It was during his return trip to Galilee from the Jordan, when Jesus called his first disciple. And although he had just spent the previous afternoon with John, Andrew, and Peter, it was not one of them. It was Philip.
Philip seems almost to appear out of nowhere, like a non sequitur in John’s narrative. The only clue we have tying him to the others is that he was from Bethsaida, the same town as Andrew and Peter. But somehow, while on his way back to Galilee, Jesus found Philip and called him to discipleship.
The Bible does not tell us how or where this took place. We don’t know if it was Philip who had gone looking for Jesus, or if it was Jesus who sought out Philip, or whether they just happened to cross paths along the way. And we have no record of any of their conversation other than the one simple request by Jesus, “Follow me.”
“Follow me.” – This is the call to true commitment. It bears so much more weight than the casual invitation of “come and you will see” that Jesus offered to Andrew and John on the preceding day. The implication here is twofold: to follow and to abandon. In order to follow Jesus, Philip must abandon his former life – leave his family, friends and occupation, and surrender any aspirations of inheritance or legacy.
But Philip wasn’t just acting on impulse, he had genuine faith in Jesus. He may not have had a complete understanding of Jesus’ deity, or of his future atoning work on the cross, but Philip had a genuine God-given faith that Jesus was the promised Messiah, for he later goes on to testify to his friend, Nathanael, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)
There is a similarity here to the faith that was displayed by Abraham, who “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) In Genesis 12:1 the Lord says to Abraham, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Just like Abraham, Philip obeyed and followed Jesus by faith, even though he did not know where this would take him. And time would later prove that Philip was faithful to this call, even to the point of martyrdom.