Jesus ‘looks on the heart’ of Nathanael and calls him

John 1:43–51

Wednesday, January 10

The first fishermen-disciples find Nathanael who has an encounter with Jesus, who perceives exactly what he is thinking with prophetic insight.

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

  • The first two disciples, Andrew (named) and John (not named, but probable) joined Jesus on the testimony of John the Baptist. Peter came because of his brother Andrew. Greek-named Philip, from the fishing village of Bethsaida and probably a fisherman, was chosen by Jesus Himself. Later, when Greeks in Jerusalem sought Jesus, it was Philip they approached, John 12:20–22. Jesus’ message spanned both cultures.

44–45 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.”

  • His reference to “the one Moses wrote about in the Law” is an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:18 where the Lord says to Moses, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.’
  • Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus, but he was his legal father.

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

“Come and see,” said Philip.

  • Nathanael, probably the personal name of Bartholomew, is later referred to in John 21:1–3 as Nathanael of Cana when seven of the disciples were together and went fishing, but caught nothing. The account of Nathanael’s call in John is immediately followed by the story of the first miracle in Cana, John 2:1–11. There are about three locations where Cana might have been, 1–3 hours walk to the north of Nazareth. Perhaps Cana was bigger and looked down on Nazareth — or Nazareth just had a poor reputation, not helped by having a Roman detachment stationed there. To be a ‘Nazarene’ was a way of saying ‘despised’; Galilee as a whole was looked down on and it was said no prophet could come from there, John 7:52, although Jonah came from Gath-hepher, a little north of Nazareth. God is no respecter of persons — or locations, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11.

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

  • “No deceit” — literally, in whom there is no guile, dolos. The father of Israelites, Jacob, used dolos to take his brother’s blessing dishonestly, Gen. 27:35. Jesus goes on to relate Jacob’s experience at Bethel, John 1:51. Perhaps Nathanael had been sitting and reading about Jacob’s experience, Genesis 28:1–17 and Jesus perceived this supernaturally by a word of knowledge.

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

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

  • Jesus means He had a prophetic insight about Nathanael-Bartholomew joining Him. It was a sign to him (v.50).
  • “Under the fig tree” was an expression meaning someone who studied the Law (or Scriptures).

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

  • His earlier cynicism about anyone significant coming out such a small place as Nazareth (which is not mentioned in the O.T.) are overcome by Jesus’ word of knowledge and insight into his integrity.

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 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.”


Central to the passage is the story of Nathanael’s call. He was a well-read young man, perhaps a little too confident in his good values, who saw, initially, a tradesman carpenter-builder, from a neighbouring village which people looked down on because its main claim to fame was having a Roman detachment stationed there. Jesus shared a word of knowledge in which he had “seen” Nathanael and his character. This was transformational: The sceptical Nathanael now changes to address Jesus as “Rabbi” or Master and recognises Him as Messiah.

In the flesh we carry all sorts of prejudices about class and status and appearance which we are inclined to apply before we have sought the Holy Spirit’s insight. We don’t always receive such a dramatic word of knowledge, but as we know God looks on the heart; with the leading of the Holy Spirit we can see beyond the immediate presentation of a person or situation. Jesus was asking His Father who He was calling, and Nathanael was also open to what God would show Him, we can surmise. It is an object lesson for us.

Discussion starter

When in your experience has initial prejudice been shown up by God, or its counterpart, initial favouritism, shown to have been misplaced?

Originally published at The Living Word.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ian Greig

Ian Greig

Husband+Father | Missional Christian | Author+ Speaker+Creator — offering ‘Faith without the Faff’ to encourage those not attracted to a formal club-like church