When Jesus called His disciples, culling them from the most unlikely corners of Jewish society, He fulfilled rabbinic tradition but did it in a most unconventional way. The twelve men He chose would have been considered outcasts by the rest of society and certainly not fit for the esteemed position of Pharisaic disciple. But again, Jesus looks on the heart. He sees past façade to what's really going on in a person. Keep this in mind as we analyze His choice in Nathanael as disciple.
By the way, Nathanael is a name with Hebrew origins meaning "given of God".
Taking it to the streets
The first chapter of John's Gospel jumps right in to the mission of Jesus. Laying a brief but universal background, it opens on John the Baptist and then proceeds to profile Peter. Toward the end of the chapter, it introduces a man named Nathanael. Jesus exclaims immediately upon seeing Him, "here is an israelite indeed in whom is no guile" (John 1:47). What a remarkable statement! Made even more so, in my opinion, because of the response of Nathanael to Philip's news that they found the Messiah. Real quick: you've got to understand, generation after generation had been looking since time immemorial. He tells Nathanael that the Messiah is from Nazareth. Nathanael responds to this life-changing, world shattering news with what looks like sarcasm tinged with resignation and cynicism: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip simply responds "come and see." (verse 46)
Jesus tells Nathanael that He "saw him under the fig tree". Nathanael was waiting for the Messiah. Sure, he might look resigned and bored, his statement certainly points to that. But notice what Jesus said: "an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile." Nathanael hadn't succumbed to the prevalent national attitude of complacency and apathy that I'm reading between these lines. And this is why so remarkable a statement would have been the first thing to come out of Jesus' mouth upon seeing him. Jesus wanted to encourage and cultivate the honesty of Nathanael's heart by calling attention to it for others to see—and hopefully emulate. When Nathanael saw Jesus, he knew who He was: "The Son of God, the King of Israel" (verse 49). The transparency of his heart enabled him to see Jesus as He was and is. Jesus says "the pure in heart...shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). This is the secret. Remain open, honest, transparent before the Lord. Not just opaque. Nothing less than complete honesty with the depths of our selves that God has revealed to us. And after that, He'll show you how to interact with those who don't see to the depth of you as does He.
"Nathanael saith unto Him, Whence knowest Thou me? Jesus answered and said unto Him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou was under the fig tree, I saw thee." (verse 48)
See, Jesus knew Nathanael. "The Lord knows them that are His" (2 Timothy 2:19), says Paul. The state of his heart was such that God could look in. He was pleased with what He saw.
An Israelite indeed in whom is no guile? May the same be said for Christians.