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Under The Fig Tree

February 5, 2015

When I was in college at Lewis University in Romeoville, IL, I took a required religious studies class on the New Testament.  Christian Brother Ray McManaman was the teacher.  I got a lot out of Brother Ray’s class.  He offered some very insightful lessons on the Gospel, and it prompted some good discussions.

The lesson I remember most was about the calling of Nathanael.

The passage in particular that we were studying was from the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, Verses 43-51 (NASB).  It read:

43 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He *found Philip. And Jesus *said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of 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 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 there is no deceit (the word “guile” is used in other translations)!” 48 Nathanael *said to Him, “How 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 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 that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He *said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”


The scripture reading begged the question, and Brother Ray shrewdly asked it and brought it up for discussion, “What happened under the fig tree”?  What could have happened that would have brought such a sudden realization and conversion by Nathanael from doubt and skepticism to belief and faith that Jesus was the Son of God?”

The answer: we don’t know.  The Gospel does not answer that question.

We offered and discussed some possibilities.   Maybe Nathanael was praying to God to answer a prayer under the fig tree.  Perhaps he was crying in despair under the fig tree.  Possibly he did something deceitful that he thought no one had seen him doing under the fig tree but that he deeply regretted doing under the fig tree at it troubled his soul.

The possibilities are numerous.  We just don’t know.

The only other reference to Nathanael in the Gospel of John is in Chapter 21, verse 2, in which Jesus appears to several of his disciples at the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection. So Nathanael did live to see “greater things” evidencing the divinity of Jesus as Jesus had promised.

But something soulful happened under the fig tree. And Jesus was there.  He saw it. And he used it to connect with Nathanael and to reveal himself as The Lord.

What is your fig tree?

What would a total stranger have to say to you to make you in an instant believe that they were the Son of God revealing Himself to you?

What moments do you hold in your soul as a defining moment in your life that someone would have to say – “I saw you there.  I saw what happened.  I saw what you did.  I know what you were thinking.  I felt your pain.  You thought you were alone.  You weren’t.  I understand how that memory troubles you. I was there with you.  I AM” – for you to believe that God IS?  That Jesus is Lord?  That God loves you?  That He wants you to believe, trust in and follow Him?

Nathanael *said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” – John 1:48-49

In your moments of weakness, of suffering, of pain, of regret, of despair, of anguish, know that you are not alone.  God sees all.  His beloved son, Jesus, has been there.  He IS there with you.  Always.  He loves you so.  And He wants you to believe and trust in Him.


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