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The Life of Jesus - Series 3: Episode 15

Jesus chooses the twelve Apostles

| Martin Charlesworth
Luke 6:12-16
Mark 3:13-19

Jesus forms a team after praying. The difference between disciple and Apostle is explained. The Apostles would be with Jesus, would preach and have authority. God calls and sends.

Jesus forms a team after praying. The difference between disciple and Apostle is explained. The Apostles would be with Jesus, would preach and have authority. God calls and sends.


Hello and welcome to Series 3 and Episode 15: 'Jesus Chooses Twelve Apostles'. We're going to study two passages which both describe this event -  Luke 6: 12 - 16 and Mark 3: 13 - 19.

Introduction and Recap

We're well on in the story of Jesus' Galilean ministry now. During Series 3 we've been seeing how that ministry unfolded - from the very beginning when he came back from the River Jordan and started his base in Capernaum, and went to Nazareth to speak in the synagogue and give his 'Nazareth Manifesto'. From then onwards we see that Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was able to do remarkable miracles of healing and deliverance from demonic powers; we see how he travelled around Galilee; we see how he attracted ever-increasing crowds from an ever wider spread, geographically, of places, and even nations and he attracted people from well beyond the borders of Israel. We've seen Jesus make a visit to Jerusalem (John 5) but, for the most part, we have been based in Galilee. We've noticed all the things he's done in Galilee and we've seen tremendous momentum building up. This is Jesus at a time of great popularity and great success. Wherever he went, people were really looking forward to seeing him, looking forward to hearing him - filled with expectation, filled with optimism, really believing he could make a difference in their lives and people particularly wanted healing from him - many people sick with so many different diseases and injuries. The story has been going along those lines for some time now.

We've noticed another strand as well - which I highlighted in the last episode but we've seen on several occasions - which is opposition from the religious authorities. This is not the political authorities. It's not the Romans who ruled in Judea, in the south. It's not King Herod Antipas, the local ruler whose base at the town of Tiberias was really only a few kilometres away from Jesus' base at Capernaum - he doesn't really feature as an opponent at this point - the opposition is coming from the religious establishment that sees Jesus as a threat. We've seen that theme developing. There's been some controversies and arguments about his identity, his mission, and whether he's breaking the Jewish Law (the Sabbath and fasting and various other things have been discussed). That's an ominous dark cloud on the horizon because it appears that the religious authorities really want to get rid of Jesus. However, we leave that on one aside for the moment. For the majority of people, this was Jesus in the height of his popularity.

Jesus Forms His Team

However, there's a hint (particularly in Mark 3) when he describes, as we saw in an earlier episode, the sheer number of people and the pressure this put on Jesus, of a capacity issue for Jesus. How is he going to manage all these people and all their needs? On that particular occasion, as Mark 3 tells us, Jesus instructed his disciples to come back to the lake side of the Sea of Galilee and have a boat ready because he may have to escape the crowds and get in a boat just to get some peace and quiet. An interesting question arises: what's going to happen next? Is Jesus just going to continue travelling around in the way he has done? What's he going to do in terms of forming his own team, his own group of committed followers, or disciples? We've seen some steps on that journey which is going to move forward, very dramatically, in this episode and come to a very clear position in terms of what Jesus' strategy is. The hints along the road are that Jesus did call some people to follow him in a very specific way. There are three recorded incidents that we've already studied which describe this process. Let's quickly remember those before we move into what we're going to discuss today because it's all part of the same process.

Jesus calling people to follow him started around the time of his baptism. He was down at a place called Bethany beyond the Jordan in the south, much further south than Galilee, where John the Baptist was operating. Jesus was in that area for a period of time before and after his baptism, and some of John's followers, or disciples, who really believed he was a prophet from God, became interested in Jesus, got into conversation with him and transferred their allegiance to Jesus. The ones that are described to us are described in John 1: Simon Peter and Andrew (the fishermen from Capernaum), Phillip and a man who John calls Nathanael (but he's also known as Bartholomew in the other Gospels) and an anonymous person, another disciple (who John, the writer, doesn't identify but who most people believe to be John himself, John the Apostle). Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael (or Bartholomew) and John - that's five who we know were called into a discipleship relationship with Jesus, called to follow him. However, this is before the ministry in Galilee and there are two further incidents, which are a bit more specific than this. The five people involved in these two other incidents are called to follow Jesus, in a more literal sense of giving up their jobs and travelling with him - so that's more like a leadership training sort of discipleship. The first incident appeared in Luke 5 (which we discussed in an earlier episode) where the fishermen - Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John - were fishing. They'd been out fishing at night. They hadn't caught very much. They were washing their nets on the side of the lake when Jesus came by and asked Simon Peter if he could step into his boat and push it out from the shore just a few metres, so he could address the crowd more easily, and then he asked him to go out into the deep waters to take a catch of fish. If you read that episode, you'll remember how the story ended: there was a miraculous catch of fish, so great the nets began to break and the boat began to sink and Peter and Andrew had to call on James and John to help them get the fish ashore. Jesus used this to commission them and say, “Follow me and I'll send you out and make you fishers of men, you'll be fishing for men.” In other words, these four people (three of whom had already encountered Jesus at Bethany beyond the Jordan, according to John) were called into a form of what I would call leadership discipleship. They left their nets; they left their jobs; they left their livelihoods at that very time and probably that very day; and they travelled with Jesus as he was going around Galilee.

We've got a third incident of Jesus calling someone very dramatically - which is Matthew the tax collector, known in some Gospels as Levi. Matthew the tax collector was called by Jesus from his tax booth on the side of the road just near Capernaum. Jesus said, “Follow me” and he gave up tax collecting, had a big meal for his friends, and went on the road with Jesus. This is all we know in terms of the formation of Jesus' disciples but the other thing that's obvious in the text is there are lots of other people who are travelling around with Jesus, choosing to follow him. He's got a group of people, by the time we're talking about, who we could describe as disciples in a general sense. They're hugely impressed by Jesus; they are sure he's a prophet; many of them think he's the Messiah; and they're following him around and helping him.

Luke's Account

Now comes a moment of definition and this is what we're going to describe. We're going to take Luke's account first of all - just a very brief statement here but full of important meaning, and later we'll refer to Mark's account because it gives us some other significant information. But Luke 6: 12 - 16, describe this process:

‘One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.’

Luke 6:12-16, NIV

Jesus reached a point where he wanted to make a definition and he went to the mountainside and it appears from the story that his disciples were travelling with him. We don't know how many there were, but we can guess there were a lot more than twelve - there was a big group. It was probably a mixed group of men and women, although it was much harder for women to be itinerant and travel around with Jesus, in practical terms (we see an example of that in Luke 8, which we'll describe later when we get to that narrative). This larger group of disciples, is with Jesus and yet he separates himself from them for this time of prayer - he tells them he's going to go and pray on his own. They're waiting in some form of camp or accommodation nearby. We don't know the details - looks like they're on the hillside, and they're waiting for Jesus to return. This was not an uncommon experience, by the way, because, as we've already noted in other studies, it's quite clear that Jesus often spent time travelling and then praying alone. For example, Luke 4: 42: ‘At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.’ Luke 5: 16: ‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ We've already commented, in earlier episodes, of Jesus' practice of withdrawing himself for prayer - being very intentional about it and choosing solitude and quiet places for private prayer. This is an outstanding example and the topic of his prayer is obvious: he is talking to his heavenly Father about choosing apostles, choosing disciples, to have a primary role in his mission and in his team.


When morning came, he gathered everybody together, this large group of disciples, and he picked out twelve of them and Luke says that he designated them Apostles. This twelve is a very interesting group but I think an interesting thing to ask ourselves is the meaning of the words we're talking about here: the word ‘disciple’ and the word ‘apostle’ - and sometimes those words are used interchangeably of the twelve.  A disciple is a follower who is a learner, someone who is learning from a higher religious authority. It was very common in Judaism for religious leaders, rabbis, to have a group of followers who studied with them, who travelled with them, who listened to their teaching and tried to copy their teaching. It was a common form of learning and it was considered socially very acceptable and very positive to become a disciple of a well-known rabbi. Jesus was considered to be a rabbi by many people and there was pressure to become his disciple. A disciple means a follower, someone who is intentionally trying to copy the other person, to imitate their lifestyle and to grow in knowledge of their particular skills and their particular ways; it's a form of apprenticeship, if you wanted to use another context from the business and commercial world. The disciples were apprentices, they were following Jesus and learning from him; but that didn't mean they necessarily had any specifically designated function. They were there, mostly for their own benefit, as far as we can see.

The word 'apostle' is much more specific: this Greek word has the concept, at the heart of it, of someone who is sent out and sent out in two different ways. They are either an authorised delegate, or an authorised messenger, or both. An apostle is first of all a delegate - so you represent the authority of the person who has sent you; you're doing their work with authorisation; you've been allowed to represent them in another situation. A modern example that's often quoted which is very valuable is to consider the ambassador of a country when he or she is operating in another country in their official function. If you consider your country, wherever you live in the world, your country has ambassadors and similar people (such as high commissioners, but let's just use the term ambassador) operating in many other countries in the world - particularly the countries with which your nation has a strategic and significant relationship. That ambassador represents the authority of their government in another country. I once had the opportunity of visiting the British Ambassador (my own nation, Britain) in the country of Romania. There were a number of circumstances that brought this about and I was led up to his office in the embassy in the capital city, Bucharest. There was his desk and there was the Ambassador and the interesting thing that I noticed was that above him was a portrait of the Head of State of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II. That's a symbol of the fact that he was representing that government in the nation of Romania - that's what an ambassador is. An ambassador has the authority of the person, or agency, who has sent them, but they also have a message. In political terms, the Ambassador follows the political policies of the government he's representing, as they apply in another nation but, in Jesus' case, the Apostles were going to be given his Kingdom of God, Gospel message, and they were going to be the ones proclaiming it - rather than him, or alongside him. Here's something very strategic that is happening in Jesus' ministry. Up to this point, the narrative tells us that Jesus went around doing all these things himself and the narrative points out how difficult this was becoming because of the sheer numbers of people and the difficulty, physically, of Jesus extending his reach any further then he was already doing and even coping with the number of people that were coming to him.

Mark's Account

Mark 3 gives us something a little bit more specific to help us understand what the Apostles were going to be doing, or experiencing, that was different from the other disciples, or any other person in the following months and years. If you turn with me to Mark 3 : 14, you'll see something very interesting. The parallel passage is Mark 3: 13 - 19, but I'm just picking out the one verse where Mark adds something that Luke doesn't tell us so explicitly. Mark 3: 14 says:

‘He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.’

Mark 3:14, NIV
Three Statements about the Twelve Apostles

Notice there are three things stated here for these twelve Apostles, as we can now call them. Number one, ‘that they might be with him.’ These were going to have a close relationship with Jesus. They were going to travel with him. They were going to live with him. They were going to be his own community on the road. Obviously, they would be given practical jobs to do. For example, we find out from John's Gospel that Judas Iscariot was given the responsibility for handling the finances of the group; he held the community purse, and money came in and money went out for all the different practical requirements - others had different functions. Within the twelve, there was an inner circle of three (Peter, James and John) and Jesus sometimes took those three away with him on his own (and he left the other nine elsewhere for a period of time) that they might be with him. They would be his friends, they would experience life with him; he would teach them privately and, very significantly, Jesus would impart faith to them - would help them to grow in faith for the tasks that they were going to be performing. Number one, ‘that they might be with him.’

Number two, ‘that he might send them out to preach.’ It becomes clear what the strategy of Jesus is. The ministry he'd been doing on his own up to this point, was going to become a shared ministry. He was going to multiply his impact by appointing Apostles to represent him in places that he wasn't able to get to because of the physical impossibility of being everywhere. We see in the Gospels (in Luke 9 and 10 and in Matthew 10, which we'll discuss in subsequent episodes) how Jesus specifically, at a particular time, sent the twelve out two by two and then he had a larger group in Luke 10 - the twelve plus others, a group of about 70 - to go into all sorts of different places to get his message throughout the country. The second point - not just ‘that they might be with him’ but ‘that he might send them out to preach.’ He's going to multiply his impact by having Apostles working alongside him, working for him and he's going to send them out two by two.

Thirdly, ‘to have authority to drive out demons.’ They're going to have the spiritual power sufficient to advance the Kingdom and deal with any spiritual opposition that would come in any individual people - that's a very remarkable thing. Matthew 10: 1, when this actually happens, adds another little detail. Matthew 10: 1: ‘Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.’ The authority to do the things that Jesus was doing now, was going to be passed on, particularly, to the Apostles; they were going to have tremendous power and authority, and a huge amount of responsibility in days to come, but at this particular point it was training time. He was going to gather them. He had too many people in his wider discipleship group to train. Some of them weren't appropriate perhaps for the task, weren't able to be committed to the task and, most of all, they weren't called. The twelve Apostles were called through God the Father's communion with his Son, Jesus. They called these men and said that they were to be Apostles in the Kingdom. They're sometimes referred to as the disciples, and the Apostles, but we should see them primarily as Apostles. They are the model of apostles in the Church - a topic we'll discuss later on when we get towards the end of the story and we see what Jesus does as he prepares for the birth of the Church after his resurrection.

Four Lists of Apostles

There are four lists of the twelve Apostles. Two of them are in the passages that we are looking at today, in Luke 6: 14 - 16, and in Mark 3: 13 - 19. A list also appears in Matthew 10: 2 - 4, and a list also appears after Jesus' resurrection in Acts 1: 13. One interesting point about these lists is that many of these people had more than one name - which can be a little confusing! Let me explain. We've already mentioned that Peter had another name, Simon - so he's either Peter or Simon or Simon Peter. The disciple who is called in these four lists Bartholomew, is called by John, Nathanael and his full name was probably Nathanael Barthelmas (Nathanael the son of Thelmas) so he's either Bartholomew or, in John's Gospel, he's Nathanael. We've already mentioned that Matthew had another name, Levi, which is used in Mark's and Luke's Gospel, so he can be known by either name. We ought to mention also that Thomas the Apostle was known as Didymus in John, and that Thadeus also had the name Judas son of John. People in those days had more than one name and that appears in several cases here. Some of these we don't really know very much about and some of them we know quite a lot about. Some of them have already been called, some of them are being called, probably, for the first time. There is, of course, the question of Judas Iscariot, the one who, ultimately, betrayed Jesus and he was replaced in the twelve in Acts 1 - and you can read that story to find out how that was done - and his replacement was a man named Matthias who joined the twelve and made that number up after Judas Iscariot had committed suicide after betraying Jesus. These are the twelve.


Some concluding reflections: the twelve are literally the foundation of the Church, these Apostles. They started the Church in Jerusalem, the twelve were together there; they were the first leaders of the first church. They were given tremendous authority by Jesus and, when we study John's Gospel little later on, we'll find some of the inspiration that they were going to be given which was going to help in the formation of the Scriptures. Here, as we reflect on this, we see Jesus multiplying his ministry and this is the key to his success. He got more and more influence because the Apostles began to function shortly after this, travelling in pairs and reaching more and more people. The Church only thrives when ministry is multiplied. One of the primary responsibilities of church leaders is to train other people to fulfil different ministries, even to replace their own ministry, or to supplement their own ministry, or to go other places and do the things that they are doing. Jesus is a very good example of this and he put a lot of effort into training. The next 2 to 3 years that they spend together are absolutely critical to prepare them for the gigantic task that came their way after Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension when the responsibility was handed wholly over to them and they had to establish and develop the Church.

It's interesting to note, in conclusion, that Jesus chooses all sorts of people: the fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John; the tax collector Matthew, Simon who was known as a Zealot (and the Zealots were an extreme political group who opposed the Romans and were willing to conduct terrorist activities against them and assassinations) Simon had been involved with that group in the past; and then there's that rather ambiguous personality, Judas Iscariot; and there's Thomas, who famously doubted Jesus' resurrection. There's all sorts of interesting characters in the mix here, but these twelve men were chosen, by God the Father's will, to be the Apostles and the foundation for the Church. They were fallible; they made a lot of mistakes and we'll see some of them documented, but they were called and they were called to be the founders of the Christian Church.

God is a God who sends; he calls and he sends. He called the twelve Apostles and then he sent them. He's still doing that today; he's calling us to follow Jesus and many of us are sent out into the world in different areas of work and life and, sometimes, Christian leadership ministry, in order to extend the Kingdom of God. That apostolic feel to the Church should be there today. It's not a static organisation; it's a mobile, moving organisation - just like Jesus' mobile, moving ministry in Galilee which is about to move into another dimension as the twelve begin to function as Apostles, representing Jesus as delegates and as messengers.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Jesus called a wide variety of people to be his disciples. Can you think of them?
    2. Who are the people across our 21st century society who are 'high profile' Christians? Pray for them
  • Discipleship
    1. What do you understand by the terms ‘disciple’ and ‘apostle’?
    2. Why did Jesus choose the first disciples? What was the role he was preparing them for?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Notice what Jesus did before he appointed the disciples. What do you think he might have been asking his Father?
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