I love that whenever anyone conjures up the 12 Apostles of Christ, that we get this image of these great godly men that floated around and never did anything wrong. Like they were some kind of super-humans that were perfect. I remember growing up thinking I could never be perfect like these guys and follow Jesus. As I got older I realized that my perception is far from the truth, as is the perception of most people I believe. What really makes me laugh is that some “religious orders” put these guys on such a high pedestal that no one can touch them. This could not be further than the truth.
Here is a riddle, what do a murderous zealot, a money embezzler, a traitor, a second guesser, and a bunch of fisherman have in common? If you can’t guess, these are the backgrounds of the 12 Apostles. Not glamorous or lofty by any means. But that is how God works, calling the sinners from among us to be his greatest followers. Let’s take a look at and dissect Matthew 6:12-16
“Now it came to pass in those days that He (Jesus) went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called the disciples to Himself; and from them He Chose twelve whom He also named apostles: Simon, who He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Phillip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; Judas the son of James and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.”
In this scripture we find that Jesus has recently been tempted by Satan, and that he is now beginning his ministry. He is calling the Apostles to himself, and instead of Jesus choosing the Apostles, he prays to the Father in Heaven. Even Jesus – God Himself – prays, spending time with God and asking what to do and to show guidance on this important decision that would help set the course of His message throughout time. When Jesus got done praying and the father helped to reveal the Apostles to Him, do you think he looked at the bunch of ragtag men and asked God if he was joking? Seriously, if we take a closer look at the some of the Apostles, we see there is hope for us to be great teachers of Christ’s word.
Thomas – aka “The Doubter”
This was the guy that when Christ had risen and presented himself to the Apostles after his resurrection, he still was not sure it was him. Here is Jesus, walking through walls in rooms then being whole in the flesh, and this guy says, “I’m not sure it is really you.” and Christ has to present the nail holes in his hands and the cut in his side to show Thomas that he is in fact Jesus. Oops.
Simon – aka “The Zealot”
Simon is probably one of my favorite Apostles because this guys was hardcore. We need to look at what a zealot is to really get a feel for this guy. Zealots (or Zelotes) were Jewish nationalists that hated the Roman occupation of Israel. They were known to start riots and revolts against the Romans, resulting in many deaths and damage to the city. They were known to carry daggers and stab Roman citizens and soldiers stealthily and slip away. These guys loved the Jews and hated the Romans, plain and simple, they were hardcore Jewish.
Fishing in ancient Israel was not an easy occupation. Fishermen used nets to catch fish in the Sea of Galilee, they would cast their nets and haul them from their wooded row boats. It was hard and dangerous work, you have to understand that fishermen both loved and feared the sea at the same time (I don’t think they were good swimmers). Fishermen were probably not very educated either. Why would Jesus select fishermen as Apostles? Simple, He wanted to show that He (God) could take the least from us and make them a teacher of God. Jesus took these four men and made them “fishers of men.”
Bartholomew (aka Nathaniel) and Phillip, James “the Son of Alphaeus” (aka James the Lesser) – The Unknown Apostles
Bartholomew who was also known as Nathaniel is really only mentioned once in the New Testament. Bartholomew was the Apostle that said of Jesus “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.” Jesus was from Nazareth, and from what I know about ancient Nazareth, it as a horrible place, or perhaps a small unimportant place. Either way, Bartholomew was questioning the Messianic claims of Jesus, how could someone so important come from somewhere like Nazareth? But that is what is cool about God, using the least of us to make the most impact. Bart (as I like to call him) is also mentioned with Phillip quite a bit. Phillip in fact introduced Bart to Jesus the Christ.
Not much is known about James the Lesser. He is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament. It has been speculated that James the Less may have actually been the brother of Jesus, but has never actually been clarified.
Matthew – The Tax Collector
Much is to be said about tax collectors in ancient Israel. Nobody likes tax collectors, not even today (although the bible commands we pay our taxes to our governments). But in ancient Israel, tax collectors were despised. In short, they were Jews who where collecting taxes for the Romans. They were crooked, they collected more than the Roman government required and kept the rest. They were hated, because the Israel people felt they had sold out to the Romans and were not true to their Jewish heritage. Matthew was a tax collector, perfect for Jesus to use as an Apostle. He would illustrate that anyone can become a follower of Jesus the Christ.
Judas the son of James (aka Thaddaeus)
Not to be confused with the other Judas. Another Apostle that we do not know much about. It is thought that Judas the Son of James may be from Caesarea Philippi and may have been a farmer, or grown up in a family of farmers
Maybe the most well known of the Apostles. I find it kind of ironic that the guy who betrayed Jesus is probably the most recognizable of the Apostles. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and gave him to the Jewish religious leaders for 30 pieces of silver. Amazing that Jesus knew of the betrayal, He broke bread with Judas, He even fingered Judas Iscariot as His betrayer at the last supper. Judas Iscariot ridden with guilt hung himself outside of the city after he betrayed Jesus.
We know that the real focus of the New Testament is Jesus, not the Apostles. He (God/Jesus) chose the Apostles not based on their stature or accomplishments. He chose them to teach them to glorify Himself. To use them as instruments to teach the world. First Corinthians 1:27 says “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” Christ demonstrates this with His Apostles. Christ also said “Follow Me” in the New Testament (he is quoted 19 times). My challenge to you is are you willing to follow Christ? To put yourself aside and be an apostle of Christ? If God can use the 12 apostles, then he can use any among us to accomplish great things here on Earth for the Kingdom of God.
Please understand that I am not formally trained in the bible. If I got something wrong here, my apologies. If you have information to add, please leave a comment.