43The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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. 46And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1: 43-51)
For a long time, I wondered why Nathanael was moved to believe in Jesus, the moment that Jesus said to him:
"I saw thee under the fig tree."
The first clue lies in the following verses:
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. (John 1: 45-46)
Philip referenced the Messiah based on the "Law and the prophets", for the Scriptures testify of Jesus:
"Search the scriptures;
for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of
me." (John 5: 39)
I believe that Nathanael was well-versed in the Scriptures, refusing to take Philip at his word:
"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
This phrase was not an calumny of Nazareth, but the reference to the prophecies in the Old Testament, which foretold that the Messiah would not come out Nazareth, but out of Bethlehem, of the House of David:
"But thou, Bethlehem
Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet
out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel;
whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5: 2)
Nathanael referred back to the Word of God, letting the Word stand as the final authority.
Then Jesus said to him:
"Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." (John 1: 47)
"No guile" means "no trickery", no baiting, no deceit.
Yet Nathanael would not just accept this compliment without explanation -- indeed, an Israelite who refused to be taken in with flattery:
"Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee."
Two things are made evident here: Jesus knew that Philip had called him and that he was under "the fig tree".
"The fig tree" - not just any fig tree.
There are two prominent verses in the Old Testament which speak to the peace that one finds under "the fig tree":
"But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none
shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken
it." (Micah 4: 4)
"In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour
under the vine and under the fig tree." (Zechariah 3: 10)
the Prophecy concerning the Messiah's Bethlehemite origin falls in very close with the verse about sitting under "the fig tree" where "none shall make them afraid."
I also believe that Nathanael was studying the scripture beneath "the fig tree", and in the Scripture, he saw the Messiah, just as Jesus revealed Himself in the Scriptures to Cleopas and company following His resurrection (Luke 24: 25-27).
When you see Jesus in the Scripture, you will know the Truth, and this truth will make you free, and you will know Jesus when you see Him. When Jesus revealed that He had seen Nathanael even though He had not been present with Him, that combined with the reference to "the fig tree" confirmed with what Nathanael had read in the Scripture.