• Verbs are all present continuous - he is coming, he is setting
• The ascending ones and the descending ones
• Joseph’s personality and morals at this moment of God’s blessing! At this stage he is outcast and also bereft of the protection of the tribe – sleeping alone is dangerous.
• Is God standing beside you while you sleep?
Philip uses same words as Jesus – there is a lot of ‘perceiving’ going on here. More than just ‘seeing’
Perceiving – has to do with physical sensitivity, vision of light and knowledge. Synonyms – experience, insight and recognition - responsive, alive to, discern, recognise, discover, witness,
It’s about bringing people to Jesus.
Can anything good come – is this prejudice or trembling hope?
A true Israelite – see John 2:24-25 ‘he knew what was in a man’. But also Jesus himself is the true Israelite (NIV notes)
Magnet – iron filings story (not dominos!)
We are all no better than Jacob
• They ask John about himself – he replies about Jesus
• John is kick-starting the process – making people take stock of themselves
Ideas from Commentaries (www.textweek)
FROM 2000 David Guzik commentary:
• Under the fig tree, I saw you: It is possible Nathanael liked to pray and meditate on the things of the Lord under the shade of an actual fig tree. But under the fig tree was a phrase Rabbis used to describe meditation on the Scriptures. Nathanael was spending time with the Lord, meditating on the Scriptures, and Jesus tells him "I saw you" there.
• You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man: Jesus promises Nathanael a greater sign than he has seen before. But what does He mean by the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man?
i. This probably connects with the dream of Jacob in Genesis 28:12, where Jacob saw a ladder from earth to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending upon it. Jesus says that He is the ladder, the link, between heaven and earth. When Nathanael comes to understand that Jesus is the mediator between God and man, it will be an even greater sign (you will see greater things than these).
ii. This seems like rather obscure reference, but it was extremely meaningful to Nathanael. Possibly, it was the very portion of Scripture Nathaniel meditated on under the fig tree.
• This section of John shows four ways of coming to Jesus:
- Andrew came to Jesus because of the preaching of John.
- Peter came to Jesus because of the witness of his brother.
- Phillip came to Jesus as a result of the direct call of Jesus.
- Nathaniel came to Jesus as he overcame personal prejudices by a personal encounter with Jesus.
• This section shows us four different witnesses testifying to the identity of Jesus. How much more testimony does anyone need?
- John the Baptist testified that Jesus is eternal, that He is the man uniquely anointed with the Holy Spirit, that He is the Lamb of God, and that Jesus is the unique Son of God.
- Andrew testified that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
- Phillip testified that Jesus is the One prophesied in the Old Testament.
- Nathaniel testified that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel.
Augustine's Tractates on John: Tractate VII (1:34-51).: "We must inquire whether this fig-tree signifies anything. Listen, my brethren. We find the fig-tree cursed because it had leaves only, and not fruit.  In the beginning of the human race, when Adam and Eve had sinned, they made themselves girdles of fig leaves. Fig leaves then signify sins. Nathanael then was under the fig-tree, as it were under the shadow of death."
B.W. Johnson, 1891: "Nathanael, who had never met Jesus before, was surprised to hear himself spoken of as one known."
"Found by Jesus, and Finding Jesus," John 1:43-45, Charles H. Spurgeon, 1894: "For a soul to come to Jesus, is the grandest event in its history."
Gilberto Ruiz (Assistant Professor, Loyola University New Orleans):
• Nathanael is sceptical, however. The difficulty for Nathanael is less that someone who fulfils the messianic expectations set by the Jewish Scriptures has emerged than it is that this person is the “son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nothing is said in the Scriptures about the messiah’s origins in the humble Galilean village of Nazareth.
• Bethlehem would be a more appropriate place for his origins (Micah 5:2), as the synoptic infancy narratives maintain. The Gospel of John says nothing of Jesus’ ties to Bethlehem because in the theology of the Fourth Gospel, neither Nazareth nor Bethlehem speaks to Jesus’ true origins, which is with God in heaven (1:1, 14).
• When they meet, Jesus lauds Nathanael as “truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” because Nathanael had accepted the invitation to “come and see” without letting his own initial prejudice get in the way of seeking Jesus.7 This sets Nathanael apart from other descendants of Jacob -- the patriarch also named “Israel” who was famous for his deceitfulness (Genesis 27:35) -- who deny the possibility of seeing Jesus as the Messiah because he does not meet their preconceived expectations of who the Messiah is supposed to be.
• One of the disciples receiving this invitation in verse 39 is never named. He represents us, John’s readers who, like the named disciples in this passage, are invited to see for ourselves how the divine may surprise us, transform us, and upend the prejudices and categories with which we expect to encounter God in the world.
W. Hall Harris III is Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and is also the Project Director and Managing Editor for the NET Bible (New English Translation):
• Nazareth wasn’t a good place to put on your Curriculum Vitae as your place of origin. In fact if there was Facebook back then, you wouldn’t acknowledge that you were from there on any social media. Nazareth was a dump. It didn’t feature in any Old Testament prophecies. No great personage had come from there. It wasn’t the seat of any power and no great families hailed from Nazareth. It was a simple backwater town. No great schools, colleges, universities. There was nothing. Nazareth was nowhere. Jesus came from Nazareth.
• Standing under your own fig tree is a symbol of comfort and blessing in the language of the Old Testament. Again and again the prophets used the image to evoke feelings of longing for peace and consolation. To be under your fig tree was to be home and arrived. Nathanael was standing in that space.
• Nathanael’s inquiry and Jesus’ reply take on a bit of added significance in the Greek: Nathanael literally asks, from where (Πόθεν) do you know me? And Jesus answers, “from under the fig tree.”
• Full text below
4 C Nathanael and his confession (1:45-51)
1:45 Nathanael is traditionally identified with Bartholomew (although John never describes him as such). He appears here after Philip, while in all lists of the 12 except in Acts 1:13, Bartholomew follows Philip. Also, Bar-tolmai refers to the “son of Tolmai,” the surname; the man almost certainly had another name.
1:46 This is possibly a local proverb expressing jealousy among the towns.
1:47 “in whom is no guile” —what provoked Jesus to render this observation? Supernatural insight? More likely, perhaps, Nathanael’s willingness to believe when shown.
1:48-49 Nathanael’s inquiry and Jesus’ reply take on a bit of added significance in the Greek: Nathanael literally asks, from where (Πόθεν) do you know me? And Jesus answers, “from under the fig tree.”
Many have speculated about what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. Meditating on the Messiah who was to come? A good possibility, since the fig tree was used as shade for teaching or studying by the later rabbis (Midrash Rabbah on Eccles. 5:11). Also, the fig tree was symbolic for messianic peace and plenty—Mic 4:4, Zech 3:10.
In any case, it seems to me that what impressed Nathanael was that Jesus was aware that he had been there. Perhaps there was some special experience he had had with God there, and what Jesus said implied that Jesus was [supernaturally] aware of it.
Seemingly, only something as striking as this would be sufficient to evoke the confession of 1:49.
What is the significance of the confession Nathanael makes? Probably, it is a confession of Jesus’ messiahship. It has strong allusions to Ps 2:6-7, a well-known Messianic Psalm.
1:50 “You shall see greater things than these”—what are the greater things Jesus has in mind? In the narrative this forms an excellent foreshadowing of the sign-miracles which begin at Cana of Galilee.
1:51 Note the plural uJmi'n. Many relate it to Jacob’s dream in Gen 28:12, where the angels and ladder represent divine communion with man. But this is consummated in the Word become Flesh. Jesus himself is the point of contact between heaven and earth. It is probably better to understand the phrase as a figurative way of saying that Jesus will be the revealer of heavenly things to men. Angels are divine messengers, and now the Messiah’s presence marks the beginning of new comings and goings between heaven and earth. [Note: Jesus as the revealer of heavenly things to men is another important theme of John’s Gospel, cf. 3:12,13.]
There is special emphasis here on Jesus’ heavenly glory and the salvation he came to bring to men. John uses the title Son of Man (ὁ Υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) 13 times in his Gospel. It is associated especially with the themes of crucifixion (3:14; 8:28), revelation (6:27; 6:53), and eschatological authority (5:27; 9:39).57