Photo Credit: Howard Carter
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “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, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51
Philip found Jesus. The One. The Messiah. He followed Him…and he sought out his friend Nathanael to tell him the good news. Even as Nathanael mocked the news, Philip persevered.
“Come and see”.
As they approached, Jesus called out identifying Nathanael. It was shocking for Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew) because they had not met before. Jesus called him “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit“. Something about what and how Jesus spoke to him caused Nathanael to wonder aloud how Jesus knew him.
Then Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” What?! Of course, we remember this is God, this Jesus. Still, something in His seeing Nathanael under the fig tree meant everything to Nathanael…it meant that He was the One. The Messiah. Nathanael believed.
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Now, there are a lot of fig trees in Israel. Most probably, Nathanael sat under them from time to time. Something happened specifically under one of those fig trees that made it hugely significant that Jesus recalled it to him…and told him, “I saw you”.
In the TV series, The Chosen, we watch a story about Jesus, His followers, and His public ministry. We are reminded by the director and others that The Chosen is faithful to the truth of Scripture, but it also tells a story. We don’t know from the Word what was going on in Nathanael’s life “under the fig tree”, but that Jesus saw him was crucial.
The writers of the series have Nathanael wrestling with God over a failed hope. Nathanael had wanted to design buildings that would honor God, and he failed. Under the fig tree, he cried out to God in the words of Psalm 102:1-2:
“Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come before You. Do not hide Your face from me in my day of distress. Incline Your ear to me; answer me…”
In reality, we do not know from Scripture what happened under the fig tree, but when Jesus told him that He saw him there…Nathanael believed. In the Son of God. The King of Israel.
[The scene below is 11 minutes in length. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth your time. Beautiful. Remember some is story, BUT the passage in John above is faithfully represented…and the emotion is there. The grand emotion of discovering that we are seen…we are known.]
We have all had those moments under the fig tree. Times we thought we were all alone. Times of anguish or fear. Times of feeling completely undone. To be reminded that Jesus sees us changes everything. It is similar, in a God way, to the pronouncement the Samaritan woman made after encountering Jesus at the well. “He told me everything I ever did!” So different from Nathanael but similar in that she met the Messiah who knew her…and still loved her completely.
All the bitter weary ways
endless striving day by day
you barely have the strength to pray
in the valley low
how hard your fight has been
how deep the pain within
wounds that no one else has seen
hurts too much to show
all the doubt you’re standing in between
And all the weight that brings you to your knees
HE KNOWS, HE KNOWS
EVERY HURT AND EVERY STING
HE HAS WALKED THE SUFFERING
HE KNOWS, HE KNOWS
LET YOUR BURDENS COME UNDONE
LIFT YOUR EYES UP TO THE ONE
we may faint and we may sink
feel the pain and near the brink
but the dark begins to shrink
when you find the one who knows
the chains of doubt that held you in between
one by one are starting to break free
every time that you feel forsaken
every time that you feel alone
He is near to the broken hearted
As you get back to your day, you might want to bookmark the links below. Nathanael is a lesser known apostle, BUT we can learn so much in his conversion story…about Jesus…about the friend Philip who brought Nathanael to Christ…and about Nathanael, this righteous Jew, overcoming his prejudice and coming to Christ.