Jesus chooses twelve disciples, Part 1
Jan 21, 2014
In Luke 6:1-11, we read that Jesus began to experience His first opposition from the scribes and Pharisees. The issue was how to interpret the law in regard to the Sabbath. He had already run into opposition in Nazareth for pointing out to them that God loved Phoenician widows as much as Israelite widows, and that God had healed a Syrian leper while there were many other lepers in Israel. The rabid nationalism in Nazareth was a problem that needed to be addressed, and Jesus did so. It nearly got Him killed.
But in Luke 6 the story progressed to show the roots of a more general opposition, this time by the doctors of the law and the religious leaders in Judea. Luke 6:11 says that Jesus’ way of keeping the Sabbath caused the scribes and Pharisees to be “filled with rage.” To them, Jesus had suddenly become a problem—in essence, He was thought to be a lawless miracle-worker who ministered outside of the established religious norms and did not submit to their long-established traditions.
Jesus’ reaction was to pray about it. Luke 6:12 says,
12 And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.
He was alone, and there were no witnesses to hear His conversation with His Father. But when He returned, He began to call twelve disciples, so we may conclude with certainty that this was His Father’s answer. Jesus already had a fairly large group of disciples wherever He went. No doubt some of these followed Him from place to place, if they could afford it. But now Jesus formally chose twelve of them to work with Him in full-time training for ministry. Eventually, these would become apostles. And so a new phase of His ministry began. We read in Luke 6:13-16,
13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew [i.e., Nathanael]; 15 and Matthew [i.e., Levi] and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Luke names Simon Peter first, although John tells us that Andrew was actually the first to hear of Jesus through John the Baptist. Andrew then immediately told his brother, Simon, who then met Jesus as well. John 1:40-42 says,
40 One of the two who heard John [the Baptist] speak, and followed Him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John [Jonah]; you shall be called Cephas” (which translated means Peter).
Apparently, both Andrew and Simon were disciples of John the Baptist. In the metaphorical terminology of the day, they were said to be “sons” of John. The name, John, is of Greek origin, but the text in John 1:42 literally reads Iona, or Jonah, not John. According to Dr. Bullinger, Iona, or Jona, is “Aramaic for John.” The NASB translators took the liberty, then, of translating the name Jonah to John.
We know, of course, that Peter was called Simon Barjona (Matthew 16:17), which means Simon Son of Jonah, or Simon Jonasson (as the Swedes would spell it). John the Evangelist seems to imply a double meaning in his gospel account, telling us that Simon was the biological son of a man named Jonah, but that he was also a spiritual “son” of John the Baptist.
At any rate, Jesus seemed to find his name to be prophetically significant, as this is the only detail about their introduction given in John 1:42. Jesus immediately gave him a new name, changing it from the Hebrew name Simon (“one who hears”) to the Aramaic name Cephas (“stone”). This, in turn, translates into Greek as Peter. Hence, Peter had three names, one for each language.
John tells us that Andrew was the first to meet Jesus, and that he went to get his brother. Matthew 4:18 gives us the circumstances of this meeting.
18 And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 And they immediately left the nets and followed Him.
It appears that Jesus came off the mountain and went to Bethsaida (John 1:44), which was on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee a short distance from Capernaum.
As He walked along the shore, He met Andrew first. Andrew had heard of Jesus through John’s testimony, but it is more likely that he had only heard about Jesus. Yet when they exchanged greetings and introduced themselves, Andrew knew that he was talking to the Messiah that John had baptized. If the JOV (Jones Opinionated Version) is accurate, perhaps the conversation went something like this:
“Shalom, friend. I’m Yeshua, son of Joseph.”
“G’day to you, too. I’m Andrew, son of Jonah.” (Andrew was probably an Aussie.)
“I see you are a fisherman. Any luck today?”
“We got enough to pay the bills last night. What do you do for a living?”
“I preach the Kingdom of God.”
“Really? That’s great! Who ordained you?”
“John the Baptist.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. I am one of his disciples myself. Are you, perhaps, the One that He said was the Lamb of God and the Messiah?”
“I heard that you were teaching in the area. Wait just one moment; let me get my brother. He’s got to hear this. Hey Simon! Get over here! Hurry! (Pause) Yeshua, this is Simon, my brother. We were talking about you earlier after hearing John’s testimony.”
“Shalom, Simon. I’m Yeshua.”
“G’day, mate! (Simon was more down to earth than his brother.)
“So you are Simon, son of Jonah. I’ll just call you Cephas, because you are hard and strong. Once you know something, you are immovable. You are a good fisherman. I need someone like you. I was praying last night, and My heavenly Father told me I would find some good men down here by the Sea of Galilee. Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
“Hey, dad! We gotta go.”
They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Him as He continued along the shore, where they found two other fishermen mending their nets after a fishing trip.
“Shalom, friends. Had any luck last night?”
“Shalom. I’m James; this is my brother John. We are sons of Zebedee. Yes, we caught some big ones that tore this net. Shalom, Andrew. Shalom, Simon.”
“My name is Yeshua. I grew up in Nazareth, but recently moved to Capernaum. I’m out preaching the Kingdom of God.”
“Oh, are you the one who has been teaching down in Capernaum? I heard you healed some people.”
“Yes, God was gracious. You obviously have a lot of experience repairing nets. Follow me, and I will teach you how to repair the souls of men for the Kingdom of God.”
“That sounds good to me. I was getting tired of repairing nets all the time. I’d like to do something really worthwhile. Why not come to our house. Spend the night with us, so we can talk more.”
The next day they found Philip, who was also from Bethsaida (John 1:43). He was probably an acquaintance of the others, though not a fisherman himself. Perhaps he was one of their customers. Philip was impressed with Jesus and immediately accepted His call to follow Him. He ran to find his best friend, Nathanael, telling him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45).
“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself.”
Nathanael was his Hebrew name, which meant “gift of God.” His Aramaic name (used in Luke 6:14) was Bartholomew, which means “son of Tolmai.” He had been born in Cana and was not at all impressed with the narrow nationalism of the people of Nazareth. In fact, his friend Philip seems to have had only a Greek name, indicating that he and his friend Nathanael were heavily influenced by Greek culture. Yet because his friend Philip pressed him, he came with him to see Jesus.
As Nathanael came into the room, Jesus turned to him, saying, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47).
“How do you know me?”
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
“Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”
“Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these. Amen, Amen, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
John gives us no details about the “fig tree” incident. We do not know if Jesus literally saw Nathanael sitting under a fig tree, or if He knew by the Spirit. It is likely that Nathanael had been doing something that was a private matter and was therefore not mentioned. Perhaps he was helping a woman or a non-Jew, or some other act of kindness that would be better left unsaid, lest he should be criticized by his peers.
At any rate, his name, “Gift of God” seems to have drawn a prophetic statement from Jesus. It seems likely that he was giving someone a gift under the fig tree, and that this act of generosity was not suitable to disclose to the general public.
So we see that in just two days Jesus called six disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, and Nathanael. He was half way to His goal of twelve, and so far all of them were from the town of Bethsaida.
This is part 1 of a mini-series titled "Jesus Chooses Twelve Disciples." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 23 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones