Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.
The Twelve Apostles
12In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Jesus sought quiet from time to time. He retreated all night to pray, communicating with His heavenly Father (verse 12).
He sets the example for us to follow. Matthew Henry observes that we are reluctant to spend even a half-hour at prayer, yet:
We have a great deal of business at the throne of grace, and we should take a great delight in communion with God, and by both these we may be kept sometimes long at prayer.
The following morning, our Lord returned to choose His Apostles (verse 13). He did not choose learned men but those whom the privileged in society would have either ignored or disdained. They were men from Galilean villages, not the big city Jerusalem. In the words of the Monty Python sketch, ‘But they’re not qualified!’ He also did not choose anyone from the religious hierarchy.
Henry explains their names with regard to the other Gospels (verses 14-16):
He that in Mark was called Thaddeus, in Matthew Lebbeus, whose surname was Thaddeus, is here called Judas the brother of James, the same that wrote the epistle of Jude. Simon, who in Matthew and Mark was called the Canaanite, is here called Simon Zelotes, perhaps for his great zeal in religion.
Or perhaps for his political zeal in wanting Israel to break away from Rome. We’ll get to that in a moment.
For now, John MacArthur says that none of us, because of our inherent tendency to sin, is qualified to truly serve Him. Yet, the unqualified are called nonetheless. Such has been the case since Old Testament times:
Very encouraging to meet the Twelve because like all the rest of us, they are selected from the unworthy and the unqualified. They’re like Elijah, that great prophet. If you were to go to the Old Testament and look across the peaks of godly men and leaders and prophets and preachers, you might say that the peak of all peaks was Elijah…great man of God, mightily used of God. And James reminds us in James 5:17, he says of Elijah he had the same kind of nature that we have, he’s just like us. He didn’t rise to the highest of usefulness to God because he was different than we are, neither did Paul. Paul, as I just said, recognized himself as the chief of sinners. And God doesn’t really have a choice, He either uses the unworthy and the unqualified or He does it Himself. But God has chosen to bring to sinners saving grace and sanctifying grace and then serving grace, transforming the unworthy and the unqualified into useful servants. And we’re going to learn that as we look at these Apostles.
He encourages us not to be discouraged by our inability to be holy (emphases mine):
I think we are tempted generally as Christians, and it’s an understandable thing, to become discouraged and to become disheartened when our spiritual life and witness suffer because of our sins and our failures and we think that we’re nobodies and we’re nothing …
God picks the humble, the lowly, the meek and the weak so that there’s never any question about the source of power when their lives change the world. It’s not the man, it’s the truth of God and the power of God in the man. We sure need to remind preachers today of this. It’s not their cleverness, it’s not their personality. Power is in the Word…power is in the truth that we preach, not in us. And apart from one person, one human, God’s Son the Lord Jesus Christ, the history of God’s work on earth is the story of His using the unqualified and the Twelve were no exception to that. Jesus took the unworthy, the unqualified and transformed them into mighty servants of spiritual power, turned the world upside-down, laid the foundation of the church upon which all these centuries have been built. They became great preachers, healers, expellers of demons, writers of the New Testament. They were the real foundation of the church, according to Ephesians 2:20. They were the agents of divine revelation, according to Ephesians 3:5. They were the teachers of true doctrine, according to Acts 2:42. In Ephesians 4:11 it tells us they were the builders of the church. They are called holy apostles in Ephesians 3:5 and Revelation 18:20. They were examples of godliness. And they were granted the ability to do mighty signs and wonders, according to 2 Corinthians 12:11 and 12. These Twelve, very plain, common men were elevated to a uncommon calling.
MacArthur explains the order of their names:
The first name in all four lists is always Peter. And then you have three groups of four…group one, group two, group three. The first group is Simon called Peter, Andrew, James, John. In every list they are the first four. Peter, James and John’s names get mixed around in the list, Peter’s is always first but they’re always in group one.
Group two is always the same, Philip, Bartholomew, or Nathanael…Matthew, Thomas, that’s always group two in every list. And the names of Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas get mixed, but Philip is always the first name of group two.
Group three, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James and Judas Iscariot, always the same…the names may be mixed a little bit, the two middle names, the names of Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James get mixed, but James the son of Alphaeus is always the first name in group four and Judas is always the last name of the Twelve …
These groups of four are in decreasing intimacy with Christ. Group one always around Christ…Peter, James, John and Andrew, the most intimate group. They were the first disciples that Jesus called back in John chapter 1 verse 35 to 42, the first group He called to be disciples, here he identifies as Apostles. They’ve been with Him the longest and they are the most intimate with Christ. And throughout the rest of the story of the ministry and life of Christ, Peter, James and John in particular are very intimate with Christ, and Andrew is close. Group two is a little bit more distant but we do know quite a bit about Philip and Bartholomew and Thomas, as I mentioned they are group two…and also Matthew. Group three seems at a distance. We don’t know much about them at all. The only thing we know is about Judas because he betrayed Jesus. So Jesus had twelve, but He could only have very intimately three and sometimes four and they kind of move away in terms of intimacy. But as Mark 3:14 says they were appointed that they would be with Him, so they were all there, all twelve, but with certain degrees of intimacy with Christ.
It does tell us that even a group of twelve is too much for one person to handle at an equal level of intimacy. Jesus had very close to Him three, next came Andrew and then the next and the next. So we learn that there have to be some decisions made about who one spends intimate time with because you can’t be everything to everybody.
Each group also had a leader:
There’s a leader in group one, Peter; leader of group two, Philip; leader of group three, James the son of Alphaeus. There are leaders among leaders and a leader over all of them, namely Peter.
The Apostles came from a variety of occupations, among them fishing (Peter and Andrew), tax collecting (Matthew) and political activism (Simon the Zealot), about whom MacArthur explains:
The Zealots…were those who hated Rome. That was the name of a group of people in Israel who wanted to throw off the Roman yoke. They were…many of them were terrorists. They didn’t have an army that declared war on Rome, they did terrorist acts. Some of them were called Sicarii because they carried around a Sicarii, which is a sword and they went around stabbing Romans in the back. Terrorist acts. And here was the most hated Jew, one who had betrayed his nation and become a tax collector for Rome in the same little group of four with Simon who was a terrorist. And apart from the presence of Christ, Simon may have well stuck a spear in the back of Matthew.
MacArthur calls our attention to the interchangeability of Jesus’s calling the leader ‘Simon’ and ‘Peter’:
Now why does He do this to him? Well the Lord has a purpose in mind. I mean, by nature he was…he [Simon Peter] was brash, he was vacillating, he made great promises of what he would do and didn’t do it. He was one of those kinds of guys that goes whole-hearted into something and then bails back out of it. First one in, first one out, vacillating. The Lord changed his name, I think, because He wanted to work on him and He wanted to work on him in an immediate way. And it was very easy to do once He gave him the name Rock because by what Jesus called him He sent him a message. If He said to him, “Simon,” then he was acting like his old self. If He said to him, “Rock,” he was acting the way the Lord wanted him to act.
Now for a few words about some of the other Apostles mentioned in this passage.
I’ve written about Matthew before. And Judas. You might also have read my post on ‘doubting’ Thomas. Yet, MacArthur reminds us that there was another side to him:
He had a profound love for the Lord. It shows up again in John 14…this again, a very familiar portion of Scripture. The upper room discourse, the night of the Passover, Jesus’ night of meeting with His disciples and Judas betrays Him that night, as you know. Judas has been dismissed, as recorded in chapter 13 and now in chapter 14 the disciples are troubled, the Apostles are troubled. Very troubled because Jesus has told them that one of them is betraying Him, they’re moving in on the cross. They know the Lord is going to leave. He had even told Peter he’s going to deny Him. And there’s a tremendous troubling among the Apostles. So Jesus says in verse 1, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me. I am going, but in My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I’ll come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I’m going.”
… In verse 5 Thomas speaks. Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we don’t know where You’re going, how do we know the way?” This is just a few days later and again we see his pessimism. “You’re leaving, we’ll never get there, we don’t know how to get there, how we supposed to get there? It was a better plan for us to die with You because then there’s no separation. We’ll just go and we’ll die and then we’ll all be together. But if You just go, how are we ever going to find You? We don’t know how to get there.”
This is a man with deep love. This is a man with a relationship with Christ that was so strong that he didn’t ever want to be severed from Him. And his heart is really broken as he speaks. He’s shattered. The thought of losing Christ paralyzes him. He had become so associated and attached to Jesus in these years that he would be glad to die with Christ, but he certainly didn’t want to live without Him. I like that, don’t you? Just let me die, just don’t leave me, just don’t go without me ’cause I don’t know how to get there.
And Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” Whatever…whatever I do I’ll always be the way for you, always be the life for you, I’ll always be the truth for you.
This was just overwhelming for Thomas who would eagerly die with Christ, rather than be separated from Him…
MacArthur tells us as much as possible about James the son of Alphaeus:
Now he had a name that was shared by some others. James the son of Zebedee who was the brother of John. And James is known to us and there are several incidents in the gospels where James appears. And then there was another James, the James the brother of our Lord. Our Lord had a half-brother born to Joseph and Mary by the name of James. He later became the leader of the Jerusalem Council and authored the epistle James. But this James, the son of Alphaeus, is just obscure. We don’t even know anything about Alphaeus.
But interestingly enough were you to look at Mark 15:40 you would see him there called, “James the mikros, micro James, Little James.” I think the NAS translates it “James the Less.” Little James. Now what does it mean, mikrosfrom which we get micro? Well he was little. Well in what way was he little? Well it could refer to his physical features, he could have been very small, just a little guy. And that’s perhaps true. It may also be that he was young in age. It would be hard to imagine that were he an older man he would still be bearing the moniker “Little James.” They may have wanted to show a little more deference to his age.
It is also true that he was something of a background person, and that’s why he’s called “Little James,” or “James the Less,” small James. Perhaps it’s some kind of a combination of that, we certainly can’t be dogmatic, but let’s for our mind’s sake assume that he was a kind of a small sort of quiet person …
And, in fact, the New Testament tells us absolutely nothing about him. However, I have some things to say about him, sort of from the white spaces.
Historical tradition tells us, however, that he was sent after Pentecost to Persia to preach the gospel, modern Iran. And there preached the gospel. The gospel was rejected by the power that was there and he was crucified for his faithfulness to Christ, just as his Lord had been crucified. The legacy for Iran was pagan Islam. The Lord uses people who seem not extraordinary at all. Here is such a quiet, unknown soldier.
Perhaps, like MacArthur, you have questions about the following with regard to James the Less:
Now although Scripture doesn’t say anything about him, I just want to introduce you to an interesting thought. In Mark chapter 2 verse 14, Jesus passes by the tax office of Levi/Matthew, whom we saw last time. And notice this, he saw Levi, the son of…whom?…who?…Alphaeus. Could it be that this James was the brother of Matthew? That could be. There is no effort on the part of the Scripture writer to distinguish between the two Alphaeuses, could be. That wouldn’t be uncommon since Peter and Andrew were brothers and James and John were brothers. Why not these two? Why not James and Matthew/Levi?
There’s another interesting thought, probably less likely but at least it p[ique]s my curiosity. In the nineteenth chapter of John at the crucifixion of Jesus, there in verse 25, was standing by the cross of Jesus, His mother, Mary, His mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas,” see that name Cleophas? Some scholars tell us that Cleophas is just another form of Alphaeus so that if this James was the son of the sister of Mary, he would have been Jesus’ cousin. Well, was James the cousin of our Lord? Was he the brother of Matthew? We don’t know. But you know something, it doesn’t matter to the Lord. All of that really isn’t important.
For those of us curious about the Apostles other than Judas — carefully designated as the traitor in the New Testament, possibly not to confuse him with Jude Thaddeus (Book of Jude) — let us pray that we meet them one day in eternity.
Next time: Luke 7:18-23