The twelve apostles included “Bartholomew [Nathanael]” (Matt. 10:3).
God knows your heart and will honor your search for truth.
Despite Nathanael’s prejudice, Jesus knew he was an honest, sincere Jewish believer in whom there was no religious hypocrisy or deceit (John 1:47). He truly sought after God and looked forward to the Messiah’s coming.
Most of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day believed that every circumcised descendant of Abraham was a true Jew and a beneficiary of the Abrahamic Covenant. But in Romans 2:28–29 Paul explains that salvation is an issue of the heart, not of national origin: “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart.” Nathanael was such a man.
He was shocked when Jesus described him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47) because they had never met before. He was equally shocked when Jesus said He saw him under a fig tree because Jesus was nowhere near that tree. Nathanael immediately realized that Jesus was omniscient—He knew everything! That’s why he exclaimed, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (v. 49). He had found the Messiah for whom he had searched so long!
The Lord’s mention of the fig tree is significant. In that region fig trees were commonly used as a source of shade and outdoor shelter. Many of the houses in Palestine had only one room, so fig trees became a place to be alone for prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Quite possibly Nathanael was under the fig tree searching the Scriptures and communing with God when Jesus saw his open heart and his desire to find the Messiah. Jesus personally answered Nathanael’s prayer.
When Jesus looks into your heart, does He see a true believer in whom there is no hypocrisy? Nathanael wasn’t perfect, but he loved God and was a diligent student of the Word. And the Lord did great things through him. I pray that is true of you as well.
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask the Spirit to reveal and deal with any hypocrisy you might be harboring. ✧ Ask God to increase your desire and capacity to know and love Him.
For Further Study: Memorize Romans 12:1–2 as a defense against hypocrisy.
|The Master’s Men—Part 3: Philip, Bartholomew (Nathanael)
Philip and Bartholomew; (10:3a)
The second group of four disciples begins with Philip, as it does in the other listings (Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), probably indicating he was its leader. This Philip is not to be confused with the deacon who became a prominent evangelist in the early days of the church (see Acts 6:5; 8:4–13, 26–40).
All of the twelve were Jews, but many used both Greek and Jewish names. It is not known what this disciple’s Jewish name was, because Philip (a Greek name meaning “lover of homes”) is the only name used of him in the New Testament. It was possibly due to his name that the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus came to Philip first (John 12:20–21).
Philip’s hometown was the northern Galilee town of Bethsaida, where Peter and Andrew also lived. Because they were all God-fearing Jews and probably were all fishermen (see John 21:2–3), it seems certain that Peter, Andrew, Philip and Bartholomew not only were acquaintances but were close friends even before Jesus called them.
As with Andrew, the first three gospels make no mention of Philip except in listings of the apostles, and all that is revealed about him is found in the fourth gospel.
It can be surmised from John’s account that Philip was already a devout man. The day after Jesus called Peter and Andrew, “He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip, and Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me’ ” (John 1:43). Although John, Andrew, and Peter had taken up with Jesus as soon as they realized He was the Messiah (vv. 35–42), Philip was the first person to whom the Lord expressly said, “Follow Me.”
God had already given Philip a seeking heart. Salvation is always on the sovereign Lord’s initiative, and no one comes to Jesus Christ unless God the Father draws him (John 6:44, 65). But God planted the desire in Philip’s heart to find the Messiah even before Jesus called him. Philip therefore said to Nathanael (or Bartholomew), “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (1:45). From the perspective of divine sovereignty, the Lord found Philip, but from the perspective of human understanding and volition, Philip had found the Lord. Both the divine and human wills will be in accord when salvation takes place. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and it is those who truly seek Him who find Him (Luke 7:7–8; cf. Jer. 29:13). God seeks and finds the hearts of those who genuinely seek Him.
From his comments to Nathanael, it seems that Philip must have been diligently studying the Scriptures to learn God’s will and plan. God’s promised Messiah was central on his mind, and when he was introduced to the Messiah, he immediately acknowledged and accepted Him. Using His written Word, God had prepared Philip’s heart. From the scriptural record we know of no human agent who was instrumental in Philip’s calling or commitment. Jesus simply walked up to Him and said, “Follow Me.” Philip’s heart and eyes and ears were spiritually attuned, and when he heard Jesus’ call he knew it was from God. We can only imagine the excitement and joy that filled his soul at that moment.
The genuineness of Philip’s faith is seen not only in the fact the he immediately recognized and accepted the Messiah but in the reality that he also promptly began to serve Christ by telling others of Him. As soon as Jesus called him, Philip found Nathanael and told him he had found the Messiah.
One of the certain marks of genuine conversion is the desire to tell others of the Savior. The new believer who is baptized as a public testimony of his new relationship to Jesus Christ often has a spontaneous desire to use that occasion to witness for the Lord. The believer who has not left his first love for the Lord inevitably has a loving desire to witness to those who do not know Him.
Because Philip already cared about his friend Nathanael, it was natural to communicate to him the most profound and joyous discovery of his life. In every listing of the twelve, Philip and Nathanael are together, and it is likely they had been close friends for many years before they met Jesus.
Second, we learn from John’s gospel that Philip had a practical, analytical mind. When Jesus faced the great crowd of people who had followed Him to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, He knew they were tired and hungry and that few of them had made provision for eating. He therefore “said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?’ ” (John 6:5). Philip had seen Jesus perform many miracles, including the turning of water into wine (John 2:1–11), but at this time his only thoughts were of the practical problems involved in Jesus’ suggestion. In addition to the 5,000 men (6:10), it is not unrealistic to assume that there were an equal number of women and several times that many children.
Judging from Philip’s response, it may have been that he was normally in charge of getting food for Jesus and his fellow disciples, just as Judas was in charge of the group’s money. He therefore would have known how much food they usually ate and how much it cost. But Jesus had a special purpose in asking Philip about the food. “And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself! knew what He was intending to do” (v. 6). If Jesus had asked about buying food only for the thirteen men in their own group, the answer would have been simple and practical, and Philip could quickly have given the answer. But he should have realized that, in His asking about feeding the entire multitude, Jesus’ question went far beyond the practical and implied the impossible.
But Philip took the question at its practical face value and immediately began to calculate an answer based on his own experience. Making a rough estimate, he concluded that “two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (v. 7). A denarii represented the daily wage of an average Palestinian worker, and even if two hundred of them were collacted from the crowd or taken from the disciples’ treasury, that amount could not buy enough bread even to give the multitude a snack.
Philip’s response was sincere, but it revealed a lack of consideration for Jesus’ supernatural provision. He was face to face with the Son of God, but he could see no further than the practical, physical dilemma. There was no prospect of a solution from the human standpoint, and that is all he considered. He was so engrossed in the material situation that he completely lost sight of God’s power.
It has been noted that the supreme essential of a great leader is a sense of the possible. Like most people, however-including perhaps most believers-Philip only had a sense of the impossible. He did not yet understand that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; cf. Mark 9:23).
It would seem that, after having seen Jesus perform so many miracles, Philip’s immediate response would have been, “Lord, You made the water into wine, stilled the storm, and have healed every kind of disease. Why bother trying to buy so much food when all You have to do is say the word and create the food necessary to feed all these people?”
Philip failed Jesus’ test of faith because he was too taken up with his own understanding and abilities. He was methodical and full of practical common sense; but those virtues, helpful as they often are, can be an obstacle to the immeasurably greater virtue of trusting God for what is impractical. Facts and figures are a poor substitute for faith.
Third, we learn from John’s gospel that Philip was not forceful and was inclined to be indecisive. Although he was not a member of the inner circle, Philip had access to Jesus on his own. But when “certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast … came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus,’ ” Philip decided to take them first to Andrew (12:20–22).
Philip knew that Jesus healed the Gentile centurion’s servant and accepted the half-Gentile Samaritans who came to Him for salvation, yet he seems to have been uncertain about whether it was proper to introduce these Gentiles to the Lord. He may have been thinking of the temporary instruction Jesus gave when He first sent the disciples out on their own: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5–6). Natural Jewish prejudice made that an easy command to obey, and Philip may have thought the restriction was still in effect. But he did not ignore the Greeks’ request and at least made the effort to consult Andrew.
Fourth, we discover from John’s gospel that Philip lacked spiritual perception This deficiency was evident in his failing Jesus’ test in regard to feeding the multitude, and it was even more pronounced when, almost three years later, he said to Jesus at the Last Supper, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (John 14:8). It must have grieved Jesus deeply to hear such a question, and He replied, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves” (vv. 9–11).
After three years of learning at Jesus’ feet, Philip’s spiritual perception still seemed almost nil. Neither Jesus’ words nor His works had brought Philip to the understanding that Jesus and His Father were one. After gazing for three years into the only face of God men will ever see, he still did not comprehend who he was seeing. He had missed the main truth of Jesus’ teaching, that He was God incarnate.
Yet the Lord used that man of limited vision and trust. Philip was slow to understand and slow to trust. He was more at home with physical facts than with spiritual truth. Yet, along with the other apostles, Jesus assured him of a throne from which he would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28) Philip was pessimistic, insecure, analytical, and slow to learn; but tradition tells us that he ultimately gave his life as a martyr for the Lord he so often disappointed and who so patiently taught and retaught him. It is reported that he was stripped naked, hung upside down by his feet, and pierced with sharp stakes in his ankles and thighs, causing him slowly to bleed to death. He is said to have asked not to be shrouded with linen after he was dead, because he felt unworthy to be buried as was his Lord.
Bartholomew means “son [Aramaic, bar] of Tolmai.” He was much different from Philip, his close friend and companion with whom he is always paired in the New testament. The first three gospels refer to him only as Bartholomew but John always as Nathanael, which may have been his first name. The short account of John 1:45–51 is the only place this apostle is mentioned in the New Testament outside the four listings of the twelve.
Bartholomew came from Cana of Galilee and was brought to the Lord by his friend Philip. As soon as Philip discovered Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, he “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’ ” (John 1:45).
Philip’s words imply that, like himself, Nathanael was a student of Scripture, a seeker after divine truth and well acquainted with the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. A further implication seems to be that these two men were partners in Scripture study, having examined the Old Testament together for many years. In any case, it is clear from Philip’s statement that he knew Nathanael would immediately know whom he was talking about. They both hungered for God’s truth and earnestly sought the coming of the anticipated Messiah.
But Nathanael was affected by prejudice. Instead of judging Jesus by what He said and did, Nathanael stumbled over the fact that He was from Nazareth, a town with a notably unsavory reputation. It was an unrefined, rowdy place that hosted many foreign travelers. Nathanael’s question, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (v. 46), was probably a common expression of derision among the Jews of Galilee.
Prejudice is an unwarranted generalization based on feelings of superiority, and it can be a powerful obstacle to the truth. Herbert Lockyer points out that in his allegory The Holy War, John Bunyan depicts Christ (called Emmanuel) invading and holding the life of a person (represented as the town Mansoul). During the course of the siege on Mansoul, Emmanuel’s forces attack Eargate. But Diabolus (Satan) sets up a formidable guard called “Old Mr. Prejudice, an angry and ill-conditioned fellow who has under his power sixty deaf men” (All the Apostles of the Bible [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972], p. 60).
The nature of prejudice is to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to any truth that does not fit its preconceived and cherished ideas. Consequently, it is a common and powerful weapon of Satan By appealing to various prejudices he often succeeds in getting a person to reject the gospel even before learning what it is really about. The prejudices of their man-made traditions blinded many Jews to the true teaching of their Scriptures and thereby led them to reject Jesus as the Messiah-despite His clear demonstrations of divine power and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Fortunately, Nathanael’s prejudice was tempered by his genuine desire to know God’s truth. He agreed to Philip’s suggestion (“Come and see”) and went to meet Jesus for himself (v. 46b-47a).
From the mouth of Jesus we learn still other characteristics of Nathanael. As Nathanael approached, Jesus said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (v. 47b). Alēthōs (“indeed”) was a word of strong affirmation by which Jesus declared Nathanael to be the kind of man God intended His chosen people to be. He was a Jew in the truest spiritual sense, “a Jew who is one inwardly, … [whose] praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom. 2:29). He was not merely a physical descendant of Abraham but, more important, a Jew in the true covenant with God, a spiritual descendant, a child of promise (see Rom. 9:6–8).
Not only was Nathanael a genuine, spiritualual but he was, by the Lord’s own testimony, a man “in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47c). He was a genuine Jew and a genuine person. He had no deceit or duplicity, no hypocrisy or phoniness. That characteristic alone set him far apart from most of his countrymen, especially the self-righteous and hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, whose very names Jesus used as synonyms for religious and moral hypocrisy (Matt. 23:13–15, 23, 25, 27).
Nathanael had reflected the common prejudice of the time, but his heart was right and won out over his head. His prejudice was not strong and it quickly withered in the light of truth. What an astoundingly wonderful commendation to be described by the Lord Himself as “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
Nathanael’s response to Jesus’ commendation reflected its appropriateness. He did not swell up with pride at the compliment but wondered how Jesus could speak with such certainty about the inner life of a person He had never met. “How do You know me?” he asked (John 1:48). “How do You know what I am really like on the inside?” he was asking. “How do You know that I truly seek to follow God and that my life is not hypocritical?” Because of his genuine humility, Nathanael may have been inclined to doubt Jesus’ judgment and think His comments were mere flattery.
But Jesus’ next words removed any doubts Nathanael may have had. When Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Nathanael knew he stood in the presence of omniscience He declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (vv. 48b-49).
Because fig trees of that region could become quite large, they were often planted near a house to provide shade, comfort, and a place of retreat from household activities. Nathanael must have been meditating and praying in the shade of such a tree before Philip came to him.
In any case, Jesus not only saw where Nathanael was sitting but knew what he was thinking. “I saw you in your secret place of retreat,” Jesus said, in effect, “and I even saw what was in your heart.” Nathanael’s prayers were answered and his searching for the Messiah was over. Because his heart was divinely prepared to seek the Messiah, he immediately acknowledged Him when they met, just as the godly Simeon and Anna recognized even the infant Jesus as the: Son of God (Luke 2:25–38).
Jesus continued His attestation of Nathanael’s faith. “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?” (John 1:50), is better translated as a statement of fact (as in the NIV). Both Jesus and Nathanael knew it was the manifestation of omniscience that convinced Nathanael of Jesus’ messiahship. Because of Nathanael’s faith, Jesus went on to say, “ ‘You shall see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’ ” (vv. 50b-51). This demonstration of Jesus’ omniscience would come to seem small to Nathanael in comparison to the wonders of divine power he would soon begin to witness.
It may be that Nathanael came to understand Jesus’ glory as well as any of the other apostles. We know nothing else of the man than what is found in that one brief account. But it seems reasonable to assume that he was among the most dependable and teachable of the twelve. There is no record of his questioning Jesus or arguing with Him or even misunderstanding Him.
The New Testament says nothing of his ministry or his death, and even tradition has little to offer about him. But it is apparent from the Lord’s own words that, like David, Nathanael was a man after God’s own heart
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 152). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 10:3). Chicago: Moody Press.