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John 1:43-51 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:1 hr 11 mins 2 secs

Nathaniel Discovers Jacob's Ladder
John 1:43-51
John Lesson #018
September 13, 1998
www.deanbibleministries.org

Emotion is not objective, it is subjective, and it is going to vary from person to person. Personality varies from person to person and each person is going to respond and react a little differently at the point of salvation, depending on their personality, their circumstances and background. One of the problems we see in Christianity is that everybody seems to want to put everybody else in a mould: 'T went through this experience when I was saved and you should too. So if you don't feel like I did, if you are not excited or do this or do that or behave in this manner, then maybe you weren't truly saved.' So we always have people who want to put other people in a box and have everybody follow the same type of pattern. But as we see in this chapter each of the disciples has a vastly different personality. God reaches all kinds of people, and people have different experiences and different emotions, different things happen at the time of salvation, and each one is going to respond in his own way. So we should never try to put people in some kind of mould or confuse personality issues with doctrinal issues.

So we come to then fourth day. We will meet Nathanael and Jesus will reveal through His sense of humour His deity to Nathanael. By our calculation this is on Sunday, three days before the wedding in Cana which begins in chapter two. With the travel restrictions lifted after the Sabbath Jesus prepares to travel to Cana.

John 1:43 NASB "The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, 'Follow Me'." The word "purposed" is the Greek word thelo [qelw] which means will, desire and purpose, to want to do something, to want to do something. It indicates that there is planning and purpose behind Jesus' action. This is not some haphazard, accidental or impulsive act. He goes to seek out Philip. Another thing to notice is that up to now His disciples have been men who have come to follow Him. Andrew and John saw Jesus and went to follow Him. Peter was brought to Jesus; James was brought to Jesus. But Philip is the first one that Jesus goes out specifically and finds and says, "Follow me." One of the things underlying this chapter by the apostle John is his emphasis on the different kinds of people who follow Jesus. For example, John the Baptist was a loner. John the apostle is a different type altogether. He is a thinker, probably a little more quiet and thoughtful, someone who is very much concerned with relationships. Peter is different again. He is the outgoing type, often the one who speaks before he thinks, the natural leader, the extrovert, the one who is always wanting to gather everybody around and head off on a new course of action. Andrew his brother is different again. He seems to be as extroverted as Peter but not as outspoken. Notice that as soon as he realizes who the Lord is he takes off to find Peter. Philip comes across as not being the most intelligent of the disciples, a little slow, hesitant, unsure of himself. Some can identify themselves with Philip because he doesn't want to put himself out in the forefront. He is not sure how to handle certain situations. For example, in John 12:21 he goes to find out Andrew for advice. He wants the advice of others before he makes a step and decision. What we learn from this is that God chooses all kinds.

 

John 1:44 NASB "Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter." So we are beginning to see that there is a relationship here prior to the coming of Jesus between many of these disciples. They knew each other.

John 1:45 NASB "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and {also} the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'." What does Philip do? We see the evangelist in action. As soon as he realizes who Jesus is, and that there is salvation here, he goes to find Nathanael. Notice what Philip did not say. He didn't say: "We have found Him, and I know it because He lives within my heart"! That is not how we know He lives. It is because the Bible tells me so. That places the authority of our salvation where it belongs, not on personal subjective experience or emotion or anything else, but in the objective, verifiable testimony of the Word of God: "of whom Moses in the Law and {also} the Prophets wrote." Alfred Edersheim, who wrote a famous work on the life of Christ (he himself had been trained to be a rabbi before he became a believer) said some 450 passages in the Old Testament were interpreted by the rabbis at that time as being messianic. So these men were very familiar with what was being taught by the rabbis at that time and they had been searching these 450 verses in the Old Testament to find out all that they could about the promised Messiah. So Philip comes to Nathanael and says that point by point we know that He meets these qualifications because of the objective witness of the Word of God. So there is an objective basis that is used here and he bases his witness completely upon the doctrine that he has in his own soul, and he communicates that with Nathanael. So the conversation is doctrinally oriented, is content oriented; it is not experience and emotion oriented. The other thing to note here is that when it gets past a certain point Philip has to say something. He has to say he doesn't know the answer, so come and investigate it for yourself.

John 1:46 NASB "Nathanael said to him, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see'." Micah 5:2 says the Messiah is going to be born in Bethlehem, so where does Nazareth come from? There is a little interplay here because Nathanael is probably from Cana and Cana has a little town rivalry with Nazareth. So Philip says to come and see.

John 1:47 NASB "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!'" This is humorous. Jesus is using a pun in order to get Nathanael's attention. The word "deceit" here in the Greek is dolos [doloj] which means deceit or treachery. What does this mean? Genesis 27 is the story of the passing on of the blessing of Jacob to his two sons. Rebekah is listening at the door. Her favourite is Jacob and she doesn't want him to miss out on the blessing so she is going to work up a little scheme to fool Isaac. And that is what happened: Jacob received the blessing instead of Esau. Jacob was a deceitful person. When Isaac discovered the deception and the treachery we read his statement: Genesis 27:35 NASB "And he said, 'our brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing'." When the Jews later on were translating the Scriptures from Hebrew to Greek they translated "deceitfully" in this verse by the word dolos. So Jacob's background, the inherent character of Jacob the chiseller, is that he is a deceiver, a treacherous one; he is dolos.

To get the other part of the background we go to Genesis 28:11 NASB "He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.[12] He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." The ladder is a means of transportation between earth, the domain of mankind, and heaven the residence of God. The result is given in verse 13: "And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, 'I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants'." God reaffirms to Jacob the covenant He has made with Abraham and Isaac. It is a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic covenant.

Then to the third part of the puzzle. Genesis 32:24 NASB "Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak." We later learn that this is not a man, this is the angel of the Lord. So Jacob is wrestling with God all night long in this major wrestling match. [25] "When he [the angel of the Lord] saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. [26] Then he [the angel of the Lord] said, 'Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.' But he [Jacob] said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me'. [27] So he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob'. [28] He said, 'Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed'." So Jacob gets a new name as a result of this, and that new name is Israel.

Back in John chapter one, Jesus sees Nathanael coming. Most of the time in the New Testament the descendants of Abraham are called Jews, they are rarely called Israelites. So when Jesus looks at Nathanael He says: "Behold and Israelite." Jacob became Israel, a prince with God, a man who wrestled with God. This focuses on the regenerate nature of Jacob in terms of God's plan for his life. So when Jesus focuses on Nathanael he said: "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no Jacob!" There is no longer any deceit. This is a true Israelite, one who has been regenerated and is not like that old chiseller, Jacob.

John 1:48 NASB "Nathanael said to Him, 'How do You know me?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you'." Nathanael doesn't question this analysis at all. Nathanael is the kind of person in which there is no deceit. Whatever Nathanael thinks he is going to come right out with it, he is not going to beat around the bush. He is going to tell it just like it is, he is going to give the truth. Jesus answer to Nathanael brings some more interesting things to bear. One of the things learned from the rabbis is that the place to meditate on Scripture is to get under the cool shade of a fig tree. The Mishnah states that students of the Scriptures would read under the fig tree in the shade. The Passover is coming at the end of chapter two, and one of the passages that the rabbis had their students read in preparation for the Passover was the Jacob dream passage in Genesis.

The scenario: Nathanael is sitting under a fig tree as a rabbinical student, preparing for the Passover by meditating on the Jacob's dream passage. The Jacob's dream passage focuses on the bridge that will develop between man on earth and God in heaven. This is related to the Passover. It is a passage in its prophetic significance looking forward to the coming of the King, the Messiah, down the ladder, to provide fellowship and communion between heaven and earth. So the implication here is that Nathanael is meditating on this passage in the life of his progenitor, Jacob. He understands the whole meaning of Jacob as the deceiver, the dolos, and he understands the nature of regeneration and the shift from Jacob as the deceiver to Jacob the one who wrestled with God and who became a prince with God.

So with all of this background, when Jesus says this and is using this wordplay, it calls all of this to mind and Nathanael sits there and says, Only God could know all of this and put it all together. In this very terse manner, using these allusions to Scripture, Jesus lets Nathanael know that he knows everything that there is to know about him, and that he is the fulfilment of the prophecy that is given there in Genesis, the Jacob's ladder dream. Nathanael had questions. He wanted to know who the Messiah was. He needed answers to his intellectual questions and wasn't going to be satisfied simply because Philip came along and said they had found the Messiah, he wanted hard evidence. Today there are very few places where we can take people to find hard evidence of the truth of Christianity. We live in an era when people live more on emotions and excitement and going some place so that they can have their emotions stirred up and feel good than going some place where they can learn the truth of Scripture and have their intellectual questions about life answered. This is because we have divorced the spiritual life today from the intellectual life. What has happened across the board is that we no longer think that reason has anything to do with our relationship with God. This is not new, it is something that has been a problem with Christianity throughout the 20th century.

J. Greshem Machem was a famous defender of orthodox Christianity around the turn of the century. He had an incredible mind. He knew 10 or 12 different ancient languages and wrote numerous book defending Christianity against the attacks from liberal theology. In his address to Princeton in 1912:

 "Our whole system o school and college education is so constituted as to keep religion and culture as far apart as possible, ignoring the question of the relationship between them. On five or six days of the week we are engaged in the acquisition of knowledge, and from this activity the study of religion is banished. We study natural science without considering its bearing or lack of bearing on theology or revelation. We study Greek without ever opening the New Testament. We study history, carefully avoiding the greatest of historical movements ushered in by the teaching of Jesus. In philosophy the vital importance of the study of religion could not be entirely ignored but was kept as far as possible in the background. On Sundays, on the other hand, we have religious instruction that calls for little exercise of the intellect. Careful preparations for Sunday school lessons in the same sense as for Latin or mathematical studies is unknown. Religions seemed to be something that had only to do with the emotions and the will, leaving the intellect to secular studies. What wonder that after such training we begin to think that religion and culture as belonging to two entirely separate compartments of the soul and their union as involving the destruction of both.

To remedy the problem a man can believe only what he holds to be true. We are Christians because we hold Christianity to be true, but other men hold Christianity to be false. Who is right? That question can only be settled by an examination and comparisons of the reason adduced on both sides. It is true that one of the ground s for our beliefs is an inward experience we cannot share, that great experience begun by conviction of sin and conversion and continued by communion with God is an experience that other men do not possess and upon which we cannot therefore directly base an argument. But if our position is correct we ought at least to be able to show the other man that his reasons are inconclusive, and that involves careful study of both sides of the question. Furthermore, the field of Christianity is the world. The Christian cannot be satisfied as long as any human activity is opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations but all of human thought. The Christian therefore cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavour. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must all be studied either in order to demonstrated as false or else to make it useful in advancing the kingdom of God.

The missionary movement is the great religious movement of our day. Now it is true that men must be brought to Christ one by one. There are no labour-saving devices in evangelism, it is all His work. And yet it would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation and the absence of that makes the best preparation useless. Yet it is a matter of fact, God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create so far as we can with the help of God those favourable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervour of the reformer and yet succeed in only reaching the straggler here or there. We cannot permit the whole collective thought of the nation or the world to be controlled by ideas which by then resistless force of logic prevents Christianity from being regarded as nothing more than a harmless illusion. Under these circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy these obstacles at its roots." 

That is our job as believers. According to 2 Corinthians 5 we are to tear down fortresses, intellectual thought that has been erected against the truth of the gospel. And that is what Philip is willing to do. When Nathanael says, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" he says, "Come and see." If you are really interested in finding out the answers to your intellectual questions, to be willing to investigate, to take the time and the effort, Come and see. We should challenge the unbeliever to truly investigate Christianity.

When Nathanael is confronted with the truth of who Jesus is, he says [49]: "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel."

John 1:50 NASB "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these'. [51] And He said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man'." Jesus brings him right back to that passage of Scripture he has been meditating on, to Jacob's vision, and showing that he is the Son of Man, the bridge between man and God; He is the only way to God. Jesus brings this together for Nathanael. He uses the title Son of Man which is a messianic title that comes from Daniel chapter seven where we see four beasts which represent four different human kingdoms which are represented in all of their beast-like qualities. Down through history the kingdom of man, whatever its form, it is always represented as animal-like and beast-like because of the inherent destructive value of sin. But Jesus is portrayed in Daniel as the Son of Man, the last kingdom that comes that is going to restore all humanity and unite it under the rule of the Son of Man, the Messiah, the future King. When Jesus says this to Nathanael he is not just saying that He is the King of Israel but that he is the go-between, the mediator.

Notice how John organized the material of these four days. Nathanael represents the Jewish remnant, the Jewish remanent that is without deceit, that is true Israel of Israel. In the next chapter we see the wedding. The wedding feast in Scripture is always used to portray the Millennial kingdom, the Messianic kingdom. Prior to Nathanael on the day before there was Andrew and John witnessing to Peter and James. That is a picture of the witnessing of the church age. Prior to that was John the Baptist, the Old Testament prophet, who is a picture of the role of the prophet in history. So how has John organized his material here? There is a symbolic or typological value to this. First of all, there is John the Baptist representing the Old Testament prophets. Then the two witnesses who represent the church age, the witnesses of the church age in the angelic conflict. Then the remnant—Nathanael representing true Israel, the remnant of Israel that survives during the seven years of the Tribulation. Then in conclusion is the last event, the wedding feast which is the celebration of the Messiah coming to earth in His kingdom during the Millennium.

In this chapter John has given us 14 different titles of Jesus Christ. Verse 1, he is the Logos, the Word; that he is God. He tells us that he is the light of men, v.4. He is the begotten of the Father, v. 9. In vv. 14, 15 he is the one grater than John the Baptist. In v. 18 the second person of the Trinity is called the only-begotten God. In v. 23 He is identified as Yahweh, Jehovah. In vv. 19, 38 he is called the Lamb of God. In v. 33 He is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. In v. 34 He is called the Son of God. In v. 38 he is called rabbi or teacher. Then in v. 41 He is the Messiah. In v. 45 He is the one who fulfils all the Old Testament prophecies. In v. 49 He is the King of Israel. In v. 51 He is the Son of Man. In this chapter John gives us an incredible amount of information about our Lord and Saviour and introduces His public ministry.