Philip, who met Jesus and was convinced about his identity, didn’t waste any time spreading the word. He goes to his friend Nathanael and boldly proclaims, “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.” Well, in Deuteronomy 18.15, Moses wrote, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” And the prophets wrote hundreds of times about the one God was going to send. The rabbis interpreted no less than 456 passages to be about the Messiah. It’s Jesus!
Nathanael didn’t just fall off the apple cart, so he’s immediately suspicious. And who wouldn’t be? People can claim anything they want. Nate blurts out a cynical, “Nazareth!? You must be joking. We all know that prophets don’t come from Galilee.”
Philip wasn’t going to be so easily put off. “Come and see for yourself.” Philip doesn’t try to convince his friend, but invites him to check Jesus out for himself. This is still a wise strategy and good advice. If there’s an issue to be explored, it should actually be examined.
In the previous story, Jesus seemed to know Peter even though he hadn’t met him before. Here he does the same thing to Nathanael. Before Nate gets a chance to talk, Jesus tells him about himself: You live up to the covenant name of Israel with your good character. You’re a good man with a servant’s heart and good motives.
Nathanael is quickly taken aback in shock and is thrown off of his cynical defensiveness. “How do you know me?”
“Well,” Jesus responded, “before Philip got you, you were just praying under the fig tree, and I was listening to your prayers.”
Nathanael is blown away. He knows he was just praying about those things, and using some of those exact words. He didn’t just get off the boat, but he wasn’t stupid either. Based on the evidence Philip had shared with him, and the evidence he just heard, he responds in faith. Faith is always based on evidence; it’s never blind. Nate isn’t dumb, and he understands who he is standing in front of, and he gives his testimony to the “jury”. Any devout Jew could see who this man is. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” What is faith in God? It is our knowledge from Scripture combined with the reliable testimony of others, bolstered by our direct experiences with Jesus himself. When someone is prepared, open, and ready, they know the truth when they see it.
Nathanael is a student of the Torah and is quick to bring his knowledge of the Scriptures to bear. Speaking in the words he has been taught as a follower of YHWH. “Son of God” was a Messianic title and refers back to Psalm 110. He adds, “You are the King of Israel.” This goes back to Psalm 2. Nathanael is speaking in the most lofty words he can come up with to express what he thinks of Jesus.
You’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t deny anything he says. Jesus doesn’t say, “No, Nate, I’m just a normal guy.” He accepts the titles Nathanael gives him, and adds, “There’s even more. You haven’t seen the half of it.”
“You will see the heavens open.” Whoa, now this is a common motif about expectation of the end times, but is also a common expression at turning points in history. Whoa. So the symbolism of the heaven open is Messianic, and the beginning of “eschatological happenings”. According to Jewish tradition, the heavens opening was one of the things that signified the inauguration of God’s kingdom.
“…and the angels of God ascending and descending…” This is a reference to Genesis 28.12ff, when Jacob had his vision at Bethel about a ladder joining earth to heaven. But this time it isn’t the angels creating the bond between heaven and earth, but Jesus himself. Cool, isn’t it. Jesus himself is “Bethel”—the house of God, and the gate between heaven and earth.
So far we have learned that Jesus is the Logos, both God and man, the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel, and the bridge between heaven and earth. And this is only chapter one. Hang on to your hat for what’s coming.