John 1:47-51 (NIV): When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Jesus knew everything about everybody. Nothing in a heart could be hidden from Him (and still can’t be!). In His spirit He had watched the interplay between Philip and Nathanael. He had heard Nathanael scoff at the idea that He was the Messiah (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”). And He had seen his reluctant willingness to “come and see.”
Now, when He saw Nathanael approach, Jesus made the first move. “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” By using the term “Israelite,” Jesus was point to Nathan being a “child of Israel,” or a man like Jacob, whom God had renamed Israel after wrestling with and defeating him. (Even though He told Jacob at the time that he, Jacob, had been the overcomer in his wrestlings with God and with man, Jacob was the one who had walked away with a limp! See Genesis 32:22-32.) Like Jacob, Nathanael was a wrestler. He resisted change, and adapted to new ideas slowly. Unlike Jacob, there was nothing false in Nathanael. He was an honest and devout man who was eagerly waiting for the appearance of the Messiah.
When he heard that description of himself, Nathanael realized that Jesus knew him inside and out, and was amazed. But when Jesus described Nathanael’s circumstances just before Philip had come to him, that convinced him that the man standing before him was in fact the Messiah, the very Son of God. How else could He have known these things? How else could He have seen what was going on without being there physically?
Jesus was amused by Nathanael’s quick turn-around. The wrestling match was over with a single pin, and Nathanael’s heart was transformed. But Jesus had amazing news for Nathanael: he hadn’t seen anything yet! Like Jacob, he would be treated to seeing a ladder linking heaven and earth with angels ascending and descending on it. Only in this case, Jesus Himself would be revealed as the ladder, providing a glorious bridge that would bring sinful mankind into the presence of the holy God.
Father, thank You for helping me to understand more of Nathanael’s journey. Even though he was looking for the Messiah, he knew enough to not just leap at the first person who claimed the title. He needed to see proof first. Some have pointed at Nathanael as impetuous for being so quickly swayed, but this shows the opposite. He was swayed, not by feelings or desire, but by the fact that Jesus knew him intimately without ever meeting him. And that powerful proof blew away every doubt. Thank You for reminding me that Jesus knows us all that intimately. And He is still THE Bridge between earth and heaven – the bridge through whom I myself was enabled to come into Your holy presence to be saved. Amen.