The following is a reading from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.
“John [the Baptizer] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”
Here are some things to consider about this reading:
When John the Baptist said, “I myself did not know him,” there should be an understanding that John was the cousin of Jesus. They were 6 months apart in age, so prior to John the Baptist dressing in animal skins and eating locusts and honey in the wilderness, John and Jesus played together as children at family gatherings. John knew Jesus, but John did not know Jesus as the Messiah.
In this first chapter of John’s Gospel there is no indication that John the Baptist baptized Jesus at all. We only know what he told the Pharisees who came to ask him why he baptized with water (or anything for that matter), if he was not the Messiah (Christ). John then said there was one who was greater than he, whom he had seen the Holy Spirit set upon. The next day he identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. This means John was symbolically baptizing with water at Bethany beyond the Jordan the day before. It is in Matthew (chapter 3) that we read that John baptized Jesus, with this being the same day that John announced Jesus as the Lamb of God, the next day after John addressed the Pharisees.
When John the Baptist said, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him,” where “him” was the relative known to John as Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph the carpenter, the key word to realize is “remained.” The Greek word written by John the Apostle is “emeinen,” which is a form of the verb “menó,” meaning “to stay, abide, remain, await, continue, endure, and live.” As such, the Holy Spirit was perceived to be as a light shining down from the sky like the fluttering of wings, as one can see in a dove landing. For this light of holiness to “remain” on the one known as Jesus, it states that Jesus had an aura or halo surrounding him, one which would not leave his being. It lived with him, as Jesus and the Holy Spirit were forever to be one.
To grasp this difference, from Jesus the boy grown into a man, the relative of John the Baptizer, remember how many amazing feats (while naturally explained) are perceived by witnesses (including those receiving sudden powers that amaze) as from a higher power. These instances do come upon people, in many places at many times, but they do not remain as a sudden power eternally possessed by those who were seen to perform amazing feats. Those can be interpreted as the presence of the Holy Spirit for a temporary use; so once that purpose is fulfilled, the ability to claim the Holy Spirit’s presence is lost. Certainly, that one-time presence will cause those who have that experience to seek it permanently. This is why John made the proclamation the next day when he saw Jesus walk past: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The Holy Spirit could still be perceived by John in Jesus.
Now, this view of Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit is fairly easy for Christians to grasp. That which is less graspable is the concept that Jesus was not constantly filled with the Holy Spirit, such that his cousin could not perceive the halo of the Holy Spirit constantly surrounding him prior to his coming to the Jordan River. While conceived to fill holy and saintly missions in life, and although Jesus was constantly pious and in communication with God, he was like all children – not quite ready for “prime time,” with lessons still to be learned. What may be most difficult to grasp is how Jesus had to do the work of God first, proving his love, devotion and commitment to God as his Father. He was ready to be permanently rewarded for his devotion when John baptized him in the Jordan River that day.
This means it is worthwhile to understand why John would then say, “And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The Greek word “Huios” (which is capitalized) means, “Son,” also means (according to Strong’s) “hyiós – properly, a son (by birth or adoption); (figuratively) anyone sharing the same nature as their Father. For the believer, becoming a son of God begins with being reborn (adopted) by the heavenly Father – through Christ (the work of the eternal Son).” This means John is identifying Jesus as “one sharing the same nature” of God, because the Holy Spirit of God has remained in Jesus.
Only from this constant presence of God within one’s being – as it was with Jesus – can one “baptize with the Holy Spirit.” John baptized with physical water, but God baptized Jesus with the presence of Himself, meaning His Holy Spirit then became a permanent extension of God on the earthly plane – for the purpose of touching others and cleansing them of their sins. Because God baptized Jesus with His presence, Jesus could then pass this presence on to others – seen in the miracles attributed to Jesus. Still, since only God can baptize with His Spirit, it was God’s miracles projected through the Son Jesus.
From this calling of Jesus the Son of God after his baptism, to the next day referring to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” there is a purpose in this change. The Greek word “Amnos” (also capitalized) means “Lamb,” but infers “a lamb (as a type of innocence, and with sacrificial connotation)).” The point of this reference is to state (emphatically via capitalization) that being identified as a “Sacrifice to God” is how one becomes the “Son of God.” Jesus “Sacrificed” his self-ego so that the Holy Spirit of God could be one with him, with the halo’s shine projecting this holy presence of God. This was a statement that Jesus was no longer a mere human being, but a most holy priest of God. John was a mere human being (albeit a pious one), who could only symbolically cleanse Jews of their sins with water. Had Jesus maintained his own self-ego, he would be another John the baptizer with water. However, after becoming a “Sacrifice to God,” God could baptize others with His Holy Spirit, through his being that Sacrificial Lamb.
Because John announced that God spoke to him, saying, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (which was Jesus), two of John’s disciples began to follow the “Sacrificial Lamb of God.” When Jesus turned and saw those disciples walking behind him along the road, his asking, “What do you seek?” (or “What are you looking for?”), they responded by saying the words, “where you abide.” Modern translations have applied a question mark to those words, largely due to the word “where” implying a question; but the reply can be also read as the disciples saying they sought the same Holy Spirit within them as that which abode in Jesus. They sought to be “where you stay” holy, or “where the Holy Spirit remains.”
Here, it is vital to grasp that the answer the disciples gave proposed the Greek word “meneis,” which is a form of the same word we discussed earlier, when the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and remained or abode with Jesus. That word spoken by John was “emeinen,” with both words rooted in the same “menó.” This means the disciples were not looking to follow Jesus to find out where he lived in Galilee, but they were looking for a “Rabbi” or “Teacher,” who would teach them how to forever receive the Holy Spirit and have it live within them, just as John said it was living within Jesus.
In response to the disciples, we read how Jesus simply said, “Come and see.” This has been used in modern times as an advertising ploy (especially for seminaries, using an exclamation point) as a command to witness the beauty of a place, as if Jesus living in Nazareth was so phenomenal that the disciples had to see for themselves how beautiful a home he had. Certainly, that is not the point of what Jesus said, which means the point of what the disciples asked (as to why they would then follow Jesus and not John the Baptist) had nothing to do with a town, region, or building of the world. They wanted to know how the halo remained with Jesus, so Jesus invited them to “Come and see” for themselves what the presence of the Holy Spirit was like.
The Greek word “Erchesthe” (again capitalized) written by John means, “Come,” but it also implies an arrival, an entering, an expectation, and/or a growth that follows the act of “Coming.” It is not so much a command or order to “Follow me,” as much as it is a promise for what will happen if the work of a Sacrificial Lamb is repeated. Then, one will experience the answer to their question.
To this regard, John wrote the future tense form of the word “horaó” – “opsesthe” – which is stating that more than physical sight will be the result of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. The word horáō implies: “to properly, see, often with metaphorical meaning: “to see with the mind” (i.e. spiritually see), i.e. perceive (with inward spiritual perception).” [Strong’s word 3708.] This means that Jesus basically said, “If you arrive to the state of the Holy Spirit upon you, then you will have the insight of the Mind of Christ … just like I have.”
Following this exchange and the deeper meaning it conveys, we then read John write, “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” This, like those just prior, is a literal statement of specific time, relative to the event that occurred two thousand years ago. Knowing that the disciples walked to Nazareth with Jesus and staying overnight, before leaving him around four in the afternoon does little to expand one’s faith in God. This is because the literal limits the word of God and blinds those who have little faith from seeing the depth of truth that literal words present.
The most literal translation of John 1:39b (according to Bible Hub’s Interlinear projection of the Greek in two forms, and the word-by-word translation into English) says:
“They went so and saw where he abides and with him they stayed the day that the hour it was about tenth.”
Beyond a literal statement of Jesus and a couple of disciples (who actually lived in Galilee) walking back to the region in which they all lived, and telling what happened over a two-day period, this statement becomes a jump into the future that was known to John. It is even prophetic, in the sense that all disciples who have ever “arrived and seen where Jesus remained” have been equally filled with God’s Holy Spirit and given the Mind of Christ. This says that Andrew and Simon Peter would indeed be filled with the Holy Spirit and would also see with the Mind of Christ, once they would have that holiness of God remain with them on a future specific day. (We know this day as the Pentecost.)
The “ten o’clock hour” is called by the Jews “the fourth hour” (fourth hour past 6:00 AM). Because John wrote “about the tenth,” this can be an allusion to Acts 2, when Peter proclaimed to the pilgrims that the disciples were not drunk, because it is only “the third hour” (9:00 AM). Further, because John wrote the Greek word “dekatē,” which infers “the tenth part” (rather than 10:00 AM), which implies “the first part,” which becomes a general indication of a morning hour (24/10=2.4 hours after sunrise, or 8:25 AM). Therefore, “about the tenth” would truly be a statement if the specific time were 9:45 AM or 8:25 AM, as both would match Acts 2 with John 1:39b.
This becomes an important indication of when the Holy Spirit descends onto His chosen servants, who are chosen due to proven devotion. It does not occur at night time, but during the day. To say that the tenth hour is the time of day, the indication is when the sun is high in the sky, when light abounds. More than a simple statement of when the disciples left Jesus in his home in Nazareth (a true statement as well), the Word of God is certainly not limited to a simple understanding.
Finally, when Simon Peter is called by Andrew (his brother) and told that they had found the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth, Simon Peter went to see Jesus. This says that Andrew lived in Galilee and Peter had not traveled to Bethany beyond the Jordan, as a disciple of John the Baptist. His brother had, and Andrew had heard John the Baptist make his proclamation of Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit, as well as calling him the Lamb of God. Andrew has been one who likewise saw the presence (aura) surrounding Jesus, so he told this to his brother with conviction. Still, Simon Peter had to see this presence for himself.
When Jesus made his announcement that Simon would be called Peter (Cephas, meaning Rock), he addressed Simon as the “son of John” (in Greek, “ huios Iōannou”). Some have made this read as “Jonah,” which is another form of the name John. As Simon Peter was probably older than both Jesus and John the Baptist, it would be an impossibility that Simon Peter was an actual “son” of the Baptist. However, the use of “son” does not point to Jesus knowing who the father of Simon was, as if the Holy Spirit led him to know Jonah was Simon’s father.
The use of “huios” is to be understood more as an “attendant” of John, which makes a disciple be the “attendant” of a leader or teacher. This means Jesus identified Simon as one who was devoted to John the Baptist, as was Andrew and a second disciple (probably Phillip). This becomes the model for all subsequent Christian churches, where a rabbi is replaced with a father-figure priest, with all underlings referred to as “my son.” It becomes a statement of a Father-son, Teacher-student relationship, more than the physical lineage of Simon to the father who sired him.
It should be noted that Jesus did not refer to his disciples as his sons, while he regularly referred to himself as the Son of the Father. In John 13:33, Jesus referred to his disciples as “little children,” which was a term of endearment; but the implication is no one should be devoted to serving a human father, as a son. Instead, we are to all become sons of God, through the Holy Spirit rewarding a servant with the Mind of Christ (which can only come through realizing Jesus Christ offers us the way to “Come and see”).
Let me add one point that I see as the most mistaken part of this reading, which comes from John the Baptist saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” So many people wrongly believe that because Jesus was born and because Jesus was holy his mere presence in the world meant the washing of all believers of their sins. This is wrong and not what John said.
John pointed out “Here is the Sacrificial Lamb,” which is a model for all who wish to be disciples that will likewise be replicas of Jesus, having the Holy Spirit lite upon theme and remain. When John then said it is “God who takes away the sins of the world,” this tells how one (like Jesus) turns away from being an ego-driven sinner, in a world that is pure sin waiting to happen (any volunteers?). It says that Jesus made the sacrifice to serve God, just as an innocent Lamb allows its blood to be spilled for the benefit of others. It is the presence of God in such Lambs that washes away sins in a real way. The Blood of Christ must be painted upon each doorway to each faithful human’s soul, so that the Sacrificial Lamb’s act will make the angel of [mortal] death pass over and spare that firstborn, Son of God. That is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which comes from God and IS God living within one of His servants … like Jesus and all his Apostles and Saints. The statement then says: “You (and only You) are responsible for washing Your worldly sins away, which is possible through the sacrifice of your self-ego, a devotion to God, and a dedication to innocence and purity.
Having a bobble-head Jesus on the dashboard of your car does nothing towards forgiving your sins.