Period of General Exploration


Jesus Reveals Himself as the Messiah



As John had been sent to prepare the way for Jesus, it was easy to see that his first thought would be to direct toward Him the religious movement inaugurated through his zeal. On the other hand, after his solemn and oftrepeated declaration, it was quite natural that the slightest breeze should shake down the ripened fruits of the theocratic tree, and deposit them in the hands of the Messiah as the firstfruits of the New Covenant. Hence, instead of retiring, Jesus had only to await decisive events. They were not long in coming.

A few days later, John, who continued his ministry on the banks of the Jordan, saw Jesus as He passed. "Behold the Lamb of God!" he cried out in his enthusiasm. A look of deep meaning must have accompanied these words. Two disciples who had doubtless heard his former testimony, but who, through a sentiment of respectful tenderness, still followed their master, were moved by them. John's exclamation meant: "Go to Him Whom I point out to you." They obeyed, and began to follow Jesus. One of them was called Andrew, and the other, who modestly passes as anonymous, was John, the author of the fourth Gospel. Jesus heard them coming, and, turning, received them kindly as they hesitated to approach Him. "What seek you?" He said to them. They replied, "Rabbi" (which is to say, being interpreted, Master), "where dwellest Thou?" It is the first word the beloved disciple spoke to the Master; and his heart has not forgotten it. He seeks to reproduce it, as in its original text, merely explaining to his Grecian readers the signification of the solemn title of Rabbi which their first enthusiasm gave to the Saviour. For Andrew and John, indeed, Jesus could not yet be the expiatory Lamb seen by the prophetic eye of John the Baptist; but He was the Master, the Teacher, He Who was to initiate them into the new life. This is why, though discreetly manifesting a desire for a special communication, they already presented themselves as disciples.

Jesus said to them: "Come and see." And they came and saw where He abode, in a cave in the desert, beneath the shelter of some leafy bush or in the hospitable home of a friend. It was about the tenth hour of the day, four o'clock in the afternoon1, that the disciples went to Jesus. It is evident that this was a decisive moment in the life of the Evangelist and that his memory of it is quite accurate. They spent the remainder of the day listening to the Master. We do not know the subject of this conversation; but its result is conclusive. His hearers knew that, despite His obscure past, His humble state, His simple manners, the Workman of Nazareth was, indeed, the Messiah announced by John the Baptist and impatiently awaited by Israel.

Filled with joy, each one2 set out to find his brother, in order to share with him this good fortune. James must, have followed John to the banks of the Jordan, as Peter had followed Andrew. These ardent, generous men all awaited and sought with impatience the Saviour of Israel. Andrew was the first to meet his brother. "We have found the Messias," he said to him; this word, eurhka, I have found, was an exclamation appropriate not only to science, but also to faith, in which, too, discoveries are possible and wherein the realization of hopes is greeted with emotions. Andrew utters it in as great a transport as Archimedes, and his brother Simon is so greatly astonished that he hastens at once to behold, with his own eyes, the man who arouses such enthusiasm.

It was at eventide that Simon was brought into the presence of Jesus. The youthful Master looked upon this new disciple, and, discerning beneath the coarse exterior of the Galilean fisherman an energetic, generous soul, He declares to him: "Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter," or more exactly in SyroChaldaic, a fragment of rock. It was the word of God speaking a prophecy and creating! At that time its deep meaning was not understood. But Jesus will repeat it at a future time, and will announce to the son of Jona that by His omnipotence He has made him the foundation stone of the new society, the immovable rock destined to uphold the Church against the most violent storms. Meanwhile, this change of name signified that the Master took possession of the disciple, and that a new calling was to commence for Peter.3 Thus it was that the Kingdom of God was inaugurated. It already counted three proselytes. The movement was to spread with rapidity.

The next day Jesus, having resolved to go back toward Galilee, where He had decided to enter upon His public life, met Philip of Bethsaida, in conversation perhaps4 with Andrew and Simon, both of whom were his compatriots. "Follow me," He said to him, as if promising him that He would complete on the way the demonstration which his two friends had begun. Philip followed Him and, ere long, he, too, shared all their hopes and convictions and was impressed like them with the necessity of proclaiming the Great Tidings.

At the same moment, Nathanael of Cana, who was probably another of John's disciples, was returning to his own village, his heart filled with the religious feelings which he had experienced on the banks of the Jordan. Philip, who knew him more intimately, sought for him on the way and overtook him. "We have found Him," said he, "of Whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth." This gives us a key to the conversation Jesus had with Philip and his companions. Moses and the prophets are the sources whence, at the beginning as well as in the middle and at the close of His career, the Master seeks the demonstration of His Messianic5 dignity. Philip is mistaken in designating Jesus as a Nazarene and the son of Joseph; He is neither. The prophecies, had he well understood them from the Master's lips, would have informed him otherwise. But he reasons here according to appearances and in keeping with public opinion. The Evangelists themselves, who know the history of His conception and birth, always call Him Jesus of Nazareth and son of Joseph; yet, though lending themselves thus to the language of the people, they never compromise the real facts of the Gospel history.

Nathanael had just then stopped beneath a figtree, perhaps in meditation on the deep truths presented to his mind by the preaching of John the Baptist. In the moral life there are such moments of delight when the soul in search of God meets Him in the midst of an outpouring of His grace, hears His voice, and shares in His life. In such a state was Nathanael, and we shall see his astonishment that Jesus should know of it. His surprise will be so great that he will declare Him to be the Son of God for the sole reason that He had the power of penetrating the secrets of his soul.

On hearing the explicit declarations of Philip, Nathanael, like a man of reflection, well versed in the Scriptures, makes this simple response: "Can anything of good come from Nazareth?" It was at Bethlehem, in fact, that the Messiah was to be born, and it was from Jerusalem that He was to go forth to the conquest of the world. Nazareth was nothing more than a markettown with an unsavoury reputation. "Come and see," returned Philip. This freed him from all argumentation. When one can ascertain a fact merely by opening the eyes, or by putting out the hand to touch it, it is superfluous to waste time in reasoning as to its possibility. Simply by manifesting Himself to an upright soul, Jesus proves His identity.

Nathanael no longer resisted Philip's urgent invitations. When Jesus beheld him approaching, He said aloud: "Behold an Israelite, indeed, in whom there is no guile." Nathanael heard Him; but as little moved now by the praise spoken of him as he was shortly before by his companion's enthusiasm, he coldly replies: "Whence knowest Thou me?" And Jesus, nothing hurt by this somewhat savage honesty, says: "Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the figtree, I saw thee." In this last word there was an allusion to some secret of conscience of which we know nothing, but which Nathanael saw at once, since he stood there amazed, troubled, transported. That Jesus should have seen him from afar, through many intervening obstacles, meditating or praying beneath the figtree, is not what surprises him most; he could, moreover, have demanded proof of this assertion; but that the Master's eye should in one instant penetrate into the depths of his soul and read there the cause of his emotion, a mystery of reconciliation, of love, or of sacrifice: this is superhuman and beyond the reach of all objections. "Rabbi," cries Nathanael, "Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!" He Who has the same power of sight as God must be the Son of God. But the Son of God is the Messiah, and the Messiah is the King of Israel. Rightly, then, does Nathanael, the true Israelite, according to Jesus, take pleasure in doing homage to his rightful king. The Lord says to him, "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the figtree, thou believest; greater things than these shalt thou see." And so does He encourage his growing faith, assuring him of stronger motives in future time. Whoever receives the first ray of the light of God has only to remain with eyes ever open and one grace will bring another, until in the end the soul is flooded with fascinating brilliancy. "Amen, amen,6 I say to you," continues Jesus, "you shall see the heaven opened and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." In Biblical symbolism, the opened heavens signify the assistance of God coming down to man,7 while, on the other hand, the heavens closed represent the absence of all Divine aid,8 and the approach of eternal justice.

The Messiah in making Himself known to the world is the manifest proof that the heavens, whence He has come down, are open above the head of mankind. We may even say that by His incarnation and life here below He has made earth the vestibule of heaven. Wherever He is, Angels surround Him, and, mounting up from the Son to the Father only to descend immediately, they disclose perfect union of these two Divine persons to whom they do homage. It is this union of Jesus with His Father that the disciples will be called upon to contemplate during the course of His public career, both in His miraculous works and in the charm of His discourses on truth. At this astonishing sight their convictions will be gradually strengthened until they are immovable.

Here, for the first time,9 Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man. The signification He attaches to this title is, indeed, that of offspring of humanity, in contrast with the title of Son of God, which Nathanael has just given Him. But the offspring He means is not the ordinary, but the preeminent offspring, the Man awaited and foretold, the head of the new humanity, consequently the Messiah. Yet this title is the most humble and for us the most consoling of all that He can use to impress us with the superiority of His nature. It veils, as it were, His Divine essence, and discloses to us only that fraternity of nature that unites every man with the Saviour as with a companion in trial, as with a brother who comes to save, as with a model of sanctity.

The five disciples whom Jesus had just selected were to be ever faithful to Him; for we shall find Nathanael again in the Apostle Bartholomew. But it would not do to hasten events. Before giving them any definite part in His ministry, He desired that the leaven He had placed in their souls should ferment. When the proper time of grace is come, He will notify them, and they will leave their nets and their families to devote themselves wholly to Him Who has led them beneath His yoke.


1 We follow here the Mosaic and Oriental manner of counting the hours. Their day began at six o'clock in the morning and ended at six o'clock in the evening; the remainder of the twentyfour hours was called night. Those who prefer to explain this text according to the juridical practice of counting the hours from midnight, suppose, it was then ten o'clock in the morning. In this interpretation, which is the less probable, they find a more complete sense for the remark in the Gospel: " They staid with Him that day." But that day merely signifies the rest of that day.

2 We think this is the meaning to be given to this passage, on account of the expressions used by the Evangelist: "He findeth first his brother Simon." Others think that both sought Peter, but that Andrew, who knew best his own brother's habits, was the first to find him

3 Instances of like changes of name are not rare in sacred history: e.g., Abram (exalted father) becomes Abraham (father of multitudes) (Gen. xxxii, 28); Jacob (supplanter) becomes Israel (the strong against God).

4 Verse 45 seems to imply that Philip's call to follow Jesus was occasioned by his relations with his two fellowcountrymen.

5 St. John v, 46; St. Luke xxiv, 27.

6 This is the first time we meet with this formula, "Amen, Amen, I say unto you." The word Amen, from Aman (it has been established), is often used as an adverb and signifies "certainly"; or, again, "may it be so." We may remark that it is never used in the Old Testament to affirm beforehand what was about to be said, but to assert more roundly what has been said (Numb. v, 22; Deut. xxvii, 15, etc.; II Esd. v, 13, etc.). The innovation is made by Jesus, and it is only in the Gospel of St. John that the Amen is twice repeated, in order to remove any doubt that might remain in the mind of the hearer.

7 Gen. xxviii, 1017; Ezech. i, 1.

8 Isa. lxiv, 14.

9 In the Synoptics he bears this title thirtynine times, and it is chiefly in Matthew and Luke that one finds the term. It is employed ten times in St. John. To imagine that Daniel vii, 13, has suggested to Jesus the idea of this denomination and to rely on Matt. xxvi, 164, is to misunderstand even the meaning of this expression created by the religious soul of the Master, and which the theology of the Fathers has so admirably analysed.

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