35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 And Jesus turned and saw them following, and *said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” 39 He *said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He *found first his own brother Simon and *said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
43 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He *found Philip. And Jesus *said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip *said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and *said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael *said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He *said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
I think I’ve discussed how different the gospel of John is compared to the other gospels. And we see that here in a very different account of how Peter and Andrew were called to become disciples. In Matthew 4:18ff, we are given the account of Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and seeing Peter and Andrew working their trade as fishermen.
19 And He *said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
Luke gives us a third account with differing details in Luke 5:
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
John’s account seems to put this even in the days following Jesus’ baptism in Judea down near the Jordan. Verse 43 even states that Jesus intended to go to Galilee the day after meeting Andrew and Peter. The other two take place in Galilee, one with Peter and Andrew working on their own accord, the other with Peter and Andrew working at the Lord’s command.
None of these accounts are impossible to reconcile, and conservative readers will generally view them as separate events, with John’s account implying a first meeting with some of the men who would be his core group of disciples, Matthew’s account as another event calling Peter and Andrew to full-time discipleship, and Luke’s account as an expansion of Matthew’s, filling in details as to why the two fishermen would abandon their vocation and families to follow a homeless rabbi.
Are these different events or different traditions/stories about Jesus and the apostles in the church that were circulating in the 1st/2nd century? I’m not certain, but I lean towards the conservative view. We’ve seen discrepancies in details with the synoptic gospels with different authors recalling or hearing stories with slightly different details and those are rather easy to reconcile. Here the details are so different that it does almost seem like two separate events.
It’s also useful to remember John’s (or the author’s) reason for writing this gospel:
30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
This is a tome aimed at converting the unbeliever into accepting Jesus as the Son of God. The Synoptic gospels likewise have that end, but Matthew and Mark are more accounts of getting down Jesus life, words, deeds, and resurrection, while Luke aims to be a purely historical account. It would make sense for the Synoptic writers to focus more on historic events they deemed important, such as their calling away from their lives to following Jesus full-time, while John would focus on the witness of John the Baptist, and Nathaniel’s confession of Christ as the Son of God. John is very concerned with convincing us of the deity of Jesus.
Nathaniel is sometimes associated as Bartholomew from the Synoptic gospels.
We’re given a picture here of evangelism. With John the Baptist testifying of Jesus and Andrew and Philip going out and bringing their friends to Jesus. There was a long expected hope for a Messiah in Israel at this time, a godly prophet, judge, and general that would lead the nation of Israel into a restored Davidic kingdom. So the fervor of the two to go and find their friends and siblings reflects that. Here was the king, the deliverer! Come and meet Him!
And they did. Simon receiving a prophetic word of a future name-change, Nathaniel getting a glimpse of who Jesus was, as Jesus calls him an Israelite in whom is no guile, calling back to Nathaniel’s response to hearing the Messiah was from Nazareth, in which he blurts out, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The man speaks his mind and Jesus shows him that He saw him before they had even met, adding in the details of seeing Nathaniel under the fig tree.
For Nathaniel it is enough. He makes a confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the on of God. Jesus basically says, “You haven’t seen anything yet…” and makes a call back to the book of Genesis and Jacob’s dream of a ladder between heaven and Earth with angels climbing up and down it. Jesus associates Himself with the ladder, as the bridge between heaven and Earth, between God and humanity. It is an expression of the incarnation, as God, incomprehensible to man, takes on ‘earthiness’ or flesh to be the perfect representation, the perfect expression of God, the perfect Word of God to us.
It is an image of Jesus fully existing in both worlds, and becoming our Way into experiencing God and heaven while existing here on Earth and ascending with Him when our time here is done. It is an acknowledgement of Nathaniel’s confession.
John is a lot more heavy on theology than the other gospels which are mainly focused with practical teaching and actions, so we’ll get a lot more of this as we move forward.