35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
38 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
39 He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
40 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
41 He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
48 Nathanael saith unto him, 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.
49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
51 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.
This is the testimony of those who first saw Jesus, possibly including John.
McGee: “This first chapter of John’s gospel has been lengthy and extremely important. The prologue presents the incarnation of the Word—He is God, He became flesh, He reveals the Father. Then He is introduced by witnesses. John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the revealer of God. Andrew testifies that Jesus is the Messiah. Philip testifies that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. Nathanael witnesses that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel.”
Who is the unnamed disciple that turned from following John the Baptist to following Jesus. In verse 37: “When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.” They stayed with Him that first night according to verse 39. The next day, one of the disciples is identified as Andrew, who promptly went and found his own brother, Peter.
So now we have three disciples: the unnamed disciple, Andrew, and Peter. The next day Jesus found Philip, who found Nathanael. Nathanael follows Jesus, but is not called into the inner circle of disciples. John’s gospel does not record the specific calling of the rest, but by the sixth chapter, Jesus refers to the whole twelve.
Matthew gives precedence to Simon Peter and Andrew, making two things seem out of order here. According to John’s gospel Andrew and the unnamed disciple were the first to follow Jesus. But according to Matthew He calls Simon Peter and Andrew first and then James and John. So Matthew covers not Philip, nor the following of Nathanael. The two different accounts are easily reconcilable as different times observed by different people. That is, at some point after their initial following of Jesus in the gospel of John, the brothers Peter and Andrew were fishing to earn their living. Coming by, Jesus called them and then did the same to James and John. This would make the account in John to be the first account of their meeting—not some later calling away from their fishing life.
Mark closely imitates Matthew, though Mark tells us of the calling later of Matthew (Levi) in chapter 2. In chapter three of Mark, the twelve are listed: Simon Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. Luke’s account in chapter 5 is slightly more detailed, but again covers the calling away from their livelihood of fishing, rather than their first meeting with Jesus.
John alone, then, is able to give us details given in none of the other gospels. Why? I think the explanation that most easily answers the question is that John is the unnamed disciple. Does this fit the narrative? Well, I could point to the other places in the gospel where John refuses to name himself. He is not at all shy about naming the others or giving credit to others, but he consistently refrains from naming himself in a public fashion.
1)When the disciples are partaking of the last supper, Jesus informs them that one disciple is a traitor. John is spoken of, not by name, but as the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13).
2)In John 18, the story of Simon Peter and “another disciple” are the only two to follow Jesus, and because “another disciple” was known to the high priest, he was allowed into the high priest’s courtyard.
3)When Jesus is upon the cross, in chapter 19, He saw his mother and “the disciple whom He loved”. John, alone among the disciples, was there with Jesus’ mother. Jesus gave the responsibility for the care of his mother to “the disciple whom He loved.”
4)In chapter 19, John also refers to himself yet again, “The man who saw it has given testimony and his testimony is true.” Again the “man” is most likely John.
5) In chapter 20, Mary Magdalene is running to Simon Peter and “the disciple whom he loved.”
6) In chapter 20 again, Peter and the “other disciple” started for the tomb and the “other disciple” outran Peter
7) In chapter 20 again, the “other disciple” outruns Peter. Peter is the first to go inside the tomb, yet when “the other disciple” goes in, he sees the empty tomb and he believes. I think this is a reference to John, and him saying that he was the first to understand the empty tomb. What a marvel!
8) In chapter 21, Peter wants to know what John’s end of life will be like, since the Lord prophesied such a dismal end for Peter himself. John is again referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and “the disciple”.
In summation, I think John was the first to follow Jesus, with Andrew, and I think John was the first to understand that the empty tomb meant a resurrected Lord. Counted with the listed appearances above, there are nine places where I find John referring to himself anonymously. I rejoice in the Bible study, but more so in the empty tomb!
McGee, J. Vernon (1990-01-30). Thru the Bible 1-5 (5 Volume Set) (Kindle Locations 100047-100050). Grupo Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Up from the Grave He Arose (Low in the Grave He Lay)
1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!
3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!
Text: Robert Lowry, 1826-1899
Music: Robert Lowry, 1826-1899
Tune: CHRIST AROSE, Meter: 65.64 with Refrain