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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” roots from the Greek word mathetes (from manthano), which means learning from another. In English usage, the word finds its meaning from the term discipulus, a Latin word that means a student or a follower.
In the Bible, disciples point to the followers of Jesus Christ. These disciples are present both in His 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 that played essential roles in spreading the gospel.
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 12 Disciples?
Peter was a fisherman. He was a married disciple. He was known to be the leader among the 12 disciples. We know him as the disciple who denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62). Peter was also the one Jesus asked to feed His sheep when He 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 the younger brother of Peter 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. 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 12 disciples to be martyred. He died by beheading in AD 44 during the time of Herod (Acts 12:1-3).
John was a fisherman like his older brother James. John is known for being the Beloved Disciple of Jesus. They include the gospel of John as well as I John, II John, III John, and Revelation. John experienced exile on the island of Patmos.
Nathanael was also known as Bartholomew. He hailed from Cana in Galilee. Many scholars say that he was the only one among the 12 disciples who had 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. He, like the other disciples, 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 was a symbol of 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.
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 was the son of Alpheus and a woman named Mary. Not much is written about James in Scripture. But as part of the 12 Disciples of Christ, he was vital in the ministry of Jesus on earth. Scholars say that James was either stoned to death or was crucified.
Simon, the Zealot
Simon was known to be a zealot. During the time of Christ, Zealots were a political movement that was opposed to the Roman government. But Simon declared allegiance to Christ. His zeal and passion were laid in his calling to follow Jesus. Simon was martyred by crucifixion.
Jude was also known as Thaddeus or Judas, 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 is infamous among the 12 Disciples as the traitor. He was the one who betrayed Jesus in exchange for thirty silver pieces (Matthew 26:14-15). According to Scripture, Judas hanged himself after he betrayed Christ (Matthew 27:5).
Jesus’ Inner Circle
The inner circle of Jesus is composed of Peter, James, and John. These three disciples were said to be the closest to Jesus. 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 Iscariot betrayed Jesus and hanged himself, the disciples needed to replace him to complete the twelve. 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 twelfth disciple.
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. Paul 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, who 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 who 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. They learned from Jesus and took part in His ministry. They found the ultimate joy in being a disciple than in anything the world could offer to them.
They were witnesses for 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 how the Lord worked in their lives propelled them to witness for 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 by the Word of God. They stood as leaders of other believers and the early church.
What Can We Learn from the 12 Disciples?
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. A lot of us tend to 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 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 will of the Lord and not to operate from our sinful desires. We make Jesus the foreground, and everything else fades in 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 of the people who follow Christ these modern days 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.
Scripture tells us of men and women of faith who surrendered their life 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.
They 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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