These were the men chosen to go and harvest, whom He sends out in the following passages. Jesus perhaps took as much as a year and a half to gather His Disciples. Then, these Disciples were with Him for two and one-half to three and one-half years of close, personal, one-on-one as well as group discipleship, with the Lord of the universe. This was the most incredible opportunity ever given to a man.
1. Called His Twelve: Jesus call to His Disciples was parallel to the theme of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
a. The Dead Sea Scrolls tell us that each of the Twelve Tribes had twelve leaders. Thus, the number twelve has some very significant, historical and cultural roots that Jesus, as God, developed, and, as the God-Man, used. The Dead Sea Scrolls also tell us that each of the tribes considered theirs to be the one true tribe, which could also explain why their leadership was set up in the same way that Moses set up the entire country.
b. The theme is that Jesus was setting up a new constitution for Israel (Matt. 19:28).
c. We cannot forget the importance of preparation. The Apostles did not just go and do; they were carefully trained, discipled, and then sent out!
i. Their primary role was not to perform signs and wonders. Rather, it was to preach and teach.
ii. The supernatural manifestations were for the purpose of proving who Christ was, so they would listen and hear the Word of God.
iii. God's Word is supreme; it is the main show, not the sideshow (Mark 1:14,17).
2. The word, Apostle (Apostolos), means emissary, or sent ones, as in Jesus' commissioned representatives (Matt. 10:40; 15:24; Mark 6:7-13; 30; 9:37; Luke 9:1-6; 48; John 4:34; 5:24, 30, 36-38; 6:38; 1Cor. 1:1; Heb. 3:1).
a. Jesus is the Supreme Apostle, the One from whom apostleship flows.
b. In 2 Corinthians, the words, representatives/messengers, are used for apostle (2 Cor. 1:1; 8:23).
c. In Hebrew, this term meant an authorized business agent, just as in some agents today. They represented the merchant or buyer who had the full authority of the one they were representing. Jewish law stipulated an agent could authorize full legal authority, but only to the extent as was written in their commission. The responsibility of the agent was to represent his client with the utmost integrity and truth or he would be subject to financial ruin, or even prison.
d. This commissioning is a parallel to Moses' commissioning of Joshua to take his place in leading the people into the Promised Land (Deut. 31:23).
e. Some rabbis also had apostles, who, even as students, were learning their craft to help prepare them for the responsibility they would have as leaders.
f. It is doubtful that all of the twelve were with Jesus all of the time, as they had homes, families, and businesses, and would come and go, as this passage indicates. Jesus was gathering them all for this important mission as a dress rehearsal of the Great Commission to come (Matt. 28: 18-20).
i. It was common practice of many rabbis at that time too. That Jesus would draw from cultural customs and incorporate them into ministry is a common theme, but only the ones that are righteous and that work, not the ones of fools!
ii. Jesus commissioned the Twelve to carry on His work as the previous passage summarized, and gave them full authority to do as He was doing, power over demons, over sickness, and to preach His message.
3. The names of the Apostles: The four (Some commentators list only three as the inner circle leaving out Andrew), "the inner circle," of Jesus' Disciples were Peter, James and John (Mark 5:37 Matt. 17:1; 26:36-37).
a. Simon, who was called Peter, was introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew. Jesus renamed him, Cephas, (a rock/Peter) (John 1:40-42). He was a fisherman, called to become a fisher of men. He was very impulsive. He acted first and thought later (Matt. 14:25-31; 16: 21-23; 26: 31-35; John 18:10-11; Gal. 2:11-13). He even denied our Lord, but was restored and made the first church leader (Matt. 26:69-75, John 21:15-19; Acts 3-6; Gal. 1:18; 2:1-10). The Catholic Church sees Peter as its founder and the first Pope. He possibly preached the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). He is thought to have traveled to Rome and even Babylon, and then crucified upside down in Rome (1 Pet. 5:13).
b. Andrew was the brother of Peter, a disciple of John the Baptist, and a fisherman; he was one of Jesus' first Disciples (Matt. 4:18-20; John 1:35-40). Later, he and Philip introduced some Greeks to Jesus (John 12:20-22). It is believed he went and preached in Bithynia, Scythia, Greece, and among the Parthians. He was then imprisoned in Greece, and crucified on a cross. The two ends of the cross were fixed crossways in the ground, the pattern of the St. Andrew's cross.
c. James, the son of Zebedee, was the brother of John (Matt. 4: 21-22). He was also a fisherman, and was a partner with Peter (Luke 5:10). He and his brother John were called Sons of Thunder, perhaps because of the "hot" temperament of their father, or of themselves, as supported in Luke 9: 52-54. James was the first of the Apostles to be martyred (Acts 12:1-2). It is rumored that he preached in India and Spain before he was beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:1-2).
d. John, brother of James, describes himself as the beloved Disciple, or the Disciple whom Jesus loved." He was the writer of the Gospel of John, three Epistles, and the Revelation (John 21:20-24). As a Son of Thunder, he seemed to be quick in judging others (Luke 9:49,54). Jesus called to him with His last few words, telling him to care for His mother (John 13:23; 19: 26-27). He was among the first to see the Resurrection (John 20: 2-8; 21: 7). He was exiled at the island of Patmos, and is thought (possibly not definitely) to have established the churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira to whom he writes in his book, Revelation. John was the only Apostle to avoid being martyred; however he was exiled to a primitive island.
4. All the rest:
a. Philip was called by Jesus the day after Peter and Andrew were (John 1:43-44). He led Nathaniel to Jesus (John 1:45-46). He made the bold request to Jesus, "Show us the Father" (John 14:8-9). Later he ministered in Phrygia, and then was scourged, thrown into prison, and crucified.
b. Bartholomew meaning "son of Talmai," was sometimes called Nathaniel (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16). He was introduced to Jesus by Philip (John 1: 45-46). Jesus praised him for his integrity (John 1:45-51). He is rumored to have taken the gospel of Matthew to India. There are two versions of his martyr. One, he was said to have been placed into a sack and thrown into the sea, and another report said he was crucified.
c. Thomas, who was also called The Twin (Didymus) (John 20:24), said he was willing to die for Jesus (John 11:16). He is famous for doubting Jesus' resurrection (Doubting Thomas), requiring empirical evidence, which he received a week later (John 20:24-28). It is also thought he traveled to India, perhaps with Bartholomew. He was speared to death while in India.
d. Matthew, the tax collector, was also called Levi, the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). The least likely Apostle whom Jesus sought out to follow Him out of his tax office, he later gave a feast at his home in honor of Jesus (Matt. 9:9-13). He is rumored to have preached fifteen years in Palestine, and then went to Ethiopia, Macedonia, Syria, Persia, Parthia, and Medea. There are two versions of his martyr also; one says he died a natural death, another said that he was impaled with a halberd pike that was fitted with an ax head in Nadabah, Ethiopia.
e. James, the son of Alphaeus, was also referred to as, James the Less. Other than in the lists of apostles, little is known of him. He is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. The Jews later stoned him.
f. Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus, was evidently referred to as, Judas, not Iscariot (Luke 6:16; John 14:22; Ac 1:13). Luke and the Acts use the name Judas son of James, whereas Matthew uses Thaddeus, but all of these refer to the same person (Mark 3: 13-19; Luke 6: 12-16; Acts 1:13). Matthew did not want to confuse his Jewish audience with the two Judas's; so, he used his formal name of Thaddeus. It was common for people then to go by a nickname, as people were named from their family linage and the nicknames became descriptive of the person's personality. It is thought he preached in Syria and Edessa. We do not know how he died, other than he was martyred.
g. Simon the Cananite, (Cananaean), was also called "the Zealot" (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Simon the Zealot, or Simon the Cananite, or Cananaean, was also a nickname, referring to his personality, not necessarily his political affiliation as some commentators have emphasized. The word means, one who is zealous, as in enthusiastic, not necessarily as in a revolutionary warrior or political disrupter. There is still the off chance that this Simon (not Peter) was a part of that political group called the Zealots, but there is no support either in the Scriptures or in the works of the "Early Church Fathers" which were written by the Disciples'-disciples. News like that would have been plainly written down. The argument for Simon as a revolutionary political disrupter is that he was in this group prior to joining with Jesus, and his past was forgiven and not mentioned again. Perhaps this is so, but it is exegetically weak. The Zealots, according to Josephus, were a political party that wanted to, and, on occasions, did lead movements at all costs against the Romans. This nickname also distinguishes him from Simon Peter. He is thought to have preached the gospel in Mauritania, Africa, traveled to Britain, and perhaps crucified there by the Romans under Trajan.
h. Judas Iscariot, of course, is the one who would later betray Jesus, and hang himself (Matt. 26:14-16,47-50; 27:3-10). Ironically, he was considered the best disciple, the best looking, and the most promising. Iscariot has a Semitic origin, meaning, a man of, or from, as in the list of names and towns in Joshua 15:25. There is a Latin form referring to assassin, (Latin, sicarius) as in revolutionary. Since he betrayed Jesus, it is assumed he was a terrorist also. Some make the assumption Judas was also a part of the Zealots, or some other political revolutionary group. This is a possibility, but, again, it is an argument from silence (meaning it may seem logical but there is no supporting evidence), using a nickname to refer to prior history, when it can just as well mean he was rowdy and rambunctious. Remember, he killed himself in utter remorse (Matt. 27:3). Thus, if he were a terrorist, he would have most likely sought after his honor from the Pharisees instead. In all likelihood, he was confused, blinded by pride and rage, and sought to force Jesus' hand to overthrow the Romans, not understanding Jesus' true mission. Or, as some have speculated, and what Scripture alludes to, Satan entered him, and used him, seeking to destroy Jesus. In all likelihood both are true, as Satan uses our pride and rage for his gain.
5. The add ins, not referred to in this passage, those who Scripture called Apostles but who were not a part of Jesus' original Twelve were:
a. Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. He was with Jesus from His baptism until His ascension (Acts 1:15-26). It is thought he went to Damascus, then was stoned and beheaded.
b. James, the brother of Jesus, refers to himself as a bondservant rather than an Apostle, showing true humbleness and conviction. He does not enlist until after the Resurrection, as he was skeptical of His Messiah Brother at first (Matt. 13:55; John 7:5; James 1; Acts 15; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). He is also one of the first to be martyred. It is believed his bone crypt was recently discovered.
c. Paul and Barnabas were also referred to as Apostles (Acts 14:1-14).
d. Paul's statements concerning the spread of the Gospel are demonstrated by the writings of the Early Church Fathers as to what the Apostles did after Acts (Rom. 10:14-18; Col. 1:23)! They write as to how the Apostles lived, and how they gave their lives for our Lord, that we might know! (For more information on Paul, see our introductory article to the study of Romans, in the Romans channel.)
These men were from very diverse backgrounds. Some were educated, some not that educated. There were fishermen, businessmen, a tax collector, and, even possible political revolutionaries, all called to proclaim the Mission-- that Christ is Lord! All witnessed firsthand what we hold dear in our hearts and lives only by faith and their testimony. They were not perfect, and even were in conflict with one another on occasions. However, they did not just think about it, or daydream what could be, or what if. They learned and took their faith to the streets and to their deaths in power and conviction, a model we can do, too.
*References for the Apostles' whereabouts after Acts, and their deaths not recorded in Acts, are from the works of the "Early Church Fathers," and "Foxe's Book of Martyrs."