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.”
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We don’t know what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. He may have been sitting under its shade to escape the heat of the day. But many scholars say that the term “under the fig tree” was an expression implying that one sat under the fig tree to meditate on scripture and pray.
I like to think that’s what Nathanael was doing. I like to think that he was reading one of the many prophecies concerning the Messiah. Or maybe he had been meditating on the story of Jacob’s ladder. That would explain why Jesus used that unique terminology in verse 50. Perhaps that was Jesus saying, “I saw you, and I know what you were reading.”
Of course, only two people know what Nathanael was actually doing: Nathanael and Jesus. It wasn’t the keen eyesight of Jesus that could see down the street and around the corner of the house and into the backyard of this man — it was His omniscience. And that one revelation was enough to convince Nathanael that Jesus was the Messiah. He didn’t need a second sign, or a bigger sign. Just that one was enough.
As I write this, it’s 4:25 in the morning, and I’ve been up for two hours. I’ve gone through several commentaries on this passage, and looked up a few words on thesaurus.com, and stared out at the blackness through my window trying out this sentence, and that; searching for clarity. The only sounds in this house are the space heater to my right, and the snores of our dog, Hunter, in her nighttime place near the front door. But I’m not alone in this quiet space. Astonishingly, just like Jesus did with Nathanael, He sees me, too.