John 1:43-51 MKJV The day after, Jesus desired to go forth into Galilee. And He found Philip and said to him, follow Me. (44) Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. (45) Philip found Nathanael and said to him, We have found Him of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the Prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (46) And Nathanael said to him, Can there be any good thing 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, From where do You know me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. (49) Nathanael answered and said to Him, Rabbi, You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel! (50) Jesus answered and said to 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, Hereafter you shall see Heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
What was going on under the fig tree? It seems something was happening in Nathanael’s life there that was deep and powerful and spiritual, a private encounter between him and God so that whoever knew about it must be “from above”.
Nathanael said to Him, from where do You know me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.
One clue is that Nathanael seems to have been a spiritual visionary: “Truly, truly, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see Heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
So without stretching thing too far Nathanael was perhaps having a vision about the Messiah. In this case Jesus met him “in the spirit” under the fig tree, and later in person after Philip called him.
Visions of Christ are not uncommon; apparently some 40% of conversions of Muslims involve a vision of Jesus. My own conversion involved a vision of God as a gentle light filling the chapel I was in and His voice speaking to me for about twenty minutes.
God reaches out to spiritually sensitive and seeking souls in a huge variety of ways. People have even been converted by a beautiful scent “like roses” suddenly filling the room in a place where there were no flowers.
Spiritual experiences are valuable and are to be treasured but are simply a means of grace, not a sign of spiritual superiority. Some build on their encounter with God, and others do not. King Saul seems to have benefited very little from his prophetic experience. (1 Samuel 10;10,11)
Nathaniel was perhaps a disappointed seeker after the Messiah and cynical about all the false “Messiahs” from Nazareth and Galilee just as many Christians are disillusioned with modern end-time prophets. This is indicated in his statement “can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”.
Nathanael was as they say - “from Missouri” – the “show-me state” in the USA so Philip just said “Come and see”. Jesus pokes fun at Nathanael’s bluntness by saying “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” In other words, he was truthful and tactless!
So what do we make of Nathanael? He seems to have been an earnest seeker after the Kingdom, a spiritual visionary - but a blunt, tactless and possibly disillusioned one. He is like many today – wanting to believe but tired of the fakes and the nonsense.
When Nathanael does meet the “real thing” and does find the True Messiah his reaction is like that of Thomas after the resurrection: John 1:49 MKJV Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel!”
This “one huge leap” from deep cynicism to profound faith is precisely what also happened to Thomas. There is a certain type of personality that has either/or faith – either zero or 100% - and for safety sake, to protect their hopes; they tend to choose “zero”, right up until the last minute. But when the evidence comes in, they go all the way.
Nathanael is thus the psychological opposite of Peter who seems almost doubt free. Peter jumps out of the boat without a second thought. Nathanael checks the boat for leaks.
The Nathanael’s of this world are very useful for tough assignments because once they are convinced they stay convinced. Nathanael stayed the course and was one of the seven who met Jesus on the shore of Galilee after the failed fishing expedition (John 21:2) after the resurrection.
And for those interested in refuting the Da Vinci Code nonsense it was Nathanael who was from Cana and was the most likely bridegroom at the wedding there – not Jesus!
Blessings in Jesus,