Question: "What is the significance of the repeated phrase "come and see" in the Gospel of John?"
Answer: In the first chapter of John, the apostle introduces his readers to Jesus, the Son of God. John writes that Jesus is the pre-existent and co-eternal Word of God who became flesh (John 1:1 and 14), the creator of the universe (verses 3 and 10), the life and true light of men (verses 4, 5, and 9), the only begotten Son of God “full of grace and truth” (verse 14), superior to Moses (verse 17), and the only one who has seen the Father (verse 18). As the Gospel of John unfolds, readers are repeatedly prompted to “come and see” who Jesus is and engage with Him.
In John 1:36, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. When two of his own disciples hear this, they immediately begin to follow Jesus (verse 37). One of the disciples was Andrew, Simon’s Peter’s brother (John 1:40). The other, unnamed disciple could be John the apostle (“the disciple whom Jesus loved,” see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Jesus turns to both of John’s disciples and asks a simple yet profound question: “What are you seeking?” (John 1:38). The you here is directed at the two men, but it has universal application, as does the same word in John 3:3 and John 3:5. That is, Jesus’ question extends beyond Andrew and the unnamed disciple. Jesus wants to know whether we seek after Him for superficial reasons, such as fame or curiosity, or if we earnestly desire to have our sins forgiven and become genuine disciples. This question challenges everyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ. What are we really seeking?
Jesus knows our thoughts (John 2:24–25), yet He still wants us to articulate what is on our minds. John’s two disciples cannot answer the question, so they reply with a question of their own, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” (John 1:38). The word staying means “abiding,” which is how the ASV renders it. In a gentle manner, Jesus says to them, “Come . . . and you will see” (verse 38). It is not an accident that the word come precedes see. We must first come to Jesus before we can fully understand who He is. And the longer we abide (or remain) with Him, the more He reveals Himself to us (verse 41). The disciples come, “and they spent that day with him” (verse 39). They did not delay, and neither should we. Tomorrow is promised to no one (James 4:14). So, if we wish to see Jesus, we must do so today.
“The next day,” Jesus finds Philip and says to him, “Follow me” (John 1:43). Philip then finds Nathanael and says to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (verse 45). Did Philip come to this conclusion on his own? No, it was revealed to him from heaven (Matthew 16:17). Nathanael skeptically asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46, ESV). Philip knows that the best remedy for preconceived opinions and doubt is for people to “come and see” the Messiah for themselves (see also John 4:29–30), and that’s what he invites Nathanael to do. Nathanael comes to Jesus and is rid of false presumptions (John 1:48–51).
In John 11:34, Jesus asks where His friend Lazarus is buried. “Come and see, Lord,” they respond. Before Jesus arrives at the tomb, He weeps (verse 35). He wept because He sympathized with those who were suffering (verse 33; Lamentations 3:33; Hebrews 4:15). He wept because He is grieved over sin and death. He wept because He is distressed about His coming crucifixion (Luke 12:50; 22:44). He wept because He dreaded the unimaginable wrath that would be poured upon Him for the sins of everyone (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). And He wept because He knew that raising Lazarus to life would prompt the religious leaders to finally put Him to death (John 11:45, 53). Burdened as He was, Jesus still went to Lazarus’ tomb and called him out of the grave (verse 43), and “the dead man came out” (verse 44). As Jesus had told Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25, ESV). He has the same message for everyone today.
Do we believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God? Do we believe that He is the Messiah, the Christ? Do we believe that He is the resurrection and the life? If so, then let us “come and see” the risen Savior that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).