In vv.19-34 we have seen John the Baptist bearing his witness (see commentary here). Now we find him sending some of his followers after the Lord. There are accounts of a “call” in the Synoptics (e.g., Mark 1:16–20), but they differ greatly from this. The Fourth Gospel tells of a call to be disciples; the Synoptics of a call to be apostles. John’s theme is not the calling of the apostles into office; it is their call to relationship with Christ. Strictly speaking, there is no “call” in this Gospel (except in the case of Philip, v. 43). Jesus does not call the disciples and John the Baptist does not send his disciples to Jesus; Jesus and his role as the Lamb of God is pointed out – or rather John’s witness. The English leaves a bit of room as to how to understand the disciples’ motivation. Are they curious, intrigued or do they perhaps recognize the Messiah and spontaneously follow.
One should note that John’s whole ministry was forward-looking, and he had instructed his disciples well. Thus it is likely that when this pair heard Jesus acclaimed as “the Lamb of God” they knew what was expected of them. They immediately left John and followed Jesus. The verb “followed” is in the tense appropriate for once-for-all action, which may indicate that they cast in their lot with Jesus. They did not mean to make a tentative inquiry but to give themselves to him. We should also notice that the verb has both a general sense of “follow” and a more specific sense of “follow as a disciple.” In this place both senses may be in mind. They walked down the path after Jesus and thus followed. But they also symbolically committed themselves to him.
As the two approached Jesus he turned and asked, “What are you looking for?” It is very natural touch they did not know what to say, for “where are you staying?” is not really an answer to the question. Their words probably imply that what they wanted with him could not be settled in a few minutes by the wayside. They looked for a long talk. John Calvin notes that this is a critical flexure point in one’s journey of faith. Calvin notes that there are many are satisfied “with a bare passing look.… For there are very many who merely sniff at the Gospel from a distance, and thus let Christ suddenly disappear, and whatever they have learned about Him slip away.”
The question “where are you staying” uses a Johannine word, menō, that is used elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel to assert that the relationship of God, Jesus and the Spirit with one another and with believers (e.g., 1:32,33; 8:31, 35; 14:10, 17; throughout ch. 15) is permanent and not sporadic
The two address Jesus as “Rabbi,” the customary form of address for disciples speaking to their teacher. The Evangelist explains the Aramaic word for the benefit of his non-Jewish readers.
Come and See. John witnesses to his two disciples who then follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, witnesses to his brother Peter. In the vv.43-51, Jesus finds Philip without a witness, but then Philip finds Nathanael and witnesses to him about Jesus. Generally, a witness is needed to help others “see” Jesus. In fact, these two events may indicate that one cannot adequately follow Jesus without also extending the invitation to others.
The invitation, “Come and see,” is given twice (1:39, 46). The essence of our witness is to state what we have seen and believe and then to invite others to “come and see.” For John, faith begins by responding to the invitation to “come and see.” The same words (in English, but slightly different in Greek) are uttered by the Samaritan woman to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (4:29)
The same combination of words is used at the end of the gospel: Mary comes and sees that the stone has been removed from the tomb (20:1). Peter and the other disciple come to the tomb and look in and see. The other disciples sees and believes (20:3-8).
It was Jesus who turned and first spoke to the two disciples of John who were following him (1:38). It is Jesus who speaks first to Simon (v.42). It is Jesus who finds Philip and speaks to him (v. 43). Nathanael didn’t find Jesus. Jesus found him! It is Jesus whose words draw out Nathanael’s good confession (vv.47-49). We can never lose sight of the primacy of God’s gracious acts that evoke our response. However, Andrew’s witness to Simon is, “We have found the Messiah.”
John 1:35 the next day: although broader than the context of this Sunday’s reading, be aware that this simple expression “the next day” is part of a counting of days that occurs from 1:19-2:12 in which the Fourth Evangelist enumerates the seven days of a “new creation” in the coming and revelation of Jesus. lamb: The reference to Jesus here as ‘the Lamb of God’ uses the word amnos for ‘lamb’. It is one of only four references in the NT (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 1:19) that do so. The word amnos is found 101 times in the lxx, of which 82 are references to sacrificial lambs. The two uses of amnos in the NT outside the Fourth Gospel are clear references to Jesus, who died as a sacrificial lamb: one speaks of Jesus as the servant of the Lord, who ‘was led like a sheep to the slaughter, / and as a lamb before the shearer is silent’ (Acts 8:32); the other refers to ‘the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1 Pet. 1:19). In the light of all this we are probably correct to say that the evangelist would be happy if his readers took John’s witness to Jesus as ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ to have a double meaning. He was both the apocalyptic lamb who judges unrepentant sinners, and the atoning sacrifice for the sins of those who believe. Perhaps the evangelist believed John spoke more than he knew, just as Caiaphas and Pilate were to do later on (11:50–52; 18:39; 19:14–15, 19, 21–22).
John 1:37 the two disciples: Andrew (Jn 1:40) and, traditionally, John, son of Zebedee. followed: the verb akoloutheō is associated with discipleship across all the gospels with both the physical sense and the spiritual “following.” [EDNT 1:49-54]
John 1:38 Rabbi: רַבַּי (rabbi) means literally “my great one.” [EDNT 3:205-6] But the personal pronoun tended to become conventional, as in monsieur or madame. The word was used very much like our “Sir.” Some scholars maintain that John’s statement is anachronistic, on the grounds that the title was not in use before a.d. 70. Brown, however, cites Sukenik, who discovered an ossuary on the Mount of Olives that he dates several generations before the destruction of the Temple and that uses διδάσκαλος as a title. This may well indicate that “Rabbi” was in use in this way, though it is not absolutely conclusive, for διδάσκαλος does not always represent רַבַּי. W. D. Davies has no doubt about the usage in Jesus’ day, for he devotes a section of his great work on the Sermon on the Mount to Jesus as “The Rabbi,” and he says explicitly: “He was called rabbi. While in his day the title did not have the exact connotation of one officially ordained to teach that it later acquired, it was more than a courtesy title: it did designate a ‘teacher’ in the strict sense” (The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount [Cambridge, 1964], p. 422).
John 1:39 four in the afternoon: literally, the tenth hour, from sunrise, in the Roman calculation of time. Some suggest that the next day, beginning at sunset, was the sabbath; they would have stayed with Jesus to avoid travel on it.