JESUS’ TWELVE DISCIPLES
1. References to Jesus calling of the twelve
2. The twelve disciples consisted of three groups of four
3. There were four phases of the disciples’ calling
a) Phase 1: Many of the disciples were followers of John the Baptist before they became followers of Christ (Jn 1-36,37).
4. Members of the first group were all fishermen; they were two sets of brothers: James and John & Simon and Andrew. They came from the same community, and they had been friends for a long time. All 12 disciples except Judas Iscariot were from Galilee.
5. Christ refocused His ministry from the multitudes to the few with persecution as the turning point. At that time Jesus chose commoners as His disciples instead of members of the religious establishment. The 12 disciples stood for the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev 21-14). They were new leadership for a new covenant. They became the true Israel of God who followed the faith of Abraham, symbolizing judgment against the Jewish nation and against anyone who would not believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.
Peter – Simon Bar Jonah (son of Jonah). His father’s name was John (or Jonas or Jonah). Peter was his nickname, meaning “Rock”. In Aramaic it is rendered “Cephas”. Jesus called him Simon when he made mistakes and Peter when he lived up to his name. Peter and Andrew (his brother) were from the village of Bethsaida, but moved to the larger town of Capernaum on the north side of the lake.
Andrew – lived in his brother’s shadow, as though being Peter’s brother made him significant. There was no indication of any sibling rivalry between them. Knowing that introducing Peter to the group would put him in second place, Andrew introduced him anyway, showing the character in Andrew. Of all the disciples in the inner group, Andrew was the least contentious and most thoughtful; Scripture never put him in a bad light. Andrew and John became Jesus’ first disciples. Andrew’s willingness to remain in the background is what made him so useful. Andrew took the gospel north to Scythia and is known as the patron saint of Russia and Scotland. He was crucified in Achaia after converting the wife of a Roman governor.
James (brother of John) – They were both known as the sons of thunder, indicating their zeal. James is estimated as a man of intense fervor and passion; i.e. he wanted to call down fire on his enemies and his unbridled personality probably got him martyred first of all the apostles. In the story of James and John when their mother asked Jesus for the seats on Jesus’ left and on His right, the sons probably persuaded her to make the request, indicating the level of arrogance of these men. This was an attempted power grab to assure them first place in God’s kingdom. James was thrust through with a sword at the command of Herod.
John – (Boanerges) outlived all the other apostles and therefore filled a patriarchal role that lasted nearly to the second century. He reached into Asia Minor. Almost everything we can say of James we can say of John. He was in the thick of all the arguments about who was greatest, yet he wrote more about love than any other apostle. By the end of John’s life he balanced his adoration of the truth with love for people. John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He was humbled by the love that Jesus had for him; he was also proud of it.
Philip – means “lover of horses”. He must have had a Jewish name too, but it was never given. Philip was probably a fisherman, as was Nathanael and Thomas (John chapter 21). He was practical-minded, pessimistic and narrowly-focused. He was martyred by stoning at Heliopolis in Phrygia (Asia Minor), eight years after James died. He was the second apostle to be martyred. Before his death, multitudes came to Christ under his preaching.
Nathanael (Bar-Tolma) – and Philip were close companions. They were both students of the Old Testament together by evidence of the way Philip introduced the Messiah to Nathanael (Jn 1-45). They both immediately latched onto Jesus, because they recognized Him in the Old Testament prophecies. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth,” marked Nathaniel’s prejudice and outright contempt for the town. Philip invited Him to come and see. His love for the truth won over his prejudice tendencies. Early church records suggest he ministered in Persia and India, as far as Armenia. He was martyred either by drowning or crucifixion.
Matthew – held a banquet in Jesus’ honor in his own house and invited all his friends, hoodlums, prostitutes and the like, and some Pharisees joined them and asked why Jesus associated with tax gatherers and sinners. Jesus replied, “I have not called the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The best records show that Matthew was burned at the stake.
Thomas (Didymus; the twin) – In John 20 when Jesus appeared to his disciples, Thomas wasn’t there. He was probably sulking in his despair. Being a melancholy person, he was probably destroyed by Jesus’ death. None of the disciples believed Mary Magdalene or the two from Emmaus. What set Thomas apart for the rest was not his doubt but his excessive sorrow. His missionary journeys took him all the way to India. His martyrdom was from a sword run through his body, like James.
James (son of Alphaeus) – was nicknamed “James the less” or little James, possibly indicating his stature but more likely his influence, discriminating from the other James, the brother of John. His mother’s name was Mary. She was an eye witness to the crucifixion. She is also the one who prepared Jesus’ body for burial. His brother’s name was Joses (Mk 15-40,47; Mat 27-56), who was well known as a follower of the Lord, though not an apostle, his name being mentioned repeatedly. James’ distinguishing mark was his obscurity. He could have been brother to Matthew, since their fathers had the same name, Alphaeus.
Simon the zealot (Canaanite) – He was a member of an outlaw political party that tried to overthrow Roman rule. They were terrorists, using sabotage and assignation to advance their agenda. His group, the Zealots, thought only God had authority to rule over the Jews and believed they were doing God’s work by assassinating Romans soldiers. Their goal was to overthrow the Romans and restore the kingdom to Israel as in the days of Solomon. Simon and Judas Iscariot probably followed Jesus for similar political reasons, but Simon converted to Christ, whereas Judas did not. Simon and Matthew were on opposite ends of the spectrum. There may have been a time Simon would have wanted to kill Matthew, but they became friends instead and worked together spreading the gospel. His missionary journeys took him to the British Isles, and by all likelihood he died a martyr.
Judas son of James – Had three names. The other two were: Lebbaeust and Thaddeeus, meaning “breast child” or heart child. He took the gospel to Edessa of Mesopotamia in modern-day Turkey. He was clubbed to death for preaching the gospel. This was not the same Jude, "brother of James," and brother of Jesus, who wrote the book of Jude.
Judas Iscariot – There is no indication that Jesus literally and formally chose Judas Iscariot; Jn 13-18 says, "I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen." Rather, His choosing of Judas (Jn 6-70) by lack of evidence suggests it was actually more of an acceptance of him into the twelve. Judas teaches us that we can have close proximity to Christ, be deeply involved in church activities, yet be hardened by sin. He also teaches us that no matter how treacherous, he could not thwart the purpose of God. His name means “Jehovah leads”, suggesting that his parents had great hopes for him, but he followed Satan instead. His surname, Iscariot, indicates that he came from Kerioth-Hezron, a small town south of Judea. He was the only disciple that didn’t come from Galilee, and it probably made him feel like an outsider. His Father’s name was Simon. Judas did what he did for evil, but God meant it for good. At the last supper, Jesus gave the fist morsel to Judas, and then he left to betray the Lord, leaving Jesus and His disciples to conduct Passover in peace, nor was he there when Jesus intimated the contents of John chapters 14-17.
MacArthur, John. (2002). Twelve Ordinary Men. W Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson inc.). Nashville, TN