38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
JOHN 1: 38-39
38 στραφεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ θεασάμενος αὐτοὺς ἀκολουθοῦντας λέγει αὐτοῖς· Τί ζητεῖτε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· Ῥαββί (ὃ λέγεται μεθερμηνευόμενον Διδάσκαλε), ποῦ μένεις; 39 λέγει αὐτοῖς· Ἔρχεσθε καὶ ὄψεσθε. ἦλθαν οὖν καὶ εἶδαν ποῦ μένει, καὶ παρʼ αὐτῷ ἔμειναν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην· ὥρα ἦν ὡς δεκάτη.
JOHN 1: 38-39 SBLGNT
Τί ζητεῖτε; What (are you) seeking are the first words that were uttered by Jesus Christ. The prologue, which was part of the introduction that outlined John the Baptist’s actions, is now taken over by Jesus Christ. The importance of the revelation and fulfilment of the role of John the Baptist in revealing and testifying to the Old Testament prophecies are concluded, are it is about to continue in the person of Jesus Christ.
“What are you seeking.” These were the first words from Jesus. Ironic, isn’t it, that those words continue to echo through the centuries. A question that challenges the very fabric of our objectivity. What are you seeking to satisfy your needs? What is it that you are looking for? This is the question that we must all ask ourselves every day. Is it curiosity or a genuine need to find answers? Answers that provide meaning to your life or a means to find an opportunity to justify your objectivity.
D A Carson puts significance in the question from Jesus and provides this summary which eludes to the question.
He writes in his book The Gospels According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary,
‘As with the verb ‘to follow’, so with Jesus’ question, What do you want? It appears that the Evangelist is writing on two levels. The question makes sense as a straightforward narrative: Jesus asks the two men following him to articulate what is on their minds. Nevertheless, the Evangelist wants his readers to reflect on a more profound question: the Logos-Messiah confronts those who make any show of beginning to follow him and demands that they articulate what they want in life.
The two disciples of the Baptist begin their response with Rabbi. The word means ‘my great one’, but it was a common term of honour addressed by a student to his master, his teacher (as John’s explanatory aside points out, for his Greek readers). By the end of the first century AD, the word became restricted to specific ‘ordained’ teachers who had completed an appropriate course of rabbinical instruction.
However, there was no official ordination; the title was used as a courtesy honorific, applied by respectful people to those they recognized as public teachers of divine subject matter. It is commonly applied to Jesus (1:49; 3:2; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8), even by Nicodemus, a scholarly ‘rabbi’ (3:1–2). Similarly, the disciples of the Baptist could address their master the same way (3:26).
The question asked by the two disciples again makes sense as part of the developing narrative. Feeling perhaps that it would be presumptuous to plunge right into their profoundly theological concerns, they restrain themselves and ask a question the answer to which would enable them to seek him out in private and at more excellent leisure: Rabbi, where are you staying? The verb rendered ‘are staying’, viz. menō, is often translated ‘to remain’ or ‘to abide’, and is so characteristic of John’s Gospel (especially Jn. 15) that it may well be the Evangelist again assigns more symbolic depth to the question than the Baptist’s disciples could have intended at the time.
Jesus’ simple response–Come, and you will see (v. 39)–doubtless delighted the Baptist’s disciples and constituted the beginning of their intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. They spent the rest of the day with him (from about 4.00 p.m. on cf. Additional Notes), and perhaps later they understood that his invitation was of a piece with the theological invitation he later extended more broadly: ‘If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own’ (7:17).
Here is a commentary by Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
“ When these two disciples set out after Jesus, we are told that Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want? And because they wanted to become his disciples by accompanying him, They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ Jesus is addressed several times as ‘Rabbi’ in this Gospel, always by those who are or are to be his disciples (38, 49; 3:2; 4:31; 9:2; 11:8). In NT times ‘Rabbi’ was the title used for authorized teachers of the law, but not restricted to them. Sometimes it was used as a title of honour or for respectful address, as in this verse.
Jesus responded to the two disciples’ question by saying, Come and you will see. They wanted to become Jesus’ disciples, so Jesus invited them to come with him. So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. In this way they began their discipleship with Jesus. The evangelist notes that It was about the tenth hour, i.e. the tenth hour after sunrise, about 4.00 p.m. This meant the disciples spent the latter part of the day with Jesus, probably continuing their conversation until nightfall.”
Here is another commentary from other renowned scholars, William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, vol. 1, New Testament Commentary
“And Jesus, having turned around and having fixed his eyes upon them while they were following, said to them, What are you seeking? Notice: not whom (are you seeking) but what. Was what they were seeking the removal of sin by this Lamb of God? Was it, accordingly, salvation full and free, entrance into the kingdom? Whatever it was, he was (and is) able to supply.
In answering, the two disciples of the Baptist use the term of polite address, “Rabbi.” This word is derived from an adjective meaning great; hence, master or teacher.4
Because John is writing to Christians drawn (mainly) from the Gentile world, he interprets Aramaic terms. Hence, we read, And they said, Rabbi, which, translated, means Teacher. The word translated is μεθερμηνευόμενον, present passive participle of μεθερμηνεύω, a late compound of μετά and ἑρμηνεύω, where the prefix μετά indicates the change from one language into another, while ἑρμηνεύω means to interpret or translate; hence, to interpret an expression by changing it from one language to another. The simple form of the verb is found in 1:42. The verb is derived from Hermes, the god of speech. Acts 14:12 informs us that the people of Lystra called Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.
The two disciples, accordingly, are asking, Where are you lodging? Whether this temporary abode of Jesus was a home in Bethany beyond the Jordan or a near-by cloth-covered booth, constructed of platted twigs, has not been revealed and is of no particular significance. The important thing to notice is that the disciples desired an opportunity for uninterrupted conversation with Jesus. Because this was rather difficult out in the open, they ask where Jesus is staying just now, clearly implying that they are desirous of receiving an invitation to visit him. Their interest has been fully aroused by the testimony of the Baptist, who, accordingly, proved that he was a true herald and way-preparer.“
I have read many more commentaries, and all have provided various commentaries with different significance of Jesus’s question. “What are you seeking.” Whereas for me, it speaks to me as an individual, convicts me, and challenges me and my objectivity. It warns me to the manner I would answer this question, and maybe that is why the reply from the two individuals evaded it and, rather than answer the question, they respond with a question themselves.
The whole context of this verse is a question of ethics and how we are always seeking to avoid providing an answer when faced with a question that questions the very nature of our objective reasoning.
“In ethics, evasion is an act that deceives by stating a true statement that is irrelevant or leads to a false conclusion. For instance, a man knows that another man is in a room in the building because he heard him, but in answer to a question, he says, “I have not seen him,” thereby avoiding lying and avoiding making a revelation.
Evasion is a way to fulfil an obligation, to tell the truth, while keeping secrets from those not entitled to know the truth. Evasions are closely related to equivocations and mental reservations; indeed, some statements fall under both descriptions.”
As we study further the Gospel of John, you will see the unique approach of the linguistics found in the narrative. It is personal and self-challenging, and it confronts us and our objectivity.
In the Greek text, Τί ζητεῖτε; What (are you) seeking or What (do you) want. Phrase it any way you want, but the question still remains the same.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM JESUS CHRIST?
FOR ALL THAT HE HAS DONE FOR YOU.