John 1:43 – 51
With Nathanael’s mind whirling, our Lord continued to astonish him in verse 48: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” This is one of the great cryptic statements of the New Testament. For centuries men have tried to decipher the symbolism of the fig tree. In some Scripture passages it is a symbol for peace. In many others it is a symbol for a home. Or it could be taken literally and just mean a fig tree. Exactly what it represents is not terribly important, but we will consider it as a fig tree. What is important is that Nathanael had a religious experience that no one but Jesus knew about. Maybe Nathanael had been reading the story of Jacob’s ladder. Maybe he had been contemplating being baptized by John the Baptist. Maybe he was thinking about the Messiah. Maybe he had prayed that the Messiah would reveal himself to him. The point is, Nathanael had had a spiritual experience under a fig tree and Jesus was saying, “I know about the experience you had that you shared only with God.” Jesus knew!
Nathanael was not only guileless—he was able to put two and two together quickly. He knew that God is omniscient, and he realized that Jesus’ statement demonstrated omniscience. This man had to be God! Consider Nathanael’s response in verse 49: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” What an incredible answer! Because he was an Israelite with no guile, Nathanael was prepared to come to know God, and when he saw Jesus’ omniscience, he responded and believed. He did a complete 180-degree turn and rapturously confessed that Jesus was the Son of God—all because he had experienced the reality of Jesus’ omniscience.
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.”
In other words, “Nathanael, because you saw I am omniscient, you believe? You have not seen anything yet.” Christ really took the lid off in verse 51 (it is significant that he switched from the second person singular to the second person plural, making his words universal in meaning):
“I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Hughes, R. K. (1999). John: that you may believe (pp. 51–52). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.