Nathanael—A Man Without Deceit
IT WOULD indeed be a great honor for a man to be called a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Even greater would that honor be if the commendatory statement originated with one whose judgment was recognized as far superior to that of all other men. Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew, was so highly honored. None other than the Son of God said regarding him: “See, an Israelite for a certainty, in whom there is no deceit.”—John 1:47.
Jesus Christ spoke these words before Nathanael became one of the 12 apostles. According to the account written by the apostle John, Jesus had invited Philip to be his follower. In turn, Philip searched out his friend Nathanael, breaking to him the joyful news: “We have found the one of whom Moses, in the Law, and the Prophets wrote, Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”—John 1:45.
To Nathanael, this sounded unbelievable. He responded: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46a) Doubtless he was acquainted with these words of Micah’s prophecy: “You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah, from you there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.” (Mic. 5:2) Hence, it would not have been easy for him to accept immediately the fact that the Messiah would be linked with neighboring Nazareth of Galilee. Nathanael’s question implied that the city had nothing to commend it as a place from which to expect any real good. Surely, then, Nazareth could not be the city from which the one foretold in the Law and the Prophets would come.
Philip did not argue with Nathanael about the point but invited him to “come and see.” Commendably, Nathanael did not allow his prejudgment to stand in the way of an open-minded investigation but acted on his friend’s invitation. On catching sight of Nathanael, Jesus said: “See, an Israelite for a certainty, in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:46b, 47) Whereas all descendants of Jacob are Israelites, not all are Israelites in the true sense of the word. The name “Israel” means “contender [perseverer] with God” and was given to Jacob after he had wrestled with an angel in order to get a blessing for himself. Unlike his brother Esau, Jacob appreciated sacred things and was willing to exert himself vigorously to gain God’s favor. (Gen. 32:22-28; Heb. 12:16) As a true Israelite, then, Nathanael had faith in and appreciation for the divine promises. He was an Israelite not merely by birth but in deed and truth, manifesting the kind of adherence to God’s will that was exhibited by his forefather Jacob. There was nothing deceitful, hypocritical or devious about Nathanael. In the estimation of Jesus Christ, he was an upright man.
How did Nathanael react? He countered with a question: “How does it come that you know me?” Yes, what basis did Jesus have for making this statement? Then came the reply of God’s Son: “Before Philip called you, while you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48) Immediately Nathanael understood. There was something about the reason for his being under the fig tree that gave evidence of his being a true Israelite without deceit. Hence, Jesus’ words constituted a personal testimony to him, confirming that the speaker possessed miraculous knowledge. Whether Nathanael was engaged in private meditation or prayer underneath the boughs of that tree, we do not know. However, the incident associated with the fig tree was of a nature that, in Nathanael’s mind, provided a solid basis for what the Son of God said about him.
The import of Jesus’ words removed all doubt from Nathanael’s mind and heart. In full faith, he declared: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are King of Israel.”—John 1:49.
From then on Nathanael saw fulfilled the following words of Jesus Christ: “Because I told you I saw you underneath the fig tree do you believe? You will see things greater than these.” (John 1:50) At a marriage feast in his hometown of Cana in Galilee, Nathanael witnessed Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water into superb wine. (John 2:1-11; 21:2) Along with the 11 others later appointed as apostles, Nathanael saw Jesus heal the sick, expel demons and even raise the dead. Like the other apostles, Nathanael was empowered to perform miracles and to share in proclaiming the thrilling news: “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 10:1-8) Additionally, Nathanael benefited from the teaching and training provided by Jesus during the course of Christ’s earthly ministry.
Just as the Son of God knew who Nathanael was at heart, so he knows the real motivation of all who today profess to be his disciples. (Rev. 2:23) May we, therefore, strive to be persons without deceit and thus, like Nathanael, come to see things greater than those we saw when we made our first confession of faith in Jehovah God and his Son.