Nathanael Bartholomew

“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.’ And 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 is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ (John 1:45 – 49).

Jesus Christ called Philip to follow Him as an apostle. Immediately Philip went looking for his friend Nathanael from Bethsaida. Nathanael who was also known as Bartholomew was rude, crude, and uncivil. Such was not uncommon for people from this rural area. They were a rather primitive society.

Nathanael Bartholomew is believed to be the name of one person. Bartholomew is not a first name. It is a family name that identifies a person by his father. “Bar” means “son of.” It is used like “Van” is used by the Dutch, “Von” by Germans, “Mc” or “Mac” by Irish or Scottish folks.

Scholars agree Bartholomew means “son of Talmai.” II Samuel 3:3 mentions a Talmai who was King of Geshure. This being correct means Nathanael Bartholomew was the only apostle of noble birth.

When Philip told Nathanael he had found the one prophesied of by Moses, Nathanael blurted out his prejudice. He questioned, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That was a more legitimate question than we might suppose.

The historian Josephus listed over 750 cities, towns, and villages in Galilee. Nazareth was so small and insignificant it wasn’t even listed. As a village, Nazareth was not only remote, but it was of little or ill repute, and Nathanael was not interested in such a place or anyone living, or coming from there. Recent excavations of the town reveal that in the time of Christ the residents were cave-dwellers. Christ was born in a cave, grew up in a cave, spent many nights in caves, and was buried in a cave.

Jesus responded to Nathanael’s barb by referring to Nathanael as a person “in whom there is no guile,” that is, no deceit or insidious cunning. He was the personification of sincerity and honesty. Nathanael was clear as day and never lowered himself to deceitful contrivances. He was man anyone could trust and therefore earned the warm greeting by Jesus.

That prompted Nathanael to ask, “How do you know me?”

Jesus said He not only knew Nathanael but He saw him when he was under the fig tree. Fig trees in the Bible land were an oasis. The limbs grew large and spread out forming a leafy canopy with a shaded place under the limbs next to the trunk. A person could crawl up under one and not be seen. Jesus was saying “When you thought no one could see you I saw you.”

Jesus revealed even greater knowledge of Nathanael. Jesus even read Nathanael’s thoughts regarding Jacob’s ladder and said, “I am that ladder.”

From this we learn of Jesus’ omnipresence and omniscience; He is all present and all knowing. He see us at all times and He knows our thoughts. That is wonderful. That means He is constantly aware of our needs.

Nathanael could have seen in this the fulfillment of Psalm 139:1, 2: “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.”

Nathanael has some characteristics of a loner, an introvert. The cast of characters around Christ was diverse. The extravertive Peter and the introvertive Nathanael reveal there is room for distinctively different people in the kingdom.

Jesus described Nathanael as a man in whom there is no guile, that is, hypocrisy or deceit. Those were some of his virtues, but he did have a prejudice against Nazareth. A person may have many virtues and lack one.

Philip said, “Come and see.” In other words if you want to condemn a whole village because of your encounter with one man come and meet another and see if you don’t have a different opinion. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Augustine of Hippo, in his “Confessions,” written between 397 and 400 AD tells of his experience “under a certain fig tree.” He describes how there God called him to repentance and service. He wrote: “I cast myself down I know not how giving full vent to my tears.” He tells that as he confessed his “uncleanliness” he heard a voice “as of a boy or girl” chanting: “Take up, and read.”

He tells of taking up the New Testament and reading a passage about putting away ones vices and following Christ. Then he wrote: “light, as it were, of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt passed away.”

Do you have your own fig tree? Do you have a quiet place where God can get your attention?

The symbol of Nathanael Bartholomew is a shield on which there are three knives. They represent his method of death. Tradition says he was flayed alive. That is, he was skinned alive.

Nathanael was quickly convinced once he met Jesus. He replied: “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Nathanael is the prototype of all those sensitive souls who have since followed Christ. Those who desire fellowship and follow Him.