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In John 1:49, it is written,

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!NKJV, 1982

ΜΘʹ ἀπεκρίθη Ναθαναήλ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ Ῥαββί σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ TR, 1550

What is the basis for Nathanel's proclamation? What prompted him to say such a thing?

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Here is a quote from the Net Bible:

Nathanael’s confession – You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel – is best understood as a confession of Jesus’ messiahship. It has strong allusions to Ps 2:6-7, a well-known messianic psalm. What Nathanael’s exact understanding was at this point is hard to determine, but “son of God” was a designation for the Davidic king in the OT, and Nathanael parallels it with King of Israel here.

So it appears to be saying it is a confession by Nathanael to Jesus' messiahship.

  • I believe the point of the question is not whether he recognized him as the LORD's Anointed but rather why he recognized him as such simply because Jesus said he saw him under the fig tree. -1 – Ruminator Mar 25 '19 at 13:48
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I was always bothered by this sudden "turn around". How did Nathaniel get from a sarcastic "What good thing ever came out of Nazareth?" to a reverent "You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!" so quickly? The Lord's casual observation, "I saw you sitting under the fig tree" seems woefully insufficient to effect such a change in thought. So what if Jesus had spotted him "meditating under fig tree earlier that day", as many commentaries suggest?

But then I came across the following reference to a 10th century document in Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible stating:

"It is said of Nathanael, in the Syriac dictionary that his mother laid him under a fig tree, when the infants were slain" (i.e. at Bethlehem) which, if it could be depended upon, must be to Nathanael a surprising and undeniable proof of the deity of Christ, and of his being the true Messiah; since, at that time, he was an infant of days himself, and was the person Herod was seeking to destroy, as the Messiah, and king of the Jews

NOW it makes sense! If Nathaniel were spared Herod's slaughter, then told of it as he grew by his mother, who else would easily know of it? Yet Jesus easily revealed this treasured childhood incident, displaying a level of knowledge that could only have one origin; omniscience! This MUST therefore be the Son of the Most High, and brought about an immediate about face in Nathaniel's estimation of the Nazarene's credentials.

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As @Greek2Me said above, it would be illogical to interpret "Son of God" of John 1:49 as @seedy3 does, as simply believing that Jesus is the Messiah and king of ordinary Jewish expectations - just a political leader to liberate and exalt Jewish nation. Why?

Because, what Nathanael witnesses is something extraordinary: a man, who is from Nazareth, and who thus deserves his utmost skeptical and even suspicious attitude as an impostor falsely claiming Messiaship about himself, tells him something which only he, Nathanael could know, namely, his inner core, his inner uprightness, integrity and lack of any double-dealing ("a true Israelite in whom is no deception"). In fact, Nathanael could have thought that this possible impostor simply praises him for winning his good disposition and not really knowing him, and that's why he checked Jesus: "how do you know me?" The response of Jesus blew his mind, for this response (whatever good and beautiful apocrypha exists there, does not matter, for even John's text itself is sufficient for delivering the point) entailed the proof that Jesus really knew his heart's core, his inner thoughts and dispositions, for in "I saw you", is not implied a physical sight, for you can see a person physically and will still be totally unable to know what is in his heart, but in the "saw" is implied that He saw Nathanael's heart, his thoughts while he was standing under the fig. Of course, fig is clad with semantics of Adam and Eve's expulsion from paradise, for they covered their nakedness with fig leaves, and it is justifiable to opine that perhaps Nathanael was thinking like "will the Messiah only reinstate the Kingdom of Israel, or will a true Messiah also introduce an ontological change for all mankind as to lead us back to paradise?" But even if this is a plausible and theologically justified over-interpretation of or eisegesis in the text, we cannot be sure of its objectivity on the given textual basis itself. But what is sure, Nathanael got convinced that Jesus has an authority on His own ("I saw you" and not "God revealed to me" or "angel whispered to me" etc.) to know human hearts, and this is a prerogative not of any even of the highest-ranking angels, but only of God (cf. Psalm 94:11; 1 Kings 8:39 etc.) and the one who is equal to God in nature, and exactly this equality and perfect unity of nature is implied in the appellation "Son of God", for as "son of human" is 100% human in nature, so also "Son of God" is 100% God in nature, with a difference that human begets a son in a process, but in God's nature there is no process, and thus God's Son is eternally so.

Therefore, the phrase "ῥαββί, σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" is a declaration of divinity of Jesus.

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