Jesus chose his Twelve Apostles from among a larger group of followers, including two surprising candidates – Mark 3:13-21.
After preaching to the crowds near Capernaum, Jesus departed to a “mountain” and summoned his disciples, where he chose twelve men from among a larger group. The resultant company corresponded to the twelve tribes of Israel; effectively, he was reconstituting the covenant people of Yahweh, only now, around himself and not the Torah or Temple.
In the passage, the Greek verb rendered “appointed” more accurately means “make.” In other words, “Jesus made twelve disciples.” There was more occurring than simply the selection of twelve men. But for the immediate period, he selected twelve companions to be with him, preach the gospel, and exercise his authority over demons.
- (Mark 3:13-19) – “And he went up the mountain and called to him whom he himself would; and they went to him. And he appointed twelve that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have authority to cast out demons. And Simon he surnamed Peter and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James. And them, he surnamed Boanerges, which is, Sons of thunder, and Andrew and Philip and Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him” – (Parallel passages: Matthew 10:1-4, Luke 6:12-16).
The account recorded in Luke adds that he chose these twelve men after spending a night in intense prayer. Matthew stresses that he gave the disciples “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness” – (Matthew 10:1-4, Luke 6:12-16).
Some English translations read that he “went up into the hills,” but the Greek noun means “mountain,” not “hill,” and the distinction is important since it highlights the symbolism in the story. Like Moses proceeding up Mount Sinai, Jesus left Capernaum to be in his Father’s presence on the “mountain.”
The twelve disciples included Jewish men from various walks of life, and two surprising choices; first, the “Zealot,” most likely, a man who was an active opponent of Roman rule. And second, a “tax-collector” or “publican,” a man who served Rome.
There is no indication that any of the twelve were from among the religious authorities or the aristocratic classes of Judean society – They were from the common stock, and Jesus summoned them for three purposes – To be with him, to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and to have authority to cast out demons.
True discipleship meant to be with him, to proclaim his message, and to act in his name against satanic forces that afflict his people. Jesus was followed by a growing number of followers, but here, he set apart a more select company from among them.
“Disciple” means a “learner,” a “student” – (mathéstés – Strong’s – #3101) – Someone who is an apprentice. This “inner circle” was distinguished from other disciples by, first, the designation “apostles,” and second, by their close association with the Son of God.
Jesus called them “apostles.” The Greek verb translated as “send forth” is apostellō – (Strong’s – #649), a verb related to the noun apostolos or “apostle” – (Strong’s – #652), which means one sent or commissioned, an envoy. The term is used in Greek literature for messengers, delegates, representatives, and even ambassadors to cities and nations.
Up to this point, the authority to proclaim the gospel and to exorcise demons has been the sole possession of Jesus. But now, he granted the same authority to his chosen apostles. Apparently, he did not give this same authority to the larger group of disciples that followed him.
In the several lists of the twelve apostles, Peter (or “Simon”) is always mentioned first. “Simon” or “Simeon” was his Hebrew name. “Peter” translates the Greek word petros or “rock.” Elsewhere, he is called Cephas or Képhas, an Aramaic name that also means “rock” – (John 1:42, Galatians 1:18, 2:9-14).
“Matthew” may be the same person as the “Levi” named in Mark 2:13 – (See also Matthew 9:9). Only in this passage are the sons of Zebedee called Boanerges, the “sons of thunder.” There is a hint later as to why Jesus named them such:
- (Mark 9:38) – “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to hinder him because he was not following us.”
The source of the label “Iscariot” is uncertain. Possibly, it came from the name of a village east of the Dead Sea called Kerioth of which he may have been a native. Less likely, but also possible, is that it was derived from the word sicarius or “dagger,” a term used for the “dagger men,” the Jewish revolutionaries that were determined to liberate the nation from Rome. If so, it would suggest that Judas was a member of the “zealots.”
Some English translations refer to the second “Simon” in the list as “the Canaanite.” But this is a mistranslation. The Greek term is from an Aramaic word that has been transliterated into Greek letters, one that sounds like ‘Canaanite’ but means “zealot.”
Far more relevant, from his first mention in Mark, Judas is identified as the one who “betrayed” Jesus. The same Greek verb was used when John the Baptist was “delivered up” to Herod. Thus, Mark anticipates the messianic purpose of Jesus to be “handed over” to his enemies – (Mark 1:14).
- (Mark 3:20-21) – “And the multitude came together again so that they could not so much as eat bread. And they who were near to him, hearing of it, went out to secure him, for they were saying: He is beside himself!”
When he returned to Capernaum from the mountain, the same crowd as before began to throng him, so much so, there was insufficient room to organize a meal. The “friends” intent on removing Jesus were not his disciples, but members of his own family. This is confirmed in verse 31 when his “mother and his brothers, standing without,” were summoning him.”
Finally, the narrative is “interrupted” by the arrival of the scribes from Jerusalem. In the next section, they will accuse Jesus of using the power of Satan to perform his deeds.