Lesson 5: Nathaniel–The Man Who Sat Under the Fig Tree

This Lesson is part of John’s Gospel Easy Notes Series. 

John 1:43—51
When Philip told Nathaniel they had found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote Nathaniel reacted in an unexpected way. He couldn’t believe that the Messiah would come from Nazareth. The reason was Nazareth was an obscure place even though it was near some of the famous trade routes of those times. Nazareth was so unimportant that we do not find any reference to Nazareth in the Old Testament.

Nathaniel asked: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Philip simply says, “Come and see.” Let us learn a lesson here. Instead of arguing with people about who Jesus is, let us invite them to come to Jesus and see for themselves who he is.

When Nathaniel approaches, Jesus points out that he is a man in whom there is nothing false. Nathaniel is surprised. He asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus said in reply, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” See, the knowledge Jesus has of you is intimate. He knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb (see Isaiah 49:1, 2; Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13—16). He knows when you sit and when you rise and before a word is on your tongue he knows what you are thinking (Psalm 139:2, 3). He sees through you (“his eyes were like blazing fire”—Rev. 2:14). He knows the number of hairs on your head too (Luke 12:7).

Jesus’ mention of the fig tree is interesting. In those days it was common to plant a fig tree at the front of one’s home. It spread its leaves so that when you sat underneath it served as a kind of sit out of one’s home. Nathaniel was using that space to meditate on God and his Word. From what Jesus spoke to him in verses 50 and 51 we can safely conclude that Nathaniel that day was thinking about the dream of Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:10—22) where he sees a ladder resting on earth and its top touching heaven and the LORD standing at the top with angels ascending and descending on it.

The point is that when you take time to think about God, he takes note of it. Further Jesus is revealing here that he is that ladder—the bridge between heaven and earth—the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).

The intimate knowledge that Jesus had about Nathanael made him respond: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; the King of Israel.” Clearly Nathanael understood Jesus as the expected Messiah.

“No doubt as he sat under the fig tree he had prayed for the day God’s chosen one should come. No doubt he had been meditating on the promises of God. And now he felt that Jesus had seen into the very depths of his heart. It was not so much that Jesus had seen him under the fig tree that surprised Nathanael; it was the fact that Jesus had read the thoughts of his inmost heart.” — William Barclay

What Is Your Response?
What is your response to God’s intimate knowledge of you? He knows all your thoughts. He knows your fears. He knows the temptations you face. He knows your failures too.

Jesus promised Nathanael, “You shall see greater things than that.” Anyone who comes to Jesus and fails to see the adventure God is calling him to is short-sighted. When you meet Jesus, life takes a dramatic change. God is always calling you to bigger possibilities in life. The basis of that is knowing Jesus.

In spite of this promise to Nathanael, the great beginning he had with Jesus, we find him among the disciples who went out to fish (John 21:2) having lost the purpose for which Jesus had called them to. Where are you today as you read this? Fishing somewhere? Are you discouraged? The Risen Lord is waiting for you (John 21:4)!

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