Sermon on John 1:35-51 – “The First Five Disciples”

June 2, 2019

Sermon Text:

[Jhn 1:35-51 ESV]

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”


This is where it all started. The first five disciples. There are millions of disciples of Jesus Christ today, perhaps billions throughout history, but here we learn of the first five.

This is the beginning of the Christian Church. And it has very humble origins.

Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. These are common men. Men who worked as fisherman and in other common trades. These are not philosophers, rabbis, or politicians. These are average people like you and me.

And so as I preach on how each of these men became disciples, I want you to think of how these stories relate to you. “What are you seeking?” Listen to Christ who says “Come and you will see” and who says “Follow me.” These are simple commands, but they carry with them the power of God, the power of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. “Follow me” and you will see greater things; “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

One by one, Jesus is gathering his disciples.


We start then with Andrew. The first disciple of Jesus Christ was Andrew. He and another man were first disciples of John the Baptist, and then they become disciples of Jesus Christ.

This transition from being a disciple of John to a disciple of Jesus is important in a number of ways. [REPEAT: This transition from being a disciple of John to a disciple of Jesus is important in a number of ways.] I’ll note two.

1.It shows John the Baptist’s humility, and his role as a witness.

John is not upset about his disciples going off to follow Jesus. Rather, in a couple chapters further along in this Gospel account, we find John the Baptist continuing to exalt Jesus Christ. He says “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” There is no jealously on John’s part. His goal, in fact, is for all of his disciples to believe in Christ. John is humble.

2. Then also, the fact that Andrew goes from following John the Baptist to following Jesus Christ shows the superiority of Jesus Christ. And it shows the power of Jesus Christ.

It is very difficult to get someone to switch their allegiance. How hard is it to switch from being a Democrat to being a Republican? Surely it is even harder to switch from being a fan of one sports team to being a fan of another. And perhaps it is hardest of all to switch one’s religious beliefs. It is very difficult to switch one’s allegiance. But here we have Andrew and another man, both disciples of John the Baptist who soon become disciples of Jesus Christ. WHY? Why do they do this? Because Jesus has, or rather JESUS IS, what they are seeking. John the Baptist is a witness to Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ is the LAMB OF GOD who takes the sin of the world. This is what they are seeking; forgiveness from sin. It is what all men should seek. And it is found only in Jesus. Switching your allegiance to Jesus Christ is the best decision you can make.

So we find Andrew as he is standing with John the Baptist and another disciple, and John the Baptist says “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Andrew and the other man then physically follow Jesus. Jesus turns around and asks “What are you seeking?”

Now, Jesus, in his divine nature, already knows exactly what they are seeking. But he asks the question for their benefit.

Andrew and the other man apparently have a lot to talk to Jesus about, for they ask “Where are you staying?” And Jesus responds, “Come and you will see.”

Their conversation which followed, which is not recorded, must have been very influential on Andrew and the other man, for shortly thereafter we find Andrew running to his brother Simon and saying to him, “We have found the Messiah.”

This is all we hear of Andrew at this point. Andrew found the messiah. Let’s move on then to the second disciple.


Now, I’ve titled this sermon “The First Five Disciples.” But did you get a chance to count the names of the disciples in the story? If you have, you’d only find four, not five. There are four disciples mentioned by name: Andrew, his brother Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael. But remember also this “second man” standing alongside Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist. This man, though not named, is, with some pretty reasons, thought to be the author of this Gospel, the Apostle John.

If so—and it does seem to be the case that this unnamed disciple is John—this helps to explain how the author (John the Apostle) knows all the details of what is going on here. He is a witness to these things. The Apostle John, with Andrew, was a disciple of John the Baptist. He heard John the Baptist say “Behold, the Lamb of God” when Jesus walked by, and he was a witness to those events which followed. The author even knows the hour — the tenth hour — in which certain things occurred. But humbly, he does not name himself in the account.

Also, of good evidence that the unnamed disciple is John is the fact that all of the other disciples are mentioned. Had the second disciple been someone other than John, he likely would have been named. Andrew is named, Simon Peter is named (twice), Philip is named, and Nathanael is named. Only the second disciple is anonymous.

This second disciple, most likely John, then, like Andrew, goes from being a student of John the Baptist to being a student of Jesus Christ. That is a major upgrade; he has found a far better teacher.

Andrew found the messiah. And John found the messiah.


So then, we move on to the third disciple. We have Andrew, and then John, and third is Simon Peter.

Simon Peter is the brother of Andrew. Andrew finds him and tells him “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew is confident. And Jesus does not disappoint. Knowing more than a mere man could, Jesus looks at Simon and says “You are Simon, the son of John. You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter.)”

Simon was a common name at the time, and there are a number of ‘Simons’ in the Bible. There is Simon the Leper, Simon the Zealot, Simon the magician, and Simon of Cyrene among others. But this Simon under consideration in our text becomes the most well known of them all.

Jesus gives this particular Simon a second name. Jesus calls him “Peter.” The reason is not stated, but can perhaps be partially discerned in the Scriptures.

Now, “Peter” the Greek word for Rock. Greek was most common language in the world at this point.

But our author records Jesus as saying “You shall be called Cephas.” “Cephas” is the Aramaic word for “Rock.”Aramaic is the common language of the Jews at this point in history. It is similar to Hebrew. Either way, “Cephas” or “Peter”, the name means “rock.”

The Bible shows Simon to be an impulsive and overeager man. But Christ calls him “rock” to show what he intends to turn him into. Peter wasn’t a rock. He was a mess. He was shifting sands. But God would turn him into a leader of the church. So long as Peter is grounded in the Word of God, he would be as stable as a rock.

So Andrew has found the messiah, and John has found the messiah, and Simon is now Simon Peter.


Simon Peter is then the third disciple. We have Andrew, John, and now Simon Peter. Fourth is Philip. And the story of Philip is my favorite. It is very simple. It is only one verse long.

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.”

That’s it. That is all Jesus needed to say. How powerful must have his words been. He says “Follow me” and Philip obeys. We should take heed of this. Oh how wonderful it would be if we all were like Philip. The Lord says to us “Follow me” and we’d actually do so!

Our cases are often much more difficult. We know that Christ says “Follow me”, but what do we do?

Some say: Oh, I’ll follow you on Sunday.
Others say: Oh, I’ll just pray to God on my death bed.
Or yet others say: Oh, I’ll follow my own ways; they aren’t that bad.

To this I must say: NO, NO, NO.

Christ says “Follow me.” And we are to do just that. Without wavering; and without delay. Follow Christ. Do so today. Do so now. Not later. Now. As Christ command Philip, so he commands you and me: “Follow me.” Let us not hesitate to obey.

Philip obeyed. We know this because he immediately went and found Nathanael and said to him:

“We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

When Christ says “follow me” —and we obey— there is no room for following anyone else. When he says “follow me” he means “follow me alone.” The Lord is a jealous God. And Christ is “the way.” There is no other. Do not follow Christ for one moment, and then someone else for another, but follow Christ always. Look to the word of God in times of trouble and in times of joy. Follow Christ always.

So Andrew has found the messiah, and John has found the messiah, Simon is now Simon Peter, and Philip is following Christ.


Now we come to Nathanael, the fifth disciple. In other gospels he is called Bartholomew. That is is last name – son of Tolmai or Bartholomew. He full name would be Nathanael Bartholomew. Here he is just known as Nathanael.

If Philip (the fourth disciple) followed Christ with the most ease, Nathanael (the fifth disciple) came with some resistance.

But maybe this resistance had a Scriptural reason. Philip had told Nathanael that Jesus is from Nazareth. Perhaps Nathanael though knew from the Scriptures that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. For some reason anyways Nazareth was not expected and even disparaged as a town.

Nathanael responded:

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth”?

To prove it, Philip says

“Come and see.”

They walk together to find Jesus. When they are approaching, Jesus says to Nathanael:

“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”

Nathanael responds:

“How do you know me?”

And Jesus says:

“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

This miracle of knowledge so changes the mind of Nathanael that he responds:

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

And to this, Christ finally says:

Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

This is in obvious reference to Jacob’s Ladder of the book of Genesis.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! – Genesis 28:10-12

And Jesus declares himself to be that ladder in fulfillment; he is the true link between heaven and earth; the bond of union between God and man.

It is the work of Christ in salvation that is among the “greater things” that Jesus told Nathanael he would see. And this salvation is promised. Nathanael will see it. He will know God because the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) makes God known.

Now, this term “the Son of Man” is used thirteen times in John’s Gospel, and here in our passage we’ve come upon its first use. This is often said to be the favorite way in which Jesus would refer to himself. He is the Son of Man. This definitely means to emphasize that half of the doctrine of Christ. Remember, Jesus Christ is God and Jesus Christ is Man. Two natures in one person. So “the Son of Man” emphasizes that Jesus is man.

But “Son of Man” is a reference also the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14. This reads:

[Dan 7:13-14 ESV] 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

When Christ applies “Son of Man” to himself, he is declaring that he is fulfills this prophecy from Daniel. He is proclaiming himself to be the messiah of whom this passage speaks.

So we have John the Baptist declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God. And Andrew says “We have found the Messiah.” All of this would be negated if Jesus were to deny it. But he doesn’t. Jesus confirms these things said of him. He declares himself to be the Messiah. The kingdom is here because the king is here.

So Andrew has found the messiah, and John has found the messiah, Simon is now Simon Peter, Philip is following Christ, and Nathanael recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel.

APPLICATION 1:–You are a disciple of Christ.

So we have five. Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. These are the first five disciples. They are also apostles.

What is the difference between a disciple and an apostle?

An apostle is an ambassador for God, specifically sent out to spread the message of the Gospel. There were only twelves apostles. The age of the apostles ended when the last of the twelve died, and from there forward there are no more apostles. If anyone claims today to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, they are quite in error.

But now, there are disciples today. A disciple is a student, a follower of some teacher or teaching. The twelve apostles were also disciples. And the Bible speaks of another group of 70 disciples specifically called to their own task.

There were 12 apostles of Jesus Christ; He has millions of disciples.

You and I — all who believe in Jesus Christ — are his disciples.[REPEAT]

Andrew was the first, John the second, Simon Peter the third, Philip the fourth, and Nathanael the fifth. Possibly you are the 5 billionth or the 5 billionth and 1stdisciple.

The same question Christ gave to the first disciples apply to us:

What are you seeking?

Are you seeking Jesus Christ? He invites us to “come and see.” Jesus is still calling his disciples today. And tells us that we will see far greater things.


What does this mean for us? (that we are disciples of Christ)

Well, for one, its pretty cool that we are in the same category as the first five disciples. It means that we are part of the family of Christ. And it is a world-wide and pan-historic family. It reaches across the world and across time to all those who believe.

Being disciples of Christ means that we are students and also followers of him. We will study the Word of God, meditate upon it day and night, and let it guide our paths. We will walk in the way of the Lord.


Now, I want to conclude with this.

I had mentioned before that my favorite of the stories here is that of Philip. All Jesus says is the simple “Follow me” and Philip obeys.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the church’s evangelism today can be just as effective. [REPEAT]

We are to give the invite – “come and see” and we are to broadcast the message “We have found the messiah.” The Holy Spirit then gives belief to those chosen of God. And so it is not so much that “we have found the messiah” but that “The messiah has found us.” Jesus Christ comes to rescue us from our sin and misery. He reconciles us to God and provides the true link between heaven and earth so that we may know God’s love for us and know the salvation he has planned for us.

Recognize him, follow him, be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, for he is the messiah, the Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the King of Israel.


Let us pray.

Lord, work in us that faith which brought the first disciples to you. We pray that we be truthful followers of you, for Lord there is nowhere else to go, and nowhere else we’d want to go, for you have the words of eternal life.