among the people of an imperfect restoration.  But the prophets Ezekiel and Hosea had promised full restoration.  God's prophet, Ezekiel, promised the re-uniting of Israel with Judah and the prophet Hosea promised that God would forgive His bride Israel for her unfaithfulness and take her back.  God's people of the 1st century AD were looking for the time when these great prophesies would be fulfilled! 

See Hosea 2:14 [16]- 17 [19]: I mean to make her pay for the feast-days on which she burnt incense to the Baals, when she tricked herself out in her earrings and necklaces to chase after her lovers, and forgot me!  --declares Yahweh.  But look, I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.  There I shall give her back her vineyards, and make the Vale of Achor a gateway of hope.  There she will respond as when she was young, as on the day when she came up from Egypt.  When that day comes, declares Yahweh "you will call me, 'My husband.' No more will you call me, 'My Baal.'  I shall banish the names of the Baals from her lips and their name will be mentioned no more."  Hosea 2: 14-18 [16-20].
Note: the valley of Achor ["Valley of Misfortune"] is a valley near Jericho giving access to the interior of the country known as "The Promised Land" and the place where an act of disloyalty to God was severely punished in Joshua 7:24-26.  The word "baal" has a double meaning.  It can refer to a false god but it also means "lord."  A concubine called her man "baal" meaning "lord".  Only a legal wife (a woman bound in a covenant union) could call her man "husband".  Israel's unfaithfulness to the covenantal relationship with Yahweh is compared to an unfaithful woman or a concubine who is only "property."  The promise of this prophecy is that Yahweh will forgive her unfaithfulness and once again she will become not His property but His beloved covenant-bound Bride. Hosea's prophecy is that this place near Jericho will become a "gateway of hope" giving access to a "Promised Land" that has been renewed and restored to the Covenant "Bride" of Yahweh.
A longing for thefulfillment of these prophecies would have brought great crowds of the people out into the wilderness to seek the baptism of repentance from this legitimate son (descendant) of the first High Priest, Aaron.

Question: But what was it about John the Baptist's dress that would have symbolic meaning for the people? Please read this passage from Matthew 3:1-6, compare the Matthew passage with the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:7-8

Answer: In John, son of Zechariah, the people saw the prophetic return of the prophet Elijah.

Question: Why would this connection between John and Elijah have been so significant?  Hint: read Malachi 3:1 and 23-24(4:5-6 in some translations): Look, I shall send my messenger to clear a way before me.  And suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his Temple;...;[vs. 23-24] Look, I shall send you the prophet Elijah before the great and awesome Day of Yahweh comes.  He will reconcile parents to their children and children to their parents, to forestall my putting the country under the curse of destruction.
Answer: Elijah's return would signify the coming of the Messiah.  The book of the prophet known as Malachi ("my messenger") was the last message of prophecy God gave His Covenant people (written sometime after the return from the Babylonian exile; circa between 561 and 445BC).  For approximately 500 years the people had waited for the promise to be fulfilled.  The timing of John's call to repentance was also significant.  It was approximately 2,000 years since Father Abraham had been called by God and 1,000 years since King David had established Jerusalem as God's holy city.  The timing was auspicious and the messenger had the right location and the correct attire.  What were the people to think? CCC#719

The Jewish historian/priest/general Flavius Josephus [born Yosef ben Matthias] alludes to the power of these prophetic connections to the timing and location of John's ministry in his account of John the Baptist's death.  In the quote from Josephus at the beginning of this lesson Josephus writes that John was murdered for fear the people coming to him would be encouraged [because of the prophetic signs] to revolt against the Roman authority. 

Question:  What other similarities do you recognize between John the Baptist and Elijah in addition to the similarity in dress [incidentally, most prophets may have dressed this way. See Zechariah 13:4].

  1. Both men were prophets (and according to Jewish tradition Elijah was also a priest).
  2. They both challenged evil kings (John vs. Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; Elijah vs. Ahab, king of Israel).
  3. Both John and Elijah prepared the way for prophets even greater than themselves [Elijah prepared the way for Elisha and John for Jesus].

Please read 2 Kings 2:4, 6, 7-15  When they had crossed [the Jordan River] Elijah said to Elisha, 'Make your request.  What can I do for you before I am snatched away from you?'  Elisha answered, 'Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.' [ Note: Elisha is requesting to become Elijah's reshith / heir.  The "heir" received a "double portion" of the inheritance].  Verse 15 The brotherhood of prophets saw him in the distance, and said, 'The spirit of Elijah has come to rest on Elisha'; they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Elisha succeeded Elijah and went on to perform even greater miracles in the name of God.  Elijah performed 8 miracles but Elisha performed 16 miracles, a double portion!
Question: Can you recall some of the miracles than Elisha performed in the name of God?  Hint: see 2 Kings 4:32-37 and 42-44; 5:1-19.
Answer: Elisha:

Question: What link do you see that indicates the ministries of Elijah and Elisha prefigured the ministries of John and Jesus?

  1. Elijah's spirit descended on Elisha at the Jordan River signaled the beginning of his ministry [2 Kings 2:4, 6, 7-15]. When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, Jesus received the Spirit descending on Him like a dove [Matthew 3:16-17].  This event is the foundation for His public ministry just as it was the beginning of Elisha's ministry [2 Kings 2:4, 6, 7-15].
  2. Elisha performed greater miracles that Elijah and Jesus went on to do even greater works than John the Baptist.
  3. Like Elisha, Jesus cleansed lepers [Matthew 8:2-4]; multiplied barley loaves to feed a vast crowd [Matthew 14:15-21, 15:32-38; John 6:9-14], and raised the dead [Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52-53; John 11: 14-44].

In this summary we have touched on only a few of the prophetic and eschatological events and passages from Scripture that would have resonated with 1st century AD Israelites. There are also the baptism passages found in Ezekiel 35:25-26Zechariah 13:1-3, etc, as well as the unfulfilled prophesies like Ezekiel 37:15-28 where Yahweh promised to reunite Israel and Judah to give them a King like David and a New Covenant.  The whole Exodus experience and eschatological promises of a restored Israel come together in the event of this young priest baptizing the people at the "place of the crossing" on the Jordan River, the site of children of Israel receiving access to the Promised Land.

When Jesus submits to John's baptism in the Synoptic Gospels and He comes up from the Jordan River, He comes out of the water as Israel's royal Messiah-King, anointed by God's Holy Spirit, ready to begin His ministry at the age of 30 years.  Moses led the children of Israel out into the wilderness but his successor Joshua led the people across the Jordan and into the Promised Land.  Jesus is the new Yehosua [Joshua and Jesus had the same Hebrew name which means "Yahweh is salvation" or more literally, "I am salvation!"].  He is the "new" Joshua who will lead the children of the New Israel out of sin and into the Promised Land of the Heavenly Father.  Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful on the mountains, are the feet of the messenger announcing peace, of the messenger of good news, who proclaims salvation and says to Zion, 'Your God is king!'

The Presentation of the Son of God by John

Please read The Gospel of John 1:19-23:
John 1:19 This is the witness [martyria] of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?'

Question: This is a repeat of what theme from the Prologue?
Answer: In John 1:6-7 we were told that "John" was sent to witness to the this is his testimony. See CCC# 717

 The term, "the Jews" [Ioudaios in Greek and Yehudi meaning "Yahweh's people" in Hebrew] occurs more than 50 times in this Gospel while the expression "King of the Jews" used by gentiles in the Gospel, occurs only 6 times.  In the other Gospels, on the other hand, there are 12 instances of the expression "King of the Jews", and only four passages in which the word "Jews" occurs.  In John's Gospel he makes a distinction between "the multitude" or crowds of ordinary people who inhabit the Galilee and Judea as opposed to the "Jews" — the Judeans who are the leaders of the Old Covenant Church in opposition to Jesus.  This is an important distinction to keep in mind while studying the Gospel because the idea underlying the word "Jews" is that of separation from the character and privileges of a true Israelite who will recognize Jesus as the Messiah. 

Once again, is important to remember, every Jew is an Israelite, but not every Israelite is a Jew.  A Jew is one from the tribe of Judah or nation of Judah [in the first century AD Judah is the Roman occupied province of Judea].  This distinction between Jews and Israelites is, I believe, an indication that John is an Israelite and not from the tribe of Judah.  St. Paul, as a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe that was part of the Judeaic kingdom, identifies himself as a "Jew". See CCC#575

Question: Why did the Priests from the Temple in Jerusalem and the Levites, a lower degree of the ministerial priesthood who served as teachers of the Law and performed the assigned functions in the Temple, much like a deacon in the Catholic Church [see Numbers 3:11-13; 18:1-7], come to John to demand an answer to the question: "Who are you?"  These men are the religious authority of the people of God. 
Answer: The prophetic symbolism associated with John's ministry was so strong that they wanted to see for themselves what the "signs" meant.  The coming of the Messiah was, in the 1st century AD, a national expectation.  To answer the question whether this was the time for the fulfillment of the prophecies, this delegation, which probably came from the Sanhedrin [the supreme council of the Jews], was send to get an answer. 

Question: What was the function of the Sanhedrin?  Consult a Bible dictionary for your answer.
Answer: The Romans in most cases allowed conquered provinces to govern themselves. The Sanhedrin had the power to govern Judea in all matters pertaining to religion and civil law except in the case of executions.  Only the Roman authority could order an execution because Rome controlled life and death for conquered people.  The Sanhedrin had the power to arrest, bring to trial, and to convict offenders of the Law.  It was comprised of the ministerial priesthood =Priests and Levites (Sadducees), the lawyers/ teachers of the Law called the Scribes (the Scribes were mostly of the sect of the Pharisees), and the elders of the chief families and clans. In Jesus' time the jurisdiction of the Council was limited to Judea.

John 1:20: He declared, he did not deny but declared, 'I am not the Christ'.

Question: It is curious how John answers them.  He uses a triple combination of positive and negative clauses; how does he phrase his answer? Note: the literal translation is "he avowed and did not deny, and avowed.."

  1. positive [he declared];
  2. [did not deny];
  3. positive [declared]. 

This may count as a significant 3 combination, which in Scripture always indicates that the next phrase or event is of great theological importance.

Question: What did he "avow" or declare?
Answer: That he is not the Messiah (Christ).  Some scholars suggest that the "I" is emphatic indicating that he is not but another is. "I am not the Christ...."  The 3 form combination declaration may indicate that this is the case.

John 1:21: So they asked, 'Then are you Elijah?' He replied, I am not.'  The more literal translation is They questioned him further (look for a repeat of this phrase).
Question: Why did they ask John if he were Elijah?
Answer: Everything about John fit the prophecies about the return of Elijah:

It is a problem that John the Baptist does not seem to identify himself as Elijah when in the Synoptic Gospels this connection seems clear.

Question: Why does John deny that he is the prophet Elijah in this passage?
Answer:  There is no single answer but given the evidence we can speculate.  Some scholarly interpretations of John's denial:

  1. Perhaps sensing the hostility of the delegation John doesn't want to "play his hand" quite yet by claiming he has come as Elijah.  He could be charged with blasphemy or inciting a riot against the Roman authority and both charges constitute a capital offense.
  2. Perhaps John is denying that he is Elijah because he is discerning that he is being asked is he "the reincarnation of Elijah."  Reincarnation was not consistent with Old Covenant beliefs nor is it acceptable in the New Covenant faith.  Once there is death there is judgment [Hebrews 9:27].  Such a claim of reincarnation would be considered blasphemy. John was not the reincarnation of Elijah any more that Elijah's successor Elisha was the reincarnation of his master.  Elisha received the fullness of the spirit of prophecy that God placed on His servant Elijah.  John received this same anointing of the spirit and it is in that sense that he is Elijah's successor.  Pope Gregory the Great [Patrologia Laitna  76:1100] reconciles this apparent discrepancy by teaching that John was not Elijah but he exercised toward Jesus the function of Elijah by preparing his way.
  3. Other scholars suggest that perhaps John does not fully realize his prophetic role.  Scholars who believe this is the cause for John's denial point out that in Matthew chapter 11, when John is imprisoned and awaiting his execution, that he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask 'Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?' Their point is that this passage indicates John does not completely understanding God's plan.

John 1:22: 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No.' So they said to him, 'Who are you?  We must take back an answer to those who send us.  What have you to say about yourself?'  So he said, 'I am, as Isaiah prophesied:...'
Question:  Why do they ask John is he is "the Prophet"?  Hint read Deuteronomy 18:13-20.  This passage is the clearest declaration of the Messiah's role as "the Prophet."
Answer: They want to know if he is "The Prophet" of Deuteronomy 18:18-20.  In Acts 3:22-24 the Apostle Peter identifies Jesus as the Prophet-like Moses when he quotes the Deuteronomy passage: Moses, for example, said 'From among your brothers the Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me; you will listen to whatever he tells you.  Anyone who refuses to listen to that prophet shall be cut off from the people.'  In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days. Jesus is not only the new Joshua, who will lead God's people into the Promised Land of heaven, but He is also the new Moses, the Lawgiver and covenant mediator [see Hebrews 3:5-6; 7:11-19; 8:6]. 

Did you notice that in their questions to John that the Priests connect the prophecies concerning Elijah and the Prophet-like-Moses passage?  You can appreciate how the Exodus symbolism and Elijah prophecies are foremost in the minds of these people, the common people and the religious authority alike.  These two great men of God sum up Salvation history (at that point in time) with Moses representing the Law and Elijah the prophets of God.  When John denies that he is the Prophet he is once again denying that he is the Messiah although it does not seem to be completely clear if 1st century Jews understood that the Prophet and the Messiah were one individual or two [see John 1:24-25]. 

Question:There are two other events/passages in the New Testament where Elijah and Moses will come together.  Can you name them?
Answer: The Mount of Transfiguration experience [Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30] and the second appearance is connected to the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-6 who represent the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah; Moses with the power to turn water into blood and Elijah with the power to stop the rain. 

John 1:23: A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord.  Make his paths straight..  This Old Testament quote is from the book of the Prophet Isaiah.
Please read Isaiah 40:1-11.
Question: In quoting this passage from Isaiah what is John claiming?
Answer: John identifies himself as the preparatory voice of Isaiah 40:3. This passage originally prophesizes the forgiveness of the tribes Israel and their return from exile.  Isaiah had prophesized the destruction of both the Northern Kingdom of Israel, [722BC] which took place in his lifetime, and the future destruction of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which would be fulfilled 135 years later [587/6BC].  This message of hope promises God's forgiveness, and in effecting that in their return through the desert the hills would be leveled and the valleys filled in to prepare an eschatological superhighway for God's people.  This prophecy was only partially fulfilled with the return of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to the land of Judah.  There is no recorded of return of the 10 northern tribes but there obviously was a small return to the region of the Galilee.  Now John is to prepare a road, not for God's people to return to the land of Israel, but for God to come to His people.  John's call for repentance and his baptizing of the multitude in the desert was opening up the hearts of men, leveling their pride, filling in their emptiness and preparing them to receive the Messiah.  See CCC# 719-20

Please read John 1: 24-28
John 1:24-25: Now those who had been sent were Pharisees, and they put this question to him, 'Why are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the Prophet?'  verse 24 should read the Pharisees questioned him further..(a repeat of verse 21).

This seems to be a second group of emissaries from the Sanhedrim.  The first group was composed of Priests and Levites.  Perhaps they went back to Jerusalem to report on John's responses to their questions and now the "big guns", the theologians are being sent to question John again. 

Question:  Considering John's previous answers, what are they really asking him this time?
Answer: They want justification for his baptizing. If John the Baptist is not claiming any eschatological role, why is he performing an eschatological action like baptizing?
John 1:26-27: John answered them, 'I baptize with water but standing among you –unknown to you--is one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal.'
To undo the strap of his sandal is a slave's task. This is a phrase repeated from the Synoptics (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7 and Luke 3:16) except there it is expressed in the plural [sandals].

Question: John is making a distinction between his baptism and the baptism that will be performed by Jesus.  See John 1:33; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16. What is the difference?
Answer: John baptizes with water for repentance.  [Note: John is not forgiving sins but is instead preparing the people for a future forgiveness that will come through Christ's sacrifice].  The difference is that Jesus is to baptize with a Holy Spirit and with fire.  This distinction between the two types of baptism is common to all four Gospels and it is a theological break from traditional Old Covenant belief.  In Hebrew thought baptism or cleansing with water and with a holy spirit come together.  This distinction between the Old Covenant concept and the New Covenant reality is also emphasized in Acts 19:1-6 where some disciples of John who were baptized with John's baptism are encountered by the Apostles and it is discovered they have not received "the Spirit".  This distinction between ritual cleansing with water and a new kind of spiritual blessing recalls the prophecy of the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:25-26 I shall pour [sprinkle] clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols.  I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you
Note: there is an interesting passage in the writings of the Qumran community, a religious congregation near the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, in their "Rule of Life" concerning the coming of the Messiah: God will...cleanse man through a holy spirit, and will sprinkle upon him a spirit of truth as purifying water. [1QS iv 20-21].  This community would have been ready for the Baptist's message! Perhaps they had already received it?

We should probably spend some time discussing the importance of ritual purity in the Law of the Sinai Covenant.  Ritual purification through the use of holy water [blessed by a priest] was an outward sign of a renewed inward condition.  When someone came in contact with the "unclean" that person became "unclean." These various forms of ritual water purification included total immersion, sprinkling, and the pouring out of holy water over hands, the head, or feet.  The ritual bath for immersion was called a mikveh.  Total immersion was required for converts to the Covenant as well as for a woman after a birth or after her menstrual cycle [as in Bathsheba's case when David saw her bathing].  A woman had to go to the Temple in Jerusalem after a birth and be ritually purified in the Temple mikveh.  Mary was obedient to the Law and became ritually purified in Luke 2:22 [also see Leviticus 12:2-4].  If one became ritually unclean though contact with a dead body that person would remain unclean, ritually dead to the community, for the period of a week. That person was to be sprinkled with holy water on the 3rd day and on the 7th day before that person's purification had been completed and he could return to the community [Numbers 19:11-12]. Or if one touched a grave, holy water must be poured over that person [Numbers 19:17].  Holy water for ritual purification had to be flowing water, not stagnant water, and could not be kept in any vessel that had been altered by man.  It could not be kept in fired pottery, for example, but could be kept in unfired pottery or stone vessels.  Most often, holy water was kept in stone vessels.  Multiple fragments of stone vessels were discovered among the ruins at Qumran.

John 1:28: This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  "The far side" indicates the eastern shore of the river.  This is not the same Bethany as the town of Lazarus and his sisters on the Mt. of Olives near Jerusalem.  Bethany means "place [or house] of grace." Some ancient texts list the name as Bethabara, "place of the crossing".  Since no town of this name has ever been discovered in any text or any archaeological site, most scholars believe this name indicates that this was the site that the children of Israel used to cross the Jordan River when they first entered the Promised Land.  In the 3rd century the early Church Father, Origen, who lived in Palestine, agreed with this interpretation.  He testified that he had not been able to find any ancient town called Bethabara or Bethany across the Jordan. In his opinion the site of Jesus' baptism was the "place of the crossing" that had become a "place of grace" [Bethany] and that John 1:28 should really read "Bethabara".  An ancient 6th century AD mosaic map called the Madaba map locates Bethabara as a site but it is across the River on the western side.  Of course, a river crossing would have 2 sides: entering and exiting the River, so this map tends to confirm the theory that this is the site of that historic crossing as well as the site of Jesus' baptism. We also know from the diaries of ancient pilgrims that baptism was commemorated on both sides of the River and that there were churches built on both sides. In 1999 the ruins of two Byzantine churches were discovered on the east and west sides of the River about 5 miles north of the Dead Sea.  At this site the archaeologists also found coins and pottery dating to the time of John the Baptist [were they dropped by the crowds awaiting baptism?].  It is believed that one church commemorates Jesus' baptism and the other the assumption of Elijah into heaven.

This is the end of the first day and John closes this passage with this geographic reference of the name of the site.  As you will notice, closing a section of his narrative with a geographic reference will become common in John's Gospel. 

Please read John 1: 29-34
John 1:29-31:The next day, he saw Jesus coming towards him and said, 'Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  It was of him that I said 'Behind me comes one who has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.'  I did not know him myself, and yet my purpose in coming to baptize with water was so that he might be revealed to Israel.'

 Question: Assuming the day before was the first day, what day is this?
Answer: The second day.

Question: What does John mean when he identifies Jesus as "the Lamb of God."  Of which Lamb is he speaking?
Answer:  There were 5 kinds of animals used for ritual sacrifice in the Temple of God: cattle, goats, sheep, turtle-doves, and pigeons.  A "lamb who removes sin" would be indicating a lamb of sacrifice, but which lamb of sacrifice?

Most Biblical scholars and commentators identify this symbol of sacrifice with the Passover lamb; however, the Passover lamb was not a single lamb but thousands of lambs or goat-kids sacrificed on one day and only once a year (Ex 12:5). St. Paul does identify Jesus as the Passover Lamb in 1 Corinthians 5:7 and indeed, Jesus was the perfect Lamb of sacrifice that every lamb in the Old Covenant sacrificial system symbolized. But the Passover sacrifice that was offered only once a year was not the most important feast day of the Seven Sacred Feasts. Even though Passover was the first feast of the liturgical year, it was not a "Pilgrim feast" (see Dt 16:16 and 1 Chro 8:13). An adult ram was sacrificed on Yom Kipper as a whole burnt offering as a gift to Yahweh from His people and multiple lambs were sacrificed on other feast days. For example in addition to other sacrifices, seven unblemished yearling lambs were offered as holocausts (whole burnt offerings) on the pilgrim feasts of Unleavened Bread (seven lambs on each of seven days) and Weeks (Pentecost), while on the Feast of Shelters (Tabernacles), fourteen lambs were offered as a holocaust with other sacrifices for a period of seven days and an additional seven lambs on the eighth day. But none of these lambs were classified as sin offerings.

It is unlikely that any of these classes of sacrificial lambs would have come immediately to the thoughts of the crowd listening to John's shocking statement. Do not think of this event in terms of your familiarity with the concept of Jesus as a sacrifice for mankind or in terms of your understanding of the Last Supper. Think of how startling this statement was for these people in the 1st century AD. The only single lamb offered as a holocaust for the sins and sanctification of the covenant people was the unblemished male lamb offered as a communal sacrifice in the morning liturgical worship service and the unblemished male lamb offered in the afternoon liturgical worship service at the Jerusalem Temple. These lambs were called the Tamid lambs and their sacrifice in a liturgical worship service was to be perpetual for as long as the Sinai Covenant endured (Ex 29:38-42). The entire day for the covenant people revolved around the twice daily Tamid sacrifice. Of all the sacrifices, it was the most important, taking precedence over all other feast day sacrifices which were offered in "addition" to the Tamid (repeated 15 times in Num 28:10-29:38).

The Hebrew word tamid means "standing" as in perpetual. When John identified Jesus as a Lamb of God, it had to be the Tamid sacrifice, offered daily for the sins and sanctification of the entire people that came to mind for the crowd. Since the liturgy of the Tamid took place from dawn to dusk, and since the Jewish hours of prayer revolved around the Tamid liturgy (9 AM to noon and noon to 3 PM), this particular event probably happened during one of the "hours of prayer" associated with the sacrifice of the lambs in the Temple in Jerusalem. This connection to the Tamid is also how St. John the Apostle identifies Jesus in the book of Revelation 5:5 when he sees Christ for the first time: "Then I saw ...a Lamb standing that seemed to have been sacrificed.." Dead lambs don't stand up but "standing" has a double meaning. It also means "perpetual," as in the Hebrew word "Tamid" (for more information on this passage see the study of the Book of Revelation chapter Five).

This is the moment of climax when John identifies Jesus as a "sacrifice."  The Children of Israel abhorred human sacrifice.  Yahweh had forbidden the practice and now their holy young priest/prophet has identified this man as a sacrifice for the sins of the people and as the Messiah, the "chosen one of God." (or will in verse 34).  This was not their idea of a "Chosen One".  Their concept of Messiah was another David or Moses.  The author of this Gospel is telling us HOW Jesus will bring salvation and redemption to mankind, not as a warrior like David but as THE lamb of sacrifice for the people.  Not to cover their sin as the Tamid lambs did but to remove their sin forever. It is important to note that the original text reads sin in the singular to make it clear that all sin, of every kind is removed! He is giving them the prophet Jeremiah's promise from God in Jeremiah 31:33 ...they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind.

John is also making a connection between this revelation of the Baptist and the "Song of the Servant" (also called the "Suffering Servant") passages in the book of Isaiah.  Read Isaiah 42-55Isaiah 53:7 "Ill treated and afflicted, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep dumb before its shearers he never opened his mouth."  53:10a "It was Yahweh's god pleasure to crush him with pain; if he gives his life as a sin offering,..." CCC#536, 608

The prophecy of these passages was fulfilled in Christ's suffering and death on the cross.  The fourth Gospel will continue to refer to these passages from Isaiah.

Question: Why does John say: "He existed before me.." in verse 30 ?
Answer: John affirms Jesus' pre-incarnation: Physically Jesus was born 6 months after John but the Holy Spirit had given the Baptist the knowledge of Jesus' eternal existence.

John 1:31 "so that he might be revealed to Israel."  The Messiah is promised to redeem Israel.  The gift of redemption must first be offered to Israel before it is offered to the "nations."  Jesus will tell his disciples in their first missionary efforts: "Do not make your way to gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel" [Matthew 10:5-6].  Israel as Yahweh's "Bride" of the Old Covenant had the spiritual privilege of race.  But the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah (chapters 53 ff) also speak of a "redemption of the nations."  Israelites and Jews, however, only seemed to think in terms of personal and national redemption even though they were called by God to reveal Him as the One true God to the nations.  The celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles looked forward to a "redemption of the nations" led by Israel.  The revelation of a universal redemption is what prevented many Jews from coming to Christ.  (see Ephesians 2:11-3:13 for St. Paul's explanation of this mystery).

John 1:32-34: And John declared, 'I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him.  I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptize with water had said to me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.  I have seen and I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.'  (most ancient texts read "Son of God" instead of "Chosen One").

I did not know him myself..  seems a curious statement because we know from Luke's Gospel that they are kinsmen.  John's ignorance of this relationship may be necessary to show that there was no collusion between Jesus and John.  That Jesus is the Messiah is purely a revelation from God. Jesus was raised in the Galilee in the North and John was born in Ein Karin, which is just outside of Jerusalem.  If his elderly parents died when he was quite young and other relatives raised him, or if he was raised at Qumran in a community of priests ["sons of Zadok"] who had separated themselves from the established priesthood in Jerusalem, it is likely that he would lose contact with Mary and her family.   The sectarian documents at Qumran indicate that the community adopted orphaned children of priests.

Question: Read the beginning of Isaiah's Servant Song in chapter 42:1.  What connection do you think John's audience might have made to this verse?
Answer: He is identifying Jesus as Isaiah's Servant of Yahweh: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.  I have sent my spirit upon him.. 

In John 1:34 the New Jerusalem Bible scholars use the words "Chosen One of God" to fit the Isaiah chapter Isaiah 42:1 passage but this is a contested translation that is found in only one important copy of John.  The title "the Son of God" is found in more ancient texts.
Question: What is the significance of this title?  In the oldest texts this expression carries the definite article.
Answer: Jesus is not "a son of God" like the men listening to John's testimony or like King David. Jesus is THE Son of God, which means John, is testifying to the supernatural character of Jesus' messiahship.  Jesus is not the political leader they seem to be expecting.

Question: In the sacrificial system with what was a dove connected?  Hint: see Leviticus 5:7; 12:2-4, 8.
Answer: A dove offered in sacrifice was called the Onowin (pronounced on-o-ween) sacrifice = the poor man's sacrifice.  When Jesus was dedicated in the Temple after his birth, Mary and Joseph could not afford to offer a lamb, instead they brought doves (Luke 2:23-25; Leviticus 12:8).
Until John's declaration, God's Spirit was not associated with a dove.

The Fathers of the Church will associate the "dove" hovering over Jesus at the time of His baptism with the "divine ruah" [ruah is Hebrew for wind, breath or spirit] of God hovering over the parting of the waters of Creation, bringing order out of chaos in Genesis 1:2 and with the "dove" that flew from Noah's ark, hovering over the chaotic waters of the great Flood, symbolizing baptism of God's Spirit over a new creation.  The dove will become one of the symbols of God the Holy Spirit [others are water, fire, anointing, and cloud and light].  See CCC # 694-701.

Each of the Gospel accounts includes this description of God's Spirit descending like a dove: (literal Greek translations).  John differs with the other Gospels only in that he does not describe the baptism itself, and in describing the descent of the Spirit John has the phrase "from the sky."  CCC# 438

Matthew 3:16 "God's Spirit"

 "descending like a dove coming on him"

Mark 1:10 "The Spirit"

"like a dove descending on him"

Luke 3:22 "The Holy Spirit"

"descends in bodily form like a dove on him"

John 1:32 "The Spirit"

"descending like a dove from the sky on him"

You may also have noticed that John gives us a series of 5 "doublets" between verses 15 and 33:

  1. "They questioned him further" occurs twice in verses 21 and 25;
  2. "Look, here is the Lamb of God" occurs in verses 29 and 36;
  3. "I did not know him myself" in verse 31 is repeated in verse 33;
  4. the descent of the Spirit is described twice in verses 32 and 33; and
  5. Christ's pre-existence in verse 30 is repeated verse 15. (There are also 2 sets of emissaries in verses 19 and 24 but they do not count as a "doublet" because there is no repeat of the same words).

Please read John 1:35-42
Verse 35-37 The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John looked towards him and said, 'Look, there [here] is the Lamb of God.'  And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. 

We sometimes forget that John had disciples of his own.  They were a group set apart by his form of baptism.  They had their own rules of fasting (Mark 2:18; Luke 7:29-33) and their own prayers (Luke 5:33, 11:1).  Some of them continued as John's disciples after his death (Mark 6:29; Acts 19:3) while others became Jesus' disciples like St. Andrew (John 1:35-40) and perhaps the other disciple was St. John. This is the second time John identifies Jesus as a sacrificial lamb.  The word used in the Greek is amnos. The word occurs in John only here and in verse 29.  It appears nowhere else except in Acts 8:32 and in 1Peter 1:19.  The other word used for "lamb" in the New Testament is arnion, which can be translated "a little lamb". 
Note: Arnion is found once in John's Gospel (21:15) and is used of Christ 30 times in the book of Revelation.  It is a word specifically used by St. John to identify the glorified Redeemer, which may be the reason it is not used in the pre-glory narrative. 

Question: Counting the days from the first day prior to verse 34, which day is this?
Answer:  Day 3

Question: Who are the two disciples?  Hint: see verse 40
Answer:  One is Andrew and the other is unnamed although we are told that they both become Apostles. The majority of scholars, ancient and modern, identify John the Apostle [or the inspired writer of this Gospel] as the unnamed disciple of the Baptist.  All the lists of the Twelve Apostles name Simon, Andrew, James, and John as the first four.  The Synoptic Gospels mention these same four as the first disciples who are called by Jesus while fishing on the Sea of Galilee (although Luke does leave out Andrew).  The repeated order of the lists may suggest a priority of discipleship listing those who first answered the call in order. If that is so, there is a case for identifying the "unnamed" disciple as John in this passage.

This is information that is not provided in the Synoptic Gospels.  For the first time we realize that some of the Apostles knew Jesus before he called them to follow Him when He saw them near the Sea of Galilee.  This information makes their eagerness to leave everything and follow Him seem much more reasonable. 

John 1:38-39 Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, 'What do you want?'  they answered, 'Rabbi''which means Teacher''where do you live?'  He replied, 'Come and see;' so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day.  It was about the tenth hour.

John is writing this Gospel for a late 1st century congregation in Asia Minor [modern Turkey] that is largely composed of Gentile Greek/Roman culture converts.  They are not familiar with Jewish customs and so he explains the meaning of the word "Rabbi."  A more literal translation of rabbi is probably "my great one, or my honorable sir." This title as used by the Jews in addressing their teachers and is formed from a Hebrew root meaning "great."  Jesus himself explained the term as "master" in Matthew 23:8.

It was about the tenth hour.  The question is—what time is the tenth hour?  Is John using the Jewish or the Roman method of marking time?  Is he speaking of time literally or symbolically?  If he is speaking symbolically, 10 is the number of divine order; in other words, it was in perfection of time that these men came to Jesus.  But what if the 10th hour is meant both symbolically and literally? 

Please refer to the Daily Time Divisions chart below:


Jesus replied, 'Are there not 12 hours in a day?'John 11:9

12 hour daylight division: The Hours of Prayer for the Old Covenant Church

The first hour of prayer:

9AM is the first hour of prayer (see Acts 2:15) when the Temple gates opened.  The Hebrew word for this hour of prayer is "Shacharit"(morning).  According to Jewish time this is the 3rd hour (the third hour from sunrise); according to Roman time this is the 9th hour (Roman time for each day began at 12 midnight).

The second hour of prayer:

Noon is the second hour of prayer (Acts 3:1; 10:9).  The Hebrew word for this hour of prayer is "Minchah" (gift-offering).  According to Jewish time this is the sixth hour; according to Roman time this is the 12th hour.

The third hour of prayer:

3PM is the third hour of prayer (Acts 3:1; 10:9). The Hebrew word for the third hour of prayer is "Ma'ariv" (evening; our afternoon is the Jewish evening).  According to Jewish time this is the 9th hour.  This hour of prayer was known as the "hour of confession."  The next day began at sundown, or about 6PM.  According to Roman time this is the 15th hour.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1991 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Notice that the Jewish hours of prayer correspond to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. According to St. Mark, Jesus went to the cross at the third hour, which in Jewish time corresponds to our 9AM [Mark 15:25].

12 hour night time division


Sundown to 9PM

First watch

9PM to midnight

Second watch

Midnight to 3AM

Third watch (3AM trumpet to announce the last watch is called "the cockcrow")

3AM to sun rise

Fourth watch

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1991 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 In the Jewish method the day begins at sundown.  The entire day was divided into two divisions of 12 hours each. The nighttime 12 hours are divided into 4 watches and the daytime hours, divided to correspond with the Tamid sacrifice in the Temple, begins at dawn as the first hour.  The other Gospels use Jewish time. According to the Jewish reckoning the tenth hour would be 4 o'clock in the afternoon our time.  However, if the disciples of John stayed with Jesus the rest of the day there wasn't much day left.  The Jewish day ended at approximately 6PM (if this is the winter, another hour or so if it is the summer) which gives them only two hours of conversation.  John's church at Ephesus was located in the 3rd most important city in the Roman Empire.  The Roman pro-councils of Asia resided there.  The Roman day began at midnight.  We keep Roman time.  The Roman day was divined and numbered into 12 hour divisions from midnight to 12 noon and from 12 noon to 12 midnight.  The tenth hour of the day Roman time would be 10AM which would give the disciples of John the majority of the day to talk with Jesus.  As we continue in John's Gospel there is other evidence that supports John's use of Roman time. (See Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 2.79.188).

John 1:40-42 "One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him, "We have found the Messiah" - which means the Christ, and he took Simon to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas" -which means Rock.

"Cephas" is the Greek transliteration of Peter's Aramaic name "Rock" = Kepha, or perhaps in Galilean Aramaic "Qepha".  Only John among the Gospels gives this form of Peter's name but it is also the preferred name that St. Paul uses when he writes about Peter.

John also uses the Greek form "Petros" which we translate as Peter.  "Peter" would have been well know to the churches of Asia Minor at the time John wrote his Gospel so he uses the Greek translation of "Rock" (Peter's title) in the masculine form as Peter along with the Greek name "Simon" which is similar to his Hebrew name. "Simon" was a genuine Greek name. "Symeon" would be a better Greek transliteration for his Hebrew name which would be Sim'on.   Since Symeon is never used and since his brother Andrew has no Hebrew name equivalent it seems these brothers were known by their Greek names.

Another possible translation for verse 41 is "Andrew was the first to find his own brother.." This reading has been taken by many scholars to imply that the unnamed disciple (John) had also gone to also find his brother (James).   

"We have found the Messiah.."  John gives his good friend Andrew the credit as the first of the disciples to identify Jesus as the Messiah.  It is recorded in the writings of Fathers of the Church in the account of how John came to write his Gospel that it was Andrew who received the revelation from God that John should record his memories of Jesus. [The Muratorian Fragment ca 155AD].

"You are Simon, son of John.."  Here we have an interesting problem.  In John's Gospel he identifies Simon-Peter as the son of John four times (here and in chapter 21 verses 15-17, three times), but in the Gospel of Matthew 16:17 Simon is identified as the "son of Jonah."  Scholars usually offer one of two explanations:

John and Jonah can hardly be similar names.  Jonah means "dove" ( an amusing name for that Old Testament prophet who was most "undove" like) and John is from the Hebrew root word "hen" which means grace and/or the word from that root, "hesed" which means gracious, faithful, merciful love (it is what agape means in Greek for Christians). 

Is there an error in Scripture?  The Church teaches that Sacred Scripture is without error (CCC# 107) and the holy Fathers of the Church taught if there seemed to be a conflict or discrepancy in Scripture the error is with your interpretation!  The passage that causes the conflict is found in Matthew chapter 16.  Please turn in your Bible to that passage: Jesus talking to Simon-Peter: "Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man!"  Four times in John's Gospel Simon is identified as the "son of John."  This passage in Matthew chapter 16 is the only time that Simon is identified as the "son of Jonah." Now if Simon is not the son of a man named Jonah why would Jesus ever refer to him this way?  The problem is you must never take a passage out of context. Remember "a text without a context is only a pretext!"   The question is what has preceded this questionable passage?  In previous Matthew chapters Jesus has been talking about the Old Testament prophet Jonah.  Please read Matthew 12:39-16:4.  There are 6 references to Jonah found in 5 verses. The passages that refer to Jonah are found in 12:39, 40, 41 [twice]; 16:4, and 17. The sixth reference is to Simon-Peter. 

12:39 "He replied, 'It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign!  The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah.'"
12:40 "For as Jonah remained in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights."
12:41 (twice) "On Judgment Day the men of Nineveh will appear against this generation and they will be its condemnation, because when Jonah preached they repented; and look, there is something greater than Jonah here."
16:4 "It is an evil and unfaithful generation asking for a sign, and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah."
16:17 "Jesus replied, 'Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man! Because it was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven."

Jesus finishes the 16:17 verse by saying in Aramaic: 16:18 "So I now say to you: You are Peter [Kepha] and on this rock [kepha] I will build my church [ekklesia]."  The key to understanding why Jesus called Peter the son of Jonah comes from the building up of the Jonah passages that come before his final announcement of Simon as Kepa = Rock in Aramaic.   What is Simon/Peter's connection to the 8th century prophet Jonah?  All the previous passages recount Jonah's mission as God's holy prophet to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and compare Jonah's three days in the belly of the sea monster and his release to Christ's entombment and resurrection which will be the "sign" of the completion of His redemption for mankind.  The question is what will be similar in Simon/Peter's mission as God's emissary and Jonah's mission?

Question:  To whom was Jonah sent by God and what was his mission?  Hint #1 see the Book of Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-10.  Hint #1 the Gentile Assyrians were the world super power in the 8th century BC and Nineveh was the capital city of the empire that dominated the Middle East.
Answer: Jonah was sent to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire to preach repentance and that salvation was only through the One True God.

Question:  How does Peter's mission compare to Jonah's mission.  Where will God send Peter and for what purpose?
Answer: Peter will be send to Rome, the Gentile capital of the world superpower, and his mission will be to convert the Romans and through them the rest of the world.

John tells us that Jesus told Simon he was "rock" very early in their relationship.  It is later in Matthew's account in chapter 16 that Simon/Peter is given formally the title "Rock" in the presence of all the other Apostles. "Rock" is one of God's titles.  In the Song of Witness that Moses and Joshua are instructed to teach the Children of Israel to sing as part of their liturgical worship the title "Rock" for God is used 5 times.  Christ is also identified as the "Rock" in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5.  But only 2 men in Salvation history are called "rock". They are Abraham [Isaiah 51: 1-2] and Peter.  Abraham was the physical "rock" from which the Children of Israel were formed but Peter is to be the spiritual "Rock", the father of the New Covenant children of Israel, the universal [catholic] Church!  When God changes a man's name it is an indication of a change in destiny.  Simon's name change indicated God's plan for his destiny. He will be the "rock," that is a firm foundation upon which the Church will be built [Matthew 7:24-27].

Then too there is the etymology of Jonah's name: Jonah means "dove" in Hebrew.  Peter is the "son of the dove".  In the New Covenant the dove will become the symbol for God the Holy Spirit.  Peter is surely the son of the Holy Spirit for it is God the Holy Spirit who revealed Jesus' identity as the Messiah to Simon/Peter.  So, did John make a mistake in his Gospel account?  I don't think so.

Please read John 1:43-51
Verses 43-45 The next day, after Jesus decided to leave for Galilee, he met Philip and said, 'Follow me.'  Philip came from the same town, Bethsaida, as Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.'

Question:  This is the 3rd repetition of the phrase "the next day."  What day is this?
Answer: It is the 4th day since John the Baptist's witness of Christ.

These men, Philip (a Greek name with no Hebrew equivalent) and Nathanael are returning home to the Galilee after having come to Judea for one of the Feast Days or John's baptism or perhaps both.  The Galilee is a good two days journey from Jericho.  Philip is the 3rd disciple to be named in John's Gospel after Andrew and Simon.  In the oldest list of the Apostles still in existence, which is the list of Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis a disciple of St. John, Philip is also listed after Andrew and Simon.  Philip lived at Hieropolis and Papias relates that he is buried there with his daughters. Although Philip is mentioned in all the Gospels, only John gives him any role in the narrative.  Andrew, Peter, and Philip were all from the same home-town, Bethsaida.  Later, Peter and Andrew moved their fishing business to Caperanum and Peter married a local girl.  The fish-salting factory was located in the town of Magdela which is next to Caperanum.  The move was probably a wise business decision.  If Peter had stayed in Bethsaida, which was part of Gaulanitis and not the Galilee under Herod Antipas, he would have had to pay double taxes to both the sons of Herod the Great who rules these two provinces.

"Philip found Nathanael" This disciple's name is only found in John's Gospel. 

Most scholars identify him with the Apostle Bartholomew because, just as Nathanael comes after Philip in John's Gospel, Bartholomew's name follows Philip's name in all the other lists of the Twelve Apostles except in Acts 1:13.  His name means "God [El] has given" and Bartholomew means "son of Tolmai" so we may have Nathanael son of Tolmai(?) from the city of Cana which is near Nazareth in the Galilee. Other scholars believe he is not one of the 12 Apostles and considering the etymology of his name ["God has given"] that John means him to serve as a symbol of Israel coming to God. [If this person is indeed bar Tolmai/Bartholomew this could also be the reason John uses his given name instead of his surname]. CCC# 878

"Jesus son of Joseph" This is the normal way of distinguishing one man from another.  Joseph was Jesus' legal father under the Law.  He became his legal father when Joseph named Jesus at His circumcision.  There is no suggestion here that Joseph is Jesus' birth father.

John 1:46-50 "Nathanael said to him, 'From Nazareth?  Can anything good come from that place?'  Philip replied, 'Come and see.'  When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, 'there, truly, is an Israelite in whom there is no deception.  Nathanael asked, 'How do you know me?'  Jesus replied, 'Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.'  Nathanael answered, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.'  Jesus replied, 'You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree.  Your are going to see greater things than that.'  And then he added, 'In all truth I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of man.'"

Question:  Is this a dig against the town of Nazareth or could it be a local proverb, as some scholars suggest?  Notice that Jesus doesn't rebuke him. If Nathanael is a righteous Israelite who studies the Scriptures why might Nathanael consider it to be a problem if the Messiah was from Nazareth?
Answer:  His friend Philip has testified that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.  St. John Chysostom in his Homolies on St John [20.1] suggests that Nathanael may be concerned and confused because the prophecy of Micah 5:1 [2] gave Bethlehem, the town of King David, as the birth place of the Messiah: "But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, from you will come for me a future ruler of Israel whose origins go back to the distant past, to the days of old."  St. John Chysostom writes: "Therefore, when he heard that he was from Nazareth, he was troubled and in doubt, since he found that the announcement of Philip was not in agreement with the words of the prophecy."

Nazareth is a little, obscure town in the Galilee located in a valley a few miles from the Via Maris, the great Roman road.  The word "Nazareth" or "Nazara" as Matthew records the name in Matthew 4:12, is from the Hebrew root word "netzer" [netser], which means branch.

Question: How does Jesus identify Nathanael?
Answer: As an Israelite without deception.

Question: This is an interesting statement in light of the fact that the first man to carry the name "Israel" surely didn't deserve that epitaph.  Who was he and was he known as a man "without deception'?
Answer: God gave Jacob, the son of Isaac, the name Israel after he had wrestled with an angel (Genesis 32:28-30).  One of his great failings was that he was "a man of deception."  He even deceived his own father in order to usurp his brother as the "reshith" or heir, thereby receiving the double portion of the birthright = the blessing and the material gifts (Genesis 27:35).

Jesus' comment takes Nathanael by surprise and he asks Jesus how does he know him? 
Jesus said: "I saw you under the fig tree."  The leading question is, of course, what did Jesus see Nathanael doing under the fig tree?  Rabbis taught or studied under a fig tree.  The fig tree in Scripture had always been a symbol for fruitful Israel and the Law was also compared to a fig tree.  It has been suggested by Biblical scholars that he was studying Scripture when Jesus saw him. The mention of "the Law" in verse 45 has been used to support this theory.  What ever Nathanael was doing, Jesus' revelation has a profound affect on him.

Question: What is Nathanael's response?
Answer: He immediately professes Jesus to be the Messiah!

Now does that seem reasonable to you????  You might argue that God had revealed this information to Nathanael in a flash of insight, which of course He did; but there is something missing here!  Somehow Nathanael has connected the information he has been given.  Remember every word is important; nothing in Scripture is there by accident.  What did Nathanael connect about Jesus [Yehosua], the Messiah [promise as prophet, priest, and King of Israel]; Nazara (meaning branch); the fig tree;  and the passage he may have been reading that made it all came together in the realization that he is standing with The Messiah, the promised One from God?  There is only one series of passages I can think of that connect "branch" and Messiah, Yehosua and priests and kings, and a fig tree and that is found in the book of the prophet Zechariah. 

The Prophet Zechariah's ministry begins in Oct-Nov 520BC.  His name means 'Yahweh has remembered". He is one of the post-exile prophets (the return after the Babylonian captivity) and Jesus may be recalling his martyrdom when He speaks of him as the prophet who was killed between the Temple and the Altar (in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51).  His book is one of the most important prophetic books giving detailed Messianic references, references that would not be fulfilled until the coming of Jesus the Messiah.   

Please read Zechariah 2:14-17.  This passage is missing from most Protestant Bibles, including the NIV but can be found in all Catholic translations and in the Jewish Tanach.
(New Jerusalem translation) Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion, for now I am coming to live among you, Yahweh declares!  And on that day many nations will be converted to Yahweh.  Yes, they will become his people, and they will live among you.  Then you will know that Yahweh Sabaoth [Lord of Hosts] has sent me to you! Yahweh will take possession of Judah, his portion of the Holy Land, and again make Jerusalem his choice.  Let all people be silent before Yahweh, now that he is stirring from his holy Dwelling!

The Messianic references in this passage should be obvious.  God Himself is coming to redeem His people.

Now please continue reading Zechariah chapter 3
Question: What is the name of the high priest?  Is there a connection to Jesus?
Answer: The name of the high priest is Joshua [Yehosua].  This is Jesus' name.

Question: What do the dirty clothes in which Joshua is dressed represent in verse 3?
Answer: the sins of the people.

Question: What does the "stone" and the seven eyes represent in verse 9?
Answer: The seven eyes represent the Holy Spirit [see Revelation 5:6] and the "stone" is the "cornerstone" of Psalms 118:22 = the Messiah.  The "stone" is also the spiritual "rock" upon which the New Covenant faith will be established.  But Nathanael would be thinking of the physical "rock" of the Temple in Jerusalem on the rock of Mt. Moriah.  Christians would come to understand this as the spiritual rock of Peter and the New Covenant Church.

Question: How will Yahweh remove the sins of the people in a single day?
Answer: God is putting the High Priest Joshua and his fellow priests on notice that He will bring His servant "the Branch" to remove the sins of the people.  Although the Hebrew word tsemack meaning "branch" is used in this passage, the word netzer is used for Branch as a messianic title in Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new [netzer] branch will grow from his roots.  On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh.. Nathanael would have made the connection between the name of the town and "branch" as a messianic title.

Question: On the day that sin is removed what must we invite each other to do and why?
Answer: To invite each other to come under the vine and fig tree because we will need to search out the Scriptures to find that all that was promised by the prophets has been fulfilled.  Luke 24:44-45 Then he told the, 'This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled.' He [Jesus] then opened their minds to understand the Scriptures...'

Question: Was this prophecy ever fulfilled? Did that day come when sin was removed?
Answer: Yes, when Jesus died for the sins of the world on the altar of the Cross His blood became the means through will sins could be forgiven, fulfilling Jeremiah's promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

There is one more significant passage in Zechariah that would have been very meaningful to Nathanael in this encounter with Jesus.  Please read Zechariah 6:9-15.  This passage has always been considered to be a problem, in Nathanael's day and in ours. According to the Law a priest could not be crowned as a king.  Only the Messiah could be a priest-king. Scholars usually point out that the High Priest Joshua and Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David, were leading the people and so this is obviously a textual error and Zerubbabel not Joshua is really being crowned.  But is that really the case?

Question: Who is this Joshua who is being crowned named in verse 12 and what is the significance of his name or title?
Answer: He is "the Branch".  This is the title of the Messiah.

Question: Jesus is the Messiah.  When was He enthroned and crowned as Priest/King? See Hebrews 8:1b-2.
Answer: When He ascended to the Father.  He [Jesus] has taken his seat at the right of the throne of divine Majesty in the heavens, and he is the minister of the sanctuary and of the true Tent which the Lord, and not any man, set up.

Zechariah 6:13 is a problem.  The translation reads: Yes, he is the one who will rebuild Yahweh's sanctuary; he will wear the royal insignia and sit on his throne and govern, with a priest on his right.  Perfect peace will reign between these two.  The literal translation for with a priest on his right is a priest on his throne.

Question: Where does a priest sit on the Messiah King's throne and rule in harmony with the Messiah King?
Answer:  The throne of the Messiah King on earth is called "the throne of Peter" and John Paul II is the priest who sits on that throne today [study written in 2001].

Question: Was this passage fulfilled in Nathanael's eyes in Yehosua of Nazarath who is the Priest-King?
Answer: YES. Nathanael testifies of his belief.

Question: What promise does Jesus make to Nathanael after his declaration of faith?
Answer: Nathanael will receive a supernatural vision of Yehosua (Jesus). 

Question: What Scripture passage is being referenced in Jesus' promise? Hint: read Genesis 28:10-17
Answer: Once again there is a connection with Israel/Jacob.  Jesus is making the connection to Jacob's (Israel) vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder that reached into heaven, connecting heaven and earth.  This vision comes to Jacob in a place he names Bethel = "place of God."  Nathanael's declaration of faith and Jesus' response is echoed in St. Paul's passage in Romans 9:6 "Not all born Israelites belong to Israel, and not all the descendants of Abraham count as his children...."  The true Israelite believes in Jesus who connects heaven and earth in the liturgy of the Eucharist!

Verse 51: "In all truth I tell you, you will see heaven open and angels ascending and descending over the Son of Man."  The literal translation is "Amen, amen, I tell you.."  The Synoptic Gospels use either "I say to you" or "Amen, I say to you".  The single "amen" occurs 31 times in Matthew, 13 times in Mark, 6 times in Luke.  Only John uses the double "amen" and he uses it 25 times. Jesus uses "amen" like the swearing of an oath! 

The title "Son of Man" is Jesus' favorite title for Himself.  In this statement Nathanael would have realized that Jesus was linking two visions from Scripture: one from Genesis 28:10-16 when Jacob/Israel dreamed and saw angels ascending and descending from heaven as God stood beside him and the prophet Daniel's powerful vision of the Messiah, "the Son of Man," in Daniel 7:13-14 I was gazing into the visions of the night, when I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, as it were a son of man.  He came to the One most venerable and was led into his presence.  On him was conferred rule, honor and kingship, and all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.  His rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, and his kingship will never come to an end.

Jesus will quote from this verse several times including at his trial before the High Priest in Matthew 26:64 (also Luke 21:27).

Nathanael could not have missed the implications of Jesus' statement. Just as God stood beside Jacob and made him a promise so too does God now stands beside Nathanael. The oath Jesus makes to Nathanael is that the Son of Man is now "the heavenly door" of Jacob's vision.  He is the center of God's glory and the point of contact between heaven and earth. He is the Priest-King promised in Zechariah's prophecies and the Son of Man the Divine King of Daniel's vision who has come to remove the sins of the people and to establish an everlasting kingdom! Zechariah 13:1 When that day comes, a fountain will be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to wash sin and impurities away'a prophecy identifying the Messiah as a descendant of the great King David of Israel.  No wonder Nathanael declared Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.

Question: When is the promised vision revealed to Nathanael?
Answer:  Jesus promises Nathanael a vision similar to Jacob's vision in Genesis 28:12: He had a dream: there was a ladder [stairway]. Planted on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and God's angels were going up and down on it.  And there was Yahweh....  Jesus' reference to Himself as "the Son of Man joins Jacob's vision to Daniel's vision in Daniel 7:13 where I saw coming on the clouds of heaven, as it were, a Son of Man.  Both episodes are visions of the Sheckinah'the Glory Cloud. The Glory Cloud is a theophany, a visible manifestation of the enthroned God to His Covenant people as He revealed Himself in Exodus to Israel, and it is filled with angels! Some examples of this manifestation are found in Exodus13:22 ff, Luke 9:34-35; Acts 1:9; Matthew 24:30f; 1Thessolonians 4:17; Revelation 1:7; 14:14-16 and especially Daniel 7:13 and Matthew 17:5 at the Transfiguration He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow and suddenly from the cloud there came a voice ....  In Acts chapter 1 Jesus' Apostles and disciples see Him taken up into heaven in the Glory Cloud. This is the vision the New Covenant Church had of Jesus at the Ascension and it is the vision that was promised to the faithful Nathanael who stood and watch his Savior and King ascend to the Father, remembering that first encounter with Christ on the shores of the Jordan River, three years and a lifetime earlier.

RESOURCES (used in this lesson)

  1. The Mystery of the Kingdom, Edward P. Sri, professor of religious studies Benedictine College, Atchison, Kansas (Emmaus Road Publishing, 1999).
  2. Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. II
  3. The Gospel According to John, vol. I, Fr. Raymond E. Brown, professor of religious studies Notre Dame University, The Anchor Bible Commentary, (Doubleday, 1966).
  4. Natural History, Pliny the Elder (23-79AD)
  5. The Works of Josephus, translator, William Whiston, (Hendrickson Publications, 1987).
  6. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The Gospel of John, Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, (Ignaitus Press, 2002).
  7. Biblical Archaeology Review, "Site of Jesus' Baptism Found --Again", May/June, 1999.
  8. Navarre Bible — St John, University of Navarre, (Four Courts Press, 1998).
  9. Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, St. John Chysostom, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 14 (Hendrickson, 1988).

Catechism References  [*indicates verse paraphrased]

1: 19 523, 575*, 613, 717 1:33-36 719
1:21-23 718, 719, 720 1:33-34 1286*
1:29 408, 523, 536, 608, 1137*, 1505 1:36 608*
1:31-34 486*, 438 1:43 878*
1:32-34 713, 536    

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.