“I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
As we examine another early encounter of Jesus with one of his disciples, an additional characteristic of his divine nature emerges: the ability to see into the hearts of men. Only God can do this. As humans, we can familiarize ourselves with the habits and mannerisms of those around us up to the point where it seems like we know what is in their hearts, but we really do not. Our supposed knowledge can never be more than an educated guess. Someone who presumes to really know what is in the heart of another is only deceiving himself.
But Jesus knew what was in the hearts of men, and with this secret knowledge he would interact with others in ways that are inscrutable to us, but which had a profound impact on the individual that he was dealing with at the time. John’s account of when Jesus first met Nathanael provides us with a perfect example of this.
Nathanael was a friend of Philip, and it was Philip who first told Nathaneal about Jesus, saying, “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’s reaction to Philip’s news was surprisingly negative. “Nazareth!” He said, “Can anything good come from there?” But Philip only responded with, “Come and see,” incidentally echoing the same invitation that Jesus gave to John and Andrew on the day they first met.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” (John 1:45-49)
“Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” – Jesus did not say this in order to flatter Nathaneal. Jesus never flattered anyone. He was making a genuine assessment of his character. The Greek word “dolos,” translated here as “deceit,” also can mean “craft, guile, or subtlety”. What Jesus was saying of Nathanael is that he was open, honest and sincere.
“I saw you while you were still under the fig tree.” – This was Jesus’ enigmatic response to Nathanael’s question, “How do you know me?” Though mysterious to us, these words definitely found their target in the mind and heart of Nathanael, for immediately he acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God.
For centuries since, there has been much speculation about what Jesus might have meant when he told Nathanael, “I saw you.” But why speculate? Why not allow its meaning to remain a mystery to us?
There seems to be some quirk in our human nature that causes us to ignore the plain statements of God and concentrate on the hidden things. Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, we have persisted in eschewing the proffered fruit for the forbidden. How much better it is for us to rejoice in the fact that we serve a God who knows all things; a God who knows us, a God who sees us.