Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael said unto him, Where do you know me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. Nathanael answered and said unto him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these. And he said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1:45-51)
The story of the calling of Nathanael as a disciple by Jesus is filled with meaning if you are familiar with the story of Jacob. Nathanael was told by his friend Philip that Jesus was from Nazareth, and was the son of Joseph and was believed to be the promised Messiah. Nathanael was not impressed, and being familiar with the law and prophets, he knew the Messiah was to come out of Bethlehem, not Nazareth. Thus he replied to Philip, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip answered Nathanael’s objection by saying, “Come and see.”
We know from the words of Jesus that the fig tree is a symbol of Israel (see Luke 13:5-9 and Mark 11:13-21). Like the Jewish leaders who ruled over the temple, Nathanael was blind in his knowledge of the law and the prophets. Tradition had narrowed their understanding of what was recorded concerning the words of God. Nathanael was “under the Fig Tree,” the traditions of the teachers of the law and could not receive Jesus as Messiah because He was from Galilee, although He was born in Bethlehem and fulfilled the very prophecy they used to reject Him (see Matthew 2:1-6, Micah 5:2 and John 7:42). Because of the persecution of Harod the king that came upon Bethlehem, Jesus’ parents moved Him to Nazareth where He grew up from His infancy as a carpenters son.
Israel was the name that God gave Jacob after he was broken by twenty years of trials under his father-in-law Laban. While returning to his homeland, he had a divine encounter with God which finished the breaking process at the river Jabbok. God blessed him as only God could. He touched him in his thigh and made him a cripple the rest of his life. Jacob–a Hebrew name meaning a supplanter— had been a conniver and a cheat all his life, but after this encounter with God he was so weakened that he was a changed man who put his trust in God and no longer in himself. God renamed him Israel, in Hebrew meaning “a prince with God.” Oh, that we who name Christ would all receive such a touch from God.
From then on, God identified Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” But as time went on, their descendants lost their divine connection with Him and they broke the covenant He made with them through Abraham and Moses as His own special people (see Jer. 11:10 and Lev. 15-17). Israel became blind to the promises of God and the meaning of the scriptures that pointed to His Son. These scriptures were given so they would recognize Him when He came, but they were blinded by their own self-righteousness and threatened by the authority of the Father that abode in His Son. To Jesus called these Jewish leaders blind guides. To them He said, “You search the scriptures and in them you think you will find life. It is they that speak of me, but you will not come to me that you might have life.” His final words to them were, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets, and stone them which are sent unto you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, you shall not see me again, till you shall say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Mat 23:37-39)
How many of us who spend our lives studying the Bible, blindly sit under the fig tree of tradition instead of having eyes that can see Jesus for who He really is? God’s call to us is the same as it was to Nathanael, “Come and see.” How many of us settle for the “light” of Bible teachers who are blind guides instead of a divine encounter with Jesus who makes blind eyes see?
And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they who see not might see; and that they who see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees who were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If you were blind, you should have no sin: but now you say, We see; therefore your sin remains. (John 9:39-41)
Christ has had to spend many years in my life un-teaching me. He has had to strip me of the traditions of men about the Bible and Jesus that I sat under so He could open my eyes to see the truth that is only found IN Him. The problem is that we go at learning scriptures like we do about every other curriculum of learning… a compilation of teachings about things instead of a love letter from God pointing only to Jesus. We learn about eschatology, hermeneutics, oratory, sacramentalism, the rapture, church government, how to do church, etc. instead of learning Christ.
The scribes (the Bible scholars of that day) and Pharisees (the law keepers and enforcers) were filled with guile. Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” and said they were of their father the devil, who was a liar and a murder from the beginning. But Jesus saw Nathanael as an Israelite in whom there was no guile. In effect Jesus was saying to him, “Before Philip called you, you were under the fig tree, but now you are called to Me, Nathanael.” To this Nathanael answered, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” What a response to a simple statement that Jesus made to him–a statement that exposed everything about Nathanael in a moment. The Jews all knew that Messiah was to come and be the new King of Israel, but how many knew that He was the Son of God? When Peter got this same revelation, Jesus told him it came from the Father. Upon his first encounter with the living Christ, Nathanael received divine revelation. He saw the Life of the Father in the Son and received divine Light. Of Jesus John said, “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”
Because I said unto you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these. And he said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (Joh 1:50-51)
Here again Jesus refers to Jacob (Israel) and his divine encounter with the living Christ. Jacob had a dream of the angels ascending and descending a ladder into the heavens and called that place Bethel, the house of God. Jesus is that ladder that extends from the earth to heaven. He is the one Mediator between God and man. Angels are only messengers. In fact the Greek word angelos is often translated “messenger” in the New Testament. A mediator is one who carries messages from and to two conflicting parties. God’s messengers, the prophets and priests in the Old Covenant ascended and descended with the words of God for man and from man to God. They saw an open heaven. Nathanael was told by Jesus that he would see an open heaven and that Jesus would be that ladder on whom the messages of God would come.
Nevertheless when it [Israel] shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], there [is] liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2Co 3:16-18)
The blessing of the New Covenant is that as we truly turn to the Lord we may all with open face behold the Lord. There is no longer a privileged few who can behold Him. All who believe are given the unction of the Holy Spirit by which we can communicate with and learn from God (see 1 John 2:26-27). Jesus promised before he was crucified that He would not leave us alone after He died, but would come to us again in the form of the Holy Spirit. He added that this same Spirit would lead us into all truth. We who have been given the Spirit of Christ when we first believed in and into Him, all have the Spirit of Christ and revelation abiding in us. Is it ours to do with whatever we will? No. It is only ours as we abide in Christ and it is He who directs the Spirit in us to do as He wills. We just abide in Jesus and He brings forth the fruit of the Spirit and revelation according to His will. Of Jesus the prophet said, “I have come to do thy will, oh Lord.” If we abide in Christ our wills are crucified with Him and we are given the Spirit to do HIS will alone.
And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon. (1Ki 4:25)
The healthy fig tree and grape vine were signs of safety and prosperity in the Old Testament. And when they turned from God the opposite was true.
For a nation has come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a lioness. He has laid my vine waste, and splintered my fig tree: he has stripped it bare, and cast it away; its branches are made white. Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD’S ministers, mourn. (Joe 1:6-9)
Jesus taught His disciples that He is the True Vine and that we who believe are its branches and that as we abide IN Him we would produce good fruit (see John 15). Israel, the fig tree, was splintered and stripped bare and cast away because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. They refused to come to Him that they might have life. Will we who go by the name of Christ, “Christians,” suffer the same fate? Jesus said, “When the Son of Man returns, shall he find faith on the earth?” We must abide IN Him, not just read about Him in the Bible and talk about Him at church. Our whole life must be HIS life. Our light must be HIS light. Every branch of the Vine that does not have its whole life flowing to and through it from the Vine will wither and be cast out into the fire. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Him we can know no Light and have no Life. For too long the church has tried to live by its own light and life. What makes us think that our fig tree won’t fall under the same judgment that the fig tree of Israel did? A severe warning is given to us all in the following story about Jesus and a fig tree.
And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if perhaps he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of you hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it… And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance said unto him, Teacher, behold, the fig tree which you cursed is withered away. And Jesus answering said unto them, Have faith in God. (Mar 11:13-22)
Today we put our faith in unending church programs generated by men which we hope God will bless, various teachings of men and even our own “righteousness.” But where and what is the fruit that He longs for? Jesus said, “Every plant that my Father has not planted will be rooted up.” When it comes to our fruit, the only fruit He promised that the Father wants to see is that fruit that comes from abiding in His Son, Jesus the Vine.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. (Joh 15:4)
Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. (Mat 11:28-29)