By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And it was at that time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them whom He also named as apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James, John, Philip, and Bartholomew, and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the zealot, Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He descended with them and stood on a level place, and there was a great multitude of His disciples and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured, and all the multitude were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him, and healed them all.”
- Luke 6:12-19 (NASB)
The definition and qualifications for being a genuine apostle (“messenger’) of the Lord Jesus Christ is not based on someone’s “vision”, or “new revelation”, or “new word from God”, or a title some preacher or teacher decides to place upon himself to identify as a special class of Christian in these last days and the “new move of the Spirit” (As if the Holy Spirit needed to improve upon His mission and purpose!). Much of this confusion and self-imposed favoritism with the LORD has been associated with the charismatic movement and its emphasis on signs, wonders, emotions, experiences, and feelings that are in direct opposition of the Word of God and the doctrines of the faith. Much of the Christian world is too afraid to upset this group and its conglomeration of teachings and practices, but it must be declared that this man-made chaos has probably done more to insult the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the character of God, and the sacred reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ than any other movement in church history.
I would rather look at what the Scriptures tell us about those twelve ordinary men who were without status, formal education, wealth, or influence. Yet, who were personally chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ to proclaim the message of salvation, redemption, and forgiveness offered to all who would repent and place their faith in Him. I do not want to venerate a group of men with halos around their heads, but down-to-earth individuals with differing personalities and backgrounds who would not even be considered for the ministry by search committees and church boards today. These men were often egotistical, arguing among themselves as which one Jesus liked the most, slow to learn, often rebuked and corrected by the LORD, rough of character, blunt, quick to talk without thinking, and constantly misunderstanding Jesus’ teachings. Two of them, James and John, were hotheads who wanted God to strike entire cities dead for unbelief. Their motto could have been, “Kill them all and let God sort it out.” Ouch.
They were also blatantly prejudiced against non-Jews, and one moment they swore undying loyalty to Jesus, and the next they all fled when Jesus needed them the most, with one denying Him and one selling Him out. Yet, they all, save for one and one that was added later, were used of the LORD to transform the world with the message of the Gospel and the writing of what would be the New Testament, changing lives and the destinies of nations for all time (Matthew 4:18; 16: 21-23; 17: 4, 9-13 20:20-28). In the book of Acts, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), we see them as being able to interpret prophecy (Acts 2:14-36), defend the truth of the Gospel (Philippians 1:7, 17), expose heretics (Galatians 1:6-9), uphold church discipline and order (2 Corinthians 13:1-6) and establish churches (Romans 15:17-20).
Before all this, they had to be called, and that was not done at a whim or through human intuition. Luke writes that Jesus spent an entire night in prayer to the Father concerning this decision (6:12). That should be an obvious hint to those of us who have trusted Him as Lord and Savior. Any decision or situation that we find ourselves should always start on our knees in prayer to God for wisdom and guidance, and to spend time in fellowship with Him that doesn’t end in a matter of moments and a quick “amen”. We should look to the Lord Jesus as our model for prayer. He prayed with an attitude of adoration towards the Father (Matthew 11:25-27). His prayers were given on behalf of others (John 17:1-26). His prayers gave thanks to God (John 11:41-42). He prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21-22), at His transfiguration (Luke 9:28-29), and in Gethsemane where He agonized over the sacrifice that He would become on the cross (Matthew 26:36-42). He tended to pray in secret (Luke 5:16; 9:16) and early in the morning (Mark 1:35). He would pray with others (Luke 11:1), and on places such as mountainous areas (Matthew 14:23).
When He had finished His time with the Father, He selected twelve men who had been with Him in His early work to be His apostles. Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, and the verses in Luke that we are studying give the names of these chosen vessels of service. They are Simon Peter and Andrew, his brother, James and John, also brothers, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon, a former zealot, Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who is always named last and identified as the one who betrayed Jesus. Much has been written and preached about these men over the centuries, but I want to present the basics on each of them and the price they paid for their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.
First, there is Simon Peter, a fisherman who was married with a family and lived in the town of Capernaum in the region of Galilee. He was a born leader and became the spokesman for the group. He also asked questions such as the number of times of forgiveness to be given and what rewards were to be expected for following Jesus. He confessed that Jesus was the Son of God and then rebuked the LORD for telling the apostles about the inevitable death He would face. Jesus in turn called him “Satan” for his remarks.
He was one of the witnesses of the LORD’S transfiguration, saw Jairus’ daughter brought back to life by Jesus, and yet denied Him three times on the night before His crucifixion. He was restored to fellowship by the risen Christ and given a pastoral commission (John 21:15-22). He was the central figure in the first twelve chapters of the book of Acts, was rebuked by Paul for compromise with the Judaizers (Galatians 2:11-21), wrote two letters in his old age to the persecuted church in Rome (1 and 2 Peter), and was, according to tradition, crucified upside down at his request, feeling himself unworthy to die as his Lord had died.
Andrew was the younger brother of Peter, and he was noted for introducing people to Jesus. He lived in both Capernaum and Bethsaida during his lifetime and was a fisherman like his brother. He had been a follower of John the Baptist (Mark 1:16, 18) when John instructed him to start following Jesus instead. Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to the Lord Jesus. He brought Greek inquirers to see the Lord (John 12:20-26) and brought the child who had the meager lunch to Jesus that resulted in the feeding of over five thousand people (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). Because of his dedication to spreading the gospel, Andrew incurred the wrath of a Roman official whose wife had been won to Christ through his preaching, and was placed on an x-shaped cross on which he died after three days, all the while telling all who passed by about Jesus.
Bartholomew, who was also named Nathaniel, was a resident of Cana of Galilee. He came to Christ after Jesus called him a true Israelite without guile (John 1:47). He was someone who loved searching through and studying the Scriptures, a man of sincerity, earnest in prayer, and probably teamed up with Philip to preach in later years, going to countries as far away as India, where tradition has it that he was martyred for the faith by being flayed alive with knives.
James the elder, the brother of John and the son of Zebedee, was like the others, a fisherman who lived in Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Jerusalem over the years. A faithful preacher of the gospel, he was the first apostle put to death by beheading on orders from Herod Agrippa I in 44 A.D. In his younger days, he was something of a hothead but time with the Lord Jesus had changed his composure to that of faith and compassion.
James the Lesser, known as the son of Alphaeus was from Galilee, and may have been the brother of Matthew according to some sources. A fearless proclaimer of the word of God, he is said to have died as a martyr by being sawn to pieces. There really is not a great deal of information about him.
John, the younger brother of James and son of Zebedee, was the only apostle to live to old age and wrote the Gospel bearing his name, along with three letters and the apocalyptic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which ended the New Testament and the apostolic era after his death around A.D. 96. He had been a man of volatile temper and judgment in his youth, but the years with Jesus and the transforming power of the Spirit made him a model of Christian love and a great soldier of the faith against the growing number of apostate teachers in later years.
Thaddeus, the son of Cleophas and Mary (not Jesus’ mother) is another apostle about whom little is known. Tradition tells us that he was a fearless and dedicated servant of the Lord Jesus who spent time in the areas near the Euphrates River and lands beyond the boundaries of Rome as well in the eastern areas of Asia Minor. He, too, met a martyr’s death by being shot with arrows.
Matthew is known as a former tax collector who left everything including his riches to follow Jesus, who called him to apostolic service. He was made part of a brotherhood who, apart from the power of Christ, would have avoided and hated him for his previous work serving Rome and seen him as a traitor to the Jews. His work with numbers, reports, records, as well as a student of the Scriptures gave him the opportunity to write one of the Gospels, which was dedicated to the Jewish people, showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah according to the prophets. He was killed for his faith while preaching in Ethiopia.
Philip is also an apostle who does not receive a great deal of attention save in the gospel of John where he is gently rebuked by the Lord Jesus in the Upper Room for asking Him to show them the Father. Jesus declared that if anyone saw Him, they saw the Father (John 14:7-15). If Philip is the apostle referred to in the book of Acts as the evangelist, he did have a major role in the spread of the gospel (Acts 8:4-8; 26-40). His death came by being hanged for his preaching.
Simon the Zealot came from a violent nationalist movement known for the murder of Roman officials and anyone who stood in the way of their goal of freedom for Israel and its restoration as an independent kingdom. Matthew would have been one of his targets save for a total love and devotion to Jesus as Lord and Savior and the future king upon the earth. He proclaimed Jesus as the Promised deliverer of the souls from condemnation, far more important than national interest. He too was martyred for the sake of the gospel, but the cause is disputed.
Thomas, also known as Didymus (twin), was a born skeptic who looked at life under a cloud of doubt. Jesus chose him to show that honest skepticism is not forbidden or discouraged when it comes to issues of faith and commitment to God and His direction. We are told by Jesus to think and honestly count the cost of total devotion to Him (Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 14:25-33). It was Thomas who declared that he would go and die with the Lord if necessary (John 11:16), and he is best known for his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, based on seeing Him die and be buried. His doubting was based on grief, only to be rewarded with Jesus’ presence when He entered the room, alive again. Thomas immediately got on his knees and declared Him his Lord and God (John 20:24-29). From that time on, he traveled to places as far away as India spreading the news about Jesus and met his death by being run through with a spear. He is allegedly buried in India.
Last on the list of every mention of the Twelve is the man who had the greatest opportunity for service and the spread of the greatest message of God to all the nations, yet ended up as a symbol of evil, treachery, and betrayal. No one names his child after him, and he is the ultimate loser. He is Judas Iscariot, an example of a false convert and hid within his soul deceit and hypocrisy.
He stayed with Jesus for three and a half years and had witnessed His miracles, teachings, casting out of demons, proving His Divine nature, and given the privilege of proclaiming His message to towns and villages and given miraculous power to heal and cast out demons. Yet, it is apparent that he never really believed in Jesus or His mission of redemption. He was called a devil (John 6:70-71), stole from the apostle’s money bag (John 12:4-6), called “the son of perdition” in Jesus’ high priestly prayer (John 17:12), had been described as being better if he had not been born (Matthew 26:24-25), and was possessed by Satan to betray Jesus the night before His trial and crucifixion (Luke 22:1-6). Judas identified Him to the soldiers who had come to arrest Him by kissing Him on the cheek, a mockery of affection (Matthew 26:48; Mark 14:43-49; Luke 22:47-48; John 18:2-3). He sold Jesus out for the price of a slave (Matthew 26:14-16), became remorseful over what he had done, but never repented (Matthew 27:3-10), hung himself, and deliberately went to hell. His is a blatant example of a wasted life and the loss of opportunity and purpose and will be sent to the Lake of Fire at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) along with all who reject the gift of redemption and eternal life with the LORD.
There is absolutely NO ONE today who could even begin to imitate and accomplish the work of these men, nor is there anyone who has been given the power and authority as were these men. The person who falsely claims to be a modern-day “apostle” has never seen the risen Christ, nor received a direct commission from Him, has never performed genuine miracles, or instructed to write Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Paul was the last apostle chosen by Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8-11), and the office of apostle ended with the death of John and has never been given to any follower of Jesus since that day. No others need apply.
The verses conclude with the Lord Jesus coming down from the area where He had chosen His apostles and began to heal the gathering crowd of their individual sicknesses and to cast out the evil spirits from the possessed. When these acts of compassion were accomplished and now had the crowd’s attention, He then began to teach them the principles that would change their views about true devotion to God and the world around them. These teachings take up the rest of this chapter and will be interpreted as we continue our biblical journey.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.