John gives us details about the life of Peter that are not mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The latter three don’t mention this incident described by John, which is the earliest recorded meeting between John and Jesus.
This incident took place somewhere in the south of the country. John was baptising at a place called Bethany across the Jordan (John 1:28), described in this way in order to distinguish it from the more famous Bethany near Jerusalem where Mary and Martha lived. We can see also from verse 43 that Jesus was not in Galilee when he first met Peter.
It is the case that a conversion involves links in chains. In Peter’s case, several links are mentioned in the story. Some are more immediate in time as far as the conversion is concerned such as the role of John and the role of Andrew. A more distant link is stated in John 1:44 when John says that Peter was from Bethsaida. This particular link was not one of Peter’s choice – it was where his family lived. The fact that he lived there was connected to divine providence, and while providence takes to do with everything in life we should not forget that in Peter’s case it placed him in a situation where it was easier for him to hear the gospel. And that is the case with us as well.
What about John the Baptist as a link in Peter’s conversion? We can see from John 1:33 that one of John’s disciples was Andrew. It is also very likely that Peter was a disciple of John’s as well, which would explain why the brothers were down in the south of the country, away from home. John’s ministry had stimulated interest in religious renewal, particularly his emphasis that the Messiah was about to appear.
No doubt, there was a sense of anticipation created in the minds of some of John’s listeners. Yet not all anticipation is correct, so I think John the author stresses for us here the kind of anticipation that John the Baptist wanted his followers to have. And the anticipation was that Jesus would be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. So John was saying that when the Messiah came, he would be a substitute on behalf of sinners and that somehow he would become a sacrifice. He also indicated that, unlike the lambs offered in the temple which were selected by the worshipper, the Messiah was God’s choice. So we can see that John’s teaching in general about the Messiah was part of his role.
As far as Peter was concerned, although he may at the time been totally unaware of it, John played another important piece in the jigsaw when he pointed Andrew and a friend to Jesus as he was walking along. Immediately Andrew and his friend took the hint and started to walk along behind Jesus. So John had his part to play in a general and in a more specific way in the conversion of Peter. And it is possible for us to have both those ways as well.