Who Were the Twelve?

He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

- Mark 3:16-19

Questions such as “Who were the twelve men whom Jesus called to be His disciples and Apostles?” inevitably follow once one learns about our Lord’s calling and commissioning of the Twelve (Mark 3:13–15). Mark answers this question in today’s passage, revealing the identity of the first twelve men Jesus called to be Apostles.

Although Scripture does not tell us very much about most of these men, this particular grouping conveys to us a key fact about the church of Christ. Note the diversity of backgrounds and occupations represented here. Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew were all fishermen (Mark 1:16–20). Matthew, or Levi, was a tax collector (2:13–14; see Matt. 9:9). Simon the Zealot was part of a movement that advocated throwing off Roman rule over Palestine by any means necessary. In his commentary Mark, Dr. R.C. Sproul points out that the Twelve represented the church in miniature. We see among them the kind of diversity of backgrounds that the church is to reflect. Additionally, we know that the regular band of disciples, or “learners,” who followed Jesus included not only the twelve Apostles but also many other men and women such as Mary Magdalene, Susanna, and Joanna (Luke 8:1–3). Christ’s church is not made up of one race, gender, or socioeconomic class; rather, it includes men and women from every nation (Rom. 9:23–24; Rev. 7:9–11).

Let us also note that only Jesus Himself can bring unity to such a diverse body. The Twelve all came from different social backgrounds, but they also represented diametrically opposed philosophical and political viewpoints. Matthew the tax collector was content enough with Roman rule to represent the government in an official capacity. Simon the Zealot was a member of a group that sought the expulsion of the Romans and the regaining of Jewish independence. Presumably, Simon left this movement when he joined the Twelve, but the key fact here is that Jesus brought together into one body two men who could not have disagreed more politically, at least when Jesus called them initially. Nothing but the effective call of the Messiah and common faith in the Savior could bring such people together. The same is true today. Jesus alone can unite people of varying backgrounds and who hold varying opinions into one body in service to the Creator.

Coram Deo

Today, we hear a lot about the need for diversity. But as we see from the political system and nations around the world, diversity without unity leads to infighting and even civil war. Scripture does call God’s people to embrace diversity, but it is a diversity that is unified in the common confession of the biblical faith. People from every background are welcome in the church—provided they repent of their sin and trust in Christ Jesus alone. Only Christ can unify the church.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 12:1–3
Isaiah 19:16–25
Matthew 10:1–4
Revelation 21:9–14

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