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Nathanael is one of the most enigmatic characters found in the Gospels, and so it's no surprise that The Chosen Season 2 Episode 2 has adapted his story and sought to answer the question that readers of the Gospel of John have been asking for centuries: what exactly was Nathanael doing when Jesus saw him under the fig tree? In addition to exploring Nathanael's background, Episode 2 of The Chosen Season 2 also begins digging deeper into Matthew's character and his struggle fit in among the disciples. In both stories, the character of Philip (who in The Chosen is a disciple of John the Baptist) plays an important role as a kind of mentor/counselor, inviting Nathanael and Matthew to come and see the paradoxical Outside-In logic of the Kingdom of God and the meaningful role they can play in following the call of Jesus. All of this will be our focus in guiding your youth group through Episode 2 of The Chosen Season 2.
Intro: The Chosen Season 2 Episode 2: Nathanael & the Fig Tree
You can jump right into Scripture and ask your youth to read the following passage:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51 ESV)
Once you finish reading the passage, ask your youth:
What stuck out to you about the story?
What do you think Jesus was referring to when he said, "I saw you under the fig tree"? And why do you think that impressed Nathanael so much that he believed in Jesus?
After giving your students some space to discuss this question, explain:
This is actually a question that has baffled Bible readers and interpreters for many years.
Some Bible interpreters have pointed out that fig trees were associated with seasons when Israel flourished under the rule of a good king. For example, during the height of King Solomon's rule, the Bible tells us: "Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon" (1 Kings 4:25 ESV). So maybe Jesus mentions the fig tree to hint at how, as the Chosen Messiah, he will bring flourishing to God's Kingdom.
That might be one layer of what's happening, but it's hard to see why that would have impressed Nathanael as much as it did. He goes from being unimpressed because Jesus comes from the podunk town of Nazareth to giving a bold confession of belief in Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, which this story is from, we often see how Jesus knows the hearts and minds of others - and especially their struggles with sin . For example, when he meets the Samaritan Woman at the Well, he knows everything about her past failures with men. So, although John doesn't really explain to us what Jesus is referring to when he tells Nathanael that he saw him under the fig tree, this might be another instance of Jesus seeing into someone's soul.
In today's episode of The Chosen, we'll see one possible scenario explaining what was happening with Nathanael. Keep in mind that the creators of The Chosen don't have any information about Nathanael other than what we just read, so this is just what they imagine Nathanael's backstory is - but it's a pretty interesting story and it totally fits with what we would expect from Jesus.
Reviewing The Chosen So Far
Since the story of The Chosen has grown increasingly complex in Season 2, I think it's a good idea to regularly review some relevant information from previous episodes (especially since there's not a regular "previously on The Chosen" segment). Here are a few questions you might want to review (no need to take too long - just a quick recap):
How would you describe Matthew's character and personality? What has his life been like so far?
How did Simon and Matthew first come to know each other? What did Simon feel about Matthew? Why? Do you think he's gotten over that yet?
Who was John the Baptizer? Do you remember what happened to him back in Season 1? What was the connection between John the Baptizer and Andrew?
Viewing The Chosen Season 2 Episode 2
While watching The Chosen, I make occasional comments through the chat but I try to not do too much teaching. I want the youth to enjoy it and not just see The Chosen as an elaborate preaching illustration. For the most part, I just clarify who characters are and occasionally I briefly explained a reference or allusion that is confusing to my youth.
Discussing The Chosen Season 2 Episode 2: I Saw You
To begin your discussion, ask your youth:
What stuck out to you about the episode? Anything you have any questions about?
What did you think about the scenario that The Chosen created to explain what Jesus meant when he said, "When you were under the fig tree, I saw you"?
According to The Chosen, what is Jesus telling Nathanael when he says this? What is he trying to communicate?
Have you ever felt like you've messed up in a really big way like Nathanael? Did you feel like God was hiding his face from you and couldn't see you?
How do you think you would have felt if you were Nathanael in the final scene?
This is a good gospel moment to sit with and process with your youth. Feel free to jump in here and affirm God's embrace for your youth in the moments when they feel like they've destroyed their lives. Affirm that God can take us when we're at our absolute bottom and renew our sense of purpose and direction. After you've discussed this for a bit, I would share:
All his life, Nathanael felt called to design buildings that would bring God glory and he poured a lot of energy into pursuing that calling. When everything came crashing down as a result of his failure, it felt like God had let him down. In reality though, God used this failure to humble Nathanael and redirect his effort to building God's Kingdom.
After live-streaming the episode, Dallas Jenkins, director of The Chosen, shared with viewers that he based the story of Nathanael on his own story. Apparently he felt a life-long call to create movies and poured a lot of energy into pursuing that call. When everything came crashing down after a box office failure, he felt like God had let him down. But God actually ended up humbling Dallas through the experience and redirected his effort away from producing mainstream Hollywood movies to instead create The Chosen.
Of course, Nathanael isn't the only character who has had his life redirected in a radical way. Matthew experienced a similar story of transformation - but almost in the opposite direction. During Season One of The Chosen, his career was on the rise when Jesus showed up and called him in a radically different direction. And yet, even though he's been called to follow Jesus, Matthew is having a hard time fitting in with the other disciples.
Now ask your youth:
What did you notice about how Matthew is being treated by the other disciples of Jesus? What do you think is influencing how the various disciples are treating him? [Consider: Simon, Mary, & Philip esp.]
How do you think Matthew must feel, having given up his old life only to be rejected by some followers of Jesus because of his old life?
What was Philip trying to communicate to Matthew about Jesus? What did he mean when he drew a circle and talked about how they were both outside of the circle?
Could you imagine someone participated our youth group, only to feel rejected because of their past? What are some scenarios?
What do you think it would look like for this group to be a place where people "outside of the circle" feel like they can participate in a meaningful way?
Have these posts about The Chosen helped you understand The Chosen or explore it with your ministry or family? Would you consider giving a few bucks to support my work as a writer? It's really simple to do using my account on Buy Me a Coffee. Thanks so much!
If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 2***
James & John in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara