The Prayer of Nathaniel

(Sermon Notes) By Warren Zehrung 12/21/2019

As He began His public ministry, Jesus Christ called His disciples to follow Him. Today, we will be looking at one of these men, Nathaniel.

The specific purpose of today’s sermon is to explore what had been going on before the first encounter between Jesus and Nathanael to cause Nathanael to immediately answer Jesus this way, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49) 

On their first meeting, Nathaniel was moved to declare that Jesus was the anticipated Messiah!

Nathaniel’s name means “Gift of God or God has Given.” The Bible tells us very little about the apostle Nathaniel. Very little is known of his family.

Nathaniel was one of the first disciples to express belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 1:49). We know that Nathaniel was from Cana in Galilee and that he was a fisherman (John 21:2-3).

After the Resurrection

John 21:2  There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

Cana is the place where Jesus worked His first miracle, changing water into wine – not far from Nazareth where Jesus grew up. (John 2:11).

John 21:3  Simon Peter said unto them, I’m going fishing. They said unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately, and that night they caught nothing. 

John 21:4  But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 

John 21:5  Then Jesus said unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. 

John 21:6  And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. 

John 21:7  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. 

John 21:8  And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. 

John 21:9  As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 

John 21:10  Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 

John 21:11  Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 

John 21:12  Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 

John 21:13  Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 

John 21:14  This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. 

Nathaniel went fishing with Peter after Jesus’ resurrection and before His ascension.

In these last days, there are many substitutes for religion, but there is only one way for true faith to be expressed.

There is only one right relationship with our Creator. A right relationship with God is a highly personal one, and it can manifest itself in different and unique ways.

I’m sure that no two people have the exact same relationship with God. Today we will be exploring Nathaniel’s personal relationship with God because that is a good model for us to emulate.

Nathaniel may have been a few years younger than Jesus.

Jesus had very few if any peers His age because Herod had killed all the boy babies within two years of Jesus’ birth and when His star appeared (Matthew 2:7, 16).

At some point in his mature life, Nathaniel did something remarkable.

We are not told in the Scriptures when this took place, but suffice it to say that it was not too long before his calling by Jesus.

Nathaniel crawled up under the cover of a fig tree. The Bible provides no more detail than that.

My dad had a large Black Mission fig tree in his back yard that produced copious large, delicious, sweet fruit. The branches with their large leaves touched the ground – forming a tent-like structure underneath and inside. There was a shelter there from the heat of the sun and rain. That fig tree afforded a very private refuge from people and the elements.

I picture Nathaniel’s fig tree to be something like my dad’s fig tree. I picture Nathaniel kneeling there—within the confines of that fig tree— in prayer. Let’s pick up the narrative in:

John 1:32  And John [the Baptist] bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 

John 1:33  And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizes with Holy Spirit. 

John 1:34  And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. 

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

John 1:35  Again the next day after John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples; 

[Most likely Andrew and Philip.]

John 1:36  And looking upon Jesus as He walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! 

John 1:37  And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 

John 1:38  Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where do you live? 

John 1:39  He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. 

John 1:40  One of the two which heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 

John 1:41  He first finds his own brother Simon, and said unto him, We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. 

John 1:42  And [Andrew] brought [Simon Peter] to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, He said, Thou art Simon the son of Jonah: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. 

Jesus approached Philip seemingly out of the blue.

Philip and Nathanael, who were quite possibly students of John the Baptist, sought the Messiah.

John 1:43  The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and finding Philip, and said unto him, Follow me. 

John 1:44  Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 

Philip seemingly recruits Nathanael – but it becomes obvious that Jesus was already well aware of Nathanael.

John 1:45  Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 

[Philip found Nathaniel, and told him, “We have discovered who it was Moses wrote of in his law, and the prophets too; it is Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”]

Expectations were running high that the Messiah should soon appear.

John 7:41  Others said, This is the Messiah. But some said, Shall Messiah come out of Galilee? 

John 7:42  Hath not the scripture said, That Messiah cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? 

John 1:45  Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

We can deduce that Nathaniel worked, prayed and studied diligently to become a man of outstanding and passionate character.

How else could Jesus have chosen him to be one of the twelve apostles?

Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the name Bartholomew for Nathaniel in the list of apostles.

However, the beloved apostle John never uses the word ‘apostolos’ when writing much later near the end of the first century – opting to use the popular name, Nathaniel.

The prefix, ‘Bar’ means ‘son of’. Bartholomew is always designated by his family name Bar-Tolmai or, son of Tholomai, or Nathanael Bar-Tolmai. (“son of the furrows”) Bartholomew is Nathanael.

There is a List of apostles also Mark 3 and Luke 6

Matthew 10:2  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 

Matthew 10:3  Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 

Philip and Nathaniel, who were quite possibly students of John the Baptist, ardently sought the Messiah.

Because of the work and ministry of John the Baptist, expectations were running high in Israel for the coming of the promised Messiah.

These students of the Scriptures were very well versed in the prophecies of Daniel (9:25) concerning the time of the appearing of CHRIST.

Philip and Nathanael were buddies – their names (Bartholomew) are linked, which could mean they were good friends or even related.

We find these two always side by side, not actual brothers, but as very close companions.

Can you imagine the exhilaration when Philip told his friend, Nathanael, “We have found Him— We have found the Messiah!”

John 1:45  Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

It was too good to be true.

Cautiously, Nathaniel could not accept Philip’s proclamation immediately…

John 1:46  And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 

[Jesus grew up on the wrong side of the tracks – not in an area known for its culture or affluence.]

Jesus knew Nathaniel because something extraordinary was taking place!

John 1:47  Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 

An Israelite indeed… What does that mean?

Galatians 6 keep your marker here in John

Everybody, for miles around; were Israelites – weren’t they???

Jesus knew Nathaniel’s character!

What did Jesus indicate – an Israelite indeed?

Nathaniel had the spiritual heart of the “Israel of God”—the “Israel” that God desires.

Galatians 6:16  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 

That is the Church of God.

This phrase in John 1:47 can be translated various ways:  …truly is an Israelite …truly a son of Israel …one who belongs to the true Israel …a genuine son of Israel …a real Israelite …a genuine Israeli

Paul put it this way:

Romans 2:28  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 

Romans 2:29  But he is a Jew [Israelite], which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. 

The end of this verse gives us true insight into the true character of Nathanael.

John 1:47  Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 

Why did Jesus say, “in whom is no guile?”

Why did Jesus use the phrase “without guile” to describe Nathaniel’s character? (John 1:47-51)

The Greek (Strong’s 1388) word for “Guile” means “deceitful, crafty, or full of guile.”

“Guile” – a word used by Jesus: pretense, façade, subtlety, insincerity, bitterness of spirit, insolence, trickery, craftiness, ulterior motive, selfish agenda.

Jesus knew Nathanael’s heart, just as He knows what is in every heart.

Jesus’ assessment of Nathaniel was that he was a “true” son of Abraham, that is, a man who worshiped the true and living God without any of the cunning deceit or hypocrisy that characterized the religious leaders of that day.

The answer lies in the fact that in a world of hypocritical Pharisees, guile was the preferred manner of the day.

Everything the Pharisees did was with some ulterior motive.

Their very agenda was “guile” personified.

Matthew 26:4  And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety (guile G1388), and kill Him. 

Jesus Himself attests to the fact that Nathaniel was a remarkable exception in that there was no falsehood in him.

Someone who is guileless is honest and innocent and lacks cunning craftiness.

Inwardly, Nathaniel was, an honest to goodness man. Other translations translate “guile” otherwise:

“As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

No hypocrisy of any kind was in Nathanael like was so prevalent in the Pharisees of Christ’s day.

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1).

Jesus held Nathaniel in high regard:

A person without guile is a person of innocence, honest intent, and pure motives, whose life reflects the simple practice of conforming his daily actions to principles of integrity.

Jeremiah 17:10  I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. 

1Samuel 16:7  But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. 

Psalm 32:1  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 

Psalm 32:2  Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputes not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. 

Guile is a terrible thing to God. The resurrected Saints will be guileless.

Revelation 14:3  And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 

Revelation 14:4  These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. 

Definition of “guile” here:

Revelation 14:5  And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. 

John 1:48  Nathanael said unto Him, Where do you know me from?

Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. 

Matthew 9:4  And Jesus knowing their thoughts said,… that is the SAME WORD IN THE GREEK.

Jesus said to Nathaniel, “I knew you when you were under the fig tree!


The apostle to be—Nathaniel had prayed an exceptionally appropriate prayer in private in which he vowed his everlasting devotion to be pleasing to God.

Brethren, ask yourself this question:

Did Jesus physically see Nathaniel under the fig tree or did He know him while praying prior to their actual meeting?

What was Nathaniel praying under the fig tree that was so profound that Jesus took such note of it?

Proper personal prayer is done in a private area (Matthew 6:6)?

That is what Nathaniel was doing.

John 1:49  Nathanael answered and said unto Jesus, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

Again, the specific purpose of today’s sermon is to explore what had been going on before this seeming first encounter between Jesus and Nathanael to cause Nathanael to answer Jesus this way, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49) 

“Nathaniel recognized that Jesus was the Messiah!”

Why did Nathaniel, after what seems to be only a brief exchange of greetings, acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God?

It was because only God could have known what was in Nathaniel’s heart and mind.

Jesus demonstrated who He was to Nathaniel by simply revealing to Nathaniel something that no mere man could have known about him—his unquestionable and indisputable sincerity, and deep devotion to God.

John 1:50  Jesus answered and said unto Nathaniel, Because I said unto you, I saw you (knew you when you were) under the fig tree, you believe? You shall see greater things than these. 

Thereafter, Nathaniel followed Jesus as one of His apostles.

Could it be that under the fig tree, Nathaniel was praying a deep and solemn vow to God—and of course, Jesus was aware of it?

Perhaps Nathaniel was kneeling or maybe face-down – prostrate on the ground – arms outstretched in vulnerable humility and profound repentance.

Shortly thereafter, the Messiah met Nathaniel face to face – showing us how pleasing Nathaniel’s prayer was to Him.

It is a good practice, once in a while, like at Passover, to express our total commitment to God the Father in prayer—as Nathaniel did.

Nathaniel courageously offered himself totally to God. God could use Nathaniel or spend him as He willed. Nathaniel prayed, “I’m yours, Father, to do with as you wish.” And God did use Nathaniel as an apostle who was eventually martyred as most or all of the other apostles were.

Jesus gave Nathaniel a great gift (Gift of God):

That gift is the knowledge that God knew him closely, warmly and intimately, and the gift of knowing of a certainty that there existed a two-way covenant with Him.

It is a gift to cherish, polish and, add to.

Brethren, do you have a heart that is seeking after God’s will?

Nathaniel was sincere in his desire to know and do God’s will.

A true Israelite is one who is on the same page that God is on.

Brethren, if you have not done so before, it is never too late to pray the prayer of Nathaniel:

“Lord God, I give you my all – even my life, reputation future, and legacy.

“You can count on me to maintain integrity in the face of every obstacle.

“I seek your Kingdom with all my heart!

“You can trust me to remain committed to doing your will.

“Spend me as you will, to accomplish your will O Father.

“Help me to be faithful and worthy to serve you in everything.

“If it is your will, I’m willing to be used up entirely in service to you and your people.”

Where are the people in God’s Church today with the demeanor, uprightness, character, sacrifice, disposition, and fortitude of Nathaniel?



End: The Prayer of Nathaniel