Summary: What is behind Jesus' s strange statement about Nathaniel?
An Israelite in Whom is no Guile
In the last passage which is presented as the second of a three-day sequence following John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is the Lamb of God. On the first day, John stood alone in his witness to Jesus. On the second day, he repeats his declaration, and this time two of John’s disciples followed Jesus instead. Andrew then went out and found his brother Simon. The testimony of another person about Jesus led others to Jesus. But like the woman at the well in Chapter 4, the witness is confirmed by hearing the words of Jesus directly. The Samaritans were influenced by the woman at the well, but were not fully satisfied until they heard Jesus spoke. The first two disciples had heard John and went to Jesus’ house. Then they heard the teaching of Jesus Himself, convincing Andrew that Jesus was the Messiah. So he went out and confessed and brought Peter. We should do so well to get people to come to and hear Jesus directly.
We need to address at some point an apparent discrepancy between the other gospels and John over the calling of the disciples. This account seems to occur much earlier and in a different context than the other gospels. In Luke 5, it occurred at the lake after a night in which James, john, Peter and Andrew had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus told them to fish of the wrong side of the boat, and they had caught so many fish that the boats foundered. But I have learned from experience that God has to call several times before we fully respond. Before that point, we either fight against the call or follow in fits and spurts. The text in John says that they followed and stayed the night, and that was it. But it does not necessarily lead to that. One only need look at chapter 21 of John in which several disciples went fishing, AFTER the resurrection. One would think that they would have been fully committed at that point to Christian ministry. Jesus had breathed the Holy Spirit on them and said: “Even as the Father has sent me; so I send you” in the 20th chapter. What Peter does by saying “I’m going fishing” is more than a recreational decision. It was a vocational decision. It was to back to life as usual. So I am not concerned about the accounts. Jesus had to constantly encourage and call them to the work before they actually followed fully.
This passage begins with the same “on the next day. The beginning of the next chapter begins with on the third day. The whole sequence then is a week in length, from the witness of John to the priests. Levites, and the turning of the water into wine. Whether there is significance in this, I do not know.
On this day, it says he desired to go into Galilee. The word for desired is the verb “to will.” There is a divine nuance to this. Jesus willed to go there, because He had a particular purpose. He went to call two more disciples. These verbs are in the simple past tense. But the next two verbs are again historical presents of which we have talked before. He finds Phillip and then says to Him: “Follow Me.” Can you put yourself by the lakeside next to Phillip. Does your heart yearn that He might call you too to follow Him?
The name “Phillip” is interesting because it is a Greek name. Considering that the north shore of the Sea of Galilee was mostly the villages of Aramaic-speaking Jews who struggled against assimilation into Greek culture. Phillip was the name of the father of Alexander the Great who had conquered Palestine some 350 years earlier. The Greeks practiced making Greeks out of their subjects, an idea that led to a war of resistance by the Maccabees around 170 BC. Either the Greek culture had penetrated upper Galilee more than was previously thought, or it was indeed odd that Jesus would have found someone named Phillip there. He was a Jew, of course, but one with a Greek name. He must have known Peter and Andrew as he came from the same town which was small. This Jew with a Greek name had a friend with the most Hebrew of names, Nathaniel, which means “Gift of God,” the equivalent of the Greek “Theodore.” There is an obvious irony there in that the Greek finds the Jew, one who is described by Jesus Himself as the model Israelite, who had no guile.
Nathaniel was in the next village, well out of sight where Jesus was at the time. The Greek literally says: “The One whom Moses wrote about in the Law and Prophets we have found, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth!” this sounds very stilted in English, but in Greek it is easy to invert the normal word order for emphasis. This places emphasis that Phillip thought this Jesus, an earthly person, was the prophet whom Moses talked about. Andrew had thought Jesus to be the Messiah, a political figure who was the son of David. But many of the Jews also held to a separate person called the teacher who would be a priestly leader. Andrew sees on picture and Phillip another. The Samaritans believed in this teacher they called “Taheeb.” They only held to the first five books of the Bible called the Law (Torah or Pentateuch). They did not believe in the prophets. Yet the woman at the well used the Jewish term Messiah to describe this teacher. So we can see an interesting mix of ideas.