John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51

We have three disciples so far. One is unnamed and the other two are Andrew (v. 40) and Peter (vv. 41-42). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. Presumably, it is the day after John’s disciples followed Jesus. ESV supplies the subject Jesus to this but the text does not indicate who the subject of “decided” is (ἠθέλησεν). It could be Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus (v. 42) and “everyone else who comes to Jesus in this chapter does so because of someone else’s witness” (Carson). He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” The text says, Jesus found Philip. Jesus issues a call, Follow me. “The verb “Follow” will be used here in its full sense of “follow as a disciple.” The present tense has continuous force, “keep on following.””[1] Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Mark 1:21, 29 indicate that Peter’s house was in Capernaum but it appears from this text that Peter and Andrew were reared in Bethsaida (remember, Jesus was from Nazareth but early on, his ministry was in Capernaum, Mt. 4:13).

From Philip, we turn to Nathanael. 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.” A new disciple zealously finds another soul and bears witness about Christ. This is the natural rhythm of the church and it usually only happens with true disciples of Christ. Philip now finds someone else who is called Nathaniel which means “God gives.”

In v. 41, Jesus was called the Messiah (says Andrew) and now Philip says, We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. The first part speaks of the prophetic words and the latter about the historical fulfillment. “That is the stance of this entire Gospel: Jesus fulfils the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. 5:39).”[2] This was the common expectation of the Jewish people. The “Law…the prophets” is perhaps another way of referring to the entire OT. Philip probably had Deut. 18:15-19 in mind and there would have been numerous other references from the rest of the OT regarding the Messiah. Edersheim noted that the Rabbis believed over 450 verses referred to the Messiah. Furthermore, “When Philip speaks of Jesus as “the son of Joseph” we should not take the words as a denial of the Virgin Birth. Joseph was the legal father of Jesus, and the Lord would accordingly be known as Joseph’s son.” (Morris)

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Nazareth was an insignificant place and no prophecies foretold that the Messiah would come from taht city. Here, Nathanael was not willing to accept Philip’s word so Philip says, Come and see. J. C. Ryle draws some edifying conclusions from Philip’s response

Wiser counsel than this it would be impossible to conceive! If Philip had reproved Nathanael’s unbelief, he might have driven him back for many a day, and given offence. If he had reasoned with him, he might have failed to convince him, or might have confirmed him in his doubts. But by inviting him to prove the matter for himself, he showed his entire confidence in the truth of his own assertion, and his willingness to have it tested and proved. And the result shows the wisdom of Philip’s words. Nathanael owed his early acquaintance with Christ to that frank invitation, “Come and see.”

If we call ourselves true Christians, let us never be afraid to deal with people about their souls as Philip dealt with Nathanael. Let us invite them boldly to make proof of our religion. Let us tell them confidently that they cannot know its real value until they have tried it. Let us assure them that vital Christianity courts every possible inquiry. It has no secrets. It has nothing to conceal. Its faith and practice are spoken against, just because they are not known. Its enemies speak evil of things with which they are not acquainted. They understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm. Philip’s mode of dealing, we may be sure, is one principal way to do good. Few are ever moved by reasoning and argument. Still fewer are frightened into repentance. The man who does most good to souls, is often the simple believer who says to his friends, “I have found a Savior; come and see Him.” (Ryle)

This is one of those remarkable verses. Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”  Palestinian Jews referred to one another as an “Israelite” and Jesus says he is a true (ἀληθῶς) Israelite (ESV has “Israelite indeed”). Why? We learn the reason for this declaration: in whom there is no deceit. Jacob means deceit; Nathanael is not like that. “Jesus’ knowledge of the true nature of Nathanael was supernatural. In 2:25 the evangelist says of Jesus, ‘He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.’”[3]

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.” We might have expected some self-deprecation but notice Nathanael’s words: How do you know me? “A more guileful man would have “modestly” asserted his unworthiness.” (Morris) Jesus’ answer seems to suggest that he knows more about Nathanael than merely his character; Jesus knew what Nathanael was doing before Philip called him.

Christ’s knowledge of Nathanael affects him deeply. Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  He sees immediately that this person is a teacher (Rabbi), God’s Son (Son of God), a King (King of Israel). He was already referred to as Rabbi in v. 28 and as the Son of God in v. 34. A revelation of Jesus unfolds from this title; he is the King of Israel. This title is used in Jn. 12:13 and in Mt. 27:42 & Mk. 15:32. What are the implications? “In the Old Testament God is the King of his people, and it is clear that in the intervening period the Messiah came to be thought of as exercising the divine prerogative of rule. Nathanael is speaking in the highest terms available to him.” (Morris) Carson’s observation is just as important.

The title King of Israel was used by Palestinian Jews for the Messiah; it is again applied to Jesus in 12:13. In John 18-19 the similar ‘King of the Jews’ occurs several times. Jesus did not quickly adopt either title for himself, as both expressions were in the popular mind largely tied to expectations of a political liberator. Yet Jesus was the promised King, even if he would have to explain that his kingdom was not of this world (18:36).[4]

So often modern believers accept Jesus as Savior. A true knowledge of Him entails the firm recognition and confession of Jesus as King. One who follows Jesus must also recognize that he follows the King of Kings (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). 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.” Nathanael’s faith is based upon Christ’s miraculous supernatural knowledge and “such a foundation can be insecure (4:48; 14:11; cf. Mt. 7:21-23), though certainly better than nothing (10:25, 38).” (Carson). Jesus promises him that he will see greater things than these. He will see many miracles (presumably all the signs). Future disciples would witness far more than what he saw that day. He will in fact see a vision far surpassing the patriarch Israel: 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.”

The phrase “Truly, truly…” is first used here in John. Though addressing Nathanael, he is promising all disciples who were to follow him in his ministry (2nd person plural, “you all will see”). The imagery goes back to Gen. 28:12. “What the disciples are promised, then, is heaven-sent confirmation that the one they have acknowledged as the Messiah has been appointed by God. Every Jew honoured Jacob/Israel, the father of the twelve tribes; now everyone must recognize that this same God has appointed Jesus as his Messiah.”[5]

What this means is that Jesus is the New Israel; God reveals Himself through Jesus. “Jesus himself is the link between heaven and earth (3:13). He is the means by which the realities of heaven are brought down to earth, and Nathanael will see this for himself. The expression then is a figurative way of saying that Jesus will reveal heavenly things, a thought that is developed throughout this Gospel.”[6] The point is that Jesus is focusing on himself as the final and full revelation of God. It is on the Son of Man heaven opens. Knowledge of and relationship with God are now permanently connected with and riveted on Jesus the Son of Man, the Son of God, the King of Israel.

When Jesus, alluding to this incident, said to his disciples, ‘you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’, he was implying that the place where people encounter God was now in the person of his Son, Jesus, and that it was through him that God was now revealing his truth. The greater things people were to see, then, would be the revelation of God in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus.[7]


[1] Morris, The Gospel of John, 142.

[2] Carson, John, 159.

[3] Kruse, John, 89.

[4] Carson, John, 162.

[5] Carson, John, 163-4.

[6] Morris, John, 149-150.

[7] Kruse, John, 90.

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