Jesus' Parables for Disciples
16. Selection of the Twelve Apostles (Luke 6:12-19)
James J. Tissot, 'Ordaining the Twelve Apostles' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 6.69 x 10.56 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Up until this time in Jesus' ministry there was little organization. Jesus was an extremely popular itinerant preacher and teacher that increasingly attracted crowds from far away. At this point, you have two classes of people, the crowds and the disciples. The crowds came to hear him, but a growing band of followers trailed him wherever he went. These were called "disciples," Greek mathētēs, "learner, pupil, disciple," from the verb manthanō, "to learn." If the movement is to grow and mature, Jesus must choose leaders.
"12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all." (Luke 6:12-19, NIV)
All Night in Prayer on the Mountain (Luke 6:12)
If you've ever been a manager, you know that one of your most difficult and important tasks is hiring the right employee for key positions in your organization. When mistakes are made here -- and they are far too often made -- they are extremely difficult and expensive to repair. Sometimes they can deeply hurt the organization for years to come.
"One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God." (Luke 6:12)
Neither Matthew nor Mark mention this all night prayer session. But Jesus' prayer life is one of Luke's themes; we will see Jesus' example of prayer again and again in Luke. Luke uses a Greek word here that is used only once in the New Testament: dianyktereuō, "spend the whole night."144 It was vital that Jesus hear the Father correctly in this matter. An error could cause disaster. Would that we spent all night sessions of prayer before selecting officers for our churches! Better have no one in an office, than the wrong person.
Disciples and Apostles (Luke 6:13)
"When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles." (Luke 6:13)
The text implies to me that his disciples were encamped nearby. This was outside of town in a remote place. Those who were his serious followers came everywhere with him.
Notice the distinction Jesus makes between disciples and apostles. Jesus has many disciples, but he only selects twelve to be designated apostles. We see later that Jesus appoints 70 others for a preaching mission (Luke 10). It is important that we see that the apostles are being selected from a considerably larger group of followers.
While "disciple" means "learner, pupil, devoted follower," the word "apostle" means something different. Our English word "apostle" is a transliteration of the Greek word apostolos, "ambassador, delegate, messenger,"145 from the verb apostellō, "to send away or out."146 These men are designated apostles because they are given a particular commission or set of orders. "The Great Commission" was given first to the apostles, and then, by extension, to the Church they established. Often, the New Testament refers to these twelve apostles as "the disciples," but there is a distinction we need to keep in mind: disciples are learners and followers; apostles are disciples who have been given a particular commission.
Defining an Apostle
What is an apostle? Certainly these Twelve were unique. After Judas Iscariot committed suicide, the remaining apostles looked for someone who had been with them during the whole time of Jesus' ministry -- that is, a disciple who traveled with them, though not designated as one of the Twelve at that time, "for one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22). The Twelve Apostles are clearly meant to signify the New Israel that supersede the 12 Tribes of Israel in the New Covenant (Luke 18:30).
Paul, too, claimed apostleship, and there were a handful of others mentioned in the New Testament as apostles. Are there apostles today? Certainly the role of apostle was considered a spiritual gift in the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:28-29), and there is no indication that the gift would pass away.
There's a lot of controversy about this, and a case can be made for several positions. I would tend to agree with C. Peter Wagner's definition of the spiritual gift of apostle as:
"The special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ which enables them to assume and exercise general leadership over a number of churches with an extraordinary authority in spiritual matters that is spontaneously recognized and appreciated by those churches."147
Several of the apostles in New Testament times seemed to fit this sort of definition: Paul, John, and Peter. The Scripture itself doesn't tell us much about the ministry of most of the other apostles, though below, you'll see that they, too, preached and established churches.
At the risk of being controversial, yes, I think there are apostles today. I don't think people can be elected as apostles: God does the selecting. But I would guess that a number of Christian leaders in history would fit this definition, for example, St. Patrick (evangelized northern Ireland), St. Augustine of Canterbury (evangelized England), St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, and many others. Years ago, I met a Texan whom God had sent to central Mexico, where he established about fifty churches and then traveled to each of these churches on a circuit and encouraged and supervised their ministry. That certainly sounds like an apostolic type ministry to me.
The Twelve (Luke 6:14-16)
"Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor" (6:14-16).
When I look at the apostles Jesus chose, I see ordinary men who learn to walk in the Spirit to do extraordinary things. These men are far from perfect, and probably some of their spiritual acuity was less than Jesus desired. Yet, in spite of themselves, God used them powerfully to change the known world in a single generation.
The Scripture tells us a lot about the ministry of several of the twelve apostles, especially the inner group of three: Peter (who apparently was crucified in Rome about 65 AD, James the son of Zebedee (who was martyred early), and John (who lived a long life and died in Ephesus about 95 AD). But what happened to the others?
Sometimes we make the assumption that because they are not mentioned in the Bible they did nothing. Most of the Protestant reference books I have ignore any life outside the Bible. But these apostles did live and minister and carry on their commission -- somewhere.
Unfortunately, here we enter into the world of fable and fantasy. If you've ever read the lives of the saints, then you know some of the miracle stories seem beyond what you'd expect from reading the New Testament. (Though some pretty fantastic things have happened to Christians and missionaries that can be substantiated!) The stories of the apostles' lives, however, come from Christian writings penned several centuries after their deaths, with claims and counter claims that can't all be true.
The source I'm using is, The Search for the Twelve Apostles (Tyndale, 1973), by William Steuart McBirnie. McBirnie has collected a great deal of information about the various apostles. Unfortunately, he doesn't always treat it critically, and takes too much at face value from the various conflicting traditions and legends that have built up around the apostles. Nevertheless, I don't doubt that at least some of these traditions have an historical basis. I thought you'd like to learn about the ministries and travels of some of the lesser-known disciples of Jesus. Just remember, you'll have to wait until heaven to get the full and accurate story. These are just imperfect sketches.
Philip's home was Bethsaida ("Fishertown") on the Sea of Galilee, and he was a friend of Andrew who brought him to Christ (John 1:43). Philip is a Greek name, and Greek speakers felt comfortable approaching him (John 12:21). Some traditions say he ministered in Parthia (central Asia Minor), lived in Hierapolis (near Colossae and Laodicea in Asia Minor), and died by crucifixion and stoning. He is also said to have preached in Gaul (present-day France). Later tradition seems to confuse Philip the Apostle with Philip the Evangelist, who had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9), so we can't be sure.148
The name Bartholomew means literally "son of Tomail or Talmai." Some believe him to be the same person as Nathanael (John 1:45-49), whom Andrew brought to Jesus, though this can't be conclusively established. He is said to have preached with Philip until Philip's martyrdom, then went east of modern-day Turkey to the region around the Caspian Sea, in the section then called Armenia, now divided between Iran and Azerbaijan. He is said to have been martyred in 68 AD at Albanus (modern Derbend), being skinned alive and then beheaded at the command of the Armenian king Astyages. He may also have preached in India, but the term "India" may have been used loosely to cover Armenia and Persia, so we don't know.149
Thomas is one of my favorites, and one whose later history seems to have a more substantiated factual basis. The Gospel of John depicts Thomas (called Didymus, Greek for "twin") as a pessimist and fatalist (John 11:14-16; 14:4-6), though certainly courageous. He didn't even show up at the Apostles' gathering on Sunday night after the resurrection, and resisted his colleagues' claims of having seen Jesus (John 20:24-25). He is known forever as "doubting Thomas," but when Jesus appeared to him, Thomas uttered the first confession of Jesus' divinity in the New Testament: "My Lord and my God" (Luke 20:26-28).
Thomas apparently traveled to Babylon, modern-day Iraq, and evangelized there. Later he preached in Persia, and apparently took a boat to the west coast of the Indian subcontinent where he began to preach in the area around Malabar and to found churches there. Today there are four major Christian groups -- Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Syrian Jacobite, and Mar Thomite -- living in the state of Kerala along the Malabar Coast of southwestern India, each of which use a form of Syrian in their liturgical language. When the Portuguese arrived in 1599, they sought to transfer allegiance of these groups to Rome. In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, originally composed in Syriac, his martyrdom is cited under the king of Mylapore at Madras, where are to be found St. Thomas Mount and San Thomé Cathedral, his traditional burial place. He is said to have been killed by Brahmins in Mylapore while in prayer, by stones and darts, and run through by a lance.150
Matthew was a son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14), but we have no other evidence linking him with the Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18). He was a tax collector who lived in Capernaum. He may have changed a given name Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27, 29) to Matthew (meaning "gift of God") after his conversion, though that is only speculation. He is credited with writing the Gospel of Matthew. Traditions about him seem contradictory, but he probably preached first in Judea, and later to the Parthians in Asiatic Ethiopia, an area south of the Caspian Sea in Persia.151
James, Son of Alphaeus
Sometimes called James the Less, he may have been the brother or father of the writer of the Letter of Jude. We know little of him, though it is claimed that he was the first bishop of the Syrian church, and that he may have been martyred in Persia.152
In the various lists of the apostles this Judas "not Iscariot" (John 14:22) is referred to as Thaddaeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18), and Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13; some texts read "brother"). He is sometimes claimed to be the author of the Epistle of Jude, though he may not be the same person. An ancient tradition in the Armenian Church credits him with evangelizing the area of Edessa in Armenia, perhaps in company with St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas. He may have also evangelized in Syria and Northern Persia, and was buried at Kara Kelesia. He is the Catholic patron saint of desperate cases. Tradition tells us he was martyred in Persia, clubbed to death and his head was then shattered with a broad ax.153
Simon the Zealot
Simon was called the Canaanite or Zealot. Kananaios is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic word, qan' anaya, meaning "the Zealot," indicating that he may have been a part of the resistance movement against the Roman occupation. Tradition is mixed. Some place his preaching in North Africa -- Egypt, Cyrene, Martania, and Lybia. Several traditions place him in Britain during the Roman occupation there, where he perhaps was crucified. Other traditions place him in Persia, where he was martyred along with St. Jude by being sawn in two. It is entirely possible that he preached all those places -- we just don't know.154
When I read about these early apostles I am in awe. Not bad for a band of fisherman from Galilee! These men, and countless other men and women have served Christ faithfully, sacrificially, and often at serious risk to their lives, to complete the mission that God has given them. Even though you and I may not be apostles, can we serve Christ less faithfully and obediently than they?
Crowds Coming to Be Healed (Luke 6:17-18)
Location of Tyre and Sidon (larger map)
"He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon...." (6:17)
The next section we will be studying is often called the Sermon on the Plain. It contains some content similar to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7),155 but the setting is different. Instead of a mountainside, we read of "a level place." Note that Jesus stood rather than sat as he had for the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1). If the crowd sat on a hillside, they could easily look down and see Jesus below them. But on a level place, Jesus would need to stand to be seen and heard.
The crowd included many of his "disciples," used here in the generic sense; he has just appointed twelve apostles from this larger group. But this was no longer just a local ministry touching the Galilean region only. It included "a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon" (6:17). Judea was the southern area of Palestine, Jerusalem was the capital, while Tyre and Sidon were not in what was considered the traditional Holy Land, but on the coast north of Israel, in present-day Lebanon. In this crowd, Jesus was likely now preaching both to Jews and to Gentiles.
These crowds came because of two motives, "to hear him and to be healed of their diseases" (6:18a). His teaching attracted them. But another powerful magnet was his unparalleled reputation as a healer. In those days, the very primitive medical understanding of herbs and treatments brought little hope and relief to many diseases. Jesus was these people's only hope for health, and so they came in droves to see him.
Power to Heal (Luke 6:19)
"Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all." (Luke 6:18b-19)
Verse 19 is a strange and wonderful statement. Power (Greek dunamis) was coming from him and healing them all" (6:19). What does that mean?
I see two concepts in this passage:
1. Healing power was with Jesus when he ministered. We see the same thought in Luke 5:17b: "And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick." This was part of the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus to bring recovery of sight to the blind and to heal the brokenhearted (4:18). Was this healing power always present with Jesus, or was it only present at certain times? We don't know for sure. Luke notes times when the power was present, but no times when it was not present. I assume that this was a continuing anointing and gift, though Jesus exercised it more on certain occasions than on others.
2. Healing power could be transferred by touch. "The people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all" (6:19). This phrase uses the Greek word exerchomai, a compound verb, formed from the preposition ex, "out, out of," and the verb erchomai, "to come." The Bible doesn't seem to speak of a power "zone" around Jesus where people would get zapped, or an aura. But when people touched him or he touched them, healing would result. We see this commonly in Luke's Gospel.
"When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them." (4:40)
"Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!'" (5:13)
"Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, 'Young man, I say to you, get up!'"(7:14)
"She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.... But Jesus said, 'Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.'" (8:44, 47)
"But he took her by the hand and said, 'My child, get up!'" (8:54)
"Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God." (13:13)
"People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them." (18:15)
"And he touched the man's ear and healed him." (22:51)
Since ancient times blessing had been imparted by the laying on of hands (Genesis 48:14-15, 18-19), or the lifting of hands over a group (24:50).156 Certainly it wasn't necessary for Jesus to lay hands on the sick to heal them -- he often just spoke a word -- but it is probably his most common method to communicate healing power.
One final phrase from this passage stands out to me: "Power was coming from him and healing them all" (6:19). Jesus' power was healing all of them. None was left out. Can you think of anything more glorious than everyone coming to Jesus and receiving healing and wholeness and going away satisfied? How wonderful! So often the spiritual healing that people receive in our churches is limited, and physical healing is spotty, partial, or often non-existent.
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My dear friends, we need the fullness of Jesus' power among us to heal all of us. If you and I were to become known as holy people who could communicate the power of Jesus to heal the sick, we would be overrun with people. If our churches were to become centers where healings of body, soul, and spirit took place all the time, there would be no way they could remain small. Grant it, Lord Jesus!
Lord, we fall so short of you and your ministry of power. And the world we live in is so very needy and hurting. Burden us to seek you earnestly until that power you have comes upon us, that we might minister freely for you. Take away our sin. Take away our scholarly unbelief and doubt. Take away our fears of what people would think of us. And anoint us with power afresh that we might serve you. And like your holy apostles, serve you to the ends of the earth until you come. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
"The people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all" (Luke 6:19)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- What kinds of situations face us today where all night prayer is appropriate? (6:12)
- If there are full-fledged apostles today (and let's assume this for the sake of this question), who would be some of your nominees? Why would you nominate them?
- Why do you think most of the apostles were martyred? Can you think of any Christians in the twentieth century who were martyred? (Incidentally, they say that there were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in all the other centuries combined.) When is martyrdom glorious? When is it inglorious?
- Why do we tend to assume that miracles won't happen today?
- What would happen in your own local church if people began to get physically healed on a regular basis? Who would it upset? What would result? How could we get our faith ready for such a happy event?
 Dianyktēreuō, BAGD 187.
 Apostolos, BAGD 99-100.
 Apostellō, BAGD 98.
 C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Regal Books, 1979), p. 208.
 D.E. Garland, "Philip the Apostle," ISBE 3:883. McBirnie, pp. 122-129; "Saint Philip the Apostle," Encyclopedia Britannica.
 McBirnie, pp. 130-141. C.M. Kerr, "Bartholomew," ISBE 1:433. "Saint Bartholomew," Encyclopedia Britannica.
 McBirnie, pp. 142-173; "St. Thomas," Catholic Encyclopedia (1912, Vol. 14); C.L. Blomberg, ISBE 4:841-842. "Christians of Saint Thomas," Encyclopedia Britannica, "Saint Thomas," Encyclopedia Britannica.
 McBirnie, pp. 174-182; D.A. Hagner, "Matthew," ISBE 3:280. "Saint Matthew (the Evangelist)," Encyclopedia Britannica.
 McBirnie, pp. 183-194. "Saint James," Encyclopedia Britannica.
 McBirnie, pp. 195-206; J. Orr, "Judas," ISBE 2:1150-1151. "Saint Judas," Encyclopedia Britannica.
 McBirnie, pp. 207-234. "Saint Simon the Apostle," Encyclopedia Britannica. "St. Simon the Apostle," Catholic Encyclopedia (1912), Vol. 13.
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