Ask any one to name some of the twelve disciples, chosen by Jesus, and it is likely that you were hear of Matthew, Luke, John, Peter (also called Simon), Andrew, James, Philip, and even Judas. Seldom would you hear Bartholomew or Nathanael. In fact, scholars assume that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person, because Matthew, Mark and Luke refer to Bartholomew and makes no mention of Nathanael, while John lists Nathanael and not Bartholomew in the disciples list. In stead of getting caught up with, “WHO Nathanael was”, it is more important for us to understand “WHAT Nathanael was?”
When Philip finds Nathanael, Philip tells Nathanael that Jesus is the person of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write. This means that Nathanael must be a person who would have studied the law and familiarized himself with the writings of the coming Messiah. Philip asks Nathanael to “Come and See” the Christ. We then learn, that Nathanael is coming to Jesus, when Jesus looks at him and says of him, Behold an Israelite, in whom is no guile (deception) (John 1:47). Nathanael questions Jesus, “since when do you know me” to which Jesus responded by saying that “even before Philip called you, when you sat under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48). Nathanael responds by addressing Jesus as Rabbi and then believes and expresses that Jesus indeed was the Son of God and the king of Israel.
What can we learn from Nathanael?
Can Jesus say of you and me, that we are without any guile (deception); that we don’t live a double standard or a hypocritical lifestyle? WHO we are is not important, but WHAT (kind of person) we are is what matters to Jesus. Like Nathanael, do we read about Jesus in his word/law and when asked to come and see, are we going to come forward to see Jesus as Nathanael did. The fig tree figuratively represents human efforts for righteousness. Adam and Eve had sown themselves coverings of fig leaves to hid their shame, that resulted from their disobedience in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7). Jesus cursed the fig tree that was fruitless (Mark 11:20), implying that those who are not grafted and remain in the vine (in Christ) cannot bear fruit and subject to the curse of being eternally separated from God, fit for nothing, but withered and dried up to be cut and thrown into the fire (John 15:4; Mark 11:21). Jesus saw Nathanael under the cloak of human righteousness and when Jesus reveals this to him, Nathanael believes and responds that Jesus is indeed the Son of God (Spiritual King of kings) and the King of Israel (earthly king) (John 1:49). Can we be like Nathanael, believing in our hearts that Jesus is the Son of God in deed and not rely on our human efforts to assure Salvation, for we can be saved, only by grace through faith alone and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
John 1:43-51 (KJV)
43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.
44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.