Once Philip tells Nathanael that they have found the sought after Messiah, Nathanael’s response here at first seems slightly cynical. Philip had told him that “we have found the Messiah, it is Jesus of Nazareth,” to which Nathanael responds, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” We must remember, however, that the Scriptures the Prophets themselves, had declared that the Coming One would be of Bethelehem. Thus, for Nathanael to question this claim shows not cynicism, but rather caution. “And you, O Bethlehem…though you are the fewest in number in Judah…yet out of you shall come forth the One to rule over Israel.” (Micah 5:1 LXX). Thus for Nathanael to hear this statement of Philip, which seemed to so strongly contradict the Prophets, would truly have been confounding.
And yet, notice, that even with this questioning, he never insults, argues, claims heresy, disqualifies; nothing that would in anyway discourage Philip or insult his faith. Rather, he goes to meet Christ for himself. Truly seeking the Messiah rather than clinging to what he thought he knew, he acquiesces to Philip’s request that he go to meet him. See, this is a message that is truly so relevant to us in this age, to learn this lesson from Nathanael. To approach with a truly open mind even those whose teachings seem to go against our preconceived ideologies. By all means, we should always be guarded and vigilant. Paul himself warns us, “do not quench the Holy Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things. Hold fast what is good. Abstain from what is evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22) and John strongly admonishes us “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God or not.” (1 John 4:1). However, so often, when we find any teaching which is contrary to our own opinions, we quickly dismiss those teachings. Rather than approaching them with an open mind and truly testing them, we resort to cliches like “this person is unqualified to teach.” In our generation, we base our faith in the teaching on the prestige of the teacher, rather than on the faith of the teacher. I love the Book of Amos, because it shows a man who had neither the education, nor even really the desire, to be a prophet, but whom God Himself called to warn the nations. In our generation, an entire school of teaching teaches that the miracles and signs have ceased, but when we test that teaching against Scripture, we find it to be false. May we, as a generation, instead of beginning with the opinions of man, begin with the foundation in the words of God and then approach any teaching with an open mind, carefully and diligently testing whatever teachings we encounter against it, as we see in this passage with Nathanael. Had Nathanael our mindset, he would have detected the one statement as being contrary to what he personally had believed, and thus would have dismissed immediately the claim of Jesus as the Messiah.
And note Jesus’ response to this caution, and yet desire to truly meet the Lord. Jesus states as Nathanael approaches, “a man in whom is no deceit.” Jesus, in stating this, declares Nathanael to be a good hearted man, a man who seeks only the truth, even if it contradicts his own opinion. A man who was willing to sacrifice his pride for the sake of the truth. How many of us, convinced that someone is wrong, would still view the issue with an open mind, non-confrontationally? In his place, would you or I have gone to meet Jesus for the sake of discovering the truth, or for the sake of proving ourselves right? It is important to note that Jesus praises Nathanael for his caution, and yet, even moreso praises him for his desire to know the truth. He recognizes that his motives were pure, even if his understanding was wrong.
While Scripture never directly explains it, Chrysostom explains that the fig tree that He references was the very place where Nathanael and Philip had met, where Philip had told him of the Messiah. Thus, when Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree,” He saw the caution that Nathanael had concerning the Messiah. And based on that very brief witness, He had determined that Nathanael was “a man in whom there was no deceit.” Jesus was, by this one brief event, praising Nathanael for his diligence and caution in studying the Scriptures, seeking to find the truth within them. It was obvious that Nathanael had studied the Scriptures with the Messiah as the beginning point of them and worked outward. Thus, when something seemed to be against his understanding, he cautiously questioned. And yet, in spite of that, he was still willing to see firsthand, thus Jesus’ statement in praise of his desire to find truth rather than deceit.
Nathanael, his heart stirred by this unknowable knowledge of Jesus, immediately recognizes His divinity. Merely by His presence, Jesus is able to convince Nathanael of His true place as the Messiah. Thus, we hear Nathanael’s immediate confession of faith, “You are the Son of God.” And again, it’s this idea that there’s nothing that we can do, no amount of apologetics or witty argumentation, no wise or beguiling words; nothing that our minds could ever formulate could ever bring the conviction that one could attain to solely by being in the presence of Jesus. To the grace and the glory of His majesty. Our goal can never be to bring someone to salvation, but rather, as Philip’s was, our goal should be to bring someone to Him and leave the remaining work to Him. Sure, to answer questions, but never to attempt through our own wisdom to bring someone unto salvation.
Jesus’ reply to Nathanael was “you believe because I saw you under the fig tree,” something that our rational mind could easily comprehend. But He goes on to evoke the Old Testament prophecy, “I say you will see Heaven open, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” which illustrates the supernatural, the incomprehensible, unknowable power of God. We must consciously seek never to neglect either of these powers, for when we distill the power of God down to only that which we can understand in our finite minds, we miss the miraculous aspect of our faith. “The Son of Man” implies a man of heavenly origin able to usher in the kingdom, while Jacob dreamed of a ladder where he saw “a ladder set on earth, with it’s top reaching to heaven, and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Genesis 28:12). And, in this passage, we see Jesus Himself as the ladder which the angels are ascending and descending, ushering in the kingdom, connecting the heavens with the earth.
My brethern, we must be truly cautious. Many have gone into the world teaching what they believe to be truth, interpreting and twisting the words of Scripture in their own way. The traditions of the Church are established for the very purpose of protecting us from these varied and numerous interpretations, for the sake of preserving the integrity of the Scripture. While we must always study the Scripture, we must be willing, as Nathanael was, to approach with an open mind, those whose teachings may not agree with what we think we know. We must recognize that our own understanding of the words of Scripture could very easily become skewed by our own inner desires, and thus, be willing to accept that perhaps, if the Church itself teaches contrary to what we want Scripture to mean, that we may in fact be incorrect. We must always carefully search the Scriptures with a fine comb, and be willing, with an open mind, to hear teachings that contradict what we think we know; testing those teachings against the Scriptures themselves to see if those teachings are correct.
Nathanael had studied the words of the Prophets, and thought that he knew all of the signs to seek with the advent, and yet, was willing to sacrifice his pride for the sake of the truth. May each of us do the same.
May the peace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.