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God’s Word for You

Mark 3:13-19 Apostles

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, February 5, 2022

Jesus Appoints the Twelve Apostles
13 Jesus went up the mountain, summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve whom he designated apostles so that they would be with him and so that he could send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons.

The word “apostle” (ἀπόστoλος) means someone or something “sent out.” It can be a “shoot” from a plant in a garden (Song of Solomon 4:13), or any messenger in general (John 13:16), but most often we think of the twelve special men sent out by Jesus with authority from him.

16 He appointed the Twelve: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter; 17 then James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, to whom he gave the nickname Boanerges, which means “Sons of Thunder”; 18 also Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus; finally, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each gives this list, and each writer breaks the list into three groups of four men. I wonder whether this is to help Christians to learn the list, or at least to differentiate some of the apostles with similar names or multiple names.

One way of remembering them is to categorize them in pairs, two of which which yield additional fruit:

1, Two Simons (Peter and the Zealot), and Peter’s brother Andrew.
2, Two Jameses (Greater and Less), the James the Greater’s brother, John.
3, Two Judases (Iscariot and “Not Iscariot”).
4, Matthew (who wrote a Gospel) and Thomas (famous for doubting)
5, Philip and Bartholomew, who are grouped together in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

It seems that all of the apostles were married, but special attention is given in the Scriptures to Peter’s wife (1 Corinthians 9:5). I will comment briefly on each man.

Group One:

Simon Peter. Peter was often a spokesman for the group. Tradition says that he and his wife were crucified in the time of the Emperor Nero. Jesus’ words in John 21:18-19 certainly indicate a violent death of some kind was in store for him. His name was Simon but Jesus liked to call him Cephas or Peter, which are the Aramaic and Greek words for “Rock.”

James was one of the sons of Zebedee. James is the English form of Jacob, which is how his name is spelled in Greek. A comparison of Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 leads us to understand that his mother was Salome, one of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning. Along with Peter, Andrew, and John, James was a fisherman by trade. Apart from Judas, his is the only death mentioned in Scripture. He was put to death “by the sword” during or just before Passover in 44 AD (Acts 12:2).

John was certainly the disciple “Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 20). He had also been a follower of John the Baptist. John wrote five books of the New Testament (four bearing his name, and the Revelation). He lived to see the final years of the First Century, exiled briefly on the Aegean island of Patmos, but serving many years as Pastor in Ephesus and caring for Jesus’ mother (John 19:26-27).

Andrew was Peter’s brother. Both of them had been disciples of John the Baptist. He brought his brother Peter to see Jesus. He was also the disciple who brought Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus (John 12:22). Tradition says that Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross (The Saint Andrew’s cross), which is why the British flag has the X-shape behind the traditional cross.

Group Two:

Philip. Not the more famous evangelist (Acts 6:5), Philip the Apostle was from the same fishing village as Andrew and Peter: Bethsaida. The story of Jesus calling Philip is found in John 1:43-46. He is also mentioned in connection with the Feeding of the 5,000 in John 6:5-7.

Bartholomew (Nathanael), (“Son of Talmai” or “Son of Ptolemy”) is the Nathanael mentioned by John (John 1:46 ff.). Apart from information about Nathanael in John (see also John 21:1-2), we know nothing for certain about this disciple. In artwork (such as a certain stained-glass window in the church I serve here in New Ulm) he is often depicted with a special weapon known as a flensing knife on account of the particular martyr’s death he is reported to have suffered.

Matthew is also called Levi. We have already seen that he was a tax-collector, and a forgiven sinner. His name Levi may indicate that he was from the tribe of Levi. Matthew wrote the first Gospel as an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry.

Thomas who once doubted, had a twin brother. He had expressed concern for Jesus’ life as early as the raising of Lazarus (John 11:16), and was one of the Apostles who asked Jesus questions about coming events during the Last Supper (John 14:1-6). One tradition places Thomas in India later in life. There is a St. Thomas’ Mountain near Madras, India.

Group Three:

James son of Alphaeus. This James is often called James the Less or even “the other James.” He had a brother names Joses; their Mother Mary was one of the women at the tomb of Jesus (Mark 15:40). Matthew is also called a son of Alphaeus (Matthew 9:9), and so it is possible that these men were brothers, but it is odd that Scripture tells us about other brothers in the Twelve but not these men. Their fathers could simply have had the same name.

Thaddeus, is also called “Judas not Iscariot” to distinguish him from another, better known Apostle. We know little about him, but a question he asked Jesus led to Jesus telling us, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1).

Simon the Zealot. This other Simon was called “the Canaanite” to distinguish him from Simon Peter (the Galilean). In Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13, he is called the Zealot. The Zealots were a political party begun under Quirinius, who governed Syria twice, about the time Jesus was born (Luke 2:2) and again shortly after (when the revolt mentioned in Acts 5:37 occurred). The Zealots resisted Roman aggression and dominance in the land, and often used terrorist tactics, assassination and other violence. Simon’s name next to that of Judas Iscariot may have been a message to Mark’s readers: a former terrorist was among Jesus’ Apostles, and was forgiven. There is no sin so big that God cannot—or did not—forgive it through Jesus.

Judas Iscariot, the traitor. The name Iscariot may refer to the town Kerioth in Judah. Since most of the other Apostles come from Galilee, it is often said that Judas was the only Apostle from Judah, making his final rejection of Jesus all the more tragic. Judas did what the others did. He heard Jesus, preached the Gospel, healed the sick, drove out demons, and perhaps even raised the dead, but it doesn’t matter who a person is or what a person does if, in the end, that person rejects the Savior. After Judas took his own life, the others appointed a man named Matthias to take his place.

While Judas serves as a warning to us, the other Eleven serve as reminders that God forgives our sins and loves us even though we fall short of his will in everything that we do. The Apostles were not great men on account of their achievements, nor were they chosen because they were the finest examples of faith in their generation—others were given that praise by Jesus (Luke 7:9). But they were chosen to serve, and they served. Whether you have a name that might be remembered to future generations or soon forgotten, it is your service to Christ that makes a difference. Thank him for his grace and forgiveness, and do his will, like a little green shoot in his beloved garden.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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