John spills a bit of ink describing a seemingly pointless detail about a Jew climbing up a fig tree and Philip calling him from below his fig tree:

[Jhn 1:48-50 KJV] (48) Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. (49) Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. (50) Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

Might this be related to the messianic prophecy in Zechariah?:

[Zec 3:8-10 CSB] (8) "Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your colleagues sitting before you; indeed, these men are a sign that I am about to bring my servant, the Branch. (9) "Notice the stone I have set before Joshua; on that one stone are seven eyes. I will engrave an inscription on it" ​-- ​this is the declaration of the LORD of Armies ​-- ​"and I will take away the iniquity of this land in a single day. (10) "On that day, each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree." This is the declaration of the LORD of Armies.

I notice that Luke also has Jesus calling Zacchaeus under a fig tree (sycamores are a kind of fig tree):

[Luk 19:1-10 CSB] (1) He entered Jericho and was passing through. (2) There was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. (3) He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because of the crowd, since he was a short man. (4) So running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, since he was about to pass that way. (5) When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house." (6) So he quickly came down and welcomed him joyfully. (7) All who saw it began to complain, "He's gone to stay with a sinful man." (8) But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, I'll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord. And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I'll pay back four times as much." (9) "Today salvation has come to this house," Jesus told him, "because he too is a son of Abraham. (10) "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost."

Another possibly relevant passage is:

[Rev 3:20 KJV] (20) Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

which I take to refer back to this:

[Gen 18:1-8 NLT] (1) The LORD appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. (2) He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground. (3) "My lord," he said, "if it pleases you, stop here for a while. (4) Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. (5) And since you've honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey." "All right," they said. "Do as you have said." (6) So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, "Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread." (7) Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. (8) When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

Also relevant:

[1Ki 4:25 KJV] (25) And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.

[Mic 4:4 KJV] (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 it.

  • Apart from the fig vs sycamore tree, I see very little parallel between these two passages. The common fig is "Ficus carica" for fruit is likely the species in Zechariah; but the plant in Luke is likely "Ficus sycomorus" - different plants. Therefore, struggle to a real parallel here.
    – user25930
    Mar 22, 2019 at 19:58
  • What does the Hebrew have?
    – Ruminator
    Mar 22, 2019 at 20:26
  • The Hebrew has the word תְּאֵנִים (teenah) meaning the species "Ficus carica" as distinct from שִׁקְמִים (shiqmah) meaning "Ficus sycomorus" (eg, 1 Kings 10:27). The LXX has the same distinction between the two types of tree and fruit. ("sukon" vs "sukomorea"). Zech 3:10 has "sukon" in LXX.
    – user25930
    Mar 23, 2019 at 8:31
  • I am now unsure what you are asking.
    – user25930
    Mar 24, 2019 at 7:56
  • Can you please provide a link showing that תְּאֵנִים specifies the species? Thanks. It seems to not specify the species and if so, it means the Hebrew, LXX and John, in the parallel, have "fig". In Luke's version the tree is further specified but it is still a "fig tree" so it still works for my purposes.
    – Ruminator
    Mar 24, 2019 at 12:12

3 Answers 3


If we look at this and compare Zacchaeus with the young man who could not give up his wealth to follow Jesus, we may note a interesting counterpoint: a good person who does not need Jesus enough to change his life, and a sinner who desperately needs Jesus and is willing to make major changes, and to make sacrifices to get whats most important to him.

I think this story illustrates the dangers of a complacent life. Jesus here is pointing to Zacchaeus and giving us an example of someone who has found a treasure in a field and is selling everything he owns to buy that field.

Jesus further says that He has come to "save the lost." The ones searching for something more. The people who already think they have it all will continue on their way and will not be interested in following Jesus or willing to make any sacrifices that may be necessay.


In the OT, the private fig tree was a symbol of one's home and relative prosperity as seen in 1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4, Zech 3:10.

Thus, in John 1:48, 50 we find Nathaniel, a pious and praying man expecting Messiah, is meditating under his own fig tree. In this respect, Nathaniel's calling to be an apostle of Jesus, has some similarities with the calling of Peter - a successful businessman (fisherman) who left his earthly life/vocation, employees and a large (lucrative) catch of fish to follow Jesus. (Contrast the rich ruler who refused to leave his wealth and follow Jesus, Luke 18:23.)

Thus, it appears that at least some of Jesus' disciples were (financially) comfortable but left their comfortable live, "forsook all" (Luke 5:11) to follow Jesus. They also recognised Jesus enough to do this. Levi Matthew (the wealthy tax collector) also had a similar experience. Zacchaeus was also similar.


Short Answer

Zechariah was predicting that the time of the Messiah would be characterized by an infectious joy among God's servants.

In scripture, fruit trees are symbols of joy. When men are sad the trees languish:

[Joe 1:12 KJV] (12) The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.

As sad saints mean unhappy trees, so happy saints means happy trees:

[Isa 55:12-13 KJV] (12) For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (13) Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

This joy will be a spiritual joy produced supernaturally, not from circumstances:

[Hab 3:17-18 NKJV] (17) Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls-- (18) Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Paul speaks of joy as being one of the characteristics of the workings of the spirit of God in the regenerate believers (Galatians 5:22). See also:

[Psa 104:34 KJV] (34) My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD. [Psa 119:103 KJV] (103) How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! [Psa 141:6 KJV] (6) When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet. [Pro 16:24 KJV] (24) Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. [Sng 2:3, 14 KJV] (3) As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. ... (14) O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.

But in addition to the personal joy of the saint, Zechariah describes the spiritual joy in messianic times as "contagious". People will seek out their neighbors to enjoy the sweetness of the Lord's spirit together:

Here a woman enthusiastically proclaims to all who will listen how the Messiah knew and told her all about her secret sins!:

[Jhn 4:28-30 NLT] (28) The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, (29) "Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?" (30) So the people came streaming from the village to see him.

Quite a testimony!

But what about Zacchaeus? Well first let's drop in on Jesus' visit with Nicodemus. In this interchange Jesus speaks of spiritual things in earthly terms but Nicodemus, a prominent teacher of Israel finds his simple illustrations out of reach:

[Jhn 3:8-12 KJV] (8) The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (9) Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? (10) Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (11) Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. (12) If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

So Jesus makes plain that Nicodemus is spiritually blind. Despite rising in the ranks as a Jewish scholar he cannot for the life of him grasp spiritual truths. Those born of the spirit are as untraceable as the wind.

This touches on a HUGE theme of the NT and that is that the Jewish leadership was hardened to the gospel by God for his own purposes:

[Jhn 12:40 KJV] (40) He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

Okay, so now we can more fully appreciate the complete opposite in Zacchaeus. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night but Zacchaeus "ran in front of the crowd" in order to see Jesus. All Jesus said to him was "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house" and instantly the already primed Zacchaeus believed, understood that his sins were gone, his goods were not his own, he obeyed and came down to fix dinner and he had JOY!:

[Luk 19:6 KJV] (6) And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

Jesus marvels, or at least calls attention to how like opening a bottle of soda that has been shaken is Zacchaeus' faith because it is "living water springing up within him".

Jesus confirms that Zacchaeus has entered into God's grace by faith:

[Luk 19:6 KJV] (6) And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

So I see in the account of Zacchaeus a testimony to the revelatory power of the gospel:

[Rom 1:16 KJV] (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

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