6. The Calling of Phillip and Nathaniel

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I know I said we would look at the Wedding at Cana next. But I forgot I split up the calling of the first disciples passage and I don’t want to leave out our dear friends, Philip and Nathanael. These events occur the day after Andrew brings Simon to Jesus.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth,the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

Let’s start our study with Philip. Philip is the first disciple that Jesus invites to follow him. The first two disciples, Andrew and the unnamed disciple, followed Jesus on their own. It says that Jesus “found” Philip. I don’t know if found means that Jesus was walking along and happened to see Philip or if it means he was actively searching for Philip. Knowing that Jesus doesn’t “just happen” to do anything but instead does things with purpose, I’d be willing to bet that Jesus was after Philip’s soul and went searching for him. Which is kind of interesting since the Scriptures paint Philip as, ummm, well, not the sharpest tool in the shed. There are at least two occasions where Philip is portrayed as just not quite getting at what Jesus is trying to tell him (see John 6:1-15 and John 14:6-9). But by the time the book of Acts rolls around, Philip is a Gospel-sharing, miracle performing superhero of sorts (Acts 8:4-8 and Acts 8:26-40). This brings me to my first point- God can use, even chooses, the unlikely to help further the kingdom. I don’t know about you but that is good news for me. God can use me with all my faults to reach people for the kingdom. It’s amazing when you think about it- he chose you and me even despite our flaws.

Philip, just like Andrew, had to share what he just found out about Jesus! He went and found Nathanael. Philip tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael doesn’t doubt that Philip found the promised one he doubts that anyone like that could come from Nazareth. Now I started to wonder about Nazareth and why Nathanael doesn’t think too highly of it. Bible Scholars aren’t really sure why he thought so poorly of Nazareth. Some say it was because it was so small. Some say it was because the Northern Galilean Roman garrison was stationed in Nazareth. Jews avoided Romans if they could. Others say it was just not a nice place and Jesus himself couldn’t perform but a few miracles there, presumably from a lack of faith (Mark 6:4-5). It was probably all of these things combined.  I think it just goes to show that, like Philip, God can work through the most unlikely of people and places.

The next interchange between Jesus and Nathanael is interesting:

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Before Nathanael ever opens his mouth to speak, Jesus says, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” We know that Jesus knows everything but imagine being Nathanael and hearing that about you. Can you imagine his shock? I think Jesus knows that Nathanael comes doubting that he could be the Messiah (he is from Nazareth, remember?). There may be some intended shock value here meant to grab Nathanael’s attention. Obviously Jesus spoke truth because Nathanael doesn’t deny Jesus’ statement, instead, without coming right out and saying it he says, “You’re right, I am an Israelite without deceit,” when he says, “How do you know me?” Then Jesus says something that seems very unrelated. “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” So what, right? Who cares if he was under a fig tree, what does that have to do with anything? Well, once again, Bible scholars aren’t really sure but here’s their best guess. It was not uncommon for men to sit under the shade of a fig tree for study, prayer and meditation. They think that Nathanael may have had some kind of “religious experience” under one of these trees and Jesus is referring to this. The real answer is that no one really knows why Jesus seeing Nathanael is a big deal but regardless, it makes a huge impact on him. Whatever transpired, Jesus tells Nathanael, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” If Nathanael was impressed with Jesus seeing him under a tree, just wait until he sees Jesus in action!  The phrase “‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” is a reference from Genesis 28:12 when Jacob sees angels going up and down a stairway. I see this as the barrier between heaven and earth being removed so that we have access to God, himself. Jesus is the stairway that provides access from heaven to earth. Jesus provides access to God that was previously unavailable.

Jesus, Thank you for loving me despite my faults. Thank you for being able to use me for your work even though I mess up… a lot. Take our faults and don’t just take them away but mold them and use them to bring glory to yourself. Help us to constantly seek your glory and your glory alone. Amen!

The End.

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One response »

  1. Pingback: Now for the obvious. John 10:2 | A voice in the wilderness

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