By Zane C. Hodges, excerpted from his book, Faith in His Name: Listening to the Gospel of John.
John 1:47-48: Before Nathaniel can say anything to Jesus, or ask questions about His connection with Galilee, Jesus Himself speaks. His words affirm that Nathaniel has the integrity that ought to be the possession of anyone who lived up to the name of “Israelite.” Many of the Israelites who appear in this book lack such basic honesty, as the writer will show us. In particular, the pretense of serving God while seeking honor from men will prove to be a hindrance to coming to faith in Jesus [see 5:44].
This statement of Jesus surprises Nathaniel, who of course was aware of its truth. So he wonders how Jesus knows him like this. Jesus’ reply shows that He also knew where Nathaniel had been even before Philip had approached him. Once again, Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of men is on display (see vs. 42).
John 1:49: Nathaniel never gets around to the question about Galilee. Jesus’ supernatural pre-acquaintance with his situation, coupled with His knowledge of Nathaniel’s character, is persuasive to Nathaniel. He now confesses Jesus to be both the “Son of God” and “the King of Israel.”
For John, the title “Son of God” is a synonym for “the Christ” [20:30, 31]. But the title “King of Israel” only occurs again in John’s book in a citation from Scripture [see 12:13]. The issue of Jesus’ kingship does play a significant role in the narratives about His trial and crucifixion [see 18:33-40; 19:3 and 21-22]. Nevertheless, no believer in this Gospel ever ascribes this title to Jesus other than Nathaniel.
Although Nathaniel possessed less information about Jesus than we do, he nevertheless believed in Jesus not only as the Messiah but also as Israel’s King. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the city of David [see 7:42], remains unknown to him even though he expresses confidence in Jesus’ future reign on David’s throne. The evidence that Nathaniel gained from his encounter with God’s Son overrides any unresolved issues.
A person does not need to know the answer to every problem related to biblical truth in order to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
John 1:50-51: Jesus praises Nathaniel for his faith, based as it was on a simple manifestation of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge. Others in this book will refuse to believe even after an accumulation of miraculous signs [see 12:37-38]. But Nathaniel’s uncomplicated faith in Jesus would prove to be wonderfully well founded. In the coming kingdom over which Jesus would rule, he would see the King attended by the angels who came down from heaven and went up to heaven as they served His will [see Heb. 1:6-7].
Nathaniel would be present with Jesus in His future kingdom because of this true Israelite’s simple faith in Jesus’ identity.