Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | January 26, 2008

How did Christ “know” and “see” Nathanael? (Lesson 5: Question 6 Answer)

6. How did Christ “know” Nathanael?  How did Christ “see” Nathanael?

In considering how Christ “knew” and “saw” Nathanael apparently prior to actually meeting him we encounter a Christological question.  At the outset we must warn that anyone who embarks on these types of questions must certainly tread lightly.  As we cautiously consider this question we will be focusing on the following verses in our text:

47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

After spending considerable time in the last few verses of our text we now come to the next part of our passage.  In this section, before we actually embark on the task of examining the content of the above mentioned verses, we would like to step back and consider the questions of how did Christ “know” and “see” Nathanael.  If we had no other witness in Scripture to the Deity of Christ, then we could certainly answer this question differently.  For God would reveal information to His prophets or apostles about peoples thoughts and intentions (given 2 Kings 5:24-27 or Acts 5:1-5 (withheld (2 Kings 4:27)).  Jesus, being a Prophet may have just been receiving the same type of information that other holy men were privy to as well.  Fortunately for us and unfortunately for our opponents this is not the only passage, and there are several in Scripture that testify to the Deity of Christ.  In other portions of Scripture the Divinity of our Lord is supported in texts that subscribe divine attributes to Him, such as being worshipped, authorized to forgives sins, Creator of all things, and the One who will judge the living and the dead.  This is not to mention the explicit proclamation by the apostle John, the author of this book (John 1:1-5), who gives his readers clear direction on our Lord’s divine nature.        

Hopefully, nothing here that will be said will be “new” and if it is that is an almost certain guarantee that we are in trouble. Although we affirm that Jesus is fully God we must be cautious in our application to not confuse His natures, since we also affirm that He is fully man.  Thus, in order to ensure that we tread lightly in our understanding of this text it would be prudent to cite the confessional standards on this matter.  Chapter 8.2, 3 & 7 of the Westminster Confession states the following:

2.  The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance.  So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.  Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

3.  The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator and surety.  Which office he took not unto himself, but was thereunto called by his Father, who put all power and judgment unto his hand, and gave him commandment to execute the same. 

7.  Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.

As stated in section two and three of this chapter in the confession we read that the Scriptures teach that Jesus is one Person with two natures in accordance with the creed developed at Chalcedon.  Unless this definition is maintained and the temptation to confuse the natures is resisted, the likelihood of falling into heresy is inevitable.  In section seven we are provided with an essential hermeneutical standard when interacting with these two natures in the events recorded in Scripture.  There are some very perplexing passages, which in the hands of the wrong people can be twisted in a manner to do violence to this doctrine.  On the one hand, we are given passages that are clearly affirming Jesus’ divine nature like knowing the thoughts of men (Matthew 9:4).  And on the other hand, we are given passages that are clearly affirming Jesus’ human nature like not knowing the day or hour of His return (Mark 13:32).  The only responsible manner to harmonize the tension between these two passages is to maintain the hermeneutical paradigm articulated in the confession above.  Otherwise, we may fall into two errors whose narrow short sightedness are unable to responsibly take into consideration the whole counsel of Scripture. First, there is the error that overemphasizes Christ’s divine nature, which ends up swallowing up in a sense the human nature (Monophysite).  Second, there is the error that either denies the deity all together (Arian) or distinguishes the divine nature from the human nature to the extent that it must define Jesus as two distinct persons (Nestorian). 

In light of this we can proceed to respond to the questions at hand relative to our text, however will do this with extreme caution.  It is highly likely that our Lord in this passage is demonstrating His divine nature, which would have allowed Him to “know” and “see” Nathanael before they had physically met.  Nonetheless, as mentioned above this ability was also granted to the prophets and apostles through special revelation endowed by the Holy Spirit.  Thus, it is entirely possible that our Lord, “who was sanctified and anointed by the Holy Spirit above measure,” received this information through special revelation.  In affirming this option we would not be conceding or forfeiting the legitimacy of His divine nature in any way.  For this truth is securely reinforced in other passages of Scripture and does not also require the support of our passage here to be valid.  Consequently, since both of these options are viable possibilities and neither of the options injure our doctrinal positions it is a complex selection to make.  Having to wrestle with these options in order to identify a preference would be an unceasing endeavor.  Thus, it is our recommendation that a preference not be selected since it is inconclusive conceding it could be either option.

The hesitancy to dogmatically assert that this is solely attributable to our Lord’s divine nature has been explained above.  Moreover, heeding the warnings of prior generations we should seek to preserve the mystery of the Incarnation to avoid falling into error.  Too fully comprehend and articulate this mystery inevitably requires one delve deeper than the boundaries permit.  Although, we are limited in our ability to fathom “how” this mystery works, we are not limited in our ability to fathom “what” it does.  Much of what we’ve done thus far in this study (see section on the temple) has granted us the opportunity to unpack “what” it does.  And in the last verses of this chapter we will again be able to continue to unpack the benefits of this mystery.         

In this passage the apostle John is giving us insight into the details of how Christ calls His sheep.  Each of the events that John records was appointed to happen and as Providence is unveiled we can see the fingerprints of God orchestrating the events.  We began in the wilderness with John the Baptist proclaiming his Christ centered message.  Then our Lord appears in fulfillment of His calling to begin the public ministry He had been set apart to do.  As He appears on the scene, John proclaims to his followers that the Lamb of God has arrived.  Our Lord is baptized and anointed with the Holy Spirit, which John announces to his followers.  Our Lord returns and John endeavors to point his followers towards the Messiah.  The disciples respond following our Lord who summons them.  In returning to the home town of the disciples they find Phillip who in turn finds Nathanael to announce that the promised One has come.  As we have the advantage of hindsight we can see how the chain of events developed in a manner that our Lord’s purposes are achieved.  We will now turn to the examination of our verses considering the significance of the statement made to Nathanael.


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