Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE CALL OF PHILIP, THE CALL OF NATHANAEL,

JACOB’S LADDER, AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST”

John 1.43-51

 

If you were with us last Sunday morning, you might remember that my message from John 1.41-42 dealt with Andrew bringing his brother, Simon Peter, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Today we will consider John 1.43-51, in which passage is found the call of Philip by the Savior, Philip, in turn, bringing Nathanael to the Savior, and their brief conversation in which the Savior makes mention of what is usually referred to as Jacob’s ladder. Please turn to the Gospel according to John, chapter one. When you arrive at verse 43, I invite you to stand and read along with me silently while I read aloud:

 

43     The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.

44     Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

45     Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

46     And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

47     Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

48     Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

49     Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

50     Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

51     And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

 

So we can handle so large a passage, I propose that we deal with the Savior’s call of Philip first, in verses 43-44, Philip’s seemingly immediate response of finding and bringing Nathanael to the Savior, verses 45-49, and the closing statements of the Savior after Nathanael’s confession that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the King of Israel:

 

WE BEGIN WITH THE SAVIOR’S CALL OF PHILIP

 

43     The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.

44     Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

 

It is clear from verse 43 that two significant changes have taken place from verse 42 and the bringing of Simon Peter by his brother Andrew to the Lord Jesus Christ. That day has elapsed, and the location has changed. Whatever day it was that the encounter between Simon Peter and the Lord Jesus Christ took place that was orchestrated by Andrew; the subsequent events we deal with here are more than a day later. If you pay careful attention to verse 43, you will recognize that John’s Gospel account does not make the claim that the Lord Jesus Christ found Philip the next day, but that He began relocating from the Southern extremity of the Jordan River to the region of Galilee to the North the next day. That would be a roughly eighty-mile walk that would take two good days for a fit young man to travel.

Once our Lord arrived in the region of Galilee, He found and called Philip. Notice a few things in this account that is scarce on details: First, we can clearly see that it was the Savior who sought Philip rather than Philip seeking the Savior. John writes,

 

“Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip.”

 

Thus, while it seems in some portions of God’s Word that sinners seek God or seek the Savior, and while sinners are directed to seek the LORD while He may be found, the underlying reality is captured by Paul when he concludes from Psalm 14.1-3 and declares in Romans 3.11,

 

“there is none that seeketh after God.”

 

Sinners are told to seek God, but human depravity guarantees that it is only when God is working in a sinner’s life that anyone ever seeks the LORD while He may be found.[1] Next, notice that Philip lived in the city of Bethsaida (which word means house of nets), which not at all coincidentally was the same community where the fishermen brothers Peter and Andrew were from. Bethsaida was a fishing village on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee whose whereabouts was unknown when I first started traveling to Israel. However, it has now been discovered a considerable distance north of the present shoreline, owing to large deposits of silt from mountain stream runoff over the past two thousand years, as well as a lowering of the water level of the Sea of Galilee because of modern irrigation. More important to us, however, is that Philip almost certainly knew Peter and Andrew since they were all from the same rather small town. Those social ties within Christ’s band of disciples were, without a doubt, an advantage, the kind of advantage that remains even in our own day. It is easier to reach and serve with people you know than it is to reach and learn to serve with people you don’t know. Third, notice what the Lord Jesus Christ said to Philip when He found him:

 

“Follow me.”

 

Was this before or after a considerable conversation between the two of them? We are not told. Had Philip previously heard of Him? Had anyone who was there when John the Baptist baptized the Savior, or who was there later when he pointed Him out to others, returned to Bethsaida ahead of the Lord to speak of Him to Philip? We have no idea. All we know is that the Lord Jesus Christ did not ask Philip, but told him,

 

“Follow me,”

 

and he did. Keep in mind that when the Lord Jesus Christ asked questions, it was for the purpose of provoking thought. However, He never requested that anyone follow Him. Neither does He request that anyone believe in Him. He tells. He directs.

 

WE CONTINUE WITH THE CALL OF NATHANAEL

 

45     Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

46     And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

47     Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

48     Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

49     Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

 

Notice how differently Nathanael became a disciple of Jesus Christ than did Philip. The Savior sought and called Philip directly, personally, and with obvious intentionality. While not in any way denying the intentionality of God’s unseen dealings with Nathanael, those dealings with him are not obvious, given the fact that Nathanael was approach by Philip, just as Simon Peter had only a few days earlier been approached by his brother, Andrew.

In his comments on this passage, the old commentator Matthew Henry makes mention of a couple of things that ought to encourage every young believer who wants to witness to an unbeliever but who thinks he does not know enough to be effective: Matthew Henry writes about Philip:

 

“What mistakes and weaknesses he laboured under: he called Christ Jesus of Nazareth, whereas he was of Bethlehem; and the Son of Joseph, whereas he [w]as but his supposed Son. Young beginners in religion are subject to mistakes, which time and the grace of God will rectify. It was his weakness to say, We have found him, for Christ found them before they found Christ. He did not yet apprehend, as Paul did, how he was apprehended of Christ Jesus, Php 3:12.[2]

 

Will a new disciple of Christ be smooth and polished in his witness? No. Will he make factual errors along the way? Yes, he usually will. However, the obvious exuberance of Philip, coupled with the essential correctness of his testimony, was extremely useful. What was his essential correctness? He was spot on when he said to Nathanael,

 

“We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus.”

 

As Matthew Henry observes, God did rectify by means of time and grace, both what Philip said as well as what just about any new Christian says when he begins to witness to others about his Savior. The Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the One of whom Moses and the prophets were speaking.

Though from this time forward the Lord Jesus Christ would be commonly referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, likely because of His upbringing in that city, had Philip known and said, Jesus of Bethlehem it might have sparked Nathanael’s interest even more, since Bethlehem was predicted by the prophet Micah to be the birthplace of this expected Messiah.[3] God did rectify, and Nathanael did respond to Philip’s witness. We can be so thankful for the Lord’s gracious willingness to use our feeble attempts to serve Him. As it was, Nathanael asked,

 

“Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

 

To which Philip responded,

 

“Come and see.”

 

Nathanael did come and see. And before he introduced himself, and apparently in his hearing, the Savior said “of him,” notice not to him,

 

“Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

 

What a wonderful compliment to pay a Jewish man. Complimenting him for being “an Israelite indeed” (that is, a true Israelite), and complimenting him again for being a man without guile (which is to say, without deceit).[4]

These two compliments, really observations about Nathanael’s character and integrity by someone unknown to him, provoked a question, that ultimately led to a revelation: Nathanael asked,

 

“Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.”

 

Pay close attention to what the Savior just said. He revealed knowledge about Nathanael’s location and activity that was impossible for anyone to know since presumably Nathanael had been previously alone in his own thoughts or prayer. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates to Nathanael that in addition to knowing his character and integrity without ever having met him, a true Israelite in whom is no guile, He also knows what Nathanael had been doing before Philip located him and persuaded him to come with him. In a sense, this comment by the Lord Jesus Christ is a revelation of truth known previously only to Nathanael. Thus, for the Lord Jesus Christ to know not only this man’s character but also his actions and location, He must know everything. He must be omniscient. However, this is not what I am referring to when I say revelation. The revelation is what Nathanael next says:

 

“Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”

 

Why do I claim this is a revelation? Consider Simon Peter’s later confession in Caesarea Philippi, in Matthew 16.16-17:

 

16     And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17     And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

 

Just as flesh and blood would not reveal to Simon Peter that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, several years later, so did His “Father which is in heaven” also reveal to Nathanael on this occasion that He is “the Son of God,” and “the King of Israel.”

 

Finally, OUR LORD SPEAKS OF JACOB’S LADDER

 

50     Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

51     And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

 

This is obviously a continuation of the Savior’s conversation with Nathanael. But because He makes reference to an astonishing vision found in the Old Testament I thought it best to consider these two verses separately.

To paraphrase verse 50, the Lord Jesus Christ says to Nathanael, “You believe because of what I said about seeing you under the fig tree? You’re going to see a great deal more than that; I assure you.” Interesting, is it not, that Nathanael came to believe with but a few facts that formed the bedrock of his faith in Christ. The Savior knew of his character, and the Savior knew of his location and activities. That plus Philip’s endorsement of the Savior was good enough for Nathanael. On the other hand, there are those who are shown fact after fact, proof after proof, surprising evidence on top of surprising evidence about the person and work of Jesus Christ, yet they stubbornly refuse to believe, insist on rejecting the evidence, and are persuaded by no amount of truth supporting the claims of Jesus Christ. Yet to this man who believed with few facts to base his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ promised,

 

“thou shalt see greater things than these.”

 

What the Lord Jesus Christ next spoke of was the Old Testament type of Christ commonly referred to as Jacob’s ladder. In Genesis 28.10-17, we find Jacob’s dream and the vision given to him by God with a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. What is called Jacob’s ladder from that passage, coupled with the Savior’s comment here in John 1.51, is convincing to show that the ladder Jacob saw was a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Savior Himself said,

 

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

 

This is as much as claiming that the ladder which Jacob saw in his dream is the Son of man; our Lord’s most common way of referring to Himself during His earthly ministry.

The question for our consideration, of course, is what does our Lord’s statement mean?

 

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

 

Three brief comments in the time we have remaining:

 

“Verily, verily, I say unto you.”

 

This is truly, truly, or amen, amen. It is a pronouncement by the Lord Jesus Christ of solemnity, or seriousness, and is also a demand for full attention to what comment follows.

 

“Hereafter ye shall see heaven open.”

 

Our Lord declares to Nathanael that from this moment forward he will see heaven open. This statement has both a literal and a figurative fulfillment. Figuratively, this refers to the open discourse and transactions that will take place between earth and heaven via the Lord Jesus Christ’s personal ministry. This alludes to His many miracles, His astonishing healings, His unexpected cleansings, His pronouncements, His prayers, His manifestations of authority, and the whole package of what Nathanael and the others will see and hear for the next three and one-half years. And then they will see His glorious resurrection and ascension. However, even more literally than what I have already mentioned will be that occasion when heaven literally opens, Revelation 19.11-16:

 

11     And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

12     His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

13     And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

14     And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

15     And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

16     And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

 

Nathanael’s faith in Christ will be shown to be valid, as will yours. His trust in the Savior will be vindicated, as will yours. Those with doubts will be proven wrong, and will suffer eternal torment for their damnable stubbornness in the face of reasonable truth.

 

“and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

 

Jacob realized some things about the place where the angels of God ascended and descended when he woke up, which place the Lord Jesus Christ identified as none other than Himself: First, in Genesis 28.16, he realized.

 

“Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.”

 

That is Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel is where the ladder on which angels ascend and descend upon the Son of Man is found. In fact, the Son of Man is the ladder! As well, Jacob was rightly afraid and said, in Genesis 28.17,

 

“How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

 

By dreadful, Jacob meant it was a place of fear, meaning great reverence was appropriate.[5] But notice the other two comments: This place is the house of God and the gate of heaven! Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the ladder, after all, is a place of great reverence, is the place where God is to be worshiped (the house of God), and is the gate of heaven.

 

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture,”

 

John 10.9, and

 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,”

 

John 14.6.

 

Can we wrap this up with two profound conclusions, the second much more important than the first? The first conclusion is that two men were reached and called to be our Lord’s disciples, and then later named to be His apostles, by very different means. Different people are reached in different ways, with one thing in common if they are actually reached at all. That one common thing has to be the Lord Jesus Christ, of course, faith in Jesus Christ. Amazing for me to think about is that among the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ who were His disciples during His earthly ministry, we have some evidence that the best from among them was this man named Nathanael. An Israelite indeed and one in who was no guile. He was far from being the most prominent or useful of our Lord’s apostles. How is this to be explained? Was he not the best of those men? Likely he was. However, the distinguishing feature of anyone’s usefulness to the cause of Christ is never his native abilities or potential. It is always, in the end, God’s grace. So it was with Christ’s first disciples, later with His apostles, and with you and me, as well. That is precisely why Paul twice reminded the Corinthian Church that “by the grace of God” he was what he was, and he did what he did.[6]

The second conclusion has to do with the Lord Jesus Christ. We come to the end of but the first chapter of John’s Gospel and what do we know of Him?

He is the Word, He was with God, and He is God, John 1.1.

He was in the beginning with God, John 1.2.

He created everything, and there is nothing created He did not make, John 1.3.

In Him was life and the light of men, John 1.4.

He is the true Light that lights every man who comes into the world, John 1.9.

He was here in His creation, though He was not recognized by His creation, John 1.10.

His own people refused Him, John 1.11.

Those who received Him, who believed on His name, became sons of God, born of God, John 1.12-13.

He was made flesh and dwelt in our midst, His glory actually beheld by some, John 1.14.

He was twice identified by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God, John 1.29 and 36.

John the Baptist claimed he saw the Spirit of God descend upon Him, John 1.32.

He was identified as the Messiah by Andrew, John 1.41.

He was identified as the Messiah by Philip, John 1.45.

He provided evidence of being omniscient to Nathanael, John 1.48.

He was identified as the Messiah by Nathanael, John 1.49.

He claimed to be Jacob’s ladder, the place where God is, the dreadful place where proper respect is called for, the place where God is properly worshiped, and the gate through which access to heaven is provided, John 1.51.

 

Never again think of the Lord Jesus Christ the way you had thought of Him before you came here today.

Believe in Him if you are wise, because you have this day been given far more substance for faith than Nathanael was given when he believed.

__________

[1] Isaiah 55.6

[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[3] Micah 5.2

[4] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol V, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1932), page 30.

[5] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 431.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15.10; 2 Corinthians 1.12

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org