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The 12 disciples were ordinary men who became extraordinary because of Jesus Christ. Their lives were transformed by God’s power, and they became powerful witnesses to His resurrection.
The word “disciple” is rooted in the Greek word mathetes (from manthano), which means learning from another. In English, it comes from the term discipulus, a Latin word meaning student or follower.
In the Bible, disciples refer to followers of Jesus Christ. These disciples were present during Jesus’ earthly mission and even after His death and resurrection. The Bible records 12 disciples representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Scripture also introduces us to several apostles who played essential roles in spreading the gospel.
Some of us are curious about the history of the 12 disciples of Jesus. Like normal people, we would want to know how old they were or what their hobbies were. Or maybe we are eager to know what faults they committed during their ministry. Let us get to know them!
Biblical Narratives of the 12 Disciples
Calling of Jesus
Jesus was intentional in choosing His 12 disciples. The night before He called them, He went to the mountain to pray to God (Luke 6:12). Jesus then called the brothers Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:18-22), then James and John, sons of Zebedee. The 12 disciples also included Nathanael, James, Judas, Thaddeus, Matthew, Philip, Simon the Zealot, and Thomas.
Commissioning of the 12 Disciples
Jesus called His disciples and told them to follow Him, and He will make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). This calling implies not just a learning process for the disciples. But Jesus also called them to accomplish His work and do His ministry.
The disciples were given authority and sent out to heal, cast out, and preach to people. Jesus warned them about persecution and commanded them not to have fear. Before His ascension to heaven, Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples among all the nations. This commandment is what Christians know now as The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
Who were the Original Twelve Disciples?
Jesus’ 12 disciples in order are Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot are names that have been closely associated with the Savior’s teaching since the earliest days of Christianity. Listed below are the 12 apostles and their descriptions:
Peter, also called Simon Peter, was a fisherman. He was a married disciple. He was known to be the leader among the 12 disciples. We know Simon, called Peter, as the disciple who denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62). Peter was also the one Jesus asked to feed His sheep when Jesus appeared to the disciples after His death and met them in Galilee (John 21:17).
Peter was arrested and martyred by crucifixion during the time of Nero. He died in Rome with his head bowed down because he didn’t feel worthy to die the way Jesus died.
Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother and was also a fisherman. Before becoming a disciple, he was a follower of John the Baptist. He was the first disciple of Jesus. Andrew was the one who introduced his older brother, Peter, to Jesus. He introduced many individuals to Jesus.
Governor Aepeas of Achaia, Greece, had Andrew arrested and crucified. Andrew also felt unworthy to die the way Jesus did. So he requested to die on an X-shaped cross.
James was Zebedee and Salome’s eldest son and was one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus. His brother John was also one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. He was also a fisherman who worked with Peter and Andrew. He was outspoken and bold in sharing the gospel of Christ. James was the first among the twelve disciples to be martyred. He died by beheading in AD 44 during the time of Herod (Acts 12:1-3).
John, the son of Zebedee John, was a fisherman like his older brother James. He is known for being the Beloved Disciple of Jesus. They include the gospel of John, I John, II John, III John, and Revelation. Apostle John experienced exile on the island of Patmos.
Nathanael was also known as Bartholomew. He hailed from Cana in Galilee. Many scholars say he was the only one among the 12 disciples with royal blood. He preached in places like Armenia and India. Nathanael experienced a great deal of suffering in death. He was beaten and beheaded, as well as crucified.
Philip was a man from Bethsaida. Many scholars believe that he, too, was a fisherman. Philip did great missionary work in the early church. Philip experienced stoning. He was crucified in Phrygia. Scholars point out that Philip requested for his body to be wrapped in papyrus instead of linen. Like the other disciples, he felt unworthy to be treated like Christ.
Matthew, also known as Levi, was the author of the gospel of Matthew. In Capernaum, he worked as a tax collector. During those days, people hated tax collectors for being greedy and unfair. The call of Matthew to become one of the Messiah’s 12 disciples symbolized God’s transformative love.
Matthew was said to be the first disciple to share the gospel through writing. He also used the Hebrew language to disclose the teachings of Jesus. He ministered in Egypt and Ethiopia. King Hyrcanus commanded his people to kill Matthew, and that is how Matthew died.
Thomas was also known as Didymus. He lived in Galilee. Many Christians recognize him by the distinction, “Doubting Thomas.” This label comes from his skeptical questions and opinions (John 20:24-29). But Thomas was also a courageous and bold disciple, willing to die alongside Jesus (John 11:16). Thomas was martyred in India.
James the Less
James, son of Alphaeus, and a woman named Mary. Not much is written about James in Scripture. But as one of Christ’s disciples, he was vital in Jesus’s earthly ministry. Scholars say that Saint James was either stoned to death or crucified.
Simon, the Zealot
Simon was known to be a zealot. During the time of Christ, zealots were a political movement opposed to the Roman government. But Simon declared allegiance to Christ. His zeal and passion lay in his calling to follow Jesus. Simon was martyred by crucifixion.
Jude was also known as Thaddeus or Judas, the son of James. He preached in Assyria, Persia, and Mesopotamia. Jude is well-known for asking Jesus why Jesus does not intend to reveal Himself to everyone in the world (John 14:22). He ministered and healed in Edessa. He was clubbed to death using arrows.
Judas Iscariot is infamous among the 12 disciples as the traitor. According to Scripture, Judas betrayed Jesus in exchange for thirty silver pieces (Matthew 26:14-15) and then hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).
Jesus’ Inner Circle
Which disciples were closest to Jesus? The inner circle of Jesus is composed of Peter, James, and John. These three disciples were said to be Jesus’ 3 closest disciples. Scriptures narrate instances and events that Jesus shared only with these three men. These events include the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-2).
Peter, James, and John were present with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. As written in the book of Acts, these three disciples played a vital role and left a profound legacy in building the church and sharing the gospel.
Replacement of Judas Iscariot
After Judas betrayed Jesus and hanged himself, the disciples needed to replace Judas to complete the twelve apostles. They chose between two men, namely Joseph (also called Barsabbas) and Matthias. The disciples prayed and asked God to lead them to choose the right person. They cast lots which was a standard method during that time. Matthias then became the 12th disciple of Jesus.
Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles
Paul was one of the most significant forerunners of the early church. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul (then called Saul) was a persecutor of Christians. He is called the apostle of the Gentiles for his role in spreading the gospel to non-Jewish communities.
Paul planted many churches and authored 13 books in the New Testament. He was a teacher, a missionary, a miracle worker, and a leader. Paul was faithful and steadfast in his devotion to Christ, even if it meant a great deal of suffering. There were several attempts to assassinate him, and he was eventually martyred in Rome.
Other Disciples/Apostles in the Bible
Aside from the 12 Disciples and the apostle Paul, many others contributed to the mission work of spreading the Good News and building God’s Kingdom. The Bible takes account of Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus cured of an unknown illness. She became a follower of Christ and helped him in his ministry in Galilee and Judea. There was also Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7:59-60).
The apostle Paul also mentions several people who shared in his ministry of spreading the gospel of Christ. These people include Andronicus and Junia, who were followers of Christ before him (Romans 16:7). Epaphroditus also aided Paul (Philippians 2:25). Titus and Timothy were also men whom Paul discipled and mentored. Both of them shared in Paul’s mission work and eventually went to lead churches.
Why Were the 12 Disciples Important?
They were followers of Christ
When Jesus called the 12 disciples to follow Him, they left their jobs and even their families. They surrendered and submitted entirely to Christ. Each of them learned from Jesus and took part in Jesus’ ministry. They found the ultimate joy in being a disciple than in anything the world could offer to them.
They were witnesses to Christ
The 12 disciples journeyed with Jesus. They ate, laughed, and cried with Him. They saw Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, and perform miracles. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they told others what they saw and experienced firsthand (Acts 1:8).
Other disciples, like Paul, also shared their personal experiences of the Lord Jesus. Even if they did not physically fellowship and interact with Christ, their conversion is undeniable. Their powerful testimonies of the Lord’s work propelled them to witness Jesus.
They spread the gospel
Jesus commanded the 12 disciples to go to the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). Through their obedience to this command, many people knew and experienced the Good News of the gospel of Christ. The boldness and submission to spread the gospel are vital for every generation to get to know Christ. The disciples did not shy away or cower to share the gospel no matter the cost.
They shepherded the followers of Christ
One of the pivotal events after the resurrection of Christ was when He told Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:17). As shepherds, the disciples tend the flock by nourishing and nurturing them with the Word of God. They stood as leaders of other believers and the Christian church.
What Can We Learn from the Twelve Apostles?
To trust and surrender to God
We live in a world that puts individualism on a pedestal. Society tells us to strive and hustle to succeed. Many of us chase after material rewards and work hard for self-advancement. But the lives of the disciples remind us that true joy is found in the presence of God.
Our surrender to God is not so we can have earthly possessions. Our submission and trust lie in the truth that God is faithful and good no matter our circumstances. The 12 disciples remind us that our treasure is not in the temporal but in the eternal.
To accept and follow Jesus Christ
The truth is that, in our sins, it is impossible for us to be reconciled with God. It is the blood of Jesus that paved the way for us to draw near to God (John 14:6). Without accepting and following Christ as the disciples did, our lives are empty and destroyed.
Accepting and following Jesus is not a single momentary feel-good declaration. It is a commitment to love and serve God with all our hearts, minds, and souls. It is to seek the Lord’s will and not operate from our sinful desires. We make Jesus the foreground, and everything else fades into the background of our lives.
To share the gospel with boldness and courage
As followers of Christ, the 12 disciples did not live a comfortable life. They experienced persecution, imprisonment, and death. All these threats are still present during these times.
Many people who follow Christ in modern times are shamed, tortured, and killed. But we are reminded that our boldness and courage in sharing the gospel result from our faith in God’s promises. He promises that He will go with us (Joshua 1:9) and that our victory is in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).
To be faithful until the end
As followers of Christ, the disciples were not immune from the sufferings of this world. We, too, experience a lot of affliction and torment. Although we have the assurance of our salvation, we are still to battle in the flesh until we come face to face with the Lord.
But because we are saved, we can be steadfast, persevering, and faithful until the end, by God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Unlike Judas, betraying Jesus should be out of context.
12 Disciples of Jesus Bible Verses
“In these days, he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.“
“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, in the boat with Zebedee, their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
“As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.”
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.”
“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.”
Scripture tells us of men and women of faith who surrendered their lives to Christ. The 12 disciples were chosen by Jesus (John 15:16) to follow Him and witness for Him. They were ordinary men who were called to live extraordinary lives in pursuit of spreading the Good News of the gospel of Christ.
The twelve apostles devoted their lives to sharing the Word of God, ministering to people, and making disciples. They were bold and courageous in their faith to the point of persecution and death. These disciples inspire us to put God first in our lives.
Like them, we must not forsake our calling to share how God has transformed our lives. They are a great reminder to keep pressing on in the faith despite the many storms and struggles we face. We are to boldly declare and live by the truth until the very end when we finally unite with Jesus.
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