18: A True Israelite acknowledges a Greater than Moses (John 1:43-51)
18: A true Israelite acknowledges a greater than Moses
Beyond Jesus, who is your hero? They don’t have to be alive now. What would you do if that hero spoke to you and said “You need to meet Jesus, He is the Messiah of the Jews and the Logos of the Greeks. He is the One and Only of the Father, the ruler of the Kings of the earth and He would love to meet you.”
Most of us would want to meet Him wouldn’t we? Our hero is telling us to.
Moses was the great Jewish hero. The deliverer from the hand of slavery who led the people to God. The great predecessor of the Messiah who was to come. He pointed people towards Jesus. But many of the people to whom he was a hero, wouldn’t listen. Many of them still don’t, even though He came to them and lived with them.
Many of them couldn’t see what was right in front of their eyes.
“He came to His own, but His own knew Him not.” (John 1:11)
Not all of them though. John the Baptist, Andrew, Simon, they all got it.
Jesus went down to Galilee, to a City called Bethsaida. The name means “house of fish” or “fishing house”, as it was on the shores of Lake Genessaret and home to Andrew, Simon, John the gospel writer and probably his brother James. It was also home to another man called Philip, who was to appear a number of times in John’s gospel.
Jesus went to Bethsaida “the fishing house” on a fishing trip. He wasn’t fishing for fish, but for men. He wasn’t fishing for any sort of man, he was fishing for fishermen. Some of them were fishermen by trade and but He would turn all of them into fishermen. Fishers of men.
Jesus “found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 1:43)
Philip got it, seemingly straight away. Not only did he get who Jesus was, but he also “got” becoming a fisher of men. No one taught him how to “fish” for people, he just did it naturally. He had good news to share and he wanted to share it. It was nothing forced. No personal evangelism training (though I would encourage every Christian to take some). Just someone who had met Jesus and got who He was and was so excited he couldn’t keep the news to himself.
Lord, restore that excitement in me I pray.
“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.’” (John 1:45)
In other words, “we have found the One that our hero told us about and pointed us to.”
It is worth noting that, just because these disciples “got” who Jesus was at this point, it does not mean that they permanently “got it”. John the Baptist, Simon Peter and Philip himself would all have their moments of doubt. Just because we can articulate a belief very clearly and personalize it very passionately, it doesn’t mean that we have an unshakable grasp of it. When the waters rise around us and threaten to sink us (Peter), or when in a dark place in prison (John), or when facing challenges that seem insurmountable (Philip), even the strongest disciple can waver in their faith. Such “wavering”, of course, can make us stronger if we handle it right.
But now we are introduced to the next Jew whose eyes, mind and heart were opened to see Jesus for who He really is. We meet Nathanael.
Nathanael’s first response is not very encouraging. This is of course true of most of us when we hear the good news for the first time. We need to remember that, especially when we reach out to someone for the first time and they not only reject what we are saying but do so in a way that makes it seems as if they will never come to Christ.
Nathanael seems to have missed the point completely and not for a good reason either. Philip tells him that they have found the Messiah (which is clearly implied even though it is not clearly stated) and he is called Jesus and He comes from Nazareth. Nathanael though didn’t hear the Messiah piece, who the whole of Israel was waiting for, nor the name of Jesus which was to become the highest name in heaven and earth, no he missed them both. Because he was prejudiced.
Nathanael’s ears heard all of the above, but what came out of his heart was cynical judgment of another town in Israel and its people.
“Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'” (John 1:46)
Many of us would give up at this point. It’s not that Nathanael is so indifferent to Jesus, it’s just that his heart is obviously hardened towards others, even though they are brothers in Israel. He might have been interested in the Messiah but he seems more interested in putting down the neighbours that he doesn’t much care for. If he is so deeply prejudicial to people from Nazareth, so that it is the first thing out of his mouth, how is he ever going to bow down to one of them?
Philip, however, will not be put off. The issue of Nazareth was a red herring. The first thing out of people’s hearts when confronted with the good news about Jesus is often a red herring. A deflection away from what is really going on underneath. It is often a contentious statement that can take the conversation down a whole different path away from the central issue of “who is Jesus and what does that mean for me?”
As we discover, Nathanael really was hungry for the Messiah, he just had some messed up heart issues that he needed to get over in order to embrace Him. So Philip, wisely, did not react to the red herring. He kept the main issue the main issue.
“Philip said to him, “Come and see.”” (John 1:46)
That’s always the best answer. “Come and see”. Meet Him for yourself.
Some young men in a previous church had a friend. He was a confirmed atheist and a devout cynic. He would turn up at the end of the meetings and delight in engaging people in controversial discussions and arguments, which he would often win because of his intellectual prowess.
We couldn’t persuade him intellectually and so just encouraged him to pray and ask Jesus to reveal Himself. He didn’t pray the prayer. He didn’t believe in God never mind Jesus.
But one day, at home, he was desperate. Underneath the hard exterior was a great deal of pain. He was hungry for the Messiah but had never been able to admit it. Now he had no where else to turn.
He prayed a prayer, probably for the first time. Something like this:
“Jesus, if you are real, make yourself known to me.”
Suddenly he was overwhelmed in his lonely apartment by a love that he couldn’t resist. The presence of Jesus filled his room. He immediately got saved and his life was never the same again.
“Come and see” is often not just the best way, but the only way.
So Nathanael came to see, because the cynicism was just a cover for the hunger he had underneath. Jesus saw him coming. He sees us all coming.
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’” (John 1:47)
This is meant to be a meeting where Nathanael gets to know Jesus, but it starts with a conversation about how Jesus already knows Nathanael.
“Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’” (John 1:48)
Jesus only said one sentence but Nathanael felt “known”. It was obviously a sentence that summed up who he really was: a true Israelite in whom there was no deceit. That’s what his friends would have said about him.
This is the power of the prophetic gift in reaching people for Jesus. When hearers, however hardened in their hearts, feel that someone knows them, really gets them, even though they haven’t met before, it is very impacting.
For someone like Nathanael, who cannot seem to cover or hide what is going on inside, it opens them up to receive what Jesus wants to say. For someone else who knows how to use deceit, it could appear to do the opposite. The fact that they have been known will feel more like they have been exposed and they will close the door to their hearts. Nathanael couldn’t do that though, because he was a man without deceit. He couldn’t lie about it. So he asked the obvious question:
“Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’” (John 1:48)
Nathanael is already opened up, but what Jesus says next completely removes any resistance and prejudice he may have had.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.'” (John 1:48)
Wow! Jesus didn’t just know who Nathanael was but He knew where he had been. Philip is amazed. Maybe something good can come out of Nazareth after all. Not just something good but something wonderful. And Nathanael, who never could hide what he really felt, pours out his new found belief in who Jesus is:
“Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (John 1:49)
Nathanael gives Jesus three titles. He calls Him:
• “Rabbi” – “You are a great and wise teacher and I want to be your disciple”
• “The Son of God” – “You have come from God, You are not of this earth. You are not of the same lineage as anyone else, You are a different sort of being. You are not of this creation. You are of the Creator. You are the Son of God prophesied in Psalm 2. Therefore You are the Messiah.”
• “Because You are the Messiah, the anointed One prophesied in Psalm 2, You are the anointed King of Israel who has come not only to rule our people but to rule all the nations of the earth”
Because Jesus knew Nathanael, it opened up Nathanael to know Jesus. And how he knew Him! That’s a lot of revelation to get in one go. Philip had told him that they had “found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45) clearly implying that they had found the Messiah but Nathanael takes that revelation to a whole new level.
He really got it.
How is it that Nathanael got it where many others more learned and trained in the scriptures didn’t? Those, like the Pharisees, Sadducees and Teachers of the Law had all studied the scriptures diligently and were waiting for the Messiah to come. You would have thought they were closest to getting it right. Most of the people in Israel would have thought they were the closest to getting it right. In the end, it turns out that they were the furthest away.
So how is it that Nathanael gets it where they don’t? Jesus gives us a clue in the text. He sees a trait in Nathanael which was probably a pain to those around him, but in the end it seems to save him. The first time we see this trait, we see it’s dark side. However many of our “dark sides” are God given gifts that have been twisted by our sinfulness and the evil one that fuels our twistedness. Jesus sees beyond the dark side to the good that was underneath, that He Himself had created and He uses that to open Nathanael’s eyes to the truth.
What was that trait? Let’s look at the text.
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”” (John 1:47)
He was a man without deceit. That sounds good, but in it’s twisted state it clearly wasn’t. He called things how he saw them. He thought it in his brain and it came out of his mouth. He didn’t seem to think about how it would impact those around him. He didn’t have time for external religious show. In modern language, he wasn’t politically correct, not at all!
What probably came over as gruff and a lack of grace and respect, actually was the saving of him. Another translation of the words “without deceit” would be “without guile”. His inability (or unwillingness) to hide his feelings and just talk straight the way he saw it, would have probably made him awkward socially, but at least you always knew where you stood with him. He wasn’t trying to fool anyone, or be someone he wasn’t. What you saw (and heard) was what you got.
In that way he was the exact opposite of many, if not most of the religious leaders and teachers of the law. They loved the outward appearance and show but it was all a cover for a cold, calculating and, in many cases, mean heart. They didn’t just practice deceit they lived it. Their lives were full of guile, politically manipulating for control and power and the reverence of the people.
Jesus put it this way:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
That’s Jesus. A true Israelite in whom there was no deceit.
That’s why He loved Nathanael, as gruff and graceless as he appeared. At least he was straight. At least he was honest. At least he was open. Jesus could work with that. Jesus could reveal Himself to such a person, because he was willing to walk in the light.
Those religious leaders who couldn’t show you what was really going on, who meticulously maintained a front and spoke endless, meaningless words (however intellectually stimulating they may have been) that could never give people life, those people Jesus couldn’t work with because they refused to walk in the light.
They didn’t want to be known and so they never knew the Messiah, even though He was standing in front of them.
Nathanael’s lack of deceit may have been a social accident waiting to happen, but it saved him in the end. Nathanael knew that Jesus knew. Nathanael knew that Jesus knew not only where he had been but what he had said there. Nathanael had spoken disrespectfully about Jesus’ own home town and the people that came from there. Nathanael knew that he had been seen and heard and known and uncovered.
But he wasn’t so bothered about trying to look good. He just wanted to find something real and true and genuine. And he found Him this day. He found the Messiah. It so turned out that He came from Nazareth, whose people Nathanael seemed to despise. Now he not only respects one, he bows before Him as His Lord and King.
How open are we? Or are we more of a closed book, keeping our cards close to our chest, not letting people see what’s really going on underneath?
If we are not careful we end up living by “guile”, which very quickly morphs into deceit. It is a form of lying to put on a front to cover up what you really feel inside. Such deceit can be deadly, because it can prevent us from really being open and honest with Jesus. If we can’t be open and honest with Jesus, if we are more interested in preserving ourselves and keeping up appearances, we will never see Him for who He really is.
If we won’t allow ourselves to be known, we will find it very difficult to really know Him.
Knowing Jesus is the only way to truly preserve our lives.
Not knowing Jesus is deadly.
As Jesus said: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33)
The truth is that Jesus knows us all anyway, intimately, inside and out. He knows everything about us and He knew us before we ever met Him.
“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.'” (John 1:48)
So trying to preserve ourselves is doubly futile because Jesus knows us anyway and because, if we persist in trying to preserve our lives, we will end up losing them.
Nathanael was not politically correct or socially appropriate. He was probably a pain to be around, even as a friend. He could probably embarrass you, wreck a party and cause arguments. Jesus saw beyond the blunt exterior into the man that just wanted to see something real and true. He found it when he found Jesus.
He found Jesus, but really Jesus found him.
Philip tells Nathanael to “come and see”. It would seem that the initiator in this relationship with Jesus is Nathanael, at Philip’s encouragement. But then we discover that before ever Nathanael had even wanted to see Jesus (or knew of Him) Jesus had seen and known him. The Messiah was looking for His people long before His people knew a Messiah was coming.
If you are coming close to knowing Jesus for the first time, then know this. He is already seeing and knowing you.
Because his eyes have been opened to see Jesus for who he is, Nathanael’s perspective has been opened to a whole new world. That happens once we really get it. Seeing Jesus is just the start, the Gateway into the “so much more” of God. The key to unlocking the windows of heaven, the treasure chest in Whom is found everything we ever need and joys to last us an eternity.
Jesus says to Nathanael:
“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: 50).
What does that mean? It is probably a reference to the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, since the language used is so similar. It is important to read the account in full in Genesis 28.
“Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.” (Genesis 28:10-19)
Jacob is on his way out of the land that God promised Abraham to find a wife from his extended family. This dream strengthens Jacob’s belief that God has given them the land he is leaving by showing him that God’s presence is particularly in that place. He renamed it “Bethel” meaning the house of God and said it was the very Gateway of Heaven. This is the place where the Angels come up and down to earth.
Jesus references the account of Jacob with Nathanael and all those who are listening (he uses the plural “you”). What is He saying?
He is making the startling claim that there is a new gate of Heaven on earth. There is a new promised land which is blessed with the riches of God’s resources. He is saying that there is a new “Bethel”, a new house of God, a new place where His manifest presence dwells. It is not a piece of land, but a person. It is Jesus Himself, the Gateway of Heaven to earth, The true land of all God’s promises and the dwelling place of God amongst His people.
In the days of super hero movies, the younger generation are familiar with the concept of a portal, a gate or hole that opens up allowing beings from other galaxies into our world.
There is a real portal. A doorway that allows the Angels of heaven to come up and down to earth. It is not a place it is a Person.
When we see Jesus for who He really is, we see the Gateway into a wonderful world beyond. He really has come to bring Heaven to earth and Nathanael will get to witness it first hand. We get to see it second hand as we read through John’s account starting with a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
Does your life need to be touched by heaven today? Could you do with a bit of heaven in your world? Jesus is the only way to see that happen. When you approach him with openness and honesty like Nathanael, you will discover that He has already been moving towards you and sees you and knows you. If you receive Him and believe in Him, putting all your trust in Him, you will discover that He is the doorway to a life that is more than you could ever have imagined.Posted on: May 26, 2018Peter Todd