The New Testament is filled with rich, enigmatic stories that can only be properly understood if kept in their cultural context. John 1 contains one such story.
After Yeshua called Philip to follow Him, Philip immediately became a fisher of men himself and went to share the news of the Messiah’s coming with Nathanael. When Yeshua saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael’s response was one of surprise. He realized that Yeshua had an intimate knowledge of who he was. Yeshua saw beyond his exterior; Yeshua read his heart.
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Yeshua answered Nathanael with these words:
“I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
This verse may lead one to believe that Nathanael was doing something very secretive underneath that tree. Something he didn’t want anyone to know anything about. However, this isn’t the case at all!
If one dives into the Hebrew roots and culture of that time and understands this passage from a Jewish perspective, John 1:48 makes beautiful and perfect sense.
In those days, it was customary for rabbinical students to pray under the fig tree. Those studying the law under the fig trees were taught to pray while they were under the tree. They were also taught to pray for the coming of the Messiah because the rabbis believed that if one hadn’t prayed for the coming of the Messiah under the fig tree, one hadn’t prayed at all.
Nathanael knew that Yeshua was Who had been praying for under that tree.
For more insight on the Jewish roots of the scripture HERE is a great resource!