After the decisions of Andrew, Peter, and (most likely) John the son of Zebedee to follow Jesus, our Savior made the decision to head for Galilee (John 1:35–43). Before heading for Galilee, Jesus had been working in the southern portion of the Promised Land, close to where the Jordan River meets the Dead Sea. To set out for Galilee was to head to the northern part of the Promised Land, where Jesus would conduct much of His earthly ministry.
Today’s passage says that at that point, Jesus also called as His disciple Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, the same place where Andrew and Peter came from (vv. 43–44). This does not necessarily mean Philip was living in Bethsaida when Jesus met him, but it could mean the place where Philip was raised. This was certainly the case for Andrew and Peter, for we know from Mark 1:21, 29 that they made their home in Capernaum when they began following Jesus. But John says they were from Bethsaida because that is where they spent their formative years, just as the Gospels refer to Jesus as from Nazareth because that is where He grew up before later moving to Capernaum (Matt. 2:19–23; 4:13).
The New Testament tells us clearly that Nazareth was an insignificant, even despised, town. Even fellow Galileans looked down on Nazareth, as is evident in the response of Nathanael when Philip told him about finding the Messiah (John 1:46). Plainly, Nathanael could not believe that the promised Savior would come from such a humble locale. Nathanael, it should be noted, is likely the same person as Bartholomew, who is listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14). Bartholomew means “son of Tolmai,” so his full name would have been Nathanael son of Tolmai.
If Nathanael had been a better student of the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament, he would not have been so surprised that the Messiah would come from Nazareth. Isaiah 53:1–3 reveals that the Messiah would have “no form or majesty” and would be “despised and rejected by men.” His upbringing in Nazareth, therefore, was one of the ways in which Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. The Messiah, who would be despised by the majority of His own people, began life as a citizen of a despised town. Yet as Nathanael would learn, one cannot judge the Messiah’s claims based on His hometown. Much good, in fact, would come from Nazareth as Jesus began His ministry.