Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”
In John 1:43-51, Jesus meets Nathaniel for the first time but he greets him as if he has known him for years. As Nathaniel approaches Jesus, Jesus says, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Startled that Jesus somehow is familiar with him and has insight into his character, Nathaniel asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus replies, “Well, before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Inexplicably, Nathaniel quickly replies, “Teacher, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Jesus supernaturally sees Nathaniel and then Nathaniel concludes that Jesus is the Son of God. What happened? Nathaniel’s response seems a little disproportionate to me. When Philip first told Nathaniel about Jesus, Nathaniel was skeptical but then in a matter of minutes he suddenly changes his mind.
I’m not sure what might have been going on within Nathaniel, but from Jesus’ question to him, we can guess that Jesus also recognized that Nathaniel’s immediate acceptance of him as the Son of God was premature. Jesus asks Nathaniel in verse 50, “Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree”, do you believe?” In essence, Jesus is saying, “Do you truly believe that I’m the Son of God just because I supernaturally saw you?”
Now you might be wondering, “Why is Jesus questioning Nathaniel’s faith?” Shouldn’t he just be overjoyed that Nathaniel has come to believe in him? Well, not necessarily. Maybe Jesus saw that Nathaniel’s faith was like the seed that fell upon the rocky soil in his Parable of the Sower. In that parable, the rocky soil represented “those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. (Luke 8:13)”
So, maybe the reason why Jesus wasn’t rejoicing in Nathaniel’s faith was because he knew that Nathaniel’s belief needed to grow and be grounded in more than just a mysterious and unexplainable event like being supernaturally seen. Jesus loved Nathaniel too much to allow his faith to remain shakable and shallow.
I totally love this because Jesus is telling Nathaniel that his belief needs to be grounded in seeing more rather than in seeing less. Usually, we are challenged to not test God and simply have faith to trust in who he is and what he says. But in this personal interaction with Nathaniel, we see that Jesus is teaching that Nathaniel’s faith needs to be grounded on “seeing greater things” not less.
So, Jesus tells Nathaniel at the end of verse 50 and continuing into verse 51, “You will see greater things than these… Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (If you’re interested in an explanation of what Jesus means in this verse, I talked about it in my sermon on March 19th) Basically Jesus promises Nathaniel that his faith in Jesus as the Son of God will be firmly grounded on unshakable, personal, eyewitness testimonies of God greatly working powerfully before him through Jesus’ life. What a promise!
I think that some of you reading this article also need to hear these same words from Jesus. For some of you, when you first heard the gospel of forgiveness and new life through faith in Jesus Christ, you believed it and received it with great joy. However, today the hardships of life have worn your soul thin and the great joy you knew when you first believed has slowly faded. Years of enduring a hard and trying marriage, a numb-minding job, a strained if not completely ruined relationship with a son or daughter or a series of potential relationships that never went beyond the second or third date, have sapped the fullness of life out of your faith in the Son of God. If this is you, hear and receive the words of Jesus to Nathaniel. He knows where you are at and rather than leave you alone, he is inviting you to endure, trust and follow him. For he will graciously do great works in you, through you and around you in your current hopeless situation that will testify that he truly is the Son of God, Maker of heaven and earth.