15 – The First Disciples
Where: Bethany, Perea
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In early November Jesus returned to the Jordan River Valley following his recovery from the time of the temptations. He went to Bethany in Perea to meet again with John. But John had been doing some thinking, and as Jesus approached he told his nearby disciples that this man approaching was the servant of God, the messenger Elijah, whose spirit lived a long time ago and has now returned. This is a son of David, a son of Abraham, a son of Adam, a son of God. He was the “lamb of God” that had been born on Passover day.
The next morning John’s disciples were still talking about what John meant, so again John said that Jesus was a true servant of God, one who would suffer for others just as a lamb was sacrificed so that others could be redeemed. With this endorsement, two of John’s disciples wanted to know more. They were Andrew and Philip. They began to walk behind Jesus.
‘Why are you following me?’ asked Jesus later.
‘John seemed impressed by you and we want to know more’, they responded.
Jesus invited them to walk with him, and they accepted his invitation. They listened, asked questions, thought, and prayed. By 4 pm, Andrew and Philip had decided to stay with Jesus for the night in order to learn more.
But Andrew decided that he had one thing that needed to be done before nightfall. He went to find his brother Simon who was also listening to the Baptist. Andrew told Simon what he knew and then invited Simon to meet Jesus. Simon agreed. That evening, as they talked, Simon realized just how well Jesus understood him, and Simon began to understand Jesus.
On the following day, Jesus told Philip that they would be leaving for Galilee shortly, and asked that Philip join him. Philip agreed, but wanted to find his close friend, who was also in the area, and introduce him to Jesus. It would take Philip a day to find him in the hill country, and another day to return. Jesus agreed to delay his departure.
Philip immediately began his upward journey (20 miles) to the west. Passing the ruins of ancient Jericho, Philip proceeded up a trail known as the “Way of the Wilderness” into the hills. Philip found Nathanael sitting under a fig tree near the village of Ephraim. Ephraim was only 4 miles from Bethel where Jacob had slept and seen the stairway to heaven. It was here that the prophetess Deborah had been judging Israel and seeking enlightenment from God while sitting under a palm tree. Nathanael was also seeking enlightenment from God while sitting under a tree.
Philip sat beside Nathanael and began to tell him that John the Baptizer thought he had met the man who had been sent by God to announce the Messiah, and that he was ‘in the valley right now’. Nathanael seemed interested.
‘What is his name?’ asked Nathanael.
‘Jesus bar Joseph’, Nathanael replied. And then he added ‘he is a local Galilean, from the village of Nazareth’.
‘You must be kidding’, Nathanael responded. ‘What good could come from such a small place? No prophecy ever spoke of Nazareth nor was it mentioned in either the Law or the Prophets or the Writings. NO WAY! It’s not possible’.
But Philip had been convinced. ‘Come and see’, he insisted, ‘What will it cost you to come?’ And finally, Nathanael agreed.
The next day they walked down into the Jordan valley and in the afternoon found Jesus. When Jesus saw Nathanael, he immediately knew his personality. Here was a seeker of God’s truth and a straight talker. He was not a fake and would not tolerate falsehood. ‘I know you’, said Jesus. ‘You are an honest Israelite, and take pride it that fact.’
Nathanael responded straight to Jesus’ face. ‘When did you ever get to know me?’
Jesus responded, ‘I visualize you under a fig tree studying the Torah, seeking God’s kingdom as spoken by the prophet Zechariah.’
Nathanael, moved by the Spirit, rather than by logic [like a vision], felt sure that God had sent Jesus. He was the Messiah, the future king of Israel. That perception impressed Jesus. ‘Nathanael’, he said, ‘Jacob had a vision of a gateway to heaven, but you will one day see that I AM that gateway. Through me, you will come to know God’.
So Jesus, Philip and Nathanael, along with Andrew and Simon, left Perea and traveled north to Galilee.
When they arrived at Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee, they parted company. Andrew and Simon went back to Capernaum and their work as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Philip and Nathanael went with Jesus. First they went to Cana, in Galilee, where Nathanael lived, and then Jesus and Philip went to Nazareth to spend the winter.
No questions have been asked yet.