It is commonly believed that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person. Nathanael means “given by God,” or “gift of God,” while Bartholomew simply means “son of Ptolemy,” so it’s likely that Nathanael was often known by others at his time by a nick name Bartholomew. This is very common for Jews.
Nathanael (Bartholomew) was from Cana of Galilee (John 21.2), where Jesus performed his first two miracles. He is one of the twelve apostles of Christ, (Matthew 10.3), (Mark 3.18), (Luke 6.14), (John 1.45-49), (Acts 1.13), whom was sent out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons and to heal every disease and sickness.
Nazareth was a small town in the lower region of Galilee, where Jesus grew up after Joseph and Mary settled there. Nazareth was at the crossroads of many great caravan routes, including one road, which brought travelers from Egypt to the interior of Asia. Due to their location, Nazarenes were in contact with people from all over the world. News reached them very quickly. In Jesus’ day there was a Roman army garrison there. The Jews did not like the Romans. At that time, “Nazarene” was virtually a synonym for “despised”. But our Lord is called Jesus of Nazareth, to fulfill the saying in Ps 22.6 and Isa 53.3, that Messiah would be despised.
In the first three gospels, Bartholomew’s name is always appears next to Philip’s in the lists of disciples. It was Philip who first brought Nathanael to Jesus, just as Andrew had brought his brother Simon (John 1.45-49). Philip was excited about finding “the very one Moses and the prophets wrote about.” He went to find his friend, Nathanael. Philip told Nathanael that Jesus was from Nazareth. Nathanael was skeptical. He did not think anything good could come from that town.
But Philip persisted and asked Nathanael to go and see for himself and Nathanael followed him. When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, He said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael was astonished and asked, “How do you know me?” When Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Upon hearing this impossible statement, light dawned upon his mind, and he cried, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God and the King of Israel.” After that, Nathanael’s doubt turned to strong faith in the Lord Jesus.
Nathanael was one of the disciples to whom our Lord appeared at the Sea of Tiberias after His resurrection (John 21.2). He was also a witness of the Ascension (Acts 1.4, 12,13) and with other disciples all joined together constantly in prayer after Jesus ascended to the Heaven.
II. “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
Who is it, concerning whom our blessed Lord gives this glorious testimony? Who is this Nathanael, of whom so remarkable an account is given? By what little is said of him in the context he appears to have been a man of an excellent spirit; not hasty of belief, and yet open to conviction, and willing to receive the truth once given. Nathanael took Philip’s advice, without being stubborn in his own opinion.
“In whom is no guile.” It first implied his having his heart true to God. It does not imply any less than that is included in that gracious command, “My son, give me your heart.” Only when we give our heart to Him is our heart true to God. We give Him our heart when we seek Him and seek our happiness in Him. Our heart cannot be true when we seek our happiness in gratifying “the desire of the flesh” in any of the pleasures of sense; in gratifying “the desire of the eye” in any of the pleasures of the imagination, arising from grand, new, or beautiful objects, whether of nature or art; in “the pride of life,” such as “the honor that comes of men,” in being beloved, esteemed, and applauded by others, or taking pleasure in “laying up treasures on earth.”
When we seek happiness in none of these, but in God alone, then we, in some sense give Him our heart and thus preserved our heart so it is “in no guile.”
III. One can be honest and wrong at the same time
It is evident when the Lord said of Nathanael as a man of “no guile,” He did not mean Nathanael was sinless. Far from that. Nathanael’s unsaved heart is evident in what he had believed and said before he met the Lord. Though not deceitful, he was nevertheless arrogantly and ignorantly wrong.
That one can be of “no guile” yet ignorant and entirely wrong is some thing to be carefully considered. When it comes to spiritual matters, many people readily claim that as along as one is being honest, he will be all right. That one is honestly wrong does not save him from the consequence of being wrong.
Nathanael, the one who was with “no guile,” thought of the Nazareth with contempt and despised everything from Nazareth. He was in real danger of rejecting the Lord his Savior, but for the grace of God.
One may be prideful and despise not only his fellow men but also Jesus. But when we come to Jesus, there is nothing hidden from Him, for He knows us better than we do ourselves. We will ask the same questions Nathanael asked, “How do you know me?” The Lord will answer us “Before you came from the womb of your mother, I already knew you.” The only difference may be that most of us are not in a condition nearly as good as Nathanael’s. While he is said to be of “no guile” by the Lord, most of us might only see our corruption exposed by the light of the Lord.
If Nathanael needed grace of the Lord to come to true knowledge, we need it much more.
IV. A glorious confession – gift of faith from God
Concerning Nathanael, as the heart of him that is “an Israelite indeed” is true to God, what is truly remarkable is not his character, but what follows next. It is from this true Israelite that comes the one of the earliest confessions of the true faith in Son of God, our Savoir: “..you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” This glorious confession isn’t merely a testimonial to a gift from Nathanael to the Son of God, the King of Kings, but first of all to a gift of faith from the Son, the King, to Nathanael, a true Israelite.
The work of life is by God, not by man. We don’t know which happens first, the truth in our heart or the saving faith, but we must come to Lord with an honest and earnest heart before we can receive truth and faith from the Lord. It is not that our limited honesty is worthy of exchanging for God’s gift (eternal life by faith – what a gift that is!), but it is nevertheless a condition that must be met before the gift can be received.