There are numerous ways to get people’s attention. At Kmart they use the “Blue Light” special: “Attention Kmart shoppers” [well, they used to. I haven’t been into Kmart in awhile]. You can yell “fire” in a crowded theater; that will get people’s attention [and you arrested if there isn’t a fire]. You can knock the book out of your husband’s hand and off the end of the bed when you asked him for the THIRD TIME! if he set the alarm clock and he answered, “huh?” [That hasn’t happened to you? Hmm…I’ll have to talk to my wife about appropriate attention getters].
The gospel writers used attention getters when they wanted to tell us something important, as did Jesus himself. Truly, Truly, I say unto you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life (John 5.24). When Jesus starts something with “Truly, Truly” he is about to tell you something important. Don’t miss it. The problem with translation is that sometimes when the gospel writers are trying to get our attention, we miss it because it doesn’t translate so well. This is especially true of the “historical present.”
[Grammar alert!]. We find that the gospel writers sometimes use the present tense when we expect them to use the past [aorist for you Greek studs] tense. Example: “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”” (John 1:35–36, ESV). Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? The Greek actually reads: and having looked on Jesus walking, he says. John uses the present tense when we expect him to use the past tense because he wants to get our attention. He is telling us that what follows next is important!
So…let’s see how John uses the historical present verb tense and see if he is trying to tell us anything by using it in our passage. I’ll put the historical present in italic and what follows in bold.
- vs. 36 – He [John] says: “Behold! The Lamb of God”
- vs. 38 – He [Jesus] says to them: “What are you seeking?”
- vs. 39 – He [Jesus] says to them: “Come and see”
- vs. 41 – He [Andrew] finds [Peter] and he says to him: “We have found the Messiah!”
Think through the process here as John emphasizes what he REALLY wants us to get from this interaction between John the Baptizer, Andrew, another disciple [John?], Peter, and Jesus. First we find Andrew and the other disciple introduced to the Lamb of God. The next point of emphasis is Jesus asking them what they were seeking, followed by the third point of emphasis, to come and see. The end result? Andrew testifying to Peter that they have found the Messiah! The process goes something like this: Introduction [to the Lamb of God]; Question; Invitation; and Revelation or if you prefer Discovery.
Introduction – Andrew and the other disciple are introduced to the Lamb of God (who takes away the sin of the world) by John the Baptizer. Don’t forget that at this point the pair are disciples of John the Baptizer.
Question – The pair of disciples immediately leave John the Baptizer [and notice there is not a word of complaint from John] and follow Jesus. He questions them: “What are you seeking, lads?” They follow him for a reason, though it is unstated exactly why. Somehow they know that it is important to follow Jesus. And don’t miss the irony of the fact that the pair are seeking something.
Invitation – Jesus invites the pair to “come and see” ostensibly where he is staying, but metaphorically much more than that. They are coming to see Jesus, to see what he is about, to talk with him, to have their eyes opened.
Revelation – “We have found the Messiah!” Their eyes are opened. They understand. They have to tell anyone who will listen and drag Peter along to meet the Messiah.
By using the historical present here, John (the author) has led us down the primrose path of the follower of Jesus. Every one of us who follows Jesus must take the steps down this path in one way or another. We have to be introduced to Jesus; we have to be curious enough to question (investigate); we have to be invited to become a follower; and finally we have to have our eyes opened to see the beauty and worth of Jesus so that we too can say with Andrew, “We have found the Messiah!”