The Earliest Followers of Jesus
by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
AFTER HIS forty days in the desert, Jesus began his work of winning men to the Kingdom of God. This plan was, at first, to talk to men one by one, until he could gather around him a little company of those who would believe in his words as a teacher, and follow him as their leader. The men who would be best fitted to become his first followers were some of those who had been already taught by John the Baptist. So from the wilderness Jesus turned his steps northward once more, and walked up the well-trodden road toward Bethabara, where nearly two months ago he had been baptized.
At Bethabara with John the Baptist was a group or company of young men, who were known as John's "disciples," that is, men who stayed with him to learn his teachings after the crowds had gone home. Some of these were fishermen from the Sea of Galilee who had left their nets and their work that they might listen to John.
John was standing with some of these men around him, when at some distance a stranger was seen walking up the road. These disciples of John did not know who this man was, but John remembered him, for the light flashing from the sky upon his face at the moment of his baptism and the voice from the heavens, had stamped Jesus upon his memory. He pointed to Jesus and said:
"Look! Yonder is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one of whom I spoke when I said, 'After me shall come a man who is greater than I, and who shall baptize not in water but in the Holy Spirit.' Upon this man I saw the Spirit coming down like a dove and resting upon him. And I tell you all that this man is the Son of God."
While John was speaking these words, Jesus passed out of sight, and John and his disciples saw no more of him that day. But on the next day, when John was standing with two of his followers, Jesus again walked by, and John again looked at him and said to the young men:
"Look! The Lamb of God!"
The two young men when they heard these words at once left John and walked toward Jesus. As they drew near, Jesus turned and said to them:
"Why do you follow me? What is it that you wish?"
They said to him: "Teacher, we wish to know where you are staying, so that we can see you and talk with you."
"Come and see," said Jesus; and he led them to the house where he was staying as a guest. In those times the Jews welcomed to their homes those who were on a journey and for a few days needed a resting place.
It was about ten o'clock in the morning when those two men sat down in the house with Jesus, and they stayed with him all the rest of the day until the sun went down, listening as he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. His words went straight to their hearts, and on that day those two young men believed in Jesus as their Messiah-Christ; that is, the King of Israel, long promised by the prophets of the Old Testament and long looked for by the Israelite people.
The two words Messiah and Christ mean the same. One is in the Hebrew language; the other in the Greek, and both words mean "The Anointed One," or "the King of Israel."
Thus, on the first day of his teaching Jesus found two followers. Both of these men were fishermen from the Sea of Galilee, not many miles away. One was a man named John, who was afterward called "the disciple whom Jesus loved," for of all his followers, John was the one nearest to Jesus. Long afterward, John wrote one of the most precious books in the Bible, "the Gospel according to John," which shows us, more than any other book, the inmost heart of Jesus.
The other young man was named Andrew. He thought at once of his older brother, Simon, who was also a follower of John the Baptist. He went to find Simon, and said to him:
"We have found the Messiah, of whom the prophets have spoken!"
He spoke in the Hebrew tongue, which was the language of his people. If he had spoken in Greek, the tongue in which the New Testament was first written, he would have said, "We have found the Christ;" that is, the King. Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus; and as soon as Jesus looked at him, before Andrew had spoken his name, he said:
"Your name is Simon, and you are the son of Jonas. But I will give you a new name. In the time to come you shall be called 'the Rock.'"
In the Hebrew language the word meaning "rock" is "Cephas" or "Kephas." In Greek it is "Peter." After this Simon was sometimes called Cephas, but more often Peter. He became a leader among the followers of Jesus, and many years later wrote one, perhaps two, of the books in the New Testament.
Jesus had now three followers who believed in him as their Lord and King; and the next day he found a fourth. This man was named Philip, and he came from a place called Bethsaida, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to Philip:
And he too joined the little company of the disciples or followers of Jesus. Philip at once thought of a friend of his own, a very good and pure man, who he thought would be glad to join him as a follower of Jesus. He went to look for him and found him standing under a fig tree. He said:
"We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law, and of whom the prophets spoke, the Christ. His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph; and he comes from the town of Nazareth."
Now Nathanael's home-town was Cana, only a few miles from Nazareth. Nathanael thought of Nazareth as a mean place. He could not believe that the great King of Israel, the Christ, should spring from such a village. He looked for him to come from some great city, like Jerusalem, or from Bethlehem, David's town. He did not know that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem; in fact he had never heard of Jesus, and he said:
"Do you tell me that anything good can come out of Nazareth?"
Now, Philip was not wise enough to tell Nathanael the reasons why he believed in Jesus. It is hard to put into words some of our deepest thoughts. But he gave to Nathanael a very wise answer.
"Well," said Philip, "come and see Jesus for yourself."
Jesus had never seen Nathanael before, but as he drew near, Jesus said to those who were standing by:
"Look! here comes a true Israelite, a man of God, one whose heart has in it nothing evil."
Nathanael was greatly surprised at these words of Jesus. He said,
"How is it that you know me?"
"Before Philip spoke to you," answered Jesus, "while you were standing under the fig tree, I saw you."
"Teacher," said Nathanael, "you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
"Do you believe because I said, 'I saw you underneath the fig tree?' You will yet see greater things than these. In truth, I say to you that you shall see the heaven opened and the angels of God going up and coming down upon the Son of Man."
By "the Son of Man," Jesus meant himself. He used those words to show that while he was "the Son of God," he was also a man among men.
Jesus had been preaching or talking to a few men about the Kingdom of God, and already he had gained five followers. There may have been others, for not long afterwards we find James, the brother of John, among his disciples.