Scripture: The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:43-51 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus, the Baptist spots Jesus and reemphasizes to Andrew and one unnamed disciple that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Picking up on the importance of Jesus’ relationship with God and his ministry, the two pursue him. As they approach, Jesus turns and greets them with a question: “What are you seeking?” Perhaps anxious, they miss the deeper meaning of the question and ask where he is staying. Jesus graciously responds to the level of their receptivity and invites them to come and see. So they follow Jesus and stay with him the remainder of the day. Lastly, John tells us that Andrew, excited about what he has heard and seen, searches for his brother Simon, tells him they have found the Messiah, and then leads him to Jesus. Getting to the heart of the matter, Jesus addresses Simon through his father’s name (Simon Bar-Jona) and announces that he will call Simon “Cephas,” which translates to “Peter” in Greek.
Today’s devotion concludes Chapter 1 and chronicles the fourth day of Jesus’ ministry when he calls Philip and Nathanael. Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem, leaving the Jordan region east of Jericho. Along the way, he meets Philip (who grew up with Andrew and Peter in Bethsaida) and invites him to follow. Philip then approaches his friend, Nathanael, excitedly shares the good fortune of finding the Messiah foretold by Moses and the prophets and adds that he is Jesus the Nazarene. But Nathanael is skeptical and questions whether any good could come from this backwater town. So, like Jesus’ invitation to the first two disciples, Philip says, “Come and see.”
As Jesus spots Nathanael approaching, Jesus tells the others that Nathanael is an authentic Israelite, without guile. Surprised, Nathanael asks Jesus how he knows him. Revealing his supernatural ability to see events without being present, Jesus explains he saw Nathanael under a fig tree even before Philip found him. Overwhelmed, Nathanael excitedly exclaims that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. Undaunted by Nathanael’s praise, Jesus questions Nathanael’s faith in him based on this miraculous sign of prophetic knowledge. Jesus then assures him that he will see more significant miraculous events, like angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
Takeaway: All of these first disciples (Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael) resided in the region of Galilee and likely knew each other through the fishing profession. Indeed, Bethsaida means “house of fishing.” Comparing the synoptic gospelers’ lists of the disciples, Nathanael probably is the same person as Bartholomew since the latter means “son of Tolmai.” So he would be Nathanael Bar-Tolmai, like Simon Bar-Jona. The meaning of his name is “gift of God,” which certainly seems apropos as a gift to future generations who will benefit from his faithful service to Christ and his kingdom.
Jesus’ reference to angels ascending and descending on him points to Genesis 28:10-17, a story a godly man like Nathanael would know well, where God revealed himself to Jacob through a dream of angels scaling a ladder between earth and heaven. The point is that Jesus would undoubtedly reveal himself as the Son of God to upright Nathanael if his Father graciously did so for guileful Jacob, who deceived his brother and father. But the symbolism goes beyond what benefits Nathanael. As theologian Merrill Tenney contends, “Jesus implied that he himself would be the medium of that revelation, and his order of the angels’ procedure implies that they rose from earth to heaven with their inquiries and then returned to earth with the answers. His mission is to answer human need and to make sure that the answers are proclaimed” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John, p.41).
Our takeaway? As Tenney surmises from the text, like Nathanael, Jesus will meet all our needs, revealing himself and inviting us to follow him. And like Nathanael, Jesus calls us to go and tell others the answer to our prayers: the Son of God has graciously brought us forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. So go find friends, family, and anyone else seeking answers to our basic needs for unconditional love, purpose, and a hopeful future to “come and see” the One who is our answer.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who meets all our needs. And we thank you for his disciples, like Nathanael, who risked their well-being and very lives to ensure that future generations would have the answers they seek fulfilled in your Son. So would you please help us pay it forward and invite those we influence to “come and see” our risen Savior and Lord? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling