One night after midweek services at church a few years back, my then 12 year old came downstairs visibly upset. I asked him what was wrong and he said he knew we need to read the Bible as Christians, but it’s such a big book and always feels bad for not wanting to read it. I asked him if he would like to read the Bible together with me one chapter at a time. Without saying anything, he ran upstairs, grabbed his Bible, ran back down, and threw it in my lap. We ended up reading past the first couple of chapters and got to the point when Jesus was walking around Galilee recruiting the twelve.
One of the coolest stories I know in all of the gospels is when Jesus meets Nathanael. From a distance, Jesus shouted “Behold! An Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael, in essence, turns to Jesus, saying, “Do I know you, friend?” Jesus responded simply, “I saw you under the fig tree.” I’ve not heard a good explanation of what Jesus meant by this, but Nathanael certainly did because at that moment he got up without hesitation and followed Jesus.
I believe that something, at some point, had happened under a fig tree where Nathanael had an opportunity to be dishonest but was not. It was a moment where he thought he was alone, but Jesus somehow saw it all and chose to use it at a strategic point in Nathanael’s life. Jesus calling Nathanael by his name would have been enough to get his attention, but that’s not how Jesus does things. He did the same thing to the Ethiopian eunuch by referencing the most intimate wound of his life (Acts 8). When Jesus calls your name, it’s unmistakable, but he doesn’t stop there. He arrests the attention of those He loves by calling out a well hidden insecurity.
I shared with my son that night when we were reading that God loves us so much that He gives each of His kids nicknames. My dad gave me a nickname when I was 3 or 4, and still calls me Wormy, or Worm, to this day. I never minded him calling me that because it made me feel special. I took my son to another interesting passage in the book of Revelation about something similar that all Christians will experience.
“…To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone an inscription written which no one knows except him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17
This white stone has an inscription on it which only the giver and the receiver understand and I’m convinced this is our new name that God will give us in Heaven. God’s love flooded my senses in that moment when my son and I were reading that passage together. Jesus gave nicknames to his disciples. He called James and John the “sons of thunder”, Peter “little rock” (cephas), Thomas “the twin”, and I have to think that Nathanael’s nickname was figgy, or something like it.
I don’t know what our new nicknames in glory will be, but it will no doubt be something just as significant, symbolic, and intimate as Nathanael felt when Jesus mentioned the fig tree.