Hey I’m Josh Hawkins and this is Episode 60 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode, I talked about the calling of Matthew as Jesus’ fifth disciple, at least from what the Gospels tell us. We looked at how Matthew was a tax collector, which was a despised occupation in 1st century Israel. Because Matthew’s tax booth was in Capernaum by the sea of Galilee, he probably had not only heard Jesus teach but might have even seen Him perform some miracles because so much of Jesus’ ministry was happening in and around Capernaum. After Jesus had called him to a formal discipleship relationship, imagine what the interaction between the fishermen and him was like. The despised guy who had collected their sea taxes was now part of the group of disciples who had been formally called by Jesus.
In this episode, I want to talk about the last significant event in Jesus’ early Galilean ministry, and that’s Jesus' official calling of the Twelve disciples. Luke 6 records this event, but there are a couple of other things that we see Jesus doing beforehand. Let’s look at our timeline for a second:
We left off with the calling of Matthew, and then the feast that he held for Jesus in his home. Then, in Mark 2 and Luke 5 we see Jesus talking about fasting and mourning for the bridegroom. I think this is significant on many levels as Jesus talks about how fasting is not merely an external observance but a posture of the heart in mourning. In context, I believe Jesus is talking about mourning for the restoration of Israel. While Jesus is with them, they are to rejoice, but a day is coming when they will mourn for Him to come again and do what He promised. Now the next thing we see in Mark 2 and Luke 6 is Jesus and His disciples going through grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples are hungry and so they pluck some of the heads and eat. Some Pharisees approached them and asked them why they were violating their traditions about not doing work on the Sabbath. Jesus once again confronts and confounds them. And the third event we see is Jesus healing a man with a withered hand, once again on the Sabbath day, confronting the authorities about the very same issue. Do you see how Jesus is coming against their traditions again and again and again?
And now we come to the calling of the Twelve, and here we are perhaps somewhere around 10 months after Jesus had officially begun His public ministry by cleansing the temple in Jerusalem.
Let’s read from Luke 6:
"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"
(Luke 6:12–14 ESV)
Before we look at who these twelve are, there’s a common misunderstanding I want to clear up for you. For me, for a while, I imagined that there was just the twelve apostles and then the crowds and multitudes of people that just swarmed around with Jesus wherever he was. But there’s another group in there. Remember, we’ve already been through perhaps 10 months of Jesus’ public ministry where His fame has gone forth throughout Israel and especially up in Galilee where He has spent most of his time. There were surely many people at this point who were following Jesus as disciples, but not as formal disciples. They would probably have followed Jesus around mostly everywhere, but had never received that formal invitation into a teacher/disciple relationship as the others had been, at least as far as we know. So take a look at this diagram - the Gospels distinguish between all these groups a lot, and it’s easy for us to just brush over them if we’re not aware of this. First, we have the multitudes, the crowds, the people who came to Jesus when he was in their city or when he was out in the desolate areas of Israel. Then, we have the larger group of disciples, again, the people who had heard of Jesus and then followed him around to the places he went, but who had not been invited into a formal discipleship relationship. Then, within the larger group of disciples, we have the twelve, the group that Jesus had called formally. And even within that group, we see three particular ones - Peter, James, and John - who had a special relationship with Jesus. Does this make sense? As you read the Gospels, I hope now you’ll now be a little more aware of how the authors often distinguish between these four groups. So the Twelve is the group I want to focus on today.
As we read in Luke 6, we see that out of the multitudes and out of the disciples, Jesus spent the night in prayer and decides on twelve of those disciples who would be ones who would turn the world upside down and would be the foundation of the church for thousands of years to come. Likely these guys were rough around the edges, young and immature, and had absolutely no idea what was really happening when Jesus chose them. Even though several of these guys had been with Jesus from the beginning, it was here that they were set apart in a formal sense. And this again was just a little over a year before His crucifixion. Think about what must have been going through their mind. They had heard of Jesus’ fame, they had seen so many amazing things He had done, and now these twelve were being confirmed as ones who would have their names in the foundation of the New Jerusalem. Of course they didn’t know that at the time - but still, there’s plenty of information they did have to imagine how much they were freaking out. Wow.
Let’s keep reading in Luke 6:
"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."
(Luke 6:13–16 ESV)
Now this is Luke’s list of the twelve, but if we were to read from Matthew and Mark and the book of Acts, we would see some differences that might make us think that there are actually different people being talked about. But that isn’t the case. It’s very clear that the Gospel authors saw the twelve as extremely important for the transmission of the truths about Jesus such that they could not merely be anonymous characters in the story. Luke is the most explicit in this regard in the opening sentences of his gospel:
"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught."
(Luke 1:1–4 ESV)
See that? Luke is saying that his account is based on those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word. So the naming of the Twelve is significant in the Gospels for this very reason.
Alright, so let’s look at the list of the Twelve. The first thing you’ll notice from among each of the lists is that they are grouped into three groups of four names, with the exception that the list in Acts leaves out Judas Iscariot. In the first group, Peter is always the head. In the second, it’s Philip. And in the third, it’s James the son of Alphaeus. The order of the other names in each group varies, but Judas Iscariot does always take the last place in the lists that include him. In the first list, we can see the two pairs of brothers - Simon Peter and Andrew, and then James and John the sons of Zebedee. Scholars say that in the second and third groups, the variation in order is probably best explained by how the way the list was remembered, either by oral tradition or by the gospel writer.
There’s only a few names that are seemingly different between these four lists. In the first group, we see Simon given the name Peter, which is of course something Jesus called him directly. Mark says that James and John had the nickname “sons of thunder”. In the second group, we see Matthew being called “the tax collector”. The third list is where it gets somewhat interesting. There’s this guy named Thaddaeus who isn’t seen in Luke and Acts, but there is another guy named Judas the son of James in Luke and Acts. So are these the same guy? The answer is yes - Thaddaeus was just the Greek name for Judas. Sometimes Jews in the time of Jesus would bear both Semitic and Greek names. And for obvious reasons of distinction after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, it made sense to call Judas the son of James by his Greek name, Thaddaeus.
There’s much more that could be said about the Twelve and who they were. There’s a resource I’ve really enjoyed by Richard Bauckham called “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” that goes into all sorts of detail about how the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts and how the readers would have seen them that way. I’ve included a link below this video in the description so definitely check it out if it interests you. But the biggest points I want you to come away from this episode with are:
1) There was a larger group of people called Jesus “disciples” beyond just the twelve apostles. These are people who followed Jesus but were never called into a formal discipleship relationship by Jesus.
2) Secondly, the lists of the twelve apostles are consistently and carefully preserved by the Gospel authors as authoritative eyewitnesses of the story of Jesus. These guys had no idea what Jesus was calling them into, and how it would be through their obedience and witness that the truths of the Gospel would be preserved for us even today.
The calling of the twelve ends the period I’m calling Jesus’ “early Galilean ministry”. There’s a little over a year left of Jesus’ public ministry before His crucifixion. In the next episode, I’ll begin to introduce the middle Galilean period where things get even more dramatic. If you’ve missed any of the other episodes in this series, you can find them all on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Don’t forget you can also sign up to receive short email notifications for new episodes there as well, if that interests you. Well, God bless and see you next time.