The Call of Bartholomew
Bartholomew,1 from Cana in Galilee,2 was a man who put great faith in the Scripture, and who may have understood the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah better than any of the other apostles. He was under a fig tree when Philip approached him, probably very excitedly, and said to him, “We’ve found Him of whom Moses in the Law, as well as the prophets, did write: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!”3 Philip knew Bartholomew, and therefore knew that he would be extremely interested in the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
In response, Bartholomew was surprised. He replied, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It could be, as some claim, that Bartholomew was prejudiced against Nazareth, and truly thought it was a place of evil—a place from which nothing good could arise.4 It could also be that Bartholomew, being well-versed in the Scriptures, knew that Nazareth wasn’t mentioned in the Old Testament,5 and was simply expressing confusion as to how the Messiah could come from there.6 It is also within the realm of possibility that, being from Cana, Bartholomew was familiar with Nazareth, and knew it wasn’t anything special, thus giving him cause to question that the King of Israel would reside there.
Regardless of the reason for his statement, Bartholomew was the kind of person who was willing to listen to the evidence. Philip knew this, which is why his response was simply, “Come and see.” Bartholomew, being well-versed in Scripture, would have been able to point out any ways in which Jesus didn’t fit the bill as the prophesied Messiah—if there were any. So he got up and went.
As he and Philip are walking towards Jesus, the Lord said (loud enough for Bartholomew to hear), “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile [or hypocrisy]!” This was indeed high praise from Jesus, the one who knows the hearts of men.7 Not only is Bartholomew a physical Israelite (some early writers say he was of the tribe of Naphtali),8 but he is also of spiritual Israel, one who truly loved and followed God’s law. Like David, Bartholomew could say, “O how I love Your Law; it is my meditation all day.”9
Bartholomew, according to Jesus, was someone who was pure in heart, with no deceit. It’s no wonder that Philip was friends with this man, and that he had to go find him to tell him about Jesus. After Jesus said this, Bartholomew said, “From where do you know me?”10 They hadn’t met before this moment.11 What Jesus said next was all the convincing it took for Bartholomew.
Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.12
From just this one statement, Bartholomew knew that Jesus was the one Philip was certain He was. This shows that Bartholomew was open-minded, confident in his beliefs, but ready to accept the evidence that would prove him wrong. He had doubted that anything good could come out of Nazareth, but with just one sentence from Jesus as evidence, he knew he had been wrong.
Bartholomew then gave the great confession—the one that years later had to be revealed by God to Peter—“You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” He had an insight into the nature of Jesus, the nature of the Messiah that came from proper understanding of several Old Testament prophecies. The Jewish leadership considered such a statement to be blasphemous, but Bartholomew understood that the Messiah was the Son of God.13
Jesus’ response was one of commendation, and a prophecy of things that would cause even greater belief.
Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” you believe? You shall see greater things than these. Truly, truly I saw to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.14
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 We have chosen to use the name Bartholomew instead of Nathanael because it is the name that appears in the listings of the apostles.
2 John 21:2 provides us with this information.
3 John 1:45.
4 See Barnes’ comments, as well as Barclay’s Daily Study Bible.
5 Matthew says that there was a prophecy, given by “the prophets” that Jesus would be a Nazarene (see Matthew 2:23), but all commentators and scholars agree that there is no prophecy that is specifically worded that way. Instead, it is likely a compilation of prophecies about the despised and rejected nature of the Messiah. Jesus is called the “Branch” or “Root” that grew up out of dry ground (Isaiah 53:2). The Hebrew is “Neser,” which is where “Nazareth” apparently got its name.
6 It has been suggested that perhaps Bartholomew (Nathanael) was confused because he assumed that the Messiah would not only be born in Bethlehem, but also raised there.
7 There are some who take the position that Jesus was being sarcastic when He said this, and then let Bartholomew (Nathanael) know that He heard what he had said about nothing good coming out of Nazareth.
8 Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 50.
9 Psalm 119:97.
10 John 1:48, Modern Literal Version.
11 This fact eliminates Simon, the son of Cleopas, from consideration as Nathanael, for that Simon was (it is believed by many) a first cousin of Jesus, and certainly would have met Him prior to this date.
12 John 1:48.
13 See John 10:31-36.
14 John 1:50-51.