There were two trees in the garden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Our understanding of the significance of these trees is important for an understanding of God’s purpose for His creation. The first, that of the knowledge of good and evil, is the one from which Adam and Eve were not to eat lest they die[1]. They were free to eat from all of the other trees including the tree of life. Think about it. Choose life and you have all that you need. Good and evil become irrelevant. But choose good and evil and suddenly you become conscious of the law. Adam and Eve chose the law, and with it, death. Banished from the garden, they were denied the opportunity to eat of the tree of life, and sentenced to death. Thus began the long journey of mankind from the garden to that other tree of life: the cross of Calvary, where new life was bought for each one of us.

There are also two trees in the gospel which Jesus uses to illustrate the plans and purposes that he has for us in the living of the new life. Firstly there is the mustard tree, of which I wrote in a previous entry[2]. Jesus gives an illustration that likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed which grows to be a spreading tree. The mustard tree, one of the larger, and more beautiful trees of the old Middle East, stands strong and separate. It becomes a place of attraction such that birds come and perch in its shade and even build their nests in its shelter. So, the Kingdom rises up alongside and among the systems of the world, offering a radically attractive, secure, and nourishing alternative to those systems. We, the people of the Kingdom, are encouraged to let our light so shine before men that they see our good works and worship our heavenly Father[3]. In the same way, the mustard tree illustrates the radiant Kingdom that shines in the world.

Secondly there is the fig tree and the multiple times which Jesus’ interactions with it teach us something. Jesus even says: Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.[4] He uses this illustration to encourage us that there are signs that in their precedence indicate an event is near. In this case he is speaking of his second coming, however we could equally point to the budding of the new shoots on any tree and say that they illustrate the growth of new life in our endeavors on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

It is this thought that I believe is worth connecting to the story of the call of Nathanael, found in John chapter 1. We read:

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”                       “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.                                               “Come and see,” said Philip.                                                                                                                              When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”                                                                                                                                                            “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.                                                                                                  Jesus answered, “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.”Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”[5]

A fig tree figures in this story, although it could have been any tree. Nathanael was sitting under it when Jesus first saw him. I have always been drawn to the personal nature of the call narrated here. Jesus saw Nathanael, before Nathanael knew him. And he saw enough of him to know that here was an upright man, an Israelite in whom there was no deceit. Jesus knew Nathanael just as our heavenly Father knows each one of us. It is a wonderful privilege for each one of us that God saw us before we even knew him. Just as He knew the prophet Jeremiah before he was in his mother’s womb[6]. I believe He has known each of us, and prepared works in advance for us to accomplish[7]. It becomes our responsibility to seek Him for His will for our lives, so that we may discern and then accomplish those works.

Nathanael then acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Lord has seen each one of us, and as we recognize Him, we acknowledge His Lordship over our lives and step out into the works of the Kingdom that He has prepared for us.

Jesus’ response to Nathanael indicates that he believed because Jesus first saw him. However He also tells him that he will see far greater things than that. The fig tree is a place of shade and, in season, a supply of fruit. Yet it also becomes a part of a story that illustrates the magnitude of the things that God wants to do through His people. It becomes inextricably linked to the mustard tree which illustrates the scope and size of the Kingdom.

Elsewhere, Jesus curses the fig tree[8] for not being fruitful, even out of season, but here the promise of fruitfulness in the Kingdom flows from an encounter with a future follower who was sitting under the fig tree.

May we always appreciate the lesson of the fig tree, and that of the mustard tree. May we also always choose the tree of life.

[1] Genesis 2:17


[3] Matthew 5:16

[4] Matthew 24:32

[5] John 1:45-50

[6] Jeremiah 1:5

[7] Ephesians 2:10

[8] Matthew 21:18-22

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