Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | December 31, 2007

What is significance about Phillip’s statement to Nathanael? (Lesson 5: Question 3 Answer)

3.  What is significant about Phillip’s statement to Nathanael?

In this question we will be considering the significance of a statement made by Phillip that may at first go unnoticed.  The statement is found within the following verses of our text: 

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 

After considering several verses describing the events that occurred at the Jordan River beyond Bethany, we now for the first time in the story change scenes.  Remember there was not a specific setting necessary for the prologue to this Gospel from verses 1-18, it was only an introduction.  Then beginning in verse 19, until now, we have been in the wilderness with John the Baptist, his inquisitors, his disciples and our Lord.  Our Lord had just summoned his first few disciples (three recorded here, but probably four actually James and/or John are not specifically recorded) and was continuing the process of summoning more.  Thus, in the process of summoning two additional disciples we change scenes from the wilderness to Galilee.  Galilee in the first century was an isolated Jewish region that was separated from Judea by the region of Samaria.  Galileans presumably had a different accent than the Jews from Judea as it is implied during Peter’s denials of our Lord (Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:70).  Since the days of the theocracy the land of Galilee had been a region of religious compromise (Judges 1:30-33), political expediency for theocratic rulers (1 Kings 9:11-13) and a place of unrest and turmoil (1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29).  Moreover, being isolated from the rest of Judea made it susceptible to hellinization and a hot bed for revolutionary zealots.90 Thus, one could safely say that it was a region of relative insignificance and impiety in the mind of the faithful Jew.  This background in mind and the fact that Nazareth was one of the smallest villages in Galilee, it is not surprising to read Nathanael’s response about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  While in Galilee our Lord finds Phillip who in turn finds Nathanael who was the last disciple of whose calling the apostle John records in this Gospel.  Interestingly Nathanael’s name does not appear in any of the other synoptic Gospel, which has caused many to speculate that he is recorded under a different name in those accounts.91 Also, Phillip here may or may not be the same Phillip in Acts 8, which could also possibly be Phillip the deacon of Acts 6.  Although, these are interesting items too consider it does not seem apparent that a certain conclusion can be arrived at.  Thus rather than spend any additional time on these items we will move onto a closer look at verse 45 of our text.         

As Phillip is telling the good news to Nathanael that the Messiah has finally come, he makes a simple statement that is truly significant.  In this statement we are enlightened to the obvious, yet invariably overlooked fact that the scope of the Old Testament Scriptures, including the Law of Moses and the prophets (and writings) is about Christ.  It should be noted that Christ is not explicitly found on every single page, however He is the context or overarching theme of the whole story.  In the covenantal canon of the Old Testament there is a unifying theme throughout the progressively revealed history of redemption.  From Genesis to Malachi the plot of the drama of redemption points to the promised Seed and the events that take place relative to the fulfillment of that promise.  This covenantal promise that the Lord faithfully preserves and protects against schemes and snares that are incessantly launched by the seed of the serpent, who seek to thwart the promise from being fulfilled.  In the Old Testament the line of the messianic Seed is revealed (through covenant) to be a descendant of Abraham who was promised to be a father of a nation.  We then trace the emergence of this nation from the beginning, its journey from famine (Genesis 42), to prosperity (Exodus 1:1-7) and to enslavement (Exodus 1:8-22).  Then in response to the covenant promises the Lord faithfully delivers them (Exodus 14), sets them apart (Exodus 24), and prospers them (1 Kings 10:14-29) in order to preserve the messianic Seed.  Due to their disloyalty and covenant infidelity, which He foretold would happen (Deuteronomy 30:1-5) , He gives them over to division (1 Kings 12), assassination plots (2 Kings 11) and eventually exile (2 Kings 25).  In the midst of these rebukes it was the Lord’s hand that was against Israel.  Yet, the enemy of God’s people did not remain inactive, but went on offense to put an end to the line of the messianic Seed through the murderous plots of a power hungry queen (2 Kings 11), the power of a foreign suzerain (2 Kings 18:13-19:37), and the schemes of a past enemy’s descendent  (Esther 3).  Despite their unfaithfulness, for the sake of the oath He swore in the garden and re-affirmed to Abraham and David, the everlasting covenant to provide a Savior was remembered and the nation was preserved from her enemies (Revelation 12:1-6) until the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4).  As children of Adam, the nation of Israel was incapable of fulfilling the requirements of the Mosaic Law on their own.  Like Adam they were given a conditional covenant that was the basis of their tenure in the land and earthly blessings.  The land flowing with milk and honey was a typological representation of the Garden of Eden.  Adam was unable to successfully pass his probationary test to earn permanent residence in paradise.  Israel was also unable to successfully pass this probationary test to earn permanent residency in their “paradise”, however they had numerous attempts when Adam only had one.  These continuous failures provide a constant reminder of their need for a Redeemer, a true Israel and Second Adam to represent them by fulfilling the covenant works.  It was this Messiah, the Lamb of God according to John the Baptist, which Moses and the prophets pointed to in their writings.  Although, Phillip would demonstrate some difficulty in fully understanding who our Lord truly was (John 14:8-9), it appears that he was able to determine the main point of the Old Testament Scriptures. 

Just as it is essential to viewing the top of puzzle box before beginning to piece together a puzzle, in a similar fashion Christ is essential to understanding the Old Testament Scriptures.  As noted above, Christ may not be in every meticulous detail nevertheless from a thirty thousand foot view it is Him that we see on the cover.  Thus, as we have already labored to demonstrate that Christ is the scope of the New Testament, we can conclude that the whole of the Scriptures (Old and New) are about Him.  This allows us to consider and comprehend the apostle John’s label of Him as, the Word of God (John 1:1), in a more robust manner.  We can be assured that from Genesis to Revelation the meaning of the Word of God is about Christ and the covenant that He fulfilled for the salvation of His people.  This precludes us from making the mistake of reading the Scriptures in a self-centered way.  Unless we read the Scriptures in a Christ-centered way, we are in danger of missing the true meaning of the Word of God.  This is especially pertinent to the Old Testament, whose meaning may not always have been readily apparent at first (Ephesians 3:4-5).  Upon further examination Christ is there, whether it be in the shadows of the ceremonial laws (Hebrews 9), typologically foreshadowed in the positive messianic figures (Joshua 1; Genesis 50:20; 2 Samuel 8), or as a reminder to the people for the need of a perfect Savior in the negative messianic figures (Judges 16;2 Samuel 11; 1 Kings 11).  He is not intended to be found in the moral statutes of the Law, which are an explicit manifestation of the natural law that is inscribed upon man’s heart.  However, after the Fall this Law’s primary intent was to crush us, helping us to realize our utter inability to fulfill God’s perfect commands and cause us to flee to the promise of the Gospel.  As Israel demonstrated in their consistent failures to keep the Law, it had no power to save (Galatians 3:10-14) only faith in the One with the power to keep that Law would provide deliverance. He may not be found explicitly in the genealogical records, however these are intended to clarify the line of the messianic Seed and those that are of the seed of the serpent.  Thus, providing background information to that great struggle that occurred until the Seed of the women would be revealed, conquer sin, fulfill the demands of the Law and reconcile the people of God.  

After undergoing thousands of years of development, in this Gospel, we join this great story on the threshold of a much anticipated climax.  The messianic Seed had been providentially preserved, in response to covenant faithfulness, and had come of age to embark upon His public ministry.  As the covenant people of God, Israel, had been longing for this Savior to come.  We could only imagine the piercing words that would have kindled the flames of hope and joy in the hearts of the disciples when it was announced “Behold the Lamb of God!”  The long awaited Messiah who was promised to crush the head of the serpent had been revealed.  It was doubtful that the disciples understood the full ramifications of the Old Testament Scriptures, which concealed the subsequent events that were about to unfold.   Nonetheless, they understood enough to realize that the covenant Lord (who was in their midst) was about to fulfill His promises and the era of the New Covenant would begin.  It should be noted that this story still continues until the return of our Lord.  Although, we are no longer adding to the canonical writings of the story, the script continues for the people of God being unveiled through the events in providence.  We are also written into the script and cast as characters into this great story:           

Of one thing we can be certain: God has given us the greatest show on earth, a drama full of intrigue that is not only interesting but actually brings us up onto the stage, writing us into the script as actors in the ongoing production.  It gives us a role that contrasts sharply with those one-dimensional characters and shallow story lines of this present age.  And because it is more than a play, “putting on Christ” involves a lot more than trying on different costumes and masks. 92      

As Horton goes on to explain how we participate in this “ongoing production” through our participation in our weekly worship on the Lord’s Day.  This is the place where the great King summons us into His presence to be blessed with the hearing of the preached Word and partake in the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5).  We are then identified with the holy covenant community being sealed with the mark of our covenant Lord, refreshed with the Bread of Life, and empowered by the preached Word so that we may stand against the wiles of the serpent and his seed (Ephesians 6:13). 

In order to help further reinforce the statements made here we will be providing supporting Scriptural examples in our subsequent considerations of this text.  These will be parsed in to two different installments examining first how Christ is found in the Law of Moses and second how Christ is found in the Prophets.

90 The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary edited by Allen C. Meyers (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing 1987), 399

91 The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary edited by Allen C. Meyers (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing 1987), 749-750

92 Michael S. Horton A Better Way Rediscovering the Drama of Christ-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2002) 16

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Responses

  1. […] we already examined Phillip’s statement  in verse 45 it is evident that he believed the Law and the Prophets promised a coming Messiah.  […]

  2. […] unified (Revelation 21:9-22).  Thus, the primary purpose for this parenthetical theocracy was the preservation of the Messianic Seed who would reconcile the alienated and consummate the eternal kingdom of God.  […]


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