The next disciple in this series is one that is frequently overlooked or confused as two people. Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew, is sought out by Philip the Apostle in John 1.
As mentioned above, Nathanael is often identified as Bartholomew. Bartholomew translates to bartholomaios, which means “son of Tolmai.” Nathanael, who was the son of Tolmai, and Bartholomew are indeed the same person.
Philip has an encounter with Jesus and cannot help but spread the news. When Philip finds Nathanael, he announces that the prophesied Messiah is Jesus from the town of Nazareth. John 1:46 says, “‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.”
Nazareth is a town of ill repute in Bible times. This saying from Nathanael could foreshadow the mocking that Jesus would later endure as a result of his humble possessions, average family and mundane upbringing.
Nathanael is not doubting Jesus, he is simply a seeker of the truth. He is wary of false teachers and those seeking to corrupt the faith. This causes him to be skeptical of people who claim to be the Messiah since Jesus is not the first or the last to make such a claim.
Nathanael is doubtful that the Savior could come from a town with such prejudices, but his encounter with Jesus changes his mind. Jesus approaches him and claims that Nathanael is a trustworthy man and that he had been sitting under a fig tree before Jesus’ arrival. Nathanael is awestruck that Jesus knows so much about him already. He declares that Jesus truly is the Son of God.
He doesn’t need a miracle or a healing. Nathanael just needs one piece of evidence that Jesus is who he says he is. Jesus then promises Nathanael that he will see greater things than just this one act.
This is the only narrative in the Bible about Nathanael, but there is nothing else we need to know. This story shows us how God can use even those who are skeptical.
John MacArthur, a pastor in California, said, “God uses great faith, clear understanding, meditative souls like Nathanael. He takes the raw material and He transforms it into what He can use.”
Nathanael is mentioned one last time in John 21. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples
are out fishing in the sea. A man comes up on the shoreline and commands them to throw their net on the other side of the boat. When they obey and catch many fish, the disciples do not even have to ask who the man is because they know it is the Lord.
Only God’s grace can turn a skeptic like Nathanael into a faithful follower.