Come, See, and Follow


Come, See, and Follow


Scripture: John 1: 43-51

Who is Jesus?

I think this is the question that is on Nathanael’s mind when Philip invites him to come along. Who exactly is this Jesus character? I also wonder if that’s a question that continues to be asked throughout this narrative as new information is about Jesus is discovered?

Eventually, Nathanael will answer his own question about Jesus when he declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” In this short passage we find an evolution of thought and understanding occurring with Nathanael. He moves from being uninterested in Jesus to declaring a central truth about Jesus. It is a journey of discipleship contained in eight short verses.

Nathanael’s initial thoughts of Jesus were rather dismissive. The offhand comment of “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” speaks to a regional rivalry. A little like:

  • Toronto vs. Montreal
  • Cobourg vs. Port Hope
  • East High School vs. West

The truth is we don’t know. Commentator Audrey West notes, that the text doesn’t explain the comment. Nathanael is not listed in any of the other gospels and won’t show up again in John’s gospel until after the resurrection where we will learn that his hometown is Cana. (Audrey West – The passage invites speculation as we are unaware of a cultural or contextual reason as to why the comment might have been made. Focusing on why this comment from Nathanael is made might distract us from the other things that are going on. We should note that neither Philip nor Jesus provides any additional insight on this comment.

However, it does provide us with a starting point for Nathanael’s journey of discipleship. We can see that his initial call towards following Jesus is not a positive one. He really doesn’t seem interested.

Nathanael is one of many in the gospels who has questions before he is willing to accept Jesus. Imagine that, asking questions, probing deeper, seeking understanding.

Jesus makes an interesting comment about Nathanael. On the surface we might think of it as a backhanded compliment. Jesus says of Nathanael, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” We might think it links back to Nathanael’s comment about Nazareth and perhaps it does. However, it is reference to something else as well that has substantial significance.

“When Jesus refers to Nathanael as an Israelite in whom there is no deceit, the referent is Old Testament stories about Jacob, namesake of Israel, known for using deception and guile in order to grasp after the things he desires. Nathanael’s frankness stands in contrast to Jacob’s duplicity.” (Audrey West –

Nathanael making a declaration about the identity of Jesus is the gospel writers’ way of asserting authority into that statement. The additional comments by Jesus regarding angels of God ascending and descending reminds us of when Jacob dreamed of a ladder into heaven. In writing this portion of his gospel John is providing clear links to other biblical narratives to help explain who Jesus is.

The dialogue between Jesus and Nathanael demonstrates a progression of thought on the part of Nathanael about Jesus. In writing his gospel John is showing his audience what a call narrative looks like. This Jesus, who comes from a place not worth talking about will cause us to see even greater things than this.

One of the ways that John develops the progression in this section of his gospel is through repetition. We get a sense of this in our English translations, but it stands out a bit more in the Greek. In her commentary Chelsea Harmon writes, “There is a pattern of parallel movement and repeated Greek verbs in the narrative. First, Jesus finds the ones he is going to call; in this case Philip. Jesus invites Philip to follow him, which leads Philip to go and find Nathanael. Philip says that they have found the one prophesied about. To Nathanael’s scoff, Philip offers his own invite that leads to discipleship, “Come and see!” And it is as Nathanael is coming towards Jesus that Jesus talks about what he has seen of Nathanael. Then there will be even greater things to see…” (Chelsea Harmon –

The use of repetition builds the expectation up in the narrative. There is a sense of anticipation that is evident.

Jesus clearly has an impact to illicit such a sense of awe in Nathanael. Of course, the words Nathanael uses to describe Jesus, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” will carry forth through the gospels and appear on a sign above Jesus’ head as he hangs on the cross. John is telling us a lot about Jesus in this passage about that on the surface appears to be a story about how Nathanael was called to follow Jesus.

What do you make of Nathanael’s call story? Does any of it resonate with you?

Did someone ask you to follow them so that they could invite you to church and introduce you to Jesus? Have you done this for others? When you decided to follow Christ, what did you see? Literally and figuratively?

What are the things we might still see in service to Christ? The invitation that Jesus provides to us is one of ‘come and see’.

It requires a sense of discovery and curiosity.

I hope you will continue to take Jesus up on the invitation to come and see. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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