Summary: Jesus goes walkabout into Galilee, seeking and saving that which was lost.
MISSION TO GALILEE
The first chapter of John’s Gospel, having opened with a declaration of Jesus as God (John 1:1), closes with Jesus seeming to make an ordinary human decision: to go ‘walkabout’ into Galilee (John 1:43) - perhaps to visit the home of His new disciples Andrew and Peter (John 1:44). Yet this was not an arbitrary choice of destination, but - similar to His later journey when He “must needs go through Samaria” (John 4:4) in order to meet a woman at a well - it was made with the set purpose of seeking out and recruiting another disciple. This is, in embryo, what Jesus has been doing on our behalf all along: seeking and saving that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
In Galilee, Jesus found Philip of Bethsaida, whom He commanded - with all the authority of His kingship - “Follow me” (John 1:43). Philip was no doubt ripe for the picking (despite his Greek name and the Gentile reputation of his hometown), as is evidenced in his knowledge of certain Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Yet when Philip ran to his friend Nathanael he did make a common mistake as to the identity of Jesus, naming Him “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45) - somewhat perplexing Nathanael, who could remember no prophecy about any good thing coming out of Nazareth!
Yet God does use our clumsy attempts at evangelism, even when we blurt things out in the excitement of the moment without having fully thought them through. Philip managed to recover from the artlessness of his testimony to Nathanael with the encouragement with which the woman of Samaria would later open her witness: “Come and see” (John 1:46; cf.John 4:29). Disputation is often counter-productive, so the Lord (who had called Philip without any intermediary) now enabled His new recruit to add wisdom to his enthusiasm, and used him as His mouthpiece to call Nathanael.
To Nathanael’s credit, despite his misgivings, he went with Philip. How different his life would have been if he had remained in the grip of prejudice and misunderstanding! The LORD knows everything (cf. Proverbs 15:3): and Jesus immediately demonstrated His divine knowledge of Nathanael’s character and whereabouts (John 1:47-48).
There was a certain irony in Jesus naming Nathanael “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). The patriarch Jacob had been known early in his life for his deceitfulness and guile, and it was only after his coming face to face with God that he was renamed “Israel” (Genesis 32:27-28). One of the marks of the godly man is his sincerity: his true heart, and his lack of guile (Psalm 32:1-2).
Nathanael was astonished at Jesus’ miraculous knowledge (John 1:48). When Jesus added that he had seen Nathanael sitting under the fig tree before Philip had called him, Nathanael lavished a plethora of Messianic titles upon Jesus (John 1:49): Jesus would have denied any of these if they were not all true! Jesus told Nathanael that “you (singular) shall see greater things than these” (John 1:50).
Jesus also added, “Hereafter you (plural) shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man” (John 1:51). Perhaps when Jesus had seen him under the fig tree, Nathanael had been meditating on Jacob’s vision (Genesis 28:12) - but the use of the plural “you” indicates that the promise “you shall see…” belongs to all of God’s people. Jesus, as both “Son of God” (John 1:49) and “Son of man” (John 1:51) is the ladder connecting heaven and earth, providing access to God for all of His people.
3. IN CONCLUSION
(a) Some Christians are knowledgeable in the Scriptures, but a little reticent in their dealings with people. On one occasion, when some Greeks asked Philip for an audience with Jesus, Philip approached Andrew first, and only then brought the request to Jesus (John 12:20-22). Around the time of the Last Supper, during the Upper Room discourses, Philip was still struggling with the identity of Jesus (John 14:8-9).
(b) Sincerity alone is not what makes us Christians: we can be sincerely wrong about the identity of Jesus (John 1:46). It is important that we, like Nathanael, answer the call to “Taste and see” for ourselves, and put our trust in the Lord (Psalm 34:8). And, because the Lord knows everything about us (Psalm 139:2-5), we must be wise and prudent about the lives that we live before Him (Ephesians 5:15).