“And having called to [him] his twelve disciples, he gave them power over unclean spirits, so that they should cast them out, and heal every disease and every bodily weakness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the [son] of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the [son] of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, who was surnamed Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas the Iscariote, who also delivered him up”. Matthew 10:1-4
It is remarkable when we think that the Lord, in His grace, chose twelve men to be with Him during His ministry while on earth. What is more amazing is that these men were of different backgrounds, different employment, and different characters, although they were Jewish people. It is intended to provide some thoughts on the various contributions of the disciples and the Lord’s gracious response.
Firstly, the Gospel of Matthew states that they were disciples, then it was changed to apostles. To be an apostle, one must have been a witness of the works, miracles or signs, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. For Judas Iscariot to be named among the twelve may raise questions that he did not pass the criteria, because he hanged himself before the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ (Matt 27:3-5). It is of another interesting note that Matthew groups the disciples by two, as the number of two speaks of testimony (see Deut 19:15).
The first two people mentioned are Peter and Andrew, being brothers in the flesh. It is in the Gospel of John that we see Andrew bring his brother Simon Peter to the Lord (Jn 1:41-42). In fact, in John’s gospel, Andrew is seen bringing people to the Lord three times. The first time with his brother Peter. The second time was when the crowd was hungry and he brought a lad with some fish and bread (Jn 6:8-9). The third time is with the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (Jn 12:22). Andrew’s contribution was that he brought people to the Lord, first his own brother, then others. We can learn from him by showing Christ in our lives first and foremost at home, then abroad.
We now come to Peter, and there are many things recorded about him. We need to go back to when Peter first met the Lord during the miracle of the catching of fish (Luke 5:8) he rightfully recognised his own sinful state and bowed to the Lord. This was the turning point in his life. This is a vital lesson, that if you, dear reader, have not accepted Christ as Saviour, the very first step is to recognise your own sinful state and that He is the One who can come in and cleanse you. We are all sinners and in need of salvation. The Lord gave Peter a new task at that very moment, that he would catch men, and not fish (Luke 5:10). What grace from the One who is full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14)!
We also see in Peter that he made himself the spokesperson for all the other disciples, and at times he spoke right, but other times he spoke wrong, and we too as believers can fall into this. We can take Peter’s attitude and be a ‘spokesperson’ for the rest of the people who we gather with, but it may lead to some strife. Peter was one who truly loved the Lord, but his mind was on the things of earth, i.e. the Jewish things and the reign of Christ on earth. As one who loved the Lord, he too stumbled and fell when he was proud of the fact that he was willing to die with Christ, but at the end denied Him. However, the Lord was gracious in restoring Peter, and He even mentioned to Peter that he would be restored (Luke 22:32). The Lord had to restore him three times (Jn 21) after Peter denied Him three times prior to the crucifixion.
Before jumping to conclusions and judging Peter, we see that his faith was still in Christ. He testified when the Lord asked His disciples who people say that He is, and they were all free to speak and say what they had heard. However, when He asked them specifically, Peter was the one who responded (Matt 16:16-17) and the Lord made it clear that only the Father can reveal this to him. We too can be enthusiastic and say that Christ is the Son of the living God, and we have our faith in Him, but at times we tend to do things our own way instead of relying on Christ. It was only in the same chapter (Matt 16:22-23) that Peter rebuked the Lord after He revealed that He was going to suffer, die and rise again, and the Lord had to show Peter that his mind was not on the things of God. We too can have our minds on the things of this earth and lose out on vital truths like Peter did.
Peter, along with James and John, were then taken up to the mountain with the Lord to witness His transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9) so that Peter himself could write about this event after the ascension of Christ and after the Holy Spirit dwelt in each believer. Peter could rightly state that he was an eyewitness of the majesty of the Lord (2 Pet 1:16-17). However, Peter had to learn that Christ is the One to have the pre-eminent (first) place, and not to be made equal with any other human, no matter how significant they were. In fact, Moses was meek, and Elijah felt his own weakness when we read the account of his flight from Jezebel. God had to step in when Peter foolishly decided to make Christ equal with Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:4). First of all, it was indeed good that the disciples were there and witnessed the scene. However, Peter should have mentioned three tabernacles, one for Peter, one for James and one for John. We learn from this incident, that as believers we should not elevate any brother or sister, no matter how gifted, precious or talented they are. Divisions amongst God’s people are a result of Christians elevating people as leaders and giving them a place with Christ, and a lot of the time it is elevating good Christian brothers or sisters who are now with the Lord. We need to learn that we, all brothers and sisters in Christ, only look up to the Lord and give Him the first place.
Next, we come to the second set of brothers, James and John. They too had their moments of weakness, when they, encouraged by their mother (Matt 20:20-24) asked the Lord that they each sit, one on His right hand, and the other on His left, in His coming kingdom. This is a trap that we can also fall into sometimes, thinking of ourselves as greater than the other. The Lord was gracious with His response and showed to even the others who were indignant about the two, that as believers, they should never exercise rule or authority over each other. When the Lord asked them if they were able to drink of the cup (Matt 20:22), it was NOT the cup that the Lord was referring to while in the garden of Gethsemane in Matt 26:39ff) but it was the cup of suffering at the hands of men that James and John were able to drink. Indeed, James was beheaded later on (Acts 12:2) – he died a martyr’s death. John was sent to exile in the land of Patmos (Rev 1) – he lived a martyr’s life. When they mentioned they were able to drink of the cup, the Lord responded with grace that they would be able, but showed them that there is no such thing as exercising power over the brethren (brothers and sisters in Christ). When we realise that there is no such thing as exercising authority over each other, we will live together in peace, harmony and much blessing will flow as a result of gentle and kind dealings with one another.
It was already mentioned that James and John went up to the mountain when Christ was transfigured. They too, alongside Peter, were with the Lord in the garden of Gethsemane in the night in which He was betrayed, and then led to be crucified. The Lord found them sleeping, and had to rebuke them gently that they could not watch with Him for one hour (Matt 26:40). How often does even less than an hour pass in our times of meeting to remember the Lord Jesus in breaking bread, and we tend to drift off! I too am guilty of this often.
Having seen Peter as the one who loved the Lord, we see John as the one whom the Lord loves. John was leaning on the breast of the Lord and appreciated the love of God so much that in John’s gospel, he does not refer to himself as John, but as the disciple whom Jesus loved (Jn 13:23; 21:7,20) and at other times referred to himself as the other disciple, when he was in moments of weakness. Of-course the Lord loved His disciples equally, but John appreciated His love and was close to Him. We can learn from this and be encouraged that the Lord loves us, and when we appreciate His love more and more, we become closer to Him and lean on Him.
As a result of John leaning on the bosom of Christ, he was able, by the Holy Spirit, to write the wonderful, unique gospel of John, and his three epistles along with Revelation, as the final writings of the Word of God.
John is further seen at the palace of the high priest (Jn 18) when the Lord was brought in for trial. Somehow, he was known to the high priest, but in that portion, he refers himself as the other disciple. This is also the case when he and Peter went to the tomb after the resurrection of the Lord (Jn 20:8). It is striking that we do not see James in the resurrection scene with Peter and John, for unknown reasons.
One final remark about James is that Christ also appeared to him personally (1 Cor 15:7) and he also wrote the epistle of James and had much to write about wisdom and controlling the tongue (James 3 for example). After he learned lessons about pride, he and Peter were able to write in their epistles about the warning of pride.
Philip is the next person mentioned. There are a few mentions of him in John’s gospel which we will look at in brief. Philip’s first encounter with the Lord is in John 1:43 when asked to follow Christ. He then found Nathanael (Jn 1:45-46) and shared the good news with him, and Nathanael was brought to the Lord, although he was not a disciple himself. Here we can tell others about Christ and perhaps bring them to gospel meetings where the Spirit may work in their hearts to accept the Lord Jesus as their own Saviour. No wonder that later on, Philip became an evangelist in Acts 8 when he was preaching in Samaria and many people came to Christ. He then personally went to the eunuch of Ethiopia after the Spirit led him, and there the Ethiopian was converted and baptised.
The next mention of Philip was a moment of doubt, when the crowd was hungry and the Lord asked him where to buy food (Jn 6:5-7). Philip was concerned about money to feed such a large group, and did not consider that the Lord is the Son of God and can feed multitudes with a small quantity of food. We too need to be dependent on Christ in even small things and He will do the rest. We can fall into the trap of not relying on Christ in small things first, then much larger things, and as a result, not receive the blessing.
Philip is next mentioned in John 12 when the Greeks desired to see Jesus, and he is seen there with Andrew, desiring to bring people to the Lord. This should be the behaviour of each one who knows Christ as their own Saviour, to bring friends, unsaved family and relatives to the Lord.
The next mention of Philip is in John 14:8-9 when he asked the Lord to show the Father. This was another moment of weakness and doubt, but the Lord in His grace was revealing to all the other disciples His Father, and can rightly state that anyone who has seen Him has seen the Father. We might suggest that it was a silly question that Philip asked, but don’t we often ask silly questions, or behave in a silly manner?
The next person is Bartholomew, who we do not read of that he contributed at all. We can refer to him as a silent brother, but still a believer. We can also suggest that he too was indignant with the rest of the disciples when James and John asked the Lord to sit on His right and left hand. He too fled when the Lord was arrested in the garden, and he too was asking along with the other disciples who would betray the Lord. I am sure that the Lord also washed his feet in John 13 (this applied to all the disciples). However, he did not make an audible contribution that was evident.
Thomas is the next person, and well, he is referred to as doubting Thomas as a result of what he said in John 20:25, which is suggested that he used such strong language in his unbelief. However, he too was a disciple and had faith in Christ, when He appeared to Thomas the following week, there is no record of Thomas ever touching the Lord. In fact, Thomas perhaps made the best audible contribution when he testified and said ‘My Lord and my God’ (Jn 20:28). The other disciples may have been shocked at Thomas’ response to them when they told him that they had seen the Lord on the first day of the week, which was resurrection day. They recognised that Thomas was not with them on that first day, for unknown reasons, but they still treated him as their brother and as a disciple with them. We too can have this right attitude of the other disciples, if we see a brother or sister missing from our gathering, we can encourage them and in grace, tell them about our meeting. If we are indifferent to this, then this can lead to people leaving our gatherings. We can also be in danger of missing gathering to the name of the Lord to remember Him, as did Thomas, for whatever reason, and miss out on not only spiritual blessings, but fellowship with one another. Dear reader, if you plan to be missing from your local gathering on a particular Sunday, perhaps you are away or on holidays, make sure that there is a local gathering in the location where you are, and if you take the proper attitude, you will be blessed by meeting other Christians that you did not know previously.
Thomas also made some silly contributions (Jn 12:16 for example), but the Lord was gracious that He did not rebuke that. Perhaps in our gatherings, we too, or others, can contribute something that may be out of line, but how should the response be toward the ‘silly’ contribution? May the Lord help us to not harshly rebuke, but to simply let go if the contribution is not vital error.
We now come to Matthew, whose profession was a tax collector. The Jews hated tax collectors because they made themselves rich by collecting more taxes than they should. Again, the Lord only saw Matthew, who was called Levi. The name Levi is from Jacob’s son, meaning ‘attached’, and so when Matthew was attached to his job, he forsook his profession and left all the money, and followed Him (Mark 2:14). It is also striking that Matthew is mentioned as the tax-gatherer, but when he met the Lord, his life changed. Perhaps after the resurrection and ascension, he may have gone back to his profession, but was honest and did not cheat like before. However, it is also suggested that he did not go back to the same profession, and having spent time with the Lord, even if he was also a silent brother, he was a witness for all the works of Christ, and also witnessed the death of Christ, saw Him as risen, and witnessed Christ ascending into heaven. Having seen all these things, he was guided by the Holy Spirit to write the gospel of Matthew, so we can suggest that while he did not audibly contribute, be contributed by written ministry, by writing one of the four gospels. What grace of God to have a tax-gatherer write a wonderful gospel about Christ. Nowadays, there is nothing wrong about a tax-gatherer, these are just simply people who work at the tax office to ensure order is maintained and businesses, people pay their allocated taxes. I am an accountant myself, and guide the clients to the proper amounts of tax they should pay, but it is their own duty and responsibility to make the payment directly to the tax office. As an accountant, honestly is also maintained, and the clients need to be aware that they pay no more or no less than what ought to be paid.
We do not read of the next three disciples, as not much is written about them, but the fact that the Lord called them to be with Him is the grace of God. We may not get recognition, but to be called from darkness into light, and to be saved by the grace of God is a wonderful thing and work of the Holy Spirit, definitely not our own work. Simon the Cananaean was perhaps an odd one out, as the Canaanites were enemies of the Jews and ensnared the Jews to sins, because they did not dispossess them as they should have in the beginning of the book of Judges. Canaan was the promised land to the people of Israel, but there were enemies that had to be dispossessed, and the children of Israel failed in that. However, it is the grace of God that one, a Cananaean, would become a disciple of the Lord and be with Him, and be sent by the Lord for ministry with the others. We can be of any background, and our past may not be a flashy past, in fact, no matter how terrible our past, the Lord in His grace can turn it to blessing if we let Him take control.
Judas Iscariot is the last person mentioned. It is not the intention to bring out all the negative points in Judas, but the Lord gave him an opportunity to repent of his ways and come to Christ. Had Judas genuinely repented and sought the Lord, he definitely would have been forgiven, and he would not have hanged himself, which is the general suggestion and thought. The Lord also washed Judas’ feet in John 13, and one wonders how Judas must have felt, or what was going through his mind, when the Lord said that they were not all clean (Jn 13:10). Judas is an example of one who tasted of the heavenly gift, and so on (please read Heb 6:4-6 carefully) who then left it all for his own personal gain in delivering up the Lord. Judas never referred to Christ as Lord, or as his Master, but as Rabbi (see Matt 26:25). Without the Holy Spirit dwelling in a person, it is impossible for that person to clearly say ‘my Lord’ with conviction. We can see here an example of someone brought up in a Christian home, been to the local gathering with his/her parents, listened to the gospel many times, even heard about Judas many times, even emotionally decided that they want to accept Christ as their Saviour. However, because there is no real working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they turn away and become entirely the opposite of a Christian, and this behaviour is happening today everywhere. For someone like this, I am not saying that it is impossible for them to repent, because I cannot, and will not judge, but the Lord knows, and if He wants to bring these, He will by His grace.
On another note, for those of us who like watching sports games and competitions, very often, when a famous player moves from one club to a rival club, and he plays against his former club for the first time, the former club supporters will have large banners with the word ‘JUDAS’, as if the player betrayed his former club. Therefore, it is clear that the character of Judas is not liked at all, even by those who do not know Christ as their Saviour, but how often mankind behaves the same way as Judas. May the Lord help us, and encourage each reader, in considering some aspects of the disciples of the Lord, to take the positive things and learn from them. At the same time, the negative things are recorded for our admonition and learning, so that we can learn from the negative attitude, like doubting, denying, and so on, to learn and grow in our daily lives. Dear reader, if you do not yet know Christ as your Saviour, please make this decision now. The first encounter with each of the disciples was that the Lord called them to follow Him, and they obeyed the call. May we do so also.