In the Beginning Was the Word
1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2. This was in the beginning with God.
3. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not one thing made that was made.
4. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
The Gospel According to John begins with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made” (John 1:1-3). These words bring to mind the opening words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In both cases, whether it’s the opening words of Genesis or the opening words of John, reference is made to creation. Just as God created all things of the physical universe, the Word of God creates all things of the spiritual universe.
When taken literally, the book of Genesis describes the earth as being without form, void, and in darkness. In John, the Word of God shows us that this empty formlessness is a life without meaning or purpose, and the “darkness” is a life without an understanding of spiritual truth. That’s why God’s first command in the Bible is “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). We need both natural light and spiritual light. As it is written in the psalms, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105).
The “word of the Lord”
In the Hebrew scriptures, the phrase “the word of the Lord” recurs repeatedly, “For example, Jeremiah writes, “Now hear the word of the Lord all you people” (Jeremiah 44:26). Ezekiel writes, “Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the sovereign Lord’” (Ezekiel 25:3). And Isaiah writes, “For the law shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). In each of these contexts, the phrase “the word of the Lord” refers to the proclamation of divine truth.
The word of the Lord also has creative power. As it is written in the psalms, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Psalms 33:6). At a deeper level, this means that “heaven” is built up in each of us, along with everything that is good and true by “the word of the Lord.” 1
The word of the Lord, then, gives birth to everything that is good and true. Every new birth and every new creation that is mentioned in the Word relates to either the birth of a new understanding or the creation of a new will. When the Lord says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:26), this refers to the creation of a new will and the development of a new understanding. Without the breath of God breathing new life into us through His Word, it is impossible to develop a new understanding or receive a new will. This is the Lord’s work in us, and it takes place by means of the Word. As John puts it in the opening words of this gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and all things were made through Him” (John 1:1-3). 2
Another way to say this is that all things come into existence through the words that God speaks, that is, through everything that comes from the mouth of God. In the book of Genesis, every new day of creation begins with the words, “Then God said.” Whether it’s the creation of light on the first day, or the creation of human beings on the sixth day, everything begins with the words, “Then God said” (see Genesis 1:3-28). When understood in this way, it can be truly said that the Word is “God with us,” that all things are “made through Him,” and that “in Him is life and that life is the light of men” (John 1:4). As Jesus said when He was confronted by the devil in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). 3
The words, “man shall not live by bread alone” remind us that a life that is truly human is much more than the ability to eat, sleep, and enjoy sensual pleasures. While God certainly provides all of these things, there is more to life than the mere gratification of natural needs. To be truly human we need to elevate our understanding into the light of truth and receive a new will by living according to that truth.
This is how we receive God’s love and wisdom, which is the very essence of life. Very simply, the life of God is contained within the Word of God. When God is with us, filling us with His love and wisdom, we begin to see all things in new light. As it is written, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). 4
The Light That Shines in the Darkness
5. And the Light appears in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.
6. There was a man sent from God; his name [was] John.
7. He came for testimony, that he might testify concerning the Light, that all might believe through him.
8. He was not that Light, but [was sent] that he might testify concerning the Light.
9. He was the true Light, which enlightens every man that comes into the world.
10. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.
11. He came to His own, and His own took Him not in.
12. But as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become the children of God, to those that believe in His name,
13. Who were born, not of bloods, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.
14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt in a tabernacle among us, and we observed His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
At the end of the Gospel According to Luke, Jesus said to His disciples, “Remain in Jerusalem until you receive power from on high” (Luke 24:49). As we have pointed out, “Remaining in Jerusalem” is a symbolic expression for studying God’s Word in the light of its deeper meaning. When this is done reverently, the Word becomes much more than letters and words. It becomes the very breath of God with us, inspiring us to put those words into our lives. When God’s voice is heard in His Word, the light of truth shines within us, and we receive “power from on high.” 5
The story of how we gradually reach this level of spiritual development begins with John the Baptist who represents the literal sense of the Word. Although there are many genuine truths in the letter of the Word, much of the letter seems harsh, condemning, and contradictory. Like the rough camels’ hair garment in which John the Baptist is clothed, the literal sense of the Word by itself does not always reveal the deeper, more precious truths of the Word. The literal sense of the Word must be seen in connection with its deeper meaning.
It is for this reason that John the Baptist is said to “bear witness” to the light, but is not the true light. As it is written, “the true light,” the “light which gives light to every person who comes into the world … was in the world and the world was made by Him” (John 1:7-10). This is the light of divine truth which comes to each of us through the Word. It is the light that reveals to us not only the nature and extent of our false beliefs and evil desires, but also the love, wisdom and power of God who will help us to give birth not only to a new understanding, but also to receive a new will.
To believe in His name
Sadly, not everyone welcomes the light. As it is written, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11). However, for those who receive the light, for those who genuinely examine themselves in the light of divine truth, repent of their sins, call upon God, and strive to live according to the precepts of the Word, there is a great promise. As it is written, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). 6
When the Word is properly understood, we see that it is filled with glory and power. As we read it, we realize that God Himself is filling us with the noblest, most profound thoughts and the deepest, most stirring affections. In sacred scripture, everything that proceeds from God, including His divine qualities are called “the name of God.” These include qualities such as kindness, courage, understanding, and love. When we begin to live according to the noble thoughts and benevolent affections that God breathes into us, it opens the way for God to create a new will within us. It is the beginning of a new day in our lives. As it is said in the language of sacred scripture, we are “born of God” (John 1:13). 7
The Word became flesh
In order to be understood and lived, infinite divine truth must be accommodated to finite, human understanding. Therefore, the infinite, incomprehensible Creator of the Universe—the Divine Truth Itself—initially comes to us through the literal words of sacred scripture. As we have mentioned, this is represented by John the Baptist who “bears witness to the Light, but is not that light” (John 1:8). The true Light comes into the world through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is written that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Historically, this refers to the coming of God into the world in the bodily form of Jesus Christ. As it is written, “He bowed the heavens and came down” (Psalms 18:9).
This is more than an historical fact. It is also a perpetually present reality. It explains how God is willing to “come down” into each of our lives, longing to inspire us with His truth, fill us with His qualities, and empower us with the desire to serve others. Through our willingness to receive His truth in our understanding and His love in our will, we are “born of God” and become “children of God.”
A practical application
The opening words of the Gospel According to John make it clear that the Lord is fully present with us through His Word. But it is often difficult to see the Lord in His Word, especially when there are so many things in the literal sense that seem, as we have said, to be contradictory, harsh, and condemning. That’s why it is necessary to have both the literal sense which serves as a body, and the spiritual sense which serves as the soul. When these two senses of the Word are kept in mind simultaneously, contradictions are reconciled, and the apparent harshness of the letter is transformed into the wise and powerful love of God. In your personal relationships you can do something similar. Try listening for the loving intention within the words that others speak. Learn to listen for the love. 8
The Law and Grace
15. John testified about Him, and cried out, saying, This was He of whom I said, He that comes after me was before me, because He was prior to me.
16. And of His fullness have we all received, and grace for grace,
17. For the Law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came to be by Jesus Christ.
Saved by grace
In biblical times, the concept of grace was not clearly understood. Instead, it was generally assumed that mere obedience to the letter of the commandments is the path to salvation. No other message is more consistently given in the Hebrew scriptures than the importance of a life according to the commandments. As it is written in the psalms, “Give me understanding and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I will observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of your commandments” (Psalms 119:34-35).
When the invisible Creator of the universe came to earth as Jesus Christ, He did not do away with the commandments. Rather, He deepened their message by taking people beyond the letter. He taught that mere external observance of the commandments was not, in itself, saving. While we must do our part, striving to understand the Word and endeavoring to live according to the commandments, none of this is possible without the grace of God (John 1:12).
To be “saved by grace,” then, is to be given the ability to understand truth and the power to live according to it. This “power from on high” is freely given to us by the grace of God. This, most certainly, includes the ability to love God and the ability to keep His commandments. This grace is beyond measure, always present, overflowing. As it is written, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Divine grace, then, is limitless and abounding, as much as we are able to receive. 9
While the law is given through Moses, and we must obey it, grace and truth come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). This means that the necessary first step of obedience and self-compulsion will gradually be replaced by a love of doing God’s will. In other words, at first, we obey the commandments, simply because it is the Word of God. Next, we obey the commandments because it makes sense to do so. Finally, we obey the commandments because we love to do so. This is the grace that Jesus brings into our life. When the gift of grace descends upon us, we find that we no longer do the commandments from obedience but rather from love. 10
When we speak about obeying the commandments, a distinction must be made between the ceremonial laws and the moral laws. In the Word, all the ceremonial laws pertaining to rituals, festivals, washings, and sacrifices are representative of eternal truths. While some of these laws may still be useful, such as the commemoration of sacred events, other laws, such as the sacrifice of animals, have been altogether repealed. Nevertheless, they are still a part of the Word because of their inner meaning. The moral law, however, especially the Ten Commandments, stands forever in both the letter and the spirit. This is because it reveals not only the will of God, but also describes the evils that are to be shunned and the good that is to be done if we are to live according to God’s will.
In striving to keep the commandments, we quickly learn that we cannot do so without God. In this way they not only reveal to us our powerlessness, but they also turn us to the source of all power, the only One who can give us the power to keep them. In this regard, the apostle Paul writes that “the law is holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). 11
A practical application
In everyday speech, the word “grace” is sometimes used to describe the flowing movements of a dancer or figure skater, or the polished style of an athlete or musician. These experienced professionals perform with skills that seem to be smooth, easy, and effortless. And yet, we all know that this kind of grace comes with practice. It is similar in spiritual development. At first, we need to obey the truth, doing what it teaches. This might be awkward and uncomfortable for us. But if we keep practicing, we may notice a subtle but significant shift in our spirit. Whereas we formerly compelled ourselves to do what truth teaches, we begin to love to live according to the truth. For example, if you have learned that you must never act from anger, and you consistently practice this principle, you may begin to experience some of the goodness resulting from being obedient to this truth. At first, you may have to compel yourself to be aware of your tone. Gradually, however, as this becomes a habit, you will enjoy speaking kindly. You will find yourself being more gracious to others and your relationships improving. As a practical application, notice how living according to the truth, even if you must at first compel yourself, becomes increasingly effortless. This is the Lord working through you. This is grace. 12
In the Bosom of the Father
18. No one has ever seen God; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has brought [Him] forth to view.
Immediately after the statement that the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ, John adds that “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). Throughout this gospel, John will frequently return to the central theme of the intimate relationship between “the Father” and “the Son.”
While this might sound like there are two Gods—an invisible “Father” and a visible “Son” who is “in the bosom of the Father”—it is important to understand that there are not two Gods, but one. They are “one” in the way that the visible body is one with the invisible soul. Even though Jesus will frequently speak of Himself as separate from the Father, they are only separate in the way that heat and light can be spoken of as separate aspects of solar fire. In the blazing sun, which is their origin, heat and light are one. 13
Similarly, love and wisdom, when seen as originating in God, are one in essence and in origin. Whenever Jesus refers to “the Father” who is invisible, it should be understood that He is referring to the Divine Love which is His very soul. And whenever Jesus is referred to as “the Son of God,” it refers to His human incarnation, especially the divine truth which He expresses in His words and actions. This is how the invisible and visible aspects of God—the invisible soul called the “Father” and the visible body called “the Son”—can be seen as one. 14
Therefore, when it is said that Jesus is “in the bosom” of the Father, it suggests that Jesus is somehow deeply connected with the Father. Even in common speech, the term “bosom buddies” implies a deep, interior friendship. Therefore, when it says that Jesus is in the bosom of the Father, it means that Jesus’ invisible soul, the place of His inmost love is within the Father. It is similar for each of us. Our soul is the place where our deepest loves reside, the things that we care most deeply about, the things that drive us and motivate us. This invisible place that no one can see is called “the bosom” or “the soul.” This relationship between the invisible soul and the visible body, whether in a person or in God, is the most intimate relationship possible. Therefore, in the language of sacred scripture, this relationship is described by the words, “the Son is in the bosom of the Father.” 15
But that is not all. The Son is not only “in the bosom of the Father”; the Son has also “brought [the Father] forth to view.” In Jesus Christ, the invisible Father becomes visible. Through His words and actions, Jesus reveals the heart and soul of the Father, the inmost loves and noblest truths of God. In other words, we see the incarnation of the infinite love and wisdom of the invisible “Father” through the finite words and deeds of the visible “Son.”
As we continue our study of the episodic connections in John, it will be important to keep in mind the terms “Father” and “Son.” The term “Father” will consistently refer to the Divine Love which is invisible and unapproachable. And the term “Son,” will refer to the Divine Truth made visible through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. 16
The Lamb of God
19. And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites that they might ask him, Who art thou?
20. And he professed, and denied not, and professed, I am not the Christ.
21. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he says, I am not. Art thou the Prophet? And he answered, No.
22. Then they said to him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to those that sent us; what sayest thou concerning thyself?
23. He declared, I [am] the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, even as Isaiah the prophet said.
24. And they who were sent were from the Pharisees.
25. And they asked him, and said to him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?
26. John answered them, saying, I baptize in water, but in the midst of you stands [one] whom you know not.
27. He it is who, coming behind me, was in front of me, of whom I am not worthy that I should loose the strap of His shoe.
28. These things were done in Bethabara, across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29. On the morrow John looks at Jesus coming to him and says, See, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
30. He it is about whom I said, Behind me comes a Man who was in front of me, for He was prior to me.
31. And I knew Him not; but that He should be made manifest to Israel, on account of this I have come baptizing with water.
32. And John testified, saying, I observed the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon Him.
33. And I knew Him not, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, On whomever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, He it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
34. And I have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.
As the next episode begins, John the Baptist is confronted by the religious leaders who ask him if He is the Christ. When he says, “I am not the Christ,” they question him further. “Are you Elijah,” they ask. “Are you a prophet?” Again and again, John says, “I am not.” As they continue to question him, John gives a response that contains the secret of his representation. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,’ he says. “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:19-23).
As we have pointed out, John the Baptist represents the letter of the Word, the simple truths that are to be obeyed. Whenever this takes place, there is a cleansing of our outward behavior. This “prepares the way” for the coming of the Lord—the deeper, more internal cleansing of the spirit. It is for this reason that John’s cry, in every gospel, is always the same. It is a cry to all who have neglected or twisted the literal teachings of sacred scripture. It is the urgent, and insistent cry to repent and to straighten out their understanding so that the Lord can come into their lives. John the Baptist, then, is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He is crying out in a world that is barren of truth, saying, “learn the scriptures.” This is because the literal sense of the Word opens the way for an understanding of the spiritual sense. The literal teachings of the Word “prepare the way” for the coming of the Lord. 17
Still unsatisfied with John the Baptist’s reply, the religious leaders continue to question him. They ask, “If you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?” (John 1:25.) John the Baptist says, “I baptize in water, but in the midst of you stands one whom you know not. He it is who, coming behind me, was in front of me, of whom I am not worthy that I should undo the strap of His sandal” (John 1:26-27).
John the Baptist is quite clear that his work can in no way be compared to the work that Jesus has come to do. While the literal sense of scripture can give direction about the outer form of our behavior, this is entirely different from what the spiritual sense can do within us. The outer sense is compared to the washing of water which can only cleanse the body, while the inner sense is compared to the washing of truth which can cleanse the soul. From John the Baptist’s perspective, the external cleansing that he is offering, when compared to the greater cleansing that would be brought about through Jesus, is like a shadow compared to the light; it is like a representation of reality when compared to reality itself. 18
Jesus is baptized
Knowing that Jesus is coming to bring about a cleansing that is far greater than a baptism with water, John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It is well-known that lambs have a disposition that enables them to recognize their master’s voice and then follow wherever their master might lead them. In sacred scripture, this innocent, lamb-like trust becomes a symbol that is representative of the God-given ability to hear the Lord’s voice in His Word and follow wherever He might lead. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalms 23:1-2).
In this regard, Jesus is not only the “Word made flesh,” but also a role model for all of humanity. Just as a lamb recognizes and follows His master’s voice, Jesus is a “Lamb” who is willing to follow the promptings of the voice of God. In this role, Jesus is innocence itself, showing what it means to love God and follow Him, as a “Lamb of God.” 19
After referring to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” John says, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained on Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34).
Once again, John the Baptist says that he can only baptize with water. This time he adds that Jesus “baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Because of its ability to cleanse us externally, water represents the gradual reformation of our understanding through learning and obeying the literal truths of the Word. But Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, meaning that Jesus not only gives us the power to understand the truth, but also the power to live according to it. This is also referred to as “power from on high” or simply, “grace.” In the language of sacred scripture, this power is also called the “Holy Spirit.” 20
We have already mentioned that the Father and the Son are one, even as the soul and the body are one. In this verse, the term “Holy Spirit” is mentioned. This is the third aspect of God who is infinite, but can be understood in finite terms. The relationship between “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” can be compared to the way our soul works together with our body to produce an action. For example, the love we have for another person is, so to speak, our “soul.” Our body enables us to express this love in a variety of ways. Working through the body, this love might be expressed through a kind word, a thoughtful deed, or perhaps a compassionate touch. This is how soul, body, and action work together in every human being, an interaction that corresponds to the essential unity of the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 21
The First Disciples
35. Again on the morrow, John stood, and two of his disciples.
36. And looking at Jesus walking, he says, See, the Lamb of God!
37. And the two disciples heard him speaking, and they followed Jesus.
38. And Jesus, turning and observing them following, says to them, What do you seek? And they said to Him, Rabbi (which is to say, being translated, Teacher), where stayest Thou?
39. He says to them, Come and see. They came and saw where He stayed, and they stayed with Him that day, and it was about the tenth hour.
40. One of the two who heard from John and followed Him was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.
41. He first finds his own brother Simon and says to him, We have found the Messiah (which is, being translated, the Christ).
42. And he led him to Jesus, and Jesus, looking at him, said, Thou art Simon the son of Jonah. Thou shalt be called Kephas (which is, being translated, Peter).
43. On the morrow, Jesus willed to go out into Galilee, and He finds Philip, and says to him, Follow Me.
44. And Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.
45. Philip finds Nathanael and says to him, We have found Him of whom Moses wrote in the Law, and [also] the Prophets, Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.
46. And Nathanael said to him, Can anything good be from Nazareth? Philip says to him, Come and see.
47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and says about him, See, truly an Israelite in whom is no deceit.
48. Nathanael says to Him, whence knowest Thou me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
49. Nathanael answered and says to Him, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel!
50. Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these.
51. And He says to him, Amen, amen, I say to you, Henceforth you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
As we have seen, a new episode in the gospels often begins with a change in place or time such as “the next day,” or “the following day.” And so, we read that “the next day John stood with two of his disciples” (John 1:35). Although these two men were disciples of John the Baptist, they had heard him proclaim that Jesus is “the Lamb of God,” and the very “Son of God.” John’s recommendation is all they need; they decide, in that moment, to follow Jesus. Sometimes, the voice of John the Baptist—the powerful truth of the letter of the Word—is all we need to convince us to follow Jesus. It is not just the letter alone, but something much deeper that comes through the letter with the power to touch us. 22
And when this happens—when we make the decision to follow Jesus—our life makes a notable shift. We begin to examine our real purpose in life. When Jesus speaks to those who are thinking about being His disciples, He asks a simple, yet profound question. He asks, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). This question is an invitation to examine our true motives, and to ask ourselves, “What am I really seeking?” “What are my goals?” “What is my purpose?” If we are seeking happiness, peace, or comfort, we might ask, “How shall I attain it?” If we are seeking to become a finer person, we might ask, “How might I achieve it?”
In response to Jesus’ question, they ask Him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (John 1:38). Jesus does not give them a specific answer. Instead, He invites them to “Come and see” (John 1:39). On one level, this can be understood quite simply. Jesus wants them to learn by experience, to simply do what He commands and see where that leads. More deeply, the two words “come” and “see” speak to both the will and the understanding. The act of “coming” involves a change of position or location, a deliberate act of the will; and the act of “seeing” involves the understanding, the faculties that allow us to comprehend new information, to recognize truth when it is presented, and to say, when new light dawns in our consciousness, “I see.” And so, it is written that “they came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day” (John 1:39).
Andrew and Peter
Only one of these first two disciples is named. His name is “Andrew.” Biblical scholars have conjectured that the unnamed disciple is John, the author of this gospel. But that is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that Andrew immediately tells his brother, Simon Peter about his discovery. “We have found the Messiah,” says Andrew to Peter. Andrew then leads Peter to Jesus (John 1:41). Looking at Peter, Jesus says to him, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas.” The author of this gospel then adds that the name “Cephas” means a rock or a stone (John 1:41-42).
In biblical times, rocks and stones were used for various purposes, especially as weapons of defense and as the building blocks of fortresses. They were also used to construct the temple which was made of whole stones. The stones of the temple signify truths that come directly from the Word rather than from one’s own reasoning. These whole stones are the truths that defend against falsity. In general, then, stones and rocks, because of their hardness and durability, represent a rock-solid faith that is built on truths from the Lord’s Word. Therefore, in calling Peter “Cephas,” Jesus is indicating that in the future, Peter’s name will be synonymous with true faith—a faith that is as solid as “a stone” and as durable as “a rock.” As Jesus puts it, “You shall be called Cephas” Peter may not be a rock of faith yet, but Jesus promises that his faith shall be as solid as stone. 23
Philip and Nathanael
As Jesus journeys towards Galilee, He continues to add disciples. When He encounters Philip, He says to Him, “Follow Me” (John 1:43). Without hesitation, Philip decides to follow Jesus. Not only does he decide to follow Jesus, but he immediately recruits a man named Nathanael. “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also in the prophets, wrote,” says Philip to Nathanael. “He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Nathanael, however, is reluctant to follow Jesus. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth,” he says (John 1:46). Undaunted, Philip says, “Come and see,” (John 1:46).
Although Nathanael is not convinced, he is curious. Therefore, he goes to meet Jesus. As Nathanael approaches Him, Jesus says, “Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47). In response Nathanael says, “How do you know me?” And Jesus replies, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48). With these words, Jesus reveals His omniscience, causing Nathanael to cry out, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). Jesus takes advantage of this opportunity to teach an important lesson about discipleship. He says, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these” (John 1:50).
The words, “You will see greater things than these,” are filled with meaning. The disciples will, of course, witness amazing miracles. Eventually, however, as they continue to follow Jesus, they will develop the ability to see wondrous things in the Word. They will understand heavenly truths that, at the moment, are far beyond their comprehension. As their thoughts ascend heavenwards, the light of heaven will descend upon them, and all of this will take place through the gradual opening of the Word. As Jesus puts it, “You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). 24
With these concluding words, Jesus gives His disciples a glimpse of the glorious future that is ahead of them.
A practical application
In the early days of our spiritual development, especially when we are learning truth and striving to put it into our lives, we see what is good from our understanding of truth. This is the upward ascent. In the language of sacred scripture, it is described as “angels ascending.” But over time, as we begin to live according to the truth that we know, a gradual transformation takes place. When truth has done its job of leading us to goodness, that same goodness begins to lead us to new truth. We move from “I have to do this” to “I get to do this” to “I love to do this.” When this takes place, it is described as “angels descending.” As a practical application, then, notice how the angels who carried you upwards in your efforts to live according to the truth become the angels who inspire you with new attitudes and new perceptions as they descend into your life. 25