Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16). The name Bartholomew is a family designation, meaning “son of Tolmai.” Nathanael means “gift of God.” He was from Cana in Galilee (John 21:2). The gospels and the book of Acts don’t tell us much about him (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; John 1:45-49, 21:2; and Acts 1:13).
The most significant reference to him was his first encounter with Jesus. In the gospel of John we read that after Jesus called Philip to follow Him, Philip found Nathanael and said him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see” (v. 46).
There was a touch of scorn in this disciple’s response to Philip’s declaration. He was from Cana (John 21:2), which is a short distance from Nazareth, and there is no doubt that he spoke from firsthand knowledge of that city.
“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (John 1:47,48).
Nathanael was one of that few devout who earnestly waited for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and purposed to observe God’s principles in his life. For a true Israelite was not necessarily a physical descendant of Abraham (John 8:33–44), but one who lived in harmony with the will of God (John 8:39; Acts 10:34, 35; Romans 2:28, 29).
It was Nathanael’s deepest desire for clearer light regarding the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36) and as “the Son of God” (v. 34), that had led him to seek a quiet place for meditation and prayer. And in response to that prayer, he was given the conclusive proof that Jesus was divine (Mark 2:8).
Nathanael answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these” (John 1:50). Jesus here pointed to the many convincing proofs of divinity Nathanael was to see during his association with Him.
In Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael, He concluded the conversation by indicating that Nathanael, as well as others, would see the blessings of God through the ministry of Jesus Christ His Son. “And he said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
Ministry and Martyrdom
When Nathanael accepted Jesus’ call, he became His disciple. As an apostle, he witnessed the risen Savior at the Sea of Tiberias, (John 21:2) and was present at His blessed ascension (Acts 1:1–11). He served the Lord diligently in spreading the truth and became a missionary, spreading the gospel. Christian tradition says that the apostle preached the gospel in Persia and India. Finally, his faithful ministry to the Lord ended when he was martyred for his faith. Legend claims that he was crucified upside down in Albania.
In His service,