“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)
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? The biblical definition for discipleship is to be a follower. In the Christian context, discipleship means to be a follower of Jesus. It means to not only follow Jesus’ teachings but also to emulate or mimic His character.
In Jesus’ day, discipleship entailed literally following one’s master. You followed him as he walked, you ate when he ate, you sat when he sat and you slept when and where he slept. We saw this in John 1:35-42.
In John 1:43-51 we see Jesus selecting two more disciples. Peter, Andrew and we assume John are already following Jesus. Jesus then finds Phillip and commands him to follow. The text tells us that Phillip was from the town of Bethsaida, which John mentions was the city, or hometown, of Andrew and Peter.
The text indicates, or at least implies, that Phillip was unhesitatingly willing to immediately follow Jesus. Additionally, Phillip appears to immediately and unhesitatingly go to his friend, Nathanial, and compel him to become a follower of Jesus also. Unlike Phillip, Nathaniel is a bit more reserved and skeptical of becoming a disciple of Jesus.
Nathaniel’s initial response to Phillip’s news that Jesus could be the Messiah was whether anything good could ever originate from the Town of Nazareth. Phillip’s reply was simple but profoundly wise. He said, “Come and see.”
Jesus’ initial comment to Nathanial was strikingly different than Nathanial’s. Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Jesus, displaying His omniscience or supernatural knowledge (cf. v. 42), called Nathanael … a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false (dolos, “deceitful”).
One commentator explains, “Nathanael was puzzled as to how Jesus knew about him. Jesus said He knew exactly what Nathanael was doing before Philip came up to him; he was under the fig tree. This expression often meant to have safety and leisure (cf. 1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zech. 3:10). Perhaps here the fig tree was a place for meditation (cf. comments on John 1:50–51). Psalm 139 elaborates on the theme of God’s knowledge of a person’s life in every detail.”
John’s text continues by saying, “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 1:50-51)
Jesus’ response to Nathaniel is huge with Old Testament meaning and significance. Dr. John MacArthur writes, “In light of the context of 1:47, this verse most likely refers to Genesis 28:12 where Jacob dreamed about a ladder from heaven. Jesus’ point to Nathanael was that just like Jacob experienced supernatural or heaven-sent revelation, Nathanael and the other disciples would experience supernatural communication confirming who Jesus was. Moreover, the term “Son of Man” replaced the ladder in Jacob’s dream, signifying that Jesus was the means of access between God and man”
The title Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-identification. It was used mostly by Jesus, who used it over 80 times. In the NT, it refers only to Jesus and appears mostly in the Gospels (cf. Acts 7:56).
Dr. MacArthur continues by saying, “In the fourth Gospel, the expression (Son of Man) occurs 13 times and is most commonly associated with the themes of crucifixion and suffering (John 3:14; 8:28) and revelation (6:27, 53) but also with eschatological authority (5:27). While the term at times may refer merely to a human being or as a substitute for “I” (6:27; cf. 6:20), it especially takes on an eschatological significance referring to Dan. 7:13–14 where “son of man” or Messiah comes in glory to receive the kingdom from the “Ancient of Days” (i.e., the Father).”
Dr. R.C. Sproul comments, “As great a sign as supernatural insight was, Jesus’ response to Nathanael was that he would yet see something greater: “heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vv. 50–51). Here we find an allusion to Jacob’s dream of a ladder joining earth and heaven (Gen. 28:10–22). Essentially, Jesus was telling Nathanael that He is the link between earth and heaven, that if a person is to ascend to heaven—attain salvation—he must do it through Christ Jesus (John 14:6). To see Jesus display supernatural knowledge was incredible indeed. But a far better vision is to see that Jesus is the way to salvation, the means through which we find eternal life. Many people saw Jesus do supernatural things in the first century, but fewer saw and believed in Him as the way to salvation. Things are not so different today. Many people view Jesus as a great man. Even some who are not believers have affirmed that He did miracles. But only those in whom the Spirit works will receive Him as Savior.”
Once again, John’s Gospel points us to Jesus as the eternal God of the universe. Our perspective of Jesus can be nothing less. Jesus’ actions in John 2 will begin to demonstrate this truth. Worship Jesus today as Emmanuel, God with us.
Soli deo Gloria!