Title: The belief of the first disciples
Scriptures to Read: Read John 1:35- 51
We now come to the second major division of the Messiah’s life, in which we will see the authentication of the King. Jesus begins to present Himself to Israel as the promised Messiah and authenticates Himself with miracles, signs, and wonders. This is the time when He goes from city to city and synagogue to synagogue, offering the messianic kingdom to Israel. To receive the messianic kingdom, Israel must accept Him as the Messianic King.
John and Andrew believe in Jesus
Another day passes, and once again John identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. Two disciples of John leave John to become disciples of Jesus. They are John, the author of the gospel, and Andrew, the brother of Peter. In verse 38, Jesus comes out with the question: “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” This fits the way someone became a disciple of a specific rabbi. If a man was to become a disciple of a specific rabbi, he would follow the rabbi around for a while – not too close so as to become a bother, nor too far away to be noticed. It might be a matter of hours or days. Eventually the rabbi would turn around and ask the same question Jesus did: “What are you looking for?” And the response is to be: “Where do you live?” If the rabbi said “that’s none of your business” it meant that he was rejecting the person as a disciple. But if he said, “come and see,” that meant he was accepting him to be a disciple.
Simon believes in Jesus
In verse 40, Andrew has a brother who becomes a bit more famous, Simon Peter. He tells Peter in verse 41 “We have found the Messiah.” And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus told him from now on he would be called “Cephas” which means Peter. On the first day Jesus has the first three of his twelve apostles. Then another day passes.
Philip believes in Jesus
And this time He Himself sees Philip and He calls him to discipleship and Philip becomes the fourth disciple.
Nathanael believes in Jesus
Now the story of the fifth disciple is very interesting. Verse 45: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Notice the response of this future disciple when Jesus mentioned the place of Nazareth. Nathaniel expresses the typical Galilean attitude: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip doesn’t argue the issue but tells him to come and see.
A strange way to meet someone
How does Jesus respond to Nathanael’s approach? He makes a proclamation: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” This is the first time the two men actually meet! Nathaniel is surprised by this and responds: “How do you know me?” And Jesus answered: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Notice Nathaniel’s response in verse 49: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel”. If I came up to you and said I saw you sitting underneath the plumb tree I don’t think you would respond, “Man, you must be the King of Israel, you must be the Son of God.” That would not be a normal conclusion to draw. And yet Nathaniel responds this way to Jesus simply saying: “I saw you under the fig tree.” Why? Based upon that simple statement, why does Nathaniel conclude that Jesus has to be the King of Israel and the Son of God? Let’s look more closely.
Nathanael was an Israelite with no deceit
Notice that initially Jesus does not call him by name, but by title (v 47): “An Israelite indeed in whom is no deceit.” Now, who was the first one to be named Israel? The first one named Israel was Jacob. What was Jacob’s story? Jacob had to flee his home because of one act of deceit. Often you hear that he lived a life of deceit, but that is not true. He performed only one act of deceit, deceiving his father. And even that was at the instigation of his mother. Because of one act of deceit, the first Israel, Jacob, had to flee the household. And now we see here one of Jacob’s descendants, also an Israelite indeed, but this one has no deceit.
Memorizing Scripture under a fig tree
Now, what is significant about being underneath the fig tree? Keep in mind that in those days it was not possible for everyone to have a copy of the Scriptures. Scrolls were few and far between. So what Jewish people did was to go to the synagogue school. The reader would read the text and they would memorize it. Repeating and memorizing, repeating and memorizing. And then the common rabbinic teaching was that the best place to meditate on what you memorized is underneath a fig tree. And we find recorded in the Talmudim that different rabbis held their classes under fig trees. So Nathanael being underneath the fig tree was not something unusual. By seeing him underneath the fig tree and by calling him an Israelite indeed, what Nathaniel began to realize is that Jesus knew the passage of Scripture that he was meditating on. He was meditating on the same passage of Scripture in Genesis 28 where Jacob was fleeing from the household of Isaac because of that one act of deceit. This becomes a bit clearer as we continue.
Jesus displays His omniscience to Nathaniel
Now Jesus responds to him in verse 50: “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Now where else in the Bible do you read about the angels ascending and descending upon the earth? In Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, the dream he had the first night after he left home. So if you put the whole section together: Jesus knew the very Scripture that Nathaniel was meditating upon. He was meditating on Genesis 28, the chapter on Jacob fleeing and having his dream of angels ascending and descending. And so what Nathaniel realized is that Jesus could read his mind. And because He could read his mind He must indeed be who he claims to be. So Jesus remark, “I saw you underneath the fig tree,” is not just an idle comment. It indicated that He knew the very passage Nathaniel was meditating upon, and therefore Nathaniel concluded: “You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.”