Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said to him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”
John 1:47-48a (NKJV)
Have you been in a season of life when you felt as if nobody knew you? Maybe you felt this way when you started a new school or job, or maybe when you moved to a different place and became faced with new people and surroundings. Or perhaps you’ve felt this way after you were in the same season or place for a while. Many people may have known your name, but at your core, you were not truly known.
The English language is not the best at capturing this concept. I realized this during my sophomore year of college, when I took two semesters of German. As opposed to English, German has at least two different words that translate to our English word, know: wissen and kennen. The first, wissen, means to know a fact. “I know how old she is” or “I know the time,” one might say. Kennen, however, does not refer to a piece of information, but rather to being familiar with a person or place: “I know my best friend” or “I know Washington, D.C.” This is a more intimate form of knowing, a deeper familiarity with someone or something that is brought about by frequent exposure.
In times when we feel like nobody knows us, it is not wissen that we long for. We do not need more people to know who we are, as one knows a fact or a name and date from a history book. We long for kennen: to be known deeply, intimately, for who we are inside.
The Bible records a story related to this longing for kennen in John 1:45-51. Jesus had called for Philip to follow him. Philip immediately went to find his friend, Nathanael, to share his exciting news:
“We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Nathanael, however, was not convinced by his friend’s excitement. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked. Nathanael well knew Nazareth’s reputation for being despised, as he was from Cana, a neighboring town. Thus, what was merely irony for Philip was an obstacle for Nathanael: Could a great man—the Messiah, God Himself—come from Nazareth?
Jesus was aware of all of this as he watched Philip and Nathanael approach. He knew Nathanael’s doubts. He also knew how to reach him. Not through a miraculous sign or a glimpse of Him transfigured. Not even with the call that had drawn Andrew and Philip.
So how did Jesus reach Nathanael? By knowing him.
It would have still taken Jesus’ divine knowledge for Him to remark on Nathanael’s background—perhaps his father’s name or his hometown. But such a thing would be wissen—knowing a fact. Instead, Jesus spoke to Nathanael’s innate desire for kennen and captured his heart: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
Once Jesus spoke, Nathanael knew that he was known. “How do you know me?” he said.
Jesus responded, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Jesus knew something about Nathanael that had happened before Philip had even introduced him to Jesus, before there was a connection between the two. The knowing did not begin with the relationship. Nathanael was always known.
Just like with Nathanael, Jesus knows each of us. Not just facts about us: our names, dates of birth, and addresses. Facts that are on record in the U.S. Census Bureau or locked in a file cabinet at school. He knows our hearts: individually, personally, and intimately. Our dreams, our disappointments, our pain, our doubts—none of these are a surprise to him.
This knowing is not dependent upon having a relationship with Him. It’s true for all people. If you’re struggling with God or with life, pray that He will reach you as he reached Nathanael: by showing you that He knows you. And may He stun all of us—as He did for Nathanael in this story—by capturing our hearts.
 Sevin, Dieter, Ingrid Sevin, and Katrin T. Bean. “Wissen vs. Kennen.” Wie Geht’s?: An Introductory German Course. 10th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2015. 181. Print
 Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on John.” Lumina. Bible.org, n.d. Web. 24 July 2016.