Jesus Christ and Criticism: How Jesus Responds to a Cynic

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Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”

John 1:45-50

How Jesus Loved People:

Cynical! That’s Nathanael’s attitude toward the news, Philip had “found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote…”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael responded.

At the time, Nazareth didn’t have the best reputation as a city. It may be Nathanael’s cynicism and criticism was understandable. However, to Nathanael’s credit, though he has some tough questions, he decides to accept Philip’s invitation to “Come and see” for himself.

Nathanael’s decision had far greater impact than he realized at the time.

Imagine with me how different Nathanael’s life would have been, had he focused on what he perceived to be a flaw in Philip’s conclusion. Had he remained focused on his own critical perception of problems in the scriptures, rather than the opportunity to develop a relationship with the Messiah, Nathanael would have missed out on the most important three years of his life! His misplaced focus would have resulted in eternal consequences.

But Nathanael doesn’t do that. He’s cynical, yes, critical, sure, maybe even negative on Philip’s report about Jesus, but he moves toward Christ anyway.

And now, watch this. Watch how Jesus responds to Nathanael’s negativity.

“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” He says enthusiastically as He sees Nathanael approaching.

“Behold, an Israelite…” The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are words affirming Nathanael as an Israelite, as one of God’s chosen people.

“…in whom is no deceit!” (or guile as the King James Version renders it) This was a play on words by Jesus. He was referring back to Jacob. Jacob, who was renamed Israel by the Lord, was a man known for his guile and deceit. You may remember Jacob tricking his blind father Isaac out of his older brother’s blessing. One of a number of instances where Jacob used deceit and guile to get his way. So here we see Jesus, rather than defending Himself against Nathanael’s cynicism, using this play on words to emphasize Nathanael’s genuineness and honesty.

Nathanael, recognizing Jesus knew how he felt about a prophet coming from Nazareth, says, “How do you know me?”

“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Jesus replies.

At which point Nathanael answers, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

And Jesus answers back, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” Jesus commends Nathanael for his faith.

How You Can Too:

You know, Jesus could have responded to Nathanael with a whopping come back.

“You obviously don’t know Who (with a capital W) you’re talking to, or, what you’re talking about. I wasn’t even born in Nazareth, I was born in Bethlehem, the precise place where God promised the Messiah would come from. Maybe you should get your facts straight before you pop off with a criticism. I was going to include you in a group of eleven people who will turn the world upside down, and influence the entire planet for eternity, but with that attitude, well you can just forget it!”

But that’s not what Jesus did. Instead He met Nathanael’s negativity and cynicism with grace and love. Jesus, rather than defending Himself, responds to Nathanael’s attitude by affirming his position as one of God’s chosen, by emphasizing his honesty, and by commending him for his faith.

Jesus took Nathanael’s negative and turned it around to a positive.

It’s so easy to respond to someone who has a negative attitude toward you, with defensiveness, or by returning the negative with a negative shot right back, or by ignoring the person. But if you want to love people the way Jesus did, always look for whatever positive you can find, there’s always something, and start there.

If you add value to people the way Jesus did, they’ll be attracted to you and to what you have to say. If you take value away from people, even if you’re well meaning, people will withdraw from you and what you have to say.


Always, always, always start every single interpersonal interaction by finding and emphasizing the positive.

Even when it’s someone who’s on the attack.


Every time.

Without exception.

You’ll be blessed by their response.

They’ll be blessed when you share Christ.


Bible Gateway

Craig S. Keener, (1993) IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament

H.A. Ironside, (2006) Expository Commentary, John

Jon Courson

One Comment on “Jesus Christ and Criticism: How Jesus Responds to a Cynic

  1. Pingback: Who is Jesus? Hints and Clues – John 1:51 | bennett's blog

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