In John 1:46-50, Nathanael is introduced to Jesus for the first time.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."

Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Philip said to him, "Come and see."

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!"

Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?"

Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."

Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these."

What is the significance of Jesus seeing Nathanael under the fig tree, that this one short statement would turn Nathanael's skepticism to such reverence?

  • 3
    This is terrific Question. +1 Sep 1 '11 at 18:02
  • I do not know the answer, but do you think it can be related to 1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4, and Zacariah 3:10?
    – heringer
    Sep 17 '20 at 10:22

Apparently Nathanael took it as evidence of some kind of supernatural knowledge on Jesus' part, but his reaction seems to be overblown - Maybe Jesus just happened to be passing by that tree and recognized him from earlier! I think his dramatic response tells us about Nathanael's personality - impulsive perhaps, certainly an all-or-nothing sort of guy. Someone who is very anxious for the Messiah to appear.

Jesus treats his response with a little bit of humor, it seems. My paraphrase: "You believe all that just because I saw you sitting under a tree? Your going to see much better evidence than that!"

Nevertheless, Nathanael's response is correct, and one of the great confessions of faith, parallel to Thomas' later in the book - "my Lord, and my God!" John may be telling us that great confessions like that, coming from two doubters, are evidence that God chooses to work through the people we'd least expect.


How did Jesus know of Nathanael's character?

Nathanael was doing something under the fig tree. What has he been doing, we do not know. What that was is not recorded. The best educated guess we can give is that Nath picked that particuler spot to pray in. it is common for Jews to search for peaceful place to pray in. Nath may have been in private devotion in that place.

When Jesus said that he saw Nath under the fig tree, he obviously did not mean that physically; he saw inside the Nath's heart. let us look at Hebrews 4:12-13;

12 God's word is alive and working and is sharper than a double-edged sword. It cuts all the way into us, where the soul and the spirit are joined, to the center of our joints and bones. And it judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts.13 Nothing in all the world can be hidden from God. Everything is clear and lies open before him, and to him we must explain the way we have lived.

Nathanael understood what Jesus meant, and by that Nath knew that he was the Son of God.


Nathanael was given a revelation that before Philip called him, Jesus saw him under the fig tree. The fig tree was significant. A sacred place of prayer,study and meditation. A place of peace and safety in the midst of cruel circumstances. A place of longing for the Messiah to show himself as King.

It is awesome that Christ revealed his heart toward Nathanael. He was man of no pretense, no false estimation of himself who had been sincerely seeking the Messiah. Jesus takes note of the fruit or evidence of our faith. In Matt.21 He cursed the fruitless fig tree. Fig tree's bear fruit before foliage. The clothing of the tree (the regalia of worship) was really the biproduct of a fruitful life.

"How do you know me?", Nathanael asked. Oh how he knows the sincerity of our hearts! And with that knowing reveals more of Himself to us. He promised Nathanael he would see greater things! He would from that momment on see Jesus in full revelation as the stairway to heaven, Gen 28. Jesus would from that moment be someone who stood in the Gap between heaven and earth fulfilling the longing of Nathanaels heart indeed.

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE! Can I ask what your source is for the symbolism of the fig tree?
    – Caleb
    Sep 22 '12 at 17:28
  • @Caleb, there are many sources with biblical references that associate fig tree with Israel (the fig tree is a symbol of Jewish nationalism and prosperity... Wikipedia) . I would certainly not take the fig tree as a literal one. I think Nathaniel was an honest seeker who was (as Jew) "under the fig tree", but questioning his Jewish roots sincerely. Christ recognized this deep personal sincerity Oct 2 '20 at 5:35

I believe most may be missing this because many forgot or don't know about the two houses becoming one again the Northern and Southern tribes, as you can see the verses below show that Yeshua came only to bring the two tribs back together, so just maybe if you are saved you belong to one of lost the Trib as we know it, you see Nathanael is an Israelite and Yeshua is being called the King of Israel, showing that He is the king of all the tribes when they are together is Israel, there is so much more to this then wha tI can go into here, but once you understand this then the word of the Father will take on a bigger and New er meaning to you think of the prodigal son this is the story of the lost Tribe. I will stop here now you start in kings where they were spilt, and you should be in Hebrews when it is done, when He noww can remarried his divorce wife back because of the death of the testator.

v. 47 Nathanael an Israelite

V. 48 fig tree = Israel

V.49 King of Israel.

Mat.10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Mat.15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.


The intratext notes in the New American Bible refer this passage to Jacob and Esau. Jacob, (Israel) would not be a true Israelite although he got his inheritance through deceit (pretty much stealing it from his brother and tricking Isaac to give him his blessing).

It may be indicative of the manner in which a follower of Christ must be a true Israelite, not a deceitful one.

Nathaniel may have followed Christ for other reasons, we never can tell what a person felt who met Him for the first time, but I'll bet it was tremendous.


Here's an off-the-wall take on the whole event. I'm not sure what to make of it but I'll throw it out there to get community reaction.

Apparently, the story s a funny scenario consisting of a humourous exchange between Jesus and Nathanael. Here's the text, from a reader of The Straight Dope:

Philip found Nathanael and said unto him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" [Joke!] Philip said to him, "Come and see!" [Boom!] Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile" ["Hey, here's an honest Jew" — joke]. Nathanael [not getting it] said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, I saw you yesterday, standing under a fig tree." Nathanael said [losing his cool], "Rabbi, you are the son of God! You are the king of Israel!" Jesus answered him, "Because I said I saw you standing under a fig tree, believest thou?" [Big joke! Gets laughs!] "You shall see greater things than these." [Release.] And he said to him, "Truly, truly I say unto you, you shall see the heavens opened and the angels of the Lord ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." [Boom!]


Perhaps Nathaniel was merely very recently under the fig tree, in which case it is difficult to see any significance - presumably many people in those days in the region at some point or other got under a fig tree shading themselves from the heat of the day.

More likely, whether it was recently in his life or further back in his life, Nathaniel had had some religious experience under a fig tree. As has been said, maybe he had been praying, and he felt drawn to God and had such an experience that he had not forgotten about his time under the tree. Maybe he had prayed that God would show Himself to him, that he might know God, and so he had not forgotten all the exchange between himself and God in prayer under that fig tree.

Could it be that what had prompted this religious experience was that he had fallen asleep under the tree, woken up and thought about the similarity between himself being all alone in that place and the field in which Jacob, humanly speaking entirely alone, had fallen asleep with a stone for his pillow? And this had lead Nathaniel to meditate on the event in Jacob's life and to Nathaniel's time of prayer.

Perhaps, even, he had wondered why the angels had needed to ascend and descend on the ladder, and wonder "What is the ladder a symbol of?"

Whatever happened, its likely something memorably spiritual happened while he was alone under the tree.

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