Thursday, August 16, 2012

Profiles of the Twelve Disciples, Part Two - Matthew 10:2-4

Today we continue exploring the twelve men Jesus called to be His closest followers while He was on earth. If you missed our previous post, be sure to go back and read it to understand our focus for this study and how it applies to your life.

2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;

3 Philip and Bartholemew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;

4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

Thomas: Thomas is best known as "Doubting Thomas," a reference to his if-I-can't-see-it-I-won't-believe-it perspective on faith. We first encounter this when Jesus goes to raise Lazarus from the dead - Jesus has just assured them pretty plainly that He will not be killed at that time, and Thomas comments to the other disciples, "Let us also go, so that we may die with Him." And, most infamously, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead until he has both seen and touched Him. But also notice his dedication amidst the faltering faith: In the first case, he is willing to go with Jesus to (what he sees as) certain death, and in the latter case, he solidly declares Jesus's deity. That is, his faltering faith is coupled with and followed by dedicaiton. Thomas is an exampe of how God loves us even when we struggle to have faith - it's best to have no doubts and follow Him, but He loves us just the same if we follow Him even with doubts. After Jesus's ascension, extra-Biblical history tells us that Thomas was a missionary in Syria and India.

Matthew (also called Levi): Notice how Matthew, writing this Gospel, identifies himself as a tax collector - an indication of great humility, to acknowledge his personal shame so openly. We've discussed before how Jews despised tax collectors and traitors to their own people, and how Matthew gave up immense wealth to follow Jesus. Other than accounts of him leaving his life of sin and giving up much for Jesus, the Bible only mentions him in passing. Matthew demonstrates that no matter what horrible mistakes our pasts hold, God can - and desires - to call us His own. Matthew also reminds us to not judge other Christians for how they lived before coming to Christ, no matter how bad - they can become some of the most dedicated followers (Luke 7:40-50). Tradition holds that Matthew went on to preach the Gospel to the Jews for a decade and a half before moving on to other nations.

James: Since Matthew is elsewhere identified as a son of Alphaeus, it is quite possible that the two were brothers. There are three lead men in the early Church named James (James the brother of John (the Sons of Thunder), this James, and James the brother of Jesus, who is thought to have written the book of James), so it is difficult to guess what references to James in the New Testament apply to this man. In fact, history and tradition don't tell us much about him, either. In all this, James demonstrates that God will call some of us to serve out of the public eye, without much recognition - but we have just as much honor from Him. The value of our service to God does not depend on a popularity contest here on earth.

Thaddaeus (also called Jude or Judas - not Judas Iscariot): Thaddaeus is mentioned by name only twice in the New Testament, both times in lists of the disciples' names, but, just as many of the twelve disciples were known by two names, Thaddaeus is commonly regarded as as being Jude and sometimes Judas. Under these names, he shows up a few times and wrote the book of Jude. He might be the same Judas who worked as a missionary with Silas in the book of Acts. History teaches us that he spread the Gospel all over the world. Thaddaeus demonstrates that just as some are called to one specific vocation/ministry/mission etc. for their entire life, others are called to serve the Lord through variety. Both types of followers are necessary to the kingdom.

Simon the Zealot: This is a fun one. ;-) We know extremely little about it from the Bible, but the fact that it labels him a "Zealot" says a lot. Zealots were Jewish political dissenters who specifically incited riots against the Roman occupiers. These riots would result in Roman backlash and civilian casualties, but the Zealots hoped to eventally win Jewish independence. Because of these consequences, riots were feared by both Roman politicians and Jewish religious leaders (see Matthew 26:3-5, 27:24, Mark 14:1-2, and Acts 19:38-41). Zealots were radical extremists. Simon the Zealot provides a lesson on Christian unity. There are lots of denominations, doctrines, etc. within the Church that we think are too extreme - sometimes they are too extreme (such as when pro-life groups murder abortion doctors),  and sometimes they may not be, and it is actually our own views that are in error - but in most cases, they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ! Jesus embraced a Zealot - just as we need to embrace other believers, even when their views differ from our own. Non-salvation issues should never divide us.

Judas Iscariot: We all know this one - the false disciple who betrayed Jesus to death. His wickedness preceeded this one act, however - we know that, as handler of the group's money, he actually embezzled some of it for himself. His end came quickly after Jesus's arrest, when he hanged himself (there's much debate over whether he truly repented, in which case he was a believer, or just felt bad about betraying his friend, in which case he was not, but most Protestants, including myself, tend toward the latter). Judas is a reminder that there will also be false brethren among us, wolves among the flock. (Matthew 7:21-23.)But just as Jesus loved him even while he was betraying Him, he demonstrates that God *loves* sinners!

Questions for You

Do you find any of these disciples especially relatable? Anything else you'd like to ask or add? Share with us by leaving a comment below. :-)

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Image Number One: Image of the Twelve Disciples at Pentecost by Duccio di Buoninsegna. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain Worldwide.

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