In John 1:43-51 , the apostle John says this:
“On the morrow [the next day] he was minded to go forth into Galilee, and he findeth Philip: and Jesus saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile [deceit]! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence [how] knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily [truly, truly], I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven [heavens] opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
In this passage, John presents to us the testimonies of Philip and Nathanael. What do they testify to? To the fact that Jesus is “him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets wrote” — “the Son of God, the King of Israel”. As John himself says at the end of this book, “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name”.
This passage may be divided into these sections:
1. The Progression of the story
2. The Purposing of Jesus
3. The Purpose of Jesus
4. The People of Philip
5. The Prosoletyzing of Philip
6. The Proposals of Nathanael and Philip
7. The Perception of Jesus
8. The Profession of Nathanael
9. The Prophecy of Jesus
John begins then, with the progression of this story. It progresses from the previous day, since it begins “on the next day”. What happened on the previous day? Andrew found his brother, Peter, brought him to Jesus, and Jesus named him. So, why does John tell us that this story occurred the next day? To show us that he was moving fast in his ministry, and that he didn’t want to stay on the other side of the Jordan River, but to go to Galilee.
Next, we see Jesus’s purposing: “. . . he was minded to go forth into Galilee . . .”
This can also be translated “He purposed to go into Galilee”. So, why did John tell us that He “purposed” to go into Galilee, rather than “He went” into Galilee? To show us that He had a plan to go there, but He wasn’t going there yet.
What was He going to do? Fulfill His true purpose in purposing to go into Galilee: “. . . and he findeth Philip: and Jesus saith unto him, Follow me.”
Somehow, His purposing to go into Galilee led Him to find Philip, and this led to Philip’s conversion to Christ. When Jesus told him to “follow Me”, He meant to follow Him as one of His disciples, and to submit to Him as his Teacher.
But what do we know about Philip? John tells us only of his place and people: “Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.”
Bethsaida was a village in Galilee, near the Sea of Galilee, where Andrew and Peter engaged in a fishing business. Philip, no doubt, knew Andrew and Peter, who had just followed Jesus.
Next, John tells us about Philip’s proselytizing: “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Notice first what Philip did: he found Nathanael. Why did he find him? To preach to him the good news that he and others had found the Messiah, the One about whom Moses in the law, or the first 5 books of the Bible, and the prophets, or the rest of the Bible, wrote. And who did they write about? Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph the carpenter. Why did Philip tell Nathanael who the Messiah was? To let him know that this actually was a person who he had heard of — the Jesus who was from Nazareth, and was the son of Joseph (since Jesus was a common name in that time and place).
Next, John tells us of Philip and Nathanael’s proposals: “And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”
What was Nathanael’s proposal? That anything good could come out of Nazareth. Obviously, he wasn’t sure if this could be true — that the Messiah would be from Nazareth. However, his tone can’t be sarcastic, since Philip replies with a sincere proposal of “come and see”.
So, Nathanael goes to Jesus, and John records Jesus’s perception of him:
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.”
First, notice that Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, whereas Philip had just told Nathanael to go and see Jesus. Second, he called him “an Israelite indeed”. What does this mean? That he was a true Jew, who had the faith of Israel, or Jacob. In other words, he was a believer in the Messiah. And how did Jesus know this? Because He knew that there was no guile, or deceit, in Nathanael. In other words, he was genuine and sincere in his seeking after Jesus to see if He was the Messiah.
And how did Jesus know this about him? Jesus answers by saying that He saw Nathanael even before Philip found him, and He saw him sitting under a fig tree. Why did He see Nathanael? Because the Holy Spirit enabled Him to see him. Having impoverished Himself of the exercise of His divine powers, He was now empowered by the Holy Spirit, that He would be the perfect human being, and the perfect High Priest, though He was still divine. This is described in Philippians 2:5-8:
“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied [impoverished] himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.”
And how did Nathanael respond to Jesus’s perception? By making his profession of faith: “Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel.”
So, what did Nathanael call Jesus? First, “Rabbi”, which means “Teacher”. He was still recognizing that He was a human Jewish rabbi. However, he also called Him the Son of God. What does this mean? That He shared God’s nature, which is divine. Therefore, Nathanael was saying that Jesus was divine. Finally, he calls Him “King of Israel”. What did this mean? That Jesus was the Messiah prophesied of in the Old Testament, who would come to reign over Israel.
Finally, John records Jesus’s prophecy for us:
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Now, what was Jesus saying by asking his rhetorical question? That it was a small thing that Jesus only said to Nathanael that He saw him under the fig tree. He did, of course, but that was just an assertion. Much more than that, Jesus said, Nathanael would see greater things, including the heavens being opened, and the angels, or messengers, ascending and descending on the Son of Man. What does this mean? Jesus was alluding to the Old Testament story of Jacob, in which he dreams about a ladder that reaches to heaven, and has angels ascending and descending on it. In a similar way, Jesus says, Nathanael would see angels ascending and descending on Jesus. What does that last part mean? That Jesus is the Messenger from which and to which all divine revelation comes, being given by angels. In other words, He’s not only the King of Israel, but He’s also the Prophet of Israel — the Word of God.
Finally, why does Jesus make reference to “the Son of man”? This is an allusion to what the Messiah is called in Daniel 7:13-14:
“I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
So, are you following Jesus like Philip did? Have you found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote? Have you gone to Jesus, and seen that He is your Messiah? Are you an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit? Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the divine and eternal Son of God, and your King? Are you trusting in Jesus as the only Mediator and Way to God by only depending on Him, His death because of your sins, and His physical resurrection from the dead as the sole grounds of God’s forgiveness of your sins?
If you believe that Jesus the Son of God, your King, and the only Mediator between you and God the Father through His death and resurrection, are you seeking out people to tell them about the Son of God, and the King of the universe? When people object to the idea of Jesus being the Messiah, do you show them from Scripture that He is indeed the Messiah? Are you following Jesus as your Teacher? Do you believe that you will see greater things about Jesus than you have? Do you believe that you might see the heavens opened, and the Lord Jesus Christ coming with His angels to deal out retribution to those who don’t know God, and don’t obey the gospel? Do you believe that Jesus has dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, so all peoples, nations, and languages will serve Him? Do you believe that His dominion is everlasting, and won’t pass away, and that His kingdom won’t be destroyed?