[K:NWTS 9/2 (Sep 1994) 23-29]

Come and See

John 1:19-51

James T. Dennison, Jr.

John's Prologue concludes with the statement that the only-begotten has explained the Father since no one has seen God. The word for "explained" is exegesato (Greek) or "exegeted". The exegesis of the Father is the only begotten son. Exegesis is the process of drawing meaning out of the text of scripture. It is interpreting the word of God. The Logos-Son is the exegesis of the Father; he draws out and interprets the person and work of God to the creature. Exagesato in v. 18 forms the bridge from the Prologue to the body of John's gospel. The heart of this gospel (1:19-20:31) will be John's witness to the Son's exegesis of the Father. He will draw out the Father's love for his sheep; he will exegete his desire to feed and nourish them with more than earthly fare; he will set forth the display of his glory in and through his Son so that his friends may glorify him; he will draw them to the foot of a cross in order to behold the exegesis of God's wrath upon a Son who bears the sin of the world; he will bring us into a garden tomb where a weeping woman will find her Rabboni. The exegesis of the Father by the Logos begins in John 1:19.


From 1:19 to 1:51, the apostle presents Jesus through the witness of John the Baptist and the disciples. The transition from the old to the new is displayed in the witnessing characters, even as it was displayed in the movement of the Prologue (see Kerux 8/2 [September 1993], 3-9). John the Baptist is the end of the Jewish era. He is the last Old Testament prophet. His witness to Messiah-Christ must yield to the testimony of the new community gathered in this the fullness of the times. This new community is composed of the disciples of Jesus—those who follow him, eager to understand and proclaim his glory. As the old Israel consisted of twelve tribes, so the new Israel consists of twelve disciples. The inaugural call of the twelve in 1:35-51 marks the inception of the new Israel as it comes and sees the glory of Jesus.

This advent and encounter with the Christ will be consummated in the post-resurrection appearance of the risen Messiah (Jn. 21). With consummate symmetry, the gospel epilogue concludes in the way the gospel proper itself begins—with the encounter between Christ and his disciples, the twelve, the new Israel. We meet Simon (Peter), son of John (N.B. only in 1:42 and 21:15-17); Nathaniel (N.B. only in 1:45-49 and 21:2); and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved (1:35-40 and 21:20-25). The call to discipleship dominates 1:19-51; the function of discipleship (i.e., witness) dominates chapter 21. Even the knowledge of Jesus is a central theme in both chapters 1 and 21 (cf. 1:26, 31, 33, with 21:4, 12, 15, 16, 17, 24). The encounter of the disciples begins with the invitation to "come and see"; it concludes with the commission to "go and feed" the flock of Christ.

Other structural devices in 1:19-51 include the repetition of "the next day" (Greek, te epaurion). This phrase links the narrative sequentially to the initial witness of the Baptist. The exegesis of the Father is through the Son who is "Lamb of God", "Messiah", "Son of God", "King of Israel", "Son of Man". Note further that the witness of John the Baptist is in two stages: 1:19-28 and 1:29-34. The witness of the initial disciples is also in two stages: 1:35-42, 1:43-51. The witness which is displaced (John the Baptist) is replaced with the witness which will mark the new Israel (i.e., the Christological titles noted above).

We notice also the testimony of John the Baptist to himself (i.e., what he is not, 1:19-28) followed by the Baptist's testimony to Jesus (i.e., what He is, 1:29-34). This sequence of witness is related to the diminishing focus upon the Baptist (cf. 3:30) and the increasing focus upon the Christ. In words, even for John the Baptist, Christ is central!

Finally we observe a structural sequence in the encounter with the disciples (1:35-51). Broadly speaking, we detect the pattern: call by Jesus (1:35-39 with 1:43), a called one brings another to Jesus (1:40, 41 with 1:45), the one brought to Jesus has a personal encounter with the Christ (1:42 with 1:47-51). Discipleship begins in Christ's initiative, is perpetuated in the eagerness of those brought to him and climaxes in personal communion with him. The content of that communion will be described below. It suffices to observe at this point—that content is Christological.

Key Word

Following the shift of focus by John the Baptist from himself to Jesus (1:19-34), the key word in 1:35-51 is "follow" (Greek akolouthein). Those with a personal attachment to Jesus are followers of the Christ (1:37, 38, 40, 43). True followers are eager to "come" to him, to "see" him, to "listen" to him, to be with him. John has directed our attention to the exegesis of what it means to be born of God (1:13). Birth from above (cf. 3:7, margin NASB) places one on the path of a follower of Jesus. And those who follow Jesus are eager to "come and see" this One upon whom the Spirit remains (Greek emeinen). They too remain (Greek emeinan) remain with him (1:39). And as they remain with him, they listen to him say that he is the one they have been seeking, longing, yearning to find. In communion with Jesus, they begin to understand the mystery of the Logos—as John the Baptist expressed it, "He who comes after me is become before me, for he existed before me" (1:15; cf. 1:30)

Discipleship—believing the witness of Christ and the witness to Christ—discipleship is being drawn to come and grow in understanding the mystery of the incarnation of the Word. The exegesis of Logos occurs through incarnation. The Word becomes flesh in the history of redemption. He comes to his own—Israel after the flesh. He comes to an arena retrospectively connected with the former era in the history of redemption. The disciple enters a dramatically new era. He or she enters the era of fulfillment wherein all things are made new. It is not disciples of Moses who emerge in this new age; it is not disciples of the prophets—even the disciples of John the Baptist cannot remain with him (cf. 1:37). The discipleship of the former era passes away with the appearance of the eschatological Rabbi. From now, "we would see Jesus". And the Jesus whom disciples of the age to come "come and see" is "the Lamb of God", "the Son of God", "the Messiah", "the King of Israel", "the Son of Man".

Christological Titles

The most remarkable aspect of this discipleship section of John 1 is the plethora of Christological titles. In the space of seventeen verses, we discover six Christological titles. Who Jesus is is as crucial to discipleship as following him. In fact, it is because of who he is that the disciple follows. He is the eschatological lamb, Son, rabbi, Christ, prophet, king, man.

The eschatological lamb comes to complete and to fulfill all the sacrificial imagery of the former era. This lamb is the last lamb for sinners slain. This lamb's blood speaks better things than the lamb Abel offered and the lambs offered at Passover (cf. 19:14). This lamb will put an end to offering lambs. After this lamb, no more lambs. For when this lamb removes the world of sin, behold no more condemnation!

In John the Baptist's phrase ("the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," 1:29, 36), there is a telescoping summary of Old Testament lambs from Egypt to the Temple to the Suffering Servant (Is. 53). A victim spares the people of God from receiving the just deserts of their iniquities. A vicarious victim willingly imputes their guilt and shame to himself in order to impute to them forgiveness and covering. The portrait of every previous vicariously atoning victim flashes across the mind of John the Baptist. Jesus is the eschatological victim, the eschatological sin-bearer, the eschatological sacrifice. When his work is done, the sin of the world is placated—finished—once and for all propitiated.

The eschatological Son comes to complete and to fulfill all the imagery of sonship of the former era. If Israel functions as "son of God" (cf. Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1), it is due to the relationship covenantally established between God and themselves. This adoptive role in which God is to them a "father" and they are to him a "son" (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14) establishes the household of faith, the family of God. But the eschatological Son is Son not by adoption or covenantal relationship; the eschatological Son is Son by nature, by ontological essence. This Son of God is without beginning or ending of days. This Son of God is before David, before Moses, before Abraham. This Son of God is I AM! John the Baptist confesses Jesus Son of God (1:34); Nathan confesses Jesus Son of God (1:49); we too must confess him Son of God. For this Son will make us (beget us) sons and daughters of the Father. By his Spirit, in and through his grace from above, we too will believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the ontological and eschatological Son of God.

The eschatological rabbi comes to complete and to fulfill all the rabbinical imagery of the former era. If Israel yearns for the teacher who will make all things plain, Jesus comes to proclaim, "I AM HE!" This rabbi has, as it were, the law written on his heart. As he is the exegesis of the Father, so too he is the exegesis of the will of the Father. He teaches his followers all the wisdom hidden from the ages; he conveys the perfect will of God. In fact, this rabbi embodies the will of God. He himself is a living incarnation of that good and perfect will of the Father. No more Rabbi after him; no more rabbinical mystery after him. Jesus of Nazareth is the eschatological Rabbi. "Hear him!"

The eschatological Christ/Messiah comes to complete and to fulfill all the imagery of the Christ/Messiah of the former era. If Israel yearned for an anointed of the Lord like unto David, this One is great David's greater son. If Israel sang of One anointed with "oil above his fellows" (Ps. 45:7), this One is anointed with the Spirit of the end of the age. If John the Baptist may be mistaken for the Christ, he bears witness of the One upon whom the Spirit rests. If Andrew says that he has found the Christ/Messiah, this long awaited Jesus will be an unexpected an hidden Christ/Messiah. This eschatological Messiah opens heaven's realm; he tramples the powers of darkness beneath his feet; he extends his scepter from a bloody cross. And yet, this eschatological Messiah anoints his disciples with his very own Spirit (20:22). Jesus of Nazareth has the eschatological anointing and we receive that unction in confessing him "the Christ".

The eschatological prophet comes to complete and to fulfill the prophet imagery of the former era. If Israel longs for a prophet like unto Moses (cf. Dt. 18:15, 18); if the spirit of the prophets joins them to this majestic march of redemptive history; if Malachi projects a prophet like Elijah suddenly coming to his temple, then Philip confesses that Jesus is that prophet (1:45). The mind of the Father is revealed in this One. The mystery hidden from the ages is manifest in him. What the prophets peered to see, what they searched as the spirit within them strained with the unknown, that has been declared in the "prophet" from Nazareth (cf. 1:45, 46). But now, in the end of the age, this prophet speaks from before the face of the Father. His words are the words of God. His revelation is the final prophetic word. In Jesus of Nazareth, the eschatological prophet has spoken. No more revelation beyond him!

The eschatological king comes to complete and to fulfill all the imagery of kingship of the former era. Israel's monarchy was launched in a shepherd-king, one who protected and ruled the flock of God. Israel's failed monarchy set the flock of God yearning for the ideal king who would reign in true righteousness and justice. This king would not show partiality nor would he shun the widow and the orphan. This king would deliver his people from their enemies and protect them within his citadel—the city of the great king. This king would sit upon the throne of David and to his court the nations would stream. Jesus of Nazareth is the eschatological king. Unto his throne are gathered the outcasts of the nations and he rules with grace and truth. The confession of Nathaniel (1:49) is the acknowledgment of a true disciple. No succession of kings any more—the eschatological King of kings has come to his own.

The eschatological man comes to complete and to fulfill all the imagery of man's relationship to his Creator of the former era. If Adam is made a little lower than the angels, if man in the image of God is crowned with glory and honor, then this One is before the angels and his glory makes him worthy of all honor. Whether apocalyptic or protological the eschatological Son of Man is the incarnation of what man was made to be. In this One that revelation is manifest. Jesus of Nazareth is the eschatological man. In him, men and women find their true human identity—to have come from God and to go to God.

The Eschatological Ladder

The four scenes in 1:19-51 climax in the remarkable statement from Jesus that he is the ladder bridging heaven and earth. Scene one (1:19-28) directs our attention from the last prophet of the former era to the eschatological prophet of the era in which heaven is semi-eschatologically present on earth. Scene two (1:29-34) declares baptism of the eschatological era to surpass every previous water ritual. Scene three (1:35-42) displays the eschatological Israel forming in the protological disciples. Scene four (1:43-51) contains various declarations of the presence of the eschatological Israel.

The theophany at Bethel (Gen. 28:10-22) is the background to the ladder imagery of Jn. 1:51. But that prototypical scene in which Jacob views the angelic host drawing the glory of the eschaton up and down is now to be surpassed in the eschatologically guileless Israelite. Jesus is no Jacob trickster, deceiver, cheater. Jesus is a true Israelite—a prince with God. But even more—Jesus is God. The transcendent view of Jesus is that all his disciples will learn he goes beyond Jacob-Israel, he surpasses the ladder at Bethel. For he is the one who beholds the face of God and he has shown/exegeted that face to us. On the ladder which is Jesus, we not only ascend to the Father, even now we possess all the gifts of the age to come as they descend to us!

As chapter one closes, we have been invited into the open heavens through Christ. This Jesus who is Lamb of God, Son of the Father, Rabbi, Messiah, Prophet, King and Son of Man—this Jesus is the incarnation of Israel and in him we become the Israel of God, the sons and daughters of God, the little flock of God, the ones anointed with the Spirit, the royal generation of heaven. As we move forward to chapter 2ff., we continue to confess and bear witness to Christ as the first disciples confessed and bore witness to him. By faith we have come and we have seen the Logos-Son, our Savior. In possessing him, we possess the ladder that bridges earth and heaven.

Escondido, California