Philip the Apostle
One night, the Lord spent hours alone with the Father in prayer; and afterwards, He called His disciples to Him. From among those disciples, He selected twelve men to be His apostles. Philip was certainly humbled and excited as he was selected to this important position.1
Following Jesus next to the Sea of Galilee shortly before the Passover feast, Philip looked around at a crowd of thousands who were gathering around. Then Jesus looked at Philip and asked him a question in order to test him. “Where shall we buy bread so that these people may eat?” Philip, taking the Lord literally, answered, “Two hundred denarii of bread2 is not enough for them, that every one of them might take a little.”3 Philip trusted in his Lord, but didn’t realize that Jesus was testing his level of confidence in just how much power Jesus truly had. When Jesus asked “Where will we buy bread,” Philip’s response was basically, “Forget about where to buy the bread, where are we supposed to come up with that much money?” Andrew as well, bringing a boy with a very small amount of food, showed a similar lack of awareness of the immense power Jesus had.
About a year later, just days before Jesus died, a group of Greeks approached Philip, and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Why they came to Philip instead of one of the other apostles is a matter of speculation,4 but it might just be that they saw him, knowing he was one of Jesus disciples and went to him—just like they might have done regardless of which disciple it was. Philip probably remembered that Jesus had told the apostles not to go to the Gentiles, but only the house of Israel,5 and that Jesus Himself was only sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,”6 and was hesitant about bringing a group of Gentiles to Him. Instead, he conferred with Andrew, and the two of them together went to Jesus with the Greek’s request. In response, Jesus gave a prophecy of His impending death.7
A few days later, after being with Jesus and the other apostles for the Last Supper, Philip heard Jesus again announced His departure (death). Peter and Thomas both were confused about where Jesus was going and how they were going to go to where He was;8 and then Jesus responded with “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father except through me. If you had known me, you should have known my Father also: and from henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.”9
It is at this point that Philip is confused. Jesus has just told the disciples that they’d already seen the Father, and Philip’s response is, “Lord, show us the Father, and we are content.”10 In other words, “We’ve already seen the Father? When? Point Him out for us so we don’t miss Him.” Some people have bad-mouthed Philip for being “ignorant” and “spiritually incapable”11 for not grasping the truth Jesus was teaching. But how many among us can truly grasp the concept of the triune nature of the Godhead—three separate minds, yet still all one? How many among us truly can grasp the idea of a member of the Godhead emptying Himself to live as a human?
That evening, Philip, along with ten other men, ran out of fear for his life, abandoning Jesus as the Jewish leaders, led by Judas, arrested Him. After the resurrection of Jesus, Philip believed once more, repented of forsaking Jesus, and became a powerful force for the Kingdom of God.
The last time Philip’s name is mentioned is just before Pentecost, in Acts 1, where he was gathered with the rest of the apostles and disciples of Jesus. He preached and baptized many people on the Day of Pentecost; was arrested and beaten some time later for preaching in the name of Jesus; and remained in Jerusalem during Saul’s rounds of persecution. After the gathering in Jerusalem to discuss the issue of circumcision among the Gentile converts, Philip completely disappears from the biblical narrative. But you can guarantee that God knows what happened.
The Character of Philip
Though there is not much evidence to go by, what little we have paints for us a picture of a man who was well-versed in the Scriptures and who had a very strong belief in the inspired words of God. How else could Philip know that Jesus was the one “of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write”?
Philip was decisive. He became a fully-dedicated disciple after hearing Jesus say “follow me.” It’s probable that he asked Jesus some questions or sought more information (if he didn’t already know Jesus before that moment), but his decision was made the same day he was called. In fact, the decision was made quick enough that he had time to go search out his friend Nathanael and bring him to Jesus as well.12
Philip wasn’t perfect. Jesus tested him, asking how they were going to feed the 5,000 men, and Philip basically told Jesus, “We can’t afford to feed all these men.” Philip didn’t yet have the confidence and full knowledge of the power of Jesus. Later on, Philip told Jesus, “show us the Father, and it will suffice us,” and was told by the Lord, “When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Like the other apostles, their knowledge and understanding of Jesus was not complete until the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.13
Philip was faithful. He endured persecution as an apostle, yet rejoiced in the face of it. Even years later, all the living apostles were held up by Paul as an example worthy of following. His name is indeed inscribed on the holy city of God, the church!14
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Luke 6:12-16.
2 This is the equivalent of 8 months’ wages.
3 John 6:5-7. Some have suggested that this is how much money Jesus and the apostles had on hand, though it is much more likely this was simply Philip’s way of saying to Jesus, “How are we supposed to get that much money?”
4 Some say they came to him because he was known as a Gentile sympathizer, others because he had a Greek name, while others suggest that he had a Greek haircut and wore Greek clothing (see College Press NIV Commentary, New Testament).
5 Matthew 10:1-6.
6 Matthew 15:24
7 These events are recorded in John 12:20-33.
8 John 13:36-38; 14:1-5. There are those (Lockyer, specifically) who want to accuse Philip of being “stupid” and “slow-witted” for his statement in 14:8, yet they won’t level the same charges against Peter and Thomas for their lack of understanding. If Philip was “stupid,” then so were the other apostles. The fact is, none of the apostles had complete knowledge until it was given to them from on high beginning at Pentecost.
9 John 14:6-7.
10 John 14:8.
11 Lockyer, All the Apostles of the Bible, page 160.
12 Herbert Lockyer horribly besmirches the name of this inspired servant of God by calling him, among other things, “a slow-witted plodder,” and “slow in arriving at a decision, reluctant to act on his own initiative” (All the Apostles of the Bible, page 157).
13 See their misunderstanding of the nature of the Kingdom of God in Acts 1, for instance.
14 Revelation 21:14.