By Dr. Mike Murphy
Ordinary men by the world’s standards. The world saw nothing special or spectacular about them. They were just working men. Not a one was professing clergymen. None had been called to the priesthood. Most were considered uneducated for the day they lived. If you had decided you need a group of men to build a religion on, these would have probably been near the bottom of your list. But when Christ called them, their lives became extraordinary!
Through these “ordinary” man, Christ changed the world as we knew it. They took the message of Christ to parts of the world they never thought they would have ever seen, and they touched the lives of people they could have never imagined they would have known.
So what do we know about each of these men? Who were they, and where did they come from? After the Ascension of Christ, what became of these men? Let us take a look at what the Bible, history, tradition, and legend tells us about these men.
The Bible tells us that Andrew was one of the first of the disciples of Christ. Along with his brother Simon Peter, Andrew was a fishermen from the city of Bethsaida. Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist, leaving him when called to follow Christ. Andrew was quick to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, finding his brother to let him know of the Promise One. We can learn much about Andrew by what is not said. Andrew was quick to lead his brother to follow Christ, but was willing to step into the background as his brother became a leader of the disciples and of the early church. We see in Andrew a man who had a thirst for the truth in God’s Word. We also see a fisherman who was willing to drop his own nets so he could become a fisher of men. Andrew knew that when he found Christ, he found everything he was looking for.
Church history and tradition tells us that in Andrew’s latter ministry, he took the Good News as far as the Caspian Sea. He later ministered in Turkey, then went on to Greece. It was here, in Patras, Greece that Andrew was said to be crucified on a x-shaped cross. After being whipped severely, Andrew was tied to the cross in order to prolong his agony. For three days, Andrew continued to preach to all who would listen, until he finally met his death.
Bartholomew or Nathanael
The Bible tells us that Nathanael came to be a disciple in a very unusual way. The Book of John tells us that Philip approached Nathanael, telling him to come meet the Messiah that was promised. Nathanael replied to Philip, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” When Nathanael approached Christ, Jesus told all around him that Nathanael was without deceit, willing to follow where the truth might lead him. When he realized who Jesus was, Nathanael was quick to call Him the Messiah(John 1:45-51). Nathanael shows us a man who was willing to overcome his skepticism and prejudices in order to find the truth.
Church history and tradition tells us that Nathanael would take a copy of Matthew’s Gospel to India, and would latter minister in modern-day Turkey and in Armenia. It was while preaching the message of Christ in Armenia that Nathanael would be flayed to death by a whip,
James the Son of Zebedee
Was the son of a fisherman from Capernaum. He was a part of the inner circle of Jesus, along with his brother John, and Peter. Three times, we are told, these men witnessed events none of the other disciples saw. James and John were referred to as ‘Sons of Thunder'(Mark 3:17) because of their feverish personalities that Christ would soon temper with love.
There are writings that claim James ministered in Spain to Jewish colonist, before returning to Jerusalem. The Bible records James as being the first of the apostles to face death(Acts 12:2). Herod had James killed with the sword because of his faith. Most historians believe this occurred around 44AD. There is an interesting legend that surrounds the death of James. It is said that the man that gave false witness against James leading to his death, watched as James was led to die. As he watched, he could not believe the joy he saw in James. He suddenly came to believe that the Savior this man had preached of must be the One True God. This man is said to have began shouting his love for Christ as James was led to his execution. Because of this man’s actions, legend says that he was immediately ordered to face death also, and was beheaded next to James.
James the Son of Alphaeus
Also known as James the Less. James is only mentioned four times in the Gospels, all when listing the disciples. Many think he was called James the Less, because he carried a lesser role than James, the brother of John. This could not be farther from the truth! The title ‘Lesser’ comes from the Greek word mikros, which means young or small in stature.
We know little about the ministry of James. Many have tried to credit him with writing the Book of James. Evidence, and most Christian scholars believe the author of the epistle to be James, the brother of Christ. Tradition tells us that James was crucified in Egypt while he was preaching the Gospel.
John was the brother of James, and the son of a fisherman from Capernaum. John referred to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. From this many refer to John as John the Beloved. John was a part of the inner circle of Jesus. He was the only disciple present at the trial of Jesus and was the only disciple that is mentioned to have been present at the Cross. Jesus entrusted John with the care of his mother(John 19:27).
John’s ministry carried tremendous weight on the early church. He wrote the Gospel of John in a way to show all that Jesus was who He said He was. He wrote his letters, 1, 2, and 3 John to encourage faith and to warn against false teachings. And he was given the Book of Revelation, so we may have hope in what the future holds, and may know the signs that will signal the return of Christ to reign on this Earth. John served the church in Jerusalem for many years, then served the church in Ephesus. We are told that while in Ephesus, John was arrested and sent to Rome. He was boiled alive in a large basin of oil, but escaped unharmed. We are told he was then exiled to the island of Patmos, where he lived for several years. Eventually John was freed, and according to early church history, lived out his life in Ephesus until his death around 98 AD. John was the only one of the apostles to die a peaceful death.
Jude or Thaddeus
Little is known of Jude, only that he is listed among the disciples. Many credit him as the author of the Book of Jude, but most worthy scholars do not. The author of the epistle of Jude tells us he is the brother of James, in other words the half brother of Jesus called Jude.
Tradition says that Jude was one of the first apostles to take the message of Christ to the Gentile world. He is said to have witnessed and preached in the area of modern day Beirut, and was said to have martyred in Edessa around the year 65 AD.
Also known as Levi, Matthew was a tax collector or publican from Capernaum. Matthew would have collected duties on all who wished to trade goods in the city. Tax collectors were required to pay all taxes in advance to Rome, then would collect from all the citizens and those travelling through the city in order to reimburse themselves. Most publicans were very corrupt, because they made themselves wealthy by extorting citizens for their own profit. When Christ called Matthew, he experienced a life change unlike anything he could have expected. Matthew left behind the pleasures of this world for the promise Christ showed him of an eternal life.
The ministry of Matthew greatly affected the Christian world. He would write the Gospel of Matthew, and his past traits served him well in doing so. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been trained to keep accurate records and to be a keen observer to details. Matthew wrote his Gospel just this way, showing Jews and the world how Jesus had fulfilled the promises and prophecies written about the long hoped for Messiah. Writings and records show us that Matthew ministered for several years around the area of Jerusalem. He later took the message of Christ to Ethiopia, where we are told he was martyred, stabbed to death while preaching God’s Word.
Simon, the brother of Andrew, was a fishermen from the city of Bethsaida. Peter was a part of Jesus’ inner circle, and was considered the leader of the disciples because his is always the first name listed. Jesus renamed him Cephas, the Aramaic word for ‘rock’. The Greek word for ‘rock’ is ‘petros’, thus we get the name we all know, Peter. He was a man we could all associate ourselves with. He often showed the greatest of faith, but at other times we saw in him doubt. But his faults never stopped Peter from seeking God, and following His Son. Peter’s ministry began like no other. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the apostles, Peter became so overwhelmed that he began to preach out loud to the crowd. About three thousand came to Christ that day the Bible tells us(Acts 2:41-42). God called Peter to preach to the Gentiles. and it was Peter who told the church council in Jerusalem that the Gentiles should not have to convert to Judaism first in order to be saved(Acts 15).
Church history and tradition tells us that it was the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem that led Peter to Rome, where he is said to have also preached. We are told that Peter was imprisoned and brutally beaten for some time. We are told that Peter was to be crucified, but said he was unworthy to die as his Savior had. Peter was then crucified on a x-shaped cross, upside-down, fulfilling the words Christ give to him(John 21:18). Legend tells us, that when Peter was imprisoned and beaten, he preached daily to those who jailed him. Despite all he suffered, he converted his jailers and forty-seven others to Christ.
Like others, Philip was a fisherman from Bethsaida. He was one of the first to be called to follow Christ, and we see the excitement he brought with him. We soon read of Philip proclaiming the Promised Messiah to others, as we see him telling the skeptical Nathanael(John 1:45-46). We also see two examples of Philip that many of us can easily identify with. We see Jesus testing Philip at the feeding of the five thousand(John 6:1-14). In John 14:8-9, we see Philip not understand that Christ and God were One. Philip sought the Savior, but could only see him by his earthly experiences. It was only after he saw the Resurrection and the Ascension that he truly understood who Christ is.
Tradition says that Philip preached for several years in the area of Scythia, before ministering in Hierapolis in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. We are told it was here that Philip was martyred. Legend says that Philip converted the the wife of the Roman proconsul in the city. Out of anger, the proconsul ordered Philip crucified.
Simon the Zealot
Also called Simon the Canaanite, little else is told of this disciple. But we can learn much from Simon! Some versions will refer to Simon as the Zealot, while others will refer to him as the Canaanite. This is not in contrast to each other, as we can probable see truth in both. It is likely he came from the region of Canaan, which at the time had a strong presence of Zealots. The Zealots believed that only God could rule over Judea, and looked to rebel against Rome in order to accomplish this goal. This was tried in 66 AD during the Great Jewish Revolt, as the Zealots successfully overtook Jerusalem. But four years later, the Romans destroyed the city and the Temple.
We see in Simon what an incredible peace only Jesus can bring! Among the twelve disciples we see a Zealot, and in Matthew, one who worked for the Roman government. Both came to see that the true rule of the Lord is in our heart and soul when we allow Christ and the Holy Spirit to occupy it, no matter what government man may choose. Simon came to have a zeal for Christ, not for the desires of man!
Church history and tradition tells us that Simon left Jerusalem to minister in Egypt. Later he would minister in Persia. It is here we are told that Simon was martyred because he refused to deny Christ, and sacrifice to the sun god.
Thomas was also called Didymus, meaning ‘twin’ in Greek. We are not told who this twin was. Most of us know Thomas by the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’, where he refused to believe Christ had risen until he could see and touch the physical wounds. Although little is known. we can learn a tremendous lesson from Thomas. If we will honestly seek God’s Truth, even if we show our doubts and struggles, God will reveal Himself to us.
Early church writings and tradition tells us that Thomas ministered throughout Syria and India. We are told he was a fearless evangelist and was a great early church builder. It was during one of these missionary trips to India, that Thomas was killed with the spear of a soldier.
Little is known of Matthias, except that the Bible tells us he was chosen to replace Judas(Acts 1:12-26). We do know a lot about Matthias from the requirements these verses tell us was necessary to be chosen to replace Judas. We are told he had to have been present during the entire ministry of Christ, and that he would have to witnessed both the Resurrection and the Ascension. So we know from this that Matthias was present with Christ throughout His time on this earth.
Church history tells us that Matthias ministered in the area of Armenia. It was here that he was martyred, stoned and then beheaded.
Twelve ‘ordinary’ men who would forever go on to change the world. Luke tells us that these men “turned the world upside down”(Acts 17:6), and that they did! They faced every obstacle the world could throw their way, but with Christ by their side they prevailed. They were mocked, spit on, cursed, beaten, whipped, and all but one faced their death in the most horrific of ways. And they all did it gladly, never forgetting the call and the purpose Christ gave them. Not a one went out into the world for his own glory, but was lead only by the truth in God’s Word. Their reward would not come in this life, but in the promise of what the future held. Their names will never be forgotten! They will be written on the walls of the future city for all to see (Revelation 21:14)!
As we enter this Passover season, I hope each of you will take a moment and remember each of these men As you do, ask yourself this question. “Is the call Christ gives to us today, any less than it was when He called each of these men to follow Him?” It Christ could forever change the world with twelve ‘ordinary’ men, what could he do with twelve of us today? What if that call today was not just twelve, but twelve hundred? Twelve thousand? Or what if that was twelve million?.
Twelve men that most cannot tell you the names of, that much of history has forgotten. But names we should never forget. They changed this world unlike most others. The “True League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen”!
May you hear the call of Christ today, and follow Him!