How Jesus Impresses the Hard-to-impress Nathaniel
In today’s Gospel (John 1:43-51) Jesus Christ awes the very hard to impress Nathaniel. But do you know the real reason why Nathaniel is so impressed? It is not as obvious as you might first think.
Here is today’s Gospel reading in its entirety:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  Now Philip was from Beth-sa’ida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathan’a-el, 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.”  Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Jesus saw Nathan’a-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  Nathan’a-el 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.”  Nathan’a-el 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 shall 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 upon the Son of man.”
- Nathaniel isn’t impressed by Philip’s amazing claims about prophecies offered by Moses and all the prophets, the prophecy of Moses 1300 years old!
- A little later, Jesus will say that Nathaniel has no guile (meaning cunning, sly); Nathaniel is not a guy who minces words, he says what he thinks: Nathaniel doesn’t believe Philip!
- Nazareth was a small and secluded Galilean village considered unimportant by many in Israel. Certainly, Nazareth was not the place where the Messiah was predicted to hale from.
- Net: Nathaniel thinks that Philip is full of it.
Nathaniel, surprisingly at first read, does a 180 degree turn and seems to be overly impressed. Nathaniel “goes and sees” Jesus. Jesus says a few things and all of a sudden, Nathaniel seems to go overboard, saying: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”.
- Certainly Jesus accurately offers a small demonstration of His omniscience, when He tells Nathaniel, though Nathaniel is out of Jesus’ sight, that Jesus “sees” Nathaniel under a fig tree.
- But Nathaniel has just discounted Philip making wild claims about Jesus, implying that Jesus is the Messiah.
- Now, with just a few words, Nathaniel is all in: he calls Jesus the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel.” These are remarkable titles.
- Put this in perspective in today’s time: If I came along and said, “Hey, before you came over here, I saw you sitting at Starbucks” and then you suddenly said, “You are the next president of the United States.” That would be a complete over-reaction. Unless there is something else going on. There is.
In Jesus’ short statement, He is offering an amazing confirmation to Nathaniel that He is indeed the Son of God, The King of Israel and the One who Moses and the Prophets were referring to. Here’s the back story:
- Jesus has just said that Nathaniel is an “Israelite”, one who knows scripture and keeps the rituals of Israel (e.g. keeping Passover, going to the Temple and synagogue, etc.). Nathaniel knows his faith.
- The prophet Zechariah writes (Zechariah 3:1-10) about a prophecy about the delivery of Israel. In it, Joshua, the high priest (Zech 3:1) is told several things by an angel:
- “I will bring my servant a Branch” (Zech 3:8).
- God will remove Israel’s guilt in a single day (Zech 3:9).
- “Every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Zech 3:10).
- Further, in Zechariah 6:11-13, Zechariah prophesies:
 Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it upon the head of Joshua, the son of Jehoz’adak, the high priest;
 and say to him, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall grow up in his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.
 It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD, and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And there shall be a priest by his throne, and peaceful understanding shall be between them both.”‘
Nathaniel puts all this together and realizes that Jesus is the One who Zechariah is talking about. How?:
- Joshua and Jesus are names that have similar meanings: God Saves.
- Nazareth is similar to the Hebrew word for “Branch”; nester. The Branch is to spring from the root/stump of David (Isaiah 11:1), suggesting to Nathaniel that Jesus is the the one from the line of David who will become the Messiah.
- Nathaniel is under a fig tree (John 1:50), the same wording found in the prophecy of Zechariah (Zech 3:10).
- It is Passover time and guess what readings the Hebrews are reading at this time: that’s right, Zechariah.
Given the full back story, what Jesus confirms is the truth: that He is the Son of God and the King of Israel. Nathaniel didn’t overreact, he probably under reacted!