The goal of this series is to study the group of 12 young men who spent approximately 3 years with Jesus, from the time of his baptism until his resurrection. We’ll look at their character, their transformation, and their relationship with Jesus and learn from their lives.
You can read the full preface to this series to see how I have defined discipleship and see a timeline of how the disciples met Jesus and followed him.
Nathanael or Bartholomew
In the Gospels, Nathanael (Bartholomew) always follows Philip in lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; John 1:45-49, 21:2; Acts 1:13). The name Bartholomew is a family name, meaning “son of Tolmai.” Nathanael means “gift of God.”
Other than these references, the New Testament gives us very little information about him.
John describes Nathanael’s call by Philip, which we looked at briefly in Philip’s account. Nathanael and Philip likely were friends, leading Nathanael to laugh at Philip’s claim by saying, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46,) Jesus sees the two men and calls Nathanael a “true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” He then reveals that he saw Nathanael sitting under a fig tree before Philip talked with him.
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Nathanael responds to Jesus by proclaiming him to be the Son of God, quickly overcoming his skepticism about the insignificance of Nazareth.
Nathanael In History
Eusebius records Nathanael as having gone to India after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other historical traditions have him going to Armenia or other places, where he was supposedly martyred by having his skin flayed or being crucified upside down.
There are at least a couple of implicit references to Nathanael in the scriptures. First, John 20:24 records that he was one of the disciples who saw the resurrected Christ, unlike Thomas. Additionally, he appears to be one of the disciples mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:4-5 as having a believing wife, though, he is not mentioned specifically by name.
3 Traits of a Disciple
*Adapted from a blog post by Nathan Balbright[media-credit id=1 align=”aligncenter” width=”502″][/media-credit]
John 1:43-51 reveals at least three important aspects of Nathanael’s character–his relationships with other disciples, his honest and sincere personality, and his thoughtful reflection upon the word of God. Let us examine each of these in turn.
Nathanael is shown as being a close friend of Philip (and with Peter and Andrew), as they were all Galileans in looking for the Messiah before their encounter with Christ. Philip went to Nathanael to convince him to come and see Jesus Christ. They were eagerly searching for the fulfillment of scriptures. Their mutual friendship and passion for truth allowed him to join Philip and follow the Messiah.
2. Honest and Sincere
Nathanael candidly shares his doubts that anything good could come out of Nazareth. Later he changes his position and proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the promised Messianic king of Israel. Jesus sees his character (boldly honest) and promises that this meeting is simply the beginning and that greater things are yet to come.
3. Thoughtful and Reflective
What was Nathanael doing sitting under that fig tree? Thinking? Pondering the Scriptures?
Was he thinking about the dream of Jacob where angels went up and down the stairway to heaven, showing the relationship between heaven and earth and the possibility of communication between the two realms? – Nathan Balbright
This spiritual pondering may have been the catalyst that allowed him to quickly respond to the call of Jesus.
Being Like Nathanael
From Nathanael, we learn that a disciple is an honest searcher of the truth, honest about his faith, about his doubts, and about his thoughts and reflections. Honesty and sincerity are character qualities that allow Jesus to trust us as His disciples. It also helps us develop and maintain relationships with other disciples.
Additionally, a thoughtful and reflective nature leads to interesting and meaningful conversations about important spiritual matters. Like Bereans, we desire to study the Word of God and discuss it with one another. We all want this kind of friend as a sounding board for our own thoughts and hurts, getting a sincere and open response that is also friendly and understanding.
Jesus calls us just like He did with the disciples. Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus just as Andrew brought Peter. Philip understood the Scriptures that spoke of Jesus saying “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law (Duet 18:18) and the prophets (Isaiah 52-53; Psalm 21-23) wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip saw what the religious leaders could not see and introduced Nathanael to the Messiah!
Let’s not let our personal prejudices skew our judgment. By being open to God’s word, we come to know the truth.
Preview of the Next Disciple:
I hope this has opened your eyes to the fact that Nathanael was a real man. He wasn’t just a character on a few pages of the Bible. He was real and there’s so much we can learn from him.
Next, we will look at Matthew. What do we know about Matthew and what lessons can we learn from his life? You can find out this and much more in the next post.
Wait! Don’t Leave Without Saying Hi!
Thanks for taking the time to read. Below is a place for you to say hi, what you thought about the post, and ask any questions you may have. And yes, I’ll respond! In fact, I’m looking forward to interacting with you! So what are you waiting for? Leave a comment below!
*For related reading about the disciples/apostles of Jesus, please visit my friend’s page here.
Check Out the Rest of the Series
Also published on Medium.