Belief in Jesus requires a personal relationship with Him.

One of the most fundamental questions a Christian must ask is "what constitutes true belief?" How do I know if my own or someone else's belief is genuine or sincere? Do I have enough faith?

This is often true as we work with children. Many adults, too, have only a surface belief in Jesus Christ, not a personal belief in Him as their Savior. While the book of John demonstrates a universal invitation to follow Christ (John 1:9-12, 1:29, etc.), understanding the universal invitation to believe and personally believing are two very separate things.

This reality—belief in words, but not belief in life—is a major contrast in John’s gospel. John presents a gospel that is demonstrated to the world (the crowds), but is mostly rejected. These crowds occasionally follow Jesus, but do not remain followers of Jesus. These crowds stand in contrast to the small band of disciples that remain, following Jesus even through their failures. (See cross references below.)

We can observe several things from John's presentation of the crowds. The crowds as a whole are presented as occasional/temporary followers of Jesus. The signs (miracles) of Jesus are what attracted the crowds. The signs (miracles) of Jesus were not enough to produce genuine belief in Jesus. Jesus does not search for the crowds. In fact, several times we see Jesus purposefully avoid the crowds (John 5:13). However, Jesus does search for individuals, and finds them! (See John 1:43.)

Belief in Jesus requires personal ministry by Jesus.

John 1:43 begins the second day of Jesus’ public ministry and is the first time Jesus initiates disciples to follow Him. Jesus’ actions demonstrate His personal ministry in his intention to seek and to find. Understanding Jesus’ purposeful movement to Galilee, it seems most likely that Jesus was specifically seeking out Philip and and found him.

The geography demonstrates Jesus’ personal ministry. John describes Jesus' movement from "Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing," to Galilee, a seemingly unimportant region, focusing on Bethsaida (John 1:44). Bethsaida was a place where Jesus did many miracles, but apparently the people of Bethsaida were hard-hearted towards Jesus, because it is one of the few cities that Jesus pronounced judgement on in Matthew 11:20–21. There is a geographic progression from broad to specific, narrowing down even to an individual fig tree.

The fig tree is often associated with the blessing, comfort and safety of home. Because of the large shelter they provide, fig trees became associated in the Jewish literature as a place to study the Old Testament. The fig tree was was like the library or coffee shop, a safe and personal place to get away, think, and study. The fig tree is more than a random reference by Jesus or narrative decoration by John. It was an intensely personal statement to Nathanael, revealing that this is no ordinary man that Philip brought to him.

Belief in Jesus is demonstrated by a response to the personal ministry of Jesus.

Those who have a personal relationship with Jesus respond in such a way as to demonstrate that relationship.

In John 1:43, Jesus says two simple words: “Follow me.” This is the simple but life-changing response to Jesus, and Philip obeys. There is no formula or special inflection to make these two words successful, but they demonstrate the response of those who have a personal relationship with Jesus. We can all take a great deal of comfort in the response of Philip. While Philip physically met Jesus, his basis for accepting Him is just like our basis today: the word of God (John 1:45-46). When Nathanael challenges Philip’s finding of the Messiah, all Philip says is, “Come and see.”

Nathanael also demonstrates a profound response to Jesus' personal ministry. Jesus demonstrates His intimate knowledge of Nathanael through two statements about him in John 1:47-48. This apparently registers with Nathanael because he asks, “How do you know me?” He moves from addressing Jesus with a mere question to the respected title of “Rabbi” to proclaiming, "You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel" (John 1:49).

Both of their response were informed by the Word of God. Both Philip and Nathanael searched what they knew about the Scripture to see if Jesus measured up to the expected Messiah.

Belief in Jesus brings hope.

Jesus' words in John 1:50-51 reference Old Testament passages about "the Son of Man." (See Daniel 7 and 10 and Revelation 1:12-20.) He tells His disciples that there is more to come. His first earthly ministry was as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; He will further reveal Himself at His Second Coming. When Jesus returns, all knees will bow and all tongues confess His lordship. All tears will be wiped away, violence will be vanquished, and death will be no more. Those who repent and worship Him have hope in the return of Christ, but those who refuse have judgment awaiting them.

Application Points

  • Jesus’ personal ministry is often carried out by disciples who have received Jesus' personal ministry. (Think of Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael.) If someone has invited you to consider Jesus, will you see that for what it really is – a personal invitation by Christ Himself? If you are trying to minister to others on Christ’s behalf, remember this first pattern of discipleship: personal relationships with Jesus are often brought about through personal relationships with others. Keep ministering!
  • Have you experienced Jesus' personal ministry? Is there a moment when you were reading the Bible or it was verbally shared with you by a friend, and it became apparent that Jesus was revealing himself to you? Thank Him for that!
  • Philip's words to Nathanael are a helpful reminder for our own evangelism: The most persuasive words are not our own, but Scripture, and the most persuasive person is Christ. The best way to urge our loved ones to turn to Christ is to tell them, “Come and see!”
  • There is something greater coming than even Jesus' earthly ministry. For those who believe and personally know Jesus, there is a great hope! However, there is a great warning for those who refuse to respond personally to Jesus. Do you have a personal relationship with Christ? If you do, your life is a response to Him, and you have a certain hope that He is coming back.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • John 6:2, 6:24, 7:12, 7:31, 12:37 – The crowds in John.