We’re in a new section of Mark today, which I’m calling “Jesus’ new community takes shape.” We are looking at the beginning of this section, Mark 3:19-20 where Jesus chooses 12 apostles as the leaders of new Israel.
Let’s jump into our passage for today, and as we go along I will point out five brief lessons for us in these verses.
13And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.
So Jesus has left the crowd that he ministered to in 3:7-12, as we saw last week, and has gotten away to a private place. In this case he’s up on a mountain.
In the Old Testament mountains are where some pretty important things happen. Remember, for instance, that God formed the 12 tribes of Israel into a nation, his people at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 19.
Now, Jesus has already called Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John. (1:16-20). He has also called Levi the tax collector to follow him (2:14). And there were others who followed Jesus as disciples. Mark 2:15 talks about his disciples and says, “there were many who followed him.”
So out of this larger group of disciples he selects some for a special role. And he chose them himself. He called them, just as God still calls people today to be leaders among his people. And, it says, “they came to him.”
14And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) . . .
If we ask, “Why 12 apostles?” The answer is that just as there were 12 tribes of Israel, so there are 12 apostles to show that Jesus is intentionally reconstituting Israel. He is creating a new Israel out of the old Israel; a faithful remnant. He is creating the new, messianic Israel. And so the 12 apostles represent the 12 tribes of this new Israel. And this happens on a mountain, just as in the Old Testament in Exodus 19, when Israel was originally formed.
We have already seen how the leaders of old Israel have opposed Jesus. And in fact, some have already schemed to try to kill him. And just after this story, we have a delegation of leaders from Jerusalem who come and condemn Jesus as being possessed by Satan. So Jesus is calling out and forming a remnant and these are the leaders of this new remnant.
Here’s our first lesson, We are a part of this renewed Israel, made up of believing Jews and also believing Gentiles; those who own Jesus as the anointed one and God’s Son, and who walk in his ways. This is who we are as the church. We are the renewed messianic Israel, spoken of by the prophets of old. We are God’s people.
As Peter says, echoing the language of Exodus 19 when Israel was formed at Mt. Sinai,“you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9.
Here’s another lesson from this, Jesus fulfills the role of God in creating this new, faithful remnant. Just as it was God who chose and established the 12 tribes of Israel as his people; here Jesus is the one who chooses and establishes the new Israel. He is not one of the 12, but the one who established them. He takes on God’s role. This is just one more way that we see Jesus’ unique divine identity in the gospel.
So in these lessons we learn about who we are – we are renewed Israel, and we learn who Jesus is – he is the Lord of all.
So Jesus chooses these twelve –
. . . so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15and have authority to cast out demons.
Here we learn a bit about what they are to do. First they are to “be with him.” They are to follow Jesus around, witnessing what he does and learning what he teaches.
And second, they are to perform certain tasks. The word apostle itself means “one sent with a task.” And the verb in the phrase “he might send them” comes from the same root word. Two tasks are highlighted. They are to preach/teach & cast out demons.
Although it’s not mentioned here they also healed people just like Jesus did when he sent them out (Mark 6:13). And they also did many other things – from crowd control to helping Jesus distribute food when he miraculously fed the crowds.
Beyond this the apostles are chosen to officially represent Jesus. This is also a part of what the word apostle means, they are his authorized agents or representatives. They speak and act for him.
And it’s because of them that we have the Gospels; they preserved and passed on Jesus’ stories and teachings (Luke 1:2). And it’s because of them that what we have as the New Testament has authority. What is apostolic, or from the apostolic church, is what is authoritative, because they are his official representatives. Rightly understood this is the basis of New Testament scriptural authority.
And in light of Jesus’ upcoming death, which is even alluded to in our passage (v. 19), they are chosen to carry on the mission and lead God’s people after he is gone as we see in the book of Acts.
And finally, they will be rulers in the fullness of the kingdom. Jesus said this to them in Matthew 19:28, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Here are a couple of lessons about how ministry works for leaders or anyone: We need to be with Jesus first; in relationship with him, learning from him – and then we can do the tasks he calls us to do. Without being in his presence, we will not able to do the tasks he gives us to do. What I’m saying is that the very way this is written shows the priority of being with Jesus first.
Also, Jesus empowers those he chooses. Here we see that he gave them specific tasks, and it says he gave them “authority to cast out demons.” He gave them of his authority/power, which we have been amazed by in the gospel of Mark thus far. When God calls you to do something, he will empower you as well. He will not leave you hanging.
Next we learn the names of the 12 –
16He appointed the twelve:
There are four lists of the apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2-4, here in Mark, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13). In each list the names break down into three groups of four people (except Acts does not list Judas Iscariot). (For references to the 12 in Mark – here and in 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43).
Let’s go through this briefly. The first is –
Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)
In all the lists, Simon Peter is first. He’s the leader and spokesperson of the 12. Jesus here gives him the nickname “Peter” which means rock or stone. (For more on Peter as a rock see Matthew 16:17-19) (Up until this point Mark has called him Simon, but hereafter will only call him Peter.) (Peter was also known as “son of John” – John 1:47; Matthew 16:17.)
Next are –
17James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder)
James and John are brothers, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus also gives them a nickname, although what “Sons of thunder” means isn’t clear. Some have noted that they come across as brash in several places (Mark 9:38; 10:35 ff; Luke 9:54). James is the only apostle whose death for Jesus is recorded in the New Testament (Acts 12:2).
These first three make up Jesus’ inner circle who accompany him when the other 9 do not. And they were leaders in the early church, although James died pretty early on.
And then we have –
He’s Peter’s brother. He was a part of the inner circle at least on one occasion (13:3). He is talked about more in John’s gospel (1:40-44; 6:8; 12:22)
Our passage goes on –
He’s always the first name in the second group of four. He plays no further role in Mark, but is mentioned several times in John (1:43 ff; 6:5-7; 12:21-22; 14:8-9)
He doesn’t show up again in Mark or anywhere else. Although some think he is the Nathanael mentioned in the gospel of John (1:43-49; 21:2).
According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the same person as Levi (Matthew 9:9), whom Jesus called from being a tax collector in Mark 2:14. (It’s unclear why Mark wouldn’t have made this connection explicit in his gospel.)
And since Levi is the son of Alphaeus, he may be the brother of James the son of Alphaeus, another member of the 12. This would mean that there are three sets of brothers among the 12 – a full half of the list.
His name means “the twin.” He’s not mentioned again in Mark, but is more prominent in the gospel of John (11:16; 14:5; 20:24-28; 21:2.)
Our passage goes on –
and James the son of Alphaeus
He’s always first on the last group of four names. He doesn’t show up again anywhere. (Although he may be the same as James the younger – Mark 15:40). “Son of Alphaeus” differentiates him from James the son of Zebedee.
On the lists in Luke and Acts his name is Judas, son of James. Judas would be his Jewish name and Thaddaeus his Greek name. This was not uncommon in that day. He shows up once in John’s gospel (14:22).
and Simon the Cananaean
Cananaean doesn’t mean Canaanite. It means “zealot.” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Perhaps he was formerly of the group who threatened violence to Jews who broke the Law. Or he was simply a very devoted Jew. Nothing more is known of him.
19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
He’s the infamous one, who turned Jesus over to be crucified. He’s always listed last (except in Acts 1:13 where he isn’t listed). Iscariot probably means “from Kerioth” a town in Israel. This is probably where his family was originally from (This was also his father’s name – John 6:71; 13:2, 26).
Do you remember who replaced him? Acts 1:26 – Matthias.
A more interesting question is, “Why did Jesus choose him, knowing what he would do?” Apart from that it was predicted in Scripture.
Let me end with a lesson from this list of names. God uses ordinary people to do great things for his kingdom. All of them were common, everyday people, fishermen, a tax collector and the like. Some of them we know next to nothing about even though they are one of the 12. And they all had weaknesses and failures, for instance all deserted him. And we see numerous problems in Peter, James and Johns’ lives.
Well, this is good news for us, because we are ordinary people, and we are not well known by the world, and we have weaknesses and fail from time to time – so God can use you and me too. If he could use them, and he did to change the world, he can use us just as well to do great things for his kingdom.