Jesus’ First Words: John

Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

“What are you seeking?…. Come and you will see”

These first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John (John 1:38-39) epitomize the entire book. And they highlight a huge difference between our way of presenting Christ, and his own way of revealing himself.

Take a red-letter Bible and look at the first six chapters of John. You can set the page options to red-letter here and do this online. Skim through it quickly. (Note that some commentators think the red letters in John 3 should end after verse 15.)

What do you notice about Jesus’ way of presenting himself there?

I see him being willing to let people wonder.

In those six chapters, I count thirty-six or so separate responses he made to others’ questions or requests, whether expressed or implied. Eight times he answered a question with a question. Twenty times he answered with some form of enigmatic, oblique statement that left the listener just as bewildered as before. Only eight of those thirty-sex answers were straightforward. Many of those are at the end of his conversation with the woman at the well (John 4), after he had already treated her to an extended series of oblique answers and questions answering questions.

Early in his ministry as recorded in John, Jesus gave straightforward, this-is-the-answer-you-wanted responses less than one-quarter of the time.

His first sermon, recorded in John 6, is really remarkable. He explains none of his major points, all of which were confusing, and he ends with a question. He lost a lot of followers over that one. He was okay with that. Remarkable, as I have already said.

Now there’s another side to Jesus’ questions we ought not overlook. Some of them were showing interest in the other person. “What do you seek?” is one of those. So while he was willing to let people wonder, Jesus was quick to let them know he cared about them.

Later in Jesus’ ministry, John shows him being more straightforward. We’re in John 14:4-9 here, and the first words are from Jesus:

“And you know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

A little later in the same mealtime, the disciples say (John 16:29), “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!”

Finally! He gives both questions and answers here. At least the answers are clearer than before.

If I were doing a complete study of John’s Gospel I would set forth another contrast. Jesus takes a considerably more direct approach with his antagonists than with his followers or potential followers. We could learn a lot by thinking about that, but I don’t want to go there right now. I prefer to wonder with you why Jesus was so slow to give direct answers to the people who were most likely to follow him.

In the spirit of what I think he might have been intending to do there, I’m going to leave that question for you to answer. Early in his ministry as John records it, Jesus frequently allowed his questioners, his followers, and his potential followers to remain wondering. Why did he do that?

Series Navigation (Jesus' First and Last Words):<<< Jesus’ First Words: Luke 4Jesus’ Final Words: Matthew 28 >>>

17 thoughts on “Jesus’ First Words: John

  1. My non theologian guess is that he wanted to protect the mission in the early stages. Folks were looking for the Messiah to stomp the Romans according to Malachi’s prophecy.. if Christ declared Himself too early, the mission ( death on the cross) may have been compromised.

  2. I hate to be so simplistic in these blogs really meant to exercise ones intellect rathern than get to the truth of a matter but Jesus answered questions with questions:


    Is this really such a difficult concept to understand? Some people he didn’t answer at all. Why not? Because they weren’t deserving of an answer and weren’t really interested in the truth anyway.

  3. Simplistic is okay, Anna.

    It leads to my next question: why don’t we ask more questions?

    (Not speaking of you specifically, of course.)

  4. Better question:

    Why don’t we accept the answers God’s word gives us so plainly rather than trying to intellectualize and twist every single word it says until it is all meaningless?

    The Bible is fairly simple to understand if you have an honest heart, are willing to really study and accept what it says and apply it in your life. It’s not rocket science – thank goodness!

    Jesus came to earth to teach us about his heavenly Father and how to do his will. He taught us how to preach and teach others about God’s Kingdom and what that kingdom is. Do all religions teach this?

  5. Some aspects of Christian belief are simple enough for a child. Some are deeper than any of us can plumb. The same is true for different passages of the Bible: there are simple ones and difficult ones.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “intellectualize,” but God said to love him with our minds, along with our hearts, souls, and bodies. It’s no sin to go deep in understanding.

  6. Prophecy is deep, but not impossible for any person willing to take the time to study, learn and apply. When we “intellectualize” something we make it an exercise in trying to be right and twisting things to OUR meaning and over thinking something to the point of exhaustion. Actually, when I read some of the posts here I stop and go “What did they just say and what on earth did they mean”? You NEVER say that about Jesus statements. They were simple. We shouldn’t try to over think what scripture means. But application of what we read is of the most importance.

    Getting the sense of the Bible has more to do with how honest hearted we are and less with how intelligent we are. That was what I was trying to express.

    Christianity got into trouble early on because philosophies of men began to creep in. With the death of the last of the apostles Chrisianity had apostacized from the simple truths of Jesus and christianity fractured into thousands of denominations. This was NOT what Jesus had in mind. TRUE Christianity would UNITE people into “on faith” this false Christianity did just the opposite. Bible prophecy shows that in the “last days” true worship – that taught by Jesus – would be restored.

  7. @Anna
    What you are saying is true enough, but the Word of God is so deep that we could spend lifetimes exploring its depths, as Tom says.

    The essential truths are plain enough for all to see and understand, if one has the heart for it, and the Spirit of God has broken through the barriers of sin and unbelief.

    At the same time, there is much more to God’s Word than what appears on the surface. I think this is deliberate on the Holy Spirit’s part – He has hidden away some of His deepest and most profound truths to make us puzzle over them and draw us into finding them out. He wants us to be good Bible students, and I think He is delighted when we spend times of deep and detailed study of what He has written to us. Just contributing to this blog has gotten me into such in-depth study to be able to provide answers to the sorts of questions and challenges we see in here.
    I just spent a few hours looking at Judas’ death in Matthew and Acts, trying to answer a particularly stubborn and entrenched atheist’s charge of contradiction. I didn’t do it for him, of course, but for our readers who are genuinely interested in the ‘reason for the hope that is in us’, who are looking to us to show them that their confidence in the Bible would not be misplaced should they seek to find God and come to faith in Him through it. I’m reminded of the man in Mark 9:14-29, who cried out in desperation “I believe! Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Reading it in context, it seems the man is saying “I want to believe, help me overcome my doubts”. The skeptics we encounter here are not like that man, but perhaps our readers are. They deserve the best we can give them. Who knows, someone might come up to us in heaven and ask us “Were you the [person] from Thinking Christian back in our days on earth? I read what you wrote, and it was enough to encourage me to look at Jesus Christ in a new light, and to accept Him as Lord and Saviour”. And the Lord will look at us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servants”.

  8. “I think this is deliberate on the Holy Spirit’s part – He has hidden away some of His deepest and most profound truths to make us puzzle over them and draw us into finding them out.” Your quote

    And I believe just the opposite:

    (John 16:12, 13) “I have many things yet to say to YOU, but YOU are not able to bear them at present. 13 However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide YOU into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to YOU the things coming.

    Jeus here is speaking about “holy spirit” – not puzzling us but guiding us into all the truth.

    God does not purposfully try to confuse us – he reveals himself openly to us when we take the time to look for him – as Jesus encouraged us to “keep seeking”. God is no “mystery” he openly and willingly reveals himself to us through his word and the life his Son lead.

    The commission of a Christian person to to do exactly what Jesus said: “Preach the good news of the KINGDOM in all the earth.”Matthew 24:14, Matthew 28:19,20. In order to preach the Kingdom we must know what it is. God’s word reveals it to honest hearted ones who are willing to LEARN.

  9. I didn`t say to confuse us; quite the opposite, to make us dig deeper. Yes, He will guide us, but He is not going to do our homework for us. Puzzle is not the same as confuse; on the contrary, our natural response to a puzzle is to want to solve it.

    If you want to engage in a quote war, Proverbs 25:2 comes to mind.

    And if you are going to quote only part of what I said, then you are not playing fair. We get that kind of game from skeptics; I expect better from another believer

  10. Anna, the Holy Spirit is not just a “holy spirit.” That’s biblically false. He is portrayed in the Bible as distinct from the Father and the Son, with the attributes of personality (he grieves, for example; and as you yourself quoted, he guides and speaks and leads) and the attributes of deity. That’s not just some impersonal attitude, feeling, sense, mood, or any other synonym or near-synonym of “spirit” with a lower-case s.

    And if you think God is not mystery, then you blaspheme. You are an idolater.

    For if God were completely comprehensible to human minds, then we would be equal to or greater than God. If that’s what you think, then you are off the deep end of theological danger.

    Is that really what you think?

  11. And why do you set “intellectualizing” up as an enemy, when you are clearly so much in favor of learning and studying?

    Sure, there are intellectual errors persons can make. It happens all the time. One of those errors, though, would be to think that everything is easily accessible without intellectual effort. Peter spoke of Paul’s letters being “hard to understand.” Paul spoke of the importance of diligence in study. Paul studied the philosophies of his day, too, and not just Scripture; though obviously only Scripture had authority to him.

  12. I do not believe God is a “mystery” in that he makes it impossible to understand or know him. Yes, there are things about God we will never understand and we will spend an eternity drawing close to him. However, what we need to know about God to GAIN SALVATION is revealed to us in his Word the Bible.

    In order to understand God better I think it helps to go to the beginning. Let me ask this question:

    What was God’s ORIGINAL PURPOSE for humans?

  13. Anna, please see the comment guidelines, especially item 3. I am not going to go off onto a new topic with you here, which you seem to be doing with that question. I’m not going to permit others to go there either, in view of the discussion policies.

    Sure, you’re practicing the virtue of question-asking, but I have the sense you’re initiating a Socratic dialogue on a topic that is otherwise unrelated to the original post.

    If you have something to say that’s relevant to this post, please go ahead and say it. Otherwise please respect the discussion policies.

  14. Note also that comment policy #10 applies to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    I have never made dialogue with cult members one of my blog’s purposes. One has to draw a line somewhere. So I have drawn that line.

  15. Back to the OP I think he asked some of his questions to help people think about what they were really looking for. Often also we’re not ready for the full answer, we might not have the right knowledge or experience to grasp the answer but through the process of seeking and discovering we can finally grasp what may have been impossible in the beginning.

    I think you have hit on an important point Tom. We tend to think we know that a person needs to know and accept certain pieces of knowledge and so we bombard them with facts and statements that they’re not in a position to evaluate because of where they are at that given moment. Sometimes there might be intellectual dead wood to clear but often there are motivational issues involved. What are they looking for? What are their felt needs? His response is to invite them to come and do life with him to find the answers they’re looking for. We can do the same thing. Invite people to come and see and do life together.

  16. Tom, you write, “I prefer to wonder with you why Jesus was so slow to give direct answers to the people who were most likely to follow him.”

    My answer is: relationship. To build trust. So that when people heard his answers, they heard them well, and were more inclined not just to know, but to follow.

    And I appreciate how you engage in that same kind of relational effort day in and day out at your website!

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