“Follow me!” Jesus was calling out disciples as the Father guided him. Suddenly Philip dashes off to find Nathanael; I suspect Jesus told him to. Philip tells Nathanael they have found the Messiah – Jesus from Nazareth. Nathanael is sceptical; “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” But Nathanael agrees to take a look. On his arrival Jesus says “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Surprised, Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus said, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael is shocked, there was no way Jesus could have seen that; this had to be a work of God. He declares “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus replies “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” Interesting; Jesus saw things – do you?
Neither Philip nor Jesus was around when Nathanael was under the fig tree. The Father enabled Jesus to see the incident from another place. It was probably a mini vision like the man from Macedonia seen by Paul (Ac 16.9) or a mental snap shot like the almond branch or boiling pot seen by Jeremiah (Jer 1.11-14). At this time prophetic pictures was nothing new; Old Testament prophets were called ‘Seers’ because they saw things. But we are led to wonder what Jesus saw Nathanael doing under the fig tree, because it may have been what he saw that led Jesus to say “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Later the apostle Paul shows his understanding of these kinds of prophetic insights when he says, “If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in [to a meeting] while everybody is prophesying … the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Co 14.24-25). This is exactly what happened to Nathanael; a prophetic picture laid his heart bare and he exclaimed “You are the Son of God.” Most Christians refer to such prophetic knowing as a ‘word of knowledge,’ but here Paul refers to it as ‘prophesying. ’ This is ok because in Scripture ‘prophesying’ is sometimes used as a broad term for any revelatory gift. But what I want us to see today is this: the prophetic is powerful. Nathanael was sceptical about this man from Nazareth, but his view was transformed in a matter of seconds by a prophetic picture. Prophetic words and pictures have a way doing that.
Hebrews 4.12 puts it like this, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
It says ‘the word of God’ but ‘the picture of God’ did exactly the same thing for Nathanael. It both penetrated and uncovered his heart before the Lord. This is interesting; ‘the word of God’ here refers to the general gospel as it is laid out in our Bibles. But reading the Bible can be a dull and lifeless experience; it can be the very opposite of ‘living and active.’ It is only when the Holy Spirit turns Scripture into a prophetic revelation that it ‘penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit.’ For the Bible message to become personal it must become the ‘sword of the Spirit.’ (Ephesians 6.17)
Nathanael was ‘a true Israelite.’ He knew Scripture, but it’s likely that he had never experienced a personal word from God until this moment. But now as Jesus sees into his life and speaks the mind of God he is suddenly transformed into an enthusiastic follower of ‘the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote’ (45). This is what prophetic words and pictures do. They take the general gospel message that is for everyone and make it personal. On this day Nathanael realized that the Almighty was watching him personally, and interested in him personally. It was like God stopped the whole world just to take a look at Nathanael. And that is how we all feel when God’s prophetic word singles us out. The prophetic makes our faith live.
Let’s take a moment to illustrate the interaction between the general gospel message and the prophetic by using a famous salvation verse: Romans 10.9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Many people struggle with this verse because as they rightly say, it’s too easy for someone to say ‘Jesus is Lord.’ If you can say it, are you saved? The answer to this is no, the verse says you must ‘believe in your heart.’ But the only way you can believe in your heart is if the Holy Spirit makes the gospel message a revelation; a prophetic word that penetrates your heart. When it’s alive in your heart you can confess it with sincerity. Paul knew this when he wrote it because he said “’The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ this is the word of faith we are proclaiming” (Ro 10.8). Jesus knew it too; he spoke in parables so he could see who had revelation and who did not. He was looking for those who “see with their eyes” and “hear with their ears” (Mt 13.10-15); the ones the Father was giving him.
Now if prophetic revelation is essential for salvation, it is also essential for other things like healing. Jesus looked for who the Father was saving, and who the Father was healing. When we do what the Father is doing and say what the Father is saying, there will be power.
As vessels containing the Holy Spirit, all believers are called to be prophetic. We are called to give a timely word to the Nathanael’s in our world. The prophetic is the key to personal revelation and the power of God’s Kingdom.