After John’s Arrest

Photo by niu niu on Unsplash

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62: 6-14
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Mark 1:14-20

The call of the first disciples.

 It was after John’s arrest that Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, saying, “The time has come at last—the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news.” As he walked along the shore of the Lake of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the water. “Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!” he cried. At once they dropped their nets, and followed him. Then he went a little further along the shore and saw James the son of Zebedee, aboard a boat with his brother John, overhauling their nets. At once he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and went off after himPhillips

Last week we read about the calling of the first disciples in GJohn. There we read that two followers of John the Baptist were the first to join Jesus. One of them, Andrew, went to bring his brother Simon to also follow Jesus. I suggested that the unnamed man with Andrew was likely John, who likely went to fetch his brother James. If that is the case, then all four Gospels record the same four men as the first followers of Jesus. I assume in Luke that Andrew joined Simon to haul in the huge catch of fish, though he was not named. Those four also made up the inner circle—the closest followers of Jesus.

When we read Matthew and Luke, we again find the same four names being called. Matthew’s version is the shortest at only 93 words in the Phillips translation. Luke’s version is longer, and he has Jesus teaching to the crowds before he calls anyone. Oddly, none of the Synoptics share details of the calling of the other eight disciples. GJohn does record, as we saw last week, Phillip and Nathanial joining the group.

Many people today, Christian, and non-Christian alike, find these different accounts to be another sign that Christianity is a false religion. As a professional historian, let me assure you that these four documents are reliable as historical records. Their actual disagreements are few and mostly explained by the simple fact that they were writing theology, not history. Luke alone seems to have been more concerned with getting the history right. Even so, he was more concerned with the Truth than mere facts.

If you read any of the numerous works of the First Century that claim to be historical records, you will quickly realize that you have to read between the lines and discount many statements. Bragging was the only way to write.

You may have noticed that only six disciples seem to have been called, yet there were twelve. In Mark 3:13-19, we read, Later he went up on to the hill-side and summoned the men whom he wanted, and they went up to him. He appointed a band of twelve to be his companions, whom he could send out to preach, with power to drive out evil spirits. These were the twelve he appointed: Peter (which was the new name he gave Simon), James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother (He gave them the name of Boanerges, which means the “Thunderers”.) Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Patriot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed himPhillips

Jesus had his ministry moving along before this final selection. We also find this list in Matthew 10 and Luke 6. John, writing years after the other three, sees no need to list the Twelve.

We also note that both Mark and Matthew specifically say that Jesus started his own ministry after the arrest of John.  Luke records Jesus teaching and healing before he calls the Twelve to become Apostles. It appears in Luke that Jesus invited many, perhaps a hundred or more, to follow him, but then chose the Apostles from among the large group. Not until Chapter 7 do we see John again. He is in prison and sends two of his disciples to make sure Jesus is the Promised One. While Luke does not state it, it seems likely that Jesus waited for the arrest to get to work.

Bottom line, the Four Gospels are not in disagreement; they tell the same story from different points of view. We can only speculate about how each author went about putting the story to parchment. We are reasonably sure that the first Gospel was written some thirty years after the end of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew is listed first in the NT because the best evidence in the Fifth Century had Matthew as first. In the past several centuries hundreds of scholars have analyzed the evidence and most now believe that Mark was written first and that both Matthew and Luke had copies of his work to refer to when they did their own.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

We Have Found the Messiah!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 
John 1:43-51 

Let’s back up to John 1:35.

On the following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. He looked straight at Jesus as he walked along, and said, “There is the lamb of God!” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned round and when he saw them following him, spoke to them. “What do you want?” he said. “Master, where are you staying?” they replied. “Come and see,” returned Jesus. So they went and saw where he was staying and remained with him the rest of that day. (It was then about four o’clock in the afternoon.) One of the two men who had heard what John said and had followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He went straight off and found his own brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (meaning, of course, Christ).And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked steadily at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. From now on your name is Cephas”—(that is, Peter, meaning “a rock”)Phillips

The name John is found 27 times in the Gospel, 26 referring to the Baptist and one to the father of Andrew and Simon. The Apostle John is never mentioned by name. Because John kept himself out of the spotlight, it is reasonable to assume that he was one of the two men who were disciples of John the Baptist. There is no proof, of course, just as there is no proof that the Apostle John wrote the Gospel. I’m not saying there is no evidence that John wrote the Gospel. Many of the early Church Fathers—those writing from the late First Century on—give John credit for the work, along with the authors of the other three Gospels.

The verses above, 35-42, picture three disciples leaving the Baptist and following Jesus. I think it is likely that John, if he was the other one, likewise found his brother James and brought him to Jesus.

That sets up today’s reading. The next day Jesus decided to go to GalileeESV To this point in chapter one, the action takes place around the southern end of the Jordan River. John was baptizing there because there was a good flow of water. Jesus clearly walked there from the north and stayed in the area for a few days. It is possible he went into the desert from there to be tempted and when John the Baptist saw him later, made his comments to his disciples.

As Jesus and his few new disciples walked back north, we meet some more followers.

 He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and PeterESV This gives us four disciples, one still unnamed, or five if James was brought in by John. It is interesting that nothing is said about why Jesus called Philip, but then, John does not ever mention most of the Twelve, probably because the other Gospels had covered that ground.

John does not mention that Bethsaida was also the home of James and John, I think in part to his wanting to stay in the background. Still, this whole section has the feel of an eyewitness.

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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” ESV

The other Gospels list Bartholomew but not Nathanael. John probably knew that but chose not to explain. Nathanael is likely to be his personal name and Bartholomew his family name. Or Nathanael could be a nickname.

Now comes the most important part of today’s reading.

 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 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.” ESV

Jesus appears to have Genesis 28:10-12 in mind. Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on itNIV

In contrast to Nathanael, Jacob was known for his deceit, having stolen the birthright from his older twin. Nathanael’s question was probably our question, How do you know me? John, more than the other Gospels, presents Jesus as a mind reader; someone able to know our deepest thoughts. In this case, Jesus chose to use Nathanael to give us the image that follows.

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 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.” 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.” ESV

Remember that this reading is in chapter 1. Jesus only has five or six disciples, and yet he tells us he is the stairway to heaven. Arguably, the most important bullet point of the whole New Testament; Jesus is on earth to carry us up the stairs to live with God forever.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence