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Jesus Commissions The Twelve

Jesus Commissions The Twelve poster

“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.”—Luke 6:12–16

We read frequently in this Gospel of the times that our Lord spent in prayer. This is in keeping with its special character as portraying the perfect Manhood of Him who was also God the Son. As man, he felt not only the need of, but the desire for, these seasons of communion with His Father. On this occasion, before choosing the twelve who were to represent Him as His apostles, he spent the entire night on a mountainside, alone with God the Father.

It was not as though He were presenting His own needs to God. It was rather that He was communing with the Father concerning these men, whom He was about to appoint to their high offices, and praying for divine blessing upon them. He ever lived in obedience to the Father’s will, and did nothing except as directed of Him.

If He, the sinless One, the Divine Man, recognized the place and value of prayer in this way, how much more should we, who are so conscious of our frailty and sinfulness and so ignorant of what is best for us, spend much time in prayer, seeking wisdom for the path and grace to help in every hour of need. Prayer is not just asking of God. It is talking to God. It involves worship, thanksgiving and communion as well as supplication and intercession.

On the morrow, following the night of prayer, Jesus called twelve men, from the larger group who followed Him, whom He set apart in a special way that they might be with Him and be trained to go forth as His representatives. To them He gave the name of apostles. An apostle is a sent one; literally, a missionary. But the apostleship of the twelve involved more than this. They were specially commissioned to represent Christ as His ambassadors, first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, later to the great Gentile world. Judas, we know, failed in this, but Matthias was chosen to take over his office. Paul was an apostle of a new order, with a special commission for the present age only.

The twelve were separated from temporal employment and as they went about with their Master they learned to rely on God for sustenance and to share the hardships into which Jesus had entered voluntarily, as a Servant of God and man. Their training was preparatory to the greater mission upon which they were to enter after the death and resurrection of their Lord.

Let me stress one thing in connection with them that is often overlooked. They were a band of comparatively young men. John, we are told by one of the early church fathers, was an adolescent when called of Jesus to follow Him. The others, too, were either very young or just in the prime of life. The artists generally represent most of them as elderly men from the beginning of their association with Jesus. But the fact that, except as their lives were cut short by martyrdom, they continued as witnesses for Christ for many years after the new dispensation began, is proof that they were far from being advanced in age when they first gathered about the Savior. This is suggestive. Youth is the time to yield oneself to Christ for life-service. Too many wait until the flower of life is past before giving heed to the divine call and accepting the cross, with all that it implies. The earlier one is saved and surrendered to the Lord, the more he may be permitted to accomplish for God. Consider the many who heard and heeded the call, while young, to follow Jesus. Think of the young Martin Luther, the college students, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and their associates, the seventeen year old D.L. Moody, the nineteen year old Chas. H. Spurgeon, the youthful Wm. Booth, and a host of others that might be named, all illustrating the old couplet, which declares that

“Youth is the time to serve the Lord,
The time to assure the great reward.”

Let us examine this list of young men chosen to be Christ’s apostles. Every name is interesting and suggestive as we recall what Scripture tells us concerning its bearer.

First, we have impetuous, but devoted, Simon, the fisherman, whom Jesus named Peter: the rock-like man, a stone to be builded upon Christ, the great foundation Rock, on whom the whole church was to rest. He was a man of contradictions, which is to say, that like all true believers, he had two natures. Sometimes we see the flesh in activity, and more often, the spirit. Though he denied His Lord on the night of the betrayal and mock trial before Caiaphas, he became valiant for the truth after the Pentecostal enduement, and eventually, in old age, about A.D. 69 or 70, sealed his testimony by a martyr’s death.

Andrew, Peter’s brother, excelled as a personal worker. It was he who led Peter first to Christ. We do not get much information about his later ministry in Scripture, but wherever he is mentioned he is seen as a helpful man, serving in a humble capacity. According to early church records, he too was martyred, nailed on a cross.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, like the two mentioned above, were fishermen. Jesus designated them “Boanerges,” that is, Sons of Thunder. This suggests that they were stormy, energetic young men, very different, so far as John is concerned, to the almost effeminate character generally given him by the artists. James was the first of the twelve to be put to death for the Gospel’s sake, “slain with the sword” by Herod’s order. John lived to be over ninety years of age and though suffering much for Christ, died a natural death at Ephesus.

Philip and Bartholomew (also called Nathaniel) are linked together. They were friends before they knew the Lord and closer comrades afterwards.

Matthew was, as we have seen, a tax collector under the Roman government, with his office in Capernaum. He there left all to follow Christ and probably devoted his wealth to the cause in which he was enlisted.

Because of his attitude following the resurrection, we often call Thomas the Doubter. But he was more than that. He came to conclusions slowly, but he was faithful and devoted and was ready to go to Judea with Jesus and die with Him if necessary. He seems to have carried the Gospel to India. To this day, there is a church of many members in that land, who call themselves Christians of saint (or holy) Thomas.

Of James, the son of Alpheus, we do not know very much. He and his brother Judas (not Iscariot) were cousins of Jesus after the flesh. Judas may be the author of the epistle we know as Jude, but the James who wrote the epistle bearing his name seems to have been a brother of Jesus, an overseer of the church in Jerusalem. Elsewhere this Judas is called Thaddeus.

Simon Zelotes, or the Canaanite, was formerly a member of a secret order that had as its object the overthrow of the Roman government and the deliverance of the Jews from that authority. He turned from this to Christ as the true Deliverer of Israel.

To all eternity, the last of the group will be known as Judas the traitor. Of him our Lord declared, “Good were it for that man if he had never been born!” He was apparently the only Judean of the company, a man of Kerioth, as Iscariot means. He was probably the most cultured of the twelve and their trusted treasurer, but he proved recreant to this responsibility and went down to eternal infamy as the one who fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, selling the Shepherd of Israel for thirty pieces of silver.

As we consider these men, what lessons they bring before us. May it be ours to emulate their virtues and to avoid their faults!