Real Man #6 Nathanael, Mr. Genuine (Mark 3:18 & John 1:43-51)

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Real Man #6 Nathanael, Mr. Genuine

Part 8 Real Men, from Mark 3:18


Raising boys–an anonymous mother in Austin, Texas wrote an article that appeared in the local paper.  Her opening paragraph starts with the title, “Raising Boys”, then gives these options:

a) For those with no children – this is totally hysterical

b) For those who already have children past this age, this is hilarious

c) For those who have children this age, this is not funny

d) For those who have children nearing this age, this is a warning

e) For those who have not yet had children, this is birth control

Things I’ve learned from my boys (honest and not kidding):

1) A king-size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2,000 sq.ft. house, 4 inches deep

2) If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite

3) A 3-year-old boy’s voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant

4) If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42-pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20×20 ft. room.

5) You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way.

6) The glass in windows (even double-pane) doesn’t stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.

7) When you hear the toilet flush and the words “uh oh” follow, it’s already too late.

8) Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it.

9) A six-year-old boy can start a fire with a flint rock, even though a 36-year-old man says they can only do it in the movies.

10) Certain Legos will pass through the digestive tract of a 4-year-old boy.

11) The words “Play dough” and “microwave” should not be used in the same sentence.

12) Super glue is . . . forever.

13) No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool, you still can’t walk on water.

14) Pool filters do not like Jell-O.

15) Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.

16) Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.

17) Always look in the oven before you turn it on–plastic toys do not like ovens.

18) The fire department in Austin has a 5-minute response time.

19) The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy.

20) It will, however, make cats dizzy.

21) Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.

22) 80% of men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.

Even though I think there is some discipline lacking here, I like this because it is genuine, honest, real and sincere.  It speaks of real life–flawed, funny, imperfect and difficult.

About seven years ago, I went to Magic Mountain with my boys, and when I came back I was asked, “So how did you like Magic Mountain?”  I said I had a great time, at which my friend looked at me with a disbelieving face and a tilt of his head–because he knew I was not being genuine.  I then clarified–I had a great time with my family, but Magic Mountain is no longer for me, which was and is true.

I loved Magic Mountain–loved it, rode all the rides repeatedly.  But when I got to a certain age, I no longer found the rides fun.  They became more of a test of manhood, survival, a work out.  At some point, I began to ask questions like–how much will this hurt, will this make me sick, will I pass out, and why am I doing this?  I was not being genuine with my first answer.

Do you battle with being genuine?  You bet you do.  Do you struggle with trying to fit into a particular group?  Are you one who is hyped up over the latest trends?  Do you say what you mean and mean what you say?  Or do you flatter, gossip, or speak in order to fit in?  Do you go places and do things you really don’t enjoy for the sake of crowd?  Hey, it’s an act of sacrifice for a man to take his wife to see Pride and Prejudice, but it’s insincere to go to a rodeo with a group of friends, if you despise horses and hate dirt.

Do you smile to impress, or smile to express love and care?  All of us have been to a restaurant where the owner or waiter only cared about the tip you left.  And maybe you have been to a restaurant like I have, where the owner or waiter really cared about you, took care of you and was sincere in their service to you.

Being authentic is desperately needed today, and that is why the New Testament calls for Christians to be sincere and genuine.  Of all people on the planet, Christians are to be the most genuine.  Philippians 1:9 to 11, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

The word sincere here means “unmixed”, and “that which is tested by the sun”–like tellers who hold a twenty dollar bill up to the light to see if it is genuine and not counterfeit, a Christian lives life in light of the scrutiny of the Son of God.  The Greek word for sincere came from a word that meant “without wax”.  Sometimes expensive pottery was broken, so it would be patched together with wax and carefully painted over. Someone would buy it, and when it sat out in the sun, the wax would melt and the pottery fell apart.  So merchants began stamping their pottery with the word, “without wax”, meaning sincere, real, unbroken, genuine.

Right now, today, as you sit here–as the Son of God uses the Spirit of God to take the Word of God, like an X-ray through your heart, does He find you sincere, without wax, genuine and authentic?  Genuine means your motives are manifested–what you are on the inside is demonstrated on the outside.  You have a sincere walk with Christ in your heart of hearts, and it shows in how you live.  You are not pretending nor fake, but honest and real.  Genuine is to be yourself as God made you.

Are you genuine?  Nathanael was–who is Nathanael?  He is the next man listed as Jesus names His twelve apostles in Mark 3.  We are studying the gospel of Mark, and are studying each apostle individually to learn what it means to be a real man, His man, and today, especially to be a genuine man.

We’ve studied Peter Mr. Initiator, James Mr. Zeal, Andrew Mr. Potential, Philip Mr. Limiting, and now Nathanael, Mr. Genuine.  Now don’t be confused–Nathanael is listed as Bartholomew in all four lists of the apostles.  But in the gospel of John, he is always called Nathanael.  Look at Mark 3:16 to 18, “And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), 17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, ‘Sons of Thunder’); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, . . . Nathanael.”

Bartholomew is his Hebrew name, meaning son of Tolmai–but Nathanael means “God has given.”  So his full name is Nathanael, Son of Tolmai, or Nathan Bar Tolmai.  The synoptic gospels (which refers to the first three gospels, that were written all around the same period), Matthew, Mark and Luke, plus the book of Acts, contain no details about Nathanael.  Each synoptic only mentions Nathanael once as they list the twelve apostles.  But thankfully the late gospel, the one written long after the first three, John does mention Nathanael twice, John 1 and 21.

The gospel of John was written after the death of James and Philip, and even potentially after the death of Nathanael as well, and thankfully John fills us in on what the other gospels left out.  Moved by the Spirit and from a heart to speak the truth in love, John honors the men in the second group of four in the twelve apostles by describing them to us as real men.  And I am so grateful, since these were men who were flawed, sinful and prone to weak faith like me, yet God used them to turn the world upside down for Christ.

John 1 records Nathanael’s call as a disciple, and John 21 tells us Nathanael went back to fishing after Jesus rose from the dead.  And John 21:2 gives us a clue into Nathanael’s past.  Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.

Nathanael came from the small town of Cana in Galilee where Jesus performed His first miracle–turning water to wine.  Cana is five miles north of Nazareth, and about seven miles west of the Sea of Galilee.  Cana was out of the way, and was small enough to actually have its exact location debated by archeologists today.  What difference does this make?  You’ll see, as you turn to John 1:43–here the apostle describes Nathanael as a genuine man.

Read verses 43-51 with me, and notice the outline:

1 BACKGROUND “The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 2 BUDDIES 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 3 BIBLE “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 4 BIAS 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 5 BONA FIDE 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 6 BLOWN AWAY 48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to 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 and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

#1  BACKGROUND–Christ finds Philip and Philip finds Christ

We studied verses 43 to 44 last week as Mr. Limiting Philip is called as a disciple.  But remember where they are–they are all out in the wilderness shortly after Jesus’s baptism, when John the Baptist pointed to Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Andrew, John, Peter and possibly James were the first to be called.  Then the very next day Jesus sought out Philip, which ends up being good news for Nathanael.  Why?  Because they were . . .

#2  BUDDIES–Nathanael is friends with Philip

Look at verse 45–Philip found Nathanael.  Stop there.  Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus immediately after Philip was called by Christ.  Philip and Nathanael were apparently close friends.  How do we know?  Well the first thing Philip does is to seek out his friend Nathanael and tell him about Christ.  You always tell those you love about the one you love the most.

Also, in each of the lists of the apostles given in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the names of Philip and Bartholomew are linked.  Plus, in the earliest Church histories, their names are often linked.  Apparently, before they came to Christ, after they were saved and walked with Christ, Nathanael and Philip were good friends.  Unlike Peter and Andrew, or James and John who were brothers, these two were buddies, always side-by-side as close companions.

Friendships are brothers or sisters who share similar convictions and pursue similar priorities, though they can be very different.  It is someone you are loyal to, even when it’s difficult.  It is a person you can truly be yourself with.  You can be genuine.  As one writer says, a real friend warms you up by his presence, trusts you with his secrets, and remembers you in his prayers.  A friend is one who comes in when the world goes out.  Having a spouse for a friend is the grace of life.  Having a few genuine friends is an amazing blessing.  And knowing Christ as a friend is abundant life itself.

Are you lonely?  Has your walk with Christ stagnated?  Then as you pursue Christ first, get into a ministry or RMG, and start hanging out with those who are pursuing Christ too.  You will start to grow, and the Lord may build some great friendships as a result.  Look at verse 45, “Philip found Nathanael.”  They were obviously friends.  Whether this was a business relationship, a family relationship, or just a social relationship, Philip obviously was close to Nathanael.  And Philip knew Nathanael would be interested in the news that the long-awaited Messiah had finally been identified.

In fact, Philip couldn’t wait to share the news with Nathanael.  So Philip immediately pursued him and brought him to Jesus.  Apparently Philip found Nathanael in or near the same place where Philip was found by the Lord Himself.  Now as they interact, you find out what kind of man Nathanael was.  One quality that is obvious from the text is Nathanael loved the . . .

#3  BIBLE–Nathanael loves the Scripture

When I meet someone who likes the same team I like–the Green Bay Packers–I automatically feel an identity with them.  Someone who backpacks, or skin dives, or body boards–I have a lot to talk about with them.  Someone who reads JC Ryle, MacArthur, or Jerry Bridges–instantly we have a common excitement.  Pastors who train men and/or preach God’s Word, seeking to honor the author’s intended meaning are instantly my friend, even though they may be a stranger.  There’s an immediate connection when mutual affections are discovered.  In the same way, you can determine that Nathanael loved the Scripture, because the first thing Philip tells him about Jesus is that He is the one who they’ve been looking for in the Old Testament Scripture.

Verse 45, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote.’”  Philip would not have said this, unless the truth of Scripture mattered to Nathanael–unless the Scripture was their authority, unless they had been searching the Scripture already, to discover who the Messiah really is.  Just prior to Philip and Nathanael’s call, John the Baptist had said he was not the Messiah.  John even quoted Old Testament Scripture.

Then the very next day, John saw Jesus and declared in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Both Philip and Nathanael were searching the Scripture for just who the Old Testament declared the Messiah would be.  So when Philip went to tell his best friend about the Messiah, Philip knew Nathanael would be intrigued by the news that Jesus was the One prophesied by Moses and the prophets in Scripture.  Philip is telling Nathanael that Jesus is the one who is the fulfillment of three hundred plus prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah.

By the way, deal with that fact, unbelieving friend.  First, the Old Testament was completed 400 years before Christ, and was already translated from Hebrew to Greek 200 years before Christ—fact.  Yet over 300 prophecies were and will be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ as God come in the flesh, the promised Old Testament Messiah.  Statistically, the odds are . . . the term is impossible–unless it’s true.

And I am certain verse 45 is spoken in an excited voice–Jesus is the one the Bible promises.  And when John quotes Philip using the word “found” in verse 45, “we have found Him,”–it’s not an accidental found, but a discovery after an intense searching, being a treasure that is owned, certain and abiding.  This is so different than our day–we might say to someone, “I found a man who has a wonderful plan for your life.”  He didn’t say, “I found a man who will fix your marriage, solve all your financial problems and give your life meaning.”

Philip did not appeal to Nathanael on the basis of how Jesus might make Nathanael’s life better.  Philip spoke of Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, because he knew that would pique Nathanael’s interest.  Nathanael must have been an eager student of the Old Testament, and hungry for truth.  All real men study the Bible.  They were not like the religious leaders of their day, who were dominated by hypocrisy and false piety—Nathanael and Philip wanted the Word of God.

Philip and Nathanael must have poured long hours over the Scripture, searching the Law and the Prophets to discern the truth about the coming of the Messiah.  The reason they were so quick to respond to Jesus can only be explained by their depth of study in the Scripture.  Nathanael was able to recognize Jesus clearly because he had a clear understanding of what the Scripture said about Him.  Nathanael knew what the promises said, so he recognized the fulfillment when he saw them in Christ.  Because He was such a diligent student of the Scripture, Nathanael sized Christ up quickly, and received Him on the spot.

But then Philip added these words in verse 45, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  “Jesus” was a common name–Y’shua in its Aramaic form.  It is the same name rendered “Joshua” in the Old Testament.  Importantly, it meant “Yahweh is salvation”—God is salvation.  That is why it is good news–you don’t save yourself, God saves you.

Then Philip added “the son of Joseph” as a kind of surname–“Jesus Bar-Joseph,” just as his friend was “Nathanael Bar-Tolmai.”  That is how people were commonly identified.  This was the Hebrew equivalent of modern surnames like Josephson, meaning Joseph’s son, or Johnson, meaning John’s son.  People throughout history have been identified this way, with surnames derived from their fathers.

But there must have been a certain amount of surprise in the voice of Philip in verse 45.  It was as if he were saying, “You’ll never believe this, but Jesus, son of Joseph, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, is the Messiah!”  Verse 45—“Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  This brings out Nathanael’s . . .

#4  BIAS–Nathanael battles with bigotry

Every one of us in this room has massive holes in our character.  Each of us has sinful bents we battle with.  We all struggle with sin.  It’s crucial to remember, every time you’re tempted to be shocked by someone else’s sin, that there’re struggles with sin you have that are equally shocking to everyone else.  As a Christian, the key is to turn from our sin and pursue Christ–to run from our sin, run to Christ and serve Him, not ourselves.  So my battles are not necessarily your battles—and not all of you battle with Nathanael’s sin issue, but some of you do.

Nathanael was prejudiced, biased, bigoted.  Notice verse 46, “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’”  Although Nathanael was a student of Scripture and a searcher for the true knowledge of God, he was also human.  He had certain prejudices.  Here is his response–“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?

Maybe he was saying, “As I read the Old Testament, Micah the prophet says the Messiah will come out of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), not Nazareth.”  He could have said, “But Philip, the Messiah is identified with Jerusalem, because He’s going to reign in Jerusalem.”  But his prejudice is clear in the words, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  That was not a rational or biblical objection–it was based on sheer emotion and bigotry.

Plus his comment was hypocritical–Cana, where Nathanael is from, is a hick town just like Nazareth.  Both were off the main track, but Cana even more of a side trip.  In fact, Cana was even smaller and more insignificant than Nazareth altogether in every way.  So his comment exposes some civic rivalry, some regional prejudice–like Dallas to Fort Worth, or Phoenix to Tucson, or Temecula to Murrieta, or the worst of all . . . Murrieta to what???  Hemet!

But Nathanael’s comment wasn’t said in fun, tongue in cheek (like all of mine are)–no, Nathanael meant what he said.  History confirms that the Judeans in the south look down upon the Galileans in the north.  And the Galileans themselves actually looked down upon one town more than all—Nazareth.  Nazareth was a rough town.  Its culture was largely unrefined and uneducated.  It wasn’t in a particularly picturesque place, nor was it a memorable town, a place you’d want to go to get away.  So even though Nathanael came from an even lowlier village, he was simply echoing the Galileans’ general contempt for Nazareth.  It was inconceivable to Nathanael that the Messiah would come from such a tacky place like Nazareth.  It was uncultured, full of evil, corrupt and populated with lots of defiantly sinful people.  Nathanael simply did not anticipate that anything good could possibly come from there, even though he himself had come from an equally contemptible community.

This is great news.  Since God proves again He can use the weak and lowly things of this world to confound the wise and powerful.  He can even take someone blinded by prejudice, and transform him into a man who will be used to transform the world.  Prejudice is ugly.  Prejudice cuts people off from the truth.  As a matter of fact, much of the nation of Israel rejected their Messiah because of prejudice.  They did not believe their Messiah should come out of Nazareth either.  It was inconceivable to them that the Messiah and all His apostles would come from Galilee.

The religious leaders later say in John 7:52b, “Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.”  Even the people of Nazareth tried to kill Jesus after He preached just one message from God’s Word in their synagogue, because prejudice had skewed their view of the Messiah.  The people of Israel were prejudiced against Him as a Galilean and a Nazarene.  They were prejudiced against Him as an uneducated person outside the religious establishment.  They were particularly prejudiced against His message–not tradition, truth.  Their prejudice against Him shut them off from the Gospel–God does it.  They refused to hear Him because they were religious bigots.

It happens today–people say, “Even though the Word of God is clear, I’ve been in church for thirty years and I’ve never heard that . . . hey, that’s different than what I studied in my fat theology book . . . I went to Bible school and that’s not what I learned there.”  Or worse, “I prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, signed a card, felt emotional, served in church, so what if I no longer live hot for Christ?”

I am sure you have loaded a program on your computer–as you do, you’re forced to accept or not accept the terms.  Have you ever read those terms?  No?  I just click “accept”.  Sadly, that’s how most Christians treat the Bible–oh yes, I accept.  Of course I accept–I’m a Christian, this is God’s Word.  I will accept it, but never read it, study it, or dig into it, or work–I accept.

And because of tolerance, poor teaching, pride and opinion–when the Bible is taught as absolute authoritative truth, many will not stay under it, since it means they’ll have to change, and that’s work.  So when the Bible is taught and the Word declares God is sovereign in salvation, you are responsible to respond.  Men lead the church, their wives and their children.  The Bible is sufficient and superior to all psychological thinking.  God created the world in six literal 24-hour days.  God actively heals today, but not through faith-healers.  God actively speaks in His Word today, not through prophecy or tongues.  People are to identify themselves with one local church.  The first place for a mom to minister is to her husband, then her children, home, and church, before her work place.

All those truths are clearly taught in the Bible–but right now a few of you are struggling with what I said because you were taught differently, are unwilling to study it thoroughly, or you believe that the controversy is my opinion or from my roots, not God’s truth found clearly in His Word–it doesn’t fit your ideas.  You, along with Nathanael, are battling with prejudice.  You refuse to embrace the truth or study of God’s Word.

The nation of Israel in general rejected Christ simply because He didn’t fit their concept, not because He didn’t perfectly fulfill the Word of God in every single detail.  They were blinded by Satan, but they were also blinded by their own prejudice.  But the good news is, Nathanael’s bias was not bad enough to keep him from Christ.

#5  BONA FIDE–Nathanael was genuine, sincere and authentic

Hey, even if Jesus is from Nazareth, even if you are resistant, even if you have questions, even if you’ve not heard that before–Philip doesn’t give up and commands Nathanael, “Come and see–check Him out for yourself.”  That’s how you deal with prejudice–confront it with the facts.  Prejudice is feeling based—subjective.  But the Word of God is objective truth–come and see for yourself.

And Nathanael went–and it’s at this crucial point where we discover from Jesus Himself just how authentic Nathanael is.  Obviously Jesus knew Nathanael already.  John 2:25 tells us the Lord had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.  But the Lord’s first words to Nathanael were an incredible compliment to Nathanael’s heart and character.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, verse 47, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”  That’s better than a Super Bowl or World Series ring–the Creator of the Universe paying you that kind of compliment.  I am hoping to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  I hope I hear at my funeral, “Chris fulfilled his purpose in this generation.”  But I can’t imagine what that must have been like for the King of the Universe and Lord of All to say at the very beginning, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!

Wow–this speaks volumes about Nathanael’s character.  He was pure-hearted, authentic from the start.  Certainly he was human–he had sinful bents.  His mind was tainted by a degree of prejudice.  But his heart was not poisoned by deceit.  He was no hypocrite.  His love for God and his desire to see the Messiah were genuine.  His heart was sincere.  Nathanael was the bona fide real deal.  Bona fide=Latin good faith=trust

Jesus actually refers to him as “an Israelite, indeed.”  The word indeed in the Greek text means “truly, genuinely.”  He was an authentic Israelite.  Jesus is not saying Nathanael is a physical descendant of Abraham–even though he is.  The Lord isn’t talking about genetics.  He was linking Nathanael’s status as a true Israelite to the fact that he was without deceit.  His authentic-ness is what defined him as a true Israelite.

For the most part, the Israelites of Jesus’s day were not genuine, because they were hypocrites.  They were phonies.  We all know Jesus severely condemned the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy.  They lived life with a veneer of spirituality, but it was not real, and therefore they were not genuine spiritual children of Abraham.  But Nathanael, on the other hand, was genuine.

In Romans 2:28 to 29, Paul makes it clear what God was looking for from the Jewish people, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”  Nathanael was an authentic Jew, one of the true spiritual offspring of Abraham.  He worshiped the true and living God without deceit and without hypocrisy.  Nathanael was authentic.  Which lead to Nathanael being . . .

#6  BLOWN AWAY–Nathanael was responsive to Christ

Because his heart was sincere and his faith was real, Nathanael overcame his prejudice.  His response to Jesus revealed his true character.  At first, he was simply amazed Jesus seemed to know anything about him.  Look at verse 48, “Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’”

Nathanael was probably still questioning whether this Man could truly be the Messiah.  It was not that he questioned Philip’s judgment–Philip was his friend, so he surely knew enough about Philip to know that Philip, a process-person, would not have made a hasty judgment.  Nathanael was not questioning the Bible, nor was he prone to skepticism.  It was merely that this man from Nazareth did not seem to fit the picture of the Messiah in Nathanael’s mind.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter, a no-name, from a town that had no connection to any prophecy.  Nazareth didn’t even exist in the Old Testament.  And now Jesus had spoken to him as if He knew all about him, and could even see inside his heart?  Nathanael was just trying to come to grips with it all.  By saying, “How do You know me?”, Nathanael might have meant, “Are You just flattering me?  Are You trying to make me one of Your disciples by paying me compliments?  How could You possibly know what is in my heart?”

Look at verse 48–Jesus answered and said to him, “’Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’”  WHAM!  Talk about a bug-eyed, mouth-drop moment.  This was not flattery–this is omniscience.  Jesus wasn’t physically present to see Nathanael under the fig tree–Nathanael knew that.  Suddenly Nathanael realized he was standing in the presence of someone who could see into his very heart with an omniscient eye.

The fig tree was most likely a place Nathanael went to study the Scripture.  Houses were stifling during the day, and often crowded.  So fifteen-foot-high fig trees, with their broad leaves and sweet fruit were planted around homes to provide shade and cool places to sit, reflect, discuss, rest, study, pray and relax.  No doubt that is where Nathanael went to study Scripture and pray.

So what Jesus was saying to Nathanael is this.  “I know the state of your heart, because I saw you under the fig tree.  I knew what you were doing.  That was your private chamber.  That is where you would go to study and pray.  That’s where you would go to meditate.  And I saw you in that secret place.  I knew what you were doing.”  Not only did Jesus see his location, but the Lord saw his heart.  Jesus knew the sincerity of Nathanael’s character because He saw right into him when he was under the fig tree.

That was enough for Nathanael.  Look at verse 49–Nathanael answered Him, “’Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.’”  John’s gospel is written to show the many ways Jesus proved He was God come in the flesh.  And here in the first chapter, John describes through the testimony of Nathanael that this Jesus is the omniscient Son of God.  He is of the very same essence as God–you are (both statements of fact).

Nathanael knew the Old Testament.  He was familiar with what the prophets had said.  He knew who to look for.  And now, regardless of the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth–His omniscience, His spiritual insight, His ability to read the heart of Nathanael was enough to convince Nathanael that He was indeed the true Messiah.  In fact in His replay, Nathanael shows his familiarity with Old Testament Messianic prophecies.  “You are the Son of God” is from Psalm 2, and “You are the King of Israel” is from Zephaniah 3 and Zechariah 9.

So when Nathanael saw proof of Jesus’s omniscience, he instantly recognized Him as the promised Messiah, the Son of God and King of Israel.  Nathanael was blown away–he came to a full understanding and total commitment on day one.

So how did Jesus respond?  Verses 50 and 51, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”  The Lord affirmed Nathanael’s faith, and promised that he would see even greater things than a simple show of omniscience.

If one simple statement about the fig tree was enough to convince Nathanael this was the Son of God and the King of Israel, he had not seen anything yet.  From here on out, for three plus years, everything Nathanael would see would enrich and enlarge his faith.  In verse 51, Jesus refers to Jacob’s dream of a ladder where angels of God were ascending and descending.  Jesus is telling Nathanael that he would come to see that Jesus is the only ladder that connects heaven and earth.

In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  There is no other name by which man can be saved.  Jesus is the only way to Heaven and the only way to avoid Hell.

What happened to Nathanael?  Early Church records suggest he ministered in Persia and India, and took the Gospel as far as Armenia.  There is no reliable record of how he died.  One tradition says he was tied up in a sack and cast into the sea.  Another tradition says he was crucified.  By all accounts, he was martyred like all the apostles except John, who was boiled in oil twice.  What we do know is that Nathanael was faithful to the end, because he was faithful from the start.  And Nathanael, like the other apostles, stands as proof that God can take the most common people, real men from the most insignificant places, even Hemet, and use them to His glory.  Two simple closing thoughts . . .


A.  Being Genuine means you are RESTORED to Christ

You were made to be rightly related to Christ, and will never be what He made you to be, unless you turn to Him in repentance and faith

B.  Being Genuine means you are FILLED with the Spirit

Being authentic is not a license to be sinful, critical or speak your mind, or yell–“Hey, I am being genuine”–no, you are not.  Being genuine is living every moment dependent upon the Spirit by the Word of God, then being the way God made you to be.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.