One of my favorite passages in all of the Bible is Philippians 3.10-11: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Maybe I like this passage because I’ve spent much of my life trying to get to know Jesus. I’ve read about him. I’ve meditated on his words and on the words of others who have written about him. I’ve sung about him. I’ve talked about him. And I’ve written about him a lot.
But even more meaningful is what we see in John 1.43-51 — people are known by Jesus. We may want to know him, which is important. But he already knows us. We are known by Jesus.
Let’s unpack this…
As I wrote about earlier, Jesus just called his first disciples. He asked them to follow him and they did, thanks to the witness of John the Baptist and their families.
But what I didn’t write about was a miraculous moment between Jesus and Peter. Here’s what it looked like:
Andrew meets Jesus and is enamored. He goes to tell his brother Simon. When Jesus meets Simon he identifies him without being told anything about him. Jesus simply looked at him and said “You are Simon, son of John.”
Did you catch it? Simon, who Jesus says will be called Peter, was known by Jesus before they ever met face to face. That’s pretty cool, right?
It gets better, just wait.
Known by Jesus: Nathaniel
Jesus is so cool in this passage!
In verse 43, Jesus finds Philip and invites him to follow him. Philip apparently said yes and wanted to let his brother, Nathaniel, know too. So, Philip told Nathaniel that the long-awaited Messiah has come and that he’s from Nazareth.
Nathaniel’s first response was prejudiced and shallow: “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” But instead of correcting him, Philip does something profound. He simply says come and see for yourself. I love this: when people are making judgments about Jesus that are annoying and naive, we can just invite them to meet the real Jesus.
So Philip and Nathaniel go to meet Jesus and as they are approaching Jesus he says to Nathaniel that he’s a good, upstanding guy. Nathaniel is shocked and says “How do you know me?”
Jesus’ response in verse 48 is enigmatic: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” What’s so special about this? There are at least two things:
- Jesus is saying that he knew Nathaniel before Philip had even told Nathaniel about him.
- There’s also something about the fig tree here. In the Old Testament fig trees sometimes refer to home and in some rabbinic sources they are seen as places of mediation (DA Carson, The Gospel according to John, 161). So, Jesus is saying that he knew Nathaniel when he was in the privacy of his own home, or he’s saying that he knew Nathaniel when he was in the midst of praying, or both.
Either way, what Jesus said really impacted Nathaniel. His response in verse 49 goes like this: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” He was saying that he was all in! Then Jesus responds, “You ain’t seen anything yet!”
The most amazing thing about this story is that Nathaniel was known by Jesus. And this fact blew Nathaniel away! But how was Nathaniel known by Jesus? In John’s Gospel, we don’t know yet for sure. But in the opening verses of John we read that the Word, who is Jesus, has always been around, even at the very beginning. Thus, Nathaniel was known by Jesus from the beginning. There was never a time when he wasn’t known by Jesus. That’s really pretty cool!
Psychologists tell us that one of our basic human needs is to be known. And we all know what it feels like to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t really care to know us. It hurts and it feels exploitative.
But the truth is that each and every one of us is known by God and we have been known by him from the foundations of the universe.
But that can be scary.
Think about it: If God has always known me, then he has always known all my problems, my failures, my hatreds, my prejudices, my mistakes, etc. How could he love me if he has always known me? I mean, come on, I have a hard time loving myself!
But that’s the miracle of the good news of Jesus and his kingdom; God has always known us and he loves us anyway. Romans 5.8 is helpful to memorize: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Let’s put that in plain English: We are all known by God, and yet he loves us anyway. Despite our mistakes and sinfulness, Jesus came for us. We are known by God and he still desires so passionately to be with us that he went to the greatest lengths possible!
Friends, we have two responses: 1) Accept and live into the love that God so graciously lavishes upon us, even though we don’t deserve it; and 2) Share that love with others, because to do otherwise would be incredibly, incredibly selfish.
What do you think? What does it feel like to be known by Jesus? Let me know in the comments below!