Mark 3:7-12 Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and [also] from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was.
The crowds came to Jesus near the Sea of Galilee from distant places. Yet it seems that the crowds were attracted to Jesus more because of His miraculous works than because of His message about the kingdom of God. They were interested in receiving healing, being miraculously fed food, and seeing Him cast out demons. And so they were coming out to Him, following Him, thronging around him so much that it seemed they would almost trample Him.
It is great that people are attracted to Jesus. But if their focus is on what physical blessings He can do for them instead of His spiritual blessings, they will not follow Him for long. And there are a lot of people today that are attracted to Jesus because of what they think He might do or what they want Him to do for them. If they think He gives them what they want, healing or prosperity or whatever, then they might continue to follow Him as long as the crisis continues. But if in time they find that He doesn’t give them what they want, then they lose interest.
The demons seemed to be giving Jesus honor as well. They cried out when they saw Him, “You are the Son of God.” But Jesus didn’t want them announcing who He was. Jesus didn’t want lip service, especially from demons. And the demons weren’t going to worship Him. They just wanted to expose Him in a way that they hoped would protect themselves.
So Jesus withdrew from the crowds again, this time going to the mountain to be alone in preparation for calling the 12 disciples. Luke tells us in his parallel account that Jesus spent the night in prayer. He was always in communion with the Father. And prior to this choosing of His disciples, Jesus prioritizes that necessity of communion with the Father, and He prays all night until dawn.
Mark relates this event starting in vs 13, saying, “ And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He [could] send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the [son] of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and 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.”
The common tradition of the church, particularly the Catholic Church, has been to portray the disciples as extraordinary men. But in fact, they were the complete opposite. They were what you might call common men, ordinary working class men, without any religious or educational, or social credentials whatsoever. In fact their backgrounds were very diverse. Today the word diverse is a code word for the liberal agenda. And I don’t want to imply any sense of that to these men. I would actually point out that from the standpoint of contemporary diversity, Jesus deliberately seems to choose all men, and all men of one race. So we can dispense with any sense of Jesus trying to be politically correct or fit the social template of diversity that we see in politics and corporate policies and in advertising today.
So we know for sure that four of them were fishermen, possibly as many as seven, but four for sure. But other than that, there was little that they had in common with each other. There really is no reason to assemble these men together, no reason for them to come together, live together, work together, and minister together apart from the purposes of God.
They were very ordinary men in every way. Not one of them is renowned for scholarship; not one of them is renowned for his speaking ability; none of them was a theologian. They were outsiders from the standpoint of the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. They didn’t have any particular natural talents. They don’t appear to have been intellectual giants. They had not studied under a renowned Rabbi. They did not have seminary degrees.
They also came from different political backgrounds. One of them was a Zealot, part of a radical group determined to overthrow the Romans. Another one was a tax collector. He would have been on the opposite end of the spectrum. He was someone who bought a tax franchise from the Romans and then collected taxes from the Jewish people to give to the Roman government. He was considered a traitor to the Jews. So those two would have absolutely nothing in common.
Other than the four fishemen, the rest may have been tradesmen, craftsmen, or farmers of some kind. They were virtually all from Galilee, with the exception of Judas, who was Judean.
They were personally selected out of the many disciples that followed Jesus. And Jesus identified who they were. They didn’t apply for the job; He chose them for the job. He called them – He knew them as only God could know them. He knew all their faults long before He chose them. He knew their weaknesses; He knew their failures; He even knew Judas would betray Him. He chose Judas anyway, gave him all the same privileges and blessings He gave the others.
So you’ve got these 12 nondescript, ordinary, band of eclectic men brought together by Christ. And from a human perspective, the whole program of the kingdom of God to take the gospel to the world depends upon them. There’s no Plan B; there’s no second string in case these guys don’t work out. They’re going to be responsible for relating divine revelation. They and their associates are going to write the New Testament. According to Ephesians 2:20, they’re going to be the foundation of the Church. And it all depends on 12 men whose most notable characteristic is that they were just plain, ordinary men. The most noteworthy thing about them was that they were known to have been with Jesus.
So Mark says, “And He appointed the Twelve: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; and James, the son of Zebedee, and John, the brother of James – to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means sons of thunder; and 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.”
Just a reading of the names gives us some inkling about the group; there are a number of nicknames included in the list. Nicknames sometimes indicates a certain characteristic of a person. And by the way this is only one of four lists of names of the disicples/apostles. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts all have lists. There are a couple of times when the names are changed up a little bit so that sometimes they were called by their given name, and sometimes they were called by their nickname. It was Jesus who nicknamed Simon as Peter. It was Jesus who nicknamed James and John as Boanerges. And then some of them had picked up other nicknames. Thaddaeus isn’t really a name; it is a nickname.
But one important question is why were there 12 of them? Well, the short answer is that it parallels the 12 tribes of Israel. In the old covenant the promises were made to the 12 tribes and they all had an inheritance. But this is the new covenant, and Jesus is showing that there is a new paradigm in the way that the new covenant will operate. The old system of the old covenant will be done away with. In Revelation it tells us that in the New Jerusalem, there are 12 foundation stones, and each stone is engraved with the name of one of the 12 apostles. What that signifies is that the old dispensation to the Jews has been replaced by a new dispensation of grace administered by the apostles to all the nations of the world. And their doctrine and preaching will be the means by which the church is built.
So in a sense, Jesus is repudiating the existing religious system of the Jews and showing that the kingdom of God will be given to all the nations through the administration of the apostles. The choosing and commissioning of the Twelve was a judgment on Israel’s corrupt leaders. If you look at Luke 22:28 for just a moment, I think it confirms that. Jesus says to the disciples, “You stood with Me in my trials; you didn’t forsake Me. And just as My Father granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table, in My kingdom and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
With the coming of the Messiah comes a new covenant. With the coming of a new covenant comes a new leadership. The Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, the rabbis, the priests, they were false teachers, all of them. They misrepresented the Old Testament; they misinterpreted the law, they corrupted the people. And Jesus said of them “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” So they are replaced. And they are replaced by an unlikely group of 12 guys, none of whom comes out of the religious world. Not one was a rabbi. Not one was a scribe. Not one was a theologian. Not one was an academic, a priest, a Pharisee, a Sadducee – not one – which is to demonstrate Jesus’s repudiation of the religious leadership of the Jews.
But these were the men that Jesus chose. Verse 13, “He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted.” Choosing who would become His apostles is a sovereign work of God just like salvation. These men would live with Jesus for the three years of His life. They were there for His ministry. They were there for His death, even though they deserted Him when it happened. They were there to see Him risen from the dead. They were firsthand eyewitnesses of His life, death and resurrection. And they were the first generation of preachers who preached the gospel of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ, based on His work on the cross and His resurrection. And so Jesus calls them to be with Him.
And by the way, I have said it before that the problem with the church today is not a lack of ministers, nor a lack of churches, but I believe the problem is that a majority of pastors in the pulpits of churches today are not called by the Lord to be a pastor. They were sent by a denomination, they might have been called by a pastor search committee, but they are not called by Christ. And if you haven’t been called by the Lord to preach the gospel, then you will not be gifted to preach the gospel. Gifted, not in the sense of talented, but in the sense of empowered by the Holy Spirit.
So these men were called by Christ to be His inner circle of disciples who would after His death become His apostles. And the key to understanding what His intentions were comes in verse 14. He appointed 12 for two reasons: so they would be with Him, and that He could send them out to preach. Now, if they were going to be sent out to preach, first they had to be with Him to learn from Him. So, it’s a simple, two-fold purpose: they had to be with Him so He could send them. They weren’t going to be able to be sent effectively if they hadn’t been with Him and been trained effectively. They started out as learners. “Disciple” is the word in the Greek, mathētēs, which means learner or student. And they will eventually become apostles, in the Greek, apostellō. Apostellō means sent ones, messengers.
So what is it they are called to do? Verse 14, “He appointed twelve so they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach.” Send them out to preach. Jesus was a preacher. John the Baptist before Him was a preacher. The prophets were preachers. And now this is going to be the first generation of gospel preachers, new covenant preachers. What is a preacher? Someone who proclaims. And their message is to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God.
1Cor. 1:21 says, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not [come to] know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Preaching the truth of the gospel is God’s plan to bring people to salvation. It looks like foolishness to the world, but it’s the wisdom of God in operation. I was telling someone the other day that 30 years ago you typically had a couple of Christian radio stations in the region of the county you lived in. And the format for those stations was that they had preachers who preached messages all day long. But for the most part those types of Christian radio stations don’t exist anymore. Now you have radio stations that just play music all day long. It’s hard to find preaching on Christian radio anymore. And I’m afraid that has contributed to the lack of sound biblical doctrine of a lot of Christians today.
So if the disciples were to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, then it’s necessary that God gave confirmation that they are speaking the truth of the gospel. So in vs 15 we read, Verse 15, “He gave them authority to cast out the demons.” Irregardless of what you might see on television, normal humans do not have authority over the demonic world.
Matthew 10:1, paralleling this, says that when Jesus sent them out, He gave them authority over disease, to heal all manner of diseases and over demons. They were given divine power to minister in the physical world and the spiritual world.
So, the Lord gave the Twelve power over disease, power over demons, that wherever they went to preach, the new covenant gospel of salvation by faith in Christ, when they spoke, people would know it was the truth of God because of the confirming evidence of supernatural power. 2 Corinthians 12:12 says “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” I believe scripture indicates that this was specific to the apostles, during the apostolic age as they laid the foundation of the church and church doctrine. Once their specific ministry was done, I believe the scriptures indicate that those gifts faded away when they died.
Now I think that’s an important point to emphasize. You have people running around today who claim to be able to heal people. Who claim to be able to cast out demons. You see them all the time on television and youtube. But one thing that always marks these men, the common denominator is they all have bad theology. They all misinterpret the Bible; they all misrepresent the Gospel. So the question is why would God authenticate false teachers? If the Lord were to reinstitute that power for some reason, you can be sure that whoever it is, their theology will be biblical, because God doesn’t authenticate false teachers.
Now finally, I want to look really briefly at each of these men. First Simon. He is always first on every list of the disciples. Jesus gave him a nickname: Peter which means Rock. And the only time Jesus called him Simon was when he was acting like his old self. He was the closest to Christ, the spokesman, the leader, the most notable preacher. He’s the dominant preacher in the first church in Jerusalem.
And then there’s James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James. These brothers we already met in chapter 1. Jesus called them; they were fishermen. Their father Zebedee is mentioned often, some think that he might have been related to the high priest in some way because John is able to enter the courtyard of the high priest during Jesus’ trial. But we don’t know for sure. Their mother is also mentioned as asking Jesus if her boys could sit on His right hand and the left hand when He sits on His throne. She was the original helicopter mom.
But Jesus gave a nickname to these two also. To them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “Sons of Thunder.” We see perhaps the reason for that nickname when they asked if they could call down fire from heaven to burn up their critics. I feel the same way sometimes.
And then there was Andrew and Philip. Philip is the leader of the second group of four. He’s from Bethsaida. So, He probably knew the four before Him. After him we have Bartholomew. Bartholomew is not really a name. “Bar” is son of, and “Tolmai” is a name. So, he’s the son of Tolmai. His actual name was Nathanael – Nathanael. Nathanael means God has given.
Then there’s Matthew also called Levi. We met him in Mark chapter 2. The tax collector hated and despised by everybody, considered a traitor to the Jews. Then there’s Thomas. According to John 11:16, he was a twin called Didymus, meaning the twin. He is often referred to in contemporary Christianity as Doubting Thomas because He doubted whether or not Christ had actually risen from the dead.
Then there’s James the son of Alphaeus. We don’t know anything about Alphaeus and we don’t know anything about James. But he’s always the first name in the final group. His mother is mentioned in Mark 15:40, as someone who follows Christ. There he is called James the Less. Another nickname, maybe it means Little James referring to his stature.
Then there is Thaddeus, but his real name is Judas son of James. “Judas son of James” is his official name in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. He is even referred to in John 14:22 as “Judas not Iscariot.” I’m told Thaddeus means “momma’s boy.” Not exactly what you would want to be named. And then there’s Simon the Zealot. He is called Simon the Cananaean. And some people think that means the Canaanite; it doesn’t. It’s from a Hebrew word which means to be zealous. He was a Zealot, a political activist.
And last but not least, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him. A Judean, perhaps the one with the most noble heritage. He was the one who was the treasurer of the group, because he loved money. He betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. That would have been the equivalent of about 120 days of wages.
So what an interesting group. Nobody could have predicted that they would turn the world upside down. They became the recipients of divine revelation. They were the true teachers of sound doctrine, the apostles’ doctrine. They were the foundation of the Church, Ephesians 2:20. They were the early edifiers of the believers. He gave to the Church first apostles, prophets for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. They became exemplary of virtue. The New Testament calls them holy apostles.Their message was confirmed by signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
And I suppose that the lesson we can take from the calling of the apostles is that the Lord uses imperfect people to perfect His kingdom, He calls the ordinary to do extraordinary things. He uses people just like you and me, if we are willing to follow Him, to join with Him and learn from Him. 1Cor. 1:25-29 “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”