The 12 Disciples of Jesus

The 12 Disciples- 2 people in boat against a yellow sky- Matthew 4:19 overlay


My son stopped by yesterday on his way home from one of his college classes. He was recounting his frustration to me in some of his classmates. The professor had clearly given the information about the assignment, due date, etc. She had written everything on the board and was reviewing the specifics. Still, at least 3 people asked when the assignment was due, and numerous students asked questions that had been covered at least twice. He said the professor became obviously more and more dejected.

I had been doing a bit of research on the 12 disciples of Jesus, and I wondered if He felt the same way when he was hanging out with his “students.”

12 Disciples in the Bible

They included 5 fishermen (Simon Peter, James, John, Andrew, and Philip), a tax collector (Matthew) and 6 whose occupations are unknown (Bartholomew, Thomas, James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas.) The Twelve were definitely not experts in theology. They were slow to understand what Jesus was teaching. He reprimands them several times and lets them know his frustration. But these men were the building blocks of his soon-to-be church, so I know Jesus chose each of them for a purpose.

It looks like they are simple, ordinary men, yet Jesus transformed them into something great. Let’s look at them a bit more in-depth.

Jesus Picks His Disciples

John 1:35-50 recounts the story of how the first disciples met Jesus. Andrew and John were with John the Baptist the day after he had baptized Jesus. John points out Jesus passing by and says “Look! The Lamb of God.” Andrew and John started following behind Jesus. Jesus turns and asks them what they wanted. “Where are you staying?” they ask. “Come, and you will see.” And so they do and spend that day with Jesus.

Andrew later found his brother Simon and tells him that they have “found the Messiah” and brings him to meet Jesus. The next day, Jesus finds Philip, and asks him to “follow me.” Philip, in turn, found Nathanael and tells him about Jesus. Nathanael is a bit skeptical, but after talking to Jesus, he believes.

Jesus Calls His Disciples

As Jesus prepares to leave Galilee, he finds Simon and Andrew out fishing, and James and John repairing their nets. He calls each of them to follow him, and they immediately drop what they are doing and follow. James and John even leave their father, Zebedee in the boat! This wasn’t a blind following, as we know they have met Jesus before. But when called personally to leave their jobs and follow into ministry, they do not hesitate. Their faith that Jesus was the awaited Messiah was strong. But they had much to learn.

Jesus Calls Matthew

Matthew ( also called Levi- a Jew and tax collector) became a disciple in a completely different way. Tax collectors were not held in high regard. Hired by Rome, tax collectors enriched themselves by paying what they owed to Rome and kept any extra money they could extract for themselves. Their booths were in public places.

Would Matthew have known and heard of Jesus by nature of his public teaching and performing miracles? At any rate, Jesus walks right up to Matthew and says “Follow me” (Mt 9:9). And Matthew did. He left a financially lucrative job to become a disciple.

Did Matthew look into Jesus’ eyes and see God? Was it Jesus’ caring tone when He asked? Or was he just waiting for an invitation out of a life with little happiness? We don’t know, but Matthews’s heart was definitely changed when he met Jesus.

Jesus Prays to the Father

Jesus didn’t take choosing the 12 lightly. Luke 6:12-14 says Jesus went out to a mountainside and spent the night praying to God. The whole night! So stop and really ponder this- Jesus and God have been together forever. How much more must they have to discuss?? What did they find to talk about for that long? Since Jesus was fully human (except for sin), and fully God, did his humanity change how they communicated? Oh, how I would have loved to be sitting on that mountain listening to that conversation…

OK, back on topic… That next morning, Jesus called his disciples to him and from them, he chose the 12.

12 disciples of jesus- 2 empty fishing boats on a lake at sunset ts

Jesus Chooses the Twelve

Jesus’ ministry plans included ordinary men with obvious faults and shortcomings just like us.

Peter was impulsive and denied Jesus, but Jesus called him the “rock” and built his church around him.

His brother Andrew and Philip brought Peter and Bartholomew (Nathanael) to Jesus, giving us a great example of eagerness to tell others about Christ.

James and John had a special nickname given to them by Jesus- “sons of thunder”- which tells us a little about their personalities. They were ambitious but very committed to Jesus.

Matthew leaves his corrupt but profitable occupation to follow Christ.

Thomas- the doubter- also showed great courage by suggesting in John 11:16 that they accompany Jesus into Bethany- “Let us go, that we may die with him.”

James, Simon, and Thaddeus are barely mentioned and remain a bit of a mystery.

And who doesn’t know Judas Iscariot? He was a “thief” (John 12:6) and called a “devil” (John 6:70.)

Personalities of the Twelve Disciples

I find it highly comforting that Jesus chose 12 men with such varied personalities, occupations, strengths, and weaknesses. He could not perform his ministry without followers, and each one played a part in his plan. Do you see any of yourselves in them?

• Bold
• Ambitious
• Inquisitive
• Doubtful
• Skeptical
• Impulsive
• Committed
• Courageous
• Sinful

Jesus used all of the above traits, or in spite of them, to forge his lasting ministry.

Just like the 12 disciples, we don’t need to be an expert in theology, but we should strive to continually know Him better. Keep reading his Word!

Living as a Disciple

It’s ok to be skeptical and have doubts, like Nathanael and Thomas, as long as it pushes you towards a better understanding of who God is. Skepticism and doubt should drive you to ask more questions, read more, and pray harder until you can move forward. Don’t get stuck here!

It’s ok to be under the radar like James, Thaddaeus, and Simon. God gave them, and us, our own unique personalities. Not everyone has to be “the rock” or the CEO or the Board President. What is important is that you are by Jesus’ side and pursuing His purpose for your life.

Our sinfulness should never keep us away from Jesus. Like Matthew, when we hear the invitation to follow Jesus, we should leave the corrupt nature behind and strive to be more like him.

It’s easy to point our finger at Judas for betraying Jesus, but didn’t all his disciples deny Him too? Maybe Judas wanted Jesus to be a political king, and/or to be involved in a financially lucrative ministry. He followed Jesus, but not for the right reasons. Jesus knew all of this when he chose Judas.

What Can We Learn from the Disciples?

• Spend time with Jesus! The disciples only had Jesus teaching them for 3 years. We have a whole lifetime of getting to know Jesus better and better every day.

• We need a heart that truly loves Jesus and a willing spirit to be used and transformed by God.

• Come to Him when He calls.

Definition of a Disciple

The definition of a Christian disciple is someone who adheres to the teachings of Jesus. We’re called to learn to live like him, and by his grace, conform as much as we can to his ways. Will we frustrate him and sometimes need reprimanding? Sure. Is it ok to take baby steps to becoming a disciple? Absolutely! Most importantly, we are moving ahead, following him, with our hearts centered on him.

Like the 12, we each have a purpose and a distinct personality. How are you using them to further the ministry he started? Food for thought…..

Next week I’m exploring the disciples who were women! I never thought of the women in Jesus’ life that way, but I think it will be an interesting topic! Stay tuned…..



“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Matthew 4:19

1 thought on “The 12 Disciples of Jesus”

  1. So good! Thanks, Ann.
    Some new insights on the 12 for me.
    And I too wonder about what the prayers that Jesus prayed to the Father were like. Might be another blog idea down the road? That unique relationship…

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