The Calling of the Twelve Apostles


Question: How did Jesus go about calling the men who would later become the apostles?

Answer: Thanks for the question; I’ll do my best to answer it for you. The call of the apostles can be seen in three distinct phases.

First Contact and Part-Time Discipleship:

the 12 apostlesThe first contact between Jesus and any of the apostles is recorded in John 1:35-51. It’s here that Andrew, John, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel meet Jesus for the first time. These encounters occurred in the wilderness where John the Baptist was preaching at the start of Jesus’ ministry. The text reveals that these men were first disciples of John who had heeded his preaching in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah (cf. John 1:15-34; Mark 1:4-5). When John identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (v. 35), Andrew and an unnamed disciple (presumably the apostle John) left John the Baptist and followed Jesus (v. 36). Later that day, Andrew brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus and it is at this time that Jesus began to call him Peter (vv. 40-42). On the next day, as Jesus was leaving the area, He called Philip and Nathanael to follow Him (vv. 43-51). It is generally understood like John, Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael were disciples of John the Baptist as well. While these five men “followed Jesus” (vv. 37, 43) they were not full-time disciples, that is, they had not left their day-jobs to follow Him around. They were part-timers we might say, coming and going as Jesus was in or around Galilee. That is why we will later find them fishing and mending their nets while Jesus is off preaching.

A Call to Full-Time Discipleship:

Phase two of the apostles’ calling was a call to full-time discipleship. This is where the dramatic scenes of Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9-17; Mark 1:16-20; 2:14-22; and Luke 5:1-11; 27-32 come into focus. These disciples had already encountered Jesus through the work of John the Baptist. They had accepted Him as the Christ and they had spent some time with Him (cf. John 2:2). However, their time with Him was brief and they went back to their lives of fishing, tax collecting, etc. It is within the context of this second call of Peter, Andrew, James and John that Jesus performs the miracle of the large catch of fish (Luke 5:4-7), extends the call to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; cf. Luke 5:10) and we read venerable phrase, “immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (Luke 5:11; cf. Matthew 4:20, 22; Mark 1:18, 20). In a less dramatic way, Matthew (Levi) was called to full-time discipleship, but the result was the same, “and leaving everything, he rose and followed Him” (Luke 5:28; cf. Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:12). Judging from Peter’s words in Mark 10:28, “See, we have left everything and followed you” it appears that all twelve apostles were called in similar fashion as those who’s calling were recorded in the gospels (perhaps even the seventy-two where called in the same manner; cf. Luke 10:1). During this short phase, these men would live, travel, aid and learn from Jesus like so many others. But their greatest call still lay ahead.

The Call to Apostleship:

The last phase of the disciples’ calling was to designate them as apostles or the sent ones (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). Jesus’ teaching and work was met with great resistance by the Pharisees and scribes (cf. Luke 5:17-6:11; Mark 2:1-3:6). As it reached a climax, Mark graphically records, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him” (Mark 3:6). It was with this back drop, that Jesus selected the apostles. Because of the importance of the role this office would play in the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14), Jesus spent all night in prayer before He selected the twelve (Luke 6:12). From the ranks of His disciples (there must have been hundreds), our Lord “chose twelve, whom He named apostles” (Luke 6:13). Using Luke’s account we find their names were: “Simon, whom He called Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:14-16; cf. Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19). For roughly a year and half, these twelve men would live and learn from Jesus. He would teach and train them to be the bearers of His gospel message. Through triumph and failure, these men will come through the crucible (sans Judas), ready to spread the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20).

Did that answer your question? I hope it did and thank you again for the question. If I can answer any other questions for I would be happy to do so or, if I can be of any help to you in your spiritual race, feel free to email me at clay@claygentry.com. May God bless you and remember, share the good news of Jesus with someone today.

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