Matthew 3-4; John 1:35-51

Matthew 3-4 is divided into the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-12), the baptism of Christ (3:13-17), the temptations of Jesus (4:1-11), and the early Galilean ministry of Jesus (4:12-25).

The Doctrinal Foundation of the Ministry of John the Baptist

When Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Christ, he declared, “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2).  Regarding this prophecy, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that Jesus Christ “grew up in the arid soil of a spiritually degenerate society—in a Holy City that had become like Egypt and Sodom: among a people who chose darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil: and in the midst of a people who had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof. . . . He grew up in the arid and sterile soil of a Judaism where the priesthood was bought and sold; where his Father’s house had become a den of thieves; where sacrifices and feasts and fasts and Sabbaths all testified of a then‑unknown Jehovah.”[i]

For the most part, the Jews had either strayed from the intent of the Law of Moses or from the law itself, which was to have governed Israel until the coming of the Messiah.  With few exceptions, they had become an apostate people, spiritually dead!  They were in need of spiritual rebirth.

The Lord told Adam that the process of spiritual rebirth was similar to the process of physical birth: “Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten” (Moses 6:58-59).

The process of physical birth begins with the conception of the child.  Successful conception leads to gestation, lasting about nine months.  During this period, enveloped in water and being sustained by the blood of the mother, the embryo grows into a fetus.  Eventually the spirit enters into the fetus and gestation ends with the event of physical birth, giving life to the child.

Similarly, the process of spiritual rebirth begins when the person is awakened to their spiritual need (see Mosiah 4:1-5; Alma 5:6-7; 2 Nephi 1:13-14).  There are “three essentials that are necessary to inspire one to live a Christlike life,” taught President Harold B. Lee.  “The first essential I would name in order to qualify is: There must be awakened in the individual who would be taught or who would live perfectly an awareness of his needs.”[ii]   The awakening leads to a child-like belief (for an example see Alma 22:1-8).  This must be fortified with correct doctrinal teaching.  An essential part of this teaching focuses on the fallen nature of man and the need for a redeemer (see Alma 22:12-14).  Correct teaching leads to faith on the Lord Jesus Christ which brings about a hope of redemption.  The process of spiritual rebirth continues as the person repents of his/her sins and seeks to enter into a covenant relationship through baptism.

Similar to conception and gestation which lead to the event of physical birth, the awakening, development of child-like belief, correct doctrinal teaching, exercise of faith and repentance, leads to theevent of spiritual rebirth.  Spiritual rebirth is brought about through ordinances.  Joseph Smith declared, “Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.”[iii]  The Savior taught what those ordinances are: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3,5).

These ordinances must be performed by legal administrators.  Elder Orson Pratt, an early member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “A person cannot be born again legitimately without a legal administrator.  If you are born of the Spirit, there must needs be a man authorized to administer that Spirit.  Paul says, ‘Who hath also made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit, for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.’  Why? because he was authorized to lay his hands on baptized believers, and confirm upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost, that they might be born of the Spirit and become new creatures.”[iv]

The ordinance of water baptism is the first ordinance of spiritual rebirth.  But in and of itself, it is insufficient.  Without the baptism of the Holy Ghost, there is no spiritual rebirth.  President Marion G. Romney taught, “One is born again by actually receiving and experiencing the light and power inherent in the gift of the Holy Ghost.”[v]  This is exemplified in the baptism of Adam: “And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water.  And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened [Old English for “made alive”] in the inner man” (Moses 6:64-65).

The baptism of water, however, is preparatory for the baptism of the Holy Ghost.  In water baptism, the recipient covenants to keep the commandments of God (see 2 Nephi 31:7).  Having repented and entered into this covenant, the recipient is forgiven of his/her sins–the first part of remission of sins (see D&C 19:31).  Having been forgiven, the recipient is now qualified to be spiritually born again or come into the presence of God.  Speaking of this, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught when one receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost, “We are back in the presence of God.  The question might naturally be raised: How do we come back into the presence of God if we do not see him?  We do not see him now, but are we not in his presence when we have the gift of the Holy Ghost, one of the members of the Godhead, to lead and direct us in righteousness?  We are back in his presence, if we keep the commandments and do not longer live in sin; then we are in spiritual life.  That is an important thing in connection with baptism not generally understood.”[vi]

The Ministry of John the Baptist

The mission of John the Baptist was to get a people ready for the promised coming of the Messiah who would bring the gift of the Holy Ghost, and thus spiritual rebirth.  John’s preaching was to create an awaken people who would have sufficient faith to repent, be baptized, and accept Jesus as the Christ along with his baptism of fire.  Indeed, as Isaiah foretold, John would “Prepare . . . the way of the LORD,” and “make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).  In line with this, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elias.  Joseph Smith explained: “The spirit of Elias is to prepare the way for a greater revelation of God.”  This preparatory mission “is the Priesthood that Aaron was ordained unto.  And when God sends a man into the world to prepare for a greater work, holding the keys of the power of Elias, it was called the doctrine of Elias, even from the early ages of the world.”[vii]

The Baptist’s mission was similar to the prophet Elijah.  As Elijah’s mission was to “turn” Israel’s “heart back again” to God and the covenant (see 1 Kings 18:36-37), so with John the Baptist.  John’s message was “Repent [Gk., metanoeo] ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).   Metanoeo means in Greek to “note after, later,” “to change one’s mind,” “to adopt another view,” or “to change one’s feelings.”[viii]  Hence, John’s mission was to help the Jews change their hearts and minds by adopting a new view of the covenant and the coming of the Messiah who had the power to remit their sins.  In other words, John’s mission was to bring people to Christ and his kingdom.

The very manner of the Baptist’s dress would have reminded Israel of the prophet Elijah.  As Elijah was “girt with a girdle of leather about his loins” (2 Kings 1:8) so the  Baptist was dressed in a “raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins” (Matt. 3:4).

John ministered to the people under the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood which holds the keys of the preparatory gospel (D&C 84:26-27). The preparatory gospel “is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments” (D&C 84:27).  Indeed, the preparatory gospel prepares one for spiritual rebirth through the Melchizedek Priesthood ordinance of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Therefore, as part of his calling, John baptized the repentant (Matt. 3:6).

Though the preparatory gospel includes the remission of sins, it does not have power to actually remit sins in the fullest sense.  It can begin the process of remission of sins in the life of a sinner.  But a higher power is necessary for full remission of sins.  Full “remission of sins” comes “by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost” (D&C 19:31).  Therefore, only through the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood by which the gift of the Holy Ghost is given can full remission come.  Only through the Holy Ghost can man be cleansed from the effects of sin.

This is confirmed by Nephi: “the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 31:17).  Joseph Smith declared: “John’s mission was limited to preaching and baptizing; but what he did was legal; and when Jesus Christ came to any of John’s disciples, He baptized them with fire and the Holy Ghost.”[ix]   Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained further: “Thus the Aaronic Priesthood performs the outward ordinance of baptism, but it takes the Melchizedek priesthood to bring the inward and spiritual change by which sin and evil are burned out of a human soul as though by fire”[x]

In view of this, John taught the people of his day: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire” (Matt. 3:11).  The one coming was Christ.  It was his mission to bring the power whereby man may be free from the effects of sin.

The concept of cleansing by fire is brought up four times in John’s teachings.  First, speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees, John questioned: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7) In other words, who warns the snakes and other vermin of the fire used by farmers to clear his field after the harvest?  The answer is obvious: no one does!  So who warned the Pharisees and Sadducees of the fire that will come in the future that will cleanse the earth?  And why are they coming to John’s baptism?  They have not repented or changed their view of the Law of Moses or the coming of the Messiah.  Therefore, John declared that in order to avoid the future cleansing of this earth, they must “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8).

Second, the Jews cannot think that because they are descendants of Abraham that their salvation is secure.  Recall that Abraham’s descendants were to receive an “election of grace” (D&C 84:98-102; Rom. 11:1-5) which “has reference to one’s situation in mortality; that is, being born at a time, at a place, and in circumstances where one will come in favorable contact with the gospel.”[xi]  But this election did not promise and unconditional salvation to Abraham’s posterity!  They were promised that they would have the ordinances of the gospel necessary for full remission of sins.  They still must repent.  Therefore, the Baptist exclaimed that those who do not repent and follow God are like a tree that does not produce fruit.  He warned:  “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:9-10).

Third, has already been discussed.  Repentance and baptism does not cleanse the effects of sin.  Only through the gift of the Holy Ghost can sin be eradicated.   Thus John taught: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11).

Fourth, John taught that in the hand of the Savior is a fan or a winnowing fork.  By it “he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).  The imagery behind this statement is that of the farmer who using his winnowing fork throws threshed wheat into the air, allowing the kernels to fall to the ground while the lighter chaff is blown away by the light winds.  The wheat is then gathered while the chaff is burned.  The mission of Christ was to divide the wheat from the chaff, the repentant from the non-repentant.  The repentant will be cleansed by fire while the non-repentant will be destroyed by fire.

The Baptism of Jesus

Matthew’s section on the ministry of John the Baptist concludes with the baptism of Jesus.  Even Christ needed to submit to the preparatory gospel by being baptized.  When the Savior came to John, “John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”  To which the Savior replied, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:14-15).

In what way did the baptism of Jesus “fulfil all righteousness”?  The Greek word translated “righteousness,” is dikaiosunay, a legal term meaning the observance of law or the fulfillment of a duty.  In a religious sense it refers to proper conduct before God.[xii]  When the Savior declared that he needed to be baptized because it was a necessary part of being righteous, he was saying that it is part of our legal duty and proper conduct before God.

As previously noted, when one is baptized, he covenants with God to be obedient to all God’s commandments.  With this in mind, Nephi asked, “And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?”  He answered his own question, saying, “Know ye not that he was holy?  But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:7).

Thus, the Savior, like all of God’s children, had to enter into the strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life by being baptized.  Through baptism, the Savior covenanted to fully submit His will to the will of the Father.  The Savior honored his covenant with God which meant that if obeying the will of the Lord, the Savior suffered and died for man.  Abinadi stated: “Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7).

The concept of baptism is the complete submission of our will to the will of God.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell posed this question, “Why do we need outward ordinances, anyway?   God surely knows our inner thoughts and feelings, our hearts, minds, and intentions, and can judge us perfectly.  So why not judge us without reference to any outward ordinances?  After all, some in the world regard themselves as Christians but disdain any ordinances at all.”  He answered: “Ordinances, in fact, are required for several vital reasons.  To begin with, ordinances show our visible, outward obedience to the Lord and His plan of salvation.”[xiii]

Forty Days in the Wilderness

After the Savior’s baptism, he was led by the Spirit “into the wilderness, to be with God” (JST Matt. 4:1).  During this time, the Savior “fasted forty days and forty nights” (Matt. 4:2).  The only thing we are told as to what transpired between God and the Savior during the forty days is that the Savior “communed with God” (JST Matt. 4:2).  This story is reminiscent of the exodus of ancient Israel.  After the plagues forced Pharaoh to allow Israel to leave Egypt, the Israelites passed through the Red Sea (a symbol of baptism – 1 Corinthians 10:1-2) and then were taken to Mt. Sinai to be with God.

Further, the Savior’s going into the wilderness to be with God continues a theme established by Matthew in chapter two: Jesus is the Prophet that was to come that would be like Moses.  The Lord said to Moses, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee” (Deut. 18:18).  In chapter two, Matthew shows several similarities between the birth of Moses and the birth of Christ.  Just as there was an attempt to destroy the infant Moses by Pharaoh (Exodus 1) so Herod attempted to destroy the child Jesus (Matt. 2:16-18 ).  As Moses came from Egypt, so Jesus also came from Egypt where Joseph and Mary had fled to escape the butcherous hands of Herod’s soldiers (Matt. 2:13-15).  Now, in chapter three, just as Moses fasted forty days and nights on the mountain while he was with God, Matthew records a similar experience with Christ.  Further, like Moses who was taken to an “exceedingly high mountain,” was tempted by the devil (Moses 1:1,12), so Christ also was taken to an “exceedingly high mountain” where he was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11).

Though it is clear that during the forty days and nights, the Savior was instructed by God, it is evident that the instruction of the Savior was not complete at the end of the forty days for even during the period of temptation, the Savior was taken by the Spirit to the temple and to “an exceeding high mountain” (JST Matt. 4:5, 8).  The instruction through the entire period must have consisted of a variety of things relative to understanding his mortal mission.

It may also be that during this time, the Savior received the rest of the ordinances necessary for salvation.  Joseph Smith taught, “If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”[xiv]  Joseph Smith does not tell us when the Savior received those ordinances.  However, in light of the fact that this story continues the theme of Christ as the new Moses, it is interesting to note that on another occasion Joseph Smith taught that Moses received his temple ordinances while on a mountain: “The rich can only get them in the Temple–the poor may get them on the Mountain top as did Moses.”[xv]  Therefore, it seems probable that while in the wilderness, the Savior received his ordinances and thus communed with God.

The Temptations

Matthew records three temptations that the Savior suffered.  The temptations were intended to cast doubt within the Savior regarding his own divinity.  For example, as the Messiah, the Savior would claim to be the Jehovah of the Old Testament.  If he really was Jehovah he should have power to produce bread just as manna was brought forth by Jehovah in the Old Testament.  Though the Savior would eventually show to the world that he was the Messiah by multiplying bread (Matt. 14:15-21; 16:32-38) – the single miracle recorded by all four gospels as well as 3 Nephi –  it would not be at the insistence of Satan but according to the will of God.  Therefore the Savior said to Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 3:4).  Already, His baptismal covenant was being tested!

The testing of his baptismal covenant did not end there but continued through two more temptation experiences.  The last temptation is very reminiscent of the temptation faced by Moses when he was “caught up into an exceedingly high mountain.”  After he talked with God “face to face,” Satan appeared to Moses and said: “Moses, son of man [or, mortal man], worship me” (Moses 1:12).  Similarly, after Christ had been taken by the Spirit “into an exceeding high mountain” where he was shown “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” Satan appeared to Christ and said, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”  Christ, however, showed his discipleship by saying, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:8-9).

After the third temptation, Matthew states: “Then the devil leaveth him” (Matt. 4:11).   However, the Savior suffered further temptations before His death.  Matthew records that while on the cross, the chief priests, scribes, and elders mocked him saying, “He saved others; himself he cannot save.  If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him” (Matt. 27:41-42).  Once again, the “if” was used to cast doubt and prove His divinity.  Had he given in it would have been at the insistence of Satan and the world instead of the will of God.  The Savior did not succumb.

Galilee – Capernaum

Sometime after his wilderness experience, Matthew tells us that the Savior “departed into Galilee” (Matt. 4:12).  The first part of the Savior’s public ministry was in Galilee.  During New Testament times, Palestine was divided into five provincial or semi-provincial areas under Roman control.  From north to south these areas were named Galilee, Samaria, Perea, Judea, and Idumea.  The population of Judea was predominately Jewish while the other areas, including Galilee, were of mixed ethnic populations.  Yet, even in these areas, the majority of the population was Jewish.

Galilee is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee to the east, the Jezreel Valley (Valley of Armageddon) to the South, and Phoenicia to the north.  Topographically, the Galilean landscape is dominated by hills and mountains occasionally interlaced by fertile valleys.  This area has the highest annual rainfall of the five areas—40 inches (1,000 mm) per year.  In some mountain areas the temperature drops below freezing for some periods during the winter, and generally these areas get some snow nearly every year.

At the time of Christ, the Galilean hills were littered with villages, mainly of Jewish population.[xvi]  Besides the villages, there were three major cities in the Galilee: Ptolemais, Sepphoris, and Tiberius.  Ptolemais (modern Acco) was located on the Mediterranean and had a very ancient history.  Sepphoris, which was located in the hill country in the southern part of Galilee was of more recent origin.  It was destroyed in the days of Herod the Great.  But when Christ was a young boy living in Nazareth, Herod Antipas, who inherited the Galilee after his father, Herod the Great, had died, rebuilt Sepphoris, making it his capital.  He brought carpenters, craftsmen, and artisans from all over to build the city making it “the ornament of Galilee.”  Sepphoris was located only 4 miles northwest of Nazareth and was probably where Joseph worked as a carpenter.  However, tiring of the winters, Herod Antipas built another city on the southwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee, a region of Galilee with a more moderate climate.  He located that city and named it Tiberius, after the Roman emperor.

Though forming the eastern border of Galilee, the Sea of Galilee is of a far more moderate climate than the rest of Galilee because its elevation is 700 feet (214 meters) below sea level.  The Sea of Galilee is located in a rift that extends from Lebanon to central Africa.  Much of the northern end of this rift is below sea level including the Dead Sea, the surface of which is 1300 feet (400 meters) below sea level.

The Sea of Galilee is really a lake some 14 miles (22 Kil.) long by 7 miles (11 Kil.) wide.  It is called by several names.  Its Old Testament name is “Chinnereth” (the Hebrew word for lyre–since it has the shape of an ancient lyre).  Sometimes it is called the “lake of Gennesaret” (e.g., Luke 5:1), after the plain of Gennesaret which lay on its middle western shore.  Sometimes it is called “the sea of Tiberias” (e.g., John 6:1) since Tiberias was the major port on the lake.

When the Savior began his public ministry, the Sea of Galilee was surrounded by several villages and a few cities, many with ports on the shores of the lake.[xvii]  As noted, the most important harbor was Tiberias, on the southwestern shore of the lake.  Two of the cities of the Decapolis[xviii], which borded the Sea of Galilee on the southeast side, had ports on eastern and southern side of the lake: Hippos and Gadara.  Most important to the New Testament were the fishing villages of the northern half of the lake: Magdala, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Gergesa.  Three of the Savior’s apostles–Peter, Andrew and Philip–were born in Bethsaida. (John 1:44).  Mary Magdalene (i.e., Mary of Magdala) came from Magdala.  And, according to Matthew, towards the beginning of his public ministry, the Savior moved from Nazareth “and dwelt in Capernaum” (Matt. 4:13).

From Archaeological evidence, it appears that Capernaum was first established some 150 years before the time of Christ.  It was located on a branch of the Via Maris trade route.  Because of its location on the Via Maris and because it was a border town, at the time the Savior lived in Capernaum, a customs post and a Roman garrison commanded by a centurion were stationed within the village.  A synagogue built by a Roman centurion (Luke 7:5) was located in the central part of the village near the harbor.  Along the shoreline of Capernaum ran a 2,500 foot (762 meters) promenade supported by an 8-foot-wide (2 ½ meters) seawall.  Several piers extended from the promenade into the lake.

From the size of the harbor it can be seen that Capernaum was an important fishing village.  At the time of Christ, fishing was not a free enterprise.  All fishing industry was “controlled by the ruling elites.  The local rulers (kings, tetrarch, prefect) sold fishing rights to brokers (telonai, commonly translated ‘tax collectors’ or ‘publicans’), who in turn contracted with fishers.  The fishers received capitalization along with fishing rights and were therefore indebted to the brokers.  The location of Matthew’s (or Levi’s) toll office in Capernaum–an important fishing locale–probably identifies him as just such a contractor of royal fishing rights.”[xix]

The Savior Begins His Ministry

Having moved to Capernaum, the Savior began his public ministry.  Matthew records: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).  Matthew further records that “Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matt. 4:23).   As he did so, “his fame went throughout all” the land and “there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan” (Matt. 4:24-25).

Jesus Call’s His First Disciples

To help in this ministry, the Savior called four disciples, Peter, Andrew his brother, James, and John his brother.  These four men along with Zebedee, the father of James and John, had formed a fishing business.  They would have contracted with the local broker (probably Matthew) for the fishing rights of a portion of the lake.

Matthew records the following: “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.   And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.  And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.  And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.  And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him” (Matt. 4: 18-22).

The calling of these four men reflects a theme found throughout the gospel of Matthew: the cost of discipleship.  When Peter and Andrew were called, “they straightway left [their] nets, and followed him” (Matt. 4:20).  Likewise, when James and John were called “they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him” (Matt. 4:22).  For these men, the cost of their discipleship included giving up their occupation and family.  The message of the calling of the disciples is that the cost of discipleship demands that we give up whatever is required by God and whatever holds us back from full dedication to the kingdom.

John 1:35-51

In the gospel or “testimony” (see JST) of John, additional information is given regarding the ministry of John the Baptist.  As the other gospels portray, John had confrontations with the Jewish leaders (John1:19-28).  And as the other gospel portray, John testifies that Jesus came to John to be baptized (John 1:29-34).  Additionally, John reveals that the Baptist was successful in engaging disciples.

Jesus’ First Disciples

It was the mission of the Baptist to bring men to Christ.  Therefore, John took every occasion to direct his disciples to Jesus.  According to Gospel of John, the day after the Savior was baptized, the Baptist was at the place of baptism with two of his disciples, Andrew and John (John 1:35).[xx]  Sometime after the Baptist and his disciples had gathered, the Savior came to the place of baptism.  When the Baptist saw the Savior, he directed the attention of his disciples towards the Savior by saying: “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)  This expression seems to equate Jesus with the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law.  In other words, John was saying that Jesus was the sacrifice that all the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law foreshadowed.

Immediately, the two disciples focused their attention upon the Savior.  When the Savior left, the two disciples “followed Jesus” (John 1:37).  As the pair followed Jesus, “Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?”  The disciples responded, “Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?”  The term Rabbi was what disciples called their teachers at that time.  It seems that the two disciples desired to spend time with the Savior in order to be instructed by Him.  John states: “They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour [4 PM]” (John 1:39).

Of this incident, Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “The spirit of our Lord’s invitation to the young truth seekers, Andrew and John, is manifest in a similar privilege extended to all. The man who would know Christ must come to Him, to see and hear, to feel and know.  Missionaries may carry the good tidings, the message of the gospel, but the response must be an individual one.  Are you in doubt as to what that message means today?  Then come and see for yourself.  Would you know where Christ is to be found? Come and see.”[xxi]

Peter

After this, Andrew sought out his brother, known by Christians as Peter but whose real name was Simon.  John records: “He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:41).

The Hebrew word, messiah, literally means “anointed one.”  The view that comes to mind for a Christian who hears the word, messiah, or its Greek equivalent, christ, is the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  However, this was not the view held by anyone at the time of Jesus’ ministry.  The word messiah conjured up other things.  In the Old Testament, the word messiah could refer to prophets, kings, and priests, since all were anointed to perform their various duties (e.g., 1 Sam. 16:6; Lev. 4:3; Psalms 105:15).  The general consensus among scholars is that the people viewed the Messiah to be a royal messiah.

What Andrew conceived the Messiah to be when he uttered to Peter, “We have found the Messias” we can hardly know.  But it seems to be certain that none of the twelve apostles initially had an accurate understanding of the messianic role Jesus of Nazareth came to fulfill.  This is seen in the following story recorded by Matthew.  Sometime after the Savior began his public ministry (perhaps two years later), the Savior gathered the twelve together and asked them, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Matt. 16:13)  They replied that the people considered Jesus to be no more than a prophet of God. The Savior asked the twelve, “Whom say ye that I am?”  Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16).  The correct answer!  The Savior testified that Peter’s witness of the Savior’s messianic role and divine sonship came by revelation and not through the witness of the miracles he had seen the Savior perform.

Yet, further reading of this story reveals that though Peter had a testimony that Jesus was the Christ, he did not understand what role the Savior would play as the Messiah.  After Peter bore his testimony of Jesus, Matthew tells us: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21).  This is the view Christians have of the messianic role of Jesus.  But apparently, this did not fit the preconceived idea of the messianic role Peter held for “Peter took [Jesus], and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matt. 16:22).  The Savior severely chastised Peter for this view.  Though later the Savior continued to teach the twelve of his divine mission as the Messiah (see Matt. 20:17-19; 26:2), it appears that the twelve did not fully understand the Savior’s messianic role until after his resurrection.

Though we do not know precisely what Andrew, or any of the twelve initially conceived the messianic role to be, what is sure is that Andrew, like Peter came to know later, knew Jesus was the Messiah.  He led his brother to see Jesus.  When the Savior first gazed upon Peter, he said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas” (John 1:42).  Cephas is the Aramaic word for “rock.”  The Joseph Smith Translation revises this verse in this way: “And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jona, thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, A seer, or a stone.  And they were fishermen. And they straightway left all, and followed Jesus” (JST John 1:42).  The name, Peter, given to Simon by the Savior was a foreshadowing of his future role as the Prophet and leader of the Church on earth after the resurrection of Christ.

Philip and Nathanael

John records that soon after the Savior engaged Peter, Andrew, and John as disciples, Jesus left the Jordan valley and went to Galilee.  After he arrived in the beautiful hills that surround the sweet water lake, he met and converted another man whom He would make one of his disciples.  His name was Philip.  “Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter” (John 1:44).

Philip had a friend named Nathanael whom he wanted to introduce to the Savior.  Leaving the Savior, he found Nathanael sitting under a fig tree.  Fig trees were common throughout ancient Palestine (as they are today).  With its large, broad leaves, the fig tree provided ample shade to any desiring to get out of the hot Middle Eastern sun.  If Nathanael was doing something more than escaping the heat of direct sunlight is not known.  But what is sure, as our account reveals, is that the Savior had supernatural knowledge of Nathanael’s whereabouts.

Philip said to Nathanael, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Hearing the Jesus came from Nazareth, a small, little village of no consequence in the highlands, Nathanael replied: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?  Philip saith unto him, Come and see” (John 1:43-44).  As Philip and Nathanael approached the Lord, Jesus said of Nathanael: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  Confused, Nathanel responded, “Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.”  Nathanael was surprised, then impressed!  It was apparent to him that Jesus was no ordinary man.  All doubts as to whom Jesus was vanished in light of the extraordinary gift exhibited by the Savior.  He exclaimed, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”  Because of his immediate but sincere belief, the Savior promised: “Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.  And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man”(John 1:46-51).

Although the Savior was directly addressing Nathanael, in both the English and Greek text, the original language of the New Testament, the “ye” of verse 51 is plural, meaning that what he was saying to Nathanael was meant for all the twelve (and perhaps by extension to all those who believe on Jesus Christ).  The imagery of angels ascending and descending comes from the dream of the ladder given to Jacob (see Gen. 28:12).  But was not a ladder that twelve would see angels ascending and descending upon but the Savior himself.  Through these promised future spiritual experiences, the twelve would come to understand the true messianic role of Jesus of Nazareth.  They would learn that He is the true mediator between heaven and earth.  He is the true path that leads to eternal life.  Indeed, the twelve would come to understand that the messianic role of Jesus is to save all who would believe on His name from sin and bring them back into the presence of God, the Father.

Endnotes

[i]  Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah (The Messiah Series, vols. 2‑5. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979‑1982), 1:1.

[ii]  Harold B. Lee, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City: The Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000), p. 196.

[iii]  Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith [Ed.] Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), p. 162.

[iv]  Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses (George D. Watt [Ed.], 26 vols. Liverpool: F. D. Richards, et al., 1854-1886), 7:265.

[v]  Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, Apr. 1977, p. 61; orEnsign, May 1977, p. 44.

[vi]  Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith (3 Vols., Bruce R. McConkie [Ed.], Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-56), 2:328.

[vii]  Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,  p. 335.

[viii]  Gerhard Kittle (Ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 Vols.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), 4:976.

[ix]  Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 336.

[x]  Bruce R McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), p. 347.

[xi]  “Election,” in LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 662-663.

[xii]  Kittle, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:192,198.

[xiii]  Neal A. Maxwell, Lord, Increase Our Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994), p. 74.

[xiv]  Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 308.

[xv]  Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W Cook (Eds), Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company), pp. 119-120.

[xvi]  For a concise history and societal treatise concerning Galilee, see Richard A. Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (Valley Forge, PN: Trinity Press, 1996).

[xvii]  See Mendel Nun, “Ports of Galilee: Modern Drought Reveals Harbors from Jesus’ Time,” Biblical Archaeology Review (July/August 1999, Vol. 25, No. 4), pp. 18-31, 64.

[xviii]  The Decapolis (Gr. for ‘ten cities’) was a region of ten Hellenistic cities that were unified only by their Hellenistic character.  They have often been portrayed as a league of independent cities.  But there is no ancient documentation that demonstrates this.  Hippos and Gadara were to nothern most cities of the Decapolis and were located on the souther-eastern region of the Sea of Galilee.

[xix]  K. C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), p. 106.

[xx]  Andrew is the only one of the two specifically named (vs. 40).  But from earliest times, it has been generally conceded that John, the author of the gospel, is the other disciple.

[xxi]  James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (15th ed., rev. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑-day Saints, 1977), p. 151.