At first, Nathaniel didn’t seem to be buying Philip’s story, however reliable Philip might have been. This was just another day in a long string of days, weeks, and years, but Philip was telling this wild story about having found the Messiah. The text reads, “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.’”
In our day, Nathaniel might have said something like, “Seriously?” or “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Not only was Philip touting the coming of the Messiah but he claimed that this Messiah was coming out of Nazareth, an impoverished little town of no import with no cultural or economic relevance. Undeterred, Philip encouraged Nathaniel to come and see for himself. Philip knew that things would be different when Nathaniel came face to face with Jesus.
One can only imagine what Nathaniel was expecting, but he got the unexpected. First, Jesus hit his personality dead on the head, referring to him as an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Meaning what? Meaning that Nathaniel called it like he saw it, and as he saw it, nothing good could come out of Nazareth. Of course, how could Jesus have known that he had said that? Hmmm . . . .
So you might say that Nathaniel was not graced with political correctness, but then neither was Jesus. He called it like He saw it. Nathaniel was curious so he asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus explained that He had seen Nathaniel under the fig tree and, by implication, knew what he had said. The sarcastic and bigoted Nathaniel quickly changed his tune, now seeing in Jesus what Philip had seen. He is the Christ. Nathaniel no longer sees a man from Nazareth. He sees the Lord. Rabbi!
Now for the twist – Jesus tells Nathaniel that there is much more to come, much more to see, painting a very strange word picture of heaven opening and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, another description or title for Jesus. What’s that about? With this statement, Jesus was giving these men a glimpse of something that was going to happen by alluding to something that had happened. Hundreds of years before, Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, had a spiritual vision that is known as Jacob’s Ladder, revealed in Genesis 28. The ladder stretched from earth to heaven and the angels of God were ascending and descending on the ladder. It was at this time that God renewed His covenant with the nation of Israel through Jacob, promising that a great nation would emerge and that they would be the people of God.
Jesus Christ would experience a new kind of ladder and it wouldn’t be a vision. It would be a very real cross on which He would be crucified. He would become the connector, the ladder, between heaven and earth, bearing sin through death and yet being raised to life so that we can have eternal life. Nathaniel had no idea what he was in for.