Chapter 9.1 First Disciples
John the Baptist Announcing the Messiah, original oil painting on canvas by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), circa 1487-1576
John the Baptist Announcing the Messiah, original oil painting on canvas by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), circa 1487-1576
(CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

On the following day after his victory over the devil, Jesus came down from the mountain and returned to his place of baptism. The sunlight glistened off his robe while his face glowed with peace and happiness. He had fulfilled all righteousness and was prepared for John to identify him as the Messiah of Israel.

This was the day John had been waiting for all his life. Until then he had only been able to assure his followers that God would have mercy upon those who repented, but he had not been able to do more than that. Now, as forerunner, he must call his disciples’ attention to the one immeasurably greater than he—and reveal the Anointed One’s identity.

Looking across the heads of his disciples and pointing to where the Savior stood, he shouted joyfully, “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one to whom I was referring when I said, ‘Soon a man is coming who is far greater than I am,’ for he existed long before I did. The reason why I came baptizing with water was in order to reveal him to Israel.”

Strangely no one seemed to understand what John meant as they looked over to where Jesus was standing. How could this man called the “Lamb of God” possibly be their long awaited Messiah? They were expecting a mighty king to come in power and glory, not a sacrificial lamb for sin.

John saw the people hesitating and testified further, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove and it came to rest on him. I have been told by God that he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. I tell you, he is the Son of God!”

His disciples remained unconvinced. Surely John must be mistaken. But he was the only one who understood. Those forty days when Christ was on the mount of temptation had been a time of soul-quickening and unfolding revelation to John. His analogy to the Messiah as the Paschal Lamb who redeemed humankind from sin in its totality revealed full comprehension of the prophecies and his mission.

Soon after the Baptist’s announcement, Jesus left the Jordan and went to a nearby place to stay for the night. Again, no one followed him and he was able to quietly eat, rest, and regain his strength.

First Disciples

The next day was the Sabbath (Saturday), a day of rest. The baptizer stood with two of his disciples—John, son of Zebedee, and his friend Andrew. Now that glorious figure once more appeared in view. The intensity of Christ’s gaze called from him the worshipful repetition of his words expressed on the previous day, “There is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples needed no direction from the Baptist, no call from Jesus. Only an irresistible impulse, a heavenly instinct, made them follow his steps. They silently went in the dawn of their rising faith, scarcely conscious of what and why, but Christ knew the goal of their unconscious search. Hearing footsteps, he turned around and smiled as he asked them, “What are you looking for?”

Andrew and John didn’t know, except that they wanted to be with him. Andrew could only answer with another inquiry, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

“Come and see.” Jesus began to walk along the path leading from the grove to the caravansary nearby. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon and the two remained with him most of the day. They enjoyed being with this enlightened Rabbi who explained the Scriptures and prophecies to them. Andrew and John were convinced he was the Messiah and were ready to leave the Baptist and follow him. These two were not only learners now, but teachers. When evening began to fall, Andrew went to search for his brother Simon, and John for his brother James.

Andrew first found his brother. Simon was a big man with enormous strength to haul in the nets. He was known throughout the Sea of Galilee as the best fisherman in the entire region. But more than for his physical prowess, he was admired because of his greatness of heart, his impetuous generosity, and his deep-seated love of God.

Like many devout Jews and with the natural fervor of a Galilean, Simon yearned for the kingdom of God when the anointed Messiah would lead Israel to its manifest destiny. Being a man of action rather than a thinker, he had never troubled himself about just how or when this would happen. However, when the Baptist first began to preach, he wondered if the Messiah whose soon coming the baptizer proclaimed was the way to gain freedom from Roman oppression.

When Andrew came to his brother, he was preparing the evening meal over a small fire near the poplar grove. “John and I have found the Messiah!” Andrew announced with his eyes glowing.

“Who is he?”

“Jesus, the teacher of Nazareth. Will you come with me and talk to him?”

Simon already knew Jesus as an eloquent teacher in the synagogue and a carpenter of rare skill, but not as a Messiah. “Why should I?” he asked.

“The Baptist pointed him out as the Lamb of God. Then he told us he saw the Spirit come down from heaven and rest on him; that Jesus is the one who would baptize us with the Holy Spirit.”

Simon wanted another opinion, “Does John think the Nazarene is the Messiah?”

“We have been with Jesus since morning and believe he is God’s Anointed. John has gone to get James.”

The big man looked thoughtfully at the bed of glowing coals. John and James were fishing partners who worked for their father Zebedee. He operated one of the largest fishing establishments in Bethsaida on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum. The four were very close, with deep enduring friendships of men who faced danger together in the storms that often lashed the waters of the lake. Simon thought if John was so impressed by the teacher of Nazareth, there must be something more to him than seemed likely.

“Eat,” he told Andrew, “then we’ll go see the Nazarene.”

James and John were already sitting with Jesus around a small fire when Simon and Andrew approached the caravansary. When the tall fisherman loomed out of the shadows, dwarfing them all by his size, Jesus looked up and welcomed him to sit down. The searching penetrating glance of the Savior now saw his inmost character and future work, “You are Simon, son of John—but you shall be called Cephas.” The Greek word Cephas or Peter means rock, a tribute to his size and solid strength.

Immediately a warm feeling passed between the two men, a glimpse of the great brotherly love that was to bind Simon Peter close to the Lord as any other person who was ever to come to him. The big man, who was here only to please his brother Andrew, found himself at the feet of Jesus listening eagerly.

The next morning was Sunday, first day of the week, and they could travel. Jesus decided to return to Galilee with his four disciples. They headed north, following the Jordan River. Along the way he met another disciple of the Baptist, Philip, who like Andrew and Peter came from Bethsaida. He simply said, “Follow me.” When Philip looked into the Lord’s eyes he knew he would always follow him. Immediately the new disciple went to find his friend Nathanael to share the good news.

Nathanael (Bartholomew) had rested for prayer and meditation in the shadow of a wide-spreading fig tree. The approaching Passover season mingling with thoughts of the Baptist’s announcement by the banks of Jordan caused him to dream of the Deliverer in the age to come, and to contrast it from the painful present.

Philip found him still busy with such thoughts. “We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the Law, and the man foretold by the prophets. It is Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from there?” He lived in nearby Cana and knew about the town. In his estimation not even a prophet could be expected to come from such a place, much less the Expected One.

“Just come and see for yourself,” Philip assured him.

His friend said no more as he left the shade of the tree and went with him.

Jesus and the others were standing near the river, waiting for Philip to rejoin them. When the Lord saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said, “Here is an Israelite worthy of his name; there is nothing false in him.”

Nathanael was startled, “How do you know me?”

“I saw you under the fig tree before Philip spoke to you.”

He turned to look in the direction from where he had come. The tree was invisible from this point and Philip had brought him directly here, so there was no possibility that Jesus could have seen him except by some miraculous power. This Nazarene even knew what kind of tree it was. Nathanael-Bartholomew, moved by an impulse had he never felt before, exclaimed, “Teacher, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

The Lord looked at him intently for a moment, probing his soul, “Do you believe this because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”

Only much later did the six understand Christ’s next words, “In very truth I tell all: you will see heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus continued along the road that led to Galilee, none of them questioning him further. There had been something in his face when he spoke, a glory and yet a sadness coming from depths within this man to whom they had been so powerfully drawn, depths which they sensed they could not fathom.

John the Baptist could not help feeling lonely after the Messiah departed with the Galileans who had been among his staunchest followers. His own place upon the stage of events had now been taken by another, and his star was on the wane. But John was a servant of God, accustomed to denying himself in order to further divine purpose. He did not rebel against the fact of his own abasement, but continued to teach and baptize his own disciples—and announce that the Messiah-King had come.

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