Whence Knowest Thou Me  


Elder Mark D. Rowell

There is a great experience given to us in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. There is a personal nature of our Lord Jesus Christ that is brought out in the experience of Nathanael with the Lord that translates today to each of us who have had personal experiences of Grace between ourselves and the Lord.

To summarize the text (John 1:45-51), Philip was called to his discipleship by Jesus. Philip then went and found Nathanael (under a fig tree – which we learn about a bit later, and is vastly important to the experience) and said “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45) Nathanael’s response was quick, terse, and even a bit jaded: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, to which Philip replied, “Come and see.” (John 1:46)

So Nathanael joins Philip and goes to see the Lord. As he approaches, Jesus says “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47) Now we all agree that the Lord only speaks the truth, boldly most times, and that He exhibits no sarcasm and does not banter about with jokes. That being the case, we must also agree that the Lord’s statement concerning Nathanael was completely the truth with no underlying motives or agendas. Some might question why the Lord said what He said. However, there is a deep reason to this statement, and it was for Nathanael (at that time) and no one else (except us who have the joy of understanding this experience through Divinely inspired scripture.) BUT, the experience at hand was Nathanael’s and no others.

Nathanael’s response to this was “Whence knowest thou me?” Some might say this could translate to current vernacular as “Have we met before?”, but I would disagree. The word “whence” designates more so a place rather than a time. However, it can be held as both, such as the case here. A better translation would be “Where did we meet?” Why is this so important? The Lord clarifies that in the very next verse: “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.” Two things to notice: Jesus knew Philip had approached Nathanael, and, more importantly, that Nathanael was under a fig tree when it happened, and the Lord saw him there! Jesus was not bodily present when Philip approached Nathanael, however He was fully aware of the discussion that was had. But we still haven’t reached the apex of the experience of Nathanael, because there was something that happened that only Nathanael and the Lord knew about.
The place where Nathanael was is key to the whole picture. We know that underneath a vine or fig tree (or other tree for that matter) is where men of Israel would sit and meditate about scripture. It was a place that the Lord promised to Israel in Micah 4:4: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken.” Notice the possessive pronoun “his” with regard to the vine and the fig tree. This is a place for each man of Israel. It’s a special place where they are made to feel safe and to meditate on the Lord. Jonah had one to sit under, even when he was bitter that Nineveh repented at his preaching, to complain about how things worked out in his mind.

When Jesus saw Nathanael, and said he was an “…Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile,” it touched a nerve with Nathanael. He began to understand that the man he was looking at was more than meets the (natural) eye. Nathanael’s response is also telling to what happened under the fig tree (while Nathanael was meditating on scripture, and had an experience with the Lord.) He asked the Lord FROM WHERE do you know me! Nathanael already knew the answer! The experience he had with the Lord under the fig tree was brought out by the Lord’s statement! Remember, this was an experience between the Lord and Nathanael, so what the Lord said may not have made sense to Philip, or the others standing round about them, or even us today, but Nathanael sure knew what the Lord was talking about because of HIS experience with the Lord under the fig tree!

Nathanael’s response makes no sense if we try to interject opinion on spend time overanalyzing the interaction. Suffice it to say that the Lord visited Nathanael under the fig tree, and then Nathanael understood what happened as soon as the Lord said what He said to him as he approached him. How do we know? Look at Nathanael’s response: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” Nathanael KNEW who the Lord is as soon as he met him, and the Lord testified to their interaction under the fig tree.
There is so much more that could be said, but let me ask you a question: Do you have a fig tree? A place to go to meditate? A place of safety the Lord has provided you to have personal experiences with Him? I pray we ALL do! We know the church He has setup is a place where we collectively join together to worship Him. The church assembly we are exhorted not to forsake. But we also have place where the Lord meets us individually and sweetens our meditations, thoughts, and prayers. A place within our very souls where the Lord shows us that He IS the Son of God; that he IS the King of Israel. A place where we understand that He is our Saviour, and will guide us through this life, and receive us in death. Let’s go sit under our fig trees, and meditate on the greatness of our Lord!