The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  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.”  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”  Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘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 heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)
When Nathanael asks Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus responds with something that only an omniscient God could know: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Fig trees were more than just ordinary trees to the people of Israel.
In the Old Testament, when God was angry, he would punish his people by destroying their fig trees. On the other hand, sitting under a fig tree was a way of expressing contentment.
1 Kings 4:25 “And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon.”
Micah 4:4 “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”
The fig tree statement, coupled with Jesus’ compliment of Nathanael when he first meets him, made Nathanael forget all about his initial disdain for Jesus. He no longer looked down on Jesus because he was from Nazareth, he confesses Jesus as the Son of God, the King of Israel.
Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see even greater things than what he has already seen. Nathanael would see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. As one of Jesus’ chosen disciples, Nathanael did go on to see amazing things. He was a witness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Jesus could have just as easily responded to Nathanael with the words from Psalm 139:
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)
Jesus could have said to Nathanael, “I saw you when you first appeared in the womb of your mother. I was there for your birth, your youth, every day of your life. I’ve seen them all.” That is how completely God knew Nathanael. That is how completely God knows us.
The phrase, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance,” is used by both sides of the abortion debate. On one hand, the people who favor abortion say that when we are in our mother’s wombs we are just a blob of tissue. And they would have Scripture to back them up. When we are first in our mothers’ wombs we are an unformed substance.
Those of us on the other side of the abortion debate say, “Yes, when we are first in our mothers’ wombs we are just a blob of tissue, but it clearly says that even then God sees us. And then look at the rest of the verse: “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Since God already knows us before we are born, at the earliest stages of our development, to destroy life inside the womb is to destroy God’s plan. And as our modern ultrasound imaging has shown, we don’t stay as blobs of tissue for very long. The different parts of our bodies form very quickly inside the womb. The most common reason for people changing their minds on abortion is that they realize that, after a few short weeks inside the womb, unborn children are not blobs of tissue but are actual babies.
We could all ask the same question that Nathanael asks Jesus, “God, how do you know me?”
First, God knows we exist from day one. His eyes see our unformed substance. Second, he has a plan for our lives. These two things cannot be separated. If God knows us he has a plan for us. There is no one that God knows for whom he does not have a plan and God knows everyone.
Even if we are just sitting under a fig tree, minding our own business, God sees us and has a plan for us.
But there was a problem. God knew his plans for us could not be fulfilled if we still were hindered by sin and death. So he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and rise again so that sin and death could not interfere with God’s plan for us.
God’s plan for us also is to see heaven opened and to see the angels and ascending and descending on Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Israel and our blessed Lord and Savior.