12 Chosen

Please read Mark 3:13-19 & Luke 6:12-16

The nation of Israel began with God choosing Abram and calling him out of Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan, establishing a covenant with him:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1–3 ESV

Yet, for many decades Abram’s wife, Sarai, remained barren and it looked like God’s promise would fail to come to pass. In Genesis 17 God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (meaning “father of a multitude“), and Sarai’s name to Sarah (meaning “princess”) and said:

“…Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Genesis 17:19 ESV

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.   Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.   Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Genesis 21:1-5 NIV

God reaffirmed the same covenant with Abraham’s promised son, Isaac:

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.  I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 26:3-4 ESV

Isaac married Rebecca and had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the first-born but sold his birth-right to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup. Years later, at Rebecca’s urging, Jacob pretended to be Esau and tricked Isaac into giving him Esau’s firstborn blessing. None the less, God had chosen Jacob and renewed the covenant with him that He had made with his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham.

I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.   Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28: 13-15 NIV

Jacob was renamed “Israel” by God and the covenant was affirmed:

The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.” Genesis 32:28 CEV

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him.  God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.  The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 
Genesis 35:9-12 NIV

Thus, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are referred to as the patriarchs of the Jewish people and God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15; Acts 7:32). God’s faithfulness and Israel’s blessing were directly tied to Israel becoming a nation and possessing the Promised Land.

One man is not a nation. Abraham had more than one son, yet only one, only Sarah’s son according to God’s promise, was to enter into his father’s covenant with God and inherit the land. Isaac had twin sons, yet only the youngest, Jacob, was to enter into his father’s covenant with God and inherit the land. Before God changed his name to Israel, Jacob had 12 sons. It was not until these 12 sons that God’s promise rested on all the sons of a patriarch and they could begin to grow into a nation, a nation consisting of twelve tribes. From here on in the Bible, the number 12 serves as a perfect governmental foundation and symbolizes completeness or the nation of Israel as a whole.

Jacob’s twelve sons were (in order of birth): Reuben (Hebrew ראובן‎ Rəʼûḇēn), Simeon (שמעון‎ Šimʻôn), Levi (לוי‎ Lêwî), Judah (יהודה‎ Yehuḏā), Dan (דן‎ Dān), Naphtali (נפתלי‎ Nap̄tālî),  Gad (גד‎ Gāḏ), Asher (אשר‎ ’Āšêr), Issachar (יששכר‎ Yiśśāḵār), Zebulun (זבולון‎ Zəḇūlun), Joseph (יוסף‎ Yôsēp̄) and Benjamin (בנימין‎ Binyāmîn). They became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49 record’s Israel’s prophetic blessing of each of his sons.

Twelve tribes makes for a complete nation. Thus, Deuteronomy 27:12–13 lists the twelve tribes:

Once you have crossed over the Jordan River, the following tribes will stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And these are the tribes that will stand on Mount Ebal for the cursing: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali

Joshua 13-21 describes how the Promised Land was divided into twelve sections corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. However, the list of tribes receiving land differed from the list of Israel’s sons. The tribe of Levi had no land allotment, but were given the administration of six Cities of Refuge and the Temple in Jerusalem. There was no land allotment stated for the Tribe of Joseph because Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, each received a land portion. This was in accord with Israel giving the eldest son’s double portion to his eleventh son, Joseph, instead of to his first, Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:1-2 Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel) and this being expressed in Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, each receiving an inheritance as though sons of Israel (Genesis 48 And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine). Thus the tribes receiving land were: Reuben, Simeon, Ephraim, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Manasseh and Benjamin.

In Revelation 7, the twelve tribes of Israel are listed again, however this time Levi is included once more but Dan is excluded and both Joseph and his son Manasseh are included:

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed from every tribe of the Israelites:  From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed; from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand;  from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand;  from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand;  from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed. Revelation 7:4-8 CEB

While we see some changes in the list of the tribes, they are still listed as the 12 tribes of Israel. Even as there was a change in one of the 12 apostles (with Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias) but they remained a foundation of 12. In the Bible the number 12 symbolizes God’s power and authority, as well as serving as a perfect governmental foundation. It can also symbolize completeness or the nation of Israel as a whole. The Bible lists 12 tribes of Israel; 12 princes of Ishmael; 12 pillars on Moses’ altar; 12 stones on the high priest’s breastplate; 12 cakes of showbread; 12 silver platters; silver bowls; and gold pans for the service of the tabernacle; 12 spies to search out the land; 12 memorial stones; 12 governors under Solomon; 12 stones in Elijah’s altar; 12 in each group of musicians and singers for Israel’s worship; 12 hours in a day; 12 months in a year; 12 Ephesian men filled with the Holy Spirit; 12,000 from 12 tribes sealed and preserved through the tribulation; 12 gates of 12 pearls in heaven, and 12 angels at the gates; 12 foundations in the New Jerusalem; it’s length, breadth, and height are all 12,000 furlongs; and the tree of life in heaven has 12 fruits.

So, it is significant that Yeshua chose 12 men to be the governmental foundation for the establishment of kingdom of heaven on earth, and that role was given the term ‘apostle‘. Such significance was placed on this that, although Yeshua had many talmidim, the only ones that are named in the Gospels as talmidim are the 12. That is, except Nathanael, who was named as one of the first called by Jesus, but not a member of the 12 unless we assume he was also called Bartholomew, as many Christians do. The 12 were birthed out of Israel, they were ALL Jews, but they were not Israel, nor did their appointment by Christ give them any political, religious or military power in Israel. The authority Yeshua invested in them was not an authority over people, but an authority over that which attacks people – sickness and demons. This was not about ruling or exalting the nation of Israel, but about Israel being a blessing to the nations of the world by bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to all mankind. It was not yet time for that kingdom to rule the nations, but rather to permeate them and transform them from within through the influence of the apostles (ambassadors of the Kingdom).

Jesus Appointed 12 Apostles

Once again, this significant development in Yeshua’s ministry was preceded by His withdrawing from all the people to spend extended time in prayer.

Then He went up the mountain and summoned those He wanted, and they came to Him.  He also appointed 12—He also named them apostles
to be with Him,
to send them out to preach, 
and to have authority to drive out demons.
He appointed the Twelve: To Simon, He gave the name Peter;  and to James the son of Zebedee, and to his brother John, He gave the name “Boanerges” (that is, “Sons of Thunder”); Andrew; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. Mark 3:13-19 HCSB

It was around that time that Yeshua went out to the hill country to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 
When day came, he called his talmidim and chose from among them twelve to be known as
emissaries (apostles):
Shim‘on (Simon), whom he named Kefa (Peter);
Andrew, his brother;
Ya‘akov (James);
Yochanan (John);
Philip;
Bar-Talmai (Bartholomew);
Mattityahu (Matthew);
T’oma (Thomas);
Ya‘akov (James) Ben-Halfai (son of Alphaeus);
Shim‘on (Simon), the one called the Zealot;
Y’hudah (Judas) Ben-Ya‘akov (son of James); and
Y’hudah from K’riot (Judas Iscariot), who turned traitor.
Luke 6:12-16 CJB

ἀπόστολος, – apostolos = a delegate / messenger / representative / emissary/ ambassador / apostle – one sent forth with orders; specially, an ambassador of the Gospel; an official representative of Christ. Note that this governmental foundation is not that of an office of one that rules in this world or conquers this world, but of one who represents a kingdom not of this world. An ambassador does not attack or try to conquer the nation they are set to, nor do they express their own opinions; they treat their host nation with respect and express only the opinions and positions of the kingdom they represent. An ambassador does not live in their homeland, but lives in a foreign land as a representative of their kingdom in order to bring the influence of their kingdom into this foreign land. The 12 were appointed as representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven to the empires and peoples of this world, beginning with Israel.

Ambassadors represent their country of origin, in place of the leader – following his orders, carrying out his policies and representing his views. Apostles represent the kingdom of Heaven, in place of Jesus – following His commands, carrying out His will and speaking His word. Ambassadors are also known as diplomats, a more general term describing those that work in a foreign country while retaining citizenship in their homeland. All disciples (talmidim) of Yeshua are diplomats whose citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven and who work in the foreign nation of this world.

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. John 17:16

But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim (priests), a holy nation, a people for God to possess! …Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; … I urge you as aliens and temporary residents … to live such good lives among the pagans that even though they now speak against you as evil-doers, they will, as a result of seeing your good actions, give glory to God on the Day of his coming.   For the sake of the Lord, submit yourselves to every human authority — whether to the emperor as being supreme, or to governors as being sent by him to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do what is good….  Be respectful to all — keep loving the brotherhood, fearing God and honouring the emperor. 1 Peter 2:8-17 CJB

confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.  Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return.  But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16 HCSB

So then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers. On the contrary, you are fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s family.  You have been built on the foundation of the emissaries (apostles) and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Yeshua the Messiah himself.
Ephesians 2:19-20 ESV

The foreign country, known to ambassadors as the ‘host nation’, serves as their base. From this base, they promote international relations on certain areas of government, stating their home country’s position on many political, social, and economic platforms.  Ambassadors also help others from their home country if they are having difficulties in the host nation, and can invite residents of their host country to immigrate to their home country, explaining the needed procedures for obtaining the visa and becoming citizens. All of these actions are meant to protect their home country’s interests within the host nation. The Kingdom of Heaven’s interests within all host nations is to show everyone there what Heaven is like and invite each person to become citizens of Heaven, clearly explaining the requirements of citizenship – all are invited but can only come through Jesus and must express loyalty and obedience to Him out of love.

While the 12 apostles were not given authority over peoples at this time, in another example of the significance of their being 12 chosen Yeshua declares:

Yeshua said to them, “Yes. I tell you that in the regenerated world, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Isra’el. 
Matthew 19:28 CJB

How Old Were The 12 Apostles?

While the scriptures do not give us the age of any of these 12 apostles, there is scriptural and cultural evidence that they were likely between about 13 and 21yo. This is in contrast to what we see in most paintings and movies, where they are assumed to be around the same age as Jesus.

In Jewish culture at this time a child began his schooling at the age of 5 and continued to age 12 or 13. If a boy was intelligent and interested in continuing his religious studies, he would then seek a rabbi to disciple him and would follow and pattern his life after the rabbi until age 30. At that time he could take on disciples of his own. Yeshua, likewise, started training talmidim when He was 30yo. A young man’s discipleship training under a rabbi would usually begin between the ages of 13 and 15. If this pattern was consistent with the followers of Yeshua, some of them may have joined Yeshua as early as age 13 and would have still been teenagers at the time of His death, resurrection and ascension.

In Exodus 30:11-16, Jewish law states that every male over the age of 20 is to pay a half-shekel as a census offering and the money was to be used for the service of the Tent of Meeting. During the Second Temple period, on the first day of the month of Adar, the beit din (Jewish court) would issue a proclamation reminding people that they needed to give a half-shekel to the Temple. By giving a flat-rate contribution, each person, regardless of his wealth, had an equal portion in the communal Temple offerings.

On the first of Adar, announcements are made concerning the payment of shekels” (Mishnah, Shekalim 1:1).

In Matthew 17:24-27, Yeshua instructs Kefa (Peter) to go fishing and to find a shekel in the mouth of the fish he catches; enough to pay the tax for just two men, Kefa and Yeshua. This suggests that the other apostles were less than 20yo and did not need to pay the temple tax.

When they came to K’far-Nachum (Capernaum), the collectors of the half-shekel came to Kefa (Peter) and said, “Doesn’t your rabbi pay the Temple tax?”  
“Of course he does,” said Kefa.
When he arrived home, Yeshua (Jesus) spoke first. “Shim‘on (Simon), what’s your opinion? The kings of the earth — from whom do they collect duties and taxes? From their sons or from others?”  
“From others,” he answered.
“Then,” said Yeshua, “The sons are exempt. But to avoid offending them — go to the lake, throw out a line, and take the first fish you catch. Open its mouth, and you will find a shekel. Take it and give it to them for me and for you.
” Matthew 17: 24-27 CJB

Kefa being the only one of the 12 apostles over the age of 20 would concur with him always seeming to be the one who speaks for the other apostles (Acts 2:14-36, etc.), being the only disciple said to be married at the time of Christs’ ministry (Matthew 8:14-17, etc.) and having such a  prominent role in the period of the very early Church (Galatians 2:9). It was customary in Jewish society at this time for a man to be married around 18 years of age, yet only Kefa is recorded as having a wife before Yeshua’s death and resurrection.   This would also fit with the ease with which the 12 apostles dropped everything to follow Yeshua when He moved on from their Capernaum base to take the gospel into all the other towns. It may also help us understand how Ya‘akov (James), the eldest half-brother of Yeshua, so quickly became a co-leader of the church in Jerusalem as his aprox 30yo presence would have brought some needed maturity to the group.

Another set of behaviours which suggests youth are the ways Salome, mother of Ya‘akov (James) and Yochanan (John) promoted her sons to Yeshua. For the mother of teenage boys to do this is embarrassing, but having mom fight their battles for them if they were grown men in their thirties (as is often depicted) would suggest a concerning lack of maturity on their part (Matthew 20:20-24). Indeed, many of the behaviours of the 12 apostles fit with them being young men in their middle to late teens rather than mature men in their thirties. Even Yeshua’s nickname for Ya‘akov and Yochanan, “Sons of Thunder” is suggestive of their youth.

While it cannot be proven that the 12 were youths, the probability of such is a useful reminder to us of how powerfully God can use young people in ministry. Yeshua choose young people for the responsibilities of ministry and being His ambassadors to the world.

Who Were the 12 Apostles?

We’ve already read the names of the 12 apostles whom Jesus chose as a foundation in Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16. There is also a list of them in Matthew 10:2-4:

These are the names of the twelve emissaries: First, Shim‘on (Simon), called Kefa (Peter), and Andrew his brother, Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai (James son of Zebedee) and Yochanan (John) his brother, Philip and Bar-Talmai (Bartholomew), T’oma (Thomas) and Mattityahu (Matthew) the tax-collector, Ya‘akov Bar-Halfai (James son of Alphaeus) and Taddai (Thaddaeus), Shim‘on (Simon) the Zealot, and Y’hudah from K’riot (Judas the Iscariot), who betrayed him. CJB

The names that don’t need translation were Greek names, indicative of the influence of Hellenisation on the Jewish population at this time. If we carefully examine all four lists (the fourth being in Acts as the Gospel of John does not provide any list of the 12) we can see that the apostles had such common names that there are two Simon’s, two James’ and two Judas’ included in the 12:

What do we know about each of these Apostles? For men who have such important roles as judging the 12 tribes of Israel, surprisingly little is written about most of them in the scriptures. Their role was not to make a name for themselves but to spread the name of Jesus Christ / Yeshua HaMashiach. Most of them had very common names and several of them were called by more than one name, which has led to some confusion as to who is being referred to in early documents. Church tradition adds more details, but is often contradictory and it can be difficult to separate fact from legend.

Shim‘on whom Yeshua called Kefa / Simon Peter & Andrew

Simon Peter and Andrew-sons of Jonas, were born in Bethsaida. Peter was the older brother. Peter married and they settled in a home together in the town of Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee. They were fisherman and partnered with Zebedee, the father of James and John. Peter and Andrew were early followers of Yochanan the Immerser (Mark 1:16-18). It was Andrew who first introduced his older brother Peter to Yeshua when they were in the wilderness with Yochanan (John 1:40-42).  There are other instances in the gospels of Andrew bringing people to Yeshua, convinced that He will meet their needs.

In every apostolic list, the name of Peter is mentioned first, which fits with the theory that he was the eldest of the 12. Among the twelve, Peter was the leader. He stands out as a spokesman for all the twelve Apostles. It is he who asked the meaning of the difficult saying in Matthew 15:15. It is he who asked how often he must forgive. It is he who inquired about the reward for all of those who follow Yeshua. It is he who first confessed Yeshua and declared Him as the Son of the Living God. He was one of Yeshua’s three closest disciples. There are three times in the synoptic gospels where Peter, James, and John get to witness Yeshua do things no one else saw:

  1. raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37),
  2. the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–11, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36) and
  3. keeping watch with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal (Matthew 26:36–46).

Yet, it is Peter who denied Christ before a servant girl.

After the resurrection, Peter did evangelistic and missionary work among the Jews, going as far as Babylon. His wife was known to travel with him when he was on mission (1 Cor. 9:5).  His assignment was to bring the Gospel to the circumcised (Gal. 2:7). He authored the two New Testament epistles which bear his name. Tradition says he was crucified, head downward, in Rome during the reign of Nero. After the resurrection Andrew preached in Scythia, Greece and Asia Minor, according to scholars, and died a martyr’s death declaring: “Oh, cross most welcome and longed for! With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to you, being a scholar of Him which did hang on you, because I have always been your lover and yearn to embrace you.”

Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai / James & Yochanan / John – sons of Zebedee

James and John were sons of Zebedee and Salome. James was the older brother and tradition has it that John was the youngest of the 12 apostles. Like Peter and Andrew, they were born in Bethsaida and later moved to Capernaum where they were fishing with their father when they first saw Yeshua. It was when mending the fishing nets with their father Zebedee in Capernaum that James and John were first called to follow Yeshua(Matthew 4:21-22). John was possibly as young as 13yo and James around 15yo when they were called. Yeshua gave James and John the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:6-9). There is speculation that this was due to their passionate tempers, the most prominent example of which is recorded in Luke 9 when a group of Samaritans didn’t welcome Jesus into their village, so James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54). Despite their youth, James and John were both in the group of Yeshua’s three closest disciples, with Peter, who were with Yeshua at the Mount of Transfiguration and saw Jairus’ daughter raised to life and were asked to pray with Him in the Garden. James and his younger brother, John, appear to have been an inseparable pair (Mark 1:19-20; Matthew 4:21; Luke 5:1-11).

After the resurrection James preached in Jerusalem and Judea. These three who were especially close to Yeshua, Peter, James and John, were esteemed as pillars of the early church (Galatians 2:8-9). James was the first of the twelve to become a martyr, beheaded by Herod in AD 44 (Acts 12:1,2), and the only disciple to have their martyrdom recorded in Scripture.  John was exiled to the island of Patmos under Domitian (where he wrote the book of Revelation). Later he was allowed to return to Ephesus where he governed churches in Asia until his death at about  A.D. 100. The books of 1, 2, and 3 John focus more on love than any other New Testament author. John is the only disciple believed to have been spared martyrdom, dying of natural causes in his old age.

Phillip

Philip came from Bethsaida, the town from which Peter and Andrew came (John 1:44). Like Andrew, Philip’s parents had given him a Greek name. Although the first three Gospels record his name (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), it is in the Gospel of John that we learn more about this young man who was a disciple of Yochanan the Immerser when Yeshua first called him:

The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” (John 1:43)

When Philip met Christ, he immediately found Nathanael and told him that “we have found him, of whom Moses … and the prophets, did write.” Nathanael was sceptical but Philip did not argue with him; he simply answered, “Come and see(John 1:45). This tells us two important things about Philip. First, it shows his approach to the sceptic and his simple faith in Christ. Second, it shows that he had an evangelistic focus. We also read of him in John 6:5-7, John 12:21 & John 14:8-11. Philip and Nathanael were close companions and possibly studied the Torah and Prophets together, and had followed Yochanan together.

Tradition says that Philip preached in Phrygia and died a martyr – some suggest stoned and crucified, others contend that he died by hanging at Hierapolis.

Natan’el / Nathanael, also called Bar-Talmai / Bartholomew

Nathanael / Bartholomew lived in Cana of Galilee and spent a lot of time with Phillip. Bartholomew means son of Tolmai. Yeshua called Nathanael, “An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47). The name Nathanael is only used in the Gospel of John, and the name Bartholomew is never mentioned in this Gospel but is used in every list of the 12 apostles (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). The author of the Gospel of John appears to consider Nathanael to be one of the Twelve (John 21:2), and both names are closely associated with Philip in the gospels and church tradition, so many think Nathanael and Bartholomew are different names for the same person.

Tradition says he preached with Philip in Phrygia Hierapolis, and also in Armenia and India. The Armenian Church claims him as its founder and martyr, but it is believed that his martyrdom occurred in India where he was flayed alive with knives.

Mattityahu / Matthew, also called Levi Ben-Halfai / Levi son of Alphaeus

Matthew, or Levi son of Alpheus, lived in Capernaum. James son of Alpheus, who was another of the twelve Apostles, may have been Matthew’s brother. Matthew’s names mean “a gift of God”, yet he had become a despised tax collector. In New Testament times tax collectors were classified with harlots, Gentiles and sinners (Matthew 18:17; Matthew 21:31, 33; Matthew 9;10; Mark 2:15,16; Luke 5:30). They were considered traitors and criminals in Jewish society. Tax collectors had been known to assess duty payable at impossible sums and then offer to lend the money to travellers at a high rate of interest. Such was Matthew. Yet, Yeshua chose a man all men hated and made him one of His men. The call of Matthew to the apostolic band is mentioned in Mark 2:14, Matthew 9:9 and Luke 5:27-28. From these passages, we learn that Matthew also was called Levi. Some suggest that he came from the priestly tribe of Levi. Matthew became the first man to write down an account of the teachings of Jesus, and he wrote this account in Hebrew.

After the resurrection Matthew took the gospel to Ethiopia and Egypt. He also wrote the Gospel account that bears his name. It is believed that he died a martyr in Ethiopia, Hircanus the king had him killed with a spear.

Ya‘akov Bar-Halfai / James son of Alpheus

James son of Alpheus lived in Galilee. Of all the apostles, this James is one of the most obscure. We don’t have a lot of information about him. Some scholars believe he was a brother of Levi son of Alpheus, the tax collector (Mark 2:14), however the gospel accounts do not specify them as brothers and they are not listed next to each other in the lists of the apostles. Some believe he is James the ‘lesser’ (meaning younger or smaller) mentioned in Matthew 27:56 & Mark 15:40 as having a mother, Mary who stood with Mary Magdalene and Salome at the cross, and brother, Joseph/Joses.

According to tradition he wrote the Epistle of James, preached in Palestine and Egypt and was crucified in Egypt. Another tradition says James son of Alphaeus was stoned to death in Jerusalem. Still another tradition says that he died as a martyr and his body was sawed in pieces.

T’oma / Thomas called Didymus

T’oma means twin in Hebrew and Aramaic, and Didymus is a Greek word which means also means twin (although a twin brother or sister is never mentioned in the Bible.) Thomas lived in Galilee. No details are given about Thomas in the first three Gospels other than the mention of his name. He’s only mentioned eight times in the entire New Testament, and four of those times are just lists of the twelve apostles. Thomas’ first mention in the Gospel of John is an exclamation of courage and loyalty: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16 NASB) as the disciples feared for the life of Yeshua and themselves if they were to go back to Bethany to raise Lazarus. In John 14:6 Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Then in John 20:19-28 Yeshua appears to the other disciples but Thomas refuses to believe their testimony unless he sees for himself, and is confronted with his own words when Yeshua then appears to them all. Thomas responded with a powerful exclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God!

Tradition says Thomas was a missionary to Parthia, Persia, and India. He is honoured as having started the Christian church in India and for suffering martyrdom in Mylapore,  a neighbourhood in the central part of the city of Chennai, in the north of the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Syrian Christian tradition specifies that this took place on July 3, 72 AD and The Acts of Thomas says he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear (or lance).

Taddai/Thaddaeus also called Y’hudah Ben-Ya‘akov/Judas son of James

He was one of the little-known Apostles. Matthew (10:3) and Mark (3:18) both call him Thaddeus (which means “courageous heart”)—but in the King James and New King James translations, they call him Labbaeus. Luke calls him the Hebrew name: יְהוּדָהY’hudah – which means ‘praised’ and is translated as Judah, Judas, or Jude. This was another very common name for Jews, so Luke is careful to avoid him being confused with the more notorious apostle who also bore this name: “Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:16). There is some contention among scholars as to whether the more correct translation is “Judas son of James” or “Judas brother of James”. John’s Gospel also refers to him as Judas and likewise distinguishes him from the other Judas chosen as an apostle: “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world‘” (John 14:22)?

Most early tradition says that Judas, son of James, took the gospel north to Edessa, a Syrian city near the Euphrates River in upper Mesopotamia a few years after Pentecost. There he healed the King of Edessa, Abgar, and many others, and many believed in the name of Yeshua. Eusebius, the historian, said the archives at Edessa contained the visit of Judas and the healing of Abgar (the records have now been destroyed). Tradition says Thaddeus preached in Assyria, Armenia and Persia and died a martyr, killed with arrows at Ararat in Persia. Another tradition is that he was clubbed to death for his faith around 65 AD in Beirut, Lebanon.  He is revered by the Armenian Church as the “Apostle to the Armenians.”  Those who interpret Luke 6:16 as “Judas brother of James” conclude that Jude the apostle wrote the Epistle of Jude as the author introduces himself as “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James. ” Jude 1:1 CEB

Shim‘on / Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot is one of nine people named Simon in the New Testament. Two of them are among Yeshua’s Twelve Apostles—Simon the Zealot and Simon Peter. The other Simons are:

  • Simon Iscariot, father of Judas Iscariot (John 6:71).
  • Simon is the name of one of Jesus’ brothers (Mark 6:3), who’s traditionally believed to have succeeded James as head of the church in Jerusalem.
  • A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus over for dinner, where a sinful woman famously poured perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:40).
  • Simon the Leper hosted Jesus for dinner in Bethany (Mark 14:3).
  • Simon from Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry his cross (Mark 15:21).
  • Simon the Sorcerer attempted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter (Acts 8:9-24).
  • Simon the Tanner was hosting Simon Peter at his house when Peter had his vision of unclean food (Acts 9:43) in preparation for sharing the Gospel with the gentile Cornelius’ household.

We know very little about Simon the Zealot. He is only ever mentioned by name in the four lists of the apostles (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:1-13). He’s never mentioned in the Gospel of John, as John never explicitly lists all the apostles. Nor is Simon the Zealot’s ministry described in Acts or any of the epistles. The moniker “the Zealot” comes from the Greek word zēlōtēs, which Luke used in both his gospel and Acts to distinguish this Simon from Simon Peter. Matthew and Mark give him the title kananaios, which most scholars believe comes from the Aramaic word qan’an, meaning “zealous one.” The failure in ancient manuscripts to distinguish formal nouns allows for differing interpretations regarding the use of the term ‘zealot.’  It could mean he formally belonged to a Jewish sect known as the Zealots, who were associated with violent uprisings and expected the coming Messiah to violently overthrow Rome. Or he may have simply been zealous for the Mosaic Law, or for Yeshua and his teachings.

There are numerous accounts of Simon the Zealot’s death, but the earliest records come centuries after his death. Like many of the apostles, it’s hard to conclude exactly which tradition (if any) is accurate:

  • In the fifth century, Moses of Chorene wrote that Simon the Zealot was martyred in the Kingdom of Iberia.
  • The Golden Legend says he was martyred in Persia in 65 AD.
  • Ethiopian Christians believe he was crucified in Samaria.
  • Another tradition says that after preaching on the west coast of Africa, Simon went to England where he ended up being crucified in 74 AD (or 61 AD).
  • In the sixteenth century, Justus Lipsius claimed Simon was sawed in half.
  • Eastern tradition claims he died of old age in Edessa.
Y’hudah from K’riot / Judas Iscariot

As we’ve seen, he had a Hebrew name: יְהוּדָהY’hudah– which means ‘praised’ and is translated as Judah, Judas, or Jude. There are three people named Judas in the gospels (and eight total in the New Testament). Two of them were disciples of Jesus, and one of them was one of Jesus’ half-brothers. Most scholars believe Iscariot means that Judas came from the town of Kerioth, which could make him the only apostle from Judea (the others were from Galilee). But there have been a number of other theories, including the possibility that it identifies him with the Sicarii—a group of Jewish rebels who were trained as assassins.

Here are the few details we know about Judas Iscariot from the gospels:

  • Yeshua knew what he was like even before He chose Judas Iscariot. Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him. John 6:70-71
  • Judas didn’t care about the poor—and he was a thief.  But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?”
    Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. (John 12:6)
  • Judas was Yeshua‘s treasurer. John goes on to tell us, “as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6b) For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor. (John 13:29)
  • Judas sort to betray Jesus. Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. Mark 14:10
    At this point the Adversary went into Y’hudah from K’riot (Judas Iscariot), who was one of the Twelve.  He approached the head cohanim (priest) and the Temple guard and discussed with them how he might turn Yeshua over to them.  They were pleased and offered to pay him money.  He agreed and began looking for a good opportunity to betray Yeshua without the people’s knowledge. Luke 22:3-6 CJB
  • Judas was looking for monetary gain.  Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. (Matthew 26:14-16)
  • Judas came under the influence of Satan.  “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve” (Luke 22:3). After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)
  • Most infamously, Judas betrayed Jesus with an act of friendship:

While he was still speaking, a crowd of people arrived, with the man called Y’hudah (one of the Twelve!) leading them. He came up to Yeshua to kiss him, but Yeshua said to him, “Y’hudah, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Luke 22:47-48 CJB
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.” 
. Matthew 26:45-50

  • Judas’ betrayal was a fulfilment of scripture. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12) “Son of perdition” essentially means he was eternally damned, doomed to hell, and trapped in unrepentant sin (and thus would never receive forgiveness).  Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up [his] heel against me. (Psalms 41:9) May his days be few, may another take his place of leadership. (Psalm 109:8) Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’ (Matthew 27:9-10)
  • Judas felt remorse, but not repentance producing godly sorrow. Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3–5) Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
  • Judas Iscariot died around the same time as Yeshua.  “With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” Acts 1:18-19.
  • The Field of Blood. “The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. ” (Matthew 27:6–8)
Matthias

Matthias is a diminutive form of the same Hebrew name as Matthew: Matityahu. They both mean “gift of God.” After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and while the 120 were praying in one accord in the upper room, seeking God’s leading and awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter, compelled by the need to have the foundation of 12, urged them to replace Judas Iscariot:

During this period, when the group of believers numbered about 120, Kefa (Peter) stood up and addressed his fellow-believers:  “Brothers, the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) spoke in advance through David about Y’hudah (Judas), and these words of the Tanakh had to be fulfilled. He was guide for those who arrested Yeshua – he was one of us and had been assigned a part in our work.” … “Now,” said Kefa, “it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his estate become desolate, let there be no one to live in it’; and Let someone else take his place as a supervisor. Therefore, one of the men who have been with us continuously throughout the time the Lord Yeshua travelled around among us, from the time Yochanan (John) was immersing (baptising) people until the day Yeshua was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”
They nominated two men — Yosef Bar-Sabba
(Joseph called Barsabbas), surnamed Justus, and Mattityahu (Matthias).  
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen  to take over the work and the office of emissary (apostle) that Y’hudah (Judas) abandoned to go where he belongs.”  
Then they drew lots to decide between the two, and the lot fell to Mattityahu. So he was added to the eleven emissaries
(apostles).” Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 CJB

This version describes the role Matthias was to take hold of as “a supervisor“, NASB describes it as an “office“, NIV as “leadership” and KJV as “bishoprick”. The Greek word is ἐπισκοπήepiskopḗ– and it refers to oversight that gives personal care and attention, help that is appropriately fitting. This 12th apostle was needed as a witness with the 11 to Christ’s resurrection. Peter determined that it had to be someone who had been with them from the time Yochanan baptized Yeshua until the time He ascended to heaven, someone who was an eye-witness of Yeshua’s life since the beginning of His ministry. The 120 nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Neither of these men are mentioned by name in any of the gospel accounts, they are part of the anonymous group of Yeshua’s talmidim who faithfully followed Him. They were probably both part of the 72 unnamed other talmidim whom Luke records as being sent out (apostello) by Yeshua:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.  He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.  Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.  Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’  … …
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:1-9, 17-20 NIV

The 120 prayed, and then cast lots, and Matthias became the new 12th apostle. The principle of casting lots goes back to the Old Testament – it was a process the Israelites used to discern God’s will, seek His wisdom, or learn the truth. Thus, Matthias was chosen by God just as surely as the other 11 apostles. Yeshua did not reveal His choice for the 12th apostle before His ascension, but it was the first thing that He revealed to His birthing church after His ascension, as they prepared to receive the Holy Spirit. Now they were in unity (Acts 1:14) and complete. They were ready for what God would do.

Like several of the 12 apostles, Matthias is not mentioned again in the scriptures, but according to historical sources Matthias lived until 80 A.D. and spread the gospel on the shores of the Caspian and Cappadocia, Aethiopia (modern-day Georgia). Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos was a fourteenth century historian who built on the work of his predecessors and had access to important texts that no longer exist. He claimed Matthias preached in Judea, then in Aethiopia (by the region of Colchis, now in modern-day Georgia) and was there stoned to death. A marker placed in the ruins of the Roman fortress at Gonio (Apsaros) in the modern Georgian region of Adjara claims that Matthias is buried at that site. While the tradition of the Greeks says that St. Matthias planted the faith about Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea, residing chiefly near the port Issus. The Synopsis of Dorotheus contains this tradition: “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” Alternatively, another tradition maintains that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem by the local populace, and then beheaded (cf. Tillemont, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers siècles, I, 406–7). According to Hippolytus of Rome, Matthias died of old age in Jerusalem.

Although little is known about several of the 12 apostles, one thing is certain – they were each chosen by Yeshua. This is the most important thing about each of them, this is what transformed their lives and set them as a foundation for transforming the nations / turning the world upside down.

REFERENCES

1. Guzik, David. Genesis 48 – Jacob Blesses Joseph’s Sons. Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-48/.
2. Calahan, John. Why is the tribe of Dan not among the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8? Never Thirsty. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/why-is-tribe-dan-not-among-144000-in-revelation7-4-8/.
3. Armstrong, Stephen. Why is the Tribe of Dan Missing in Revelation 7? Verse By Verse Ministry International. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/why-is-the-tribe-of-dan-missing-in-revelation-7.
4. Gina. Joshua 16-18. Reading the Bible Chronologically in 365 days. [Online] 18th April 2013. https://hisstillsmallvoice.wordpress.com/tag/josephs-sons-ephraim-and-mannasseh-receive-a-double-portion-for-joseph/.
5. Hamilton, Jeffrey W. Joseph was the favorite of all of Jacob’s sons, so why did Judah get the blessing? Christian Library. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] http://www.christianlibrary.org/authors/Jeffrey_W_Hamilton/LVanswers/2011/02-05.html.
6. Editors. Why does God refer to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Got Questions – your questions Biblical answers. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] https://www.gotquestions.org/God-of-Abraham-Isaac-Jacob.html.
7. —. How old were Jesus’ disciples? Got Questions? Your questions, Biblical answers. [Online] [Cited: 18th Auguat 2020.] https://www.gotquestions.org/how-old-were-Jesus-disciples.html.
8. Cary, Otis & Frank. HOW OLD WERE CHRIST’S DISCIPLES? . The Biblical World. [Online] [Cited: 18th August 2020.] https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/475815.
9. Herbert, R. How Old Were the Disciples? Living with Faith. [Online] 28th November 2018. http://www.livingwithfaith.org/blog/how-old-were-the-disciples.
10. Kirkpatrick, David Paul. Jesus’ Bachelors – The Disciples Were Most Likely Under The Age of 18. Living In The Metaverse. [Online] 25th March 2013. https://www.davidpaulkirkpatrick.com/2013/03/25/jesus-bachelors-the-disciples-were-most-likely-under-the-age-of-18/.
11. Shurpin, Yehuda. Why Give Half-Shekels to Charity on Taanit Esther? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 22nd August 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/3942732/jewish/Why-Give-Half-Shekels-to-Charity-on-Taanit-Esther.htm.
12. Spetter, Rabbi Moshe. In Remembrance of the Half-Shekel – 5766. Torah Mitzion. [Online] 11th March 2006. https://torahmitzion.org/learn/remembrance-half-shekel-5766/.
13. Hattin, Rav Michael. The Half-Shekel of Silver. The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash. [Online] [Cited: 22nd August 2020.] https://www.etzion.org.il/en/half-shekel-silver.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What is the significance of Jesus choosing 12 apostles?
* What can we learn about God’s choice for leaders from the 12?
* Do your people have a connection to your land like the Jews have to their land? Please describe.
* Why do you think the scriptures tell us so little about the apostles Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon the Zealot, James son of Alpheus, Thaddaeus or Matthias?
* What doe sit mean to be an apostle, or ambassador, of Christ?
* What have you learnt from studying the 12 apostles?

Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 7 – The Witness of the Scriptures on John

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES

What do the Scriptures tell us about the Author of John’s Gospel?

The Gospel according to John is not as anonymous as the other three Gospels.  In the last few verses of the Gospel its author identifies himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved…the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper”.    Yet, even here he does not share his name with us.   John 19:25-27 tells us that Jesus gave this disciple responsibility for his mother Mary from the cross and that from then this disciple whom Jesus loved took Mary to his own home.   Church tradition has long held that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was the apostle John.  So, what can we learn about John from the scriptures?

What do the Gospels tell us about the Apostle John?

John was the younger brother of James, they were sons of Salome and Zebedee.  Salome was one of the women who followed and served Jesus (Matthew 27:55-56 & Mark 15:40-41) and she may have been the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:25), which could explain her boldness as “aunty Salome” in asking Jesus to favour her boys (Matthew 20:20-23).  Zebedee was a Galilean fisherman who also hired men for their fishing business.  They lived in Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilea, as did their fishing partners Simon Peter and his younger brother Andrew, who had been one of the first two disciples of John the Baptist to heed the Baptist’s words “behold the Lamb of God” and start following Jesus.  We first read about John and James encountering Jesus as they were in their boat with their father mending their fishing nets (Matthew 4:21-22, Mark 1:19-20).  Christ called them for follow Him so these two young men left everything and went after Him.  Then, in Mark 1:29 we read that they came out of the Capernaum synagogue with Jesus and entered the house of Simon Peter and Andrew where Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.  Luke 5:1-11 then reports another calling, this time in front of a multitude, and refers to James and John as partners with Simon Peter.  John is next mentioned in the choosing of the twelve apostles:

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother  Matthew 10:2 NKJV

Simon, whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”   Mark 3:16-17 NKJV

He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Luke 6:13b-14 NKJV

In all of these John is mentioned in the second group of brothers, and after his older brother James.  There has been much speculation over the years as to what the designation “Sons of Thunder” might mean about James and John.   Perhaps it was in relation to their character as revealed when they offered to command fire to come down from heaven and consume the Samaritans who had refused to receive Jesus because He was on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56).   Eager for a sign from heaven to justify themselves and vindicate their Master, these brothers were zealous and enthusiastic and had a high sense of what honour was due to Jesus, but they were slower to understand His heart of love even for His enemies.  Just before then John had declared that they had seen someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and forbidden him because he was not one of them (Mark 9:38 & Luke 9:49).   It was important to young John that he was part of the “in group”, which he felt should be distinguished from “outsiders”.  Then there was the time when James and John tried to manipulate Jesus into giving them the positions sitting on His right hand and left hand in Glory (Mark 10:35-41).  Matthew 20:20-23 depicts their mother bringing them to Jesus to make this same request of Him, shortly before His Triumphal Entry.  In all of these incidences we see these two sons of Zebedee zealous and full of confidence in the power and authority of Christ while also attaching personal ambition to their dedication to Him.   This fits with the other evidences that they were young men, possibly in their mid to late teens, when Jesus called them.  Many scholars have concluded that John was the youngest of the apostles, possibly only 13-15yo when he was first called by Jesus. (44) (45) (46) (47) (48) (49)

The Gospels mention three significant incidences where Jesus only allows Peter, James and John to be present with him and witness the event.  The first is the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-24 & 36-43; Luke 8:40-42 & 49-56).  The second is the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-10 & Luke 9:28-36).  The third is in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked them to watch with him but they kept falling asleep (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42).  Notably, the writer of the Gospel according to John does not bear witness to any of these three events in his Gospel, which would seem strange if John were the author.   The Transfiguration especially fits with the whole theme of this Gospel, and John was one of only three witnesses to it, yet this Gospel is the only one that makes no mention of it.

It was the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, who asked Jesus privately “when will these things be and what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled” after Jesus prophesied that the temple would be destroyed and not one stone of it left upon another (Mark 13:1-4).   It was Peter and John, the oldest and youngest of the twelve, that Jesus sent to prepare the Passover (Luke 22:7-13).   The only other specific mention of John the apostle in the Gospels, and the only direct reference in this Gospel, is after Christ’s resurrection:

 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “We are going with you also.” John 21:2-3a NKJV

What does the book of Acts tell us about the apostle John?

The first mention of John in the book of Acts finds all the apostles together with Jesus’ family and female disciples in the upper room:

And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.  These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.  Acts 1:13-14 NKJV

John the apostle is generally found teamed up with Peter as we go through the book of Acts, just as Jesus had sent them together to prepare the Passover.  Acts 3 tells the story of Peter and John going to the temple together at the hour of prayer, seeing the lame man and Peter bringing God’s healing to him in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, followed by Peter preaching to the multitudes who gathered.

Acts 4 sees Peter and John arrested and Peter boldly testifying before the Sanhedrin who: “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled.  And they realised that they had been with Jesus.” 

In Verse 19 Peter and John replied to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

Acts 8 tells of Peter and John being sent by the apostles in Jerusalem to Samaria to minister to the new believers there.  They prayed for these Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit and laid hands on them.   The results were so powerful that Simon the sorcerer offered them money to give him that power and received a very strong rebuke from Peter.  On their way back to Jerusalem Peter and John preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

John is next mentioned by name some 12-14 years after Jesus’ resurrection when Herod killed his older brother James with the sword (Acts 12:1-2).

Any references to John in Paul’s writings?

Our last reference to John (apart from the Johannine writings) comes about 6 years later, so John would likely be around 35yo now.  In Galatians 2 Paul writes about going up to Jerusalem to resolve the question of circumcision of Gentile believers (see also Acts 15) and states in verse 9: “and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”   The ‘James’ that Paul is referring to in this verse is not John’s older brother who had been killed with the sword, but James the brother of Jesus who had also been a leader in the church since its earliest days despite not being one of the 12 apostles.

Summary of what we know about the Apostle John…

In summary, John is introduced to us as an apprentice in his father’s fishing business, 13-15yo when Jesus first calls him.  He is the younger brother of James and the two of them are always mentioned together until near the end of Jesus’ ministry when He sends John with Peter to prepare the Passover for their last meal before He is crucified.  John’s mother, Salome, also travels with Jesus, possible as much to keep an eye on her boys as to learn from Jesus.  She certainly demonstrates high ambitions for them which she mixes with her faith in Jesus as Messiah and ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven.   Her presence also suggests that John is the youngest of her children as Salome would not be so free to travel with them if she had younger children still at home.   John was zealous and enthusiastic, loved the miraculous and had a high sense of what honour was due to Jesus.   It was important to young John to be important and part of the “in group” which was clearly distinguished from others whom he did not view as sufficiently following Jesus.  John was close to Jesus and one of only three disciples whom Jesus allowed to be with Him when He was transfigured, when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and during his passion in the garden of Gethsemane.  Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry and throughout the book of Acts we see John maturing and coming into his own, becoming less dependent on his older brother and faithfully stewarding increasing responsibilities.

What does the Fourth Gospel tell us about it’s Author?

What can we learn about the author of the fourth Gospel from what we find written within it?   From John 21:20-24 we learn that the author was a man and described himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper”.  It is this closeness to Jesus which has led many to surmise that the author must be one of Christ’s “inner circle”, the three apostles who were allowed with Jesus for the transfiguration, the raising of Jarius’ daughter and Christ’s passion in the garden.   Since Peter motioned to this disciple whom Jesus loved to get him to ask Jesus who was going to betray him (John 13:23-24) the author could not be the apostle Peter and the apostle James was killed by Herod before this gospel was written, so that leaves the apostle John as the author of this gospel.   Scholars who support this view also see the author (either as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or “another disciple”) as being consistently paired with Peter in the latter part of this gospel (John 13:34-24; 18:15-16, 20:2-9, 21:1-8 & 15-23) even as John is paired with Peter in the book of Acts. (50) This gospel was clearly written by an intimate eye-witness and who could be closer to Jesus than the young apostle John?

We also see in John 21:20-24 that the author refers to himself in the third person, as was not unusual in first-century historiographical practice, even when saying that he was the one who wrote these things down.  The only time the author uses a personal pronoun for himself is in the very last verse of the Gospel, and here he indicates that what he has written is just a small amount of what he knows Jesus to have done:

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.  Amen.   John 21:25 NKJV

How the author met Jesus…

Let’s start at the beginning of the fourth gospel and see what we can learn about this “disciple whom Jesus loved”.  In John 1:19-51 the author provides us with a report which does not directly describe Jesus’ baptism, it appears that he was not there at that time, but provides an eye-witness account, not mentioned in the other gospels, of the Jewish religious leaders sending priests and Levites from Jerusalem to Bethany beyond the Jordan (“Bethabara” in some versions) to question the baptiser “who are you?”  John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, had been a priest (Luke 1:5-7) so many of them would have known John growing up as the son of this respected elderly priest.  Some of the priests may have been his childhood friends.  The Baptist’s response to their every question was to testify about Jesus.  As there is no description of any of the actions of John the Baptist before these priests arrived, not even his baptism of Jesus, it is likely that the author was one of the priests or Levites who was sent by the Jewish leadership (high priest) to question the Baptist.  This would suggest that at least one of them was impacted by the Baptist’s sermons, really took his words to heart and was baptised by him.

The next day Jesus returned from his forty days in the Judean wilderness and the Baptist pointed him out as the person he had been talking about in answering the priest’s questions and described what had taken place when he had baptised Jesus.   John’s words were sinking in because the following day when the Baptist pointed Jesus out to two of his disciples “Behold the Lamb of God!” they started following Him.  One of these disciples was Andrew, who would become one of the 12 apostles, and the other remains anonymous.   Many have postulated that this anonymous disciple is the author of this Gospel.   Could one of the priests or Levites sent by the High Priest and Sanhedrin to find out what John had to say about himself have become a disciple of John’s so quickly?   If so, this fits with the anonymous “other disciple” in John 18:15-16 being sufficiently known to the high priest to be able to tell the servant who kept the door to his courtyard to let his friend Peter in. 

Only this fourth Gospel gives the details of Andrew, and an unnamed disciple, being the first to follow Jesus, then Andrew bringing his big brother Simon (Peter) to Jesus, followed the next day by Jesus calling Philip, who found Nathanael, as he started heading back to Galilee.  

Going with Jesus to the wedding in Cana, then Jerusalem for Passover…

The author went with Jesus, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael (and the unnamed disciple, if this person is not the author) to the wedding in Cana of Galilee, and then down to Capernaum with Jesus’ mother and brothers as well, before returning to Jerusalem for the Passover, cleansing the temple and doing many signs (John 2:13-23).   The author was privy to Jesus’ night-time conversation with Nicodemus, away from all the crowds (John 3:1-21).   If he was one of the Levites and priests who were sent by the leaders in Jerusalem to question John the Baptist, then he would likely have invited Jesus to stay in his house in (or near) Jerusalem, a house that would be known to the rulers of the Jews like Nicodemus.

Baptising with Jesus then the woman at the well…

Next, this author describes Jesus going with these early disciples and baptising people in Judea while John had moved to Aeon near Salim to continue baptising (John 3:22-36).  From there the author describes in detail Jesus going back up to Galilee, but via the city of Sychar in Samaria where he talks with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42). 

With Jesus to Cana, then silence…

After going to Cana of Galilee, the author describes Jesus’ long distance healing of the nobleman’s son in Capernaum (John 4:45-54) but mentions nothing of Jesus’ following ministry in Galilee, nor his travels to Capernaum, nor calling of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats or Matthew from his tax collector’s booth, nor any of the preaching in synagogues or subsequent miracles and healings that He performed (Matthew 4:13-25, 8:2-4 & 14-17, 9:2-17; Mark 1:14-2:22; Luke 4:16-5:39).  

Map of Jesus' and John's early ministry travels

With Jesus in Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews…

It is as though the author returned to Jerusalem from Cana and did not see Jesus again until He returned to Jerusalem for another “feast of the Jews” (John 5:1).    According to the Torah, God commanded the Israelites:

Three times a year shall all your men appear before the Lord your God in the place that God will choose [the Temple in Jerusalem], on the festivals of Pesah (Passover – early spring), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks – seven weeks after Passover, at the time of the late spring harvest), and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths – mid-autumn).”    Deuteronomy 16:16

It is unclear which of these festivals Jesus was attending this time, but again only the fourth Gospel writer tells us anything about Jesus’ time in Jerusalem for this festival and he describes the events, the healing of a man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath and the resulting controversy,  in a lot of detail (John: 5:2-47).  

The first three Gospels continue with their narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, including many parables and miracles (Matthew5:1-14:12; Mark 2:23-6:29; Luke 6:1-9:9), and the setting aside of 12 of his disciples and sending them out to be apostles, while the fourth Gospel remains silent on all of this Galilean activity.   Then John the Baptist is beheaded (Matthew 14:1-13) and word reaches Jesus even as the apostles returned from their mission and reported back what they had done and taught (Mark 6:30-31; Luke 9:10) even as the next Passover was approaching (John 6:4).  

With Jesus as Passover approaches…

Passover (Pesach) falls on the first full moon of Spring.  The author of the fourth Gospel is the one who keeps us informed about the relationship of events to the Jewish festivals.  Now we find him together with the others as Jesus takes them by boat to the shore near the city of Bethsaida in Galilee (Luke 9:10) and up a mountain (John 6:3) to a deserted but lush grassy place after the winter rains (Mark 6:31).  There the only miracle Jesus performed that is recorded in all four Gospels took place, the feeding of the 5,000.  

Close to Philip & Andrew…

Only the author of the fourth Gospel gives us the details that Jesus asked Philip, the one of the 12 who lived in Bethsaida; “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”  Philip was overwhelmed with the cost involved but Andrew, Simon Peter’s younger brother, brought the lad with the loaves and fish to Jesus in response.  If the anonymous disciple who first followed Jesus with Andrew was the author of this Gospel it appears that they continued to have a close relationship such that the author paid special attention to, and had high regard for, Andrew’s expressions of faith.  This is seen again, after the Triumphal Entry, when the author of this fourth Gospel informs us about some Gentiles (Greeks) who had gone up to worship in Jerusalem at Passover and asked Philip (who had a Greek name) if they could see Jesus, who told Andrew (who also had a Greek name) and they both passed on the request to Jesus (John 12:20-22).   

With Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue…

From the narrative continuing on from the feeding of the 5,000 the author was just as likely one of the people who followed Jesus and the disciples to Capernaum the next day as one of the disciples in the boat that night who saw Christ walking on the water (John 6:15-59).  The author joined the multitude who listened to Jesus as He taught in the Capernaum synagogue and stayed, as did the 12, when many of Jesus’ other disciples became offended at His words and walked away (John 6:60-70). 

With Jesus to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles…

We read nothing more from this author for another six months, when the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is at hand.  He mentions nothing of Jesus’ ministry trips beyond the lands of the Jews to Gennesaret, Tyre and Sidon, through the region of the Decapolis and skirting the Sea of Galilee back through Jewish territory across to Bethsaida and out again to Caesarea Philippi, and up a high mountain for the transfiguration before returning through Galilee to Capernaum.  All this author mentions about that whole time was: “after these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea because the Jews sort to kill Him.”  (John 7:1)  

Herod Antipas, who had just beheaded John the Baptist, ruled over both Perea and Galilee so this was a significant example that Jesus was setting for His disciples of responding to threats by taking the gospel further afield – in this case to the territories of Phoenicia, Ituraea, Syria, Batanea, Auranitis (Trachonitis) and the Decapolis, and yet the author of this gospel writes only that Jesus did not walk in Judea, He was not seen in Jerusalem during this time.   To read where Jesus was seen and what He was doing there we need to study the other three gospel accounts.

John 7:2-3 is very interesting as this Gospel author writes of Jesus’ brothers contending that His disciples were in Judea so He should go there to show them the works that He was doing.  The apostles were with Jesus in Capernaum of Galilee but his brothers are telling him to go to Jerusalem so His disciples can see what He’s doing.   Did Jesus have disciples who were based in Judea as well as those who were based in Galilee?  This fourth Gospel is the only one to record that Jesus did not accompany his brothers to Sukkot (the week-long Feast of Tabernacles) in Jerusalem, but travelled after them to attend secretly.   This would have greatly affected those disciples who were waiting eagerly for Jesus in Jerusalem, but not the disciples and apostles travelling with Him and engrossed in His teaching every day.

It is from Luke that we learn Jesus travelled through Samaria on His way to Jerusalem and one of the Samaritan villages refused to welcome Him because He was determined to go to Jerusalem for the Feast so James and John offered to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah had called it down to consume the sacrifice on Mt Carmel but Jesus rebuked them and simply went to another village who would welcome Him (Luke 9:51-56).   Taking this route which most of the Jews avoided because they would not associate with Samaritans also helped keep Jesus hidden from the other pilgrims headed from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Feast.   

Jesus was not seen by the crowds in Jerusalem until about the middle of the Feast when He went into the temple and started teaching the people (John 7:4-14).   This Gospel’s author then provides us with a detailed account of Jesus’ teaching and the crowd’s responses on that day (John 7:15-36) and again on the last day including Nicodemus’ defence of Christ in the Sanhedrin (John 7:37-53).  The seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshana Rabbah which is considered to be the day of the final sealing of judgment on which God opens the Books of Life and Death.   

It was in the Temple, in Jerusalem, the following day that the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus.   This Gospel author records Jesus continuing to teach in the Temple until, on a Sabbath day some religious leaders took up stones to throw at him because He had answered them by declaring: “before Abraham was, I AM”, then denounced Him for “not keeping the Sabbath” when he healed a blind man by spitting on the ground and making clay with the saliva then anointing a blind man’s eyes with that clay and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam (John 8:1-9:41).   Jesus teaches in the temple about His upcoming death and resurrection (John 10:1-21) then vanishes once more from this Gospel until the next Jewish Festival in Jerusalem.     Whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke provide us with descriptions of Jesus’ teachings and works in the Galilee region, and on His expeditions into neighbouring lands, it is this author who recounts Jesus’ teachings and works in Jerusalem during the Jewish Feasts. 

Silent on the 70…

It is Luke again who tells us of Jesus appointing another seventy (some versions have seventy-two) and apostéllō (sending) them two by two with authority to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God in every city and place where He himself was about to go (Luke 10:1-24).    After they returned with joy and amazement that even the demons were subject to them in His name, Jesus began going to each of the places that the seventy have just been, teaching as he went.  In Bethany He stayed with Martha and Mary, teaching in their house (Luke 10:38-42).   It is 63 days from the seventh day of the autumn Sukkot until the beginning of the eight day winter Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah – which was instituted after Judas Maccabeus recaptured Jerusalem, cleansed and rededicated the Temple to God) and Luke provides us with Jesus’ teaching during that time as He travelled to those places that He had sent the other seventy to in a circuit that brought him back to Jerusalem (Luke 11:1-13:35).

With Jesus in Jerusalem for Hanakkah

Once again it is the author of the Fourth Gospel who tells us the time of year and Jewish religious occasion – this time it was winter and Jesus was returning to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (Hanakkah).    Again, this author picks up the story when Jesus enters Jerusalem and describes His interactions in the Temple (John 10:22-39).  

Luke 14:1-24 picks up on Jesus’ interactions outside the temple – with His disciples in the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees (a member of the Sanhedrin) on the Sabbath.   As Jesus left Jerusalem Luke notes that great multitudes went with Him (Luke 14:25), but it appears that the author of the fourth Gospel was not among them although he does tell us exactly where they travelled to – Bethany beyond the Jordan where John had baptised Jesus and first proclaimed Him.  Matthew 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12 and Luke 14:26 – 17:10 share with us what Jesus taught through this time and the fourth Gospel author declares: “many believed in Him there”, beyond the Jordan.

Close to Mary, Martha & Lazarus…

Interestingly, the fourth Gospel’s author was confident that those he was writing for had already heard about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil and wiping them with her hair.   Even though he had not got to that part of the story yet the author helps his readers understand which Martha and Mary he is writing about by recounting that incident before it has taken place in his narrative (John 11:1-2).   Could the author have been the person whom Mary and Martha sent to Jesus with the news of their brother’s illness?   Some have contended that the author, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was Lazarus as he is the only man specifically referred to as being loved by Jesus (51) (52) (53) (54) (55) (56) (57) (58):

“Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”    John 11:3 NKJV      

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 NKJV

Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”    John 11:36 NKJV

This author provides us with a very detailed description of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46), an event which the other Gospels omit, and how that related to the plot to kill Jesus (John 11:47-53).   The author notes that Jesus goes from that area into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and then has nothing more to add until the next feast, the spring feast of Passover, is near (John 11:54-55).  

Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem…

Luke 17:11 picks it up from there with a verse that makes little sense unless we realise that the starting point is the city of Ephraim:

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.      Luke 17:11 NKJV

All four Gospels are now focused on this final journey to Jerusalem where Christ will be crucified, the culmination of everything that has taken place thus far.   So Luke describes Jesus’ final missionary journey through Samaria and Galilee as going to Jerusalem.  On the way Jesus cleansed 10 lepers, blessed the little children, and continued teaching all who followed Him and explaining what was going to happen to Him this time in Jerusalem (Matthew 19:13-20:19, Mark 10:13-10:34 & Luke 17:12-18:34).  

As they are heading down the Jordan Valley with all the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus confides in the twelve that He will be betrayed, condemned and handed over to the Gentiles who will mock and scourge and crucify Him and then on the third day He will rise again (Matthew 20:17-19, Mark 10:32-34 & Luke 18:31-33).  In what appears to be about the worst timing in history, James and John then took Jesus aside (with their mother), to ask for the top positions in His kingdom – to sit on His right hand and left (Matthew 20:20-23 & Mark 10:35-40).   Luke helps us understand this by writing about the twelve’s reaction to Jesus telling them how he was going to suffer and die:

But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.  Luke 18:34 NKJV

Then coming up out of the Jordan Valley and through Jericho, Jesus stopped for Zacchaeus and to heal two blind men, one of whom was Bartimaeus, before continuing on to Bethpage and Bethany (Matthew 20:29-21:1, Mark 10:46 – 11:1 & Luke 17:12-19:29).  

Focus on Jerusalem and Bethany…

The fourth Gospel omits everything from when Jesus left Bethany for Ephraim until Passover drew near and he records the attitudes of those in Jerusalem, particularly the Sanhedrin, wondering if Jesus would come for the feast and giving orders that they be notified if anyone sees Him so that they could seize Him.    Again this Gospel writer appears to be based in or near Jerusalem and privy to the discussions of the Jewish pilgrims who were already in the temple, and to the religious leaders.

Then it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.  They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think?  Isn’t He coming to the Feast at all?”
But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest Him.  John 11:55-57 NIV  

While it made little difference to those travelling with Jesus how many days before Passover He arrived in Bethany, to those waiting for Him it was of prime importance and so this author records it:  

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. John 12:1-2 NKJV

The Passover began at sunset on Nissan 14, so six days before this would bring us to Nissan 8.   It was a steep, rugged 21 km (13 mile) walk along the main road up the range from Jericho, ‘the City of Palms’, to Bethany. Mathew 20:29-34 lets us know what we would have expected – that a large crowd followed Jesus out of Jericho.  It was about a six hour walk to Jerusalem, where most of the pilgrims would be lodging (59) (60). 

Preparing for Passover…

While it is the miracles in Jericho that the synoptic gospels focus on, the fourth gospel writer begins with the pilgrims already in Jerusalem and then turns to Jesus’ arrival in Bethany and the reception He received there, with a dinner given in Jesus’ honour where Lazarus reclined at the table with Him, Martha served and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and poured very expensive perfume on them, which Judas objected to (John 12:2-8), and the large crowd who came to see both Jesus and Lazarus whom He had raised (John 12:9-11).

All four Gospels record the Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40 & John 12:12-22), which John places in “the next day” after the crowds came to see Jesus and Lazarus in Bethany.  The fourth Gospel appears to lack the insider knowledge of the other three that Jesus sent two of his disciples (possible not two of the twelve because none of the Gospel’s name them) with specific instructions for getting the donkey and her colt but adds the local knowledge that the people who had witnessed Him raising Lazarus from the dead were telling everyone so the crowd and excitement kept growing and:

The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”    John 12:19 NKJV  

Only the fourth gospel author tells us what Jesus said in the Temple on this day of His Triumphal entry, 10th Nissan – the day the Jews are to choose their Passover lamb and take it home to care for it until the time of its sacrifice (John 12:23-36), but he tells us nothing of Jesus’ other trips to Jerusalem; the cursing of the fig tree and cleansing of the Temple on the following day nor Christ’s teachings in the Temple on the 11th & 12th Nissan.  Matthew devotes the most words to such: Matthew 21:12-16 & 18-46, 22:1-25:46.  Mark devotes two chapters, Mark 11:12-18 & 20-44, 12:1-13:2.  Luke 19:45-21:4 are devoted to these accounts of Jesus’ final temple teachings. Those three also note that Jesus returned to Bethany each night (Matthew 21:17, Mark 11:19, Luke 21:37-38).  Interestingly, the fourth Gospel author gives us much less detail about Jesus’ teachings in the temple this time than the other three and only he does not mention Jesus cleansing the temple this time or travelling back and forth from Bethany to the Temple in Jerusalem each day.  Only Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 tell us of the Monday 12th Nissan meal at the home of Simon the leper that was interrupted by a woman coming to Jesus and anointing His head with expensive fragrant oil.  Matthew 24:3-51, Mark 13:3-37 and Luke 21:7-38 all share with us from Jesus private session on the Mount of Olives with Peter, James, John and Andrew, but the fourth Gospel author again omits this significant time that John had with Jesus.

Washing the disciple’s feet…

At last, on the night of 13th Nissan (remember that in Hebrew reckoning the evening of each day comes before the morning of that date) the author of the fourth Gospel re-joins us to share something significant, and something that the other three mention nothing of (John 13:1-14:31).  A supper before the Feast of Passover, probably in Bethany, where Jesus washes His disciple’s feet, the disciple whom Jesus loves reclines on His bosom and at Peter’s urging asks which one of them will betray Jesus who responds by giving a morsel to Judas whom Satan enters as he goes out.  Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11 & Luke 22:3-4 pickup at this point, noting that Judas went to the chief priests to ask what they were willing to give him for delivering Jesus to them in the absence of the multitude, while the author of the fourth Gospel focuses on what Jesus shared with His followers after Judas had left that night until they left from the place where they had shared the meal (John 14:31).

Jesus’ final teachings…

The author of the fourth gospel then gives us three more chapters (John 15, 16 & 17) of Jesus’ final teachings are prayers for them on 13th Nissan, before the Passover – possibly the next morning – before becoming silent on the Passover meal that Peter and John followed Jesus’ prophetic instructions to begin preparing that afternoon for Jesus to share with the twelve once evening had come and it was 14th Nissan and the lamb they had chosen on 10th had been sacrificed and Peter and John had carried it back to the assigned place, roasted it on a wooden rotatory over a fire, and purchased unleavened bread and bitter herbs from the many stores in Jerusalem catering to the pilgrims flooding the city (Matthew 26:19-30, Mark 14:16-26 & Luke 22:13-39).  There Jesus instituted one of the most important sacraments of the church, communion, but the author of the fourth gospel provides us with not witness to this.

In the Garden…

We next hear the author of the fourth Gospel he states “When Jesus had (in the Greek) ‘légō’ (originally, “lay down to sleep,” and later used of “laying an argument to rest,” i.e. bringing a message to closure) … so: “When Jesus had brought His teachings to a closure”, ie not a moment too soon, Jesus would not go to the place of His arrest until He had told His disciples everything He needed to before His sufferings, “He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden…” that Judas also knew because Jesus had often met there with His disciples.  

All four gospels note Jesus entering this garden and Judas leading an armed contingent from the chief priests.  Mark 14:51-52 presents us with what appear to be strange verses, yet they provide us with the evidence that it was not only the eleven remaining apostles who had been with Jesus in the Garden, others of His followers also knew He met there and had come in the hope of receiving more teachings from Him.   Passover was a special and formal celebration and everyone who attended with Jesus would have dressed appropriately for it and so come into the Garden fully dressed.  But it was late when they entered the Garden, and there were some followers who had watching and waiting for His crossing over the Kidron ravine.  It sounds like one young man had gone to bed and was asleep when he heard the excited call “Jesus is coming”, wrapped his sheet around him and hurried out (possibly almost dragged out by an older brother) to see what Jesus had for them this night.   It is possible that the author of the fourth gospel was among the disciples who were not part of the last supper but knew where to find Jesus when that was finished.

Here we come to another distinction between the first three Gospel accounts and the fourth.  The first three clearly state that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples as their last supper together, which would have been at the beginning of 14th Nissan (as each Jewish day began when the sun went down on the previous day), but the fourth gospel writer is equally clear in stating that the Passover sacrifice for the nation of Israel did not happen until the time of Jesus’ death the following afternoon, which would be around 3pm on 14th Nissan.   One thing that we have seen already during the Hasmonaean dynasty is that different Jewish groups interpreted many of the Torah rules for the feasts in different ways.   One of the contentions was over the proper time for the slaughter and consumption of the Passover sacrifice.    The instructions in Exodus 12:6 state: “And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.”  There was (and in some circles still is) much contention over that word “twilight”, which in Hebrew is:   עֶרֶב ereb; which can be translated as evening, night, sunset, twilight, or ‘between the evenings’.   The Essenes and others contended that the sacrifice was to be made as soon as the sun set and 14th Nissan began so that it would all be consumed on the night of 14th Nissan in line with verse 8: “they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”   The most powerful groups of the Pharisees and priests, however, interpreted it to mean that the Passover sacrifice should be sacrificed at the end of 14th Nissan – between 3-6pm and then eaten that night (therefor on 15th Nissan) as the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.   If the author of the fourth gospel were a priest it would be understandable that his focus would be on the time set for the priesthood to formally make the sacrifice for the nation and then attend to all the pilgrim’s sacrifices lined up for them to be slaughtered in the temple and then taken away to be cooked and eaten that night.  So John 18:28-19:15 states of the priests accusing Jesus: “they themselves did not enter the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled and might eat the Passover…”.

The disciple whom Jesus loved…

We have returned to where we began this search – the scriptures in the fourth gospel referring to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”   The first of these was in John 13, after Jesus had washed His disciple’s feet and:

There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of the disciples, whom Jesus loved”. 

Our next reference to him does not use that same term “disciple whom Jesus loved”, but just refers to him as “another disciple”.   So it may not be the same person, although the characteristics do fit everything else we have learned about him through his eyewitness account of Jesus’ life in this fourth gospel.

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus.  Because this disciple was known to the High Priest, he went with Jesus into the High Priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door.  The other disciple, who was known to the High Priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.     John 18:15-16 NIV

Now, before the cross, we see our next reference to him:

“When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”  John 19:26-27 NIV

Witness to Jesus’ death and burial…

Then, in now characteristic style, this disciple gives us details pertaining to priests (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both members of the Sanhedrin who had not consented to their ruling against Jesus) and the rules of the Jewish feast days:

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.” And again another Scripture says, “THEY SHALL LOOK ON HIM WHOM THEY PIERCED.”

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.     John 19:31-42 NASV

Resurrection First Fruits…

Only the fourth Gospel makes reference to Christ needing to be presented to the Father as the First Fruits Offering on the day of His resurrection, which was the first Sunday after Passover and thus the day of the First Fruits Offering, the first stalk of ripe grain from the upcoming harvest being waved before God in the Temple:

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. ‘”        John 20:17 NASV

Resurected Jesus at See of Galilee…

After specifying Thomas as the one of the twelve who was the last to believe that Jesus had indeed been resurrected but proclaimed upon seeing Him “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:19-29), John then goes on to describe the last incident where the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is featured:

After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” … …
So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?”
They answered Him, “No.”
And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.”
So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” …

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “… … when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”
Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God…

Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?”
So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?”
Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”

Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:1-24

Conclusions…

So, was this disciple whom Jesus loved John the son of Zebedee or one of the two unnamed “others of His disciples” who had followed Jesus’ direction to meet Him in Galilee and agreed to go fishing with Peter while they were waiting for Him?   Church tradition holds that it was John, and thus the Gospel has been labelled.  Many scholars argue that John just left out the bits about most of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and the last supper because he wrote after the other three Gospels had been accepted and they covered those events sufficiently for him to feel no need to write about them, after all, the author did state that if everything Jesus did was written down the world would not be able to contain the books, and besides, it had to be one of Jesus’ “inner circle” who got selected for special assignments with Him – Peter, James and John.   

Some have contended that the author was Lazarus, because he is the only man specifically referred to as one whom Jesus loved (John 11:3&36) and the term “disciple whom Jesus loved” was only used after Lazarus’ resurrection and description as reclining at the table with Jesus (John 12:2). 

Some have contended that it was Jesus’ younger half-brother James because it would not be right for Him to place His mother into the care of someone outside the family when He had siblings with family responsibility for her. 

Some have suggested John Mark (the author of Mark) was the author because he was related to the Levite Barnabas and so would have been known to the high priest. 

Some argue that it was Thomas, because he had known to ask to see the spear wound in Jesus’ side and of all the apostles, only the beloved disciple had been at the cross to see that wound inflicted.  

Others have suggested that it is the man that early church father Papias (via Eusebius) referred to as “John the Elder”, and that he was a priest from Jerusalem (Polycrates’ references John wearing the sacerdotal plate in Eusebius, ‘Church History’, 5.24.2-3) and also the author of the Johannine letters, as both 2 John and 3 John state that they are from “the Elder”.

What we do know is that the author of the fourth Gospel was an eye-witness who had followed Jesus since John the Baptist proclaimed Him to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved“, and was closely tied to Jerusalem and the activities of the priesthood.

Reference List

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