43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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." 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" 48 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." 49 Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50 Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these." 51 And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Meditation: How can we know with certainty that Jesus is
truly who he claims to be - the Son of God and Savior of the
world? Philip was eager to tell his friend Nathaniel (who is also
known as Bartholomew in Matthew 10:3 and Luke 6:14) about his
decision to be a disciple of Jesus. Philip tried to convince his
friend that Jesus was the Messiah, whom Moses and the prophets had
foretold would come. Nathanial was very skeptical because he
didn't think it was possible for the Messiah to come from
Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Nathaniel not only disliked the town
of Nazareth, he despised its residents as unworthy Jews. "How
could anything good come from such a place?"
Nazareth was at the crossroads of the ancient world where people from different cultures and religions would pass through. Perhaps Nathaniel thought its religious teachers were not orthodox enough in their understanding and interpretation of the law of Moses. Besides, how could the Messiah come from Galilee when the prophets said he would come from Bethlehem of Judaea? Aren't we all a bit like Nathaniel? We are skeptical when someone tries to convince us of the truth until we can comprehend it for ourselves.
A skeptical but earnest search for God's truth
So what kind of proof did Philip offer to Nathanael? Rather than argue with his friend, Philip took the wiser strategy of inviting Nathanael to "come and see" for himself who this Jesus claimed to be. Clever arguments rarely win people to the Gospel - but an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ can change one's life forever. When people are receptive to the word of Christ and when they see his love in action, the Lord Jesus himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, touches their hearts and opens their minds to recognize that he truly is the Son of God who reveals the Father's love and truth to us.
When Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, Jesus did something which only God could do! He opened Nathanael's heart and his innermost thoughts and desires to God's revelation. Jesus called Nathanael a true "Israelite in whom there is no guile." God had chosen Jacob, who was given the name Israel, over his twin brother Essau, because Jacob was a man of faith, without guile or cunning like Essau (Genesis 25:27). Nathanael, like Jacob, hungered for God and believed in God's promises. Nathanael knew the Scriptures. He had read the law and the prophets. And like Jacob he was waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises to his people Israel. Nathanael was an earnest seeker of God. He not only sought to grow in understanding of God's word, but he sought an intimate personal relationship with God as well. That is why he was willing to meet Jesus, to see if perhaps this miracle worker from Galilee might be the long-awaited Messiah and Savior.
God's word brings blessing and refreshment for those who receive it
What is the significance of Jesus' revelation of seeing Nathanael "under the fig tree"? For the people of Israel, the fig tree was a symbol of God's peace and blessing (1 Kings 4:24b-25, Micah 4:4). It provided shade from the midday sun and a cool refreshing place to retreat, pray, and reflect on God's word. Rabbis often gathered their disciples under the shade of the fig tree to teach them the wisdom and revelation of God's word in the Scriptures. The rabbis had an expression for comparing the fig tree to being nourished with God's word in Scripture, "He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit."
Jesus offers the greatest gift possible - peace and friendship with God
It is very likely that Nathanael had been thinking about God's word while sitting "under his fig tree" and reflecting on God's promise to send a Messiah King who would free his people from sin and oppression and usher in God's kingdom of righteousness and peace for the whole world. Perhaps Nathanael dozed off for a midday nap and dreamt of God's kingdom like Jacob had dreamt when God gave him a vision of a great ladder which united earth with heaven (see Genesis 28:12-17). Through the gift of revelation Nathanael recognized that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the everlasting "Son of God and King of Israel" (John 1:49). The Lord Jesus offered Nathanael the greatest gift of all - the gift of friendship with God and the offer of free access to God's throne in heaven.
Jesus promises that we will dwell with the living God
What does Jesus mean when he says "you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man"? One of the most remarkable revelations recorded in the Bible is the dream of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-17). God had opened a door for Jacob that brought him and his people into a new relationship with the living God. In Jacob's dream God revealed his angelic host and showed him the very throne of heaven and promised Jacob that he and his descendants would dwell with the living God.
Jesus, the Son of God, unites earth and heaven in himself
Jesus' response to Nathanael's new faith in accepting Jesus as the Messiah is the promise that Jesus himself will open the way for free access to the very throne of God in heaven. Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to Jacob and his descendants - he is the way to the Father in heaven and the true "ladder (or stairway) which unites earth with heaven." In Jesus' incarnation, the divine Son of God taking on human flesh for our sake, we see the union of heaven and earth - God making his dwelling with us and bringing us into the heavenly reality of his kingdom through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives us free access to God's presence
Jesus' death on the cross, where he defeated sin and won new life for us through his resurrection, opens the way for each of us to come into a new relationship with God as his adopted sons and daughters. The Lord Jesus opens the way for each one of us to "ascend to heaven" and to bring "heaven to earth" in the daily circumstances of our lives. God's kingdom is present in those who seek him and who strive to do his will. Through the gift of faith God opens a door for each one of us to the heavenly reality of his kingdom. Do you see with the "eyes of faith" what the Lord Jesus has done for us?
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the LORD is God! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name!
5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: The Lord of Angels, by John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)
"Do you see how he [Jesus] leads him [Nathanael] up little by little from the earth and causes him no longer to imagine him as merely a man? For one to whom angels minister and on whom angels ascend and descend, how could he be a man? This is why he said, 'You shall see greater things than these.' And to prove this, he introduces the ministry of angels. What he means is something like this: Does this, O Nathanael, seem to you a great matter, and have you for this confessed me to be King of Israel? What then will you say when you see 'angels ascending and descending on me'? He persuades him by these words to receive him as Lord also of the angels. For on him as on the king's own son, the royal ministers ascended and descended, once at the season of the crucifixion, again at the time of the resurrection and the ascension, and before this also, when they 'came and ministered to him' (Matthew 4:11). They also ascended and descended when they proclaimed the good news of his birth and cried, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace' (Luke 2:14), when they came to Mary and also when they came to Joseph... Our Lord made the present a proof of the future. After the powers he had already shown, Nathanael would readily believe that much more would follow." (excerpt from the Homilies On the Gospel of John 21.1)