and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit."
Nathanael was one of the disciples called by Jesus
Nathanael, also referred to as Bartholomew in the gospels, was one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples. Though not much is known about Nathanael’s background or personality, the apostle is revealed in the gospels to be an honest, insightful, and faithful servant of Jesus Christ and student of the Old Testament. After the resurrection,
Nathanael would go on to be a key leader in the early church,
taking the gospel to the ends of the earth as commissioned by his lord and savior.
Nathanael was from Cana in Galilee (John 21:2) and was brought to Jesus by his friend, Philip, who also became one of Jesus’ disciples. Nathanael was one of the first to express belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 1:49). His name means “God has given” in Hebrew. Interestingly, Nathanael is only mentioned in the Gospel of John; the other three gospels identify him as “Bartholomew.”
The call of Philip and Nathanael
to discipleship is recorded in the first chapter of John, beginning in verse 43. Jesus went to Galilee and found Philip first, who then went to Nathanael, his friend.
Philip told Nathanael that he had found
“The One Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom
the prophets also wrote Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”
This would seem to indicate Philip and Nathanael were students of the
Law and the Prophets and that Philip recognized from their study that
Jesus was the Messiah
they had been waiting for. Nathanael was skeptical and said, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” This skepticism was understandable; at that time Nazareth was an
Obscure little hill Town, remote and of no consequence. It was not sophisticated or glamorous, quite the opposite—it was not a place that anyone expected the Messiah to come from.
He held the Town of Nazareth in the same regard as many Jews of that day Nazareth, and all of the area around Galilee, was seen as a low and wicked place.
Of course, this was not a racial or ethnic prejudice, as many Jews would have had for the Gentiles or, as we see from the disciples later in the gospels, the Samaritans. Rather, Nathanael had developed a regional prejudice and bias against those from a nearby town, perhaps in the same way crosstown rivals might deride each other, or residents of Los Angeles and San Francisco might disparage each other. Even Bartholomew/Nathanael, himself a Galilean, was doubtful that anything good, let alone
God’s Messiah, could come from such a place. Despite his skepticism, Nathanael followed Philip to meet Jesus. When the Lord saw Nathanael coming toward Him, He said,
“Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”
It is obvious that Jesus’ mention of “no deceit” triggered amazement in Nathanael; it points to the fact that Jesus knew his thoughts. Nathanael accepted this description as true and wondered how Jesus knew his character, having never met him before. Jesus explained:
“I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” Nathanael then immediately recognized Jesus as the Christ, calling him the
“Son of God” and the “king of Israel”
Jesus wasn’t present when Philip called Nathanael, yet He had seen and heard their conversation, evidence of His omniscience. He knew not only Nathanael’s words but his heart and sincere character as well. Nathanael (Bartholomew) saw the attributes of divine omniscience and the ability to discern hearts in the Man who stood before him. Nathanael’s familiarity with Old Testament prophecies caused him to recognize Jesus for who He was, the
promised Messiah, Son of God and King of Israel
Jesus knew Nathanael’s heart, just as He knows what is in every heart. Jesus’ assessment of Bartholomew was that he was a “true” son of Abraham, that is, a man who worshiped the true and living God without any of the deceit or hypocrisy that characterized the religious leaders of that day. Jesus responds to Nathanael’s statement of faith with a prophecy:
“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that” (John 1:50). Then Jesus prophesies that Nathanael will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man
It’s worth noting that Nathanael is rarely mentioned apart from the listing of the twelve disciples. In fact, the only time Nathanael is featured is in John 1when he is first called to follow Jesus, and John 21:2, where he is mentioned along with those who returned to Galilee to go fishing with Peter after the resurrection. Given the fact that Peter and Andrew were also from Bethsaida, and possibly even James and John, the sons of Zebedee, (John 1:44), the likelihood that many of the disciples knew each other, were close friends, and possibly even coworkers and fellow fisherman prior to meeting Jesus becomes more conceivable.
At the very least, Nathanael had become a close companion of Philip prior to meeting Jesus and had grown up in the same region as Peter, Andrew, James, John, and maybe even Thomas. In fact, Nathanael’s local knowledge and civic pride would come to light when called upon to follow Jesus. It's evident that both men had been students of the Old Testament prior to meeting Jesus. They had studied the Law of Moses and read the prophets. But rather than just being casual readers, Philip and Nathanael had become passionate about the Word of God, even developing an interest in the prophecies of the promised Messiah. Like many in Israel, this was something (or someone) they were eagerly waiting and even searching for.
This is a reference to the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. But instead of ascending and descending on a ladder as they did in Jacob’s dream, the angels will ascend and descend on the Son of Man-- meaning that Jesus Himself will be the final, efficacious connection between God and humanity (see Hebrews 9:12; 10:10)
Jesus’ earthly ministry had begun at His baptism by John the Baptist
(Matthew 3:16–17; Mark 1:9–12).
The wedding occurred over a month later after Jesus had gathered about half of His disciples (John 1:43). Although He had never performed a miracle in public,
it was time to demonstrate who He was.
It is interesting that the quality of wine He supplied was superior to anything that had been served thus far (John 2:10). The quality of the wine stunned the host.
The miracle made a strong impression on Jesus’ new disciples, teaching them
from the start that He could take care of them
(Isaiah 46:4; Matthew 6:8).
Jesus’ creation of wine may be significant, prophetically.
Jeremiah had foretold that in the
Messianic age “they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD—the grain, the new wine . . .” (Jeremiah 31:12).
that Israel “will plant vineyards and drink their wine”
of the Messiah with a time of plenty—including freely flowing wine—makes Jesus’ first miraculous sign all the more meaningful.
The fact that the miracle was performed at a wedding
is also significant.
By His attendance, Jesus places His stamp of approval on the marriage covenant,
and with His miracle
He shows from whence the blessings in a marriage spring.
The love and joy inherent in a wedding ceremony are also characteristic
of the ministry of Christ,
who came into this world because of love (John 3:16) and brought joy to all who believe
Jesus may have chosen this family situation to perform this miracle because
an ordinary setting became the showcase for
His supernatural power.