A division for multiplication of ministry
Pp Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16
Jesus and Moses
1. Discernment of need
2. Kingdom building
3. God appointed
4. Selfless leadership
5. Future provision
The NT Lists of the Twelve Disciples
1. The names in the list
2. Why choose twelve?
It’s difficult to be absolutely sure whether Mtw 9:35 is to be taken as a concluding verse which summarises the healing ministry of Jesus in the preceding two chapters or whether we’re to think of it as an introductory sentence which points us toward the appointing of the twelve disciples to have authority and to go out into the cities and villages of Israel and to repeat the signs and wonders that Jesus has been doing.
In a previous web page, I noted that there are several what I called ‘Asides’ in Matthew where summaries exist of the ministry of Jesus and which remind us that, although specifics are being given in a great many incidents and narratives, the quantity of things which Jesus did was beyond number (John 21:25). Mathag comments that this phrase
‘...shows that Matthew, like the other evangelists, has only given a representative sampling of the words and deeds of Jesus’
and this is indeed true.
Just as in Mtw 4:23, the threefold description of Jesus’ ministry as ‘teach, preach, heal’ is given along with the same descriptive phrases which follow (with a precis of the final one which changes the meaning little - some commentators note that the ‘missing’ phrase is included in some manuscripts but that it’s probably been inserted from the preceding passage, thinking that clarification was needed for the reader). Instead of
‘...He went about all Galilee...’
however, there now appears the note that
‘...Jesus went about all the cities and villages...’
a point which may be intended to be taken that we should be looking at an expansion of Jesus’ ministry beyond the strict limitations of the boundaries of Galilee, though I noted on the previous web page that the context of the verse naturally causes us to take the words as summating Jesus’ Galilean ministry and there is certainly no indication in the Gospel at this point that such an expansion is expected to be inferred.
A division for multiplication of ministry
Mtw 9:35 which speaks, as it appears above, of an expansion of Jesus’ ministry leads Matthew on not to speak of Jesus’ increasing fame, however, and the author here uses this expansion of the work to speak of Jesus’ compassion on the crowds when He saw their condition - not just as ill and incapacitated people but as people who lacked any real purpose or leader in their lives, seeing them (Mtw 9:36) as
‘...harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd...’
(quite some observation when it’s considered that the religious leaders had the authority over them to address their condition - but seem to have failed the people big time) so that He can recognise that there’s become a need for a duplication of His ministry amongst the people (Mtw 9:37-8). This makes the way open for Jesus to call to Himself the twelve disciples (as will be noted below, their selection in Matthew seems to have already been decided upon at an earlier date to their commissioning with authority) and so reduce the crowds’ dependence upon Him.
Being ‘harassed and helpless’ reminds Mathen that such a phrase could be indicative of the burden of rules and regulations that they had placed upon the observance of the Law and, without which, they said one couldn’t be made acceptable to God (Mtw 11:28, 23:4). That may indeed be in mind here and it certainly seems to be one of the major characteristics of the people but most of those who came to Christ were the ones who’d ‘given up’ on the Pharisaical way because they thought that acceptance with God could never be achieved. Therefore it’s best we don’t limit the concept of what ‘harassed and helpless’ might mean in these verses and allow for as wide an interpretation as possible.
It’s easy for us to think that, in Jesus’ use of the phrase ‘sheep without a shepherd’, He’s concerned to appoint for the people some sort of leadership that will oversee them. This comes more from our own understanding of church ‘shepherds’ or ‘pastors’ who are appointed by man with authority over congregations in the present day Church than it does from the context of Jesus’ words here and His subsequent actions.
Additionally, similar phrases occur in the OT in a handful of places and can be taken to be referring to righteous or political leadership which is to be installed into a place of power over the nation in order that they might be cared for. Num 27:17 (which will be looked at in a section below as paralleled in Mtw 9:35-10:4) speaks of the need for a new leader to be appointed over the nation when Moses is about to die so that they might have a figurehead who can both lead them out into battle and back into camp. I Kings 22:17 and II Chron 18:16 are paralleled in the imminent death of Ahab, king of Israel, and the prophet sees the nation wandering about on the mountain tops with no leader to give them direction, cohesion and purpose. Ezekiel 34:5,8 also speaks of the need for good leadership and of the failure of the religious leaders of Israel to be people who would provide for those under their charge with care and spiritual sustenance (an indictment that was to be levelled at the religious leaders of Jesus’ day by implication as well) and Zech 10:2-3 echoes the sentiments of the previous passage by observing that the people have gone astray after worthless idols because of the lack of moral strength and commitment to the Lord in the lives of the religious leadership.
Therefore, as can be plainly seen, good and bad leadership is never far away from the meaning of the passages in the OT where the concept of sheep being without a shepherd occurs. But, in the NT, the phrase doesn’t take on primarily the connotation of leadership or of its appointment and only by implication can it be seen to do so. The only other place in the NT where the phrase and concept occurs is in Mark 6:34 which reads that
‘As Jesus went ashore He saw a great throng, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things’
The Scripture doesn’t say that because they were like sheep without a shepherd that Jesus said He’d be their leader (something that He shied away from continually - see, for instance, John 6:15) or that He took the twelve disciples and said to the multitudes
‘Behold, your new leaders!’
but that He simply began to teach them many things. Neither did Jesus go about all Galilee appointing new leadership in place of the old and banishing the established authorities from having care over the people.
Therefore, their sheeplikeness was observed in the context of them having a spiritual need that the current leadership, by implication, had failed to meet. Similarly, in Mtw 9:36-38, Jesus observes that the people are like sheep without a shepherd and He immediately bids the disciples not to pray for good, sound leadership but for labourers who would go out into their midst and reap a harvest for God.
In neither of these two usages, therefore, is leadership in mind but, rather, Jesus’ intention is to provide care for the people who, though they have religious leaders, have found that their needs - both physical and spiritual - are not being met.
After all, the reason for the twelve’s calling into being as recorded for us in Mtw 10:1 and Mark 3:14-15 is to be with Jesus and to go out to meet the needs of those they encounter, the passage which follows in Mtw 10:5-42 showing plainly that the twelve weren’t to think of themselves as leaders but more as messengers of the One who had both appointed and sent them.
Therefore, Jesus commissions and sends out the twelve - not to set up a new authority structure over the nation but to make up for the current leadership’s deficiency. Even in Ezekiel chapter 34 noted above, where we saw that there was a condemnation of the current religious leadership over Israel, there isn’t an appointment which follows their condemnation and which raises up in their place a leadership which will supplant and supersede them but, as the prophet saw, God Himself would be the Shepherd of His sheep (Ezek 34:11-16) even going to on to speak of bringing back David to be the shepherd over them (Ezek 34:20-24) - fulfilled in Christ, the true Son of David (see my notes on ‘Son of David').
And, throughout this condemnation of the leadership over His people where the Lord God notes their failings as being that (Ezek 34:4)
‘The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them’
we can see the positive attributes of Christ who went about strengthening and healing, seeking the lost and ruling over the people as they came to Him with kindness and gentleness. And, all the while, no replacement leadership is ever in view but that God Himself would step into the breach and fulfil the role of Shepherd over His people.
The phrase ‘sheep without a shepherd’, therefore, refers primarily to the lack of concern being demonstrated towards the Israelites and isn’t outworked in the appointment of spiritual leadership by the commissioning of the twelve in Mtw 10:1-4.
So Matmor comments that
‘Sheep without a shepherd points to people who are in great danger and without the resources to escape from it’
a point which emphasises their need. Matmor’s sentence, however, makes us think that the ‘sheep’ just lack leadership but, earlier, he has pointed out that the phrase ‘harassed and helpless’ speaks of
‘...sheep wounded and torn either by hostile animals or by thornbushes and the like, and then prostrate and helpless’
so that it isn’t just that they have no shepherd but that they’ve been set upon by those who have exploited and damaged them in some way. Their need is being emphasised here which has come about as a result of their treatment.
So, instead of appointing twelve replacement leaders to take the place of the current authority structure in Israel, Jesus simply commissions twelve who will duplicate His ministry and so shows that mission not position is all important in the Kingdom of heaven (Mtw 20:20-28, Mark 9:35, Luke 22:26-27, John 13:12-17).
In the NT, it’s God who appoints ministry (Eph 4:11-16) but generally man who appoints Church leadership (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). Though the latter should be there to encourage the former group of people to fulfil their calling, too often they seek to control and dominate it, but the be-all-and-end-all of the Church is ministry not authoritative position over fellow believers.
Although, in our present churches and organisations, the main leader likes to continue in His authority and position, and is unwilling to share the anointing of God upon his life with others, Jesus shows no such stubbornness. For Him, the Father’s will is to meet the needs of the multitudes and to preach the Good News of the Kingdom to as many as He’s able to and, if that means giving the work over to others who will go where He is physically restricted, then He is quite willing for it to happen.
Of course, Jesus isn’t appointing the disciples into positions of authority but into places of ministry where they can duplicate the work that He’s already been doing in the midst of the people. As Matfran perceptively notes
‘The disciples are...here given authority for mission, not institutional leadership’
The disciples are the beneficiaries of Jesus’ authority, then, not for leadership but for ministry and they nowhere pass that authority on to others in future days - any authority that subsequent believers have over sickness and disease comes directly from God Himself to the individual. Only here is the anointing of Christ divided up to be placed upon twelve others who go out as Christ’s representatives to reach those He is physically unable to.
Too often today, an appointment into a position of leadership is thought of as a call to ‘ministry’ but Jesus has no problems with keeping the two separate. He doesn’t first appoint the disciples as twelve followers who are to rule over the other disciples, but specifically appoints them for the role of reaching out to the children of Israel, to perform miraculous signs and wonders and to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of heaven (see below).
As I’ve previously noted, however, modern Church leadership remains frightened to allow believers who have no ‘position’ within the Church to do works for Christ, usually insisting that some ‘elder’ be appointed over them who can direct the work but who normally kills the life out of it.
It’s no good for church leadership to bemoan the fact that there are too few labourers in their congregations when there are normally sufficient numbers to do the work of mission. The real problem lies in the role that the leadership wish to place upon the fellowship where ministry becomes an expression of servitude of the leader rather than of devotion to Christ.
If Jesus can see the need, feel compassion and so appoint others to take from Himself some of His work, so, too, can present day leadership - the sad fact of the matter is that it is often the unwillingness of appointed leadership which prevents the lost from being reached rather than any deficiency in the people who try to serve God under their controlling hand.
Leadership’s function is never to control the work that the believer seeks to do for God and which is inspired by the movings of the Spirit, but to look after the followers that they may attain their true potential. Unfortunately, leaders have forgotten their commission and function and many so restrict the movings of God in the people ‘under’ them, that it’s little wonder when God finally breaks out in power in the congregation’s midst that they attempt to stifle and control it just as the Pharisees did.
Finally, Jesus’ compassion is the reason for the commissioning of the twelve disciples and the sending of them out to function in the same capacity as He was doing (Mtw 9:36). The compassion in the heart of the new ministers chosen is not mentioned at all here and we should realise that it relies more upon the will of God than it does upon the feelings and will of man. The appointment of ministry, then, springs out of God’s care of those who are helpless.
Jesus and Moses
There are striking similarities (and some dissimilarities, too) between the passage currently under discussion and the OT passage Num 27:12-23 where Moses appoints a successor to take His place when he’s to be taken away from the nation.
A similar incident occurs in Num 11:10-17,24-30 though the reason for it is more a result of Moses’ impatience with the people than of a real care. We’ll look at both these passages as parallels to each other to try and bring out the similarities though, as will be noted below, the OT passages are more concerned to speak of the appointment of authority than of ministry.
1. Discernment of need
Mtw 9:36 - ‘...He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd’
Num 27:17 - ‘...that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep which have no shepherd’
Jesus had ‘compassion’ on the crowds when He saw them coming to Him - He was moved from deep within Him because He saw the great need of the crowds and, at the same time, that there was no truly competent minister amongst the nation who could meet them where they were and satisfy the need. Their religious leaders, although being the ones who should have naturally been used to minister to the need amongst the people they said they served (Ezek 34:4), were deficient and lacking in their care for the people, insisting more on self-effort than upon the mercy of God.
The Greek word here for ‘compassion’ (Strongs Greek number 4697) was primarily used to denote the ‘inward parts’ of an animal sacrifice, then the sacrifice itself, subsequently the ‘inward parts’ of a human body and, then, by implication, the ‘womb’ or ‘loins’ from which the emotions were thought to come (as Kittels). Therefore, when the writer of Matthew uses it here, he’s not thinking of a quality judgment that is being made by Jesus that’s devoid of any real feeling but more of a ‘gut reaction’ to the need presented before Him which causes Him to react with pity and feeling towards those who He can recognise have a need that has gone unmet.
Moses, also, knew that he was shortly to end his life (Num 27:12-13) through his own disobedience to the Word of God in a previous incident (Num 27:14) but, although he could have looked back at that incident and blamed the nation for pushing him into such a reaction, he realises that, should he be taken from the nation, they will have no specific leader who will be able to take them into the land which God has already given. He knew that the nation needed a spiritual leader who would show them all God’s ways - therefore, he petitions God to meet the need.
Without the recognition of the need in each case, a solution would never have been possible.
In Num 11:10-14, the need is again recognised but, this time, Moses is tearing his hair out (he was probably bald by this time in Israel’s history for the nation had been doing this sort of thing for some time) over the children of Israel and their griping over the calamities that they felt were befalling them (Num 11:4-6). In exasperation, Moses confesses his need before God - a statement which could also be taken as a complaint which has suddenly bubbled to the surface and which appears to have been simmering there for sometime - but this time the need is related to himself rather than projected onto the people.
Though the people do have a need, Moses is more concerned with his own and, therefore, the reason for what follows doesn’t spring from selfless compassion but from self-concern.
2. Kingdom building
Matthew 9:38 - ‘...pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest’
Numbers 27:16 - ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation’
See also Num 11:29, Deut 1:9,13
Moses was unselfish in asking for another to replace him. Jesus, also, for He realised that it’s better for many to bring the harvest in rather than just Himself doing all the work. Both Jesus and Moses didn’t say
‘Keep me here as a long as possible’
‘Raise up others/another’
Neither did Moses gripe - as he could indeed justifiably have done - because of the situation that had caused him to about to be taken from them and think that the nation’s subsequent condition was something which they’d brought upon themselves.
This attitude of both Jesus and Moses is what I’ve labelled ‘Kingdom building’ as opposed to the more usual trait of the church called ‘Empire building’ which the Pharisees practised and which, to a greater or lesser extent, we often apply in our own lives.
Whereas Empire building says
‘I am indispensable, I must keep hold of everything I can’
Kingdom building says
‘The work must expand, so where are the people to encourage to share the work?’
John the Baptist also felt the need and saw the consequences of the growth of Jesus’ ministry even though his disciples came to him and complained (or, perhaps better, observed) that all the people were going after Jesus, presumably meaning that the ones coming to them had drastically reduced. John could have got upset and complained that He was stealing the flock from under his very nose (as many leaders of modern day churches can be heard to do), but he recognised the superiority of Jesus’ ministry and knew that he’d been the forerunner who’d been preparing the nation for the Messiah’s coming.
Therefore, John tells his followers (John 3:30) that
‘He must increase but I must decrease’
May it be that a hundred independent fellowships spring up in each of our areas and not just the one that we go to! One fellowship never has enough personnel to bring the full harvest in and the call must always go out for more labourers.
In Num 11:16, the idea of appointing more leaders for the people resides solely with God - Moses just seems to want to curl up and die (Num 11:15)! Moses had already reorganised the people early on in the wilderness wanderings at the insistence of his father-in-law (Ex 18:13-27) when it had been recognised that Moses - not the people - had the prime need. Although we should presume that this structure had continued in the area of judgment for the people, in Num 11:16-17, the idea appears to be one of direct leadership of the people rather than of the judging of cases which were to be brought before them.
Nevertheless, Moses doesn’t object to the lessening of the uniqueness of his position.
3. God appointed
Mtw 9:38 - ‘pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out...’ (see Luke 6:12)
Num 27:16,18 - ‘”Let the Lord...appoint a man over the congregation”...And the Lord said to Moses “Take Joshua the son of Nun...”’
Out of selflessness comes prayer to God for labourers, but not just any labourers - they must be chosen and appointed by God just like the twelve were (Luke 6:12, Mark 3:14). At the heart of all mission is the necessity for God to appoint and anoint individuals to go to a particular community or to have the spiritual charge over a group of people to preach the good news of the Kingdom to them.
Never should it be a case of a believer saying
‘I think I’d best go’
but, rather, of responding
‘Yes, Lord, I hear you - I’m on my way’
The former is only ever done in our own strength but the latter is done with the power of God. Although not to put too fine a point on it, until we receive a commission from God, we should seriously consider staying where we are and be content to do what we know we are called to do within our own sphere of influence - whether that be in employment, at rest or within the local fellowship.
It must be pointed out that what Moses is concerned for here is different to the burden of Jesus’ heart from a straightforward reading of the texts. Moses is concerned that the nation has a leader who can lead them in to the Promised land, whereas Jesus is more concerned with a duplication of His own ministry in individuals who will meet the needs of the people, not that they’d have authority over them.
Although there are parallels between these two passages, we must remember that Moses’ concern was primarily for a new leader who could fulfil the promises of God to the nation whereas Jesus’ compassion on the crowds was to do with meeting their need.
In Num 11:17, however, the idea is more of care for the Israelites where God says that the seventy
‘...shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone’
4. Selfless leadership
Mtw 10:1 - ‘And He...gave them authority...’
Num 27:20 - ‘You shall invest him with some of your authority...’
See also Num 11:25
Wanting others to be raised up in one’s own place is not free from its own personal cost. Moses had to transfer some of his authority onto Joshua, his successor, and Jesus transferred authority from Himself to give it to those new individuals who would take on the work He Himself was doing.
This immediately means that both Moses and Jesus become less important to the fulfilling of the work of God to the people. Neither of them stand in a unique position anymore where personal need can only be met through them - now there are others who can see the need and reach out towards the people to meet it.
The same was true in the appointment of the seventy (Num 11:25). Just how
‘...some of the spirit...’
could have been transferred from Moses across to the seventy new ministers is somewhat difficult to imagine but we are, perhaps, supposed to think of a reduction in the work of God that was to be effected through him and which is being transferred over.
Selfless leadership (as in the case of Moses) and selfless ministry (as in the case of Jesus) shows itself in the way it delegates authority to others so that the people are not reliant upon one man. We need to be cautious here in case we should think that ‘authority’ can be passed on from one man to another by man himself. As I showed in my notes on Mtw 7:28-29, such an action is more in keeping with the Pharisaical structures which were in existence in Jesus’ day and which are normally inherent within most church denominations and fellowships.
Authority comes from God alone, not from man - but it’s God who takes authority from one to give it to another, even sometimes when the person is unwilling to give it up themselves (I Sam 15:28, 28:17)! The person who has authority from God, therefore, must be content to give up what they have so that others might fulfil through those others what he could never do through just one. Leaders must be anxious to become less important in the overall scheme of things in their own fellowships so that the work of ministry might be fully achieved and that the lost might be reached for Jesus.
Even those outside our own particular denominations shouldn’t be opposed simply because they aren’t a part of our own grouping. When John, one of the twelve disciples, approached Jesus and stated (John 9:49) that
‘Master, we saw a man casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us’
Jesus didn’t turn to Him in horror and say
‘Oh my goodness! The work of God is going to be divided unless I can control it!’
‘Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you’
a timely reminder to each one of us that we should welcome fellow believers as co-workers - not as enemies and outcasts.
5. Future provision
Mtw 9:15 - ‘The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them...’
Num 27:13 - ‘...you shall be gathered to your people....’
There is a provision for the future in the principle of passing on an area over which we have authority, which no amount of grabbing for personal power will ever prepare a people for. Jesus knew that He was shortly to be taken away from the nation of Israel through the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and was already preparing a band of twelve believers who would be able to duplicate all that they’d seen Him do and heard Him say.
Jesus’ planning was a long way in advance, it’s true, some three years if the chronology of these passages can be taken as they appear but He knew that His work had to be continued and not just remembered.
Too often a leader leaves a fellowship behind in disarray and a new leader has to be brought in from outside who continues in a similar vein to where the former leader left off. Though leaders tear their hair out (in a different manner to Moses above - this probably accounts for a great percentage of bald leaders in congregations) to get their fellowships to ‘do things’, they often don’t realise that it’s only as they become less important that their fellowships will begin to function normally and become healthy.
God appointed ministry (Eph 4:11-16) is there to equip the saints to function as the Body of Christ - it isn’t instituted by God to become an elite which sits over the people and dominates it. Ministry duplicates itself in the congregation in which it finds itself and becomes ever less important to the correct functioning of that particular church so that, when a teacher or prophet leaves, there are many who can take their place.
God appointed ministry, therefore, makes provision for the future by allowing others to be raised up in their place and doesn’t insist on their own supremacy and importance.
The NT Lists of the Twelve Disciples
Mtw 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13,26
There are four lists in the NT which give us the names of the ‘inner’ twelve disciples chosen by Jesus after praying all night on a mountain (Luke 6:12) with all His followers, it would appear, close by - for the first action after the all night vigil was to descend the mountain apparently with them following after Him (Luke 6:17).
It’s Luke who specifically tells us that they were named ‘apostles’ by Jesus (Mtw 10:2 includes it almost as an aside but it corresponds with the twelve disciples mentioned in 10:1) - a term which, simply, means ‘ones sent out’ and which probably didn’t have the more rigid concept at this point in time as it came to be interpreted in the early Church as applied, for instance, to Paul - and as it’s often interpreted in today’s Church. Kittels notes that, before the Greek word’s use from the time of Acts onwards, the implication of the word was that it implied
amongst the Greeks and, amongst the Jews, it’s mostly used
‘...where there is commissioning with a message or task’
Though Luke tells us that they were called ‘apostles’ and thereby simply infers that their calling was one of being ‘sent out’ on some task, it’s Mark 3:14-15 which specifically tells us that Jesus’ intention in choosing the twelve was
‘...to be with Him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons’
Although the inference in Matthew’s record of Jesus’ words for the disciples (that is, the total of His followers) that they should pray (Mtw 9:38)
‘...the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’
the Gospel writer doesn’t actually record the appointment of those inner twelve who would take some of Jesus’ work from Him into areas which He was limited to reach effectively - but 10:1 seems to infer that, by the time of this part of the narrative, they had already been selected. This leaves for some ambiguity in the preceding narrative dealt with on previous web pages where the ‘disciples’ are referred to for the reader cannot be certain on occasions whether the twelve are intended specifically or whether a larger group is being denoted. However, the problem is by no means lessened after this passage for the phrase ‘disciples’ could equally be meant to be taken vaguely or specifically.
Matfran points out that
‘This is not an account of their selection...’
about which both Mark and Luke need to be referred to for details
‘...but of their commissioning’
Therefore, the Gospel records for us that they were given
‘...authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity’
before the application of that authority is urged upon them by a lengthy discourse of instruction which runs to the end of the chapter (10:5-42) - this giving of authority is also covered by Mark.
The sending out of the twelve disciples is covered by Mark in 6:7-13 (in Luke it comes in 9:1-6) where the author notes that
‘...[Jesus] called to Him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two’
and the principle seems to be hinted at in Matthew’s text even though it isn’t spelt out in so many words. Between each pair of names which are odd/even in the list below (that is, 1-2, 3-4 and so on), the Greek word transliterated ‘kai’ appears which means, simply, ‘and’. This is lacking from each of the even/odd pairs (that is 2-3, 4-5 and so on) with the one exception being 2-3.
Both Mark and Luke in their lists, however, place a ‘kai’ in between each of the names so that they naturally run together as one unit and pairs are not distinguishable.
What the author may be doing here, therefore, is to pair the people together in the same way as Jesus divided them up before sending them out. Although this may not be the case, it does appear to be a strong possibility.
Perhaps one would have expected the same order of names in each of the four lists which appear in the NT (Mtw 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13,26) but this isn’t the case for whatever reason. Simon Peter appears as the first in each of the lists, however, and there is some similarity between the positions of each of the others even though they aren’t identical. For instance, 2-3-4 contain the same three disciples (Andrew, James and John) as do 6-7-8 (Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew) and 10-11-12 (Thaddaeus, Simon and Judas Iscariot/Matthias the replacement), leaving positions 1, 5 and 9 identical in all four.
Or, to look at it another way, each group of four retain the same names in all four lists (though Judas is necessarily replaced by Matthias in Acts) so that we may think of the disciples as being easily divisible into three groups - even though this never appears to have been done by Jesus.
There doesn’t appear to be any real reason behind these rearrangements, however, and little weight can be placed upon interpretations which try and explain the difference as deliberate intentions of the relevant writer to convey something different by their order - though Matthew’s order does suit the belief - as mentioned above - that the pairings are the very same ones in which they were sent out from Jesus into the cities and villages of Israel.
That Jesus spent all night in prayer before their appointment (Luke 6:12) is an indication that these names were not ‘pulled out of a hat’ but were chosen in consultation with God the Father even though Acts 1:2 reports that Jesus had specifically chosen them and John 6:70 has Jesus speaking to the disciples and asking rhetorically
‘...Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’
But, though Jesus made the choice, the implication is that it was done in conjunction with the choice of God the Father. As Luknol correctly states
‘As He prays, He receives the guidance of the Spirit for the choice He is to make...’
1. The names in the list
The following table is a list of the four places where the list of the twelve names occur presented in the order in each of the places, with certain phrases that are applied to the names in brackets after their mention.
A Comparison of the Four Lists in the NT of the Twelve Disciples
son of Zebedee
son of Zebedee
the tax collector
son of Alphaeus
son of Alphaeus
son of Alphaeus
son of Alphaeus
called the zealot
son of James
son of James
became a traitor
chosen by lot
Little is known about many of these disciples except for the very rare mention in the Gospels and their occurrence in the other lists. Certainly, Matthew’s demarcation of Simon as ‘first’ (Mtw 10:2) would indicate his considered importance within the group of twelve for a list need not begin with such a statement and the passages which refer to him are numerous, continuing even into Acts, mention being made of him by Paul (for example, Gal 2:9) and two letters attributed to him take their place within the covers of the NT.
Matmor comments that the use of the term ‘first’ is indicative that Simon
‘...was in some sense the leader’
and this we know to be true from the special place to which he was appointed by Christ and his boldness when a word needed to be spoken (or, as was often the case, when a word shouldn’t have been!).
But, apart from Simon being placed first because of his importance, we shouldn’t necessarily think of a grading of the disciples as we go down the list - though Judas the betrayer’s placement last is an obvious choice of all three lists which include him.
Andrew - Simon’s brother and a name which is of Greek origin - who we would probably expect to have been covered by the writers in a fair amount of detail because of his familial relationship to him, is mentioned just twelve times in the entire NT - four of these being in the lists (the place where the only mention of the name occurs in both Luke and Acts) and only twice do we find words coming solely from his lips (John 1:40, 6:8). The other occurrences are either asides where he was present (such as his calling with his brother Simon) or places where he joined fellow disciples to speak to Jesus.
The brothers James and John are mentioned frequently in the NT though the former is difficult to necessarily tie down as there seem to have been many who bore this name and the writers are not always careful to distinguish between them. John is mentioned at the beginning of Acts on several occasions but then appears to disappear from sight until a short mention of him in one of Paul’s letters (Gal 2:9) even though I, II and III John are attributed to his hand along with the final book of Revelation.
Both are surnamed ‘Boanerges’ which is translated by Mark as meaning ‘sons of thunder’ with no explanation given as to why such a nickname should have been applied to them by Jesus. Commentators normally see in the label a reference to their fiery temper and refer for justification to Mark 9:38, 10:35-37 and Luke 9:54 but only the latter of these appear to be any grounds for accepting that the brothers were ‘fiery’. Besides, the word ‘Boanerges’ doesn’t appear to be an Aramaic construction and may be a loan word from Arabic, thus indicating that the literal interpretation of this idiomatic phrase may mean something different to its cultural interpretation - unfortunately, we have no way of knowing.
Philip (an inhabitant of Bethsaida like Peter and Andrew - John 1:44 - although the latter two appear to have been resident in Capernaum by the time of Jesus’ ministry to Israel - Mark 1:21,29) also is mentioned rarely, only fifteen times (the name being a Macedonian title found occurring in later Jewish texts after the first century) and the ‘Philip’ who was one of the seven chosen to wait on tables and who was probably the same person as was used by Jesus to speak to the Ethiopian (Acts 6:5, 8:5ff) is not to be taken as the person who was one of the twelve. This Philip, however, is only mentioned once in each of the first three Gospels and Acts in the context of the lists, but becomes a player with a larger role in John where he’s recorded as having brought Nathanael to Jesus (John 1:43-51), is asked by Jesus how they might feed the multitudes present (John 6:5-7), goes with Andrew to speak to Jesus (John 12:22) and, finally, asks Jesus to show the disciples the Father (John 14:8-9).
Bartholomew, on the other hand, doesn’t get as much of a mention, appearing only in the four lists - commentators point out that this disciple has often been associated with the Nathanael of John 1:43-51 and, if this were so, that would increase his mention by six other Scriptures (even though they occur in just two places!).
We have already noted that Matthew’s call is recorded for us in all three Synoptic Gospels but, apart from this, his name only occurs elsewhere in the four lists along with Simon the zealot, James the son of Alphaeus and Matthias, chosen upon Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
One notable point with Matthew’s mention is that, as we saw in a previous web page, Mark records his call under the name of ‘Levi, , the son of Alphaeus’ (Mark 2:14) and, if this father is the same as spoken in connection with James (Mark 3:18), it would make them brothers. One wonders, however, if this had been the case, why none of the writers of the Gospels chose to mention it as they did with Simon and Andrew and John and James.
The demarcation ‘zealot’ put on Simon is rendered ‘Canaanaean’ by both Matthew and Mark, perhaps to pull away from the implication at the time of writing that he was of the political movement known as the ‘Zealots’ - in Jesus’ day, such a label would not have had the same implications. Therefore Markcole states that
‘Perhaps “Canaanite” is not so much a mistranslation as a deliberate precaution against Roman suspicion of treason...’
that would have occurred had the Gospel have been circulated and fallen into the Empire’s hands for investigation of the Jewish ‘sect’. Matfran sees Matthew and Mark’s use of the term as a rendering of an Aramaic original which is properly rendered ‘zealot’ and which they seem to have transliterated rather than translated. Whatever the truth of the rendering is difficult to be certain about.
The surnaming may have meant no more that he was zealous either for Jesus or the Law, for instance, but the reason for such a nickname has now been lost.
Of the others not yet mentioned, Thomas (another Greek name meaning ‘the twin’ - where the meaning of his name is repeated in the italicised references in John in the next parentheses) appears in each of the four lists and then seven times in John (11:16, 14:5, 20:24,26,27,28, 21:2) being made famous by his doubting that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Thaddaeus, who appears as Judas in Luke’s two lists in his Gospel and Acts and who may have used the former of these two names because of the reproach that the name ‘Judas’ held, is mentioned only in John 14:22 outside the lists where he asks Jesus a question about His being revealed to the world.
And, finally, Judas Iscariot, as would be expected, is mentioned numerous times (twenty-one times in all outside the three lists which contain his name) - his ‘surname’ Iscariot is generally thought to be, by translation, ‘man of Kerioth’ and, as such, he would have been an inhabitant of a city in southern Judea, many miles away from this Galilean setting and possibly the only Judean amongst the twelve.
Church tradition is littered with stories and reports concerning the twelve after they disappear from our view in the NT record but such voluminous works belittle the fact that they aren’t mentioned very much by name even before they disappear - with a couple of notable exceptions.
Matmor is just a bit too strong in his observations when he notes that the reason for the NT’s silence with regard to some of these disciples is that
‘...some of them were not memorable men’
for, in the space available to the writers, it may have been that there was nothing which they wanted to convey to the reader as coming from them. It’s even possible that, because of the places where they’d chosen to go with the Gospel, their characters were unknown by most of the Greek and Roman churches scattered throughout the Empire - the recipients of the Gospel may well have wanted to know about Peter who they’d met but may have been unconcerned by those who had never travelled that way and ministered among them. Besides, Peter’s importance seems to have far outreached any of the other eleven and, if we accept Matmor’s conclusion that the men weren’t memorable, why is Judas Iscariot only mentioned some twenty-one times when he was?
Luke, it is usually expected, should have catalogued the record of all the things that the twelve did after Jesus had ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the believers gathered together, but he has his own purpose in writing, giving a brief history of the start of the movement known as ‘the Way’ before going over almost exclusively to follow Paul’s missionary journeys through the course of many years.
Tradition has the disciples popping up just about everywhere in the world and these records should be largely ignored. That the twelve continued to follow Christ and to preach the Good News of the Gospel cannot be either proved or disproved but one would have expected that they were especially used by Jesus to encourage the believers who were coming to believe in Him and they would, necessarily, have been the ones who would have been able to have repeated the sayings and miracles of Jesus as they had seen them first hand (John 15:27).
We should also note that even Jesus chose someone who was later to betray Him and who would bring disrepute on the band of disciples - namely Judas Iscariot. Many people think that the call of God upon a life guarantees the soundness of that person and that they’ll continue to the end as committed to the principles of Jesus as they were when they first began - but the example of Judas should warn us against such a presumption.
Believers chosen by God for some of the greatest works and who have been recognised by their fellow believers as having the anointing of God upon them have been the ones who have let Jesus down so badly. If a follower of Christ turns against Jesus, it doesn’t follow that the selection of that person was inherently flawed (though it could have been) but can be attributable to the freewill choice of men and women who still must choose on a daily basis to commit themselves to following after Christ.
Luke’s testimony in his list of the twelve shouldn’t be ignored here which refers to Judas not as ‘a traitor’ but as someone who ‘became a traitor’ (Luke 6:16) implying a choice which was made at a later date than at any time previous to his calling.
2. Why choose twelve?
The only other question we need to briefly answer here is why Jesus chose twelve disciples rather than any other number.
We know that there appear to have been an inner ‘three’ within the twelve that Jesus used to give special experiences to (Simon Peter, James and John - see, for example, Mark 5:37 and Mtw 17:1-8) so why, if the other nine weren’t that important, didn’t He just chose three?
This goes back to the very beginning of the original Israelite nation. The promise of God concerning a child had been originally given to Abram (Gen 15:1-6) and, from him, had passed through his child Isaac and on to Jacob (see my notes on ‘Genealogy’ to see how the promise was both passed on and renewed). From Jacob had come twelve sons who were to be the tribes which would make up the nation of Israel (Gen 49:28 is the first place where the twelve sons are spoken of as ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’).
When the Exodus came about from Egypt, there was a slight rearranging of these tribes in that Levi became a distinct and separate priestly tribe given over to the service of God and the tribe of Joseph was split into Mannasseh and Ephraim, his two sons, but the foundational structure of there being twelve sources through which each Israelite could trace their Jewish origins remained (Cp Ex 1:1-5 where the twelve include the name of Levi and Numbers chapter 2 where the twelve tribes now include Mannasseh and Ephraim but Levi is excluded. See Ex 32:26-29 for the incident which won them the right to be the priests of God).
Even as late as Ezek 47:13, the
‘...twelve [foundational] tribes of [the nation of] Israel...’
are still being mentioned. The nation was always considered from the time of the Exodus onwards to be one unit which was built upon the twelve sons of Jacob, even though there was a lot of swapping of which tribes were to be considered to be a part of the whole - see especially Rev 7:4-8 where there is a very radical reinterpretation of which twelve tribes constitute the nation.
When Jesus came, and to show that what He was beginning was something radically new, He chose twelve individuals to symbolise the rebirth of the nation - not that he was expecting each of the twelve to have sons and daughters by their wives and so to populate the world by natural offspring, but that they would be the prime movers in spreading the news of the rebirth into Christ throughout the world. Each of the twelve, therefore, were to be something similar to a spiritual patriarch from whom the growth of the Church would be assured and would grow.
Interestingly, the DSS also speak of perfection coming through (IQS 8)
‘...twelve men and three priests...’
and one can’t help but notice the similarity here between them and the twelve disciples from which three (Peter, James and John) were specifically chosen to receive special experiences - just why the division of twelve and three together should have been of significance is not certain, however, and we can do no more than note that at least one other ‘religious movement’ saw some significance in the three being linked to the twelve. However, our reason for quoting the DSS is to show that a new move of God could be spoken of as being founded on a new twelve men who were to symbolise everything that the original twelve patriarchs were not.
Jesus will later speak to the chief priests and elders (Mtw 21:23) and say to them (Mtw 21:43) that
‘...the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it’
which is as radical as it indeed sounds, for the Jew could no longer rely upon being able to justify their acceptance before God on the grounds of being a descendant of Jacob (even though he was never meant to do so) but upon bearing the right kind of fruit that religious profession expected (Mtw 3:8-10).
Matmor sees the choice of twelve as being indicative of pointing
‘...forward to the true Israel and the renewal of the people of God that Jesus would bring about’
This appointing of twelve doesn’t mean that they were to be established authorities in the Church but that they would be the foundation from which the Church of Christ would spring (see also Mtw 19:28 here where there is a similar inference).
As Matfran notes concerning the twelve disciples being called in Matthew’s Gospel
‘The disciples are...here given authority for mission, not institutional leadership’
and their authority as elders and leaders in the soon to be formed Church of Christ is not being hinted at here. What Jesus is doing is to commission them to go out to reach the people that He has little time to reach through the bodily limitations of being a single Person and to prepare them for the time when they will be extensions of His ministry throughout all the earth.
The twelve, then, will be the foundations of the Church from which the believers will spring, Jesus Himself being the true foundation stone upon which they’re built (I Peter 2:6). Therefore, when the final resting place of the saints is revealed, the foundations are symbolised as having (Rev 21:14)
‘...the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb’
not denoting the perpetuation of Church authority but the source of evangelism which adds numbers to the spiritual entity of the Body of Christ.
By choosing twelve close followers, then, Jesus was also posing quite a challenge to the established religious leadership of His day for He was inferring that the old nation of Israel had failed to achieve what it had been called by God to do and that, even now, God was by-passing the descendants of natural lineage to begin again with a spiritual lineage which relied upon faith and forgiveness, mercy and grace, rather than upon the minute extrapolation of legal requirements which had failed the nation so abysmally.
God in Christ was starting again - this time with a new foundation - and the call was going out to all Jews to become a part of that move, to rely not on their natural descent but upon the mercy and work of God. As such, twelve disciples was the perfect number not only to show the ending of the old but of the beginning of the new.
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