SET-2: Season of Denha
During this season of Denha (Syriac for revelation or manifestation), we observe the baptism of Jesus and the beginning of his public ministry with the selection of his apostles. During the Fridays of Denha, we honour John the Baptist and the saints who experienced the glory of Jesus. Based on that divine experience, they shared the gospel of Jesus with others. On this First Sunday of Denha, we focus on Nathanael (Bartholomew) who became an apostle of Jesus and to whom Jesus promised, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51). Nathanael could follow Jesus because Philip introduced him to Jesus. Like Nathanael, let us be true Christians without any duplicity so we can also enjoy the glory of Jesus at his second coming.
(John 1:45) Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” (46) But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (47) Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” (48) Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” (49) Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (50) Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” (51) And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
John the Baptist was God’s messenger and was considered as Elijah having returned to prepare the way of the Messiah. Because of his fiery speeches and the baptism of repentance that he performed, some Jews mistook him for the Messiah, which of course he confirmed he wasn’t (Jn 1:20). When Jesus approached him, John introduced him as the Messiah to the public and to his disciples. John said of Jesus as:
(1) “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
(2) The one who “ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (Jn 1:30).
(3) “The reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel” (Jn 1:31).
(4) “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him” (Jn 1:32).
(5) “He is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34).
When Jesus arrived the next day, John introduced Jesus to two of his disciples and they became the first followers of Jesus (Jn 1:35-37). They were Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, and an unnamed disciple (possibly John the Evangelist). The next day, Jesus met Philip from Bethsaida in Galilee and made him his follower. Philip in turn found his friend Nathanael and invited him to meet Jesus, whom he saw as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.
(Jn 1:45) Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one whom Moses wrote about in the Law, and the prophets as well: he is Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”
Born in Bethsaida of Galilee, Philip was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Some believe that Philip was a follower of John the Baptist, along with the Apostle Andrew. Both left the discipleship of John when he introduced them to Jesus Christ. Just as Andrew introduced Jesus to his brother Simon Peter, Philip introduced Jesus to Nathanael who is also known as Bartholomew in the Synoptic gospels. Unlike the Synoptic gospels and the Acts of the Apostles that mention Philip’s name only among the list of the Apostles (Mt 10:2-4, Mk 3:14-19, Lk 6:13-16, and Acts 1:1316), the Gospel of John gives more details of Philip:
1. “Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter” (Jn 1:43).
2. Jesus found Philip and called him (Jn 1:44).
3. Philip found his friend Nathanael and introduced Jesus to him (Jn 1:45-46).
4. Jesus tested Philip before the multiplication of bread and fish by asking, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” to which Philip replied, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit]” (Jn 6:5-7).
5. Some Greeks who came to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover came to Philip, asking his help to see Jesus. Philip, along with Andrew, notified Jesus about it (Jn 12:20-22).
6. At the Last Supper, Philip said to Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus responded, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? …” (Jn 14:8-9).
Here are features of Philip the Apostle:
1. Jesus reached out to Philip and said to him, “Follow me” (Jn 1:43).
2. Philip encouraged Nathanael to follow Jesus (Jn 1:45-46).
3. The Synoptic Gospels paired Philip with Bartholomew (Nathanael) (Mt 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:14).
4. Based on Jesus’ question to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” it is assumed that he oversaw food and supplies for Jesus and his team.
5. The Apostle Philip is often confused with Philip the Deacon in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:5; 8:26-40; 21:8).
Philip is believed to have preached in Greece, Syria, and Phrygia and became a martyr in Hierapolis around 80 AD. The Catholic Church celebrates his feast on 03 May, the Armenian Church on 17 November , and the Coptic Church on 18 November (http://saintsresource.com/philip-the-apostle). Philip’s presumed remains were moved to the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles in Rome, which was originally dedicated to Saints Philip and James the Less. So, the Church celebrates the feasts of both these apostles on the same day. (https://stphilipsoconnor.org.au/story/ saint_philip)
Most scholars believe that Bartholomew in the Synoptic Gospels and Nathanael in John are different names of the same person. Nathanael means “El (God) has given” or “Gift of God (El).” Bartholomew signifies “son of Tolomæus” because he was a son of Tolomæus or Tolmai. Thus, Bartholomew is his patronymic name, referring to his father like Bar-Jonah (son of Jonah) that Jesus used for Peter (Mt 16:17). Bartholomew was from Cana in Galilee (and is mentioned in Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Jn 1:4549, 21:2; and Acts 1:13).
The specialties of Nathanael (Bartholomew) are:
1. His friend Philip introduced him to Jesus (Jn 1:45-46).
2. At first sight, Jesus certified Nathanael as a true Israelite and with no duplicity (Jn 1:47).
3. He confessed Jesus as “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” at his first encounter with Jesus (Jn 1:49).
4. While the other apostles took time to understand Jesus as the Christ, Nathanael realized it before following Jesus.
5. Nathaniel was the first disciple to recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
6. He was an expert in the Law and the Prophets, thus literate compared to the other apostles.
7. The gospels use his name differently. While John uses the name Nathanael, the Synoptic gospels present him as Bartholomew.
8. He was one among the seven disciples to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee after His Resurrection (Jn 21:2).
9. The Synoptic Gospels paired Bartholomew with Philip in listing the apostles (Mt 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:14).
There are legends and traditions on Nathanael’s ministry after Pentecost. He paired up with Philip to evangelize in Turkey and Asia Minor. According to the fourth-century writer Eusebius of Caesarea, Bartholomew preached in India (https:// overviewbible.com/bartholomew-the-apostle). Popular belief is that Bartholomew was martyred by being skinned alive and then beheaded in Armenia in 72 AD. Another legend is that he was crucified upside down in Albania. Christian sects celebrate his feast on different dates. The Catholic Church honours him on 24 August.
Philip found Nathanael and told him
Why did Philip search for Nathanael from Cana (Jn 21:2) and share what he saw in Jesus? Since Nathanael had better knowledge of the Law and the Prophets, he probably sought confirmation from him. Philip understood Jesus as the son of Joseph and a divine person from Nazareth, whereas, after meeting with Jesus, Nathanael could affirm Jesus as the Son of God. That motivated both Philip and Nathanael to follow Jesus and work as a team with Him and live for his mission after His resurrection. Philip meeting Nathanael is parallel to Andrew introducing Jesus to his brother Simon, stating, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1:41).
“We have found the one …”
Philip used the plural “we” to show that besides him there are others like Andrew and Peter who have found Jesus as the fulfilment of the promise of a Saviour mentioned in the Law and the Prophets.
“We have found the one …”
Instead of using “a person” Philp used “the one” to show the specific person who is the Christ.
About whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets
In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses said, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen.” There are other references to the advent of a Saviour in the Pentateuch, like Genesis 3:15; 49:10, and Deuteronomy 18:18.
Through the Prophet Jeremiah, the LORD said, “See, the days are coming – oracle of the LORD – when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name to be given him: ‘The LORD our justice’” (Jer 23:5-6). Several prophets gave hope to the Israelites on the Messiah to come. So, they were waiting for this significant event to happen.
Jesus, son of Joseph
Jesus, who led a humble life in Nazareth along with Joseph and Mary until he was 30, was known as the son of Joseph. Most people did not know of his virgin birth and that Joseph was his foster father. A child could also be titled as the son of his legal father. Joseph was legally married to Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. There are other instances when he was referred to as “son of Joseph” (Lk 4:22, Jn 6:42). When Mary found 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple after searching for him for three days, she said of Joseph, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Lk 2:48). So, it was natural that Philip also understood Jesus as the son of Joseph, which was the common belief of the time.
Jesus from Nazareth
Since several people have the same name, the ancient Jews used to add either the father’s name or that of their native place to the name for better identification. Examples of adding names of places to a person’s name in the Bible are Mary of Magdala (Lk 8:2), Simon of Cyrene (Lk 23:26), and Joseph of Arimathea (Lk 23:51). Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he spent most of his lifetime in Nazareth until his public ministry. Hence, he was also known as Jesus of Nazareth. That, according to Matthew, was the fulfilment of the prophecy that “He shall be called a Nazorean” (Mt 2:23). Philip and Nathanael knew Nazareth because it was only three hours’ walk from Cana, the native place of Nathanael.
(46) Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Biblical scholars attribute distinct reasons for this question from Nathanael:
1. Nazareth was a small village with around 400 inhabitants. So, people could expect nothing significant from there.
2. Notably, Nathanael wasn’t just asking about the place of Messiah’s origin but also questioning the possibility of anything good coming the place. Some believe that this was because of the jealousy or prejudice between Cana and Nazareth that were neighbouruing villages.
3. There could possibly have been an ill reputation attached to Nazareth during that period. People from neighbouring villages might have been looking upon the Nazoreans with contempt because of possible unacceptable behaviour on their part or some awful events that might have occurred there. So “can anything good come….?” could mean, not even any person of nobility or thing of excellence could ever come from Nazareth. This became clear later when Jesus progressed in his public ministry there. “He did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Mt 13:58). “He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk 6:6). They were all filled with fury and led Jesus to the brow of a hill to hurl him headlong (Lk 4:28-29). So, “He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum” (Mt 4:13).
4. Nathanael who was an expert in the Law and the Prophets, could not find any supporting prophecy of the Messiah coming from Nazareth. According to the Evangelist Matthew, “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean’” (2:23). However, there is no direct mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament other than a resemblance of the name Nazareth with Isaiah 11:1 that states: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” The word for shoot or bud is nēser, which resembles the name Nazareth. Unlike Matthew, Nathanael could not find this relationship between the words.
5. The prophecy of the coming of the Messiah was from Bethlehem, the City of David. “But you, BethlehemEphratha, least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Mic 5:1). Being unaware of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, it was reasonable for Nathanael to doubt the arrival of Jesus as the Christ from Nazareth.
During the ministry of Jesus, Nazareth was a small, hilly, and fertile village 18 km southwest of the Sea of Galilee. Though Hellenistic (Greek) culture was widespread in Galilee, this village remained conservative, keeping all Jewish beliefs and traditions. People spoke the Aramaic language that was the modern version of Hebrew. Jesus also spoke Aramaic.
There is a tradition that after the Babylonian exile, one clan from the line of David had returned around 100 BC from Babylon and established a village in Nazareth. The Davidic clan lived here instead of Bethlehem or Jerusalem because of their fear of Herod the Great. Herod, a non-Jew, was afraid of a king who might arise from that clan against him. Thus, Joseph and Mary, who belonged to the clan of David and from Bethlehem, were living in Nazareth.
Joseph, an artisan from Bethlehem, moved to Nazareth for economic prospects. Sepphoris, where Herod Antipas reconstructed the old city as his provincial capital, was only a few kilometres away from Nazareth. Sepphoris was a city of his father, Herod the Great, that the Romans had destroyed after his death. Because of the demand for artisans for the reconstruction of that luxurious Greek-style city, Joseph and Jesus could find work there. Mary’s father, Joachim, was from Nazareth, and her mother, Anne, was from Bethlehem.
Nazareth was famous only for being the hometown of Jesus. It was a village forming around 150 to 400 people when Jesus lived there. People knew each other and lived as a community with many related to one another. Isaiah had prophesied about 700 years before Christ that “From the stump of Jesse a shoot will come forth; from his roots a branch will grow and bear fruit” (Isa 11:1). The root word of Nazareth is in Hebrew “netzer” meaning branch. Matthew connects this prophecy to the return of Joseph and his family from Egypt to Nazareth” (Mt 2:23).
“Come and see”
Philip was convinced that Jesus was “the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets” (Jn 1:45) but was sure that he could not win Nathanael with any further discussion. The best method for him to convince his friend was to have him meet Jesus in person. Philip had noticed such charism in Jesus. So, he requested Nathanael to come and get to know Jesus firsthand, setting aside his prejudice with regard to where Jesus came from. Nathanael trusted his friend and accepted the invitation that benefitted him with a conviction that had him become even an apostle of Christ.
(47) When Jesus saw Nathanael coming, he said of him, “Here is an Israelite, a true one; there is nothing false in him.”
When Jesus watched Nathanael coming to him, he also glanced at his heart and affirmed his spirituality. So, Nathanael got the exceptional response of Jesus, who asserted in front of the public that Nathanael was “a true Israelite” and a person without duplicity. No one ever got such a compliment from Jesus. That acknowledgement might have touched Nathanael to his soul for sure!
Here is a true Israelite
Israel was the God-given name of Jacob, the son of Isaac, that he gained because he had contended with divine and human beings and had prevailed (Gen 32:29). Besides being born an Israelite, Nathanael was an Israelite in practice. According to Paul, “One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God” (Rom 2:28-29). Nathanael, according to Jesus, was a fine example of such perfect Israelite character. Unlike the Scribes and the Pharisees, whom Jesus called hypocrites (Mt 23:25), Nathanael was honest inwardly and outwardly, before God and humans.
There is no duplicity in him
Duplicity or guile stands for a two-faced person, a person devoid of integrity. A true Israelite should not have guile, like Jacob in his early stage of life (Gen 27:35-36) from which he recovered later. Jesus did not mean that Nathanael was free from sin. However, he was straightforward. Psalm 32:2 says, “Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no guilt.” Revelation 21:27 states that nothing unclean will enter Heaven, nor anyone who does abominable things or tells lies. Before becoming his disciple, Jesus could find righteousness in Nathaniel in contrast to the Pharisees and the Scribes who were false prophets (Mt 7:15). He bluntly accused them of duplicity, saying, “On the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Mt 23:28).
(48) Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” And Jesus said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”
Nathanael was surprised to hear from the reputed Jesus the statement, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” He acknowledged the truthfulness of what Jesus said of him and realized that Jesus understood his character and the internal state of his soul. His curiosity prompted him to ask for a clarification on how Jesus came to know so much about him since that was only their first encounter.
Before Philip called you
Instead of answering directly, Jesus proved he knew even more about Nathanael. Jesus, with his divine power, knew that Philip had introduced him to Nathanael. That also was a surprise to Nathanael, which urged him to realize that Jesus had divine knowledge. No human could get such an awareness because that happened out of the sight of Jesus.
I saw you under the fig tree
How could Jesus know Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree when Philip approached him to introduce Jesus to him? That was also puzzling to Nathanael and facilitated his faith in the divine nature of Jesus.
Under the fig tree
The shade of the fig tree was commonplace for prayer, contemplation, and meditation during the time of Jesus’ ministry. The Jews used to sit for scripture study and reflection under the vine or fig tree. Their thick and large leaves provided shade and sunlight during daytime and relief during the hot weather. In Judaism, the fig tree symbolizes the study of Law (Torah) and in Rabbinic literature, the proper place to study the Torah was under a fig tree (https://www.learnreligions.com/nathanael-thetrue-israelite-701068). Jesus also used to pray under the trees on mountains and in gardens as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn 28:1) on the Mount of Olives.
Nathanael might sit under the fig tree of his own garden as we read in Micah 4:4, “They shall all sit under their own vines, under their own fig trees, undisturbed; for the LORD of hosts has spoken.” It confirms that he was a scholar of the Law and prophets. So, Jesus ascertained Nathanael was a spiritual person interested in the Holy Scriptures and Jesus also knew his inner heart that he was longing for the arrival of the Messiah. Inviting one another under vines and fig trees was a sign of Messianic age (Zech 3:10). Jesus knowing him sitting under the fig tree of his own garden when Philip came and called him, was startling for Nathanael. He was surprised first by the comment of Jesus on his character and later his supernatural understanding of Philip meeting him and where he was. These led to his conviction that Jesus was the Messiah.
(49) Nathanael answered, “Master, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Nathanael was quick in his response, acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. Just as Jesus could understand Nathanael and declare his perception of him in public, Nathanael himself could recognize and pronounce in front of others that Jesus was the Messiah. Unlike other apostles, based on his personal study of scripture and encounter with Jesus, Nathanael understood Jesus as the Christ and followed him. So, he was the one to profess faith in Jesus as the Saviour before Simon Peter and Thomas acknowledged the same.
Rabbi is a title of dignity for the experts and teachers of the Law. It was also an honorary title given to a spiritual leader of a Jewish congregation. Thus, many called Jesus a Rabbi considering his wisdom, understanding of the Scriptures, and his authoritative teaching (https://www.britannica.com/topic/rabbi).
The Son of God
There can be only one as “the” Son of God. The Old Testament attributes “Son of God” to the angels, the kings, the chosen ones, and the children of Israel (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] #441). They are creations of God and not sons in the strict sense. However, Jesus is the Son of God in eternity and shares the essence of God and hence he is God. Besides recognizing Jesus as a Rabbi and the eternal king of Israel, Nathanael acknowledged the divinity of Jesus.
Formerly, John the Baptist had witnessed to Jesus as the Son of God (Jn 1:34). However, Nathanael was the first disciple to acknowledge the same out of his conviction based on his study of the Scriptures and his personal encounter with Jesus. This contrasts with the Jewish authorities and the Scribes who failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Instead, they accused him of blasphemy for his claim as the Son of Man (Mk 14:61-64). Besides Nathanael, many and even demons had recognized Jesus as the Son of God (Lk 4:41).
You are the King of Israel
The kingship of Jesus was the fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant. God promised to David: “When the time comes for you to rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your son after you, the one born of you, and I will make his reign secure. He shall build a house for my name and I will firmly establish his kingship forever” (2 Sam 7:12-13). The fulfilment of this promise happened only partially in David’s son Solomon, who built the Temple and ruled only 40 years. The promise came to its completion only in Jesus, who established the universal kingdom and rules it forever. Nathanael, who was aware of this Davidic covenant, knowing that Jesus was not a worldly king (Jn 18:36), professed his faith in Jesus as the King of Israel. “The King” and not “a king” implies that Jesus was the messianic King God had sent to liberate and rule over Israel.
Nathanael, who was doubtful because Jesus came from Nazareth when Philip introduced Jesus to him, became a firm believer in Jesus as Messiah and confessed that at his first encounter with Jesus. His prejudice melted away, and he became an adoring disciple of Jesus far better than Philip, who introduced Jesus to him. Nathanael was joyful, like finding a treasure for which he gave up everything to become an apostle of Jesus.
(50) But Jesus replied, “You believe because I said: ‘I saw you under the fig tree’? But you will see greater things than that.
Jesus appreciated the first response of Nathanael professing his faith in Jesus as the Messiah when he heard the omniscient approach of Jesus. However, that was only a glimpse of what he was going to witness. Jesus promised Nathanael that he could expect more wonderful experiences in the future that he and others experienced later.
You will see greater things than this
Nathanael, along with other apostles and the public, had listened to Jesus, who was greater than Prophet Jonah. He converted the Ninevites after spending three days and three nights in the belly of a whale (Mt 12:39-41). People heard Jesus’ teaching that surpassed the wisdom of King Solomon (Mt 12:42). Jesus performed more miracles than all the prophets of the Old Testament combined. His resurrection from the dead was the culmination of his miracles.
(51) Truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Amen, amen, I say to you
Repetition of the word “amen” or “truly” is characteristic of John. It emphasizes the truth that follows compared to any ordinary statement. Jesus was the only one who knew all the truth because he came down from Heaven and he is always with the Father.
You will see the sky opened.
The Bible speaks of three heavens distinguishable from the context –
1. The firmament or immediate atmosphere that surrounds the earth,
2. The outer space of the sun, the moon, and the stars as far as it stretches,
3. The place where God, the holy angels, and the souls of the just men dwell. The Bible calls it “The heaven of heavens,” or “the third heaven” (2 Cor 12:2).
The Bible gives instances when heaven was opened:
1. While Ezekiel was among the exiles by the River Kebar, the heavens opened, and he saw visions of God (Ezek 1:1).
2. After the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove (Lk 3:21-22; Mk 1:10).
3. When Stephen was about to be stoned to death, he saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).
4. John the Evangelist had a vision of heaven on the Island of Patmos based on which he wrote the Book of Revelation (Rev 4:1).
5. Paul was caught up to the third heaven and heard ineffable things (2 Cor 12:2-5).
However, the Bible does not document Nathanael seeing the heavens opened. Here the opening of heaven need not be taken in a literal sense. It shows the outpouring of blessings from heaven. The opening of the heavens can also be taken in a figurative sense as indicated in Psalm 78:24: “So he commanded the clouds above; and opened the doors of heaven. God rained manna upon them for food.” The apostles and others witnessed an abundant flow of blessings from heaven through Jesus Christ.
The angels of God
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “the angels are servants and messengers of God” (CCC-329). They “always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10). They are “mighty in strength, acting at his behest, obedient to his command” and they carry out His will (Ps 103:20-21). They are purely spiritual and immortal creatures with intelligence and will, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures (CCC330).
“Christ is the centre of the angelic world” (CCC-331). At his second coming in glory, all the angels will appear with him (Mt 25:31). “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). The angels have been at the service of God and ministered his chosen ones throughout the history of salvation (CCC-332).
The angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man
Here Jesus was alluding to Genesis 28:12, which is the only passage where God’s angels are depicted as ascending and descending between heaven and earth. While Jacob was sleeping on his journey to Laban’s house, he had a dream. He saw “a stairway rested on the ground with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it” (Gen 28:12). Jesus is the new ladder that connects heaven and earth. As Son of God, Jesus had the escort of the angles. They protected him in his infancy, served him in the desert, strengthened him during his agony in the garden, proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s incarnation and his resurrection. They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement (CCC-333). Nathanael and the other apostles could experience the presence of angels around Jesus.
The Holy Bible does not document any vision of the ascending and descending of angels in the life of Nathanael. So, some Biblical scholars interpret Jesus’ words on seeing the ascending and descending of angels as a generic statement to those who follow him and that came true. Others state it shall not be taken in the physical sense of seeing. The apostles and other disciples of Jesus could experience the angelic presence in their encounter with Jesus.
The Son of Man
Though Nathanael qualified Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus said of himself as “the Son of Man”. The Hebrew phrase “the Son of Man” means a human being (Ezek 2:1). However, in Prophet Daniel’s vision, the same phrase (7:13) gained divine qualities because the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven. Ordinary humans cannot travel in the clouds. Jesus chose this phrase for himself. So, it shows the human and divine nature of Jesus.
1. When Philip was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, he voluntarily shared the fact with his friend Nathanael, who met Jesus and got convinced of the same. Both Philip and Nathanael then became apostles of Jesus and proclaimed the gospel. We are also called to experience Jesus, be convinced, and communicate his message to others.
2. Friendship matters much, as in the case of Philip and Nathanael. Good friends lead us in the right direction and bad friends influence us to do what is evil.
3. Nathanael was dedicated to study and reflect on the Bible. That helped him to attain salvation. How far are we interested in studying the Word of God?
4. Though Nathanael was prejudiced at first because of Jesus’ association with Nazareth, he was open-minded to meeting Jesus and getting convinced. We also need to be cautious about our prejudices of others and be open-minded to find out the truth.
5. Nazareth was an insignificant village. However, that became the village where Jesus spent most of his life. Lest we underestimate any place or person, we have the Bible reminding us that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27).
6. Jesus could confirm that Nathanael was a true Israelite with no guile. How far can we claim to be true Christians without guile?
7. Faith is not based on arguments. It needs personal experience and a sense of deep conviction that Nathanael was fortunate to have had concerning Jesus.
8. Jesus knew of Nathanael’s scriptural study and devotion under his fig tree. God notices even our private acts and inner thoughts and will reward us accordingly.