When morning came, he called his disciples
Since chapter 3 of Luke, Jesus has been making a splash (pardon the pun) in the country area of Galilee and from 4:31 he has been collecting both followers and critics. We read about Simon, James, and Levi following Jesus when called and the Pharisees recognised that Jesus had disciples who walked with him in ministry. We come to a short section where Jesus names his twelve disciples before beginning a long recorded sermon to crowds of people.
- 12-13 Jesus carefully chooses his ministry staff
- 14-16 A motley crew of names
12-13 Jesus carefully chooses his ministry staff
“…Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray…” Jesus’ prayer life was inspirational and one we must certainly pay attention to. The sentence here in verse 12 describes a proactive Jesus intentionally pulling away from people with the purpose of praying at length. He did not spend hours in mindless meditation but talked to God in prayer. This was not an isolated case as Luke 5:16 clearly states (see also 9:18 and 28). His prayer life made a big impression on the disciples such that they asked him how he does it (Luke 11:1). And Jesus passed on his golden rule of prayer to the disciples in Luke 18:1 which was to always pray and not give up!
“When morning came, he called his disciples…” A night of prayer resulted in clear action by Jesus just as Luke 4:42-44 gave him clarity. How often do we go swiftly from one event to the next and one day to another without stopping to talk with our God about all that is happening? Although we see that Jesus prayed often and regularly, these were moments too of special reflection and conversation with God.
“…chose twelve of them…” I want to focus on the word ‘chose’ rather than the twelve. 1 Peter 1 describes Christians as people who have been chosen by God (1 Peter 1:1-2; Romans 8:33; Ephesians 1:4, 11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). This is a special truth for Christians to know that God has chosen you and called you. If you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you are saved and this is because God has chosen you. This doctrine (election) is not given to for the sake of those not chosen but rather for those who are. It is a blessing, not a curse. Jesus chose these men as his disciples and we know, as Luke points out, that one is a rebel. So being chosen as a disciple is not the same as chosen for salvation. All who hear the gospel have the invitation given to come and be saved. Judas included. That Judas resolved to betray Jesus cannot be blamed on Jesus.
“…whom he also designated apostles.” There were more disciples than 12 (Luke 10:1) and the word simply describes a student. Anybody who becomes a student of Jesus or a follower of Jesus is a disciple. This was the command of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, to be disciple makers! But these 12 were designated as apostles. This word means ‘commissioned messenger’ and the New Testament paints them as unique followers of Christ who were given powers to heal for the purpose of spreading the good news of God’s kingdom. It was not a position that was passed down to the next generation but died out with John as the last remaining apostle. Judas removed himself from the position and was replaced by Matthias and then Paul was divinely designated an apostle by Jesus also. Church history distinguishes between The Apostles and the common use of apostle to just mean messenger. Acts 1:15-22 helps us to see that a primary qualification of an Apostle was that they were with Jesus from his baptism til his resurrection so that they would bear witness of Jesus as the risen Lord. Paul also saw the risen Jesus and taught that he had been called by God to be an Apostle on par with Peter (Galatians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:7). Jesus’ clear intention for these 12 men was that they bear witness to the ends of the earth of the gospel (Luke 24:45-48). Although Luke uses the title throughout his gospel account, the title was not likely given and attributed to these disciples until after the resurrection. Note that the word apostle is not special by itself. It is used in the bible for more people than just these twelve but over time, these twelve were known particularly as The Apostles – chosen directly by Jesus, as Paul was.
14-16 A motley crew of names
Here is the list of men Jesus called to be his twelve disciples and some notes on each person. We know a great deal about a few of these men from the bible but other names require church history for expansion. This study will focus on what the bible teaches us about each man. Church history and tradition has its place to be sure, but putting our emphasis on what the bible tells us helps us stay clear on the bible’s message and not on human history.
- Simon (whom he named Peter),
- Jesus gave Simon this new name which means rock (Matthew 16:18; John 1:42)
- Luke refers to him as Simon up until this point but Peter from here on until 22:31 and 24:34. I’ve often enjoyed the thought that Jesus referred to Simon Peter from his worldly name (Simon) when sin was at his door but his born again name (Peter) when he is being forgiven and called.
- He lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:29) but came from Bethsaida (John 1:44)
- Peter was recognised as the leader of the Jewish Christians (Acts 2:14, 37; Galatians 2:7-8)
- His journey with Jesus gave him special privilege as he watched Jesus be transfigured to reveal his glory (Matthew 17:1-8), was the first to confess Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:16) assigned leadership by Jesus (Matthew 16:18) prayed over by Christ (Luke 22:31-32) and personally sort after for forgiveness (Luke 24:34; John 21:15-17).
- Peter wrote the books of 1 and 2 Peter and tradition tells us that he authorised Mark’s gospel.
- his brother Andrew,
- He and his brother Simon were in the fishing trade together (Matthew 4:18).
- He lived in a home with Simon (Mark 1:29).
- He and Simon were both from Bethsaida (John 1:44)
- He was a disciple of John the Baptist who pointed him to Jesus (John 1:35-40).
- He introduced his brother to Jesus (John 1:41).
- While not of the top three disciples closest to Jesus, he had a private relationship with Jesus (Mark 13:3; John 6:8; John 12:22).
- James and John were brothers known as the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10) and sons of thunder (Mark 3:17).
- Their mother was Salome who was also Mary’s sister, making them cousins of Jesus (see John 19:25, Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 combined).
- He was one of the early church martyrs (Acts 12:1-2).
- He did not write the book called James, that would be James the brother of Jesus.
- See above regarding his relationship with James.
- John is listed second in the list by Luke in Acts 1:13.
- He wrote the gospel called John as well as the three letters of the same name.
- He, with Peter and James, were often close to Jesus and formed a privileged close circle around him (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33; Luke 8:51; 9:28).
- John 1:43-48
- John 12:20-22
- John 14:8-10
- This name/word means ‘son of Tolmai’.
- His actual name is quite possibly Nathanael – here are the arguments why:
- Bartholomew is arguably not his actual name since it simply means who he is the son of.
- Matthew, Mark and Luke do not mention Nathaniel, while John does not mention Bartholomew.
- The lists of the disciples in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all place Bartholomew and Philip together (Philip and Nathanael were close according to John 1:43-48).
- All the men named in John 21:2 are apostles except for Nathanael (unless he is also Bartholomew).
- Matthew is probably another name for Levi the tax collector (compare Luke 5:27-32 with Matthew 9:9-13).
- He wrote the gospel which opens the New Testament.
- His name means twin and he is also known as Didymus (John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2).
- Although given the reputation as the doubter (which I dislike), he delivers some of the best statements about Jesus in the gospels and shows us a man who will not follow blindly but he will follow to his death (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:28).
- James son of Alphaeus,
- It is difficult to know much about this James. He is not the martyr of Acts 12 nor is he the brother of Jesus since it seems Jesus’ brothers did not believe until later. Some have suggested that he is the brother of Matthew since they both are sons of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14) but Alphaeus was a common name and this is speculation.
- Simon who was called the Zealot,
- James II, Simon II and Judas II each require some extensions to their first names to distinguish them from others.
- The Zealots were a nationalistic radical group who aggressively opposed the Roman state. So in Jesus’ crew we have a tax collector who worked with the state and a radical who strongly opposed it.
- Judas son of James,
- Some say that Thaddaeus of Mark 3:18 and Matthew 10:3 are Judas son of James since they occupy the same place in the list and many disciples had two names.
- John 14:22-31
- and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
- If Iscariot refers to a certain region in Judea then Judas is the only non-Galilean in the group. The name does have the Aramaic meaning of “false one” but is that a meaning assigned to the word at a later date? It could also mean “Dyer” as a reference to his occupation. The region suggestion is most likely given John 6:71 and John 13:21-22.
- John 7:71; 12:4; 13:2, 26; Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:10; Luke 22:3
- Judas Iscariot who would betray Jesus and the group completes the list of people Jesus, after a night of vigil prayer, called his disciples.
Dependance on God through prayer is essential in making and executing plans for the gospel. But the result of prayer is clarity, not necessarily perfection. The disciples Jesus called after prayer was a group of men with many different backgrounds who needed to learn different lessons from Jesus. Their purpose for being called was to be authentic witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Topic A: Vigilant prayer. How often do we go swiftly from one event to the next and one day to another without stopping to talk with our God about all that is happening? Although we see that Jesus prayed often and regularly, these were moments too of special reflection and conversation with God. On top of the passing conversational prayers that you may enjoy with God, consider the discipline of stepping outside of our busy lives to be with God in prayer. A special and extended prayer time could be considered every morning? Once a week? Once a fortnight?
- Topic B: Being called to discipleship. Jesus chose twelve men to teach and do life with as he trained them for gospel ministry. He then sent them out in Matthew 28 to make more disciples (see also Luke 24:45-49). We are the beneficiaries of the ministry that Jesus started here in Luke 6. 1 Peter 1:1-2 describes the process of being made a disciple of Christ and it is not through importance or brilliance or beauty but through God’s grace in calling and redeeming and refining. Do you identify yourself as a disciple of Christ?
- Topic C: The before and after of Christian growth. These twelve men began their traineeship with Jesus and went on to serve Christ with their lives (excluding Judas Iscariot). Consider the before and after shot of some of these men and praise God that he is doing his work in you and your group too. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 (especially verses 8 to 10) or Titus 3:5 and thank God for his handiwork.
Prayer of the Week
Lord God, you saved us, not because of the righteous things we’ve done but by your mercy through Jesus Christ your Son. Increase our faith, grow our love, and complete our joy by knowing you and Jesus Christ whom you sent. Amen.