Under The Fig Tree
John's Gospel is a very theological Gospel. Right from the beginning John wants us to understand the deep meanings of what Jesus said and did, and the significance of just who Jesus is. The opening of his Gospel makes it very clear that, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God".
In John’s Gospel, there is no nice narrative of the birth of Jesus, like you find in Matthew and Luke, there’s no introduction to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, as you would find in Mark's Gospel. If you’ll notice John’s Gospel starts off differently. John’s Gospel (or the Johannine Gospel) was written to give a deeper understanding to the simple story of what Jesus said and did.
John tells us how Jesus had begun to gather disciples to follow Him. Just a few verses earlier in this first chapter of John, Jesus walks towards John the Baptist. As He does so, John cries out, “Look the Lamb of God”! And after hearing this, two of John’s disciples follow Jesus. And these two are Andrew and Peter. John continues to tell us that the next day, Jesus finds Philip and simply says, “Follow me”. And John records that Philip went with Jesus.
As you read this text it ought to dawn on you that there must have been something very special about Jesus whom they never met until now—and yet they are instantly willing to leave what they know and possibly love in order to follow Jesus, whom up until now they did not know.
It ought to make you think: What was it that was so special about Jesus to these disciples? Was it His charisma? What was it about Jesus? Was it the way He carried Himself? Was it His confidence? Was it the way He taught and preached? These three men, Andrew, Peter, and Phillip had no problem following Jesus after meeting Him for the first time in their lives.
In fact Phillip saw something in Jesus that was so amazing to him until he had to run and tell his BFF by the name of Nathanael. John with his theological profundity tells us that, “Philip found Nathanael” and when he found him—he proceeded to tell him all about Jesus. And here’s what he said, he said, “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."
Nathanael responded to this good news in a negative, skeptical, and reactionary manner. Nathanael was a little prejudice, without thinking he uses a slur against Jesus because Jesus was from Nazareth, he scornfully asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? In the eyes of Nathanael, Nazareth is quite an undistinguished place. This was a common behavior in the first century, people were normally judged based on where they grew up. If Jesus were from a more appropriate location—it’s possible Nathanael would have been a little more responsive to Phillip’s excitement, but Jesus was from of all places—Nazareth.
The Jews despised Nazareth because it was on the border of a Gentile country, Nazareth was sometimes called “Galilee of the Gentiles”, and the Jews were so deeply prejudiced against the Gentiles that they considered anyone or anything touched by a Gentile to be unclean in the sight of God. Thus, the Jews despised Nazareth because it was on the border of a Gentile country and so the Gentiles geographically touched it, which caused Nazareth to somehow be considered unclean as well. But thank God for Phillip, for continuing to offer Nathanael this life changing invitation despite Nathanael’s obvious prejudices. Phillip did not stand around to debate with his good friend Nathanael concerning the pros and cons of Nazareth—he simply said, “Come and see”.
1. The Greatest Invitation Given To This Generation—(V39-46)
The phrase “come and see” occurs twice in this first chapter of St. John’s Gospel. When two curious disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus where He was staying, the Lord said, “Come and see” (v.39). Here, Jesus extended an invitation and the invitation He extended was an immediate one, it was while the disciples were deeply attracted and focused on Jesus, they were invited to Jesus by Jesus because of their open need for Jesus. When we take a look at this particular verse we cannot help but notice that Jesus did not postpone their request nor leave them hanging. He said, in so many words, you can follow me right now; at this very moment! This glorious invitation did not rest only with the two disciples, this very same invitation is being offered today. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11: 28). Who is to come? The weary and the burdened—those of us who are laboring and heavy laden, those of us who are weary, exhausted, extremely tired, despaired, disenchanted, disenfranchised, disgusted, disapproved of, overlooked, talked about and criticized, rejected, affected, infected, dejected, weighed down, ready to quit and call it a day can all come to Jesus Christ!
Here in the text, I think Nathanael was simply exhausted. Many of us are like Nathanael today, many of us need our very own fig tree to sit under and rest—because we are exhausted with life and the things of life. And some of the things that cause exhaustion for us are…work; sometimes we are being overburdened with too much to do. We are exhausted and disheartened; we feel a sense of hopelessness when we look around us and see so much worldliness and carnality (fleshly pleasure). It’s almost enough to make you think about canceling your newspaper subscription and just shutting off your TV set. Because everyday you are a witness to the power of the blatant sin that openly takes place in our communities. We witness the power of money and material possessions, the emptiness of fame and fame seekers, rules and regulations, and even the rituals and traditions of Church can sometimes give us the blues. It makes us want to find a fig tree somewhere, and just sit there in order to be by ourselves and then contemplate on life and what it’s all about. Phillip seemed to know just what his dear friend needed—and so he said, “Come and see”!
2. A Confrontation With Jesus—(47- 48)
Jesus knew everything about Nathanael beforehand, He knew what Nathanael believed in and what kind of character Nathanael possessed. This is seen in Jesus calling Nathanael an “Israelite indeed” in essence; Jesus was paying Nathanael a huge compliment. Even after Nathanael’s rude and reactionary behavior, and after Nathanael’s clear prejudice towards Him, the Lord still gives Nathanael a wonderful compliment. Now, just what did Jesus mean when called Nathanael an “Israelite indeed”? He was saying that Nathanael was the epitome of an Israelite, and he was everything an Israelite should be because he believed in the promises of God.
Nathanael wanted desperately to live up to the standards God had set for Israel—and Nathanael was so desperately waiting for the promised Messiah. Could this be the true Messiah his friend Phillip is so excited about it? There is still some doubt, even with Philip—although Phillip believes Jesus is the Messiah; he was looking at the flesh side of Jesus, because he refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph and not the Son of God. Jesus knows everything about everyone. Nathanael is no exception.
Jesus knew Nathanael’s character; He knew that Nathanael was a man without guile. In other words, he did not deceive, try to bait in or mislead anyone. He said whatever he thought without hiding his thoughts; he said and acted upon exactly what he felt. When we look back at Nathanael’s question to Phillip in verse 46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” we can see for ourselves just how straightforward he was and did not hide his thoughts. One of the great tragedies today, is that there are so many who are full of guile. Now days you have to watch what they do and not what they say. It’s this way on our jobs, in our homes, and especially in politics. And unfortunately even in the Church. The Psalmist said, “Blessed in the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile (Psalm 32: 2).
When Jesus confronted Nathanael it really startled him, he quickly asked, “how do you know me?” This is a normal question given the circumstance. If someone approached you; you’ve never met him or her; you have no idea whatsoever as to whom they are and they call you by your name. Most likely the first thing you will ask is how do you know—have we met? Another thing that must have startled Nathanael was, Jesus knew that he was Israelite Nathanael thinks this to be very strange, but wait until he hears the rest of Jesus' answer. Here again, Jesus knows everything all the time, and He knew where Philip found Nathanael.
Nathanael was under the fig tree literally and spiritually. Israel is
the fig tree symbolically and that is the teaching Nathaniel was under
at the time. In Palestine the fig tree stood for peace, security, rest, and worship. Very often a man would go seek solitude and worship under his fig tree. Micah 4: 4 tells us, “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” This means that when Jesus returns there will be no more want. There is sufficient food in the world to feed everyone. All we lack is the will. When Jesus returns no one will lack for needs. No more war. No more poverty.
Children of God share the blessed hope in Jesus Christ, because they know that this world is NOT their home. When Nathanael was sitting under his fig tree he was most likely contemplating life and daydreaming about the Messiah (Jesus Christ). No one but Jesus knows exactly what he was thinking while under that fig tree. Maybe he was thinking along the lines of the great song sung by the late Mahalia Jackson, “Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world” or “In that great getting’ morning” whatever Nathanael was thinking at that moment I believe hope was on his mind. Exactly what Nathanael was meditating on that day I really don’t know—but Jesus knew without one doubt what Nathanael was dealing with while sitting under his fig tree.
Jesus knows what you’re dealing with today under your fig tree; He knows all your hopes and your dreams and your aspirations. John Piper said, “Jesus not only knows all people thoroughly as they were and are today, he also knows what people will think and do tomorrow. He knows all things that will come to pass.” I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to serve a Saviour who didn’t know everything about me, didn’t know my thoughts; didn’t know about my tomorrows. Because that were so, when I come to Him with a problem or a trial He wouldn’t know how to help me. But since He does know all about me I can come to Him and He can and will fix it.
Jesus knew Nathanael’s innermost thoughts—when Jesus told Nathanael that He had seen him under the fig tree. He was telling Nathanael that for sure He knew everything about him. He knew Nathanael’s despair, his discouragement due to his sense of hopelessness, He his desire for peace and contentment. In short, He knew exactly why Nathanael decided to take refuge under the fig tree. Perhaps to those who were looking on, Nathanael’s response was a bit puzzling. All Jesus said to him was “I saw you sitting under the fig tree”—this was very similar to the correspondence between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. To them, it appeared that they were speaking in code. But what Jesus said to Nathanael was more than enough to Nathanael to give his life to Jesus forever and forever.
3. A Conviction That Jesus Was The Son of God—(49 – 51)
On many Church programs you may find these words in some form or another: It is our CONVICTION that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, who became man, without ceasing to be God, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and that He lived a sinless life that He might reveal God to all humanity; That He accomplished our redemption through His death on the cross as a substitution sacrifice for our sins, and that our redemption is made sure to us by His literal, bodily resurrection from the dead; That the Lord Jesus Christ is now in Heaven, exalted at the right hand of God, having become High Priest for His people, He fulfills the ministry of Representative, Intercessor, and Advocate; That Jesus Christ is our Lord, Savior, Sanctifier, Baptizer, Deliverer, Great Physician, and King.
God is very real to me and it is a bit scary sometimes to realize that I MUST one-day stand before Him. However, my fears are alleviated when I realize that I am safe in Christ, and that He is my Defense Attorney (Advocate) in Heaven (1st John 2:1). If you've ever been summonsed to court, and had the privilege of having a lawyer, then you know the sweet peace that having a lawyer brings. Jesus' blood sacrifice made everything right between God the Father and me the day I got saved. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you might remember when you made your own personal confession concerning Him, and if you do—you might also remember how elated and relieved you were to know just who Jesus was. I submit to you that prior this great day you were sitting under you own fig tree. Perhaps it was not a physical fig tree; but it was and is spiritual in nature.
We all sit under the fig tree looking for answers; if we stay there long enough and pray hard enough we just might the Answer. In Matthew 16: 16, Peter knew the Answer when Jesus asked him, “Who do you think I am” he responded, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus told him that he is blessed because God Himself revealed this truth to him—and he didn’t acquire it from any human source. This particular truth was derived from a spiritual source.
This statement from Peter is what today’s Church is built upon, mind you, it was not Peter upon which the Church was built upon; it was the truth that preceded from his lips that day that the Church was built upon. Yes, when we grew up in Church perhaps we heard the preacher and our parents say that ‘He is the Son of God’. However, when we reached the age of understanding, when we came face to face with all the vicissitudes of life which in turn caused us to go sit under our fig tree; it was there we found the Answer for ourselves.
In John 9: 1 - 25, Jesus healed a blind man and in doing so He rattled the cage of the Pharisee because it was done on the Sabbath and they weren’t having any of that. As a result they conducted a crime scene investigation; they caught up with who they thought was their key witness, the blind man himself and demanded from him, “This man who opened your eyes—who do you say He is?” However, the blind man proved to be a sorry witness for them, because after sitting under his own spiritual fig tree his initial answer was, “I think He was a prophet sent from God”, but this was not a good enough answer for the Pharisee (they needed something a bit more juicy to bring this man named Jesus down for good). And so they solicited the blind man’s parents and they interrogated them as well: “Is this your son?” and “Was he born blinded, and if so, how is it he can see now?”
The problem here is his parents did have the answer, they simply responded “…we don’t know what happened” apparently they hadn’t sit under their own fig tree as of yet. The Pharisee said, “Okay, bring back the blind man, we’ll get a better answer from this time we hope” (paraphrasing) they shouted at the blind man and demanded that he, “Give glory to God, not to Jesus, for we know that Jesus, is an evil person” and again, the blind man just would not cooperate, he said, “I don’t know whether He is good or bad (at this point) but what I do know is that I once was blind, but now I see” sitting under the fig tree causes us to take a deep look at ourselves—it us helps to compare notes about our lives, it makes it easier for us see where we used to be and where we are now through Jesus Christ. Nathanael, after meeting Jesus readily confessed that Jesus Christ was the Lord! In the Greek He was the Kurious (Lord) and He was filled with hagious pneumagous (Holy Spirit). Nathanael finally grasped it, Jesus was the Rabbi (The Great Teacher), the Son of God and the King of Israel more aptly, the King of kings!
Thank God for fig trees! Thank God that we are allowed to all sit under our own fig trees! Because through them we are brought to our own personal realization concerning whom Jesus is and what He means to us in our lives. Through the spiritual fig trees you are better able to, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” –What a powerful revelation! We are now able to see greater things. Now we can approach God and enter heaven through Jesus Christ; now we have access to God only through Jesus Christ, and now we have a constant communication with God because hereafter we shall see the very heavens open up, with angels ascending and descending. And it is all because of the blessed privilege of sitting under our fig tree and being confronted by Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.