Nathanael is mentioned in all four lists of the disciples as Bartholomew (meaning “Son of Tolmai) but known in John as Nathanael (meaning “God has given”). There is little detailed background of him mentioned in scriptures. He came from Cana, near Nazareth, still in the region of Galilee like all of the other disciples. Nathanael was closest with Philip, thus suggesting his closeness with the Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Because of his closeness with Philip, once Philip was personally called out by Jesus to be a disciple, in his excitement and joy, Philip immediately went to get Nathanael and personally introduced him to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Nathanael was a negative person that was filled with prejudice. When Philip told him that the Messiah, Jesus, was from the town of Nazareth, he responded, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth was an unexceptional, small town but even still better than Cana, Nathanael’s hometown. He was filled with regional contempt and jealousy. He was not expecting the Messiah to come from such an ordinary and common place. However reluctant he was, Nathanael followed Philip to meet Jesus.
Upon meeting Jesus, Jesus said that Nathanael was “an Israelite indeed”, clearly meaning that Nathanael was truly, genuinely an Israelite that was a true Jew to the law and beliefs. He was pure-hearted, non-hypocritical, authentic, and sincere, as well as devoted, and not just religious. Nathanael was shocked by Jesus’ response and asked him how Jesus knew him because he was not convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus response left Nathanael in awe: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” This statement by Jesus proved him to be the Messiah since no one knew where Nathanael’s place of solitude and rest was. It proved that Jesus knew Nathanael intimately and in a way that Nathanael could not deny him.
There is little else known about Nathanael. He definitely took the Message of the Gospel out east from Israel however there is not reliable accounts of any specifics to where exactly he went or how he died. Some accounts say that he was tied in a sack and thrown in the sea, and others say he was crucified. But it is agreed on all accounts, regardless of how he died, he was a martyr for Jesus Christ.