As we learned in the previous post, a man named Philip gives his friend Nathanael news that he, Philip, has found the Messiah, the promised deliverer of Israel, in the person of Jesus from the town of Nazareth. Nathanael rolls his eyes and says sarcastically, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip, who had only just met Jesus, makes a fascinating response to Nathanael. Philip could have gotten into an argument with Nathanael. He could have been offended by Nathanael. He could have ignored him. He could have responded in many ways, especially negative ways, to counteract Nathanael’s negativity. Instead Philip says something familiar, “Come and see.” (See John 1, verse 46.)
That is on purpose. Jesus said “Come and see” the day before to Andrew. Now Philip is saying “Come and see” to Nathanael. The Gospel writer is very purposefully inviting us to make a connection about discipleship. The disciples start to sound like their teacher. They start to do what he does, say what he says.
If you’ve been following the story, you might be thinking, “Wait, Jesus said ‘Come and see’ to Andrew, not to Philip.” And you are right. My response is that we don’t know all that Jesus said to Philip, and we don’t know if it might be possible that Andrew was there with Jesus in verse 43 when Jesus invited Philip to follow him. Andrew could have told Philip “Yeah, Philip, Jesus told us to come and see also. Join us. Come and see!” And Philip repeats it to Nathanael. I’m speculating, of course. But the repetition of this phrase stands out. Why?
What we see here is an important element of the task of discipleship: Imitation. Do what Jesus does. Say what he says. Paul would go on to write in 1 Corinthians 4:16, “I urge you to imitate me.” And later in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example as I follow Christ.” Discipleship to Jesus involves being an example. Helping others to follow Jesus. Helping others to follow the way of Jesus in the other 167 hours of the week that they are not in church. And this imitation was already happening on Days 1 and 2 of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.
Thankfully, Nathanael goes with Philip to come and see this Messiah. What he saw blew his mind. Look at verses 47-51. Jesus sees into Nathanael’s heart and declares a word over him, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Perhaps through the power of the Spirit, Jesus knows the character of Nathanael, and this amazes Nathanael. Nathanael says, “How?” And Jesus says, “I saw you over there under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
First of all, Jesus said Philip called Nathanael. Another small indication that Philip on Day 1 had learned an important discipleship practice. Call people. Invite them. They don’t need to believe just yet. Just invite them. Don’t worry about what they believe yet or how they act.
Second, Jesus saw Nathanael. Jesus sees people. Over and over we will observe Jesus’ paying careful attention. He is not wrapped up in himself. He is aware of others. He sees them. Yes, he had spiritual discernment to know Nathanael’s inner life. We usually don’t have that advantage. But we can see people. We can lift our eyes beyond ourselves and observe people, especially people in need, people hurting, people struggling. Look to see beyond the outward.
When Jesus sees Nathanael and then declares truth over him, it hits Nathanael at the core. Jesus in a simple manner has breathed new life into Nathanael. I’m not saying Nathanael, at this point, is fully believing and understanding Jesus. This is, after all, Day 1 of their relationship. Nathanael, like all the disciples, has a lot yet to learn. But Jesus’ simple, but powerful, encouraging investment in Nathanael has lifted Nathanael up. And in verse 49, Nathanael responds by making a confession about Jesus. We’ll see what Nathanael has to say in the next post.