Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Illustrated Summary of Twelve Ordinary Men (the Apostles) by John MacArthur

Worth Having in Your Library
1. Common Men, Uncommon Calling

We have 4 lists of the 12 apostles in the New Testament: Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13. In all 4 biblical lists, the same 12 men are named, and the order in which they are given is strikingly similar. The first name in all 4 lists is Peter. He stands out as the leader and spokesman for the whole company of 12. The Twelve are then in 3 groups of 4. Group 1 always has Peter at the head of the list, and that group always includes Andrew, James, and John. Group 2 always features Philip first and includes Bartholomew (also called Nathanael), Matthew, and Thomas. Group 3 is always led by James the son of Alphaeus, and it includes Simon the Zealot, Lebbaeus (also called Thaddeus and Jude), and Judas Iscariot, the traitor.

The groups appear to be listed in descending order based on their level of friendship with Christ. The members of Group 1 were probably the first disciples Jesus called to Himself (John 1:35-42). Therefore they had been with Him the longest. They are often seen together in the presence of Christ at key times. Group 2 does not have such a high profile, but they are still significant figures in the Gospel accounts. Group 3 is more distant, and they are rarely mentioned. The only member of Group 3 we know much about is Judas Iscariot because of his treachery at the end.

This suggests that even a relatively small group of 12 is too large for one person to maintain close friendship with each group member. Jesus kept 3 men very close to Him: Peter, James, and John. Next came Andrew, and then the others in declining degrees of close friendship. Since Christ in His perfect humanity could not pour equal amounts of time and energy into everyone He drew around Him, no leader should expect to be able to do that.

2. Peter: The Apostle with the Foot-shaped Mouth

Peter was eager, aggressive, bold and outspoken. He can be called the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth because he had the bad habit of speaking before thinking. The first person in Group 1 is described as "Simon, whom Jesus also named Peter" and "Simon Bar-Jonah," meaning Simon son of Jonah. Simon was a very common name. There are at least 7 Simons in the Gospels alone. Among the Twelve were 2 named Simon: Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot. Peter was a fisherman by trade.

"Peter" was a nickname. It means "Rock." Petros is the Greek word for rock; the Aramaic or Hebrew equivalent is Cephas. John 1:42 describes Jesus' first face-to-face meeting with Simon Peter: "When Jesus looked at him, He said, 'You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas' (which is translated, A stone)." Those were apparently the first words Jesus ever said to Peter. And from then on, Rock was his nickname!

Three years later, foretelling Peter's temporary betrayal, Jesus said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter should have been watching and praying with Christ, he fell asleep. Mark writes, "Jesus came and found His disciples sleeping. He said to Peter, 'Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:37-38). Thus usually when Peter needed correction, Jesus referred to him as Simon. It must have reached the point where whenever the Lord said "Simon," Peter cringed. He must have been thinking, Please call me Rock! And the Lord might have replied, "I'll call you Rock when you act like a rock."

After the resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples to return to Galilee, where He planned to reappear to them (Matthew 28:7). Impatient Simon apparently got tired of waiting, so he announced he was going back to fishing (John 21:3). As usual, the other disciples followed their leader. They caught nothing after fishing all night.

But Jesus met them on the shore the following morning, where He had prepared breakfast for them. The main purpose of the breakfast meeting seemed to be the restoration of Peter (who sinned by denying he knew Christ on the night the Lord was betrayed). Three times Jesus addressed him as Simon and asked, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" (John 21:15-17). Three times, Peter affirmed his love.

That was the last time Jesus ever had to call him Simon. A few weeks later, on the Day of Pentecost (50 days after the Passover during which Jesus was crucified), Peter and the rest of the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. It was Peter, the Rock, who stood up and preached that day. Peter was exactly like most Christians: both carnal and spiritual. He gave in to the lower habits of the flesh sometimes; he operated by the Spirit other times. He was bad sometimes, but other times he acted the way a good man ought to act.

Simon Peter had a wife. We know this because in Luke 4:38 Jesus healed his mother-in-law. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Peter took his wife on a missions trip. That may indicate either that they had no children or that their children were already grown.

Peter's name is mentioned in the Gospels more than any other name except Jesus. No one speaks as often as Peter, and no one is spoken to by the Lord as often as Peter. No disciple is so frequently rebuked by the Lord as Peter, and no disciple ever rebukes the Lord except Peter (Matthew 16:22). No one else confessed Christ more boldly or acknowledged His lordship more clearly, yet no other disciple ever verbally denied Christ as forcefully or as publicly as Peter did. No one is praised and blessed by Christ the way Peter was, yet Peter was also the only one Christ ever addressed as Satan. All of that contributed to making him the leader Christ wanted him to be.

How did Peter's life end? We know Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21:18-19), but Scripture doesn't record the death of Peter. The records of the early church tell us Peter was crucified. Before that happened, he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Peter called out to her by name, saying, "Remember the Lord." When it was Peter's turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy to die as his Lord had died, so he was crucified head downward.

Peter's life could be summed up in the final words of his last letter: "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). That is exactly what Simon Peter did, and that is why he became Rock: the great leader of the early church.

3. Andrew: The Apostle of Small Things

Peter's brother, Andrew, is the least-known of the 4 disciples in the lead group. We know he had a particularly close relationship with Christ because he was so often the means by which other people were personally introduced to the Master.

Andrew was the first of all the apostles to be called (John 1:35-40). He was responsible for introducing his more dominant brother, Peter, to Christ (verses 41-42). Peter and Andrew had probably been lifelong companions with the other set of fishermen: the brothers James and John. The 4 of them shared common spiritual interests even before they met Christ. They evidently took a break from the fishing business, visited the wilderness where John the Baptist was preaching, and became disciples of John. That is where they met Christ.

Andrew lived in the shadow of his better-known brother. Many of the verses that name him add that he was Peter's brother, as if that were the fact that made him significant. In such situations, where one brother overshadows another, it is common to find resentment, strong sibling rivalry, or even estrangement. But in Andrew's case, there is no evidence that he begrudged Peter's dominance. Again, it was Andrew who brought Peter to Christ in the first place. He did this immediately and without hesitation.

Almost everything Scripture tells us about Andrew shows that he had the right heart for effective ministry in the background. He did not seek to be the center of attention. He did not seem to resent those who labored in the spotlight. He was evidently content to do what he could with the gifts and calling that God had given him, and he allowed the others to do the same.

Whenever Andrew speakswhich is rare in Scripturehe always says the right thing, not the wrong thing. Whenever he acts apart from the other disciples, he does what is right. Scripture never attaches and dishonor to Andrew's actions when it mentions him by name.

Andrew's name means "manly." He was bold, decisive, and deliberate. Nothing about him is feeble or wimpish. He was driven by a hearty passion for the truth, and willing to subject himself to hardship.

When it came to dealing with people, Andrew fully appreciated the value of a single soul. He was known for bringing individuals, not crowds, to Jesus. Almost every time we see him in the Gospel accounts, he is bringing someone to Jesus. At the feeding of the 5,000, for example, it was Andrew who brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Christ. John 12 tells of some Greeks who sought out Philip and said, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip told Andrew, and then they both told Jesus. Why didn't Philip just take them to Jesus himself? Andrew was obviously poised and comfortable introducing people to Christ because he did it so often. He apparently knew Jesus well, and had no insecurities about bringing others to Him.

The most effective evangelism takes place on an individual, personal level. Most people do not come to Christ as an immediate response to a sermon they hear in a crowd. They come to Christ because of the influence of an individual.

Both Andrew and his brother Peter had evangelistic hearts, but their methods were dramatically different. Peter preached at Pentecost, and 3,000 people were added to the church. Nothing in Scripture indicates that Andrew ever preached to a crowd or stirred masses of people. But remember, he brought Peter to Christ. All the fruit of Peter's ministry is also the fruit of Andrew's faithful, individual witness.

Andrew is a picture of all those who labor quietly in humble places, "not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart" (Ephesians 6:6). This is a lesson many Christians today would do well to learn. Scripture cautions against seeking roles of prominence, and it warns those who would be teachers that they face a higher standard of judgment: "My brothers, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). Jesus taught the disciples, "If anyone desires to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35).

Andrew is not mentioned in the rest of the New Testament. Tradition says he took the Gospel north, perhaps as far as Russia and Scotland, which is why Andrew is the patron saint of both countries. He was ultimately crucified in Achaia (southern Greece). One account says he led the wife of the Roman governor there to Christ, and that infuriated her husband. He demanded that his wife recant her devotion to the Lord. When she refused, he ordered that Andrew be tied--not nailed--onto an X-shaped cross (called a saltire) to prolong his sufferings. By most accounts, he hung on that cross for 2 days, exhorting passersby to turn to Christ for salvation. Andrew remained faithful, still endeavoring to bring people to Jesus right to the end.

4. James: The Apostle of Passion

James is always paired with his younger and better-known brother, John. The only time he is mentioned by himself is in the book of Acts, where his martyrdom is recorded. Between the 2 sets of apostolic brothers, the family of James and John seems to have been more wealthy than the family of Peter and Andrew. That is hinted by James and John often being referred to simply as "the sons of Zebedee," signifying that Zebedee was a man of some importance.

Zebedee's fishing business was large enough to employ multiple hired servants (Mark 1:20). His family had enough status that the apostle John "was known to the high priest," and that is how John was able to get Peter admitted to the high priest's courtyard on the night of Jesus' arrest (John 18:15-16).

James, as the elder brother from such a prominent family, might have felt that he ought to have been the chief apostle. That may be one of the reasons there were so many disputes between the apostles about "which one of them should be considered the greatest" (Luke 22:24). But James never did take first place among them except that he was the first to be martyred.

James, Peter, and John were the only ones Jesus permitted to go with Him when He raised Jairus's 12-year-old daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37). The same group of 3 witnessed Jesus' glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1). He was included again with John and Peter when the Lord urged those 3 to pray with Him privately in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

If there's a key word that applies to the life of the apostle James, that word is passion. From the little we know about him, it is obvious that he was a man of intense fervor and intensity. In fact, Jesus gave James and John a nickname: Boanerges, which means "sons of thunder." That defines James' personality in a vivid way: James was zealous, thunderous, passionate, and fervent. His zeal, however, was mixed with ambitious and bloodthirsty tendencies.

While Andrew was quietly bringing individuals to Jesus, James was wishing he could call down fire from heaven to destroy a whole village of people. The fact that James was the first to be martyred suggests that he was not a passive or subtle man, but rather had a style that stirred things up and made him deadly enemies very rapidly.

There is nothing wrong with zeal in itself. Jesus Himself made a whip and cleansed the Temple. When He did, "His disciples remembered that it was written, 'Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up'" (John 2:17; Psalm 69:9). Zeal is a virtue when it is truly zeal for righteousness' sake. But zeal apart from knowledge is damning (Romans 10:2). Zeal without wisdom is dangerous, and zeal mixed with insensitivity is cruel. James sometimes had the tendency to let such misguided zeal get the better of him. Two incidents in particular illustrate this. One is the episode where James wanted to call down fire. The other is when James and John got their mother's help to lobby for the highest seats in the Kingdom. Let's look at these individually.

We get our best glimpse of why James and John were known as the Sons of Thunder in Luke 9:51-56. Jesus was preparing to pass through Samaria, headed to Jerusalem for the final Passover that would end in His death, burial, and resurrection. Luke writes, "He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans to prepare for Him. But the Samaritans did not welcome Him since His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem." Even though the shortest route from Galilee to Jerusalem went right through Samaria, most Jews traveling between those two places deliberately took a much longer route to avoid Samaria.

The Jews regarded the Samaritans as a mongrel race and their religion as a mongrel religion (2 Kings 17:24-34). The entire region was deemed unclean, but Jesus chose the more direct route through Samariaas He had done before (John 4). Along the way, He and His followers would need places to eat and spend the night. Since the group traveling with Jesus was fairly large, He sent messengers ahead to make the necessary arrangements.

The Samaritans hated the Jews as much as the Jews hated them so they had no interest in what Christ wanted since He was Jewish. They summarily rejected the request. The problem was not that there was no room for them in the inn; the problem was that the Samaritans were being deliberately inhospitable.

Of course, Jesus had never shown anything but goodwill toward the Samaritans. He had healed a Samaritan's leprosy, and praised the man for returning to thank Him (Luke 17:16). He talked with a Samaritan woman at a well, and gave her the water of life (John 4:7-29). He stayed in that woman's village for 2 days, evangelizing her grateful neighbors (John 4:39-43). Jesus made a Samaritan the hero of one of His best-known parables (Luke 10:30-37). Right before ascending into heaven, He commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel in Samaria (Acts 1:8).

But now the Samaritans were treating Christ with deliberate contempt. James and John, the Sons of Thunder, were instantly outraged and said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?" (Luke 9:54).

That reference to Elijah is significant. The incident James and John were referring to had taken place in this very region (1 Kings 16:32; 2 Kings 1:2-17). At that time and under those circumstances, calling down fire was the appropriate response from Elijah, but it was not a proper response from James and John. In the first place, their motives were wrong. A tone of pride and arrogance is evident in the way they asked the question: "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down?" Of course, they did not have the power to call down fire from heaven. Christ was the only one in their company who had such power. If that were an appropriate response, He could well have done it Himself.

Jesus' mission was very different from the prophet Elijah's. Christ had come to save, not to destroy. Therefore He rebuked James and John, saying, "You do not know what manner spirit you are of! The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them" (Luke 9:55-56). He was on a mission of rescue, not judgment. Although He had the right to demand absolute worship, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17).

Of course, a time is coming when Christ will judge the world. Scripture says He will soon be "revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). But this was not the time or place for that!

As wise King Solomon wrote, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.... A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up ... a time to love and a time to hate; a time to war and a time to peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). "Now is the [time] of salvation," as the apostle Paul explains in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Jesus' example taught James that the virtues of kindness and mercy are sometimes more important than righteous indignation and fiery zeal. Notice what happened: instead of calling down fire from heaven, "they went to another village" (Luke 9:56). They simply found accommodations elsewhere. It was a little inconvenient, perhaps, but far better than what James and John suggested.

We get another insight into James's character in Matthew 20:20-24: "The mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. He said to her, 'What do you wish?' She said to Him, 'Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left in Your Kingdom.' But Jesus answered, 'You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the Cup I am about to drink, and be baptized with the Baptism I will be baptized with?' They said to Jesus, 'We are able.' So He said to them, 'You will indeed ... but to sit on My right and and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.' When the 10 other apostles heard of it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers."

Mark's account makes it clear that James and John put their mother up to make that request. She was one of "many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him" (Matthew 27:55), meaning they provided financial support and probably helped prepare meals (Luke 8:1-3). The idea for the bold request probably came from Jesus' promise in Matthew 19:28: "Assuredly I say to you that in the Regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Jesus immediately followed up that promise with a reminder that  "many who are first will be last, and the last first" (verse 30).

Jesus' reply reminded James and John that suffering comes before glory, the bitter before the sweet. "Are you able to drink the Cup I am about to drink, and be baptized with the Baptism?"—although the Lord had explained to them many times that He was about to be crucified, they clearly did not understand what kind of baptism He meant. They had no idea what was stirring in the Cup He was asking them to drink!

Their ambition created conflict among the rest of the apostles. The question of who deserved the most prominent thrones became the big debate among them, and they carried it right to the table at the Last Supper (Luke 22:24).

James wanted a crown of glory; Jesus gave him a cup of suffering. He wanted power; Jesus gave him servanthood. He wanted a place of prominence; Jesus gave him a martyr's grave. Fourteen years after this, James would become the first of the Twelve to be killed for his faith.

Apostolic Symbol of James
The end of James's story from an earthly perspective is recorded in Acts 12:1-3: "Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and because he saw that it pleased the Jewish leaders, he arrested Peter." This was not Herod Antipas, the one who killed John the Baptist and put Jesus on trial. This was his nephew and successor, Herod Agrippa I. Peter miraculously escaped, and Herod died under God's judgment shortly afterward (Acts 12:4-23).

James is the only apostle whose death is recorded in Scripture. Clearly James was still a man of passion, but now his passion was under the Holy Spirit's control. He had been so instrumental in the spread of the truth that it had aroused the wrath of wicked Herod. James was right where he had always hoped to be and where Christ had trained him to be: on the front line as the Gospel advanced and the church grew.

5. John: The Apostle of Love

The apostle John is familiar to us because he wrote so much of the New Testament. He was the human author of a Gospel and 3 letters that bear his name, as well as the book of Revelation. Aside from Luke and the apostle Paul, John wrote more of the New Testament than any other human author.

He was the younger brother of James, and although he was a frequent companion to Peter in the first 12 chapters of Acts, Peter remained in the foreground and John remained in the background, but John also had his turn at leadership. Because he outlived all the other apostles, he filled a unique and patriarchal role in the early church that lasted nearly to the end of the first century.

Almost everything we observed about the personality and character of James is also true of John, who was right there with James, eager to call down fire from heaven against the Samaritans. He was also in the thick of the debates about who was the greatest. His zeal and ambition mirrored that of his elder brother.

It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that John has often been nicknamed "the apostle of love." He wrote more than any other New Testament author about the importance of love, laying particular stress on the Christian's love for Christ, Christ's love for His Church, and the love for one another that is the hallmark of all true believers. The theme of love flows through his writings.

But love was a quality he learned from Christ, not something that came naturally to him. He was rugged and hard-edged, just like the rest of the fishermen-disciples. Only one time does John appear and speak alone. That was when he confessed to the Lord that he had rebuked a man for casting out demons in Jesus' name because the man was not part of the disciples' group (Mark 9:38). We'll examine that episode shortly.

John was capable of behaving badly in a sectarian, narrow-minded, stubborn, and reckless way. He was volatile, aggressive, and personally ambitious—just like his brother Jamesbut he aged well. Under the control of the Holy Spirit, his areas of weakness all developed into great strengths. He's an amazing example of what should happen to us as we grow in Christ, allowing the Lord's strength to be made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Love did not nullify the apostle John's passion for truth. Rather, it gave him the balance he needed. He retained to the end of his life a deep and abiding love for God's truth, and he remained bold in proclaiming it to the very end.

When we first encounter John (John 1:35-37), both he and Andrew are disciples of John the Baptist. Like Andrew, John without hesitation began following Jesus as soon as John the Baptist singled Him out as the true Messiah. John was interested in truth; he hadn't followed the Baptist to join a personality cult. Therefore he followed Jesus instead as soon as John the Baptist clearly identified Him as the Lamb of God.

John's love of truth is evident in all his writings. He uses the Greek word for truth 25 times in his Gospel and 20 more times in his letters. He wrote, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4). No one in Scripture, except the Lord Himself, had more to say praising the concept of truth.

But sometimes in his younger years, John's zeal for truth was lacking in love and compassion for people. In the incident with the Samaritans, James and John showed a lack of love for unbelievers. In the incident where John forbade a man to cast out demons in Jesus' name, he gave this as his reason: "Because he does not follow us" (Mark 9:38). John was upset because that man was not a member of the group. This happened shortly after Jesus' transfiguration and right after Jesus had taken a little child in His arms, saying, "Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives ... Him who sent Me" (verses 35-37). Perhaps John confessed to Jesus what he did to that man because he was beginning to see his own lack of love as undesirable. He had always been zealous and passionate for the truth, but now the Lord was teaching him to love. This is a major turning point in John's life and thinking.

Love and truth must be maintained in perfect balance. Truth is never to be abandoned in the name of love, but love is not to be ignored in the name of truth. That is what John learned from Christ, and it gave him the balance he so desperately needed.

In addition, those who want to be great must first learn to be humble. Christ Himself was the perfection of true humility. His Kingdom is advanced by humble service, not by politics, status, or power. John did eventually learn the balance between ambition and humility, for humility is one of the great virtues that comes through in his writings. Throughout John's Gospel, for example, he never once mentions his own name. (The only John mentioned by name in the Gospel of John is John the Baptist.) Instead, he speaks of himself in reference to Jesus as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," giving glory to the Lord for loving a person such as himself. According to John 13:1-2, Jesus loved all His apostles to perfection, but it seems there was a unique way in which John understood that reality.

It is John's Gospel alone that records in detail Jesus' act of washing His disciples' feet. It is clear that Jesus' own humility on the night of His betrayal made a lasting impression on John. John's humility also comes through in the gentle way he appeals to his readers, calling them "little children" and "beloved." Even though he was the last remaining apostle and the patriarch of the church, we never find him lording it over anyone.

John is the only one of the apostles whom the biblical record places as an eyewitness to Jesus' crucifixion. He stood at the foot of the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus and other brave women. "When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!' Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!' And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:25-27). Obviously John had learned the lessons he needed to learn about love and humility. Jesus told Peter, "Feed My sheep" (John 21:17), but He told John, "Care for My mother," and he did faithfully for the rest of her life.

When John's brother James became the church's first martyr, John bore the loss in a more personal way than the others. As each of the other disciples was martyred one by one, John suffered the grief and pain of additional loss. These were his friends and companions. Soon he alone was left.

John became associated with the Roman eagle in his imprisonment.
John became the pastor of the church the apostle Paul had founded at Ephesus. From there, during a great persecution of the church under the Roman Emperor Domitian (brother and successor of Titus, who destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70), John was banished to the Roman prison island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea off the west coast of modern Turkey. He lived in a cave there, which is where he wrote down the visions he saw in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:9).

It was a harsh environment, especially for an old man in his 80s, but there is no complaint anywhere in his writings. He refers to himself as "both your brother and companion in the tribulation and Kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." He was calmly looking forward to the day when he would enjoy the promised glory of the Kingdom. That is the right balance and a healthy perspective: looking beyond his earthly sufferings in anticipation of heaven.

We are told that the young John leaned his head on Jesus' shoulder at the Last Supper (John 13:3), which indicates not only that he loved Him but also that he wanted to hear every word the Lord said. John is the only one of the Twelve not to suffer a violent death. He died during the reign of Domitian's successor, the Emperor Trajan. The aged apostle was so frail in his final days at Ephesus that he had to be carried into the church. One phrase was constantly on his lips: "My little children, love one another." Asked why he always said this, John replied, "It is the Lord's command, and if this alone be done, it is enough."

The fishermen of Galilee—Peter, Andrew, James, and John—became fishers of men on a tremendous scale, gathering souls into the Church. In a sense, they are still casting their nets into the sea of the world by their testimony in the Gospels and their letters. They are still bringing multitudes of people to Christ.

6. Philip: The Bean Counter

In the 4 biblical lists of the 12 apostles, the 5th name on every list is Philip. This apparently signifies that Philip was the leader of the 2nd group of 4. Philip is a Greek name, meaning "lover of horses." He must also have had a Jewish name because all 12 apostles were Jewish, but his Jewish name is never given. Greek civilization had spread through the Mediterranean after the conquests of Alexander the Great, and many people in the Middle East had adopted the Greek language, culture, and customs. They were known as Hellenists (Acts 6:1). Perhaps Philip came from a family of Hellenistic Jews.

Don't confuse him with Philip the church deacon, the man we meet in Acts 6 who became an evangelist and led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ (Acts 8:26-40).

The apostle Philip "was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter" (John 1:44). Philip, Nathanael, and Thomas may have all been fishermen from Galilee because in John 21, when the apostles returned to Galilee and Peter said, "I am going fishing" (John 21:3), the others who were there all answered, "We are going with you also." That group included "Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples" (verse 2). The unnamed two are probably Philip and Andrew because elsewhere they are always seen in the company of the men just named.

If all 7 of those men were professional fishermen, they were most likely all friends and close co-workers a long time before they followed Christ. We might have expected Jesus to take a different approach in choosing the Twelve. After all, He was appointing them to the very important task of being apostles: proxies for Him after He returned to heaven, men with full power of attorney to speak and act on His behalf. You might think He would search to find the most gifted and qualified men but instead, He singled out a small group of fishermen with average abilities who already knew each other. And He said, "They will do."

All He really required of them was availability. He would draw them to Himself, train them, gift them, and empower them to serve Him. Because they would preach Jesus' message and do miracles by His power, these rugged fishermen were better suited to the task than a group of superstars. After all, even these men behaved like spoiled children at times. Perhaps one of the reasons Christ selected this particular group is that for the most part they already got along well with one another.

Philip is often paired with Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), so we can assume the two were close friends. John writes, "Jesus wanted to go to Galilee and He found Philip, saying to him, 'Follow Me'" (John 1:43). Apparently, Philip was also in the wilderness with John the Baptist. Peter, Andrew, and John (and likely James as well) had more or less found Jesus, being directed to Him by John the Baptist. This is the first time we read that Jesus Himself sought and found one of them.

Philip's seeking heart is evident in how he responded to Jesus: "Philip 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'" (John 1:45). Obviously, Philip and Nathanael, like the first 4 disciples, had been studying the Scriptures and were seeking the Messiah. That is why they had all gone to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist in the first place.

The ease with which Philip believed is remarkable. He was like Simeon from the time of Jesus' birth, "waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him" (Luke 2:25). No reluctance. No disbelief.

Philip is symbolized by the cross and loaves of bread.
Our next glimpse of Philip is at the feeding of the 5,000. John 6:5 says, "Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?'" Why did He single Philip out and ask him? John says, "This He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do" (verse 6). Philip was apparently the apostolic administrator—the bean counter. It is likely that he was charged with arranging meals and logistics. We know that Judas was in charge of keeping the money (John 13:29), so it makes sense that someone was also charged with coordinating meals and supplies.

Eating in those days was no easy thing. There were no fast-food restaurants on that mountainside. By the time Jesus asked the question, Philip was ready with an answer: "200 days' wages of bread would not be enough for each person to have only a little" (John 6:7). He had apparently been thinking about the difficulties of food supplies from the moment he first saw the crowd. Instead of thinking, What a great opportunity for Jesus to teach and do wonders for these people!, all Philip could see was the impossibility of the situation.

Philip had been there when the Lord created wine out of water at a wedding in his hometown (John 2:2). He had already seen Jesus heal people on many occasions. But when he saw that great crowd, he began to feel overwhelmed and lapsed into materialistic thinking.

The reality of the raw facts clouded his faith. He should have said, "Lord, if You want to feed all those people, feed them. I'm going to stand back and watch how You do it. I know from experience that You can." The  supernatural power of Christ was absent from Philip's thinking right now.

Andrew, however, seemed to have a glimmer of the possible. He found one little boy with 2 pickled fish and 5 barley crackers and brought him to Christ. Even Andrew's faith was challenged by the size of the crowd since he said to Jesus, "Here is a lad with 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish, but what are they among so many?" (John 6:9). Either Andrew had some faint hope that Jesus would do something because he brought the boy to Jesus anyway, or he was influenced by Philip's pessimism.

As Jesus taught them elsewhere, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to here,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20). Philip needed to learn that lesson.

John 12:20-21 gives us another insight into Philip's character: "Now there were certain Greeks ... who came up to worship at the feast. They came to Philip ... and said, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.'" This was the final Passover, during which Jesus Himself would be slain as the true Lamb of God. These Greeks were very interested in Jesus. They sought out Philip in particular, perhaps because of his Greek name. It was not a difficult or complex request, yet Philip seems to have been unsure what to do to with them. So "Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus" (John 12:22). Philip was apparently not a decisive man. Was it the right thing to bring those Greeks to Jesus? Absolutely. Jesus Himself welcomes all comers to drink freely of the water of life" (Revelation 22:17). It would have been wrong to turn those men away.

Our final glimpse of Philip comes just a short time later, in the Upper Room with the disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus said to them, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also, and from now on you know Him and have seen Him" (John 14:6-7). To know Christ is to know the Father because the different Persons of the Trinity are one in their very essence. It was at this point that Philip spoke up: "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us" (verse 8). Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long and still you have not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father so how can you say, 'Show us the Father?'" (verse 9). How could Philip, who of all people responded with such enthusiastic faith at the beginning, be making a request like this at the end? He was slow to understand.

If we were interviewing Philip for the role Jesus called him for, we might say, "Not him! You can't make him one of the 12 most important people in the history of the world."

But Jesus said, "He's exactly what I'm looking for. My strength "is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). I'll make him into a preacher. He'll be one of the founders of the Church. I will make him a ruler in the Kingdom and write his name on one of the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:10-14).

Tradition tells us that Philip was greatly used in the spread of the early Church, and was among the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom. By most accounts he was put to death by stoning in Phrygia (modern-day Turkey), 8 years after the martyrdom of James. Before his death, multitudes came to Christ under his preaching.

7. Nathanael (Bartholomew): The Guileless One

Philip's closest companion, Nathanael, is recorded as Bartholomew in all 4 lists of the 12. In the Gospel of John he is always called Nathanael. Bartholomew is a Hebrew last name meaning "son of Tolmai." Nathanael means "God has given." So he is Nathanael, son of Tolmai or Nathanael Bar-Tolmai.

Nathanael came from the small town of Cana in Galilee, the place where Jesus did His first miracle: changing water into wine (John 2:11). Cana was very close to Jesus' own hometown, Nazareth. Philip, after being sought out by Christ, immediately brought Nathanael to Jesus. The two were obviously good friends because in the lists of the 12, their names are linked, as they are in the earliest Church histories. Apparently they were inseparable friends throughout the years of their journey with Christ. We find these 2 always side by side, not as brothers, but as close companions.

Philip knew Nathanael would be interested in the news that the long-awaited Messiah had finally been identified. In fact, he couldn't wait to share the news with him. Philip spoke of Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies because he knew that would pique Nathanael's interest. Nathanael, as an eager student of the Scriptures, was already a seeker after divine truth. It appears that all the apostles were, with the exception of Judas Iscariot. They were sincere in their love for God and desire to receive the Messiah. They were very different from their religious leaders, who were characterized by hypocrisy and false religion. The disciples were the real thing.

Philip told Nathanael that the Messiah is "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Jesus was a common name: Y'shua in its Aramaic form, the same name translated Joshua. It means, significantly, "The Lord is salvation." As the angel Gabriel declared, "He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Philip was using the expression "son of Joseph" like a last name: Jesus Bar-Joseph, like his friend was Nathanael Bar-Tolmai. That is how people were commonly identified. It is the Hebrew equivalent to modern last names like Johnson or Josephson.

There must have been certain amount of surprise in the voice of Philip, like: "You'll never believe this, but Jesus the son of Joseph, that carpenter guy from Nazareth, is the Messiah!" Nathanael responded, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" That was not a rational, biblical objection; it was based on emotion and prejudice. Nathanael had contempt for the whole town of Nazareth, but his own town wasn't anything great either. His remark probably reflects ongoing rivalry between Cana and Nazareth.

Nazareth was a rough town. Its culture was very simple and uneducated, and it still is today. It isn't a particularly lovely place. The Judeans (from the south) looked down on all Galileans (from the north), but even the Galileans looked down on the Nazarenes. Nathanael, though he came from an even more lowly village, was simply echoing the Galileans' general bad attitude about Nazareth. It was the same kind of pride that might lead someone from Boston to make fun of people from Lawrence in the north.

Prejudice is ugly. Generalizations based on feelings of superiority, not on fact, are harmful. Prejudice cuts a lot of people off from the truth. Much of the nation of Israel rejected their Messiah because of prejudice. They did not believe their Messiah should come out of Nazareth either. This happened even in Jesus' hometown. They put down Jesus as the lowly carpenter's son and were so filled with prejudice against Him, they tried to throw Him off a cliff after just one sermon (Luke 4:22-30).

The good news is that Nathanael's prejudice wasn't strong enough to keep him from Christ. Philip said to him, "Come and see" (John 1:46). That is the right way to deal with prejudice: confront it with the facts. Nathanael's prejudiced mind proved not to be as powerful as his seeking heart.

The most important aspect of Nathanael's character is expressed from the lips of Jesus. He saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile" (John 1:47). Guile means deceit or trickery. Nathanael's mind was darkened by a degree of prejudice, but it was not poisoned by deceit. He was no hypocrite. His love for God and His desire to see the Messiah were genuine. His heart was sincere and without guile.

For the most part, the Israelites of Jesus's day were not real because they were hypocrites. They were spiritual phonies so they were not genuine spiritual children of Abraham, the father of the faithful. Nathanael, however, was real.

At first, Nathanael was simply amazed that Jesus seemed to know anything about him, asking, "How do you know me?" (John 1:48). He might have meant, "Are you just flattering me? Are you trying to make me one of your followers by giving me compliments. How could you possibly know what is in my heart?" Notice Jesus' answer: "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." This put a whole different spin on things: this was not flattery, but the omniscience of God! Nathanael obviously knew Jesus wasn't physically present to see Nathanael under that fig tree.

What was the significance of the fig tree? It was most likely the place where Nathanael went to study and meditate on Scripture. Houses in that culture were mostly small with one room. Most of the cooking was done inside so a fire was kept burning even in the summer. The house could get full of smoke and stuffy. Trees were planted around houses to keep them cool and shaded. One of the best trees to plant near a house was a fig tree because it bore tasty fruit and gave good shade. If you wanted to escape the noise and stifling atmosphere of the house, you could go outside and rest under its shade. It was a private outdoor place, perfect for thinking and studying.

Jesus saw both Nathanael's location and the state of his heart. That was enough for Nathanael. He replied, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel" (John 1:49). This reply shows his knowledge of Scripture. Psalm 2 clearly indicates that the Messiah would be the Son of God. Many prophecies speak of the Messiah as the King of Israel, including Zephaniah 3:15 ("the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst"), Zechariah 9:9 ("Behold, your King is coming to you ... lowly and riding on a donkey"), and Micah 5:2 (the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, "the One to be Ruler in Israel").

But Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe? You will see greater things than that" (John 1:51). Nathanael hadn't seen anything yet! Everything he would see from then on would enrich and enlarge his faith.

That is all we know about Nathanael from Scripture. Early church records show that he ministered in Persia and India, taking the Gospel as far as Armenia. One tradition says he was tied up in a sack and cast into the sea. Another tradition says he was crucified. By all accounts, he was martyred like all the apostles except John.

8. Matthew: The Tax Collector and Thomas: The Pessimist

Matthew the Tax Collector

Matthew was probably the most notorious sinner to join the Twelve. His Jewish name is Levi. Matthew, of course, is the author of the Gospel that bears his name. He was a humble man who kept himself almost completely in the background throughout his long account of Jesus' life and ministry. In his entire Gospel he mentions his own name only 2 times (once when he records his call and the other when he lists all 12 apostles).

Matthew was a tax collector when Jesus called him. Tax collectors back then were the most despised people in Israel, even more than the occupying Roman soldiers. Publicans were men who bought tax franchises from the Roman emperor and then extorted money from their own people to profit the Roman Empire and make extra money for themselves, whatever they could get away with. Most were despicable, unprincipled scoundrels.

Matthew 9:9 records the call of this man. It comes out of nowhere, completely catching the reader by surprise: "As Jesus passed on from Capernaum, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. He said to him, 'Follow Me.' So he arose and followed Him." The next few verses say, "Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold: many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples" (verse 10). Dr. Luke reveals this was actually an enormous banquet that Matthew himself held at his own estate in Jesus' honor (Luke 5:29-32). It seems he invited a large number of fellow tax collectors and other kinds of social outcasts to meet Jesus. As we saw with Philip and Andrew, Matthew's first impulse after following Jesus was to bring his closest friends and introduce them to the Savior.

Why did Matthew invite tax gatherers and other lowlifes? Because they were the only ones who would associate with a man like Matthew. For a Jewish man like Matthew to be a tax collector made him a traitor to the nation. He would have been forbidden to enter any synagogue, a religious outcast. Therefore Matthew's only friends were fellow tax collectors, criminals, prostitutes, and the like.

The religious officials were outraged at Matthew's evangelistic party. They wasted no time complaining to Jesus' disciples. But Jesus Himself replied by saying that sick people are the very ones who need a doctor. He had not come to call the self-righteous, but sinners, to repentance. People like Matthew who were prepared to confess their sin could be forgiven and redeemed.

The moneybags represent Matthew's old life.
There were 2 kinds of tax collectors: the Gabbai and the Mokhes. The Gabbai were general tax collectors for property tax, income tax, and the poll (head-count) tax. Those taxes were set by official assessment so there was not much room for making extra money there. The Mokhes, however, collected taxes on imports and exports and virtually anything that was moved by land and water. They set toll booths on roads and bridges, and charged a tax on parcels, letters, and whatever else they could find to tax. What they charged was rarely fair and usually whatever they could get away with.

There were 2 kinds of Mokhes: the Great and the Little. A Great Mokhes stayed behind the scenes and hired others to collect taxes for him. Matthew was a Little Mokhes because he manned a tax office where he dealt with people face to face (Matthew 9:9). He was the kind of tax collector the people saw and resented most.

It must have been a stunning reality to Matthew when Jesus chose him. He instantly and without hesitation "arose and followed Him." He left his toll booth and walked away from his cursed profession forever. The decision was irreversible as soon as he made it. Once Matthew walked away, he could never go back. Nor did he ever regret his decision.

What was it that caused Matthew to drop everything at once like that? He was spiritually hungry. At some point in his life after he had chosen his despicable career, he became a true seeker. Of course, God was seeking and drawing him, and His draw is irresistible.

We know Matthew knew the Scriptures very well because His Gospel quotes the Old Testament 99 times. That is more times that Mark, Luke, and John combined. He must have studied the Scriptures on his own because he wasn't allowed to hear the Word of God explained in any synagogue. Apparently, in a quest to fill the spiritual void in his life, he had turned to the Scriptures.

He believed in the one true God. Because he knew the record of God's revelation, he understood the promises of the Messiah. He must have also known about Jesus because sitting on the crossroads in a tax booth, he would have heard all the latest news about this Miracle Worker who was banishing disease, casting out demons, and doing other miracles. So when Jesus showed up and called him to follow, Matthew had enough faith to drop everything and follow Him. His faith is clearly indicated not only by the immediacy of his response, but also by his holding an evangelistic banquet in his home.

Matthew devoted the rest of his life to following Christ. Tradition says he ministered to Jews both in Israel and abroad for many years before being martyred for his faith. The earliest traditions indicate he was burned at the stake. Thus this man who walked away from a rich job without ever giving it a second thought remained willing to give his all for Christ to the very end.

Thomas: The Pessimist

The final apostle in the 2nd group of 4 is also a familiar name: Thomas, who was also called "the twin" (John 11:16), but his twin brother or sister is never identified in Scripture. No details about him are given by Matthew, Mark, or Luke. We learn everything we know about his character from John's Gospel.

In John's first mention of Thomas, he is describing what happened before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had left Jerusalem because His life was in jeopardy there so He and His disciples went beyond the Jordan River to where John the Baptist ministered before. Great crowds of people came out to hear Jesus preach "and many believed in Him there" (John 10:40-42).

But something happened to interrupt that fruitful time of ministry: "A certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha" (John 11:1). Bethany was close to Jerusalem. Jesus had formed a close and loving relationship with the little family that lived there. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick" (verse 3). They knew if Jesus came to see Lazarus, He would be able to heal him. However, if Jesus went that close to Jerusalem, He was walking into the very teeth of the worst kind of hostility. John 10:39 says the Jewish leaders were seeking to seize Him. That's because they were determined to kill Him.

Jesus made it clear to His disciples He had to go back to Bethany. There would be no talking Him out of it. To the disciples it must have seemed like the worst possible disaster. It was at this point that Thomas spoke up, the first time we meet him: "Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with Him'" (John 11:16). Now that is pessimistic, but it is also very brave. Thomas could see nothing but disaster ahead, but he was grimly determined to stay with Christ no matter what, and urged the others to as well.

It's not easy to be a pessimist: it's a miserable way to live. Thomas at least had the courage to be loyal, even in the face of his pessimism. It is much easier for an optimist to be loyal. He always expects the best. It is hard for a pessimist to be loyal because he is convinced the worst is going to happen. Thomas was devoted to Christ. In essence he says, "Guys, suck it up: Better to die and be with Christ than to be left behind."

Thomas's deep love for the Lord shows up again in John 14, at the Upper Room, where Christ is telling His disciples of His imminent departure. "I go to prepare a place for you," He says, "and where I go you know, and the way you know." In verse 5 Thomas speaks: "Lord, we do not know where Your are going so how can we know the way?" Again we see His pessimism, but we all have reason to be very grateful to Thomas for asking that question because of the wonderful answer to it: Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." Thomas's  relationship with Christ was so strong, he never wanted to be parted from Him.

We see the next picture of Thomas in John 20. After Jesus' death, all the disciples were in deep sorrow, but they got together to comfort one another. Except for Thomas: verse 24 says that "Thomas ... was not with them." It is too bad he wasn't there because the resurrected Christ came and appeared to them. Although the doors and windows were sealed shut, Jesus came and stood in their midst, saying, "Peace be with you." Then He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord (verses 19-20).

Thomas missed the whole thing. Why wasn't he there? Apparently he was not in the mood to socialize. He was brokenhearted, shattered, devastated, crushed. He just wanted to be alone. When he finally did see the other disciples, they told him the good news: "We have seen the Lord!" (verse 25). But someone in the kind of mood Thomas was in was not going to be cheered up so easily, so he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails ... and into His side, I will not believe."

It is because of that statement he has been nicknamed Doubting Thomas, but don't be too hard on him. Remember, the other disciples did not believe in the resurrection until they saw Jesus either. Mark 16:10-11 records honestly that after Mary Magdalene saw the risen Christ, "She went and told those who had been with Him as they mourned and wept. But when they heard He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe." When Jesus showed up in the locked room and showed His disciples His hands and side, then they believed. So they were all slow to believe such great news. What set Thomas apart from the other 10 was not that his doubt was greater, but that his sorrow was greater.

John 20:26 says that 8 days passed after Jesus appeared to the disciples again. Finally Thomas's ragged grief had eased a bit because this time he was with the others. Once again, "Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in their midst, saying, 'Peace to you!'" No one needed to tell Jesus what Thomas said previously. He looked straight at Thomas and said, "Reach your finger here and look at My hands, and reach your hand there and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving but believing" (verse 27). The Lord was amazingly gentle with him. He understands our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14). So He understands our doubts, sympathizes with our uncertainties, and is patient with our pessimism.

Thomas then made what is probably the greatest statement ever to come from the lips of the apostles: My Lord and My God!" (John 20:28). Let those who question the deity of Christ meet Thomas.

Thomas carried the Gospel as far as India. There is to this day a small hill near the airport in Chennai (Madras), India, where Thomas is said to have been buried. The strongest traditions say he was martyred for his faith by being run through with a spear: a fitting form of martyrdom for one whose faith came of age when he saw the spear mark in his Master's side. 

9. James: The Less, Simon: The Zealot, and Judas (Not Iscariot): The Apostle with Three Names (Thaddeus, Lebbaeus, and Judas)

The final group of 4 apostles is least known to us, except for Judas Iscariot, who made himself notorious by betraying Christ to His enemies. Little is known about any of them, but remember that the apostles were men who gave up everything to follow Christ. Peter spoke for them all when he said, "See, we have left all and followed You" (Luke 18:28). They had left houses, jobs, lands, family, and friends to follow Christ. Their sacrifice was heroic. With the exception of the traitor, they all became valiant witnesses.

James: The Less

The ninth name in Dr. Luke's list of the apostles is "James the son of Alphaeus." The only thing Scripture tells us about this brave man is his name. There are several men with the common name James in the New Testament. We have already met James the son of Zebedee. Another James was the son of Mary and Joseph, so he was Jesus' half brother. That James became a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15) and wrote the letter of James.

James the son of Alphaeus is also called "James the Less" in Mark 15:40. This could mean that he was small in stature or that he was younger than James the son of Zebedee, the other apostolic James. From the same verse we learn that his mother's name was Mary. She was a faithful follower of Christ who was an eyewitness to the crucifixion and one of the first to hear about and probably see the resurrected Christ Sunday morning (Mark 16).

Her son "Little James" (we are told she had another son named Joses) was one of the Twelve. The Lord selected him for a reason, trained and empowered him like the others, and sent him out as a witness. Eternity will reveal the names and testimonies of people like him whom the world barely remembers. There is some evidence that James the Less took the gospel to Syria and Persia. Accounts of his death differ. Some say he was stoned, others say he was beaten to death, and still others that he was crucified. He surely performed "the signs of an apostle ... in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" (2 Corinthians 12:12). His name will be inscribed on one of the gates of the heavenly city.

An interesting thought about James is we know he was the son of Alphaeus. That also was the name of Matthew's father (Mark 2:14). Were they brothers? We do not know.

The Scriptures always keeps our focus on the power of Christ and His Word, not the men and women who were instruments of that power. They were filled with the Spirit and ministered the Word. That is all we really need to know. The vessel is not the issue; the Master is. No one demonstrates that truth better than James the Less, son of Alphaeus.

Simon: The Zealot

In Matthew and Mark, Simon the Zealot is called "Simon the Cananite." That is not a reference to the land of Canaan or the village of Cana. It comes from the Hebrew root qanna, which means "to be zealous."

Simon was apparently at one time a member of the political party know as the Zealots. That he bore the title all his life suggest that he also had a fiery, zealous personality. but the term in Jesus' day signified a well-known and widely feared outlaw political sect. The Zealots hated all Romans and their goal was to overthrow the Roman occupation by terrorism and other acts of violence.

They believed only God Himself had the right to rule over the Jews so they deceived themselves into thinking they were doing God's work by assassinating Roman soldiers, political leaders, and anyone else who opposed them—even fellow Jews. The Zealots were hoping for a Messiah who would lead them in overthrowing the Romans and restoring the Kingdom to Israel in its Solomonic glory. They were red-hot patriots, ready to die in an instant for what they believed in.

The Zealots were convinced that paying tribute to a pagan king was an act of treason against God. That view became popular among people already overburdened by Roman taxation. The Zealots got into so much trouble with the Romans that they  formed secret societies to survive. The sicarii or "dagger men" were assassins skilled at hiding their weapons in the folds of their robes and stabbing their enemies in the back. They liked to burn Roman targets in Judea, and then retreat north to hide in the remote areas of Galilee.

Arch of Titus in Rome showing Temple treasures.
Many historians believe that when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, that terrible holocaust was largely brought on by the Zealots. After the Roman army had surrounded the city and cut off supplies, the Zealots began killing fellow Jews who wanted to negotiate with Rome to end the siege. When the Roman general Titus saw how hopeless the situation was, he destroyed the city, massacring its inhabitants and carrying off the Temple treasures. So the Zealots' blind hatred of Rome and everything Roman ultimately provoked the destruction of their own city.

Simon was one of them. When Jesus sent His disciples out 2 by 2 in Mark 6:7, it is likely that Simon and Judas Iscariot were a team. They probably both followed Christ for similar political reasons, but somewhere along the line, Simon became a genuine believer and was transformed. Judas Iscariot did not.

As one of the Twelve, Simon had to associate with Matthew, who was at the opposite end of the political spectrum, collecting taxes for the Roman government. At one point in his life, Simon would have gladly killed Matthew. But they became spiritual brothers, working side by side for the same cause: spreading the Good News about Jesus the Christ.

Several early sources say that after the destruction of Jerusalem, Simon took the Gospel north and preached in the British Isles. There is no reliable record of what happened to him, but all accounts say he was killed for preaching about Christ. This man who was once willing to kill and be killed for a political agenda in his little country found a more fruitful cause: proclaiming salvation for sinners out of every nation, tongue, and tribe.

 Judas (Not Iscariot): The Apostle with Three Names (Thaddeus, Lebbaeus, and Judas) 

The last name on the list of faithful disciples is "Judas the son of James." The name Judas means "The Lord leads," but because of the treachery of Judas Iscariot, it is forever tainted. When the apostle John mentions him, he calls him "Judas (not Iscariot). Matthew calls him "Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddeus." Judas was probably the name given him at birth. Lebbaeus and Thaddeus are nicknames. Thaddeus literally means "breast child." It almost has a derisive sound, like "mamma's boy." Perhaps he was the youngest in his family and specially cherished by his mother. Lebbaeus is similar, for leb means heart in Hebrew.

Both names still used for an adult suggest he had a tender, childlike heart. Imagine such a gentle soul hanging around in the same group as Simon the Zealot! But the Lord can use both kinds. Zealots make great preachers, but so do compassionate, sweet-spirited men like Lebbaeus Thaddeus. Together, they contribute to a very complex and intriguing group of 12 apostles. There's at least one of every imaginable personality.

The New Testament records one incident involving this apostle with 3 names. On the night He was betrayed Jesus said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him" (John 14:21). John adds, "Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, 'Lord, how is it that You will reveal Yourself to us, and not to the world?'" (verse 22). His question is full of gentleness and humility. He couldn't imagine Jesus manifesting Himself to their rag-tag group of 12 and not to the whole world.

After all, Jesus is the Savior of the world. He is the rightful heir of the earth, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The apostles had always assumed He came to set up His Kingdomthe sooner the better—and subdue all things to Himself. The Good News of forgiveness and salvation is certainly good news for the whole world. The disciples knew that well, but the rest of the world was pretty much clueless back then. Lebbaeus Thaddeus was a man who loved his Lord and felt the power of salvation in his own life. He was full of hope for the world so wanted to know why Jesus wasn't going to make Himself known to everyone.

Jesus gave him an answer as tender as the question: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word and the Father will love him. We will come to him and make Our home with him" (verse 23). Christ will reveal Himself to anyone who loves Him. Jesus' answer meant, "I'm not yet going to take over the world externally. Right now I'm taking over hearts, one at a time. If anyone loves Me and keeps My Word, the Father and I will set up the Kingdom in his or her heart."

Most of the early tradition regarding Lebbaeus Thaddeus indicates that a few years after Pentecost, he took the Gospel north to Edessa, a royal city in the region of what is Turkey today. Many ancient accounts tell that he healed King Abgar of Edessa. The traditional apostolic symbol of Judas Lebbaeus Thaddeus is the club since he was eventually clubbed to death for his faith. This tender-hearted man followed his Lord faithfully to the end. 

10. Judas: The Traitor  

Coins spilling out are a symbol of Judas.
Every time Judas is mentioned in Scripture, we also find a notation about his being a traitor. He betrayed the perfect, sinless, holy Son of God for a handful of money. He spent 3 years with Jesus Christ, but for all that time his heart was only growing hard and hateful. The other 11 apostles are all great encouragements to us because they show how common people with typical failings can be used by God in uncommon, remarkable ways. Judas, on the other hand, stands as a warning about spiritual carelessness, squandered opportunity, worldly lusts, and hardness of heart.

Judas's name is a form of Judah, "the Lord leads," which indicates that when he was born, his parents had great hopes for him to be led by God. The irony of the name is that no person was ever more clearly led by Satan than Judas was.

His last name, Iscariot, tells us where he came from. Ish means man in Hebrew and Kerioth is a humble town in the south of Judea (Joshua 15:25). He was apparently the only one of the apostles who did not come from Galilee. As we know, many of the others were brothers, friends, and working companions even before meeting Christ. Judas was a solitary figure who entered their midst from afar. Although there is no evidence that he was ever excluded or looked down upon by the rest of the group, he may have thought of himself as an outsider, which would have helped him justify his own treachery.

The Galilean disciples' unfamiliarity with Judas made it easy for him to play the hypocrite. He was able to work his way into a place of trust, which we know he did because John tells us he became treasurer of the group (John 12:6). Judas's father was named Simon (John 6:71), who is otherwise unknown to us. It was a common name obviously since there are 2 Simons among the apostles (Peter and the Zealot).

When Jesus predicted that one of them would betray Him, no one pointed the finger of suspicion at Judas. He was so expert in his hypocrisy that no one seemed to distrust him, but Jesus knew his heart from the beginning (John 6:64).

Judas was probably a young, zealous, patriotic Jew who did not want the Romans to rule and who hoped Christ would overthrow the foreign oppressors and restore the Kingdom to Israel. He obviously could see that Jesus had powers like no other man. He followed Jesus out of a desire for selfish gain. He wanted power like Christ's for himself.

His role of betrayal was ordained before the foundation of the world and prophesied several times in Scripture. Psalm 41:9, a Messianic prophecy, says, "Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." Jesus cited that verse in John 13:18 and said its fulfillment would come in His own betrayal. Psalm 55:12-14 says, "For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, for then I could bear it ... but it was you ... my companion and acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together and walked together to the House of God." That passage also foretold the treachery of Judas. Zechariah 11:12-13 says, "They weighed out for my wages 30 pieces of silver, and the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'.... So I took the 30 pieces of silver and threw them into the House of the Lord for the potter." Matthew 27:9-10 identifies that as another prophecy about Judas.

No invisible hand forced him to betray Christ, however. Judas was responsible for his own actions.

The rest of the apostles had begun to catch on slowly that the true Messiah was not what they at first expected. They embraced the superior understanding of the biblical promises Jesus unfolded to them. Their love for Christ overcame their worldly ambitions. They received His teaching about the spiritual dimension of the Kingdom and gladly enjoyed its benefits.

Judas, meanwhile, simply became disillusioned. For the most part he hid his disappointment, probably because he was looking for a way to get some money out of the 3 years he had invested with Jesus. Judas probably convinced himself that Jesus had stolen his liferobbed him of years of money-making potential. That sort of thinking ate away at him until he finally became the monster who betrayed Christ.

A telling sign occurred after the raising of Lazarus and just before Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciples were invited to a feast with Lazarus and his sisters. "There they made Him a supper. Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who reclined at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume" (John 12:2-3).

This was an obvious act of worship, lavish in the extreme. "Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, 'Why was this fragrant oil not sold for 300 days' wages and given to the poor?'" (verses 4-5). Judas pretended to be concerned about the poor and his protest seemed reasonable to the other disciples, for Matthew confesses that they all echoed Judas's complaint (Matthew 26:8). The apostle John, thinking about this incident years later, wrote, "This Judas said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief and had the money box. He used to take what was put in it (John 12:6). Of course, neither John nor any of the other apostles saw through Judas's deceit at the time, but in retrospect and writing under the Holy Spirit's inspiration, John tells us plainly that Judas was motivated by greed.

Jesus said to Judas, "Let her alone! She has kept this [precious ointment] for the day of My burial. The poor you have with you always and can help whenever you want, but Me you do not have always." Given the circumstances, this seems a rather mild rebuke. He could have blasted Judas with fierce condemnation and exposed his real motives, but He did not.

This gentle reprimand seems to have made Judas resent Jesus even more, and the whole incident appears to have been the last straw for Judas. Matthew says, "Then one of the Twelve, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 'What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?' And they counted out to him 30 pieces of silver. So from that time on he sought opportunity to betray Him" (Matthew 26:14-16).

Having already taken money to betray Christ, Judas came back, blended into the group, and pretended nothing unusual had happened. John says it was the devil who put it in the heart of Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Judas did what he did willingly, without any coercion. Satan could not force him to betray Jesus. But Satan through some means suggested the plot, tempted Judas to do this thing, and planted the seed of treachery in his heart. Judas's heart was so hostile to the truth and so filled with evil that Judas became a willing instrument of Satan himself.

It was at this point that Jesus gave the apostles a lesson in humility by washing their feet. He washed the feet of all 12, which includes Judas, who let Jesus wash his feet and remained utterly unmoved. Peter, on the other hand, was deeply moved. At first he was ashamed and refused to let Jesus wash his feet. But when Jesus said, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me," Peter replied, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and head!" (verses 8-9).

Jesus replied, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet ... and you are clean, but not all of you" (verse 10). A buzz must have gone around the room when He said that. There were only 12 of them and Jesus was saying that someone in the group was not clean. John adds, "For He knew who would betray Him, which is why He said, 'You are not clean'" (verse 11).

Soon Jesus spoke more directly: "The Scripture must be fulfilled, 'He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.' Now I tell you before it comes that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He" (verses 18-19). Of course, He was saying Judas's act was the fulfillment of Psalm 41:9.

All that seems to have gone over the heads of most of the apostles so in verse 21, Jesus makes an even more explicit prediction: "When Jesus said these things, He was troubled in spirit and testified, saying, 'Most assuredly I say to you, one of you will betray Me.'" All the disciples, except Judas, were perplexed and deeply troubled by this. They apparently began to examine their own hearts because Matthew tells us, "They were exceedingly sorrowful and each of them began to say to Him, 'Lord, is it I?' Even Judas, always careful to keep up the appearance of being like everyone else, asked, "Rabbi, is it I?" (Matthew 26:22, 25). In his case, there had been no sincere self-examination. Judas already knew he was the one of whom Jesus spoke.

Jesus sent him away, saying, "What  you are about to do, do quickly" (John 12:23-30). No one at the table knew why Jesus said that, but He was not about to have the first communion service with the devil and Judas present in the room. Only after Judas had left did our Lord institute the Lord's Supper. To this day, when we come to the Lord's Table, we are instructed to examine ourselves lest we come hypocritically to the table and bring judgment upon ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

Judas did not act in a moment of insanity. He had been planning this for days and had already taken money for it. He had just been waiting for an opportune time, but now Jesus had spoken openly to the other disciples about soon being betrayed. Judas had nearly been unmasked in front of the others. It was time for him to act. 

What had he been waiting for anyway? Dr. Luke tells us plainly: an opportunity to betray Jesus to the religious leaders "in the absence of the multitude" (Luke 22:6). He knew the popularity of Jesus and was afraid of the crowd. Like every hypocrite, he was obsessed with what other people thought about him so he was hoping to betray Jesus as quietly as possible. Judas knew that Jesus went regularly to the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples (Luke 22:39; John 18:2), so he knew exactly where to bring the authorities to capture Jesus at night.

Judas, "having received a detachment of troops and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons" (John 18:3). No exact figure is given, but all the Gospel writers say it was a great multitude (Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:43; Luke 22:47). They obviously expected the worst so they came armed to the teeth.

Jesus, "knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, 'Whom are you seeking?'" (John 18:4). He did not wait for Judas to single Him out but went forward, saying, "I am He" (verse 5).

Judas had prearranged a signal to identify Jesus: "Whomever I kiss, He is the One: seize Him!" (Matthew 26:48). He seemingly had no conscience. Since Jesus stepped forward and identified Himself, the signal was unnecessary, but Judas kissed Him anyway (Mark 14:45).

Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48). Kissing is a mark of love, respect, and intimacy. Judas's feigned feelings for Christ only made his deed that much darker. Jesus, ever gracious, even addressed him as "Friend" (Matthew 26:50). Jesus had never been anything but friendly to Judas, but Judas was no friend of Jesus.

As soon as the deal was complete, Judas's conscience came alive. He found himself in a hell of his own making. The money, which had been so important to him before, now did not matter. Matthew tells us that Judas, seeing that Christ had been condemned to death, "was remorseful and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!'" (Matthew 27:3-4). Those wicked leaders were not sympathetic. They said, "What is that to us? you see to it!" They had what they wanted. Judas could do what he liked with the money. Nothing would undo his treachery.

Matthew says, "Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the Temple and departed, and went and hanged himself" (verse 5). Sin brings guilt, and Judas's sin brought him unbearable misery. His remorse was not genuine repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). Judas was sorry because he did not like how he felt. Sadly, he did not seek the forgiveness of God. He did not cry out for mercy. He did not seek deliverance from Satan. Instead, he tried to silence his conscience by killing himself. This was the grief of a madman who had lost control.

Matthew concludes his account of Judas like this: "The chief priests took the silver pieces and said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the Temple treasury because they are the price of blood.' They consulted together and used the money to buy the potter's field to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day" (Matthew 27:6-8).

Dr. Luke adds a final note to the tragedy of Judas with medical and legal details: "This man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity and falling headlong, burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. This became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem so that the field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, which is Field of Blood" (Acts 1:18-19). Technically, the field was purchased for him by the chief priests, but the purchase was made with his money. His heirsif he had anywould inherit the field. Why that particular field? Because it was the very place where Judas hanged himself. Apparently he chose a tree on an overhang above some jagged rocks. Either the rope or the tree branch broke, and Judas's body fell headlong onto the rocks.

Jesus said these chilling words: "It would have been good for that man if he had never been born" (Mark 14:21).

Judas's Replacement: Matthias

After Jesus' resurrection and ascension to heaven, Judas's apostolic position was filled by Matthias (Acts 1:16-26). The apostle Peter said, "It is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let ...  another take his office.'" Matthias was selected because he had been with Jesus and the other apostles "from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us." One other man fitting that description, Joseph called Barsabas (meaning "son of the Sabbath") and Justus (his Latin name), was another strong possibility for this position. When the apostles used the ancient practice of casting lots to decide, the lot fell on Matthias by God's design.

Nothing is known of Matthias other than that. Along with the other 11 apostles, Matthias became a powerful witness of Jesus' resurrection: one more ordinary man whom the Lord elevated to an extraordinary calling.

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