Jesus chose 12 men to be his apostles. They were specifically called to serve Him and to help bring about His Father’s will. Jesus personally trained and prepared these men. Jesus sent them forth with a mission to make disciples and to share the good news of salvation with the entire world. “The 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ” have been the subject of our current sermon series over the past several weeks.
In an earlier message we described and defined the word apostle. There is another word sometimes used in religious jargon that has a similar spelling and sound but a very different meaning. This is the word “apostate”. For the sake of clarity, let’s make sure we understand the vast differences between an apostle and an apostate.
An apostle is someone who has been “sent”. Broadly, it can refer to all of those who have been sent by Jesus to fulfill the Great Commission - past, present, and future. This would include countless missionaries and evangelists. Typically Southern Baptists have defined it in much more limited sense, arguing that it applies only to those whom Jesus personally and specifically named during the New Testament era. According to this definition, the apostles were a relatively small and closed group.
An apostate, on the other hand, is someone who deserts or betrays the faith. Sadly, the Bible speaks about those who already have or someday will turn from their beliefs in Jesus and revert back to their former wickedness. An apostate is not simply experiencing a season of doubt or weakness, but rather has permanently renounced their faith. This regression is called apostasy. Apostates do great harm to the cause and reputation of Christ. There are several warnings in the New Testament about the extreme dangers of apostasy.
Moving on... let’s now get into the topic of today’s message. We have already talked about Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Philip. This morning we will focus on Bartholomew. He will be the sixth apostle we’ve covered, meaning that after today we will be halfway through with this series. Are you ready? Let’s begin.
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
Bartholomew is also called Nathanael. They are the same person. The name Bartholomew is used in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts whereas the name Nathanael is used only in John. Bartholomew derives from the Greek and means “son of the plowman”. Nathanael is from the Hebrew and means “God has given”. Bartholomew was from Cana of Galilee (John 21:2) and is commonly thought to be Philip’s brother. At the very least they were close friends, like brothers.
Bartholomew was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, which suggests he came from a religious background. Jesus referred to him as a man “in whom there was no deceit”, highlighting Bartholomew’s honest nature. He was a faithful man who vocally acknowledged the kingship of Jesus. Bartholomew was also skeptical, not willing to accept things at face value without first checking them out for himself.
Bartholomew didn’t write any of the Bible. There are some ancient writings that have been associated with him such as the Gospel of Bartholomew, the Questions of Bartholomew, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew). However, all of these extra-biblical writings are somewhat sensational and each has been thoroughly discredited. They describe such things as Jesus’ descent into Hades after the crucifixion.
II. HIS MINISTRY WITH JESUS
Very little is known about Bartholomew. He is only mentioned in the Scripture a few times. The most developed scene featuring Bartholomew centers around his calling to become an apostle. Jesus came to Galilee and called Philip to follow him. Philip then went and found Bartholomew, presumably his brother, and told him that he’d personally met the Messiah. Bartholomew openly doubted Philip’s assertion that someone from lowly Nazareth could be this promised Savior, but decided to go meet Jesus for himself before completely ruling out the possibility. Though they had never previously met, as Bartholomew approached Jesus the Lord began to accurately describe his character. Then Jesus correctly stated that He’d envisioned Bartholomew sitting under a fig tree earlier when Philip first arrived to speak with him. Bartholomew was amazed that Jesus knew these things, and agreed to follow Him as an apostle. The Lord then predicted that Bartholomew would see many more amazing and miraculous things than these (John 1:43-51).
Some Bible students have speculated that Bartholomew was somehow associated with the wedding at Cana, perhaps even being the groom. Afterall, he was from Cana and the wedding story immediately follows that of Bartholomew’s calling to be an apostle. There is no way to confirm this, but it is an interesting theory. The wedding at Cana was where Jesus performed His first public miracle by turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). Perhaps Jesus had been invited by Bartholomew...
Bartholomew was 1 of the 7 apostles who were present at the breakfast by the sea of Galilee following the Lord’s resurrection (John 21:2). On this occasion, he likely helped cast the nets out on the other side of the boat as instructed by Jesus and certainly witnessed the miracle that followed. This was just one of the several times that Bartholomew and the other apostles saw and spoke with the risen Lord.
Bartholomew walked with Jesus throughout His entire 3 years of public ministry and must have experienced many marvelous things. Despite not being mentioned often, Bartholomew must have had an important and necessary role among the apostles. His name might not be well-known, but his service to the Lord was certainly valuable.
III. HIS MINISTRY AFTER JESUS WAS GONE
Bartholomew is included in the final listing of the apostles following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven (Acts 1:13). He participated in their selection of Matthias and their prayers leading up to the Day of Pentecost. After the Holy Spirit fell upon them at Jerusalem, Bartholomew - like the others - became an outspoken evangelist who helped carry the message of Jesus to the furthest corners of the earth.
He is believed to have preached in Armenia, and the Armenian church has historically regarded Bartholomew as their founder. Tradition states that he also went to India to proclaim the gospel there. It is widely accepted that Bartholomew was flayed or skinned alive, and possibly beheaded, for his faith. The exact location of Bartholomew’s martyrdom is unknown and disputed, but probably occurred in either Armenia or India.
I am certain that Bartholomew had many good qualities, but for the sake of today’s sermon I want to applaud his healthy skepticism. When Philip first told his brother about Jesus, Bartholomew listened carefully but did not immediately accept Philip’s declaration. Bartholomew determined to met Jesus for himself to judge if He was the real deal or not.
Far too many people, especially Christians, believe whatever their pastor or teacher tells them. The New Testament urges us to compare that which we are being taught with the Scriptures to ensure that it is correct. We are encouraged to test the spirits, because there are many false teachers out there that are mishandling the Word of God. In other words, each and every believer is personally responsible for reading and generally knowing what the Bible says. It is not sufficient to simply take the word of others. Nor is it appropriate for any church to discourage or dissuade its members from reading and/or studying Scripture.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t trust your pastor or other spiritual leaders. Who would want to follow a preacher or any other religious authority that they didn’t trust? But even though you trust them, it is still important to verify that what they are saying is consistent with the Word of God. Even the wisest Christian is still limited by their humanity, and is subject to make mistakes or have misunderstandings. I’ll confess that I have said things in the past from the pulpit that were wrong, and have had to go back and correct myself. Though not intentional, perhaps I have unwittingly led some astray. It is humbling to admit that possibility.
May all of us be like Bartholomew... willing to listen intently, while not being so foolish as to accept everything at face value. May we test the spirits. May we hold fast to a strong and abiding faith, tempered by an appropriate amount of righteous skepticism.