Summary: A biographical look at BARTHOLOMEW


TEXT: JOHN 1:43-51

Sunday, February 15, 2004

We are halfway through a series on the disciples. If you are visiting, we are going through the twelve disciples and we are halfway already. It is amazing to me that we are halfway. In looking at the first two years of my ministry here, we looked at the life of Jesus twice. I thought this year we would look at those who walked with Jesus. There is a sense that some Christian people feel that Jesus is hard to relate to. He was divine. He was the Son of God. I am just an average Joe. What can God possibly do through me? In addressing that, we are going to look at the twelve disciples. They are ordinary people. They are people just like us. They have great triumphs and they have huge flaws as well. Bartholomew is one of those and is who we are talking about today.

I have more points than I have time for, I know, so I am not going to give my snazzy introduction this morning. You know introductions are designed to make you say I want to listen. Will you promise me that you are ready to listen so I can get to the text? Are you with me? Alright let’s get straight to the text because there is good stuff in here. We are looking at John, chapter 1, verses 43-51, which is the only picture we get of Bartholomew, and Bartholomew is not named Bartholomew; his name is Nathanael. What is interesting as you study this, is that you notice that Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts all say Bartholomew is one of the twelve. John doesn’t have Bartholomew, but John is clear that Nathanael is one of the twelve. What do you do with it and is someone wrong here? Well, no. Bartholomew is not even a name. Bartholomew means: Bar is the Hebrew word for son and tholomew is the word for Tolmai. John is the person who gives us his first name. His first name is Nathanael. Now I don’t know why he didn’t go by his first name but I am betting it is because of the mission that he had. Nathanael is a Greek name. He is the only disciple that has a Greek name. All the rest of them have a Jewish name. But Nathanael is Jewish by his lineage, son of Tolmai. It is a Jewish name.

Their initial ministry was to Jews first so it probably was in order to keep people from thinking, “What’s that Greek doing on the ministry staff?” They decided to just avoid that and just tell people that “I am the son of Tolmai. I am Jewish. I am fully Jewish.” I have a Greek name because my parents probably liked it. It means given by God. It probably was a nice name same as when I named my children. I liked the name. They are pretty names so we chose them. So I don’t know why, but Bartholomew in John is referred to as Nathanael. His full name was probably Nathanael Bartholomew. Nathanael Bar Tolmai, the son of Tolmai. Here is what we know about him (and this is the only text that tells us anything about him beyond the fact that he is listed). Here is what it says. John 1:43-51:

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was form the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael 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.’

‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.

‘Come and see,’ said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’

‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.

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

Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.’

Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.’ 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.’

What do we learn about Nathanael, or Bartholomew, if you want to go by that name, in John 1? Well, a lot things. One, there is a sense where you see that Nathanael is a man who really has a seeking heart. He really wants to know God and the truth, and you kind of get this picture. Philip is coming to him. He is excited. Man, we found the Messiah. Wow! How does Nathanael respond? Like us. Like us when someone is trying to sell us something. We become a little skeptical. He is not ready to bite. He is not ready to be sold yet. He has some questions. He is like us when someone tries to sell us something. Like when you get a vacuum salesman. I watch Fox’s Bulls and Bears. They try to sell you some stock and you say well, is it the truth? How can you know? Nathanael responds this way.

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