Phillip & Nathaniel

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This morning we will move moving along to the next group in our study of the apostles. If you remember back to that first day, I gave you a list dividing the apostles into three groups of 4 each. The groups represented the listing of the apostles in a particular order significant to that author. This morning we begin the second group. In each accounts the apostle Phillip is listed first and the apostle Nathaniel is second. The remaining 2 in group 2 two in the group Matthew and Thomas interchange in order.

This morning we will be looking at Phillip and Nathaniel. Philip was the leader of the second group of 4. His role is minor in comparison to Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Philip is a Greek name meaning "lover of horses". He must also have had a Jewish name, because all 12 apostles were Jewish. But his Jewish name is never given in Scripture.

After the conquest of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. Greek civilization had spread throughout the Mediterranean. In Jesus day, many people in the Middle East had adopted the Greek language, Greek culture, and Greek customs. They were known as Hellenists. The book of Acts chapter 6:1 mentions this group. Phillip probably came from a family of Hellenistic Jews.

It's important when you look at Acts 6 that you don't confuse Phillip the apostle, with Phillip the deacon, who led the Ethiopian unit to Christ.

The apostle Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Phillip probably grew up attending the same synagogue. And because of the relationship that exists listed between Peter and Andrew and the sons of thunder, Philip was probably acquainted with all four.

Phillip, Nathaniel and Thomas were fishermen from Galilee. We know this because after the resurrection these apostles returned to Galilee with Peter and resumed their fishing trade (John 21).

Again let me say that it is probable that they were all friends or co-workers. I'm emphasizing this point because this goes to show that at least half of all Jesus inner circle were close friends who could rely on each other. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus selected and called them, they've already knew how to get along with each other.

So what else do we know about Phillip?

·       Everything we know comes from the gospel of John.

·       Philips personality is completely different from the top four.

·       He is often paired with Nathaniel (a.k.a. Bartholomew) -- it's safe to assume that the two of them were close friends.

But we will find that Philips character is completely different from even his closest companion.

·       Philip is "process person".

·       He's one of those guys who is fascinated with facts and figures.

·       He would read the instructions before putting something together.

·       He wouldn’t need to stop and ask for directions along the way, because he already looked at the map and plotted the course.

·       He did things by the book, and was practical minded.

He wasn't what you would call foreword-thinking. By and large he didn't see the whole picture, or the end of the road. Phillip was pessimistic, narrowly focused, and obsessed with identifying the reason that things can't be done.

we first meet Phillip the day after Jesus called Andrew, John, and Peter. Apparently Philip was also in the wilderness with John the Baptist.

Turn to John 1:43

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Did you see that Jesus sought Phillip out? You’ll remember that John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to Peter, Andrew and John and then and they approached Jesus. Now that doesn't say they Jesus didn't seek out the others and invite them to be part of the group, because they had been directed by John. We know Jesus called them all before the foundations of the world.

But Phillip is the first disciple whom Jesus physically sought out, as well as the first one to whom Jesus actually said, "follow me".

If you remember back to our study of Peter, Jesus didn't actually say “follow me” to Peter until the end of his earthly ministry (John 21:19) after his failure on the night of Jesus the trail.

Phillip was the first one to hear those words and obey them.

Now remember I told that Philip was pessimistic and didn't see the big picture? Phillip was good at finding ways to get out of doing things? So it’s very strange to see Phillip eagerly accept Jesus offer to follow him.

Let's look at that more closely,

John 1:45

45 Philip found Nathaniel and told 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.”

I want you to notice the expression Phillip used when he told Nathaniel about Jesus. He said “we have found him”. Now remember I just told you Jesus went to Phillip and said “follow me”, and then Phillip turns around and tells his buddy “we found him”. From Philips point of view this was the end of his search. Phillip had studied the scriptures and everything lined up. He had found the messiah.

Phillip had the heart of an evangelist. His first response after meeting Jesus was to find his friend Nathaniel and tell him about a messiah.

Nathaniel however did not receive the message well. 

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathaniel asked.

Phillips response is interesting.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

Were about to discover that Phillip is not usually a very decisive person.

In John 6, we read the story and of the feeding of the 5000. We've already looked at this passage in detail when we studied Andrew. This time were going to look through Phillip's eyes. I’ve already said that Phillip was a student of the Old Testament. We can conclude that he interpreted it literally because it was so easy for him to believe that Jesus was the messiah. -- His response to Jesus to follow him was without hesitation. But that was Philips spiritual side.

Now let's look at Phillip the man.

Turn to John 6:5

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Why did Jesus single Phillip out? John says this was to test him because Jesus already knew what he would do.

I know I shared with you in an earlier study how each time I minister on one of the apostles I see a little bit of my own character in each of them. Well, Phillip has my job. Phillip is the administrator -- the bean counter. He was in charge of arranging meals and logistics for Jesus and his disciples.

We know that Judas was in charge of the money, so it made sense that someone else would be in charge of coordination and distribution of meals and supplies. That's why Jesus asked Phillip where they could buy bread.

Philip’s personality, led him to say, “I don't think we can do that.”

7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

No doubt Phillip had already begun counting heads. Now was late in the day, and there were no fast food franchises. Philip was one of those people who could do math and his head. Let's see, one denari can buy 12 wheat biscuits. Barley is cheaper, so with one denari we could buy 20 barley biscuits, and if we get the small ones, and break them in half… no it simply cannot be done.

Rabbit trail: 1 denari is equal to one day's wages. In other words between all the disciples -- at least 12 of them and probably more like 70 -- all they had was eight months worth of a single laborer’s wages. Think about it, If minimum wage is $5.50/hr x 40 hours x 33 weeks = $7260. How well could you feed 5000 people?

Now Phillip had seen Jesus created wine out of water in Cana. He had witnessed creative and recreative miracles. But when he saw the size of the crowd he began to feel overwhelmed by the impossible. So When Jesus tested his faith, Phillip responded with unbelief. "It can't be done."

Phillip had a lack of vision. He was so engrossed in his commonsense calculation, that he couldn't see an opportunity for the supernatural. To be a leader, you have to have a sense of vision. Phillip had to get beyond human limitation. He should have said, "Lord, if you want to feed them, feed them." Instead he told Jesus that I couldn't be done.

Andrew responded to the situation and brought Jesus a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus honored Andrew’s faith by multiplying and feeding 5000.

John 12 gives us another insight into Philips character in

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

Why do you think the Greeks would seek out Phillip? Because he had a Greek name. Either that or because he was the administrator of the group.  These were either God-fearing Gentiles, or full-fledged Hellenistic Jews on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. These men wanted an audience with Jesus.

            22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

But Phillip didn't bring them to Jesus did he? No, he probably ran through a list of rules of regulation in his mind and tried to figure out whether Jesus should talk to these Gentiles. We have to remember that even though he had a Greek name, he was still a Jew and would have heard Jesus say that “he was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. So quite possibly, if Phillip had introduced the Greeks to Jesus, he might have been breaking a rule.

Phillip doesn't like maybes. He'd rather have a yes or no answer. He didn't know what to do. Never-the-less Phillip had a good heart and took the Jews to Andrew. After all Andrew could introduce anyone to Jesus. Besides if Andrew got in trouble that would be Andrew's problem.

What did Andrew do? And he introduced the Jews to Jesus. Was it the right thing to do? Of course.

Our final look at Phillip comes a short time after the Last Supper on the eve of the crucifixion. The formal training of the 12 was over and yet their faith was still weak.

John 14:1-3

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

By now it should have been clear that he was going to his father in heaven and the only way for them to get there was through faith in Christ.

Look at verse 7

7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

Jesus is telling them in this clearest possible language that he is God and to know him is to know the father. At this point Phillip speaks up and says

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

How could Phillip say such a thing immediately after Jesus had just told them that he and the father were one? Phillip should have known better he had lived with Jesus day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for over 18 months. How could he now say, "Show us the father"? Jesus response to him

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

Look at verse 10 again,

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?

Phillip was already in the presence of the living and eternal God. He didn't need to see any further proof.

Phillip, like the other apostles was a man of weak faith and imperfect understanding. He was skeptical, analytical, pessimistic, and unsure. He wanted to go by the book all the time. But Jesus just couldn’t be contained in Phillip’s book.

Isn't that just like us? We put God in a box and when he doesn't respond the way we want him to, we demand miracles and signs that suit our image of what God should be and do.

Phillip eventually got the message. Many believers came to Christ under his preaching. He was a founding Father of the early church and among the first to be martyred. Most accounts say that he was put to death by stoning in Asia Minor eight years after the martyrdom of James.


Phillip’s closest companion is Nathaniel. Nathaniel is also called Bartholomew, which is a Hebrew name meaning “God has given". Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us no details about Nathaniel's background, character, or personality. They each mention him only once -- when they list all 12 apostles.

John’s gospel features Nathaniel in 2 passages: John 1 where his call is recorded, and John 21:2 where he is named as one of those who returned to Galilee and went fishing with Peter after the resurrection and before the ascension.

According to John, Nathaniel came from the small town of Cana in Galilee, the place where Jesus did his first miracle. Cana is very close to Jesus hometown of Nazareth.

As we saw earlier we know that it was Phillip who introduced Nathaniel to Jesus. They are apparently close friends. We know this because when each of the Gospels lists the apostles they list Phillip and Nathaniel (or Bartholomew) together. We find their names together side-by-side as companions. Not linked to together using the conjunction and like we see what the brothers Peter and Andrew or James and John.

Virtually everything we know about Nathaniel comes from John’s account of his call to discipleship in the wilderness shortly after Jesus is baptized.

Remember how Phillip had announced in Nathaniel that he had found the messiah. He said

Back to John 1:45

45 Philip found Nathaniel and told 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.”

Obviously Phillip knew that scripture was important to Nathaniel. Phillip told Nathaniel about the messiah from the standpoint of the Old Testament prophecy. This suggests that both Phillip and Nathaniel knew the Old Testament prophecy. In all likelihood they probably studied scripture together. They probably came to hear John the Baptist together. And they both probably had an earnest desire to see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. That's why they responded so quickly to Jesus.

However Nathaniel was not impressed at first glance with Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Jesus was a common name. Yeshua in its Aramaic form. Joshua in the Old Testament, which means “Yahweh is salvation”, or as Matthew 1:21 records “for he will save his people from their sins”.

The Nathaniel was skeptical. Let’s look at his response to Phillip

John 1:46

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathaniel asked.

His response, displays Nathaniel's character.

Nathaniel was prejudice. As a Bible scholar, he could have said, “but wait, the messiah comes out of Bethlehem not Nazareth..” (Micah 5:2) or he could have said, “But scripture tells us that he rules from Jerusalem, not Nazareth”.

Instead he says "can anything good come out of Nazareth?" His answer shows us the contempt Nathaniel felt for the people of Nazareth.

We need to take a little rabbit trail here in so that you can get the scope of his prejudice. Cana wasn't a prestigious town. In fact it isn’t today either. Unless you looking for the shrine built upon the supposed location of where Jesus turned water into wine you probably wouldn't want to go there.

Cana is off the beaten track, sort of like the little town pastor lives in. Nazareth on the other hand is at a crossroads. Sort of like Merrillville. If you are going from Chicago to Indianapolis, you might travel through Merrillville. Nazareth is the same way. If you are traveling from the Mediterranean to Galilee you would pass through Nazareth. One of the main routes going north and south between Jerusalem and Lebanon passes through Nazareth. No one ever passed through Cana. Cana, Nathaniel’s home town was a side trip from everything.

Nazareth on the other hand was a rough town. Its culture was largely unrefined and uneducated. If we stretched the metaphor, we might consider it to be the wrong side of the tracks. Jews in Jesus’ day looked down on the Galilean's. But even a Galileans looked down on the Nazarene's.

Nathaniel who came from an even lowlier village was simply echoing the sentiments of the Jewish establishment when he expressed his contempt for Nazareth. It was inconceivable to Nathaniel that the messiah would come from a tacky place like Nazareth. After all Nazareth was full of uncultured people.

Prejudice cuts a lot of people off from the truth. In fact much of Israel rejected their messiah because of their prejudice. They didn't believe that messiah could come out of Nazareth. It bothered them that the messiah and all his apostles came from Galilee. When Jesus spoke out against the religious establishment in Jerusalem, the religious leaders just chalked that up to his coming from lowly Nazareth.

Remember how the people of his hometown felt about him? He was nothing but a carpenter son. How dare he tell them what to do? They even tried to take them to a cliff and throw him off.

People’s ears are closed to the gospel by many kinds of prejudice. Some people won't hear a minister of a different race. Some people won't listen to a female minister. Some people are so afraid of others religions that they closed themselves off from branches of the body of Christ. Prejudice effectively causes people to remain cut off from the gospel. Nathaniel lived in a society that was prejudice by temperament. His prejudice caused him to be skeptical when Phillip told him that the messiah was the Nazarene.

Now that we've looked at Philips faults, and cited his inability to look at the whole picture. Let’s see what happens when his friend questions his set of facts…

Verse 46

“Come and see,” said Philip.

Prejudice is feeling base. “Come and see is subjective”. Here are the facts, you can only drawl one conclusion.


It is interesting to see Jesus characterization of Nathaniel

47 When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

Imagine that, this is the first time Nathaniel meets Jesus and Jesus calls him a true Israelite without deceit.

We anticipate our whole lives standing before the judgment seat of God and long to hear those words “well done thy good and faithful servant”.

And here's Nathaniel meeting Jesus for the first time and Jesus says this about him. Sure his mind was tainted by prejudice, but his heart was pure. He was not a hypocrite. He loved God with a pure heart and desired to see the messiah.

If we look at that phrase in the Greek, it’s translated as “truly, genuine Israelite”. We're not talking about physical dissent from Abraham or genetics, and but rather having a pure heart, without hypocrisy. Nathaniel was a genuine spiritual child of the Abraham.

What am I talking about? Go to Romans 9:6-7, the apostle Paul says,

"For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are deceit and Abraham."

The Nathaniel was a true spiritual offspring of Abraham. He was a man who worshipped God in spirit and in truth without deceit or hypocrisy.

Because his heart was sincere his faith was real. Nathaniel was able to overcome his prejudice.

His response to Jesus and reveals his character.

48 “How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked.

We have to assume that Nathaniel was still questioning whether Jesus is the true messiah. He's not questioning his friend Philip, but a true Bible scholar would be sure to test the spirits. After all Jesus didn't fit his picture of the messiah. Jesus was the son of a carpenter, unknown name, from a town that didn't have any connection to prophecy. After all Nazareth didn't exist in the Old Testament. So when Jesus said these things to him, he might have questioned if Jesus was just flattering him?

Verse 48

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

This was not flattery. Jesus couldn't have known where I Nathaniel had been or what he had been doing and unless he had been omniscient. Jesus wasn't physically present to see Nathaniel under the fig tree, and Nathaniel knew that.

Rabbit trail about a fig tree: houses in that culture were mostly small -- generally made up of one room. The cooking was done inside, so a fire was burning even in the summer. Houses could get full smoke and stuffy. Trees were planted around houses to keep them cool and shaded. One of the best trees to plant near your house is a fig tree. It bears wonderful fruit and gives good shade. The trees grow about the height of about 15 feet they have short, gnarled trunks. Their branches are low and spread as far as 25 for 30 feet. A fig tree near house provides a large, shady, protected place outdoors. So if you wanted to escape the noise and the stifling atmosphere the house, you could go outside and rest under the fig tree. It was a kind of private outdoor space -- perfect for meditation, reflection, and solitude. It's no doubt that this is where Nathaniel went to study the scriptures and pray.

In fact, Jesus was saying I know where your heart is, because I saw you under the fig tree. I know what you were doing. I suppose we would be equally surprised if Jesus said, “I know what a faithful servant you are because I know that you get up every morning at 6:30 and go into the family room to pray. Or I know that you take your devotion time every day before you go to work to study the scriptures. Or I know that you praise me all the way to work…”

That was enough for Nathaniel.

49 Then Nathaniel declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Nathaniel got right away. Phillip, on the other hand still hadn't gotten at two years later. We already looked at the passage were Philips says “show us the father”.

Nathaniel knew the Old Testament. He was familiar with what the prophets had said. He knew who look for. And regardless of the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth, he was omniscient. He had the ability to read Nathaniel's heart. And that was enough to convince Nathaniel that he was messiah.

Notice when Jesus said to him,

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

That's all we know about Nathaniel. Early church records suggest that he ministered in Persia and India and took the gospel as far as Armenia. There's no reliable record about how he died. One tradition says that he was tied up in a sack and cast into the sea. Another tradition says that he was crucified. By all accounts he was martyred like the rest of the apostle's, except John.

We do know that Nathaniel was to faithful to the end, because he was faithful from the start. And like the other apostles, Nathaniel stands to prove that God can use anyone, from any place, provided he has an open heart to build his kingdom.

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