Under The Fig Tree
In the passage of John 1 we meet Phillip and Nathaniel, an interesting duo. When Phillip meets Jesus he runs to find Nathaniel and bring him to Jesus because he recognizes Jesus is the Messiah. In thinking on this passage I find many interesting things but before we look at the passage I find myself reflecting on the fig tree. The fig tree symbolizes many things both in Scripture and in Jewish culture. It is thought to symbolize prosperity, well being and security by some. The fig tree in the bible is also symbolic of Israel itself—it often symbolized the health of the nation both spiritually and physically. Hosea 9:10 says,
“When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree.” Later, the Bible tells us of the glorious time when, “Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.” (1 Kings 4:25)
The very first mention of the fig tree is in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve used the leaves of the fig tree to cover themselves in Eden. So from the very beginning fig trees have played an important role in Scripture.
Back to our meeting of Phillip and Nathaniel. First Phillip recognized Jesus was the Messiah therefore someone must have taught him of the Messiah who was yet to come. I am guessing perhaps it was Nathaniel because Philip’s immediate reaction was to find him and share the news that he had met Messiah. If Nathaniel didn’t teach Phillip we can assume that they at least discussed the coming Messiah or there would have been no reason for Phillip to specifically seek out Nathaniel with his good news. We can further incline that Nathaniel was a man of faith who was anticipating the Messiah because he didn’t dismiss Phillip but rather joined Phillip in returning to meet Jesus.
When Nathaniel approached Jesus he was still unsure of who he was until Jesus calls out as though they had met before. When Jesus says I saw you under the fig tree I don’t think Jesus physically saw him but rather He knew Nathaniel through the prayers he prayed while under the fig tree. Consider this, if Jesus spoke this because he physically saw Nathaniel how would he know who he was? Wouldn’t he just see some man sitting under a tree? Instead Jesus calls Nathaniel a true Israelite. It seems to me Jesus was calling him out because He knew Nathaniel by the prayers that he regularly lifted up while under the fig tree. Jews often in Biblical times sought out peaceful places to pray. I believe Jesus knew Nathaniel’s heart. Hebrews 4:13 tells us that nothing is hidden from Him.
“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
Hebrews 4:13 NKJV
So Jesus recognized Nathaniel by his time in prayer. It also speaks to me because this simple interchange shows us that no matter what we are seen by God. This blesses me because in this crazy world, especially in this battle with cancer, you can feel unseen. So often circumstances can rise up to challenge or overwhelm us. Life can even just clip along so fast that we can feel like we are moving through the motions but are doing so almost unseen by the world around us. Here in this moment Nathaniel knew Jesus had to be the Messiah because Jesus saw him. It revealed a spiritual insight that confirmed Jesus’ identity to Nathaniel.
I think we can often feel as if our actions or what we “do for God” are what makes us close to God. This perspective can cause us to be human doings instead of human beings, as my friend likes to say. Don’t get me wrong serving in love and ministering to the people in our lives is important but it is not what defines us. It isn’t what makes us known or what draws us closer to God. It is not the measuring stick of our faith. Rather it is the time we set aside to communicate with God. It is the time we spend in the place of intimate sharing with our Heavenly Father. It is by our heart that He knows us but if we are so busy that we never find a quiet safe place to share it than what blessings we miss out on.
In this season when so much of my activities are limited it can be easy to feel as if I am not “doing” much for God but it is in fact the exact opposite. It is in these seasons when we pour out our hearts to Him that He knows us and when we can know Him best.
God loves to step into our lives and remind us that we are seen and loved. This is what He did for Nathaniel that day and what He does for us on a daily basis in so many ways. So when life seems to swamp you and you feel lost in the shuffle take some time under the fig tree and talk with the God who sees you and knows you!
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” 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 and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.””
John 1:47-51 NKJV