John 1:43–50a (ESV) — 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?
1) NATHANAEL THE SCKEPTIC
John 1:45 (ESV) — 45 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.”
Concerning Philip and his remarkable claim about Jesus:
• It is unclear if Philip had any encounters with Jesus prior to this event.
• He may have known Andrew and Peter (all born in Bethsaida) and had some associations with John the Baptist.
• But what is for certain is that Jesus was looking for him and “found” him.
o John 6:37 (ESV) — 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
• Now Philip’s claim is an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15 & 18:
• Deuteronomy 18:15 (ESV) — 15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—
• Deuteronomy 18:18 (ESV) — 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
Nathanael’s response demonstrates his skepticism toward Philip’s claim:
• And interestingly, his response is informed by the current views of the Messiah.
• John 1:46 (ESV) — 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
• Nathanael’s response was based “apparently on the scriptural lore that neither the awaited prophet or nor the Messiah would have Galilean origins” – AYBD.
An example of the pervasiveness of this “scriptural lore” is found in John 7:40-44:
• John 7:40–44 (ESV) — 40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Philip countered Nathanael’s speculation with simple, yet profound words:
• John 1:46b (ESV) — 46b Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
• Nathanael obliged Philip’s request; he had no reasonable reason not to.
• And as any honest skeptic should be, Nathanael was perhaps skeptical of his own skepticism.
Whatever the reason, Nathanael went with Philip to meet Jesus and it was an encounter that would change his life.
• BTW – Philip the Apostle is not Philip the Evangelist in the Acts.
• And Nathanael (a personal Hebrew name) is the most likely the same as Bartholomew (a patronymic name).
John 1:47–49 (ESV) — 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
• This is a remarkable encounter between an unbeliever and Jesus.
• With respect to the relationship between Scripture and the supernatural to salvation, it is unlike most other encounters in the Gospels.
• A comparison between Nathanael’s encounter and these other examples in Scripture will tell us something about the relationship between evidence and belief.
3 examples (and there are more) that appear to be at odds with our text today:
• John 5:46-47 (ESV) — 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
o Prior to 46 and 47 above, Jesus had just revealed and taught how he came “in my Father’s name”.
o They rejected Him and he told them that the one on whom they had set there hope, Moses, would be their accuser before the Father.
o Why would Moses be their accuser – if you believed Moses you would believe Jesus.
• John 12:37–38 (ESV) — 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
o Prior to 37 and 38 above, the crowd whom Jesus was teaching had just heard “a voice from heaven” speak of Jesus and yet “they still did not believe in him”.
• Luke 16:29–31 (ESV) — 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”
o Prior to 29-31 above, the Rich Man had been sent to hell.
o From hell, He asked Abraham to send a supernatural sign to his brothers so that they might believe.
o Abraham responds that they would not because they don’t believe what they do have.
These verses seem to indicate that if Scriptural revelation is not enough for you then supernatural revelation will not be enough either.
• Hundreds if not thousands who witnessed Jesus’ supernatural power rejected Jesus.
• Yet, Nathanael, who was skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah of the Scriptural revelation, believed in Jesus based on a supernatural encounter with Jesus.
• What was different about Nathanael’s encounter that caused him to believe?
• It can’t have been the nature of the supernatural power he witnessed because his was fairly tame compared to the healings and feedings Jesus did before the crowds.
• In other words, it appears the supernatural was not what really made the difference.
Maybe it was the fact that Nathanael was such a dedicated student of Scripture.
• Jesus described him as “under the fig tree” when Jesus “saw” him.
o “In rabbinic tradition, fig trees were frequently cited as appropriate locales for teachers to discuss the meaning of the scriptures with their students” – AYBD.
o In other words, Nathanael was presumably a dedicated student of Scripture.
• Jesus also alluded to Jacob’s vision as found in Genesis 28:12.
o This is only useful if Nathanael was acquainted with the passage and the implication Jesus was making.
• Nathanael’s response to Jesus as “Son of God” and “King of Israel”.
o These phrases are allusions to OT references to the Messiah (Psalm 2:7 and Zeph 3:15, respectively).
o Possession of this knowledge further demonstrates his familiarity of Scripture.
Unfortunately, as steeped in Scripture as Nathanael seemed to be, it is fairly clear that knowledge of Scripture does not lead to salvation any more than witnessing the supernatural power of Jesus does.
• One need only look at the Pharisees, Sadducees, and temple Priests that rejected Jesus.
• It seems that something else was at play.
So we are still left with the question how was Nathanael’s encounter different than the others?
• Perhaps Jesus’ words provide the clues for us.
John 1:47 (ESV) — 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
• What in the world does this mean?
• It has to do with the nature of his heart.
• “Nathanael may have been blunt in his criticism of Nazareth, but he was an Israelite without duplicitous motives who was willing to examine for himself the claims being made about Jesus” – D.A. Carson.
o In other words, as we hinted at earlier, as a skeptic, he rightly was open to the idea that skepticism of his own beliefs is just as warranted as skepticism of Philip’s claim about Jesus.
• In fact, according to D.A Carson, Jesus’ words are even more specific as to the disposition of Nathanael’s heart.
• Carson argues that Jesus statement is an allusion to Jacob after his wrestling match with God in Gen 32:22-32.
• Jacob at first had a heart problem – he stole Esau’s birthright via deception.
• However, later Jacob wrestled with God and received a new name (and presumably a new heart) – Israel.
• Jesus was telling Nathanael that he had the heart of “Israel” not the deceitful heart of “Jacob”.
• This allusion is further supported by Jesus’ reference to Jacob’s vision in verse 51.
So what is the answer to our question concerning the difference in Nathanael’s encounter with supernatural evidence and the “crowds” or the Rich Man’s brothers?
• Jesus’ own words reveal that the difference was not the kind (Scriptural or supernatural) of evidence or even the quality of evidence.
• The difference was that Nathanael had a different kind of heart than the “crowds” or the Rich Man’s brothers.
• And for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, Scripture and the supernatural are always making themselves available to persuade.
• It is also clear, however, that Nathanael’s knowledge of Scripture did provide him with the ability to flesh out his new found faith in a way he could make sense of.
o John 1:49 (ESV) — 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
And what about the relationship between evidence and belief, what can we learn about it?
• John 1:50 (ESV) — 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?…”
• With this statement Jesus seems to be acknowledging a difference between coming to belief in Christ based on the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit alone responding to the Gospel (John 6:44, John 1:13, 1 Pet. 1:3, Eph 2:8-9, etc.), and a combination of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit and outside evidence (shortly we will see He calls this type of person “slow of heart”).
• Jesus’ words also echo this sentiment in the following verses:
o John 4:48 (ESV) — 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
o John 14:11 (ESV) — 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
o John 12:10–11 (ESV) — 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
o John 20:29 (ESV) — 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Nathanael was one of those who responded in faith to a combination of the outside evidence and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.
• D.A. Carson notes that Nathanael’s faith was “grounded upon a miracle, and such a foundation can be insecure, though certainly better than nothing”.
• Jesus describes this type of person elsewhere in Scripture.
• Luke 24:25 & 31 (ESV) — 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! …31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
• John 10:38 (ESV) — 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Lesson for Us:
• So can external evidence lead one to belief?
• It appears the answer is yes, if the person confronted with the evidence has a heart so disposed or inclined.
• In other words, a heart prepared by God and given eyes to see and ears to hear the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.
• It is for this reason we speak the Gospel and seek to persuade with Scripture and apologetics; we don’t know who is so inclined and how they are inclined (internal or internal+external).
o “The Spirit of God condescends to use it [evidence plus the gospel] in bringing certain people to Himself” – William Lane Craig.
• This also helps us make sense of Paul’s attempt to persuade in Acts 17:4; 18:4; 19:8; 19:26; 26:28; 28:23.
o Some had hearts that responded to the Gospel alone (internal testimony of the Holy Spirit).
o Some were “slow of heart” that responded to the Gospel plus Paul’s OT arguments for the Messiah, etc.
This relationship between external evidence and belief simply provide yet another reason that we are called to give account for our beliefs by Peter.
• As W.L. Craig puts it, we know why we believe, but we must be able to show why we believe.
John 20:30–31 (ESV) — 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.