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Just who were the Twelve?

Before we go any further into Matthew, and just before we talk about another water walker besides Jesus, I thought it well to take a peek from 500 feet above . . . and consider the scope of Jesus’ work and those who worked most closely with him—you know, his main men.
There were 12 of them. Andrew, Bartholomew (also called Nathaniel), James (the elder), James and John, sons of Zebedee, Judas, Jude (or Thaddeus), Matthew (also called Levi), Peter, Philip, Simon the Zealot, Thomas – twelve guys chosen by Jesus to be his inner circle.

Jesus chose ordinary people—poor, uneducated people, by most of our standards—to train up, and then entrust to them his story and his love to take to the world. And God did not see them as they were, but rather what and who they could become. Change the world they did.

Who were they, and what were they like? Andrew was the first called one—a fisherman, who introduced others to Jesus—it was his main purpose in life. He must have often felt upstaged by his more famous brother, Peter, but we never have any sense of jealousy or envy (but then again the gospel writers were men, not women, and were probably less affected by those evil twins of jealousy and envy).

Bartholomew (sometimes referred to as Nathaniel), of whom Jesus said, "An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile."1 But besides that endorsement by Jesus, we do not know a lot about him, though church tradition indicates he was a great searcher of the Scripture and a scholar in the law and the prophets.2

If Andrew walked in the shadow of Peter, James walked in the shadow of ‘the one whom Jesus loved, John, the other son of Zebedee. John was indeed the beloved disciple of Jesus, and wrote the gospel of John, the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John, and also Revelation. He was the only disciple who was not martyred; he died a natural death while exiled on the isle of Patmos.

There was a second James, the son of Alpheus, not to be confused with Jesus’ half brother James; this James was the brother of the apostle Jude. Of Jude, we know very little, except that he was also called Thaddeus, and tradition tells us he preached in Assyria and Persia, and died a martyr’s death in Persia. (Remember, the Romans adopted the cruel execution method of crucifixion from the Persians.)3

Judas Iscariot is remembered as the one who betrayed Jesus to the Romans. Chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve yet Judas went haywire even after living so closely with Jesus, and was able to sell him out. What happened to his heart and character is really quite mysterious.

Matthew (also called Levi) was a despised, dishonest tax collector. Yet Jesus chose him because he saw what Matthew could and would become. And of course, it was Matthew who wrote the gospel we are studying, aiming it at the Jewish people, endeavoring to convince them through employing Old Testament prophecies to show how Jesus perfectly fulfilled them hundreds of years later.

We learn more about Philip, after Jesus ascended into Heaven, as the early Church was established. He knew when Jesus said ‘Follow Me,’ that he was called to invite others to follow the resurrected Messiah. We read about Philip in Acts, leading the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ, and ministering with Paul spreading the gospel.

Simon the Zealot was identified as such not because he was zealous, (or given to zeal), but as one who sided with the revolutionary, nationalistic group who was vehemently opposed to Roman rule and occupation of Israel.

And if the word traitor is tied to Judas, the word ‘doubting’ is similarly linked to Thomas. But at least he had the courage to ask to see and to touch; he sought proof, so that he could know for certain. ‘Turns out, he was so certain that he was martyred by the spear in India for his loyalty to Jesus.

And then there was one. Peter. Peter was impetuous, oft impulsive (remember he cut off the ear of the Roman soldier coming to arrest and seize Jesus?)4, Curious, and willing to take risks, Peter also felt and loved deeply. He was one of three who seemed to be Jesus’ closest friends, his inner circle—Peter, James and John, (sons of Zebedee).

Maybe I identify most with Peter because there seems to be more written about Peter, and therefore more material I can compare to my own life and personality. He often spoke before he thought, (like me) and while he promised undying loyalty to Jesus, denied him thrice, even though Jesus warned him earlier in the night he would do so. From our perspective, it seems so impossibly weak, and yet I think how often I have denied my Lord by my selfish actions. Peter was the main spokesman for the twelve, and after Jesus’ ascension, so dramatically impacted by the coming of the Holy Spirit, that . . . well, you can read what he did and its impact in Acts chapter two. Radical!

Fact is, I am so glad God uses plain, old ordinary people to do his biggest work. No PhD’s required, or Calvin Klein suits. Jesus’ sign reads:

>HELP WANTED: Imperfect people looking for growth and adventure encouraged to apply. No experience necessary, just an open, willing heart. The Management will take you as you are and train you up to fulfill your highest purpose and potential.

Christine Todd DiGiacomo

1 – John 1.47; 2 – Bible Info; 3 – Crucifixion – Wikipedia; 4 – John 18.10

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