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Who were the 12 disciples?


QUESTION: Who were the 12 disciples?


Luke 6:12-16 provides a list of the original followers of Jesus who were the 12 disciples: Simon (called Peter), his brother Andrew, James (the son of Zebedee), his brother John, Philip, Bartholomew/Nathanael, Matthew, Thomas, James (the son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot) Judas/Thaddaeus (son of James), and Judas Iscariot. The word “disciple” refers to “a learner who accepts not only the views of the teacher, but one who attempts to put them into practice.”1

Jesus used the term “disciple” in numerous references: a) the first twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1), b) Jews who became His followers (John 6:66), and c) all those who manifest that they are His “disciples” by abiding in His Word (John 8:31). In Mark 3:14, Jesus sends the twelve apostles “out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Following Judas Iscariot’s death, a replacement was needed. “Then they (disciples) cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26). The word apostle means “one sent forth as a delegate or messenger.”2

In all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus promises that, instead of catching fish, the first four, who were the 12 disciples, would be catching people.3 Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John leave everything to follow Him. These four men would initiate the Christian community, symbolizing the success which was indicated by the miraculous catch of fish.

Peter, James, and John are chosen to form the inner core among Jesus’ disciples. They would accompany Him on occasions such as the healing of Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:22-48) and the ascent of the mountain of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Andrew appears more prominently in the fourth gospel where he is originally a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35-44). It is Philip who invites Nathanael to meet Jesus. Philip was familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures (Isaiah 42:1-4; 61:1-3) so he was overjoyed to find “the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote” (John 1:45).

Who were the 12 disciples – Their Qualities
Those, who were the 12 disciples, often exhibited qualities that seemed surprising. As a reviled publican, Matthew lovingly focused all of the attention on Jesus and away from himself. There is no indication of this disciple’s authorship within the Gospel of Matthew. Doubting Thomas showed great devotion to following Jesus. Knowing the Jews’ extreme hatred towards Jesus, Thomas expressed a readiness to die with Christ (John 11:7-8, 16). Thomas shows more modesty than Peter who wanted to know where Jesus was going. Thomas was more concerned to know the way (John 13:36; 14:5).

The Scriptures do not contain a vast amount of information on all of the disciples’ lives. James’ (the son of Alphaeus) mother was one of the “Mary’s” who went to the tomb of Jesus and found the stone rolled away. Since Matthew was also the son of a man named Alphaeus, there is speculation that this “James” was his brother. Whether Simon was a zealot politically or religiously is not known. Thaddeus was also called ‘Lebbacus’ and ‘Judas of James,’ however since the name ‘Judas’ would not be a popular name, it may be the reason it was eliminated from the Gospels of Matthew and of Mark.

It is only fitting that of those who were the 12 disciples, Judas Iscariot, would be appear last (as it appears in the Scriptures). To call him a “disciple” seems inappropriate. Although Judas betrayed Him, Jesus’ call to all His disciples was sincere. At the beginning, Jesus viewed Judas as a potential follower and disciple. Though Christ chose him, the Son of Man was never deceived. Sadly, Judas Iscariot fell from apostleship, never having had a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus.

1 “Disciple,” Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible, 1985.
2 “Apostle,” The Layman’s Bible Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., 1998.
3 The Synoptic Gospels are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These Gospels are called synoptic (from the Greek syn- together and opsis appearance) because they can be compared column by column with each other. The three Synoptic Gospels have many parables and accounts in common, as well as a general consensus on the order of events, suggesting a common source for all three.

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What do you think?
We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, "Jesus is Lord," you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.

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