("son of Tolmai or Talmai"), an Old Testament name, Joshua 14:14. One of Christ's 12 apostles (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). His own name probably was Nathanael (John 1:45-51), just as Joses or Joseph is called Barnabas. The three synoptical Gospels never mention Nathanael, John never mentions Bartholomew; the two names belong probably to the same person. Brought by Philip to Jesus. It is in undesigned accordance with this that Philip is coupled with Bartholomew in the first three lists, as Philip is coupled with Nathanael in John 1. The place given him also in the fishing after the resurrection of the Lord (John 21:2) implies his being one of the twelve. Thomas is put before him and after Matthew in Acts 1:13 (See APOSTLE), perhaps because of his taking a more prominent position spiritually after his doubts were removed.
Nathanael was of Cans in Galilee. India (i.e. Arabia Felix, as many think) is assigned to him as his subsequent sphere of missionary labors (Eusebius, H. E. 5:10). His prominent characteristics: narrowness of prejudice in him ("Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?") immediately gave place to conviction, when the Savior revealed Himself. Like Jacob, he wrestled alone with God in prayer under the fig tree. But, unlike that cunning supplanter, he was "an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile"; compare Revelation 14:5. Adam and Eve vainly cloaked their shame under fig leaves. Nathanael bored his whole soul before God under the fig tree in simplicity and sincerity. Fearless candor made him avow his convictions as promptly as he reached them, "Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel."
His reward was according to his faith: "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given." "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these: hereafter (from this time forth, Greek) ye (not merely thou alone, but all My disciples) shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man," the true ladder between earth and heaven, of which that in Jacob's dream was the type (Genesis 28:12), and upon which angels delight to minister.
The "ascending" stands first, because the Lord was now below on earth, not above, as when Jacob saw Him; and from Him as their center they go up, and to Him they return: the communication between earth and heaven, closed by sin, is opened by Christ's making earth His home. His miracles and His teaching and His divine manifestation, of which Bartholomew had just a taste, were a sample and installment of a continually progressing opening of heaven to earth and earth to heaven (Revelation 4:1; Acts 7:56; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:19-20) wherein angels minister to and for Him (Luke 2:9; Luke 2:13; Luke 22:43; Acts 1:10); to be consummated when "the tabernacle of God shall be with men," and "the holy Jerusalem shall descend out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21; 1 Corinthians 13:12).