43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
(John 1:43-51 NIV)
The Apostle John shifts the focus of his narrative from John the Baptizer to Jesus. With today’s passage, we see Jesus in a new role, as Rabbi (“Teacher” – verse 38).
Jesus moves from another person in the story to the central character in John’s Gospel. In verse 43, John shows us that Jesus has a will, as He decides to leave His current location for Galilee. Also, John records Jesus’ invitation to Philip as a command to follow Him.
Notice Philip’s response to Jesus’ call. Philip seeks out his buddy Nathaniel to tell him about Jesus. John leads us to believe that both Philip and Nathaniel were seeking the Messiah, and most likely echoed the common prayer of their day that Messiah would come in their lifetime.
Notice Nathaniel’s response to Philip’s news about Jesus. Nathaniel showed a typical geographic bias against another town not his own. John is careful to record the facts that Jesus is from Nazareth, and that they (Philip, Andrew, Peter) were all from Bethsaida. John later records that Nathaniel is from Cana (John 21:2).
As a side note, Bethsaida and Nazareth are in the same geographic region and are about an hour’s car ride or a day’s walking distance apart. Cana, Nathaniel’s hometown, is even closer to Nazareth, about 20 minutes’ car ride or about 2 hours’ walk from Nazareth. Philip had good reason to look down on Nazareth, as Bethsaida was near the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful area while Nazareth was a typical arid desert town. Nathaniel had no reason to look down on Nazareth, as Cana was the same as Nazareth, just a different name for a dusty wide spot in the road in the middle of nowhere.
But yet, Nathaniel is intrigued enough to follow Philip’s invitation and check out Jesus. When Nathaniel gets within hearing range of Jesus, Jesus makes a comment to Nathaniel. Jesus says, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “now here is a guy who has integrity and always tells the truth. Nathaniel, I love it that you tell it the way you see it.”
Nathaniel is floored by Jesus’ comment and offers a more guarded response. “How do you know me?” he asks. With a puzzled look on his face, Nathaniel is probably asking himself, “have I met this guy before?”
Jesus ultimately takes Nathaniel by surprise as he tells Nathaniel what he was doing before Philip found him and invited him to meet Jesus. Nathaniel humbly responds, acknowledging (and believing) that Jesus is Messiah.
What was the significance of Jesus telling Nathaniel that He saw Nathaniel under the fig tree? In Jesus’ day, the fig tree was a common place to hang out and keep cool from the rays of the hot sun. The fig tree was also often associated with a place of prayer and solitude, a place to commune with God. And a common prayer of Nathaniel’s day, as mentioned earlier, was that Messiah would come in their lifetime. Could it be that Nathaniel was praying under that fig tree, asking for Messiah to come, and Jesus was answering Nathaniel’s prayer in person?
John records Jesus’ final statement to Nathaniel, quoting Jacob’s dream of the ladder extending from earth to heaven and angels descending and ascending the ladder (Genesis 28:10-22). Jesus was contrasting Jacob, the deceiver, with Nathaniel, the man of no deceit. Jesus was telling Nathaniel that what Jacob could only dream about, Nathaniel would see in person.
So what are the faith lessons from today’s passage?
First, we don’t have to “sell” Jesus to others. May our invitation be as simple as Philip’s invite to Nathaniel: “Come and see”. If others are even the least bit interested, Jesus will reveal Himself to them, giving them some irrefutable evidence that He is Messiah, just as He did to Nathaniel.
Second, may we have Nathaniel’s mindset in our day – “Come Lord Jesus.” Are we just going through the motions of life, or do we earnestly seek Messiah in our lifetime? Whether Jesus comes in our lifetime or not, our desire to see Him return changes our hearts, our actions, our perspective, our everything.