1 Sam. 3:1-20; Ps. 139:1-10, ant. 14; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
Come, Philip said to [Nathaniel], “If you come, you will see.” (v. 46b)
One wrongly assumes that on their initial encounter, Jesus singled-out Nathaniel for recognition, “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. First Nathaniel had responded to his call, then hearing Jesus, as did Andrew and John, Peter and Philip, Nathaniel began to “see”, enrolling in their new Rabbi’s Torah school; only after received as disciple does Jesus laud Nathaniel.
The time between Nathaniel’s call “coming” and his disciple “sight” (vv. 46b and 47) is important. Tradition has it that Nathaniel was a Torah scholar scribe; if so, he was learned beyond his brothers; no doubt the most advanced student in Jesus’ mobile “classroom”.
Before “coming” to Jesus, Nathaniel had a concern about Philip’s claim of locating Messiah: nowhere does Scripture mention Nazareth, prompting his remark, “From Nazareth! Can anything good be from there?” (v. 46a).
Jesus was calling his Apostles to be purveyors of a new revelation of God’s word; and so, “fishers of men”, as such, their education entailed knowledge of the man God sent (Jn. 17:3); this was the apostolic curriculum. From time-to-time Jesus administered an examination, “Who do men say that the Son of man is? … and, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:13b, 15).
With this background we appreciate what follows, “Jesus saw [his newest disciple] coming toward him and said concerning him, ‘Behold, here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit’” (Jn. 1:47); now as a disciple, Nathaniel had moved-on from “place of Jesus’ birth” to the Christological question of Jesus’ origin, (not as some translate, “How do you know me?”); but “From where do you know me?” (v. 48).
Nathaniel, the class newbie, began to push the theological envelope. He knew JB’s witness: Jesus was “son and lamb of God” (v. 29), but what did the titles mean? So, Jesus revealed something of his divine omniscience, his sight of Nathaniel searching Scripture under a fig tree, Israel’s national symbol and every “Israelite’s” intended activity.
At this revelation Nathaniel confessed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!” (v. 49). Jesus’ school was in full session from which his Apostles would advance in faith to “see”. In the resurrection they would “behold” through Jesus’ Cana change of OT water to NT purification wine, the “chief” of Jesus’ signs through which their gospel must be comprehended (2:11).
OT Israel was to be bearer of God’s word and light in the world. In the days of the Judges; Eli, Shiloh’s tabernacle high-priest, was responsible for maintaining the sanctuary lamp of God’s presence in the Holy Place.
Eli, however was faithfulness, so that the word was “rare” in Israel (1 Sam. 3:1). In old age Eli was all but blind, emblematic that his duty as tender of God’s light required a younger man, Samuel. When God called Samuel, into his preaching office, Eli, instructed the response, “Speak YHWH because your servant is listening” (v. 9b).
Samuel responded to God and so the Apostles to Jesus’ call to Divine Service; they “came”, “listened”, and “saw” receiving new Torah eyes; and when finally enlightened by the HS in the Resurrection they “beheld” Jesus, God’s enfleshed Torah, for becoming the church’s apostolic foundation.
On JB’s witness, Andrew and John followed Jesus, inquiring where he was “remaining” (Jn. 1:38), from where their new Teacher would expound God’s word. Jesus invited, “Come and you will see” (v. 39), and so to Nathaniel searching God’s word.
Jesus is the content of all Scripture, the One worthy to open its seals (Rev. 5:9), the substance of his church’s proclamation in the world; so now the church invites, “if you come, you will see”, and respond to him, “Speak Lord because your servant is listening.”
Unlike Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 16:16, 17), John the evangelist assigns Nathaniel the Father’s revelation of Jesus’ origin and office: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” There is no deceit in Nathaniel’s confession of the church’s cross and resurrection proclamation inviting searchers of God’s word, “If you come, you will see”.
Before Nathaniel’s call, what Scripture, had Nathaniel been searching under the fig tree; perhaps this, “[A]nd behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming. He came to the Ancient of Days, and was brought before him. To him was given dominion, honor, and a kingdom … one that will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13, 14).
Jesus affirmed Nathaniel’s epiphany, “Amen, amen, I say to all of you, you will see the Heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (v. 51) victoriously enthroned, worshipped and served in the place of his origin with the Ancient of Days.
The Resurrection reveals the “where”of Jesus’ dominion and the Father’s glory. The church’s epiphany is that Jesus, lifted upon the cross, meets the Ancient of Days in the clouds of heaven. The wounds of Jesus, is “where” the church locates his “remaining”.
From God’s light; Jesus brings judgment and Grace for all. Jesus is the Heaven’s proclamation, without deceit, for “the new heaven’s” and “the new earth” in word and sacrament received in our call to Baptism’s life (1 Cor. 6:19, 20); or not. Amen.