Philip is the fifth disciple mentioned in all of the disciple lists. And it may seem strange, but Philip in the Greek means “lover of horses”. Though he was a Jewish man living in Israel only his Greek name is known. It can be assumed that because of the Greek and Roman worlds, many people would assimilate and take on the cultures. Philip, having a Greek name, probably was a Hellenistic Jew. He was from Bethsaida the same town Peter and Andrew were from. They most likely all attended the same synagogue right in the town. James and John were probably two of his friends as well. Looking at that history, it can also be assumed that, because of their closeness, Philip was probably a Galilean fisherman. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two unnamed disciples [known later as Andrew and Philip] are mentioned as being fisherman. That means Jesus chose at least seven men, all ordinary fisherman- common group of friends all unexceptional men to change the world.
Little is really known about Philip. He is usually paired with Nathanael. According to John, Philip was a “process person”, by the book, practical, narrowly focused, and often a pessimist. He was not a visionary but a cynic. But like the brother pairs, he was probably in the wilderness and at the Jordan River with John the Baptist awaiting the Messiah. Philip was, in fact, the first disciple physically sought out and called by Jesus to follow him. Its the first time recorded that Jesus said “Come, follow me”. Immediately he went and got Nathanael. His response to Jesus was bold, and frankly out of his character. He said, “We have found him”. Although Jesus had sought Philip out, Philip understood the concept of personally accepting Jesus. He had found what he had been searching for his entire life. There was no reluctance or disbelief- complete opposite of his normal.
A few examples of Philip show his true character and how Jesus chose to use him in spite of it. The feeding of the 5,000 is a perfect example of Philip’s weak faith. Scripture says there were 5,000 men meaning there were probably at least 20,000 total people. Jesus told Philip that they needed to get bread to feed everyone. He immediately started counting heads, overwhelmed by the crowd. It was simply impossible. Right? He was obsessed with the mundane matters forgetting that Jesus the Messiah was present. He thus lost the opportunity to be a part of the miracle. Andrew stepped up in faith which led to the miracle. Another time a group of Greeks visited Philip in hopes of getting to see Jesus. The Greeks probably went immediately to Philip because of his Greek name. However, he was timid and indecisive. He had no idea what to do, therefore he found Andrew to take care of the matter. Twice, Andrew was used in opportunities that Philip could have been a part of. The third, and last example, is about the Last Supper. All of the disciples were pathetically weak in their faith that night. Jesus had already explained who he was to them. In fact, the disciples spent three years with him seeing clear miracles and supernatural occurrences that only the Messiah- the true God- could perform! [John 14:7] The night of the Last Supper, Jesus explained that anyone who had known him had known the Father. If they had seen him they had seen the Father. He was the Father, yet Philip was not listening. Philip spoke up for the group and said, “Show us the Father and it is sufficient for us”. He just didn’t get it. Jesus responded, probably painfully, “Do you not believe? …You have not known me…” Wow. Philip had been in the presence of the Messiah for three solid years. He had seen amazing things that only God could do yet he responded to Jesus so naively. For three years he was not really listening or seeing. He had been blind and deaf without knowing it.
Little else is known about Philip after the Last Supper. It is obvious that Philip eventually worked through his issues. He knew Jesus was the Messiah from the start, yet it remained a struggle to fully believe with strong faith for his entire ministry, if not entire life. But he was crucial to spreading the gospel of Jesus to Asia. He must have worked through his doubt. He was stoned to death for preaching about Jesus in Heliopolis in Asia Minor. It was eight years after the death of James. The key is to understand that Philip, a man of weak faith yet practical lifestyle, overcame his weaknesses and expanded the Message of Christ greatly.