The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the first disciples of Jesus

On the next day after the Baptist and Jesus had again met and greeted one another, the former took his station, as usual, on the banks of the Jordan, with two of his disciples by his side. He saw Jesus, as He was walking about, on the point of taking His departure. The Baptist understood His intentions, and fixed his eye upon Him wistfully.1 As the best singers may utter their first notes tremulously,—as a Cicero turned pale when he ascended the rostrum,-as the sun descends with blushes; so it might harmonize with the exquisitely delicate human feelings of the Shepherd of men, to begin His vocation of collecting men around Him with the most tender, virgin-like modesty. John understood the heart of Jesus. Hitherto none of his disciples had been moved by the inspired testimony of the preceding day to attach themselves to Him; the faithful harbinger of the Messiah was therefore induced to repeat the solemn words, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ He felt in the delicacy of Christ’s personality all its capability of suffering, and its suffering destiny. But this time his words forcibly struck the two disciples who stood by his side, and they followed Jesus. Jesus understood the sound of their footsteps, and turning round, He said to them, ‘What seek ye?’ This brief expression depicts their eagerness and His clear perception. They ask Him, ‘Teacher, where dwellest Thou? where is Thy abode to-day?’ From this we may infer that the way on which they stopped Him was the first part of His road—a part which, towards evening, He would leave behind. ‘Come and see!’ said the Lord. They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode that day with Him. Thus the simplest conventional intercourse led to the most important results. Of infinite significance was the question of the sympathetic traveller, ‘What seek ye?’ How full of feeling and promise the question in return, ‘Where dwellest Thou?’ uttered in a tone of earnest longing; as much as to say, We too would fain abide there. And lastly, the answer, so rich in promise, ‘Come and see!’ It was about the tenth hour, according to the Jewish reckoning, or four o’clock in the afternoon. The narrator tells us that Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. By this form of expression, he leads us to guess who the other was. From the earliest times it has been admitted that it was John himself. It is quite in his style to suppress his own name, or to use a periphrasis.2 Moreover, the conference of the two with Jesus is so vividly in his recollection in its minutest particulars: how they saluted Him by the title of Rabbi, their decisive interlocution, and the hour of their visit to Him-all was indelibly impressed on his memory.

They abode with Him that day; but not without going out in order to fetch Simon Peter, the brother of one, and friend of the other.3 Andrew first found him, and announced to him, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ The expectation of the Messiah prevailed generally among the people; but the circle of John’s disciples, to which Peter belonged, lived in the expectation of His speedy advent. They were certain of His very speedy appearance, and lived in a state of intense listening and watching for the signs of it. Therefore, after announcing the Messiah, Andrew led his brother to Jesus. No sooner did Jesus behold him, than He said, ‘Thou are Simon, the son of Jonas (the Dove), thou shalt be called Cephas (the Rock).’4 For the Hebrew, who knew the relation between the dove and the rocks, in which the dove in Judea loved to build her nest, and between the chosen people and the dove,5 which might appear as its symbol, these words contain a great contrast full of promise. Thou art now the son of the shy dove of the rock; in future thou shalt be called the protecting rock of the dove.6 Jesus might know many things about Peter the Galilean fisherman through John the Baptist and the two first disciples, but His own first piercing glance would decide the judgment He passed upon him; and the name which He now gave him He might afterwards confirm, as it was confirmed in the sequel by history.7

On the following day, when Jesus was about to leave the Perean valley of the Jordan in order to go into Galilee,8 He found Philip. The circumstance that he was from Bethsaida on the Galilean Sea, and a fellow-countryman of Andrew and Peter, brought him into the society of Jesus, and at His call he became His disciple.

On their way to Galilee—at what place the Evangelist does not tell us—Philip found Nathanael. It has been assumed that this meeting occurred in the neighbourhood of Cana, since Nathanael, according to Joh 21:2, belonged to that place. We should certainly imagine that the mysterious scene under the fig-tree to which Jesus alludes, points us to the home of Philip, since the Jews were fond of reposing under the fig-trees which adorned their homesteads,9 or resorted to them for meditation and prayer; and since it is most natural to regard the spiritual vision with which Jesus looked on that scene as a consequence of His coming within the immediate sphere of Nathanael’s life. But yet there is no certainty on either point. Or Nathanael, while walking under a fig-tree in a lonely path,10 might indulge in such musings as our Lord would regard as a token of his deep Israelitish sincerity. But how far the feeling and mental eye of Christ, particularly at this time, when He was collecting His first disciples, reached into the distance, and discerned states of mind, which, as earnest longings after the Messiah, indicated a germinant discipleship, and formed a second-sight for His own spirit, we cannot at all determine. No sooner had Philip found Nathanael than he announced to him his new good fortune, the salvation of Israel: ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus the son of Joseph, the man of Nazareth’ (Joh 1:45). Philip himself seems to have felt the contrast he announced; but it does not trouble him. He brings it forward; he lays an emphasis upon it; and is astonished that the Messiah, the son of Joseph, is the man of Nazareth.11 Nathanael at once sceptically seizes on the contrast, and asks, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Nazareth was therefore, at all events to the man of Cana—who in these words passed so severe a judgment on his neighbours in the mountain district of Galilee-too insignificant, it stood spiritually too low, to expect that from it would come forth the great Prince of His people. It cannot be maintained that Nathanael gave his answer in a proverb. But the proverb which has been formed from these words, from the history of its origin, has become ironical, and means: Out of Nazareth the best thing can come unexpectedly. But as Nathanael was prompt in his judgment and doubt, he was equally prompt in willingness to put his judgment to the test, and to correct it. ‘Come and see!’ Philip replies. Nathanael knew what was due to the vivid conviction of his friend, and to God, who performs the greatest miracles. He therefore goes with Philip in order to see with his own mental eye. And as he approached, Jesus said to those around Him, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ An ‘Israelite indeed’ means, therefore, ‘a truthful Jew.’ Every noble nation finds the firmest foundation of its nationality in truthfulness and fidelity.12 But the Jew, before all others is entitled to this, since in Christ is the deepest life of his nation.13 Nathanael does not disown the eulogium; he affects no false modesty; but he cannot account for its being bestowed, and asks the Lord, ‘Whence knowest Thou me?’ Then the Lord utters a word that startles and agitates him: ‘Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee.’ Nathanael now felt that Jesus had beheld a secret of his soul, probably his Israelitish longing after the Messianic kingdom, or after his spiritual reconciliation, such as no man could have detected with his bodily eye—a process of his inner life, in which the faithful Israelitish disposition had been exercised. But by this divine master-glance Jesus had been verified to him as the Messiah. ‘This is an Israelite indeed,’ Jesus had said of him. Nathanael now offers Him homage in a truly graceful manner, by making the acknowledgment—‘Rabbi! Thou art the Son of God! Thou art the King of Israel!’ that is, Thou art the King of the Israelites who are without guile; Thou art my King! Nathanael had believed in Him on account of the sign which Jesus had given him. But Jesus promised him still greater signs in the future, which He expressed with great certainty and solemnity: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, from this time ye shall see the heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.’14 It is not improbable that this remarkable form of the promise of Jesus has a relation to the state of mind which rendered Nathanael noticeable to Him when under the fig-tree. If he had been praying in those words of the prophet, ‘Oh! that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down! (Isa 64:1)—give me a sign—send me an angel;—this form of the promise of Jesus would be clearly explained. We leave this point undetermined, but certainly the language of Jesus had a reference to Nathanael’s state of mind.15 In these words the Lord cannot possibly refer to the special angelic appearances which occurred in His own life. Rather His language is apparently symbolical. The promise begins to be fulfilled from the time then present (ἀπʼ ἄρτι). The open heaven is the revelation of the fulness of the Godhead disclosed in Himself. And as Jacob in a dream saw the heavens open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder which connected heaven and earth, so now must the real angels of God become manifest in the life of Christ, and exhibit an everlasting movement of mediation, reconciliation, and reunion between heaven and earth. The prayers, the intercession, the works of Christ, and His sacrifice ascend; the visitations, the blessings, the miraculous gifts, the helps, and assurances of peace from God descend. Thus all the longings of Nathanael and his associates must be fulfilled.

Nathanael’s name does not occur in the later complete lists of the apostles. But in these generally Bartholomew16 appears next to Philip. Hence it has been conjectured that Nathanael appears again among the apostles in the person of Bartholomew; and since the name Bartholomew is properly only a surname, and means the son of Tholmai, the conjecture is thereby confirmed. At all events, it is not probable that so distinguished a character as this Nathanael, whose call John has narrated with so much interest, should not be admitted among the apostles; and the circumstance is very conclusive, that in the days immediately succeeding the resurrection we find Nathanael among the most confidential disciples of Jesus (Joh 21:2).

John the Baptist, as a faithful forerunner, rendered the Lord the most essential service, by preparing for Him disciples of such worth as John, Andrew, and Peter, and by inducing them, directly or indirectly, to join themselves to Him. But we see how the Lord displays the hand of a master in attracting souls, in winning over to His spiritual communion and enlisting in His service the choicest spirits, while He is regulated by what the Father works for Him in the minds and hearts of men, and by the opportunities presented in His working for the Father. With a quick eagle-eye He recognizes the spirits that are destined for Him; while these hasten to Him with all the decisiveness of satisfied longing, in proportion as they understand the call of their much-loved King in His word. They spread abroad the tidings of His advent among those who are like-minded, with the joyful exclamation, We have found the Messiah! This corresponds to the morning hour of the New Covenant, since all its spiritual conditions are silently matured. It is like a mutual agreement of long standing, ripened in the profoundest depths of the life of which vulgar souls (Philister) have no conception, that the Lord so quickly recognizes His noblest disciples, and that they attach themselves so soon to Him with the most cordial self-surrender.



1. The opinion that by the tenth hour (Joh 1:40), according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, we are to understand four o’clock in the afternoon, has been called in question by Rettig in his exeg. Analekten, in the Theol. Studien, und Kritiken, 1830, Part. i. According to Rettig, John here, as well as in the passages 4:6, 19:14, employed the Roman computation of time, which begins at midnight, so that the tenth hour would mean ten o’clock in the forenoon. Lücke has invalidated this view by the remark, that John could have no reason for adopting the Roman computation instead of that with which he was familiar, since the Asiatic churches, for whom he wrote, used, in common with the Jews, the Babylonian mode of reckoning, namely, the natural day from sunrise to sunset divided into twelve equal parts. As to the passage in Joh 4:6, A. Schweizer, to obviate the remark that it was not customary to go to the wells at noon, has justly observed, that the woman could hardly have been with Jesus alone so long if the common time for drawing water (six o’clock morning or evening) had been intended. Besides, it may be easily admitted, that a woman of such a character would avoid meeting with other females. The discrepancy that Mar 15:25 gives the third hour as the beginning of the crucifixion, while according to John the sentence of crucifixion was ‘about the sixth hour’ (Joh 19:14), may be explained, apart from unimportant various readings, by supposing that John made use here of the Roman mode of computation.

2. The first connection of Jesus with Andrew, John, and Peter, which is here narrated, forms no contradiction whatever to the account given by the synoptic Gospels of the later calling of the two pair of brothers, Andrew and Peter, John and James, to a more definite following of Jesus (Mat 4:18; [Mar 1:16; Mar 1:19]). In the relations of the disciples of Jesus, according to the Gospels, there appears very distinctly an internal and essential gradation, which finds its expression also in their outward calling. The believing disciples of the Lord, as such, were not always called to be His constant associates and messengers, and these, again, were not destined to be apostles in the strict sense. Twelve such apostles Jesus chose: besides these, He had a circle of seventy messengers; but the collective body of disciples at the time of His ascension contained at least one hundred and twenty men (Act 1:15). It is therefore in perfect correspondence with this gradation, if the first calling is distinguished from the first delegation, and this again from the setting apart of the twelve apostles. And even in this latter circle we find again a special selection, that of the three most confidential witnesses of Jesus. Strauss (i. 549) is justified in finding in the words of Christ, ἀκολούθει μοι, ‘the junction of a permanent relation;’ but he has not taken into account that the junction of a permanent relation is to be distinguished from the junction of a peculiar relation. And the circumstance that the first disciples were in constant attendance on Jesus did not make them His evangelists, any more than the female disciples became evangelists, though they constantly accompanied Him.



1) Καὶ ἐμβλέψας τῷ Ἰησοῦ περιπατοῦντι.

2) [ʻMos evangelistic nostri, ut ex modestia, ubi de seipso seribit, nomen suum omittat.’—Lampe In Joan. Proleg. i, 2, where four other reasons are given for supposing the unnamed disciple to be John.—ED.]

3) From the circumstance that the Evangelist enumerates the separate days from the return of Jesus out of the wilderness to the marriage at Cana, without assigning a particular fresh day for this particular event, we may conclude that it belongs to the very day on which Jesus met with the first disciples,

4) ʻThis act of giving a name is founded on the very ancient Jewish custom of giving significant names or surnames from peculiar events or traits of character : Gen, xvii. 5, 41, 45; Dan. i. 7.’—Lücke, Commentar, i. 448. [To change the name was the prerogative of one in authority, Gen. xli, 45; Dan. i 7; and peculiarly, therefore, the prerogative of the Lord, who alone can give and maintain the new character indicated by the new name, and prevent it from becoming a mockery and + reproach, The second Adam is in the new creation something more than the first Adam in the old, Gen, ii, 19.—ED.]

5) Cantic. ii, M4, compare Jer. xlviii, 28.

6) According to Lampe, the antithesis would be: Thon hearer [Gen. xxix. 33] (Simon) and Son of Grace (of Jonas, contracted for Jochanan) shalt be called Rock. But the reading Ἰωάνον, Ἰωάννον, or Ἰωάναο, is supported by very few manuscripts and translations. According to Dr Paulus the antithesis means, Thou son of weakness shalt be called Rock. But he takes יוֺנָה to signify weakness on insufficient grounds. See Lücke, i. 450.

7) Matt. xvi. 17. There the name is presupposed.

8) Ἠθέλησεν ἐξελθεῖν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν.

9) Compare Micah iv. 4; Zech. iii, 10.

10) Fig-trees especially stood in the paths and highways.

11) If we take the words of Philip in their literal meaning, we shall see what stress he laid on bringing forward the predicate of meanness, which made the discovery of the Messiah in such a place so extraordinary. In this sense the mention of His father Joseph served to point out His civil advent, but by no means His bodily descent, which latter it was not necessary for Philip to be acquainted with. What has been urged from this passage against the miraculous conception is perfectly trivial.

12) A ʻGerman indeed,’ or ‘A true German,’ is a specially true, honourable German ; and the praise of the uprightness of the Frank is uttered in the expression—He is Frank,

13) It signifies nothing if ‘nothing is heard elsewhere of this national virtue of the Jews.’ The kernel of the Israelitish people is the * faithful witness’ ‘in whose mouth was found no guile.’

14) It is no Hysteron-proteron that ἀναβαίνοντας is here placed first.

15) [Whatever was the special petition of Nathanael, the form of the promise was particularly suitable to every ‘Israelite indeed;’ referring him back as it did to God’s appearance to Israel himself at Bethel. Nathanael was waiting for the fulfilment of all that had then been promised to Jacob: this attitude of mind had become his characteristic ; and to tell him that the symbolic and prophetic appearances of patriarchal times were now to be realized, was the simplest way to tell him that the hope of is heart would be satisfied—that the Messiah had now come.—ED.]

16) In Matt. x. 3, Mark iii, 18, Luke vi. 14, Bartholomew stands next to Philip; in Acts i. 13, Thomas.