Nathaniel confessed Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel as soon as he met him. He saw that Jesus had divine powers. Jesus saw Nathanael sitting under a fig tree that was nowhere near where Jesus was at the time. Nathanael discerned that Jesus was the promised Savior and exclaimed, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” The Son of God is the King of Israel. He who is begotten of the Father from eternity joined the human race and took over the kingdom of David.
Nathanael was not inclined to accept Jesus before he met him. When Philip told him they had found the promised Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see.” That’s what Nathanael did. He came to see Jesus.
When people ask questions about Jesus we, like Philip, invite them to come and see. Jesus exercises his prophetic office through the Gospel that is preached and through the Sacraments that are administered by his authority. He is present with his church wherever and whenever these precious means of grace are given out. We can say, with Philip, “Come and see.” Bringing people to where Christ’s Gospel is preached is bringing people to Christ. He is the head of the church, his body. There is no body without the head and no head without the body. When we invite people to church we invite them to meet Jesus.
When Jesus showed his divine omniscience, Nathanael was so impressed that he confessed that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel. How does Jesus exercise the authority of his kingdom? In response to Nathaniel’s confession he said,
“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
This was a wonderful promise. Nathanael was a true Israelite, familiar with the Holy Scriptures. When Jesus told him that he would see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, Nathanael knew that he was referring to Jacob’s dream at Bethel. Jacob was running away from his brother, Esau, who wanted to kill him. Here is how Moses describes what happened in Genesis 28: 11-17.
So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28: 11-17)
Jacob lay at the bottom of the ladder. The LORD stood at the top of the latter. It was a picture of God becoming a man. God at the top of the ladder would be born from the seed of Jacob at the bottom of the ladder. The holy God and sinful man would be reconciled. We don’t climb Jacob’s ladder. God comes down the latter to us. He becomes a little baby, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus told Nathanael that he would see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. He was claiming to be the incarnate God and the One who would bring God together with men. Jacob’s ladder was a promise. Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. In fulfilling that promise Jesus would reign as King.
As our Prophet, Jesus speaks his saving Word to us and gives salvation to us through that Word. As our Priest, Jesus offered up his life on the cross to take away our sins and is our one and only Mediator with God. As our King, Jesus rules over us. He governs our lives. He has authority over us.
There are different kinds of authority. Islam in Arabic is Shalom in Hebrew. But they are translated differently. Islam is translated submission. Shalom is translated peace. The Koran demands submission. The Holy Scriptures promise peace. Our king rules over us by making peace between God and us. He comes down from heaven to reconcile us to God. The angels announced peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Islam demands submission to their god. But he isn’t their father. There is no true peace in Islam because the Law without the Gospel leaves sinners spiritually dead.
Islam is a religion of death. It denies that Jesus is the Son of God. It denies that he suffered and died on the cross to take away our sin. It denies that God forgives sinners freely for the sake of Christ’s obedience and suffering. While the words Islam and Shalom are the same, they mean entirely different things. Islam offers no true peace. Muslims are required to submit, not in faith to the Gospel, but to a false god who cannot save them from their sins.
Christ exercises a different kind of authority. He does not rule over us by threats or force. He does not govern us by frightening us into submission. He told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. He rules over us not by force, but by his authority on earth to forgive sins.
He gained the authority to forgive all sinners all of their sins on the cross. The day he rose from the dead he gave this authority to his holy Christian Church on earth. The church is the kingdom of God. Here Jesus rules as King. He wins our devotion to him by blessing us with the forgiveness he won by bearing all of our sins. On the cross he won the authority to reign over us. His kingdom comes to us here on earth wherever his Gospel sounds forth and his Sacraments are given. He exercises no civil or military power. Instead he sends his Spirit to conquer our hearts. He does not force us against our will. He changes our will. We who were unwilling are now willing children of God who desire what Jesus alone can give. He doesn’t bully us. He doesn’t threaten us. He doesn’t push us around. He doesn’t lay burdens on us. He takes our burdens off of us. He rules over us by his grace alone. He, who saw in Nathanael an Israelite in whom there was no guile, sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts that we may in sincerity and truth receive him as our King. His government provides pure and eternal freedom and rest for our souls. Amen