Confused about Nathanael


47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, ‘There, truly, is an Israelite in whom there is no deception.’

48 Nathanael asked, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.’

49 Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.’

50 Jesus replied, ‘You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You are going to see greater things than that.’

I don’t understand that Jesus seeing him under a tree astonishes Nathanael, did he see him earlier in the day or was the fig tree on the other side of the city?



It’s a good question because the Gospel doesn’t say.
But I think most interpretations would say that Nathanael was alone under the fig tree in an isolated place, perhaps. He was astonished because there could be no way for anyone to actually see him there without having a supernatural vision that could travel beyond space and time.


From the commentary on the 1941 Confraternity New Testament:

“45 f. Philip summons Nathanael, who is probably identical with Bartholomew, one of the chosen Twelve (cf. Mark 3, 18; John 21, 2). The basis of the disciples’ Messianic expectations was the cumulative ideal of a personal Messias drawn from the writings of Moses and the Prophets. Nathanael’s objection reflects a popular low opinion of Nazareth. Come and see announces something important, and implies that Nathanael will be convinced at sight. 47-49. A true Israelite: one worthy of the name. Our Lord alludes to some circumstances connected with the fig-tree which Nathanael would understand. This evidence of preternatural knowledge awakened a faith so deep that it burst forth in the words, Thou art the Son of God, thou art King of Israel. The second title is Messianic, and probably defines the force of the first, which therefore is not a recognition of Christ’s divinity. As the Gospel will show, this recognition had yet to grow upon the Apostles. 50 f. If this slight evidence begot faith, their future experience with Him would fully confirm it; they would witness His intercourse with heaven. Cf. Gen. 28, 10-17. The assertion is most solemn; Amen (which only John thus twice repeats) is stronger than “truly.” Son of Man: a Messianic title based on Dan. 7, 13-14, and applied to Christ in the Gospels by Himself only. It occurs eleven times in John. Cf. Commentary on Matt. 8, 20.”


I think Nathanael is astonished because Jesus was not around the vicinity or place where Jesus in his humanity could have seen Nathanael under the fig tree. Jesus saw him under the fig tree according to his divinity as God.


I assume that Nathanael was praying under the fig tree. That is why Jesus said that He saw him. Because Jesus heard his prayer. And why Nathanael was astounded and responded that Jesus is the Son of God. Notice that only he and St. Peter made this testimony. See Matt 16:16-19


I’ve always heard and read that Nathaniel was astonished because Jesus knew his innermost being just by seeing him under the fig tree–knew there was no deception in him.

Seeing him under the fig tree was not the main point.


Interesting perspective. Thanks.



…problem with that exegesis is that it then must mean that Nathaniel had some sort of high spirituality to have understood that Jesus saw what was in his heart… it also means that Jesus is in deed praising Nathaniel for having a crystal clear soul/heart…

…I must argue that, rather, it speaks to the absence of others in the vicinity where Nathaniel took respite from the sun… and to the mentality of the Israelites: ‘nothing good comes from Nazareth’–Jesus is actually reprimanding Jewish cultural belief.

Maran atha!



See if this helps:

"The Gospel of St. John is highly symbolic, even as it relates true events. In this case, we must recall that the fig tree is an ancient symbol of Israel. So in one sense, we see that Nathaniel was a Jew who was a true Israelite—under the fig tree. And the nature of this Israelite is confirmed not only by the words of Jesus but also by the response of Nathaniel, after such a relatively small sign given him—I saw you under the fig tree. Such was enough for this true Israelite to confess, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Contrast the faith of this Israelite over many other Jews who saw far greater signs than this—healings, exorcisms, raising the dead—and yet refused to believe in the Son of God. No wonder the Lord made this man one of the Twelve, otherwise known by his Greek name, Bartholomew. He is a link between the Old and the New Covenants, between the Israel which was the fig tree and the New Israel which was attached to the new Vine, Jesus Christ. "

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