JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

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I.  INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND (verses 12-13)

Have you ever been ripped off?  Did you ever pay for goods or services that fell far short of their claims and advertising, or that weren’t worth what you paid for them?  Have you ever been exploited by others so that they could make a profit at your expense?  In our culture this injustice is called by many names, such as “cheated”, “bamboozled”, “shanghaied”, “fleeced”, and so on.  Some of these injustices are performed by people who claim that they know God and are acting on His behalf.  I imagine that most of us can think of a person, organization, product, or service that has left a bad impression in our minds.  These rip-offs aren’t just common to our day.  You might say that the first rip-off occurred in the Garden of Eden.  Satan told Adam and Eve a half-truth.  He told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  They fell for his lie, and as a result they did not become like God, but they certainly learned about good and evil, and experienced the consequences of their disobedience to God.

We humans aren’t the only ones who get ripped off.  God gets ripped off sometimes too.  This passage of Scripture, John 2:12-17, shows some ways that God can be ripped off by people.  Verses 12 and 13 are a transition to Jesus’ appearance at the temple in Jerusalem.  Verse 12 says, “After this (the wedding feat at Cana), He went to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples, and there they stayed a few days.”  A figure of speech called a “polysyndeton” is found here in this verse.  The deliberate and repeated use of the word “and” is intended to draw our attention to each member of the group.  From this passage of Scripture, as well as from the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, died at some time prior to Jesus’ public ministry, and that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had other children.

The city of Capernaum was to become the headquarters for His ministry in the region of Galilee.  In this case they were there only a few days because “the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”  The Passover was an annual feast in memory of the time when the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, and were led through the Red Sea and to the promised land.  In Exodus 12, before His last plague on Egypt, God said that each family was to kill an unblemished lamb and put some of its blood on the outside door posts and lintel so that the death angel would pass over their houses and not kill their first-born children.  They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread before fleeing from Egypt.

II.  CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

In verse 14 Jesus entered the temple, and we are told what He observes.  “And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated.”  In order to get to the sanctuary, a person must pass through four courts or courtyards.  First, there is the Court of the Gentiles, then the Court of the Women, then the Court of Israel, and finally the Court of the Priests.  Jesus had just entered the temple so He was in the Court of the Gentiles in verse 14.

God had called the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations.  The Court of the Gentiles was meant to be a place where gentiles were to be welcomed, assisted, and instructed in the ways of the true God.  However, because of their contempt for all things gentile, the religious authorities had decided to set up their animal market and the tables for the moneychangers in the Court of the Gentiles.  Who knows how many interested, seeking gentiles came into their court, then left in anger, never to return.

Those animals were not supposed to be inside the temple, nor were the moneychangers to be conducting their business inside the temple.  According to the instructions given to Moses in Leviticus and Numbers, the sacrificial animals were to be brought into the temple by the priests.  These priests were to bind the animals, place them on the altar, slay them, catch the blood in basins and sprinkle it on the altar in the holy place.  The body of the animal was burned and then taken out of the temple.  The traffic jam in the Court of the Gentiles was impeding the procession of the priests in and out of the temple with the sacrificial animals, as well as keeping them from fulfilling their responsibilities according to the Law.

It had become a very corrupt system.  For a few of the worshippers who travelled a great distance to participate in the Passover Feast, it was a convenience to purchase an animal there at the temple.  But there were many cases where the priest in the person’s hometown would approve of an animal, but when the person brought it to the temple, the officials would say that it was unacceptable.  So the person would be forced to buy one of the temple animals.  Alfred Edersheim, in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, talks about the enormous overcharges for temple animals.  On one occasion Simeon, the grandson of Hilell the High Priest, interfered and brought down the price of a pair of doves from one gold denar to half a silver denar.  That’s quite a reduction in price!

This monopoly on the sacrificial animals and the outrageous charges tended to make the temple worship loathsome to the people.  The sacrificial system was originally set up by God in the book of Exodus to allow the worshipper to bring one of his own animals that the person cared for since its birth and cherished.  By giving this animal to be sacrificed, the worshipper was giving a part of himself and his work to God.

This was also the time of the year for the annual temple-tax to cover the cost of repairs to the temple.  The temple officials would only accept payment with the sacred half-schekel of the temple, so all the local and foreign money had to be exchanged and, of course, there was a substantial service charge!  The temple had become like a circus!  The sounds of the animal auction, the noise of the moneychangers, and the offensive smell of a barnyard distracted the people from worship.  That’s what the Lord Jesus and His disciples experienced when they walked into the temple that day.

III.  THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE (verses 15-16)

In Exodus 12:15 God tells his people, “on the first day (of the Passover celebration) you shall remove leaven from your houses”.  Leaven, and everything with leaven in it, must be removed from the house in preparation for the Passover meal.  Leaven was a symbol of sin and corruption.   The Lord Jesus was about to rid His Father’s house of the sin and corruption that was in it.

Verse 15 says that Jesus “made a scourge out of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen”.  I believe that the scourge was intended for the oxen.  One dictionary defined an ox as a “lazy, reluctant creature” that needed to be goaded often to keep it going, and going in the right direction!  Once Jesus got the oxen and sheep moving, the people would be moving out the door also to keep from being trampled by them.  Either there wasn’t an ox goad handy or the throw-together scourge of cords was a better tool for the job.  He also “poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables”.  You can imagine the scramble for all the rolling coins!  In verse 16 we see the Lord’s restraint as He said to those who were selling the doves, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”  He wanted the doves left in their cages, and the cages removed from the courtyard of the temple.  There was no desire on Jesus’ part to do any physical harm to the animals or the people.

Jesus’ warning to them in verse 16 also includes His motivation, as well as a brief description of Himself.  He says, “Stop making my Father’s house a house of merchandise.  He is proclaiming to them that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.  Within minutes the Courtyard of the Gentiles was cleared.  They just needed to pick up the litter, move the tables, and clean the floor!  As several commentators have remarked:  “Jesus ‘cleaned house’ that day!”

Did the religious leaders learn anything from this incident?  Was there any conviction of sin, change of attitude, or change in behavior?  No.  After Jesus left the temple, they set up their tables, brought back the animals, divided up the coins, and were back in business again.  The apostle John does not record a second cleansing of the temple by Jesus, but the other Gospel writers record a cleansing of the temple near the end of Jesus’ life (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark. 11:15-17; and Luke 19:45-46).  I personally believe this was a second cleansing for at least two reasons.  First, it avoids the hassle of trying to excuse John for putting this event in the “wrong place” in his Gospel.  After all, he is outnumbered three-to-one!  Secondly, Jesus has something different to communicate to the Jewish leaders by His second cleansing of the temple.  Here in John 2:16 Jesus describes the temple as being “My Father’s house”.  After His second cleansing of the temple, Jesus referred to the temple as “your house” (Matthew 23:38).  God the Father had removed His abiding presence and His protection from “their temple”.  Did this second cleansing get the point across to the Jewish leaders?  Was a double-dose of reproof sufficient to turn their hearts back to the Lord, and their worship back to His guidelines?  No.  They ignored the words of the Lord and continued those same practices for almost forty more years.  Jesus handed “their temple” over to destruction.  That temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. and, after almost two thousand years, it has not yet been rebuilt.  It was a high price to pay for their stubborn disobedience to God, and to the words of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV.  LESSONS FOR HIS DISCIPLES AND FOR US TODAY(verse 17)

This incident in Jesus’ life made a definite impression on His disciples.  It caused them to bring Psalm 69:9 to their minds:  a verse from a Messianic psalm, which says, “For zeal for Thy house has consumed me”.  In this passage of Scripture it was predicted that, when the Messiah came, He would be utterly consumed with a passion for God.  They had just seen Jesus manifesting an intense determination that the worship of God should be kept pure.  Purity of thought, attitude and action is given a high priority in the New Testament.  One of the beatitudes given by Jesus in His Sermon on the   Mount was “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).  The first characteristic of godly wisdom given by James is: “wisdom from above is first pure” (James 3:17).

Let us remember that as Christians, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Lord Jesus was anxious that the temple at Jerusalem should be kept pure, so we should be careful that our bodies are turned over to the Lord for continual cleansing by confessing our sins to Him and turning away from them.  Let us also remind ourselves that true worship is voluntary.  It involves the consecration of ourselves, and all we possess, to Him.  Have we given the Lord Jesus the place of ownership in our own individual lives?  Are we being good stewards of all He has given us, using it for His glory as an act of adoration to Him.  If so, it will be obvious to those around us.  Are we consumed with a passion for God and a zeal for God?  If so, we will reap an eternal inheritance, and receive His praise and rewards when we stand before Him in heaven some day.

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Thank you for coming to this construction site:  John 2:12-17  Please come back, and also visit some of the other completed sermons when you have the time and the interest.  May your worship of God be pure and free from unnecessary distractions.

THE WEDDING AT CANA – John 2:1-11

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Don’t you love weddings!  They are such joyful occasions!  I’ve heard people say that they didn’t like going to funerals, but I’ve never personally heard anyone say that they didn’t like going to weddings.  There is the beautiful ceremony, the exchange of vows between the bride and groom, and those words:  “I now pronounce you husband and wife . . . You may kiss your bride.”  Then there is the reception afterward:  all the good food and drink, the joyful conversation, the photos taken, and the wonderful memories.

THE SETTING (verses 1-2)

The setting for this passage of Scripture is a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Verses 1 and 2 tell us that “Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited.”  Jesus and His mother must have been friends of the bride and groom. Notice that John uses the term “mother of Jesus“.  He never calls her “Mary” in his Gospel.  In all the Scriptures the place of preeminence is always given to Jesus and not to Mary.

First-century Jewish weddings differed in many ways from our typical American weddings, but the receptions were similar.  The three stages to a first-century Jewish wedding are:  the “betrothal” (for a year – somewhat like an engagement), the “procession” (led by the groom, who goes to her parents’ home and takes her to his parents’ home where the marriage is consummated), and “the feast”.  This passage is talking about the wedding feast.  This feast could go on for several days, a week, or even longer.

What would be one of the worst things that could happen at a marriage feast?  What would cause the most embarrassment for the families of the bride and groom?  What would provoke anger among the guests and cause many of them to leave?  Running out of food and drink, right?  That would destroy the joy of this happy occasion because it would be saying to the guests, “We don’t want you here any longer!”  “Go home!”

II.  JESUS’ CONVERSATION WITH HIS MOTHER (verses 3-5)

Mary may have been helping with the feast because she knew that they were out of wine before the guests realized it.  In verse 3 she said to Jesus, “They have no wine”.    Was Mary expecting her Son to perform a miracle?  I don’t think so.  The apostle John tells us that this was His first miracle (see verse 11); so Jesus did not perform any miracles during His childhood.    Based on her previous experiences with her Son, I think she had a different reason for bringing this need to His attention.  In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2, and verses 41-52, Jesus is 12 years old and went with His parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast.  Afterward. without their knowledge, He stayed in Jerusalem.  When they searched for Him, “they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.”  When His mother expressed their concern, Jesus said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me?  Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”  Jesus did return with them to Nazareth, and “Mary treasured all these things in her heart”.  Verse 52 says that “Jesus increased in wisdom”.  I believe that Mary brought this need to Jesus because she was convinced that He had the wisdom to come up with a solution to this problem.  I don’t think that she was expecting a miracle from Him.  That’s my opinion.  If it is right, Mary witnessed much more than she expected.

His response is, “Woman, what do I have to do with you?  My hour has not yet come.”  This is a very controversial passage of Scripture.  I read it in 20 English versions so far.  Many of the translations and paraphrases seem disrespectful on the part of Jesus, and a few of them are brutal.  This is not the first time that this expression appears in the Scriptures.

After studying verse 4, I’ve personally come to the conclusion that this was a private conversation between Jesus and His mother.  John records it because he was there at the wedding, always stayed close to Jesus, and must have witnessed that conversation.  He wrote it down because this was the first of Jesus’ signs, pointing to His true identity as the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30-31).  Mary did not make a request of Jesus.  She merely presented a need.  His response was respectful and, judging from her reaction, she realized that Jesus was willing to do something about that need.  I believe that Jesus always did the right thing.  Rather than trying to imagine the exact meaning of His words and the tone of His voice when He said them, I am content to treat verse 4 as a private conversation, spoken in Hebrew, and look, rather, at the results of it.  Let’s move on to verse 5 and see what happened.

In verse 5, Mary obviously understands, from His response to her concern, that Jesus is willing to respond to this situation.  So she tells the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  Those are Mary’s last words spoken in the Gospel of John.  Her words are good advice for us today, aren’t they?  “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  By saying those words, Mary was stepping back so that the focus would be on Jesus, and so that He could deal with the situation in His own way. 

III.  THE MIRACLE ITSELF (verses 6-10)

I agree with Warren Wiersbe when he says that this is a “quiet miracle”.  Mary, His disciples, and the servants may have been the only ones who witnessed this event and realized that Jesus performed a miracle.  It’s quite a contrast to the last miracle of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel:  “And He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth’.  He who died came forth . . . “.  Let’s take a look at this miracle here in John chapter 2.  It raises some questions and teaches some lessons.  Verse 6 says, “Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.”   There is a reason for John’s detailed description of the waterpots.  These pots were part of a religious tradition.  The Mishnah was a collection of the traditions of the elders passed on from generation to generation and then put into written form in six large volumes.  The largest volume was devoted entirely to the subject of ceremonial washing of hands and vessels for eating, not to remove dirt but to make them “ceremonially clean”.  They had to perform these washings before and after every meal.  The Scriptures did not require this practice.  Only the priests were to cleanse themselves (Leviticus 22) before offering a sacrifice or eating consecrated food, and only if they had come in contact with a leper or an unclean animal or person.  So the Jewish traditions had expanded God’s Law way out of proportion, and they insisted upon their observance very rigidly.  A Rabbi named Rabbi Akiba, who was imprisoned by the Romans and given scarcely enough water to sustain life, preferred to use all that water for his ceremonial washings and to die of thirst.  This may seem like a long side-track but you will see how it fits into this passage of Scripture soon.

In verse 7, “Jesus said to them (the servants), ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’  And they filled them up to the brim.”  Those six waterpots now contained a total of 120 to 180 gallons of water; maybe even more since they were now filled to the brim.  That’s a lot of water!  If you drank a gallon of water a day (and most of us drink about half that much in a day),  the water in those pots would last you from four to six months, or even longer!  Jesus had a reason for telling the servants to fill those pots to the brim.  He wanted there to be no doubt that there was “only” water in those pots, and that there was no room to add wine to them.  There was no way that those servants, or any people nearby, could come to the conclusion that this was a trick, or that wine had been added to the water.

When those servants completed their task and had returned to Jesus, He said to them in verse 8:  “Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.”  The Scripture says, “and they took it to him”.  They obeyed Jesus’ request, but can you imagine what they must have been thinking to themselves and saying to one another as they were taking this “water” to the headwaiter for him to sample.  “Is he going to be angry with us and make fun of us for bringing him water to taste?”  That brings up my first question:  When did the water become wine?  John does not record that Jesus touched the water, or spoke words such as “become wine”, and he doesn’t record any “waving of the hand” by Jesus to indicate the moment of transformation.  When do you think it happened?  We don’t know for sure, but I’ve changed my personal opinion as a result of my study of this passage.  I now believe that it didn’t become wine immediately after they filled the pots.  It didn’t become wine when the servants drew the water, nor as they were on their way to the headwaiter.  I personally believe it became wine an instant before the headwaiter tasted it.  I have reasons for this personal belief.  For one thing, I don’t think there was a smell of wine after the vessels were filled.  I think that six vessels holding a total of 180 gallons of wine would have given off quite an aroma (or “bouquet”).  I also don’t think it was wine when the servants were carrying it to the headwaiter.  If I were one of those servants, I would try to hold the ladle or cup up near my nose to smell it, and also look at it to see if there was a change in color.  If I could get away with it, I might even take a sip, and that’s a no-no!  So the suspense must have been unbearable as they watched the headwaiter bring it to his lips, take a swallow or two and call out to the bridegroom, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  But you have kept the good wine until now!”  So I personally think that the water from the waterpot didn’t become wine until just before the headwaiter tasted it.  Verse 9 says that the headwaiter did not know where it came from, so he was able to be impartial in his response. His proclamation to the bridegroom indicates that Jesus not only turned water into wine, but into aged wine; performing in an instant what would normally have taken many years to happen naturally.

Second question:  How much of all those waterpots full of water actually became wine?  We don’t know that for sure either, but I have my recently-formed opinion on that question also.  I don’t personally believe that any of the water in any of those pots became wine until it was drawn out for use.  Whatever was not drawn out for use remained water.  That may sound ridiculous, but based upon Warren Wiersbe’s comment that this was a “quiet miracle”, if Jesus performed the miracle in this way, the only people who would have known that this was truly a miracle would have been His mother, His disciples, and the servants.  The headwaiter and even the bride and groom may not have known that a miracle was performed by Jesus.  If His miracle had been performed in this manner, there would be no traces of a miracle left behind – no stone waterpots still full of wine, and no empty waterpots having the smell of wine.  Maybe this was part of the intent of Jesus’ words to Mary in verse 4 – “My hour has not yet come.”  It wasn’t the time yet for some people to be proclaiming that He is the Messiah while others are seeking ways to kill Him.

Does this theory still seem farfetched?  You may want to read chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.  The five barley loaves and two dried fish were being multiplied as Jesus was breaking them up and putting them into baskets for the disciples to distribute.  Once again, the miracle itself was not visible to anyone except His disciples.  Only the results were visible to others.  Amazing, isn’t it?  I think it makes the miracle even more amazing if it was truly performed by Jesus in this way.

IV.  RESULTS AND CONCLUSION (verses 11-12)

Verse 16 says, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”  It appears that the Lord Jesus’ primary audience for this miracle was His disciples, who were with Him and watched the whole event up-close.  The intended, and actual result was that they saw a manifestation of His glory and “believed in Him”.

You may be wondering when I’m going to keep my promise and return to the topic of purification:  the ceremonial washing of the hands and vessels for eating – the reason those large waterpots happened to be there.  Is there more to be learned from this miracle of Jesus?  Let’s find out.  Psalm 104:14-15 speaks of God’s goodness and generosity to mankind.  It says, “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth.  And wine which makes man’s heart glad . . . ”  Wine represents joy, celebration, and festivity.  That’s why it was so important to the wedding feast.  But there was no true joy in Palestine at that time.  The daily ceremonial washings and other rituals made life tasteless for the people.  It took their focus away from their personal relationship with God.  Have there been times when going to church and attending Bible studies has been little more than a ritual for you?  Have there been times when it seemed that there was nothing to be joyful about?  We’ve all experienced those moments, haven’t we?  If we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we have every reason for joy.  What we need is a fresh realization of the glory of God.  Psalm 16:11 says, “In His presence is fullness of joy . . . “.  He is always present with us, and in us if we are His children, and He always desires to have fellowship with us.  When unconfessed sin, or circumstances, people, things, or worry rob us of joy, let’s pray David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10-12 and allow the Lord to put our lives back into proper focus:  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, . . . Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” 

Amos 9:12-15 and Joel 3:18 tell us that an abundance of wine is also a symbol of the presence of the Messiah.  That was certainly true of Jesus’ first public appearance!  “The mountains will drip with sweet wine”.  Let’s remind ourselves of His coming, why He came, what He did for us and what He is continuing to do for us as our High Priest.  Let’s also remind ourselves that the greatest wedding and wedding feast is soon to come.  Revelation 19:7.9 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb”  Participation in this marriage and marriage feast in heaven is by invitation only, and the joy of this event will last forever.  Is your name on the invitation list (The Lamb’s Book of Life)?  If not, become a child of God through a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today (John 1:11-13).

I’d like to see you there, at the marriage supper of the Lamb.  That is my prayer.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.  Amen.”  (Revelation 22:21)


 

 

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THE PRAGMATIST AND THE SKEPTIC – John 1:43-51

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The apostle John continues to give us a day-to-day description of the events that occurred during the early public ministry of Jesus Christ.  John 1:43 begins with the words “the next day”.  This is the third “next day” after John the Baptist’s interview with the priests and Levites.  Verses 29 to 51 could be called “John’s Daily News Updates”, and he reports details that aren’t recorded in the other Gospels.

I.  PHILIP THE PRAGMATIST (verses 43-45)

Here in verse 43 we read that Jesus “prepared to go forth into Galilee”.  He was headed for Galilee and He had a specific purpose in mind for making this trip.  When Jesus arrived in Galilee, He ‘found Philip”.  Jesus looked for Philip until He found him.  Philip’s name is Greek.  It means “lover of horses”.  That may have had something to do with his upbringing and with his previous occupation.  We don’t know.  We also don’t know how much previous knowledge he had of Jesus, nor how much preparation by God preceded this pivotal day in his life.  But when Jesus said to Philip, “follow Me”, he not obeyed the call, but he also told a friend and introduced him to Jesus.

There isn’t a lot written about Philip in the Scriptures, and most of that information is found here in John’s Gospel.  My personal impression of Philip is that he tends to be a pragmatist, that is, one who has a logical and practical approach to problems.  In the feeding of the 5000, Philip assesses the situation, does the math, and gives his logical conclusion:  “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7).  When he finds Nathaniel, Philip’s description of Jesus is very clear, precise  and thorough:  “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.  In verse 46, his reply to his friend Nathaniel’s question is “Come and see”, the same reply that Jesus gave to Simon Peter and John.  He sure sounds like, and acts like a pragmatist to me, and I commend him for his thoroughness and objectivity!

II.  NATHANIEL THE SKEPTIC (verse 46)

Philip and Nathaniel must have been close friends because Philip immediately searched for him and told him about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s reply, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” may have been said in jest. but he meant the words.  Nazareth must have been a very small town hidden away on the hillside in a low-income district.  He couldn’t fathom how the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, could come from a place like that.  He was skeptical alright!  He had probably been there before, and the town left a bad impression on him.  There may have been some prejudice against “those kinds of people”  It’s a possibility.

Philip isn’t interested in an argument so he says, “Come and see” – “let me introduce you to Him, and then come to your own conclusion”.  Philip used the same words that Jesus used in verse 39.  I think Philip was convinced that meeting Jesus would change Nathaniel’s attitude.

Before we look at Nathaniel’s meeting with Jesus, there are some things about Nathaniel that should be addressed.  He is somewhat of a mystery!  Let’s see if we can come to some kind of an explanation.  Nathaniel is mentioned only here in chapter 1 and in chapter 21, verse 2 of John’s Gospel.  He is not mentioned at all in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  So who is this person?  Why is his name absent from all three of the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; and Luke 6:13-16)?  Was he a friend of the disciples but not a disciple?  Was he a figment of John’s imagination?

There is a theory about this mystery that makes a lot of sense to me for at least three good reasons. The theory is that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person.  Reason #1:  As I mentioned earlier, Nathaniel is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or Luke’s Gospel but Bartholomew is mentioned.  On the other hand, Bartholomew is not mentioned in John’s Gospel but Nathaniel is. This leads me to believe that they are one person being called by two different names.  Reason #2:  Nathaniel is closely associated with Philip in John’s Gospel, whereas Bartholomew is closely associated with Philip in the synoptic Gospels.  The words “Philip and Bartholomew” are connected with each other using the same wording in both Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels.  The same connection is made between the brothers “Peter and Andrew“, and the brothers “James and John”.  Reason #3:  The name “Bartholomew” is composed of two words.  “Bar” means “son” or “son of”.  Bartholomew was the “son of Tholomew” (or Ptolemy).  After His resurrection, Jesus addressed Peter as “Simon, son of John” or “Simon Bar Jonah”.  Giving the father’s name helped distinguish people with the same first names.  Another way of distinguishing people was to add where they were from.    Some people may have referred to Jesus as “Jesus Bar Joseph”, others as “Jesus of Nazareth”.  There are other people in the New Testament who are referred to by their “last names” so to speak.  For example, there is the blind man, Bartimaeus, Barnabas the missionary, and the insurrectionist Barabbas.  Nathaniel may have been Nathaniel Bartholomew and was accustomed to being called by both his names.  We don’t know for sure, but this explanation makes sense to me.

III.  JESUS AND NATHANIEL MEET (verse 47-51)

When Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward Him, He says out-loud for everyone to hear, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  He is paying Nathaniel a compliment, saying that he is a person who is honest and straightforward, without deceit.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Behold, this man is not a phony.  He’s being honest about his doubts.”  Jesus’ words take Nathaniel by surprise.  How could Jesus know anything about his character when they have never met before.  He asks Jesus, “How do you know me?”  He’s really saying, “Who told you about me?”  “How did you obtain that personal information?”  Nathaniel was shocked, but not as shocked as he is going to be!  Jesus answered Nathaniel by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Something really significant must have been going on under that fig tree because Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

In those days fig trees were planted along the roads, and they had large, thick leaves and overhanging branches that would conceal a person who was sitting under one of them.  The Talmud, a Jewish book of religious laws and traditions, encouraged people to pray and meditate on God’s Word under a fig tree. It is very probable that Nathaniel was praying and meditating on Psalm 2 under the fig tree when Jesus saw him because the terms “Son of God” and “King (Anointed One) are both found in that psalm.   Nathaniel may well have been praying for a manifestation of the Messiah.  God’s Word and his own personal desires prepared him to recognize and proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah.  The content of Jesus’ words, and the timing with which He spoke them, had a miraculous effect on Nathaniel.  This Man who knows my thoughts, my prayers, and my secret desires must be the Messiah that I’m longing for.

Some might call it a “deja vu moment”.  The French words mean “already seen”.  Have you ever had a “deja vu moment” where you’ve seen something or experienced something that causes you to remember something that has happened to you before or earlier.  It’s a time of recollection and amazement, isn’t it?  Nathaniel’s response to Jesus was one of amazement and adoration.

In verse 51, Jesus’ makes a promise, not only to Nathaniel, but to all the disciples who are present with Him.  The pronoun (“you”), and the verb (“shall see”) are both plural in the Greek text.  They will all see something even more amazing that will confirm Nathaniel’s words to Him.  Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you (plural), you (all of you) shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  That’s quite a promise!  When was that promise fulfilled?  Are Jesus’ words to be taken literally or figuratively?  Has this event already happened, or is it yet to happen?

When the disciples heard that promise from Jesus’ lips, Genesis 28:10-12 must have immediately come to their minds.  Verse 12 says, “And he (Jacob) had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”  The disciples must have tried to envision that dream in their minds every time they thought of that passage of Scripture, or heard it read in the Synagogue.

Let’s compare the two passages of Scripture.  Genesis 28:12 is quoted in the above paragraph, and John 1:51 is quoted in the paragraph before it.  Notice that there is a ladder mentioned in Genesis 28 but no ladder mentioned in John 1:51.  That’s because Jesus, the “Son of Man” is now the way to God, the only connection between God and man.  He came to earth to pave the way to heaven and open its gates at the cost of His life.  This is the first of many times that Jesus uses the words “Son of Man” to refer to Himself in John’s Gospel.  I believe the angels ascending and descending represent God’s power, His communication, and His protection of His people.

In Jacob’s dream, God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob’s response was one of worship and commitment to God.  In John 1:51 Jesus’ purpose was to prepare the disciples He is addressing to begin to realize that He is truly the Messiah who will do miraculous things through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and High-Priestly ministry.   They are going to be amazed, just as Jacob was amazed by his dream!

The Lord Jesus’ example in His relationship with Nathaniel provides an application for us today.  Jesus praised Nathaniel for being an “honest skeptic” because Nathaniel was being transparent about his feelings and was open to the truth.  Jesus was teaching His disciples to be patient and kind to skeptics, and He was showing  Nathaniel that He appreciated his honest skepticism.  How do you respond when someone questions your beliefs?  Do you make that person feel welcome or do you express anger and turn that person away?

When I was in college, my roommate and I had a weekly Bible study in our dorm- room.  A student across the hall from us had some bad “religious experiences” in his past.  He shared some of his experiences and expressed his feelings about God and “religious people”.  When he found that we were willing to listen and cared about him, he would drop by to chat.  One night, after the Bible study, we were praying for one another when the door to our room opened.  It stayed open for about a minute while we were taking turns praying, and then closed quietly.  After everyone had left, this student from across the hall came over and said that he listened to us praying.  He said “Now I know it’s real” . . . I want what you’ve got!”   He became a child of God that night.  Afterward my roommate and I prayed and thanked God for enabling us to be patient and kind toward him.  How do you treat skeptics?  Do you let them know that you appreciate their honesty?

Are you a skeptic?  Are there things about God, His Word, and His Son that you find hard to accept and believe?  The fact that you’re at this site may indicate that you are seeking some answers to your questions.  I encourage you to study God’s Word for yourself. Look for genuine Christians whose lives have been dramatically changed as they have believed and chosen to follow Christ.  If you do, God will bring you to the place where you will also say, “Now I know it’s real”.  ” I want what they’ve got” – a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  The Lord keeps His word, and He will remove all doubts, just as He did for Nathaniel.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

As Solomon says about wisdom in Proverbs 2:4-5, “If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God.”  Keep digging deeper, my friends!  There are great riches in God’s Word, and your lives will be enriched as a result.  It’s time to move on to the next construction site.  I hope this study has been as enriching an experience for you as it has been for me.