Even before the crucifixion, there came a point in Jesus’ ministry when the Jewish religious officials were desperate to have him out of the way. During the feast of tabernacles the chief priests and Pharisees sent the officers of the temple guard to watch Jesus, and take him into custody at the first valid opportunity. Instead, the officers came back empty-handed and told the Pharisees, “Never man spake like this man” (Jh7:46).
This aggravated the Jewish leaders, who responded to the guards by claiming intellectual superiority over the masses who followed Jesus. “Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed” (7:47-49).
At this point, Nicodemus (the same Nicodemus who visited Jesus at night in John 3) spoke up in defense of Jesus and suggested that the Pharisees might be judging Jesus too quickly. “Nicodemus saith unto them…Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” (7:50-51).
This angered the Jewish leaders even further. “They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. And every man went unto his own house” (7:52-53).
I want to focus on these last statements of the Pharisees for a little bit. Their response to Nicodemus obviously indicates a lack of faith. But what is most interesting to me is that the Pharisees’ retort bears similarity to Nathanael’s conversation with Philip earlier in John’s gospel. After Philip had met with Jesus, “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see” (Jh1:45-46).
Nathanael and the Pharisees both used Jesus’ geographic origin to judge the validity of his ministry. Nathanael and the Pharisees were both approaching Jesus with skepticism. Let me say—if you are skeptical about Christianity, that is ok. Being skeptical does not de facto make you a bad person. The gospels paint a very unflattering picture of the hyper-judgmental Pharisees, but Jesus described Nathanael as a true Israelite, in whom was no wickedness (1:47). The Bible and the Church make some claims that sound ridiculous, too good to be true, even to those of us who are already Christians. It is perfectly natural to doubt. It is what we do with our doubt that matters. As my friend John Carroll says, we have to doubt in the right direction.
Nathanael and the Pharisees both asked the same question, followed by the same response. When Nathanael questioned Philip, Philip responded, “Come and see (ἐρχου και ἰδε).” When the Pharisees questioned Nicodemus, they rhetorically responded to their own question, “Search and look (ἐραυνησον και ἰδε).” Notice that the same Greek word for see/look is used in both passages. The similarity between these two exchanges is immediately ironic.
Nathanael was wrong about Jesus. When someone told him to “come and see,” Nathanael obeyed the command and realized the truth of Christ’s identity. Nathanael was the recipient of the command and the recipient of revelation. The Pharisees are in the opposite relation to the command, and did not receive the truth about who Jesus really was.
The Pharisees (like Nathanael) were wrong about Jesus. But instead of being told “come and see,” they did the telling—and it was not even a command that they themselves followed! Whereas Nathanael came to Jesus, the Bible says “And every man [of the Pharisees] went unto his own house” (7:53). Nathanael came, but they were unwilling to. He didn’t believe, but went to see. They didn’t believe, went back to their own sources of knowledge and comfort (their homes), and told a believer (Nicodemus) to go see—even though Nicodemus is the only one among them who had already gone to see!
What is your response to your doubt? Fellow Christian, when you doubt God’s power or when you worry about God’s will in your life, do you go to Jesus to see him? Or do you go back to everything that is familiar? Unbeliever, when you question your need for a Savior or when you doubt what the Bible says, do you find a church and test your doubts? Or do you turn your back on Jesus? I do not know how many times I have heard people tell Christians, “You’re wrong! Go do your research!” when those very same people are unwilling to truly approach Christianity with an open mind. Are you willing to come and see? Are you willing to search and look?
In Nathanael’s case, “come see” was spoken by a believer (Philip) to an unbeliever (Nathanael), an unbeliever who came and converted. In the Pharisees’ case, “come see” was spoken by unbelievers (the Pharisees) to a believer (Nicodemus), and the unbelievers were unwilling to come and convert. The Pharisees were unwilling to even see Jesus as a prophet (7:52); but when Nathanael saw Jesus, he called him the Son of God and the King of Israel (1:49).
If you are wary of Christianity—regardless of the reason—I want to extend an invitation to you. Come and see. As a Nicodemus, as a Philip, I can tell you that Jesus is the best thing going! There is a joy that comes from God, there is salvation from all your sins, there is a peace that passes all understanding. Seeing is believing, so I invite you: come and see.