Simon, the Zealot

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In the New Testament, there are four places where the disciples were named in list form: Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13.

In this ongoing series on the 12 Disciples, we have looked at Matthew, the tax-collector and James, son of Alphaeus and when we last left off, we mentioned that one other disciple besides James, son of Alphaeus appeared only in the four lists.

Simon, the Zealot; and that is all we know about him!

In First Century Judaism, there were four notable sects: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. In the Gospels, Jesus has dialogs and disagreements with the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were the keepers and defenders of the Law while the Sadducees’ center of power was the running of the Temple. The Essenes were the separatists and it is thought that some inhabited the Qumran community near where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found leading to the theory that the scrolls were collected and prepared by the Essenes. Lastly, the Zealots were the rebels who wanted to oppose Rome militarily. This group is probably best known for the Siege of Masada.

There are two possibilities for the “zealot” designation of Simon. One, of course, was that he was part of the Zealot sect. The other possibility was that he was a zealous individual.

John MacArthur offered some interesting lessons one might draw from the story of Simon the Zealot.

Whether Simon was a Zealot in the sense of being part of the sect or zealous in a sense of zeal for God and the Law, he was without doubt a passionate individual and he was won over by Jesus! Quoting from MacArthur’s sermon transcript:

Now a man like Simon to attach himself to them must have been a man with a tremendous passion, a tremendous capacity for zeal. And you can imagine that he must have been a fireball when it got to the work of the Lord. He found a better leader and a greater cause.

Another consideration MacArthur brought up was what kind of tension might have been within Simon and for that matter within the group towards the former Roman collaborator, Matthew, the tax-collector. Another excerpt:

Simon believed and was transformed, Judas did not, and so no one names anything Judas. Simon became Christ’s man. Think of how wonderful it must have been for him to get along with Matthew who collected taxes for the Roman government. I wonder if he ever had just little anxieties about Matthew.

The 12 Disciples were an interesting collection of diverse individuals. Yet, they had in common being called by Jesus and loved by Jesus and sent by him to start the daisy chain of communicating the Good News of the Gospel to all the world down the ages.

We started this series with Matthew, a social outcast as a tax-collector who became part of the fabric of the new community in Jesus. Though, we only have his name in the lists and the one episode of his calling by Jesus, his recollections became Scripture in the Gospel according to Matthew. James, son of Alphaeus, possibly Matthew’s brother and Simon, the Zealot who may have had nothing but contempt for tax collectors and anyone connected with one, yet, in Christ, they were united!

Next up, the disciple whose voice is heard in one question in the four Gospels.


James, son of Alphaeus

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In Mark 2:14, a tax-collector named Levi was described as the son of Alphaeus. This event is very similar to the calling of Matthew found in Matthew 9:9-13 such that we believe Matthew and Levi are the same people.

As for as James, son of Alphaeus (Mt 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:15, Acts 1:13), the only data we have on him are these four verses!

Was he the brother of Matthew?


What else might we say about him?

If we apply our process of observation-interpretation-application, what do we come up with for James, son of Alphaeus?

We should understand that following Jesus is not likely to make us famous. Ultimately, our lives are not for the praise of humankind; rather, our lives are ultimately to be lived for an audience of ONE and if we are indeed good and faithful in following our Lord, we will be welcomed into His joy when we meet Him!

This series on the 12 disciples will continue bit by bit in the coming weeks. To see previous posts on this, go to the 12 Disciples tag.

In case if you wonder if anyone has ever preached about James, son of Alphaeus, Pastor John MacArthur offered these thoughts in a sermon about this little known disciple.

The deaths of the various apostles have varying degrees of historical documentation. Not surprisingly, the stores of the lesser-known apostles have less certainty in terms of documentation. Excerpt from link: Few, if any of the traditions can be proved, but for some, the circumstantial evidence appears quite strong.

In the next post, we will look at the other disciple who only appears in the lists.

Matthew’s Story, Part II

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Previously, in part I, we highlighted that Matthew’s name appears in 4 lists: Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13. And we posed the question as to whether we could see some differences in the lists.

Did you notice that in three of the four, Matthew is listed with his name only and no descriptor. But in Matthew 10:3 we see: Matthew the tax collector.

Isn’t it interesting that only in the list that Matthew wrote that his occupation is highlighted?!

Flip back to Matthew 9:9-13 the one other place in the Gospel of Matthew that Matthew mentioned himself.

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

What did Matthew feel when he began to follow of Jesus? Though we can’t read Matthew’s mind when he penned the Gospel passages here, but it probably isn’t too much of a stretch to suspect that Matthew had an overwhelming sense of the grace of Jesus in allowing him into the company of his followers. Tax collectors were hated people! Yet, Jesus had the audacity to talk to them and dine with them. This was scandalous! And so Matthew probably felt a mixture of joy and unworthiness. And indeed, isn’t that what grace is: unmerited favor?

And so when Matthew got to writing the episode of the selection of the Twelve, he remembered: Jesus called me to be one of the Twelve, yes me, a wretched hated tax collector.

The story of Jesus’ meeting with Matthew was also described in Mark 2:14-17 and Luke 5:27-32.

What do you notice there?

Answers below the artwork.

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We find out that Matthew was apparently also known by the name Levi.

We find out the party of “tax collectors and sinners” was at his home.

And we find out that he is the son of Alphaeus which might mean he was the brother of one of the other 12 disciples.

To be continued …

Matthew’s story, part I


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There are 4 places in Scripture where the disciples are named in list fashion. Take a look at how Matthew is described:

Matthew 10:3

Mark 3:18

Luke 6:15

Acts 1:13

Do you notice any differences? What do you make of it?

To be continued …..

Mark 16:1-8

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Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (NASB)

Much has been speculated about the “ending” of Mark. If you look at the footnotes to various Bibles, there are various explanation about vv. 9-20 such as in the NASB: “Later mss add vv 9-20”; in NRSV: “Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9–20. In most authorities verses 9–20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.”; in NIV: “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”

Whether v. 8 was the original ending of Mark, there is no way for us to know. What we do know is that vv. 9-20 is probably not the ending.

Thus, we are left with vv. 1-8 as the ending… “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Are we feeling unsatisfied with this ending?

Yet, it is somewhat consistent with what has gone on in the other chapters in the Gospel according to Mark where we read that Jesus’ followers were consistently unable to grasp what Jesus was teaching and not able to process the idea that he would suffer, die, and rise again. The response of v. 8 is quite in character.

The end of Mark is sort of an echo of the ending of Jonah 4:10-11, Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

In Jonah, we have a very reluctant prophet. He eventually delivered the message to Nineveh but didn’t have the same heart for the people that God had. In the ending of Jonah, we are left “hanging” as to whether Jonah’s heart ultimately was softened and thus conformed to God’s heart.

With Mark 16:8, we are left “hanging.” Trembling and astonishment are pretty reasonable reactions to seeing the empty tomb and hearing the message from the angel. Being afraid and silent in response to a shock to the system – Jesus. Dead. Jesus. Not. Dead?!! – is probably pretty normal. But do the women stay in that place? Do we remain in that space?

The readers of Mark in its time, and of course for us today in the 21st century, know from the other Gospel accounts and from the existence and persistence of the church to this day that the women ultimately did leave the feelings and thoughts of v. 8 behind, and they told the disciples, and all of them together proclaimed the risen Jesus in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!

NT Wright thinks the ending has been lost and gives various reasons why but he also offers some thoughts on what could be significant if v. 8 was indeed the ending:
It might just be possible to think that Mark did stop there – but that he intended anyone reading the book out loud, as they would, to call on one of the eye-witnesses present to tell the story of what they had seen, either that first Easter day or shortly afterward. […] the way Mark’s book now finishes encourages us all the more to explore not only the faith of the early church, that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, but our own faith. There is a blank at the end of the story, and we are invited to fill it ourselves. Do we take Easter for granted, or have we found ourselves awestruck at the strange new work of God? What do we know of the risen Lord? Where is he now going ahead of us? What tasks has he for us to undertake today, to take the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth?

Mark in the middle


Screen capture of Mark 9:18-32 in the Codex Sinaiticus.

Many experts on the Gospel according to Mark note that near the middle of the book is a pivotal set of teachings from Jesus.

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus cures the blind man at Bethsaida

This is followed (verse 27) by Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter replies (verse 29), “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus then on three occasions teaches them about his death and resurrection.

Mark 8:31, Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31, The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.

Mark 10:33-34, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.

This section is closed out with the healing of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) and Mark 11 begins to describe the final week of Jesus in Jerusalem that culminate in his death and resurrection.

As you can see the heart of this section and the very middle of Mark is the three teachings of Jesus about his death and resurrection. And just as the kingdom of God parables were about small and slow things, the disciple’s expectations are again turned upside down in this case by Jesus predicting his death and resurrection.

If you look at what follows after each time Jesus announces his death and resurrection, Mark recounts how the disciples did not understand.

After Mark 8:31, we find verses 32-33:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

After Mark 9:31, we find verses 32-37:
But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

After Mark 10:33-34, we find verses 35-45:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

The Gospel of Mark begins with Mark 1:1, the beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ. Jesus begins in Mark 1:14-15, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news (gospel) of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news (gospel).

The good news is that the kingdom of God is here! Jesus is the king!!

The disciples like this but they don’t understand that the central part of this truth is that Jesus must suffer and die. Like Peter they have set their minds of their own agenda not God’s plans. Their hearts are set on their own greatness and glory not on servanthood and welcoming the powerless. The “kingdom of God” they have inside their heads is not the same as what Jesus is proclaiming. And of course, they dislike the whole suffering, being rejected and dying part and overlook the resurrection part.

If you are helping to organize small group Bible studies or a Sunday school teaching series, consider Mark 8:22 to Mark 10:52. If possible consider going through the whole Gospel according to Mark. But certainly within Mark 8:22 to Mark 10:52 there is much potent teaching on what it means to be a follower of Jesus!

Mark and the mysterious kingdom of God

Romanian icon of Parable of Sower and Seeds

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Mark’s gospel starts off quickly with the story moving in rapid succession from one event to another including many healing miracles and to short teaching moments.

However, in chapter 4:1-34, there is a longer set of teaching beginning with the Parable of the Sower. Interestingly, the brisk pace set by chapters 1-3 is now contrasted by parables of what can be said to be about “slow” and “small” things: sower/seeds (4:1-9, 13-20), light under a basket (4:21-25), growing seed (4:26-29), and mustard seed (4:30-32). All of these parables come under the category of Jesus explaining to them the kingdom of God, Mark 4:11, To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.

The disciples find all of these things hard to understand. This theme of the disciples “not getting it” will be a re-occurent one in the Gospel of Mark. One possible reason for them “not getting it” was that these things were outside of their expectations. Perhaps they were looking for a military installed kingdom to throw off the Roman rulers and to restore the nation of Israel to its previous glory. Thus, these stories of “small and slow things” would seem a bit disappointing. The ways of the kingdom of God are not our ways. The timetable of the kingdom of God is not our timetable.

Though the disciples do not understand, they do have hope. See Mark 4:10, But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable and Mark 4:34, And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

We can sit passively having the teachings of Jesus go in one ear and out the other. That is not the posture of a disciple. The movement of discipleship, of being a follower, of being a learner is spending time with him. It is wrestling with what he has said and did.

For the disciples, they could be with Jesus and walk the same dusty road and ask him questions. How about us today?

Here are perhaps four ways:

  1. consider His teachings – individually in personal study and in gatherings with others – chew it over, talk it over, pray through it, seek to make sense of it, and put it into practice.
  2. yield to the Holy Spirit – the Spirit assures us we are in Christ, shows us truth, guides us to live rightly, convicts us when we go astray, prompts us in prayer, empowers us to serve others, etc.
  3. live together in community – the church is called the body of Christ; since Jesus commands us to love one another, how do we put that into practice without being in contact with one another? No better way to experience the mind of Christ and be the body of Christ then when we find practical ways to live together as a community of faith living and working together to love people as Jesus did.
  4. partake in baptism and the Lord’s supper – the elements of water (baptism) and bread/wine (Lord’s supper) are visible symbols of the invisible grace God has bestowed upon us. Indeed, these things could become mere “ritual” but clearly Jesus instituted these for our benefit. When we witness and partake in baptism and communion, the potential is there to be reminded and reimbursed in the graciousness of God and majesty of what Christ has done. We all can probably think of occasions when we sensed the presence of God in these simple but powerful, mysterious, and meaningful sacraments.