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.”
Andrew, Peter, John, and Philip are excited about Jesus and can’t hold it in. Nathanael – he’s more of a realist, a skeptic, someone I can identify with. And he isn’t afraid to let people know what he really thinks on the inside (… something I less identify with).
“Sure, the Messiah could in theory come from Nazareth… but you and I know Jerusalem or Bethlehem’s the more likely place.”
Philip leads the still doubting Nathanael to Jesus. Before he has a chance to make the introductions, Jesus calls out to those around Him: “Look! A true Israelite, inside and out!”
That was awkward. Nathanael knew nothing of this Man, and yet Jesus spoke as one intimately familiar him. How could that be?
“I saw you under the fig tree, Nathanael… before Philip called you to see Me.”
We’re not given any details of what went on under that tree. Nathanael was quite possibly praying or meditating on scripture under there, but that’s just speculation.
We also don’t have enough information in these couple of verses to convince us who Jesus is, but it was more than enough for Nathanael.
Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Even though Nathanael doubted at first, he had good reason to. He hadn’t seen Jesus till then. But all it took was a simple “I saw you” (it’s that word ‘eido‘ again) for him to go from skepticism to full faith. Nathanael now knew Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son of God and the Messiah.
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.”
Nathanael was given a promise that he would see even greater wonders to confirm his new found faith. This was only the beginning.
Contrast this with another disciple who spent three years with Jesus: heard Him teach, saw Him perform many miracles and signs, and heard Him say He would die and be raised to life three days later. Yet when Jesus was raised from the dead, Thomas refused to believe without absolute physical proof. What a contrast between these two disciples: Nathanael believing at the beginning of his walk with the Lord, and Thomas disbelieving after being with Him for years.
Some people are more stubborn than others. But we’re all stubborn to some degree. All the disciples doubted at times… even after they came to faith. And Jesus bore with their lack of faith, and proved Himself to them over and over again.
There’s hope even for the stubborn ones. After Thomas expressed his complete lack of faith, Jesus revealed Himself to him one more time. And Thomas’ faith came to life (John 20:26-29).
Jesus knows the kind of revelation each one of us needs to come to Him… to have our eyes opened. Just as He knew Nathanael and Thomas, He knows you and me. We’re given enough evidence to convince us. It’s just a matter of choosing or refusing to believe.