By Pastor Glenn Pease
If Simon the Zealot was a right-winger and Matthew the Publican a left- winger, Philip was a cautious middle of the roader. He had both liberal and conservative leanings. His background was one of mixed influence. His name, for example, tell us something of his home life. Philip is a Greek name, and when Jewish parents give their baby boy a Greek name it tells you something about their outlook on life. This is especially evident with the name of Philip, for this is the name of the ruler over that area when Philip was born. Prince Philip, or Philip the Tetrarch, as Scripture calls him, of the Herodian House was reigning when Philip was born. He ruled from 4 B. C. to A. D. 34. This was the Philip whose wife Herod was living with, which caused John the Baptist to speak words of condemnation.
It was Philip's former wife, Herodius who had John the Baptist killed. John the Baptist was the one who pointed Andrew to Jesus, and Andrew pointed Jesus to Philip. This means that Philip was named after the man whose wife killed the man whose action lead to him becoming an Apostle. Prince Philip, of course, cannot be held responsible for the evil conduct of his unfaithful wife. He was well liked as a ruler, and obvious was appreciated by the parents of the Apostle. It could be that they benefited by his acts in relation to Bethsaida. Verse 44 tells us that Philip was from this city. Josephus tells us of the Tetrarch's interests in Bethsaida. "He raised the village of Bethsaida, situated at the lake of Gennesarath, to city rank, provided it with a greater number of inhabitants and other powers...."
This likely helped the parents of the Apostle in some way-probably economically, and in gratitude they names their son after Prince Philip. He was one who sought to balance things between the Jewish and Greek views, and so the parents of Philip must have been in favor of this balance and the harmony of the old and the new, and so were politically middle of the road type people. The evidence that Philip grew up with this kind of attitude is the fact that when the Greeks wanted to get an interview with Jesus they came to Philip. He had a Greek name and was obviously sympathetic to the Greeks. He was cautious, however, and he went to talk it over with Andrew before he went to Jesus. He was the type of man who wanted a second opinion before he acted, which also shows him to be a middle of the road type person.
Andrew was a good friend of Philip, and the evidence reveals that many of the Apostles had a relationship before they were called by Jesus. Peter and Andrew, and James and John were two sets of brothers who were in business together. Verse 44 tells us that Philip was from Bethsaida, which was the city of Andrew and Peter. John is clearly indicating a connection of these men, and that they were friends before they became Apostles. Andrew found his brother Peter in v. 41, and then Jesus went to Galilee and found Philip in v. 43, and in v. 45 Philip found Nathaniel and said we have found the Messiah. We have a series of founds here where it is clear that they knew each other. Jesus found Philip after he talked to Andrew and Peter, and the implication is that they told Jesus about him. They told him of their friend in their hometown, who was also one who was looking for the Messiah. They recommended him to Jesus and the next day Jesus looked him up.
The fact that John is the only one who tells us these details shows that he was also a part of this group of friends. The other Gospel writers tell us nothing of Philip but his name, but this author tells us of his call, of his testing at the feeding of the 5000, of his bringing the Greeks to Jesus, and of his question to Jesus at the Last Supper. The other writers did not know Philip, but to John he was part of the old gang that became a part of this new gang of Apostles of Jesus. It is of interest to note that Jesus selected a group of men who were already friends and who had spiritual commitments before he met them. Philip got a place in recorded Scripture largely because of his friends, and he in turn brought his friend Nathaniel to Christ.
Verse 35 reveals that Philip was a Bible student. He said, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote." Philip knew the prophecy of the coming Messiah. It was on the basis of fulfilled prophecy that Jesus was able to convince His Apostles that He was the Messiah. The fact that He would run to Nathaniel and say this tells us that this is where Jesus began. He went to Scripture and showed how he fulfilled it. All we read in the text is that he said, "Follow me." But much more was said. There is nothing in the words follow me to prove he was fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus had to give evidence and it was convincing, for Philip was not going to waste time trying to answer the philosophical question of Nathaniel, which was, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" He simply said, "Come and see." The evidence need only be seen to be believed.
This little phrase of come and see describes Philip's character for us. He was a very practical and down to earth man. He did not go for Nathaniel's mysticism and abstract philosophy. He went for solid visible evidence and facts. Seeing is believing was his motto. He was basically a materialist and had to see. At the feeding of the 5000 we read in John 6:5-7, "..Jesus said to Philip, 'how are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?' This He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, 'two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.'"
The way Philip quickly calculated things has led to speculation that he may have been a cook or a manager of an eating establishment owned by his parents. Whatever the case, he was a calculator. He faced the facts realistically, and he concluded that all the money in their treasury could not begin to feed this crowd. "Come and see," Philip is saying again. "Look at the cold facts and you will see it cannot be done." He had a vivid sense of the impossible because he did not figure the power of Christ into his calculation. It is possible to be so practical and realistic that you never see beyond the physical facts into the realm of spiritual facts. This leads to frustration and to failure to attempt anything beyond the strength of visible powers. Leave the unseen out of your calculations and most everything seems impossible. Jesus said, "Without me you can do nothing." And so everything in God's will is impossible if you depend only upon the visible facts.
It 200 denarii worth of bread would not scratch the surface in fulfilling the need, what is the sense of Andrew introducing the lad with 5 loaves and 2 fishes? Philip must have laughed at the absurdity of it. Philip had to learn that a little with Christ can be sufficient, for he is not limited by the physical facts. Philip was probably embarrassed by the miracle of Christ, and he probably felt silly about his calculations. Evidence of this is in the fact that when the Greeks came to him he went to Andrew. Andrew had an insight into Christ's spiritual nature that was deeper than that of Philip. Philip knew that he made a fool of himself at the feeding of the 5000, but that Andrew came through with shining colors. Therefore, he played it cautiously and went to Andrew. Philip had learned to seek the advice of friends with a different perspective.
Philip still had his seeing is believing attitude right to the end. In John 14:8 Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." That is all Philip needed to be fully satisfied. All he wanted was to see God. He represents the vast majority of people who long for a concrete materialistic proof of God. He had it, however, and didn't even realize it. Jesus said, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father." Philip needed to listen carefully to the teachings of Jesus that night. He needed to develop the spiritual perspective, for Jesus is leaving them and returning to the Father, and the Holy Spirit will be their guide. Philip would no longer be able to depend on the physical. After the ascension he could no longer say, as he did to Nathaniel, "Come and see," for Jesus would no longer be visible. He had to rise above his dependence upon the visible.
Evidence that he struggled with his materialistic character all of his life is in the tradition concerning his martyrdom. He was stripped and hung head down, and he was pierced at the ankles and thighs. He refused to tolerate this abuse and leave vengeance to the Lord. He had to see his enemies punished to be satisfied, and so he ordered the ground to open and swallow the people. Jesus appeared and rebuked Philip, and he restored all the people to life. This is fiction, of course, but it reveals that even tradition preserves for us the characteristics that were true of him in real life.
Philip, like all the other Apostles, was unique. He had his own strengths and weaknesses. He is another proof that Jesus can and does use people of all different natures. If our presentation of Christ appeals to only a certain kind of people, we can be sure that we are not preaching a whole Christ, but one limited to certain tastes and character. A whole Christ will attract everyone, for no one, however unique, is any different from the 12 that Jesus chose.