The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Notes on the Gospel of John 1:46-51

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 14, 2007

Excerpted from a longer post.

Today I wish to look at the final section of John 1:19-59; namely, verses 46-51. However, a little summary of what we’ve seen so far might be in order.

First, recall that this first unit of the body of John’s Gospel is concentrically structured. That is to say that the five part text was written in the form of a reverse parallel; with part one paralleling part five, and part two paralleling part four. These parallels were built around the third or center part, thus giving the structure its name. Today I will comment on parts 2, 3, and 4. For the sake of the convenience of the one reader who seems to care, I will begin by reproducing the overall outline from the last post.

The following outline is in my own words but the actual structure comes from Peter Ellis’ THE GENIUS OF JOHN. Please not that the text in boldface type is meant to help highlight verbal parallels between the A1 and A2 sections, and the B1 and B2 sections. Text in italics is meant to highlight conceptual parallels
A1) The testimony of the Baptist that the Messiah might be revealed to Israel as the Son of God. Jesus is addressed as Rabbi. The first disciples are told to come and see (1:19-39)

B1) Andrew finds his brother Simon Peter and says we have found the Messiah (1:40-41)

C) Peter is brought to Jesus who predicts a future name change for him (1:42)

B2) Jesus finds Philip, who was from the same town as Andrew and Peter. Philip finds Nathaniel and says we have found… (1:43-45)

A2) Nathaniel, a true Israelite is told to come and see Jesus. He calls Jesus Rabbi and testifies that he is the Son of God and the King of Israel. Jesus speaks of further revelation (1:46-51)

In the previous posts we looked at the A1 section (1:19-39) and it was noted that the focus was on the testimony of the Baptist who, with the exterior aid of the spirit identified Jesus as the Messiah. There was also a focus on the mission and function of the Baptist. We then saw in the post on the B1, C, And B2 sections (vss40-45) that these passages foreshadowed the future mission of the Church exercised by the power and in the presence of the Risen Lord. This mission consisted in finding and bringing people to Jesus, who is proclaimed “Messiah,” and “The one written of by Moses and the prophets.” It was noted that at this stage of their experience with Jesus, these testimonies were not much to the point; for only in the light of the resurrection and with the Spirit can one fully understand what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah, the one written of.

A2 (1:46-51)

46 And Nathanael said to him, “is any good able to come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming up to him and said, Behold, truly an Israelite in whom no guile is found.” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How is it you come to know me?” Jesus answered, and said to him, “Before Philip’s calling you, I saw you beneath the fig tree. 49 Answering, Natanael said to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered, saying to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? Greater things than these shall you see. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, from this time forth you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

The text in bold face type represents verbal parallels with the A1 section (1:19-39). In A1 Jesus invited two of the Baptists disciples to become his disciples with the words, “come and see.” Here in A2 the same phrase is spoken to Nathanael by Philip, and for the same reason. In A1 John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and said “behold.” This was the result of a special exterior revelation of the Spirit, for in and of himself the Baptist did not know who the Messiah was. In the A2 section, Jesus knows who Nathanael is; indeed, he saw him under the fig tee and knew him; No special revelation is attributed as being necessary for Jesus’ knowledge concerning Nathanael, he has it in and of himself. This confirms the superiority of Jesus over the Baptist, which the Baptist himself had spoken of in the A1 section. In the A2 section, in response to Jesus’ special knowledge, Nathanael declares him to be the Son of God, and, the King of Israel. Son of God parallels the Baptist’s title for Jesus in A1. In A1 the Baptist had said that he was sent so that the Messiah might be revealed to Israel. In A2 Jesus is shown revealing himself as the King of Israel to a true Israelite. But just as the Baptist needed to see the Spirit descend and remain upon Jesus in order to recognize him for what he was; so too, the disciples will see the angels of God ascending and descending Upon the Son of Man. That is, they will need further revelation to understand fully what it means that he is the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the King of Israel, and the one written of by Moses and the Prophets.

The words of the Lord about angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man are directed to all the disciples (“You shall see” is plural), but they build upon His description of Nathanael as “a true Israelite in whom no guile is found.” Jesus is alluding to the very guileful father of the twelve Tribes of Israel, Jacob, and his experience at Bethel, a name meaning “House (implication, temple) of God.” It was at this spot that the guileful Jacob began to dedicate himself to the Lord. Here is what the text of Genesis 28:10-17 tells us:

28:10 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. cb(28,11);28:11 He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. cb(28,12);28:12 He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. cb(28,13);28:13 Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed. cb(28,14);28:14 Your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed. cb(28,15);28:15 Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.” 28:16 Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I didn’t know it.” cb(28,17);28:17 He was afraid, and said, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven.”

28:18 Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on its top. cb(28,19); 28:19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. cb(28,20); 28:20 Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on, cb(28,21); 28:21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Yahweh will be my God, cb(28,22); 28:22 then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house. Of all that you will give me I will surely give the tenth to you.”

In many ways, Jesus’ allusion to this text is programmatic. In the Gospel passage which follows (Jn 2:1-12), Jesus will show himself to be the place where heaven opens by revealing his glory (Jn 2:11. Note, the opening of Heaven is a biblical phrase for revelation). In the passage after that (Jn 2:13-25) Jesus will show himself to be the House of God by declaring his resurrected body a temple. Of course, the temple was the place where God revealed his glory; so it is no accident that these passages concerning revelation (1:19-59), glory (2:1-12), and temple (2:13-25) follow upon one another. Neither is it an accident that he begins to reveal himself through the instigation of his mother, who embodied him; for “The Word became flesh, and set up his tabernacle (temple) among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Fahter’s side, has revealed him” (Jn 1:14, 18).


5 Responses to “Notes on the Gospel of John 1:46-51”

  1. Rob said

    -That is to say that the five part text was written in the form of a reverse parallel; with part one paralleling part five, and part two paralleling part four.-

    These cycles and repetitions in scripture are both marvelous and frustrating. I am reminded of the way that the creation account, so seemingly simple at first, is actually very structured, the days being paired by creation and separation in some fashion. Another instance I can immediately remember is that of the plagues in Egypt, though my memory is even worse with that one. There is some way that the plagues, Pharaoh’s reactions to them and the magicians’ ability, or inability, to counter them are all built one upon the other.

    I say that they are frustrating, as well as marvelous, because it can make one begin to think like a gnostic and try to delve so far into intricate, abstract explanations that soon you are thinking heterodoxically.

    I think the problem is probably this: to the readers, or hearers, of these time periods, the way the stories were told was quite familiar and not so teribly mysterious. One did not have to lock oneself in a room with a Ph. D and a lot of dusty tomes to unravel the message. The stories were familiar and the symbols obvious.

    Trying to read the stories now, it is like inviting someone from medieval England to watch a football game. I can sit there and understand the plays, the penalties, the refs signals, etc. To the medieval Englishman, it is all “quite mysterious” and unintelligible.

    Terrible comparison, I know.

  2. Concentrism is still widely used today.

    One of the few TV shows I watch is LOST and it often employs the technique. It does this by interrupting the on-island storyline of a character with his previous off-island life. This will usually happen several times in a show. The writers want us the see the two “lives” as somehow connected.

    Think about all the novels you’ve read where an author interrupts the major story line with another, seemingly unrelated or loosely connected line, then returns to the major story line; he clearly wants the two story lines to be seen together, though his intentions usually are not fully disclosed until the climax.

  3. […] ***My Notes On John 1:47-51. These notes were previously published and the post actually begins with verse 46. In the post I tried to show how the verses prepared for what followed, e.g., the miracle at Cana and the temple cleansing. […]

  4. […] My Notes on Today’s Gospel (John 1:47-51). This post actually begins with verse 46. […]

  5. […] My Notes on Today’s Gospel (John 1:47-51). This post actually begins with verse 46. […]

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