Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Jesus called twelve men from His early followers to become His closest disciples. All of these men were Jewish. All of them were from the Galilee region except for Judas Iscariot, who was from Judea. None of them were scholars or rabbis. Some of them were married; we know Peter was (Mark 1:29-31) and some of the others (1 Corinthians 9:3-6). They were ordinary men who were chosen to do life with Jesus. They were with Him every day of His ministry here on earth. They witnessed the life and miracles of Jesus. He taught them. They witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection; and were personally commissioned by the Lord to go out and tell the world of God’s redeeming love.
There are 4 places in the Bible which name the 12 disciples and they are Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13.
Who were the twelve disciples?
1. Simon Peter:
Most often referred to as Peter. His Hebrew name was Simon and Jesus named him Cephas (John 1:42) which in Greek is translated Peter and means “rock” or “stone”.
Peter is the brother of Andrew (Matthew 4:18).
He was a fisherman (Luke 5:1-11).
Peter is well known for denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
Peter was impulsive, cowardly, hot-tempered, tenderhearted, insightful, and yet dense. He was very human and is easy for us to relate to.
At his first sermon on the day of Pentecost about three thousand souls were saved! Now that is a good day.
A prominent leader in the early church and is a major person in Acts 1-12
Spread the Gospel to Samaria and Caesarea
Wrote 1 Peter and 2 Peter
Brother of Simon Peter
Was a disciple of John the Baptist before he became a disciple of Jesus (John 1:40)
His occupation was a fisherman (Matthew 4:18)
Known also as “James the Elder” and “James the Great”
The son of Zebedee
Brother of John (Matthew 4:21)
He was a fisherman (Luke 5:1-11)
James was put to death by the sword for his faith and it is recorded in Acts 12:2
Son of Zebedee
Brother of James (Matthew 4:21)
He was a fisherman (Mark 1:19)
Known as the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’
Wrote 5 books of the Bible - the Gospel of John, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation
The only disciple who was not martyred for his faith although John was exiled to the island of Patmos and suffered greatly for his faith.
This is not the same evangelist Philip found in Acts
Brought Bartholomew and Greeks to the Lord
Also known as Nathanael
Also known as Didymus and Judas Thomas
Best known for doubting the resurrection of Jesus until he could see and touch the wounds of the living Jesus (John 20:24-29)
We often refer to him as Doubting Thomas.
Also known as Levi
Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9). Don’t let the meaning of this escape you. He collected oppressive taxes for the Roman government. The occupying Romans and all who collaborated with them were hated. Matthew would have collected taxes from the citizens but also from the merchants passing through town. Tax collectors were supposed to take a commission from the taxes they collected. Tax collectors were known for overcharging and pocketing the remainder and they were wealthy because of their dishonest practices. Matthew would have been hated intensely by his fellow Jews. Tax collectors were sell-outs and looked down on by society. And what did Matthew do when Jesus called him to be His disciple? He left his lucrative career. He immediately dropped everything and followed Him!
Wrote the Gospel of Matthew
He was also known as “James the Less” or “James the Younger”.
Also known as Jude and Judas the son of James
He was referred to as Judas in John 14:22.
11. Simon the Zealot:
He was a Zealot when Jesus called him. Rome took over the appointment of the High Priest. As a result, the High Priests, who represented the Jews before God on their most sacred occasions, collaborated with Rome. The Zealots were a Jewish group who sought violent armed rebellion against Rome. These Zealots led the Great Revolt in 66-70 A.D. which led to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. This is the only time a Zealot is mentioned in the New Testament, but they are mentioned a lot in historical writings of this time period.
12. Judas Iscariot:
He is known for betraying Jesus (Matthew 26:20-25).
Judas Iscariot was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:23-26)
In every list of the disciples Peter is named first. Peter seems to most often be the spokesman for the group. Peter, and the brothers, James and John, were closest to Jesus. They were in His inner circle of disciples. All three of these men were with Jesus at the Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane. James and John were known as “Sons of Thunder” probably descriptive of their dispositions. The only three disciples to write books of the Bible were Peter, John, and Matthew.
These twelve ordinary men had front row seats to the greatest time period and event in history. These twelve men were the first witnesses to the Gospel. Their instruction from Jesus and the conversations with Him became the teachings and instructions for the universal church. These men had their strengths and weaknesses. Jesus knew these men were going to disappoint Him, desert Him, deny Him, and betray Him. But Jesus also knew that once they were filled with the Holy Spirit, these men would become extraordinary and carry the message of God’s redemption to all mankind.
In the Old Testament we see God forming the twelve tribes of Israel to be a blessing to all nations. In a similar way, God chose twelve men (along with all of the disciples of Jesus) to bless all nations. See Galatians 3:7-9.
Followers of Christ are His disciples and are commanded to carry the Gospel message to every corner of the earth. This is our Great Commission.
Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
God can take ordinary people like us, make us extraordinary, and use us to do His will.
All we must do is follow Jesus.
There is nothing greater. No higher calling. No greater purpose.
It is how to live a significant life.