If I were to ask you to name the twelve disciples, or more precisely, the twelve apostles, could you do it? Most of us could probably get half of them, forgetting all about Thaddaeus, the other Simon, the other Judas, and Bartholomew. Other than Peter, James, John, and Matthew, most of the apostles appear in name only, their larger stories going untold. One such apostle is Philip.
Philip (not to be confused with Philip the Evangelist in the book of Acts) was one of the very first men chosen by Jesus to be part of the twelve. Though he is listed by both Matthew, Mark, and Luke, his story is told completely by John. After calling Andrew and Simon Peter, Jesus found Philip in Galilee and said to him, “Follow me” (John 1.43). In response,
45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1.45-46)
So, Philip was a man of the Scriptures who studied the Law and the Prophets and knew what the Scriptures taught about the coming Messiah. Perhaps he was a kindred spirit of Simeon who was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel (see Luke 2.25). Philip began to follow Jesus, and he witnessed firsthand the great and mighty things that Jesus did. His life mission was to “come and see” if Jesus was the One.
Though many people followed Jesus and were His disciples, He chose from among them twelve to be the apostles. We sometimes confuse the apostles with the disciples, but there is a difference. From among the many disciples, He chose twelve and named them apostles (see Luke 6.13). According to Mark,
14And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15and have authority to cast out demons. (Mark 3.14-15)
One of those great and mighty things the apostles observed was the feeding of the 5000. As John tells the story, the crowds following Jesus had reached a massive number. On one such day,
3Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6.3-5)
Of course, Jesus wasn’t asking Philip to solve the problem, for He knew what was about to happen.
6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6.6-14)
Philip fell right into the trap laid by Jesus. Philip was looking at the material problem, not seeing the spiritual reality. Jesus only asked Philip the question because He wanted to make sure that Philip did not miss the significance of what was about to happen. As the crowds cried out, surely Philip witnessed it, too: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” Remember, this was Philip’s initial opinion about Jesus, now confirmed in real life.
The next time Philip appears in the gospel story is in Jerusalem with Jesus at the Passover. By that time, Jesus was a well known teacher and miracle worker, so it comes as no surprise that many would want to get some face time with Him.
20Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12.20-26)
I am sure that Philip, a reasoned man of the Scriptures who approached life with a logical, studied approach, was baffled at the response of Jesus. In response to a request for an interview, Jesus gave a speech about the growth process of wheat. But Jesus wanted Philip to understand the way that people would ever get to see Jesus: Jesus would have to die, and those who wished to really see Jesus would have to die to themselves. Losing life is the only way to keep it for all eternity. That message must have stuck in Philip’s memory for a while.
The last time we see Philip, other than just as one of the twelve in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 1.12-14), is at the last supper. In John 14, Jesus spoke some of the most famous words from all of the gospel,
1“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4And you know the way to where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John14.1-11)
Thomas’ question is probably the more famous one, for it sets up the wonderful statement of Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. But we should not overlook Philip’s statement: “Just show us the Father.” Philip was a “just the facts” kind of guy. If Jesus was the prophet that Moses wrote about, if He was the prophet who could do great and might things, then that prophet should just get about the business of showing His followers the Father, the God Most High. “Just show us the Father and that will be enough.”
But the frustrated Son of God was almost in shock that He had spent three years with Philip, and yet Philip still did not understand that Jesus and the Father were one. So, He pointed Philip back to the great and mighty things He had done: “believe on account of the works themselves” if nothing else.
Taking a big lens view of the life of Philip, we see a man who was a student of the Scriptures, a man who was convinced that the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament foretold a coming messiah. But the Jews were expecting a human messiah, a figure like Moses or Elijah, gifted by God to do miraculous things. They were not expecting a suffering servant or a vicarious atonement. And if nothing else, through the life of Philip, Jesus made it clear who He was as the promised messiah.
Follow Me, Jesus said. See the great and mighty things that I will do that will testify that I am the Son of God. But then listen to Me. Listen to Me as I explain that the only way to see the Father is through the death of His Son, and listen to Me as I explain that the only way to see the Father is to lose your life in this world so you can gain life eternal. And listen to Me as I explain that I and the Father are one.
The story of Philip reminds us that we can study the Scriptures and still miss the Savior (see John 5.39). We can even see the great and mighty moves of God and still miss the Savior. The only way to see the Father through the Savior is to understand what the death of Jesus meant and how we must join Jesus in that death and be reborn.
And here is exactly the point where many stumble over Jesus. Many have no problem with Jesus being sent from God or that Jesus did many great and mighty deeds. They don’t even have a problem that Jesus died for their sins, such a noble and kind thing to do. But to suggest that to follow Jesus requires our death, requires our lives to be planted in the ground as a grain of wheat and to be reborn into something fundamentally different. We are to be transfigured into a new reality (see Romans 12.1-2) where the old has passed away and new things have come (see 2 Corinthians 5.17). Following the Messiah is not something that we add to our lives; following Jesus is a fundamental life change from the inside out.
Evidently, Philip finally came to understand what this meant. He moved from just being a man who studied the Scriptures and witnessed Jesus do great things. He became a dead man, born again to walk in a new life. According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, a book first published in 1563 which chronicled the account of Christian martyrs throughout Western history from the first century through the early sixteenth centuries,
Philip labored diligently in Upper Asia, and suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified in 54 AD.
Philip came to know what Jesus meant: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”