The word disciple means follower or learner. Apostle means “one who is sent out.” When Jesus walked the earth, His twelve followers were called disciples. These disciples followed Jesus, learned from Him and were trained by Him. Following His resurrection and ascension, Jesus sent out His disciples to be His witnesses. Then, they were referred to as the 12 apostles. However, even when Jesus walked the earth, the terms apostles and disciples were used interchangeably.
Who were the 12 disciples?
The original twelve disciples are listed in Matthew 10:2-4. First, there’s Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew. Then, there’s James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddeus, Simon, and Judas, who would betray Jesus. The Bible also lists the disciples in Luke 6:13-16 and Mark 3:16-19.
Comparing these three passages shows some minor differences in the names. For example, Thaddaeus was also known as Judas, the son of James and Lebbaeus, while Simon the Zealot was also referred to as Simon the Canaanite. John’s gospel uses Nathanael instead of Bartholomew, but they’re undoubtedly the same person. Judas, who ultimately betrayed Jesus, was replaced by Matthias. However, some Bible teachers see Matthias as an “invalid” apostle and think Paul was God’s choice to replace Judas Iscariot.
Peter and Andrew were early supporters of John the Baptist, but Andrew first introduced Peter to Jesus while in the wilderness with John, where it’s believed that they became followers of Jesus at the time. Once Peter met Jesus, they left John and followed Christ. Peter is best known for denying Christ after He was arrested. After his arrest years later, he requested to be crucified with his dead down because he didn’t think he was worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus. He died a martyr’s death in Rome during Nero’s reign.
Andrew was there when John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” in John 1:35. He was the first to follow Jesus, and his enthusiasm led him to introduce his older brother to Jesus. Though he wasn’t as dominant as his outspoken brother, Andrew was a passionate preacher and boldly shared the gospel. He was a significant contributor to the early church.
James is John’s older brother and a quiet part of the disciple team. As part of Jesus’ inner circle, he was there with John and Peter when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead; he was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and witnessed Jesus’ transformation on the Mount of Olives. John was known as “the disciple Jesus loved” and was part of Jesus’ inner circle. He wrote much of the New Testament, writing more about love than any other author due to his proximity to Jesus.
We don’t know much about Phillip. He was a Jew, but we only know him by his Greek name. Philip had a heart for evangelism but was anxious to tell Nathanael about Jesus. However, they were close and likely studied the Old Testament together. Nathanael was also known as Bartholomew, a native from Cana in Galilee. However, he did express some prejudice about Nazareth.
Matthew was a tax collector, the most hated group in Israel. They were known for taking money from Israelites to pay the Romans and to pad their pockets. Thomas, typically nicknamed “Doubting Thomas,” was an outspoken skeptic to the point where he was known as a pessimist. The gospels don’t mention much about him, but he’s mentioned in John 11:16. The Bible doesn’t mention much about James the Less, which is likely why he’s called James the Less. However, we do know that he was trained and used by Christ to further God’s kingdom.
In his younger years, Simon was likely a political activist. However, his enthusiasm for Israel carried over into his devotion to Christ. Judas, also known as Jude or Thaddeus, lived in obscurity as one of the 12 disciples. On the other hand, Judas Iscariot was the one who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
How did Jesus choose the 12 disciples?
After a night of praying on a mountain, Jesus called His followers together and chose 12 to serve as disciples, detailed explicitly in Luke 6:13-16. It was no accident that Jesus chose 12 disciples. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, were divided into 12 tribes. As Jesus called out a new people for Himself, he began with 12 men to form the foundation of a new Israel.
God’s power was at work in calling these men, but they likely didn’t know the full magnitude of what they were signing up for when they started as Jesus’ disciples. They knew they had to leave their jobs and the security they gave. However, it was only as Jesus’ earthly life ended that He shared the actual costs of discipleship.
Ultimately, what Jesus expected of His followers was the willingness to sacrifice everything for Him. In Luke 9:23, He put it in clear terms when He said that those who wanted to go along with Him must take up His cross to do so. In other words, His disciples had to be prepared to die for Him. For some, their loyalty to Jesus resulted in their death. However, what Jesus required from His disciples wasn’t more than what He was willing to do. He demonstrated that when He sacrificed His life on the cross for human sin.
Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus “graduated” His disciples, as was the rabbi’s custom. He told them to spread the good news to the kingdom and that they could do everything He taught them, as detailed in Matthew 28:19-20. The subsequent history of the church and the book of Acts shows that Jesus’ disciples did as He instructed. Through their work and witness, the disciples fearlessly preached Jesus’ death and resurrection, proclaimed the arrival of a new way of life and performed miracles to back up their claims. As Jesus commanded, they spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Christ established the pattern for all His disciples with His initial choice of the 12. Not everyone who calls Jesus “Savior” can be called a disciple. However, to follow Jesus today means what it has always meant. Disciples must devote their lives to following the Lord, studying His word and training as His student, which is what this group of men did.