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) 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:
- raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37),
- the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–11, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36) and
- 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.
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: יְהוּדָה – Y’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: יְהוּדָה – Y’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 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 ἐπισκοπή – episkopḗ– 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.
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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.
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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?