What did Jesus mean when He said to Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”? Are there different classes of Israelites and Christians?

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there 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.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Jn. 1:47-51).

This is the only time Jesus uses the term, “Israelite”. By studying this passage I believe we can gain some insight that applies to us today. “Israelite”, “deceit” and “you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man” are all allusions to the Old Testament story of Jacob. Jacob was a liar, a cheat and a deceiver. Genesis 27 records the story of Jacob dressing in the clothes of his brother Esau and then going to his blind father, Isaac, and telling him that he was Esau. After Isaac was persuaded that the person in front of him was Esau, he blessed Jacob with the “first-born blessing” that was supposed to be Esau’s. Jacob had to flee home to avoid Esau’s just wrath. In Jacob’s journey to a distant relative, one night he lay down with a stone for a pillow.

He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (Gen. 28:12-13).

Some years later, Jacob left his father-in-law, took his wives and livestock, and went toward home. He heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. He was terrified. When he came to the brook Jabbok, brave man that he was, he sent his livestock, wives and children across the brook to meet Esau, but he did not cross.

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:24-28).

That night Jacob, the deceiver, was changed. His new name “Israel” means that he had striven (struggled, fought) with God and man and had prevailed. Jacob had a life-changing personal encounter with God. And that is what a true Israelite is.

Apparently Nathanael was praying and studying the prophecies in the Old Testament under the fig tree. He had a personal encounter with God. He was an Israelite indeed with no deceit, and his heart was open to the truth.

What is the message for us? Church membership is not enough, nor is “doctrinal conversion”. Knowing Bible doctrines is not the same as new birth. There must be a personal encounter with God. When Jacob’s thigh was dislocated, he realized his helplessness, and he just hung onto his divine adversary who turned out to be One who gave him covenant blessings.

Have you had a personal encounter with God? Have you realized your helplessness and sin, and have you repented, trusting God to bless you through the death and resurrection of Jesus in spite of your past? May we all be “Israelites indeed”—Christians in whom there is no deceit! †


Dale Ratzlaff is the founder of Life Assurance
Ministries and Proclamation! magazine.


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