At this point we might think we have reached the end of the lessons in the passage (Matthew 9.1 – 10.4), since a need has been perceived and described, and we have been told to pray for a solution: “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” What more can we do? We have been told to pray, so we pray. That is the end of it. Ah, but it is not. What strikes us at this point is that having instructed His disciples to pray and undoubtedly having prayed Himself, Jesus also took action. He placed “the very men who had been urged to pray that the Lord of the harvest might thrust out laborers into his harvest … in the forefront of these laborers.”
Matthew 10.1 says, “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” This is the first time Matthew has specifically mentioned “the Twelve” (“twelve disciples” in v.1 and “twelve apostles” in v.2), Peter, Andrew, James and John, have been introduced already. Here, He lists them all. A list of the twelve apostles is found (with slight changes of order and some variation of names) three other places in the New Testament: Mark 3.16-19; Luke 6.13-16; and Acts 1.13. Matthew is unique in that he is the only one to introduce the twelve apostles in six pairs – (1) Peter and Andrew, (2) James and John, (3) Philip and Bartholomew, (4) Thomas and Matthew, (5) James and Thaddaeus, and (6) Simon and Judas.
These are the twelve apostles: Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew. Peter is always placed first in the lists of apostles, which must reflect that he was a true leader. He was not over the others; they only had one master, who was Jesus. But Peter was primus inter pares (“a first among equals”). Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen. They came from Bethsaida, and they were both probably followers of John the Baptist before Jesus called them. Jesus gave Simon the name Cephas (an Aramaic word that is the equivalent of “Peter” in Greek), meaning “rock.” We are told more about Peter in the New Testament than about any other apostle.
Andrew is not as prominent as his outspoken and impetuous brother, but he is important. He is often seen bringing others to Jesus, including Peter himself.
James son of Zebedee, and his brother John. James and John were a second set of prominent brothers, and, like the first two brothers, they also were fishermen. Their father was Zebedee, and the family was wealthy enough to employ other workers and to help support Jesus and his disciples. It was Zebedee’s wife who did this, and her name was probably Salome. She was concerned about her sons’ future roles and did not hesitate to ask that they might have the two most prominent places in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus called James and John “Boanerges” (sons of “thunder”) probably because of their intense and vehement personalities. On one occasion they wanted to destroy a Samaritan city that had rejected Jesus.
Philip and Bartholomew. Philip is a Greek name meaning “lover of horses.” He was from Bethsaida, as were Peter and Andrew, and is mentioned mostly in John. Bartholomew is an Aramaic name meaning “son of Tolmai.” He seems to be the same person as Nathanael, who came from Cana and is remembered most for Jesus’ tribute to him in Jn.1.47.
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector. Thomas is also called Didymus, which means a “twin.” He appears only in John. He is called “doubting Thomas” because of the incident in John 20, but he was also courageous, and it is his bright confession of faith that John uses to climax his Gospel. Matthew describes himself as “the tax collector,” thereby calling attention to the dishonorable business that had occupied him before Jesus’ call. His words are probably a humble acknowledgment of God’s grace to him. The other Gospels contain no such allusion.
James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus. The words “of Alphaeus” distinguish this James from James the son of Zebedee, who was the brother of John. We do not know much about him. However, Matthew’s father was also called Alphaeus, and if this is the same Alphaeus, Matthew and James would have been a third set of brothers. By elimination, Thaddaeus is probably Jude (called “Judas, not Iscariot” in Jn.14.22). He may be the author of the book by that name.
Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. The first of these names is actually “Simon the Cananaean,” the latter being an Aramaic word for “zealot,” which is what he is called explicitly by Luke. The Zealots were a party of nationalists, and therefore, “Simon the Zealot” is probably a reference to Simon’s past political associations. The epithet also distinguishes him from Simon Peter.
Last in every one of these four lists of apostles is Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus.
What strikes us most about these apostles is Jesus’ success at welding such widely diverse people into an amazingly influential band that He used to change the world profoundly – “E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One.”
Hendriksen writes: “We cannot fail to be impressed with the majesty of the Savior, whose drawing power, incomparable wisdom, and matchless love were so astounding that he was able to gather round himself and to unite into one family men of entirely different, at times even opposite, backgrounds and temperaments.
If Jesus used Disciples such as these, He can use you. He can draw you into that remarkably diverse band of people called the Church. But remember, these disciples trusted Jesus and obeyed Him. So must you – will you do it?