John 1:40-51. What’s in a name?

  Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter ).

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

As Jesus’ collects his first disciples, the titles ascribed to Jesus pile up and overflow. Let’s explore some of them together.

V41. “Messiah / Christ”: the anointed successor to King David who will rule God’s people with justice and righteousness forever. (2 Sam 7:9-16; Isa 9:6-7).

V45. “the one Moses wrote about in the Law”: a new Moses, who will speak directly from God (Deut 18:14-20).

V49. “the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”: the two titles are clearly synonymous and overlap with “Messiah / Christ”. See also Psalm 2, 110.

V51. “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on…”: This is a reference to Genesis 28:12-15 where Jacob has a vision of a ladder bridging heaven and earth. The ladder is the intersection of heaven and earth, of God and man. The significance  of the vision is the reaffirmation of the covenant with Israel (Jacob). Hence, the reference is to the idea of ‘blessing to all people through the offspring’– this offspring is Jesus. Note also that Jesus substitutes the Son of Man for the Ladder– the two have the same function.

V51. “The Son of Man” is an ambiguous title. In Aramaic– likely the language which Jesus spoke most commonly in the north of Israel– the phrase can be a humble way of referring to yourself in the third person, in the way a Texan might say, “just little ‘ole me.” Alternatively, ‘the Son of Man’ referred to the exalted ruler given eternal power and glory by God in Daniel 7:11-14. Throughout John’s gospel Jesus refers to himself frequently as ‘the Son of Man’, deliberately trading off the ambiguity of the term.

The ascription of these titles to Jesus– and his willingness to receive them– challenge me to enlarge my view of him.

Jesus, I praise you that you are Messiah, Christ, the Son of God, the one who speaks directly from God, the intersection of heaven and earth, and the glorious Son of Man. Amen.