13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
(Mark 3:13-19 NIV)
In today’s text, we see Jesus getting away from the crowds again, this time to the mountains. Jesus invites twelve men to follow Him so He could train them and send them out as apostles (“the sent ones”). Jesus called them to preach and gave them the authority to drive out demons. From this point forward, Mark refers to this group of men as “The Twelve”.
Mark lists the apostles in verses 16 – 19. Mark begins with Peter, his source of information. Mark points out Peter’s given name (Simon), and the name Jesus gave him (Peter).
Next in the list were James and John, two brothers that Jesus nicknamed “sons of thunder”. This was likely due to the brothers’ fiery tempers (see Luke 9:54). These three men (Peter, James, and John) would be in Jesus’ “inner circle” of closest friends and students.
Next came Peters’ brother Andrew, who had originally introduced Peter to Jesus. Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist; he began following Jesus when their paths first crossed.
Next came Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (Levi), Thomas, James (Matthew’s brother), Thaddeus, and Simon the zealous one.
I had been taught that “Simon the Zealot” was made in reference to his association with the splinter Jewish group (the Zealots) that fought to gain independence from Roman authority and rule. However, upon deeper investigation, historians tell us that the Zealots did not form until after Jesus’ ministry and ascension into heaven. The Zealots were formed and revolted against Rome; the Romans responded by putting down the insurrection and burning the Temple to the ground in 70 AD. Therefore, Simon’s title as the Zealot must have been more of a nickname than an identification with the radical Jewish group.
Mark concludes the list of the twelve with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus in the end.
The number twelve has importance, as it represents the twelve tribes of Israel. Just as some tribes of Israel had more historical significance than others, so some of the apostles had more significance than others. However, all were called by Jesus to be His witnesses, His “sent ones”.
In Mark’s account of Jesus’ calling of the Twelve, we see Jesus’ emotions come out in the form of alternate names for His disciples. Just as Jesus gave many of these men new names, so He gives us a new name as His followers. Jesus calls us His friends, even His family members that will be given an inheritance.
It’s also important to recognize that Jesus formed a group to train and carry on His ministry. This was the opposite of the Pharisees – even the name “Pharisee” means “the separated one”. Jesus knew that they would need to live in community to flourish. Jesus knew they would need to learn to live with one another, as well as for each other.
With such a wide diversity of backgrounds and life choices that each man brought to the group, it’s likely that there were some animated discussions about life and living. And yet, Jesus called them together because of their passion of being with Him and their desire to take His message forward, regardless of the personal consequences.
May we have that same desire to make Jesus known wherever God calls us to be and whatever He calls us to do. As Peter reminds us:
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
(2 Peter 1:2-4 NIV)
May we live out our calling as His followers.