The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)
John is the only gospel writer to mention the apostle Nathanael, but tradition considers him to be the “Bartholomew” of the other gospels. His name means “son of Tolmai” and could have been Nathanael’s surname. Another clue to his identity lies in the fact that Bartholomew is always listed beside the name of Philip, the one who John tells us introduced Nathanael to Jesus (John 1:45-46). Popular traditions and legends say that Bartholomew/Nathanael preached in some of the most hostile countries of the East—India, Ethiopia, and Persia—and eventually died in Armenia, where he was flayed alive, then beheaded or possibly crucified.
When Philip shared his belief that Jesus of Nazareth might well be the Messiah, Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Rabbinical thinking held that the Messiah would come from Judea, the land of David—most certainly not from a region such as Galilee, which was overrun by the Gentiles. More than a cynical remark or statement of unbelief, Nathanael’s reaction revealed a firm adherence to God’s word as he understood it and a willingness to have his assumptions challenged and his faith stretched. The fact that he accepted Philip’s invitation to meet Jesus says much about Nathanael’s openness to seeking the truth.
With fitting irony, having never spoken a word with Nathanael, Jesus declared, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). Nathanael’s openness to the truth impressed Jesus. This man didn’t hide behind masks when dealing with other people. Instead, he spoke truthfully (sometimes bluntly) and expected nothing less in return. Nathanael’s honest, open heart must have been fertile ground indeed for God’s word to take root. His confession that Jesus was the Son of God was only the beginning. As Jesus himself promised, he would see heaven opened!
God wants to give us the same freedom and openness that Nathanael had. Being without guile is not just a natural attribute, but can come to us as we place our security more and more in the hands of Jesus. Knowing his forgiveness and trusting in his Father’s provision, we will have no need for the defenses and cynical self-protection that seem so much a part of this world. Like Nathanael, let us immerse ourselves in Scripture and let the word of God heal us of all guile.
Jesus said that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree, even before Philip brought him along to meet Jesus. This simple statement prompted Nathanael to proclaim the truth about Jesus as the Messiah, for it demonstrated that Jesus knew him intimately. Jesus knows you to the very core of your being, too, and has known you even before you gave your life to him, an amazing fact that should strengthen your faith!
Someone who is free of guile might be considered rather naïve, although guile is defined as cunning or deceit. In our culture today, it is seen as something necessary to survive in the world, perhaps an armor to shield one from being hurt. Ask the Lord to free you from any fears you might have of being vulnerable or unprotected. Ask him to replace these fears with a strong sense of his protection.
Bartholomew actively sought truth, and was willing to have his faith stretched, unlike many of us who hold on to preconceived notions about God that limit our openness to his work in our lives. The truth is, no concern of yours is too insignificant to the Lord. You are entirely worthy for God to hear you and to speak to you, so renounce any false assumptions you might have, and ask Jesus to reveal his truths to you, just as he did to Bartholomew. Ask the Holy Spirit to remove all guile so that he might make you a light that clearly reflects his glory!
This is a selection from A Year of Celebration, ed. By Patty Mitchell (The Word Among Us Press, 2001).