52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #3 “Come and See”
by Travis Bookout
“The Fourth Wall” is a dramatic convention in acting. Like the four walls in a bedroom, the stage itself is broken into four walls. The Fourth Wall is the one that separates the actors from the audience. This wall is supposed to serve a purpose similar to a one way mirror. The audience can see through the wall to what is on the other side, namely, the performance. The actors, however, are not supposed to be able to see through the wall to the audience. To the actors the Fourth Wall is fixed and solid and there is nothing on the other side.
In several modern television shows, however, it has become common to “Break the Fourth Wall,” meaning, the actors address the audience directly as though they are part of the performance. Shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation do this regularly. When Michael says something absurd, Jim glances over at the camera/audience. Sometimes, even during scenes, the camera will cut to a character sitting alone to talk to the audience, like an interview. In the early 90’s, Zack Morris had the ability to freeze time by saying, “Time Out.” Then while everyone else was frozen, he would address the audience. This convention is called “Breaking the Fourth Wall” and it calls the audience to be involved in the production.
At this point you may be wondering what any of this has to do with the Gospel of John. Well, the Fourth Gospel seemingly breaks the fourth wall on numerous occasions. There are times where the characters are speaking to one another, but it’s obvious that they are actually, in a very real way, addressing the reader. For example, when Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). Thomas believed because he had the privilege of seeing the resurrected Jesus. But it’s likely that those reading the Gospel of John did not have that same privilege. They must all come to belief without being able to see. When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed,” you should imagine His head turning to face the camera, you should imagine Him looking directly at you, breaking the fourth wall to address the reader with these words.
The same thing can be seen with the call to “Follow Me” throughout the Gospel. These calls break the fourth wall, not only addressing the character, but the reader also. John ends with Jesus telling Peter, “You follow Me!” (John 21:22). Upon finishing the Gospel, the reader should be struck by this final call. This is not meant only for Peter, but for all who have followed along to the end. For all who have read the signs and heard the testimonies. For all who now believe without having seen. All of us are addressed in this final call, “You follow Me!”
With this in mind, I want to reflect upon a phrase that is used several times throughout this Gospel: “Come and see” (John 1:39, 46; 4:29; 11:34). When John the Baptist told his disciples that Jesus was “the Lamb of God”, they turned from John to begin following Jesus. When they asked Jesus, “where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see” (John 1:38-39). Seeing is a very important symbol throughout the Gospel of John. This phrase serves as an invitation into the life of Jesus.
When Jesus saw Philip, He called him, saying, “Follow Me” (John 1:43). We’re not told how, but Philip immediately understands something of the identity of Jesus. In fact, from there he tells Nathanial, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). This is surely a remarkable claim, but Nathanial remains skeptical. The only thing he knows about Jesus is that He’s from Nazareth, a town of little importance that has never produced anything akin to greatness. So he responds, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
The conversation could have ended right there. Nathanial could have remained unconvinced and comfortable in his skepticism. But Philip doesn’t let it. Philip comes back with an invitation to investigate, saying, “Come and see” (John 1:46). Perhaps this also is an instance of “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” Perhaps at this point, as Jesus is introduced to the reader, it is not only Nathanial who needs to come and see, but us also. We are invited into the life of Jesus. We are invited to see for ourselves all the signs and testimonies about Jesus.
Nathanial does come and when he meets Jesus, he sees. He is utterly blown away, proclaiming, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49). This statement is made because Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:49). When Jesus notes how easily Nathanial placed his faith in Him, He asks, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these” (John 1:50; note the similarities and differences with John 20:29). If you come you will see amazing things! (If you’re curious about verse 51, check out Genesis 28:12 and read this blog again in a few weeks when we cover John’s use of the Old Testament. It will hopefully illuminate this passage even more.)
Finally, this brings us to John 4:29. After Jesus’ amazing interaction with the woman at the well, she goes to testify to others about Him, saying, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done.” Many who heard her speak came to believe (John 4:39). Then they “came” to Jesus (John 4:40). After meeting Jesus for themselves they understood that Jesus “is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:41-42).
Repeatedly we find the words, “Come and see.” Whenever anyone actually does, they come to see Jesus as the King and the Savior (John 1:49; 4:42). Are you willing to come and see Jesus for yourself? John “Breaks the Fourth Wall” to invite you to come and read with an open heart to see who Jesus is. And since you can’t see Jesus in the flesh for yourself, take comfort in His words: “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29).