“The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 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 answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 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.” 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.”” (John 1:43–51, NASB95)
So far Jesus has met Andrew, his brother Simon who Jesus called Peter, John, and his brother James. These verses introduce us to two more men who would soon be named among Jesus’ twelve disciples. This time, rather than being followed by disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus found Philip. We don’t know if Philip had heard of Jesus before or if Jesus had heard of Philip. What we do know is that as Jesus was heading to Galilee he found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Presuming that Philip did follow Jesus as he was directed, we read that he did not follow him alone. Like Andrew and John, Philip went and found another, Nathanael who is commonly thought to be the same person as Bartholomew (listed among the twelve in the other gospels).
And as Philip found Nathanael he told him that they had found the person about whom Moses and the Prophets had written. In saying this he immediately followed it by identifying who it was that he was speaking of—“Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Hearing this Nathanael responded somewhat critically, as if questioning that Philip could possibly be correct in his identifying the Christ. He responded, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” In John 21:2 we read that Nathanael was from Cana, which is a town in Galilee, and Galileans did not look well upon the people of Nazareth. As such it was quite natural for Nathanael to question that the One who they had been waiting on could possibly come from such an insignificant place.
Later in John 7, Nicodemus is spurned by the Pharisees as they slurred anyone who might be from Galilee. “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” (John 7:52, NASB95) As the Pharisees looked down on Jesus and by association, Nicodemus, so was Nathanael initially responding with the same doubt to Philip’s excitement. And similarly, as Nicodemus told the Pharisees to not judge a man until they hear from him and know what he does or is doing, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” (John 7:51), Philip told Nathanael to “Come and see.”
Nathanael accompanied Philip back to meet Jesus. As they approached Jesus had words for Nathanael just as He did for Simon, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” These two men had never met, and yet Jesus seemed to know something about Nathanael. He knew that Nathanael had an open heart and was willing to consider Philip’s claim. At this Nathanael questioned just how it was that Jesus knew him. Jesus’ response was even more astounding, saying “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” We don’t know what it was about Nathanael sitting under the fig tree, but Nathanael knew what Jesus meant by His response. Jesus had proven himself to Nathanael with His greeting, and Nathanael responded by agreeing with what Philip had said—“Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” With just a few words Nathanael was moved from one who questioned if anything good could come from Nazareth to one who acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God and the long anticipated King of Israel. He had made the connection and believed.
Jesus told him that if this simple response made him believe, then he was going to see much, much more. He would see greater things than he probably would ever have imagined. Jesus added, “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.” Ezekiel wrote in the first verse of his prophecies that he had seen the heavens opened and that he had seen visions of God. And Jacob had a dream of a ladder set upon the earth on which angels were ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12-13), and at the top of this ladder Jacob saw the Lord God Almighty standing above it. Jesus told Nathanael that he would see those things for himself.
Turned from doubter to believer, Nathanael joined Philip in following after Jesus—the Christ, sent by God to save and to reign. These six men (so far) had come to know Jesus as the Son of God, and had begun to follow after Him. One of those six, Simon Peter, later wrote, “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:” (2 Peter 1:1, NASB95) … “for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:11, NASB95) Peter had come to know Jesus as fully God, the Son of God, our Savior and our Lord. Because of His gift, Peter wrote, we have “…granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature….” (2 Peter 1:3–4, NASB95) It is because of Christ Jesus that we have been granted entrance into the His eternal kingdom and so, so much more. Jesus Nathanael that what he had seen up to that point was just a drop in the bucket, and He makes those same promises to us. All we have to do is believe that He is the Son of God who died, was buried, and rose again to forgive our sins and give us new life, call upon God to do this for us (ask), and then watch what He does as we follow Him by the same faith by which we were saved.