By Michael E. Brooks
“And Nathaniel said to him, ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (John 1:46-48).
It is a frequent occurrence to have an email, a letter, or a telephone call from someone whose name may be faintly familiar, but cannot really be placed. The immediate question is, “Do I know this person?” Obviously I don’t know them very well, if at all. We may have met at some point, or they may have written or called before, but no real personal relationship yet exists. I may eventually discover that I recognize them in the sense of placing them with an identity, or in a particular location, but this hardly qualifies as “knowing” them.
What are the basic minimum requirements of knowing someone? Most of us probably begin with recognition of name and face (appearance) together. If our memories can connect the physical appearance of someone with their basic identity, we feel a little more comfortable claiming their acquaintance. But we also are fully aware that there is much more to who someone is than just name and face. We still have little or no knowledge of their thoughts, habits, character, desires, or any of a multitude of other personality components. Such knowledge is slowly acquired, mainly through repeated contact and interaction.
This makes Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael all the more remarkable. Upon first meeting him, Jesus announced his identity and character. He proclaimed Nathanael to be a genuine Israelite and, further, to be of honest and straightforward character. As proof of the accuracy of Jesus’ perception, Nathanael showed amazement and wonder that Jesus could know him so well. Jesus’ explanation was simple, “I saw you.”
Three times in these verses the verb “see” is used. When Nathanael expressed skepticism that Jesus would prove to be the Messiah, Philip told him, ‘Come and see.’ As he approached, “Jesus saw Nathanael.” And when Nathanael was shocked at Jesus’ knowledge of him, Jesus replied, “I saw you.”
There is a relationship between sight and knowledge. In the legal arena, eyewitness testimony has great weight. To the scientist, empirical evidence (i.e., that which can be verified by the physical senses) serves as proof of theory or hypothesis. Of these senses, none is of greater value than sight. We all are familiar with the Missouri slogan, “Show me,” and the common though cynical attitude, “I only believe what I see for myself.” There is a basis of fact behind these. We often must see something, or someone, to truly know them.
God sees us. Wherever we may be, and whoever we are, God sees and knows everything about us. David proclaimed,
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).
He is omniscient, because he is all-seeing and ever present. Just as Jesus saw Nathanael before Nathanael had come to him, so he sees and knows all other humans. We cannot escape his presence or his knowledge (Psalm 139:7). But this is not a threat. It is rather a great comfort and promise. There is one who knows all our needs and cares enough to help us fill them.
May we continuously pray as David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Knowing someone usually means we have seen them. God knows us.