The Disciple Nathaniel: A "True" follower of Jesus
Updated: Jul 4
Nathaniel, also known as Bartholomew, was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. Although relatively little information about Nathaniel is provided in the New Testament, the accounts that do exist offer valuable insights into his character and his role among the disciples.
Nathaniel is a Hebrew name that means "God has given," and is sometimes spelled Nathanael.
How did Jesus call Nathaniel as a disciple?
Nathaniel is first mentioned in the Gospel of John, where he is introduced as a close friend of Philip.
Nathaniel's initial skepticism
Philip, upon encountering Jesus, excitedly tells Nathaniel, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth" (John 1:45). Nathaniel's initial response is skeptical, as he questions, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). However, Philip insists that Nathaniel come and see for himself.
Was Nathaniel the disciple under the fig tree?
According to the Gospel of John, when Nathaniel was brought to Jesus by Philip, Jesus said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you" (John 1:48). This statement indicates that Jesus had seen Nathaniel while he was under the fig tree, prior to their physical meeting. The exact significance or details of Nathaniel's experience under the fig tree are not elaborated upon in the biblical account. It would seem that perhaps Jesus had this divine insight into a key moment in Nathaniel's life. Various dramatic representations of that have been made (such as in the drama "the Chosen"), but none has a basis in certainty.
Nathaniel's realization of Jesus as Messiah
As Nathaniel approaches Jesus, he receives a surprising welcome. Jesus immediately recognizes Nathaniel, describing him as "an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit" (John 1:47). Astounded, Nathaniel asks Jesus, "How do you know me?" Jesus responds, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you" (John 1:48). This revelation astounds Nathaniel, leading him to acknowledge Jesus as "the Son of God" and "the King of Israel" (John 1:49).
Nathaniel's immediate reaction to Jesus' revelation is one of acknowledgment and belief. He goes from skepticism about Jesus' origins to a profound declaration of Jesus' divine nature and kingship. Nathaniel's response reflects his initial faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah. The next 3 years following Jesus as a rabbi, had a profound influence on the growth of his faith.
What did it mean that the disciple Nathaniel had "no deceit"?
When Jesus described Nathaniel as "an Israelite with no deceit" ("guile" KJV) (John 1:47), he was highlighting Nathaniel's honesty and sincerity of heart. The phrase "no guile" suggests that Nathaniel was genuine, straightforward, and lacked deceit or cunning. Jesus recognized Nathaniel as a person of integrity, someone who approached life with honesty and authenticity. This characterization emphasizes Nathaniel's virtuous nature and indicates that he was a person of transparent and trustworthy character.
From this encounter, we gather that Nathaniel possessed an honest and sincere heart, someone who sought the truth. His initial doubt about Jesus' origins demonstrates his discerning nature, yet he remains open-minded and willing to investigate further. Jesus' ability to perceive Nathaniel's character and his previous unseen encounter with Nathaniel reveal Jesus' divine knowledge, leaving Nathaniel awestruck.
What other times is Nathaniel mentioned in the Gospels?
Nathaniel's subsequent appearance is during Jesus' resurrection appearance at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:2). Along with several other disciples, Nathaniel encounters the risen Christ while fishing. Jesus performs a miraculous catch of fish, and as the disciples come ashore, they find Jesus cooking breakfast for them. Although Nathaniel's specific interactions during this event are not recorded, his presence indicates his continued commitment to Jesus and his ministry even after the crucifixion.
While the Gospel accounts provide limited details about Nathaniel's activities and contributions, early church traditions shed some light on his later endeavors. According to tradition, Nathaniel traveled extensively as a missionary, proclaiming the Gospel in various regions. Some accounts suggest that he reached as far as India, where he is believed to have established a Christian community. It is important to note that historical evidence regarding Nathaniel's travels is scarce, and these traditions should be approached with caution.
Was Nathaniel really the same person as Bartholemew?
Nathaniel's identification as Bartholomew is significant, as Bartholomew is mentioned alongside Philip in the lists of the twelve disciples in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, and Luke 6:14). It is plausible that Bartholomew was Nathaniel's surname or an alternative name used by him. However, the exact relationship between Nathaniel and Bartholomew remains uncertain.
The identification of Nathaniel with Bartholomew is primarily based on the lists of the twelve disciples mentioned in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, and Luke 6:14). In these lists, Bartholomew is always mentioned alongside Philip, just as Nathaniel is in the Gospel of John. This correlation suggests that Nathaniel and Bartholomew may be the same person or that Bartholomew was an alternative name used by Nathaniel.
However, it's important to note that the specific connection between Nathaniel and Bartholomew is not explicitly mentioned in the biblical texts. The identification of Nathaniel as Bartholomew is based on later church tradition and historical records, which may not provide concrete proof. The exact relationship between Nathaniel and Bartholomew and the reason for the use of different names remain uncertain, and scholars continue to debate this topic.
Summary of Jesus' Disciple Nathaniel
In summary, Nathaniel, also known as Bartholomew, was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He exhibited an honest and discerning nature, initially skeptical but open to investigating the claims about Jesus. Nathaniel's encounter with Jesus left him astounded and led to his acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God. While specific details about Nathaniel's activities are limited in the biblical accounts, tradition suggests that he embarked on missionary journeys, potentially reaching India. Despite the scarcity of historical information, Nathaniel's inclusion among the chosen disciples underscores his significance within the early Christian community.
How Can I be a disciple of Jesus like Nathaniel?
To be a disciple of Jesus like Nathaniel, you can follow these principles:
Seek the Truth: Like Nathaniel, cultivate a sincere and open heart to seek and discover the truth about Jesus. Study the Scriptures, engage in prayer, and seek a personal relationship with God.
Embrace Honest Skepticism: Allow yourself to question and have doubts. Nathaniel initially doubted Jesus' origins, but he remained open-minded and willing to investigate further.
Listen to other who know Jesus: Philip was a connector, a guide for others who were looking for the Messiah, and meaning in their life. Seek answers to your questions through study, dialogue, and seeking guidance from trusted spiritual mentors.
Encounter Jesus Personally: Just as Nathaniel had a personal encounter with Jesus, strive to have your own personal experiences with Him. Seek moments of prayer, reflection, and spiritual intimacy where you can encounter the presence and guidance of Jesus in your life.
Recognize Jesus' Divinity: Nathaniel's encounter with Jesus led him to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. Explore the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus through the Gospels, and allow your faith to grow in recognizing Jesus' divinity and lordship.
Cultivate Integrity and Authenticity: Follow Nathaniel's example of being an Israelite with no guile. Be honest, intellectually, and in your words.
Engage in Mission and Service: Like Nathaniel, actively participate in the mission of spreading the Gospel. Share your faith, demonstrate Christ's love through acts of kindness and compassion, and be a witness for Jesus in your words and actions.
Be Open to Growth and Transformation: Just as Nathaniel's encounter with Jesus transformed his skepticism into faith, be open to the transformative power of Jesus in your own life. Allow Him to shape and mold you into His image, continually growing in faith, love, and obedience.
Remember that being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey. Stay committed to deepening your relationship with Him, learning from His teachings, and following His example in all aspects of your life.
Learning to Obey the Commands of Jesus Like the disciple Nathanael
The Obedience Challenge is part of the NewStart Discipleship family of discipleship tools. It provides a clear pathway for discipling new believers into mature followers of Jesus.
The Obedience Challenge includes a 90 Day reading of the Gospels, focusing on obeying the 45 commands of Jesus found there. New believers can spend 8 minutes every day focusing on how they can obey the commands of Jesus, while their mentor checks in with them, encourage them, and answer their questions.
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