Little things mean a lot.
Nathanael couldn't figure out how Jesus knew who he was. They had never met, and Nathanael knew nothing at all about Jesus. Though he had no opinion about Jesus, Jesus had a high opinion of him, saying, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false" (John 1:47). That's high praise coming from Jesus who could spot hypocrisy a mile away. (Since he was the Son of God, distance didn't matter. He knew a hypocrite before he opened his mouth and made it official.)
Evidently Nathanael was a true believer among the ancient Israelites, a man patiently waiting for the coming of the Messiah. But how would he recognize him? In that day, as in our own day, there were many spiritual counterfeits. How could Nathanael know? Or how would the Messiah make himself known?
The answer is not hard to find.
Jesus revealed his divine knowledge of all things to Nathanael.
"I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you" (John 1:48).
Nathanael immediately comes to the proper conclusion: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel" (John 1:49). I feel like I can see Jesus smiling a bit as he replies to Nathanael's eager profession of faith. Here is how The Message renders Jesus' answer:
"You've become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven't seen anything yet! Before this is over you're going to see heaven open and God's angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again" (John 1:50-51).
God bless Nathanael. Though his faith was imperfect, he rested it on the right object, the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus says to him, "You will see greater things than this," meaning that Jesus himself is the one true way to God. He is the "door" to heaven (John 10:9 NASB) and anyone who enters through him will be saved forever.
So we see in this story Jesus commends the simple faith of an honorable man and then uses that "teachable moment" to reveal enormous spiritual truth that Nathanael would not have completely understood.
How good of our Lord to meet us where we are. He doesn't require that we pass a theology test in order to start on the "Jesus road." All he asks is that we trust him. What we don't know, he will teach us. What we need to know, we can learn from him. Here is hope for everyone who feels unworthy and unqualified to become a Christian. As someone has said, "I'd rather be six inches from hell heading toward heaven than six inches from heaven heading toward hell." Direction makes all the difference. Though a man live surrounded by darkness, if he is willing to follow the light of Christ, that light will shine in his heart.
Jesus never turns anyone away who truly wants to find him.