The Text: Mark 3:13-19 – He goes up into a mountain, and calls [those] whom He wanted; and they came to Him. And He ordained twelve, so that they should be with Him, and so that He might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons: And Simon He surnamed Peter; and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, He even surnamed them Boanerges, which is “The Sons of Thunder”; and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed Him. And they [all] went into a house.
One of the most important decisions Jesus had to make while on earth was in choosing His apostles. These were the men that would be His representatives, the men who would prepare people for entrance into Heaven’s Empire—the Kingdom of God. People would look on these twelve men as examples, as spokesmen for Jesus Himself. And if the wrong men were chosen, then that would reflect badly on Jesus, and people might reject the message—in other words, there were literally souls at stake: that’s how important this choice actually was.
The Text, part 1 – Jesus and the Mountain (Mark 3:13)
Some time after the events recorded earlier in the chapter, Jesus has gotten away from the mob of people and takes some time to be alone.
He goes up into a mountain
Mark, writing to the Roman audience, didn’t deem it necessary to include information supplied by Luke: that Jesus went to the mountain and spent all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12). Don’t miss this point: Jesus, even though He is God in the flesh, felt it necessary to get away from people and spend time alone talking to the Father. The next day, He knew, would be when He chose twelve men to represent Him to others. This was an extremely important decision to make, and one that He wouldn’t think of doing without prayer first. Then there is the fact that He prayed all night. Have you ever been that dedicated in your petitions to God that you prayed for hours straight? Now, spending hours straight in talking to God is not a requirement for an acceptable prayer, but maybe this example of Jesus will encourage us to spend more time in prayer than we normally do. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from this is take time to pray. Don’t let the pressures of the world take you away from your time alone with God.
He calls [to Himself] those who He wanted
Instead of the massive crowds that were running towards Him earlier in the chapter, Jesus calls a specific group of people. Luke’s account says that these people were Jesus’ disciples. He didn’t call everyone, but only a specific group of people. The word translated “calls” is the same word used in Acts 2:39, and refers to calling for a specific purpose. There it was a calling for the purpose of miraculous gifts, here is it a calling to select apostles (who would also be given miraculous gifts).
The phrase “whom He would” (KJV) means “who He wanted.” He would only choose the apostles from among those who were His disciples already. Thus, those are the only ones He called.
They came to Him
Going back to Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as the King who is announcing His impending reign and overthrow of the Kingdom of Darkness, His authority is displayed here. Jesus has had men following Him for some time—Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi have all been named—and they obey when He calls them. Jesus has a call for His people today, to go into the human fields and work, bringing in souls to Him. Do we answer that call?
The Text, part 2 – Jesus Chooses Missionaries (Mark 3:14-15)
He ordained twelve
Literally, Jesus made twelve. This was His choice to make a new group from among His disciples; a special group with a special role, with special gifts to go along with it.
Why twelve? Some have asked what the significance of this number twelve is. One of the first answers that springs to mind is that the Old Testament was given by God to the twelve tribes of Israel, and so the number twelve had a special significance to the Jews. Also, there’s this answer that goes along with it: In Jewish thought, numbers had certain significances, certain meanings beyond their literal count. For instance, the number three was representative of God (we can think of this as the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); the number four, it is said by those who have studied numerology, is representative of mankind (perhaps because our four limbs?). Thus, when you multiply the two together, you have the number 12, which represents the interaction between God and man (the Law given to the twelve tribes, and the gospel given by the twelve apostles).
We could even go into the book of Revelation and see the number of saved as 144,000, which is 12 x 12 x 1,000. Or, in other words, the saved of the Old Testament, and the saved of the New Testament, a huge number (1,000 means an innumerable amount).
Jesus chose twelve men, because this was to be representative of a new interaction between God and mankind.
That they should be with Him
These twelve men, who would come to be known as “apostles” (a word which, surprisingly, Matthew and Mark only use once, and John doesn’t use at all except in Revelation), were men that were basically giving up their normal lives to be with Jesus. Their jobs had to be left behind, their families, their friends, their homes. These men followed Jesus wherever He went, except when…
He might send them forth to preach
These men were going to follow Jesus, but they would also be getting some on-the-job training. They were expected to preach the same thing that Jesus preached: that the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand.” This is a wise move on Jesus’ part for a few reasons:
First, it prepares the ones who would carry on the message after His death on the cross.
Second, it helps spread the load of proclaiming the message; Jesus wouldn’t have to do it all by Himself anymore.
Third, it also may have helped with crowd control. Mark made it clear that the people came from all over the place to Jesus because of the miracles He had done. Now, with the addition of twelve more miracle-working men, people wouldn’t always be flocking to Jesus—they might have someone closer to home that they could go to, seeking healing.
But don’t miss that the primary reason given for choosing these men is so that they could preach.
And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons
The miracles that drew people to Jesus, the powers that amazed the crowds (and the disciples as well) were passed on to these twelve men. The miracles were not for show, but as a confirmation of their preaching message, showing that the prophesied Kingdom was truly near. This is what the Jewish people had been looking forward to, longing for, for generations. And these miracles would confirm that their hopes were about to be realized in Jesus.
The Text, part 3 – Jesus and the Men (Mark 3:16-19)
Knowing that his readers would naturally want to know who these twelve men were, Mark gives their names, along with a few descriptive phrases.
Simon He surnamed Peter
The readers see the first name, and think, Simon, okay, I remember him. He’s one of those fishermen, whose mother-in-law was healed by Jesus. This Simon was one of the first disciples of Jesus (actually the very first one mentioned by Mark), and so his inclusion here is not really surprising. His name appears first in every list of the apostles, and there is no denying his special place in Jesus’ plan.
Jesus gave Simon a new name, which in Hebrew is Cephas, but which in Greek is Petros, or Peter. Both Cephas and Peter mean the same thing: a stone or a rock. This name stuck, because with very few exceptions, he is known by the names “Peter,” “Cephas,” or “Simon Peter” from this point forward.
It is said by many of the ancient writers that Mark’s gospel was written using the information given to him by Peter (with whom he was working, according to 1 Peter 5:13). But this isn’t the reason why Peter is first-named among the apostles (for he appears there in all the other lists as well).
Peter was told that he specifically would be given the keys to the Kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19). Jesus also gave Peter a specific commission that applied only to him: When you have returned (from denying Jesus), strengthen the brethren [the rest of the apostles] (Luke 22:31-32).
Though he abandoned the Lord in His hour of trial, and denied Him with an oath, Peter repented; and he went on to stand up with the other apostles on the Day of Pentecost and preach the first gospel sermon. He is the first person recorded who told a wayward Christian what to do for forgiveness of sins (Acts 8:22). He was the first to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11, 15). And he is one of only a handful of men whose writings were included in the New Testament. Certainly, Peter’s spot at the top of the list is appropriate.
James, the son of Zebedee
The readers would have recognized this name too. When James and his brother John are mentioned together, James always comes first (except for in Luke 9:28). It’s interesting to note that James is always mentioned second in the list of the apostles, before his brother, John; but his brother is more well-known and figures more prominently in the book of Acts than James does.
James was one of the three apostles who was permitted to witness the transfiguration. He preached and baptized on Pentecost. But sadly, the most well-known event in his life may well have been his murder by Herod in Acts 12. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus gave to James and John that they would both be baptized with the baptism that He was about to be baptized with—that is, the baptism of suffering and martyrdom.
Since he’s almost always mentioned before John, and since John is quite frequently called “the brother of James,” it is logical to conclude that James is the older of the two.
John, the brother of James
Like Peter and James, John was one of the three who were permitted to witness the transfiguration. Most scholars believe that John is the disciple spoken of in John 18:15 who entered into the high priest’s palace with Jesus for His trial. He is also the only one of the apostles who was mentioned as being at the cross (John 19:25-27). John was a prominent member of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2), and wrote a large section of the New Testament (John, the three letters, and Revelation).
Whom he called Boanarges, which is, “The Sons of Thunder”
Perhaps this is due to their fiery attitude, which was displayed in Luke 9:54, where they both wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan villages which rejected Jesus. It’s a nickname that Jesus gave them that is only mentioned by Mark—none of the other writers ever use it. But it is worth noting that Jesus gave nicknames to each of these three, Simon, James, and John, who would also form His “inner circle” of the apostles.
Mark is the only one of the writers to place Andrew after James and John in the list of the apostles. But while Andrew didn’t have the prominence of Peter in the biblical writings, he does hold the distinction of bringing Peter to the Lord in the first place (John 1). Andrew taught, preached, baptized, and performed miracles prior to his death as a faithful saint of Jesus Christ.
Like Andrew, Philip was anxious to bring others to Jesus. It is he that brought Nathanael (Bartholomew) to the Lord (John 1). He (along with Andrew) brought some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (John 12:21-22). Philip died as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
This man was also known by the name “Nathanael,” and was among the very first disciples of Jesus (John 1). He was from Cana in Galilee, and was the first of the disciples to confess that Jesus was “the King of Israel” and “the Son of God” (John 1).
Elsewhere called “Levi,” Matthew was a tax collector in Capernaum who left the toll booth by the sea in order to become a disciple of Jesus. He held a great feast in Jesus’ honor, with a great multitude of tax collectors in attendance (Mark 2, Luke 5). After preaching on Pentecost, and staying behind in Jerusalem when the persecution broke out under Saul of Tarsus, Matthew took the opportunity to write the gospel account which bears his name in an effort to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
First mentioned as a disciple who was willing to die with Jesus (John 11), Thomas was the last of the apostles to accept that the Savior had risen from the dead. But after seeing it for himself, Thomas made the great declaration that Jesus is “my Lord and my God” (John 20). Like most of the other apostles, Thomas died as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
James, the son of Alphaeus
Other than his father’s name, not much is known about this apostle. He is the brother of Matthew (who Mark said is the “son of Alphaeus” in 2:14), and he might be the same person described in Mark 15:40 as “James the less,” or literally, “little James.” He was a preacher, a teacher, a baptizer, and a miracle-worker who died in faith.
Matthew tells us that this man’s name was Lebbaeus, and that his surname was Thaddaeus (Matthew 10:3). In Luke’s lists, he is called “Judas, [the brother/son] of James” (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13). The best way to understand it is that his father was named James (because the phrase “of James” is identical in form to “of Zebedee” and “of Alphaeus,” and in both of those instances it is translated “son of…”). It is possible, then, that Thaddeaus was the son of James the Less (who was mentioned immediately before him). In order to make sure that he was distinguished from the Judas who betrayed Jesus, John called him “Judas…not Iscariot” (John 14:22).
Simon the Canaanite
This man was a political revolutionary, described by Luke as “Simon Zelotes,” or “Simon the Zealot” (Acts 1:13, Luke 6:15). The Zealots were very much opposed to the removal of Jewish customs, and to the taxation from the Roman government, and desired to overthrow them—oftentimes by murder. Simon changed his allegiance from Jewish nationalism to the real Kingdom of God, headed by Jesus the Messiah. And this disciple stayed faithful unto death, and was a partaker of the promised “crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him
Mark doesn’t give any misdirection or mystery when it comes to Judas: he introduces him to his readers as the betrayer, the one not to be trusted. At the time he was chosen, he was a willing and faithful disciple of Jesus, but he was still human, and gave in to the doubts, temptations, and greed that led to his betrayal of the Lord. This is why Luke 6:16 says that Judas “became a traitor” (ASV) or “turned traitor.” The name “Iscariot” is generally thought to mean “of Karioth,” a city in Judah, though some have suggested it means “man of Issachar,” or that it is from a Greek word meaning “Dagger carrier,” describing some of the murderous assassins that whose work eventually brought the Roman army in to destroy Jerusalem.
The Bible tells us plainly that Jesus knew ahead of time that Judas was the one who would betray Him. John 6:64 says “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that did not believe, and who should betray Him.” And just a few verses later, Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you twelve? And out of you, one is a devil!” (John 6:70).
And they went into a house
From the mountain to the house, these newly-chosen men go. This was a most momentous day for all thirteen men (the twelve chosen, plus Jesus). It was a day of joy, of satisfaction, of nervousness, and for some who weren’t chosen, it might have been a day of disappointment. But whether they all realized it or not, Jesus had done something that day that still has effects nearly 2,000 years later!
How Will You be Remembered?
To mankind as a whole, and even to Christians specifically, some of the apostles are nothing more than names. They are remembered for being apostles, disciples of Jesus, but that’s it. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot are all men whose works for God are mostly unknown to us today. Meanwhile, you’ve got Matthew, who is known more for his writing than anything else he did. Then there’s John, who is known for both his writings and some of his works as an apostle. And of course, none of us can forget Peter, who is well-remembered for his actions (both pre- and post-resurrection) in addition to his writings. But, there’s also Judas Iscariot. No one remembers him at all as the dedicated disciple he once was—but the traitor who he became.
Of course, how man remembers us isn’t as important as how God remembers us. For example, the twelve apostles (that includes Matthias as the replacement for Judas) all died in faith, and their names are inscribed on the foundation of the heavenly city of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10-14). Simon and Thaddaeus are just as important in God’s eyes as Peter and John. But Judas, by transgression, fell and went to his own place (Acts 1:25).
If we were to ask your friends to describe you, how long—if ever—would it take for the word “Christian” to come up? Is that what you’re known for? At all? If very few (if any) would describe you as a Christian, what does that say about your influence and your example for Jesus Christ?
Now, if God materialized in front of us right now, and began to describe each one of us as HE sees us, would He use the word “saved” or “lost”?
On the great day of judgment, there will only be two groups of people: (1) those who are told “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord,” and (2) those who are told, “You wicked and lazy slave!” and who hear the words “cast the unprofitable slave into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The Lord remembers what you do here on this earth, whether you obey Him or decide to do your own thing. He will bring that up at the judgment. You will have to give an answer.
If your answer is “I believed in Jesus Christ; I repented of my sins; I confessed His name; I was baptized; and I tried to always live for Him,” then you will hear the words “Well done.” But if your answer leaves any of those out; if your answer is “I believed in Jesus Christ, but that was it”; or if your answer is “I believed in Jesus Christ; I repented of my sins’ I made that confession; and I was even baptized; but I didn’t really live for Him,” then you will hear the words “depart from me.”
The judgment of God is completely up to you—how you live your life here determines what you will hear from the Lord up there. Why not make certain of your salvation today?