Nathaniel means “Gift of God,” but Bartholomew is probably his surname. The synoptic writers all refer to this disciple as Bartholomew, whereas John always refers to him as Nathaniel.

Jesus calls Phillip to follow Him and he responds. Philip in turn finds Nathaniel, a native of Cana in Galilee (Jn. 21:2). Philip tells him “we have found the Messiah.” After Philip informs him, Nathaniel asks if anything good can come from Nazareth. The explanation for his remark is simple. Nazareth is not referred to in Messianic prophecy. Additionally, the village of Nazareth is secluded and insignificant. Philip does not enter into a debate but simply invites Nathaniel to “come and see” for himself. Phillip realizes if he can get Nathaniel to meet Jesus any apprehensions will vanish.

Nathaniel’s brief dialogue with Jesus takes place on the bank of the Jordan River. Jesus apparently sees Nathaniel before he actually meets him. The Lord then compliments him, calling him an exemplary or ideal Jew. “An Israelite without guile” pictures a man of sincerity, honesty, and integrity.

Nathaniel is introduced to us as a man filled with Messianic expectation. Nathaniel asks how Jesus knows anything about him at all. Jesus replies he saw him under the fig tree (1:48). Nathaniel immediately acknowledges Him as a teacher, the Son of God, and the King of Israel (v. 49). Nathaniel thus epitomizes the faithful covenant Jew who recognizes and accepts Jesus as the Messiah. It is the response all Israelites should have made when Christ arrived. Jesus appears pleased to find this positive response among one of the first men He encounters in His ministry.

The brief dialogue that follows bears explanation. Apparently, Nathaniel’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah prompts Jesus to ask, “Do you have faith in me simply because I said I saw you before Philip spoke with you? In the future you will witness far greater things than this - such as heaven being opened and My activity among angels.” It is as if Jesus is telling Nathaniel, “You have not seen anything yet.” Jesus encourages him with a glimpse of eternity. The Lord assures us we will see far greater things in heaven than we have on earth.

As one of the twelve disciples, Nathaniel does indeed witness much “greater things.” He is with Jesus throughout his three and a half years of ministry. The disciple is listed here at the end of the Gospel of John. He hears Jesus preach on numerous occasions. Because Nathaniel is one of the first disciples, he watches as lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and people are delivered from demons. He sees Jesus heal the sick, open blind eyes, and cause the deaf to hear. Nathaniel observes the lame walking and participates in feeding the multitudes. He is listed with the others when Jesus gives them power to cast out demons and heal the sick (Mt. 10:1-3 & Mk. 3:18).

Not long after the resurrection, Nathaniel and some of the others are in a boat, having returned to their fishing profession (Jn. 21:2). Jesus is on the shore and asks if they have caught any fish that night. They admit they have not and are then instructed to cast out their net on the right side of the ship. The men haul in 153 fish, nearly bursting their net (Jn. 21:6 & 11). The disciples then recognize it is Jesus who has instructed them.

They all enjoy roasting fish on the beach. John informs us this is the third time the disciples have seen Jesus since His resurrection (21:14). This means Nathaniel would have been present when Jesus appears to them, Thomas being absent. He is also there with Jesus eight days later when the doubts of Thomas are laid to rest (Jn. 20:19-29). 

Jesus has promised Nathaniel “he will see heaven opened.” This comes to pass when he witnesses Jesus’ ascension. Just weeks before this event, Jesus commands His disciples to stay in Jerusalem and await the arrival of the Comforter before they begin to minister (Lk. 24:49). Nathaniel is among those in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit arrives (Acts 1:4 - 2:4).

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Philip’s response to Nathaniel’s inquiry is as relevant then as it is today. Nathaniel is ready not only to listen to Jesus but to tell a friend about Him. Philip introduces Nathaniel to Jesus. We should earnestly seek opportunities to bring others to Christ.


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