Teacher’s Overview of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson: John 1:40-51, “Come and See.”

A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 1:40-51, for Sunday, December 11, 2022 with the title, “Come and See.”

(A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:

INTRO:  ??? I might start this lesson by asking if any class members would share how they first came to follow Jesus?

(For example: I personally first responded to follow Christ at a VBS my Aunt Betty was leading in Pittsburgh, PA. She explained the gospel, and I stepped out the aisle of that little church to follow Jesus.)

So you and your class can share a few testimonies like that …

AND/OR you could start the class by sharing an interesting story of someone who came to Christ in a unique way, or by asking your class if they knew of someone who had a testimony like that.

One testimony you could use would be that of Dr. Francis Collins considered to be one of the most effective and ground-breaking scientists in the world, who chaired the Human Genome Project. He began his journey as an atheist, but while he was working in a hospital, he was attending a woman who had exhausted her options for treatment and was going to die soon. This woman had a strong faith, and she said, ‘You know, I’m ready to go. Don’t worry about me.’ And then she said, ‘Dr. Collins, you’ve been so kind to listen to me and care for me and listen to me share with you about my faith. Tell me about your faith. Tell me what you believe.’ Collins later wrote: ’Nobody had ever asked me that question before, not like that, not in such a simple, sincere way. I realized I didn’t know the answer. I felt uneasy. I could feel my face flushing. I wanted to get out of there. The ice was cracking under my feet. All of a sudden, by this simple question, everything was a muddle.’

Collins began to wonder if he was an atheist because he had chosen the position of reason or because it was the answer he wanted. Finally, it came to him: ‘As a scientist, I had always insisted on collecting rigorous data before drawing a conclusion. And yet, in matters of faith, I had never collected any data at all. I didn’t know what I had rejected. So, I decided that I should be a little better grounded in my atheism. I better find out what this is all about. So he asked a patient of his who was a Methodist minister. He suggested that I read the Gospel of John, which I did … I found the scripture to be interesting, puzzling, and not at all what I had thought faith was about … then I began to read C.S. Lewis and realized there was a great depth of thinking and reasoning that could be applied to the question of God.’

As he studied the historical evidence, he was stunned at how well documented and how historically accurate the Bible is. He also saw a surprising fidelity of the transmission of the manuscripts that were passed down over the centuries. And, over time, Francis Collins, based on the accumulation of the evidence that he observed, concluded that God exists, and that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Richard E. Simmons III, Reflections on the Existence of God, pp. 7-9)

Or you/your group can share other interesting salvation testimonies you know. Then you could say something like:  “Today we are going to look at the story of how Jesus’ first disciples came to Him, from the last part of John Chapter 1.

There are some great applications here, for evangelism and discipleship.

CONTEXT: 

I might start by way of context/review from the first part of John 1 (plus it was a pretty important lesson, on the Person of Christ: that He is both “fully God” and “fully Man” and review some of those scriptures in John 1.

Then show how John the Baptist came next, in :6-8, and :19+, and gave witness to Jesus. In :29 he says: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Talk with your group about what this means, that He is “the lamb” — in the Old Testament they sacrificed a lamb, but Jesus came to be the ultimate “Lamb,” who would bear our sins in His body on the cross. This is the most important WORK of Jesus. Theologians typically divide Christology (the study of Christ) into two categories: His Person, and His Work. As we saw last week, His PERSON is that He is fully God (2nd Person of the Trinity) and fully Man. And His most important WORK was dying on the cross to pay for our sins.

At this point in John 1, Jesus is now calling His disciples. In :35 John the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God” and they begin following Him. That is the context for our lesson today. 

Verse 40 says one of those two disciples who followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. And :41 says Andrew “found first his own brother Simon.” And I would stop it right here! This is an important point. When you come to Jesus, you share Him with those closest to you. 

Years ago Oscar Thompson wrote an evangelistic book entitled: “Concentric Circles of Concern,” showing how we should start in our evangelism by reaching out to the people who are closest to us. When many people think of “evangelism” they think of “What should I say about Jesus to “Person X” out there whom I have never met? But Thompson said our first concerns in evangelism should about our family, relatives, friends, and so on, and then finally out to “Person X” — people we don’t know. I’ll put this diagram on my website so you can see it, and share it with your group if you want to: 

But Thompson makes a good point. It’s really kind of hypocritical for us to just focus on reaching “Person X” in a foreign country, when we aren’t trying to reach the people closest to us, in our family or neighborhood.

— some INDIVIDUALS do this: they’re all about “Person X” out there, but not the people closest to them. 

An illustration of this: Charles Dickens had a character in his book, Little Dorrit, by the name of Mrs. Jellyby, who devoted her whole life to missions to the people of Africa. Her house was a wreck, her children were neglected, but she has totally focused her life on her Africa mission work. He wrote that she had a “far-away” look about her: “Her eyes could see nothing nearer than Africa.” At one point her daughter, Caddy Jellyby, tells Amy Dorrit, “I wish Africa was dead!” Mrs. Jellyby was spending her whole life on “Person X” in Africa, but neglected to minister to her own family. 

We need to be careful about that! It’s hypocritical to reach the world and not care about our own family. (In I Tim. 5 Paul said neglecting your own family is worse than being an unbeliever) 

One EXERCISE you could do with this point, would be to give each of your group members a “concentric circles” chart like this (you can print this from my website, or even just make one yourself, and have those categories of people in it: self, family, relatives, friends, neighbors, etc.) and then have your group write people’s names in it — those in THEIR “concentric circles of concern” and encourage them to take this home and pray for these people regularly, that God would give them opportunities to share with them and reach them for Him. But make sure you encourage them to start with those closest to them, like Philip did! 

— We can also apply this to our CHURCHES. Many churches fail at this point too: all their work is about the other side of the world, but they don’t try anything to reach the people and neighborhoods in their own town.  As churches we need to remember Jesus’ Acts 1:8 command, to witness in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria and the ends of the earth. Jesus started the command with those closest them — their “Jerusalem” — then the ends of the earth. He didn’t tell them to start there!

??? So you could talk with your class about: “As a church, what is OUR ‘Jerusalem’ … our ‘Judea” … our ‘Samaria’ … our ‘ends of the earth’?”  Do you have mission connections/work in each of these places? What could you do as a class to facilitate that?  You could even make it your goal as a class to be an “Acts 1:8 class” that reaches out to all of these areas. But the point here is: make sure you start with your “Jerusalem”: maybe absentee class members; lost loved one; or some unreached people group in your town, etc.  

Philip found first his own brother. As individuals and churches, we need to do the same thing.  

THEN :43 says Jesus found Philip — a good way of working it. Really, Jesus really finds ALL of us. We don’t really “find Jesus.” He finds US!

But notice what Jesus’ call to Philip was: “Follow Me.” 

NOTE: this is ALWAYS the call of Jesus: to FOLLOW Him.

— +x Matthew 4:19, it was His call to Peter & Andrew also: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’

— +x Matthew 9 It was also His call to Matthew in the tax collector’s booth: “Follow Me!”

— at the end of this book of John, after Peter has betrayed Jesus, and He rises from the dead, Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves Him, and then He tells him again: “Follow Me.” And when Peter asks him “What about this man?” Then Jesus tells him again: “What is that to you? YOU follow Me!”  

So what do you think Jesus’ message to us today is? “Follow Me”!

I would take some time to talk about what this really means, to “follow Jesus.” 

??? You might ask your group: “Do any of you “follow” someone on Facebook or Twitter? What does that mean?”  (I’ve got people I “follow” on Facebook and Twitter; it means I read what they are doing, I look at their pictures — but it doesn’t impact the way I live my life at all. And I would emphasize: that is NOT what Jesus is talking about here! 

??? What do you think “following Jesus” means to us today???

(It means to obey Him. It should mean to go where He would go, and do what He would do, if He were physically here today.  

Talk about: where would JESUS go in our town; what would JESUS do in our town? These are the things we should be doing if we are “following” Him!  We should be serving Him; not just “coming to church,” or “sitting in class,” but actively obeying and serving — FOLLOWING Him! 

To me, reading the whole call of Jesus’ disciples in John is very interesting: how He worked individually to call each one: 

— inviting the two who were John’s disciples to spend time with Him, 

— then Andrew invited his own brother. 

— then Jesus found Philip and told him to follow Him 

(If you don’t open your lesson talking about how different class members came to follow Christ, you might talk about that here. Each of these men’s experiences was different, and many of ours may be too. The important thing is that it HAPPENS! 

AND: this could be a good time for you to share with your class: “If you DON’T have a testimony of following Jesus, you may need to give your life to Him TODAY!” — and share the gospel, and lead in a prayer of salvation for anyone who needs to, to pray in their heart. This might be the day of salvation for someone in your group — the very best thing that could possibly happen in your class! 

Now ONE of the testimonies in this story involves Nathaniel.  After Philip came to Jesus, he then invites Nathaniel, :45 says, who is at first skeptical (:46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”!), UNTIL Jesus tells him:  he saw him “under the fig tree.”  Now we don’t really know what all that means — that “I saw you under the fig tree”?  I always envision that Nathaniel was sitting under that tree, thinking about God there; maybe he was praying, or asking God to reveal Himself to him in some special way, or to show him the Messiah — something like that. But the important thing was, NATHANIEL knew exactly what Jesus was talking about when He said “I saw you under the fig tree” — and it was enough to absolutely convince him that Jesus was the Messiah.

??? You might ask your group at this point, in light of this: Do YOU know someone who is SKEPTICAL about Jesus, like Nathaniel was?

Then encourage them: this text shows us that Nathaniel was skeptical too — but Jesus showed him who He was, and he ended up following Him.  

THEN you might take some time to PRAY for these loved ones/friends, that Jesus would show Himself to them, that they might follow Him like Nathaniel did. Pray something like: “Lord, do for them what You did for Nathaniel, and show Yourself to them!”

The last two verses are really interesting too: Jesus says in :50, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

And then He says:  :51 “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

When I read this, I thought, “this sounds familiar: “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” I thought: these words reminds me of Jacob’s ladder, “angels ascending and descending,” etc. 

 So I looked at Genesis 28:12, where it talked about Jacob’s dream and his encounter with God at Bethel. It says: “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, THE ANGELS OF GOD WERE ASCENDING AND DESCENDING ON IT.” That is the EXACT same wording that Jesus used here in John 1:51, “the angels of God were ascending and descending”!

So this is no coincidence. (There are no “coincidences” with God, and especially there are no coincidences in His word!) Jesus MUST be referring to the incident of Jacob’s ladder. The question is WHY would He do that?   WHY would He be talking about Jacob’s ladder here in John 1?

I don’t know that the Bible spells it out, per se. But I think we can get a good idea. The angels were “ascending and descending” on a LADDER in Jacob’s dream. That is how they were getting to heaven. The ladder was their “means” of getting to heaven. 

So when Jesus says here: “You will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” He is using this same language from Genesis, only HE is taking the place of the LADDER:

— In Genesis 28, the angels were ascending & descending from heaven on a LADDER

— Here in John 1, He says the angels will ascend and descend from heaven on HIM.

So what Jesus is saying here is: I AM THE LADDER. Jesus is the “means” of getting to heaven. Which is a great picture!  In other places He pictures Himself as:

— the “door” in John 10: “I am the door”

— He said “I am the way” in John 14:6

— He said “I am the bread,” “the living water”, and on and on.

ALL these things are symbols which basically say the same thing: that Jesus is the way to heaven. He’s the “door;” and here, He says He’s the “ladder.” He’s the way we can “climb up to heaven.” 

This is a neat picture. And it reminds us — AGAIN — of just how important Jesus is. If we want to go to heaven, HE is the “ladder” that will get us there!

If we want to talk to God the Father, HE is the “ladder” that will get us access to Him.

So this is something I’d really emphasize to my class: Jesus is our “LADDER” to heaven! 

— Let’s share Him with others, that they might follow Him too

— and let’s come to God through Him daily in our prayers — and then you might close your class in prayer, that you would be witnesses, and pray for specific people in your “concentric circles” or skeptics like Nathaniel, who need to be saved. 

I hope this will help you some as you prepare this week. If you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.

Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:

– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.

– Lifeway resources are available at: goExploretheBible.com  and: goexplorethebible.com/adults-training

– If you have questions about Explore the Bible resources you may send emails to explorethebible@lifeway.com

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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8 Responses to Teacher’s Overview of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson: John 1:40-51, “Come and See.”

  1. S. Bolton says:

    Thank you for these lesson overviews. They are very helpful. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

  2. Ann McDougal says:

    The ladder example really resonated with me especially as I relate to how our church’s Christmas presentation could be a means to that ladder for so many. I know your own presentation was used for that as well. God bless you and 1st Baptist Angleton.

  3. Carolyn Smith. Norphlet AR says:

    There are no words to express my gratitude for your help with my teaching. I selfishly pray for your health and well-being so that you may continue this service. God bless you and your family.

  4. S Edgeman says:

    Thank you so much for your overview each week on our lessons. I’m by no means a Bible scholar so I need all the help I can get as I prepare my lessons each week. God Bless your ministry. I can always use your prayers.

  5. Vici Williams says:

    Once again thanks for this study. I have a son who accepted the Lord when he was a youth, however his life now does not indicate he knows Jesus. He is a heavy beer drinker. Each time I attempt to speak to him about Christ he assures me he knows Him, and does not want to hear my words. Where do I go from here, I pray continuously for my adult child.

    • bill dixon says:

      I can relate to your sons position, I too was saved young but fell into the ways of the world as I grew older. It was in a bar room bathroom one night , I looked up into a mirror and saw face to face who I had become. I wasnt a particularly bad person , but I wasnt an instrument for Gods use either. I can still remember audibly hearing the words”what are you doing here”and I came into the light that johns letter talks about , the light of self examination.I give most of the credit for my return to fellowship with God to my mother and several of the older ladies of the church where i grew up who must have grown callouses on thier knees pleading for myself and my friend. Never give up. If he was truly saved , God will place a mirror in his life also and allow him to see where he is at and draw him into the light john talks about. By the way , I am enjoying over 35 yrs as a ss teacher, quite possibly due to the prayer life of my mother. I will be praying for your son along with you.

  6. Carol Taggart says:

    Such a comprehensive overview for tomorrow’s lesson. Prayers for you and yours during this Christmas season. Thank you very much.

  7. Marsha says:

    THANK YOU for an insightful lessonl

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