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FIRST MISSIONARIES OF THE CROSS-
In place of going over consecutively the remaining chapters of the Acts, we think it may be more interesting and equally instructive to our readers, to consider them in connection with the history of the apostles, especially with the history of the two great apostles. The book of the Acts is almost entirely occupied with the acts of Peter and of Paul, though of course under the guidance of the Holy Ghost: the one, as the great apostle of the Jews; the other, as the great apostle of the Gentiles. But we would also embrace the present opportunity, briefly to notice the first personally chosen companions and missionaries of our blessed Lord —the twelve apostles.
But before attempting an outline of these interesting lives, it may be well to state the object we have in view in doing so. We are stepping a little out of the usual course. In none of the Church Histories that we know are the lives of the apostles presented in a regular form; and we think it strange that the great founders of the church should have no place in its history. We have also noticed with some surprise that most of the histories close with the commencement of the Reformation. Surely this is the brightest day in her history —at least since the days of Constantine —and the one above all others in which the Spirit of God wrought mightily; and thus ought to be the most special part of her history.
At the same time, with regard to the apostles, we have to bear in mind that beyond the sacred narrative, there is very little known that can be relied upon. The traditional and the scriptural, the certain and the uncertain, are almost helplessly blended together in the writings of the Fathers. Every distinct ray of historical light we greatly value, but it is only to the scriptures that we can turn with certainty. Still, the few scattered notices which we have there, of some of the apostles, with what may be gathered elsewhere, when brought together may give the reader a view of the person and individuality of the apostle, which he never had before. Others, of note, besides the apostles, will come before us in connection with them, especially with Paul; so that our readers will have, in a convenient form, a brief outline of nearly all the noble preachers, teachers, confessors, and martyrs of the Lord Jesus spoken of in the New Testament.
THE TWELVE APOSTLES
were Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John (sons of Zebedee), Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, son of James (the Alphaeus), Thaddeus, Simon Zelotes, and Matthias, who was chosen in place of Judas Iscariot. (See Matthew 10; Luke 6; Mark 3, and Acts 1)
Paul was also an apostle by the Lord’s direct call, and that in the highest sense, as we have seen. There were others who were called apostles, but soon were more especially the apostles of the churches. The twelve and Paul were pre-eminently the apostles of the Lord. Compare 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25; and Romans 16:7.
The official name, “apostle,” signifies one “sent forth.” “These twelve Jesus sent forth.” This name was given to the twelve by the Lord Himself. “He called unto him his disciples; and of them he chose twelve, whom also he called apostles.” A personal acquaintance with the whole ministerial course of the Lord was the original and a necessary qualification of an apostle. Peter stated this before the election of a successor to the traitor Judas. “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all, the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be [ordained to be] a witness with us of the resurrection.” By this close personal intercourse with the Lord, they were particularly suited to be the witnesses of His earthly path. He describes them Himself as “they, which have continued with me in my temptations” Luke 22:28.
The number twelve, we believe, distinctly marks their relation to the twelve tribes of Israel. The fancies of the Fathers, as to the meaning of the number here chosen, show how little their minds were governed by the immediate context. St. Augustine “thinks our Lord herein had respect to the four quarters of the world, which were to be called by the preaching of the gospel, and which, being multiplied by three, as denoting the Trinity, make twelve.” From not seeing the distinction between Israel and the church, there is much confusion in such writers.
The number twelve in scripture we understand to mean administrative completeness in man. Hence the twelve tribes, and the twelve apostles, and the promise to the latter, that they should sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt. 19:28) But here, in plainest terms, the Lord limits the mission of the twelve to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They were not even to visit the Samaritans, nor to go in the way of the Gentiles. The mission was strictly Jewish. “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Surely nothing could possibly be plainer. The calling out of the church is not here referred to. This took place after, when another and an extra-ordinary apostle was chosen, with a special view to the Gentiles. Then the twelve would have their own place in the church, but Paul was its divinely called and qualified minister.
The general notion that the twelve were altogether illiterate, we cannot agree with. The expression “unlearned and ignorant men,” as used by the council in Acts 4:13, we understand as simply denoting persons in private stations of life, who had not been taught in the rabbinical learning and traditions of the Jews. Our term “laymen” would convey the same idea; that is, men of ordinary education, as contrasted with those who have been specially trained in the schools of the learned; or men not in “holy orders.” Thus Peter and John may have been thoroughly acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, and with the history of their country and people, and yet be considered by the council as “unlearned and ignorant men.” James and John at least had all the advantages of a godly and devoted mother’s training, which has often done great things for the church of God.
We will now glance briefly at the twelve, and first in order is the apostle:
PETER. There can be no doubt that Peter held the first place among the twelve. The Lord gave him this position. He is first named in every list of the apostles. This precedence, we know, did not arise from his having known the Lord first, for he was neither first nor last in this respect Andrew, and probably John, knew the Lord before Peter. Let us here note, with deepest interest, the first meeting of those friends who were to be united forever. See John 1:29 - 51.
John the Baptist bears testimony to Jesus as the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of the world. Two of John's disciples leave him and go with Jesus. “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus.” This was Peter’s first introduction to the Lord —to one who was to be the source of his happiness forever. And how significant their first interview! “And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone.” Naturally impulsive, quick in seizing an object, but too ready to relinquish it by the force of another impression, he has in the Lord’s grace firmness given him; though every now and then his natural character shines out.
The first thing that brings Peter into great prominence is his noble confession of Christ, as the Son of the living God. (Matt. 16) The Lord then honoured him with the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and gave him the chief place among his brethren. But this part of Peter’s history, with some of the early chapters of the Acts, we have already considered; therefore we will only refer to what has not been touched upon.
The fourth chapter of the Acts we have not alluded to, though we are disposed to think that it presents the brightest day in the apostle’s history, as the baptism of Cornelius presents the crowning day in his ministry. As there is often displayed in the great apostle a mixture of strength and weakness, of excellencies and defects, it is deeply interesting to trace his path through the first storms which assailed the infant church. But we must not forget that the grand secret of the boldness, wisdom, and power of the apostles, was not owing to their natural character, but to the presence of the Holy Ghost. He was with them and in them, and working by them. The Holy Ghost was the strength of their testimony.
Notice in particular the blessed effects of His presence in four distinct aspects.
1) In the courage displayed by Peter and the others. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel; if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole, be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone, which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” The great and solemn question between God and the rulers of Israel is here formally stated. Nothing can be plainer. The testimony of God is no longer with the rulers of the temple, but with the apostles of the exalted Messiah.
2) In His presence with the disciples as an assembly. “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word with boldness.” This verse clearly teaches what has been so often said, as to the Spirit being with the disciples and in them. The place was shaken where they were assembled together; this proves His presence with them. But they were also filled with the Holy Ghost —so filled, we believe, that for the time being, there was no room for the flesh to act.
3) In great power as to service. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon them all.” Readiness and energy now characterise the apostles.
4) In whole-hearted devotedness. “As many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet.” In Acts 2, the rich gave to the poor themselves: a thing, which can scarcely be done without adding importance to the giver. But in Acts chapter 4, the rich laid their money at the apostles’ feet. This fact we would accept as a sure sign of increased humility, and of greater devotedness.
It is also in this full and instructive chapter that we have the famous answer of Peter and John to the council. “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” From that day until now, the true confessors of the name of Jesus have found in these words a suitable answer to their inquisitors and oppressors. What a difference, we may exclaim, between the man who sat by the fire in the hall of the high priest, and the man who takes the lead in Acts 4 —between the man who fell before the assault of a maid, (when Peter denied Jesus at the campfire) and the man who makes a nation tremble with his appeals! But, some may ask, how is this difference to be accounted for? The presence and power of an un-grieved, unquenched, Holy Spirit explains it fully. And the weakness or power of many in our day is to be accounted for on the same principle. The Spirit of God alone is power in the Christian. May we know the blessedness of living, walking, working, in the saving and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit! “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)
We are now come to the last section in the sacred narrative of the history of Peter. From verse 32 of chapter 9, to verse 18 of chapter 11, we have an account of his preaching and working miracles. There we see him once more in full apostolic authority, and the Holy Ghost working with him. His mission at this time was greatly blessed, both in the towns of Israel, and at Cæsarea. The whole town of Lydda and the district of Saron appear to have been awakened. The miracles, which Peter wrought, and the gospel which he preached, were used of God for the conversion of many. Thus we read, “And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron turned to the Lord.” The blessing was general. “Turning to the Lord” is the scriptural idea of conversion. And at Joppa also, through the raising of Dorcas, there was a great stir and great blessing. “Many believed in the Lord throughout all Joppa.”
In Acts 10, (which we have already considered), the Gentiles are brought into the church. And now, Peter having finished his mission in these quarters, returns to Jerusalem. After the account of his deliverance from the power of Herod in Acts chapter 12, we have no continuous history of the apostle of the circumcision.
As Herod Agrippa, the Idumean king, comes so prominently before us here, it may be well to notice the part he takes. He professed great zeal for the Law of Moses, and maintained a certain respect towards its outward observance. He was therefore ready with a pretended pious zeal to side with the Jews against the Disciples of Christ. This was his policy. He was a type of the adversary king.
It was about A.D. 44 that Herod sought to ingratiate himself with his Jewish subjects, by persecuting the unoffending Christians. Not that there was any love between Herod and the Jews, for they hated each other heartily; but here they united, as both hating the heavenly testimony. Herod killed James with the sword and cast Peter into prison. It was his wicked intention to keep him there till after the Passover, and then, when a great many Jews from all parts would be in Jerusalem, to make a public spectacle of his execution. But God preserved and delivered His servant in answer to the prayers of the saints. They have weapons of warfare, which the governments of this world know nothing of. God allowed James to seal his testimony with his blood; but Peter He preserved for further testimony on the earth. Thus our God rules over all. He is the Governor among the nations, whatever the pride and will of man may be. Power belongeth unto Him. Feeble indeed is the power of every enemy when He interferes. Herod, being baffled and confounded by the manifestations of a power which he could not understand, condemns the keepers of the prison to death, and leaves Jerusalem. But he little thought that his own death was to precede that of his prisoners.
At Cæsarea, the Gentile seat of his authority, he ordered a splendid festival in honour of the Emperor Claudius. Multitudes, we are informed, of the highest rank flocked from all quarters. On the second morning of the festivities the king appeared in a silver robe of great splendor, which glittered with the rays of the sun, so as to dazzle the eyes of the whole assembly, and excite general admiration. When making an oration to the people from his throne, some of his flatterers raised a shout, “It is the voice of a god!” In place of repressing this impious adulation, which spread through the theatre, Herod accepted it. But a sense of God’s judgment at that very moment pierced the heart of the king. In tones of deep melancholy he said, “Your god will soon suffer the common lot of mortality.” In the forcible language of scripture, it is said, “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” He was then seized with violent internal pains, and carried from the theatre to his palace. There he lingered five days, and died in the greatest agony, and in the most humiliating and loathsome state of body.
THE HERODIAN LINE OF KINGS
As it may not be out of place here, or uninteresting to our readers, we would notice for a moment the Herodian line of kings. They frequently come before us, both in the life of our Lord, and in the early history of the church. We have associated in our minds, from early youth, the massacre of the infants of Bethlehem and Herod, king of Judæa, though it is somewhat remarkable that Josephus, the principal historian of Herod, takes no notice of this event. It is generally thought, that the murder of a few children, in an obscure village, compared with Herod’s other deeds of blood, was too unimportant in the eyes of Josephus to be recorded. But not so in the mind of God: both the deceit and cruelty of the treacherous heart of the king are recorded in the sacred narrative. The eye of God watched over the “Child born” unto Israel —the only source of hope for all nations. The cruel design of Herod was thus defeated.
Herod The Great, the first Idumean king over Israel, received the kingdom from the senate of Rome through the influence of Mark Antony. This took place about thirty-five years before the birth of Christ, and about thirty-seven before his own death. These Idumeans were a branch of the ancient Edomites, who, while the Jews were in the Babylonish captivity, and their land lay desolate, took possession of as much of the southern part of it, as contained what had been the whole inheritance of the tribe of Simeon, and also half of that which had been the inheritance of the tribe of Judah; and there they dwelt ever after. In course of time, the Idumeans were conquered by John Hyrcanus, and brought over to Judaism. After their conversion, they received circumcision, submitted to the Jewish laws, and became incorporated with the Jewish nation. In this way they became Jews, though not of the ancient stock of Israel. This happened about one hundred and twenty-nine years before Christ. They were bold, crafty, and cruel as princes: they had great political foresight, courted the favour of Rome, and cared only for the establishment of their own dynasty. But, as God would have it, with the destruction of Jerusalem, the Idumean dynasty passed away, and even the very name of Herod seems to have perished from among the nations.
Besides the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem, which took place shortly before Herod’s death, he had deeply imbrued his hands in the blood of his own family, and in the blood of many noble persons of the Asmonean line. His cruel jealousy towards that heroic family never slumbered. But one of his last acts was to sign the death warrant of his own son. When dying under the signal judgment of God, like his grandson, Herod Agrippa, he raised himself up in his bed, gave the mandate for the execution of Antipater, named Archelaus as his successor to the throne, fell back, and expired.
Thus, alas! have monarchs often died, dispensing death on the one hand, and kingdoms on the other. But, what then? In the naked reality of their own moral condition they must stand before the tribunal of God. The purple can no longer shield them. Inflexible righteousness rules on that throne. Judged according to the deeds done in the body, they must be banished beyond the “gulf” which God’s judgment has “fixed” forever. But, oh! there to remember, in torment, every moment of their past history —the privileges they have abused, the opportunities they have lost, and all the evil they have done. May the Lord save every soul that glances at these pages, from the awful weight of these words —remember —tormented —fixed. They describe and characterise the future state of impenitent souls. Luke 16.
The sect of the Herodians may have been the partisans of Herod, and chiefly political in their character, their main object being the maintenance of the national independence of the Jews, in the face of Roman power and ambition. They may have thought to use Herod for the accomplishing of this end. In the Gospel history they are represented as acting craftily towards the blessed Lord, and in concert with the Pharisees. (Matthew 22:15 - 16; Mark 12:13 - 14)
But we must now return to the history of our apostle.
In Acts 15, after an absence of about five years, Peter again appears; but during that time we know nothing of his abode or of his work. He takes an active part in the assembly at Jerusalem, and seems to have retained his original place among the apostles and elders.
PETER AT ANTIOCH
Soon after this, as we learn from Galatians 2, he paid a visit to Antioch. But notwithstanding the decision of the apostles and church at Jerusalem, a characteristic weakness of Peter’s betrays him into an act of dissimulation. It is one thing to settle a question in principle, it is quite another to carry it out in practice. Peter had actually stated in the assembly before them all, that the gospel which Paul had preached, by the revelation given to him, was no less a blessing to the Jew than to the Gentile. And while alone at Antioch, he acted on this principle, walking in the liberty of the heavenly truth and eating with the Gentiles. But when certain Jewish-minded Christians came down from James, he no longer dared to use this liberty: “He withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.” “What a poor thing is man!” exclaims one. “And we are weak in proportion to our importance before men; when we are nothing, we can do all things, as far as human opinion is concerned… Paul, energetic and faithful, through grace, alone remains upright; and he rebukes Peter before them all.”
From this time, A.D. 49 or 50, his name does not again appear in the Acts of the Apostles; and we have no certain knowledge of the sphere of his labours. But, as he inscribes his first Epistle to the Hebrew Christians, “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” he is supposed to have laboured in these countries. His second Epistle is of a much later date, and must have been written shortly before his death. This we learn from what he says in the first chapter: “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me.” (See John 21:18,19)
The exact date of Peter’s visit to Rome has been a subject of great controversy between catholic and protestant writers in all ages. But it may now be considered as a settled point, that he did not visit that city till near the end of his life. The date of his martyrdom is also uncertain. Most probably it took place about A.D. 67 or 68, and about the seventieth year of his age. Tacitus dates the burning of Rome by Nero about the month of July 64. The persecution against the Christians broke out soon after, and it was under this persecution that our apostle was honoured with the crown of martyrdom.
He was sentenced to be crucified, a most severe and shameful death. But when he looked on the cross, he entreated the favour of the officers that he might not be crucified in the ordinary way, but that he might suffer with his head downwards: affirming that he was unworthy to suffer in the same posture as his blessed Lord and Master had done before him. His request being granted, he was crucified with his head downwards. Whether this be a fact or a mere legend, it well agrees with the fervent temperament and the deep humility of the great apostle.1111See Cave's Lives of the Apostles; Burton’s Ecclesiastical History; Smith's Dictionary of the Bible. In following the catalogue already given, we next notice the apostle —
ANDREW. The sacred historian has been very full and copious in describing the acts of Peter, but very sparing in his accounts of his brother Andrew. He was brought up with Peter to his father’s trade, and continued at his occupation until he was called by the Lord to become a “fisher of men.”
Andrew, like other young men of Galilee, had become a disciple of John the Baptist. But on hearing his master speak a second time of Jesus as the Lamb of God, he left John to follow Jesus. He was, immediately after this, the means of bringing his brother Peter to his new Master. So far, he has the honour of being the first of the apostles who pointed to Christ. (John 1) He comes before us in the sixth and in the twelfth of John, and in the thirteenth of Mark; but, beyond these few scattered notices, scripture relates nothing concerning him. His name does not appear in the Acts of the Apostles, except in the first chapter.
Conjecture and tradition have said many things about him, but it is only of fairly established facts that we would speak. He is said to have preached in Scythia, and to have travelled over Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and to have suffered martyrdom at Patrae in Achaia. His cross, it is said, was formed of two pieces of wood crossing each other in the middle, in the form of the letter X, hence usually known by the name of St. Andrew’s cross. He died praying and exhorting the people to constancy and perseverance in the faith. The year in which he suffered is uncertain.
From the two brothers, Peter and Andrew, we now proceed to the two brothers, James and John. The four had also been partners in business. And first in order we notice;
JAMES. Zebedee and his two sons, James and John, were following their usual occupation on the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus passed that way. Seeing the two brothers, “He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.” Peter and Andrew were also there. It was on this occasion that the Lord desired Peter to launch out into deeper water, and try another cast for fish. Peter inclines to reason: they had been very unsuccessful the previous night. Nevertheless, at the Lord’s word, the net was let down. “And when they had thus done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their net brake.” Astonished and overwhelmed at this draught, Peter beckoned to his partners to come and help in landing the fish caught.
Full conviction was now wrought in the minds of those four young men, that Jesus was the true Messiah. They may have had doubts before but they have none now. At the call of Jesus they leave all, and become, once and forever, His disciples. Henceforward they were to become “fishers of men.” In every list we have of the apostles, these four noble men are placed first; they stand at the head of the twelve throughout. (Matthew 4:17 – 20, Mark 1: 16 – 20, Luke 5:1 – 11)
Peter, James, and John, and occasionally Andrew, were always the most intimate companions of the blessed Lord. The first three only were admitted to the raising of Jairus’ daughter. (Mark 5; Luke 8) The same three apostles were alone permitted to be present at the transfiguration. (Matt. 17; Mark 9; Luke 9) It was the same three that witnessed His agony in Gethsemane. (Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22) But the four, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, are joined together when they ask the Lord privately about the destruction of the temple. (Mark 13)
Like the change in Peter’s name, or the addition to it, the sons of Zebedee are surnamed Boanerges, or, “the sons of thunder.” Great boldness and faithfulness may have singled out James to Herod, as the first to be seized and silenced. It is not a little remarkable that “the son of thunder” and the “rock-man” are the first to be apprehended. But James has the honour to be the first of the apostles that received the crown of martyrdom, A.D. 44. Peter was rescued by a miracle.
A mother’s jealousy and her sons’ ambition lead Salome to ask for very distinguished places in the kingdom for her two sons. The Lord allowed the petition to pass with a very mild reproof, but told the brothers that they should drink of His cup, and be baptised with His baptism. James was early called upon to realize this prediction. After the ascension he is seen in company with the other apostles in Acts 1. Then he disappears from the sacred narrative until his apprehension and death in Acts 12. And there we are simply told, in the brief language of the inspired historian, that Herod the king killed James the brother of John with the sword.
Clement of Alexandria relates a tradition concerning James’s martyrdom, which is not an unlikely thing to have occurred. As he was led forth to the place of execution, the soldier or officer that had guarded him to the tribunal, or rather his accuser, was so moved by the courage and bold confession of James at the time of his trial, that he repented of what he had done, and came and fell down at the apostle’s feet, and begged forgiveness for what he had said against him. James, after a little surprise at the thing, raised him up, embraced and kissed him; and said, “Peace, my son, peace be to thee, and the pardon of thy faults.” Whereupon, before all, he publicly professed himself to be a Christian, and so both were beheaded at the same time. Thus fell James, the apostolic proto-martyr, cheerfully taking that cup which he had long since told his Lord that he was ready to drink of.1212See Cave’s Life of St. James the Great.
JOHN was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the younger brother of James. Though his father was a fisherman it appears from the Gospel narrative that they were in good circumstances. Some of the ancients speak of the family as wealthy, and even as nobly connected. But these traditions are not reconcilable with the facts of scripture. We read, however, of their “hired servants,” and they may have owned more vessels than one. And Salome, we doubt not, was one of those honoured women who ministered to the Lord of her substance. And John had a house of his own. (Luke 8:3; and John 19:27) We may safely infer from these facts that their position was considerably above poverty. As many have gone to extremes in speaking of the apostles as poor and illiterate, we think it well to notice the few hints of scripture on these subjects.
Of the character of Zebedee we know nothing. He made no objection to his sons leaving him at the call of the Messiah. But we hear no more of him afterwards. We frequently find the mother in company with her sons, but no mention of the father. The probability is that he died soon after the call of his sons.
The evangelist Mark, in enumerating the twelve apostles (Mark 3:17), when he mentions James and John, says that our Lord “surnamed them Boanerges, which is, Sons of Thunder.” What our Lord particularly intended to convey in this title, is not easily determined. Conjectures there have been many. Some suppose that it was because these two brothers were of a more furious and resolute disposition, and of a more fierce and fiery temper than the rest of the apostles. But we see no ground for such a conjecture in the Gospel history. Doubtless, on one or two occasions their zeal was intemperate, but that was before they understood the spirit of their calling. More probably our Lord so surnamed them, as prophetic of their burning zeal in openly and boldly proclaiming the great truths of the gospel, after they became fully acquainted with them. Certain we are, that John in company with Peter, in the early chapters of the Acts, displayed a courage that feared no threatenings, and was daunted by no opposition.
John is supposed to have been the youngest of all the apostles; and, judging from his writings he appears to have been possessed of a disposition singularly affectionate, mild, and amiable. He was characterised as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” On various occasions he was admitted to free and intimate communication with the Lord. (John 13)
“What distinguished John,” says Neander, “was the union of the most opposite qualities, as we have often observed in great instruments of the advancement of the kingdom of God —the union of a disposition inclined to silent and deep meditation, with an ardent zeal, though not impelling to great and diversified activity in the outward world; not a passionate zeal, such as we suppose filled the breast of Paul before his conversion. But there was also a love, not soft and yielding, but one seizing with all its might, and firmly retaining the object to which it was directed —vigorously repelling whatever would disgrace this object, or attempt to wrest it from its possession; and this was his leading characteristic.”
As the history of John is so intimately connected with the histories of Peter and James, which we have already gone over, we may now be very brief. These three names are seldom separated in the Gospel history. But there is one scene in which John stands alone, and which ought to be noted. He was the only apostle who followed Jesus to the place of His crucifixion. And there he was specially honoured with the regard and confidence of his Master. “When Jesus therefore saw his mother and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son; then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” (John 19:26, 27.)
After the ascension of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, John became one of the chief apostles of the circumcision. But his ministry goes down to the end of the first century. With his death the apostolic age naturally closes.
There is a widely spread and generally received tradition that John remained in Judæa till after the death of the Virgin Mary. The date of this event is uncertain, but soon after he proceeded to Asia Miner. Here he planted and watched over several churches in different cities, but made Ephesus his centre. Thence he was banished to the Isle of Patmos towards the close of Domitian’s reign. There he wrote the Revelation. (Chap. 1:9) On his liberation from exile, by the accession of Nerva to the imperial throne, John returned to Ephesus, where he wrote his Gospel and Epistles. He died about A.D. 100 in the third year of the emperor Trajan, and about one hundred years of age.1313See Horne’s Introduction to the New Testament.
From the many traditions about John himself, we select only one, which we think the most interesting, and the most likely to be true. As one who was unwearied in his love and care for the souls of men, he was deeply grieved by the apostasy of a young man in whom he had taken a special interest. When revisiting the place where he left him, he heard that he had joined a band of robbers and had become their captain. His love for him was so great that he determined to find him out. He hastened to the retreat of the robbers, suffered himself to be seized, and begged to be taken into their captain’s presence. When he saw the venerable appearance of the aged apostle, his conscience was awakened. The recollection of earlier days was more than he could stand, and he fled in consternation from his presence. But John, full of paternal love, hastened after him. He entreated him to repent and return to the church, and encouraged him by the assurance of the forgiveness of his sins in the name of the Lord Jesus. His marvellous affection for the young man and his deep concern for his soul, completely overcame him. He repented, returned, was restored, and afterwards became a worthy member of the Christian community. May we seek to do likewise in restoring backsliders!
We now come to what we may call the second group of four apostles; and, just as Peter heads the first group, the second is headed by;
PHILIP. In the first three Gospels he is placed in this order. He is mentioned as being of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. (John 1:44) It is more than probable that he was among the Galileans of that district who flocked to hear the preaching of John the Baptist. Though no part of Palestine was spoken of in such terms of reproach as Galilee, it was from these despised but simple, earnest, and devoted Galileans that our Lord chose His apostles. “Search and look,” said the Pharisees, “for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” But sweeping statements, generally speaking, are untrue. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” is a sample of their character.
Nothing is said in the Gospel history of Philip’s parents or occupation. Most likely he was a fisherman, the general trade of that place. From the similarity of language used by Philip and Andrew, and their being repeatedly mentioned together, we may conclude that our apostle, and the sons of Jonas and Zebedee, were intimate friends, and that they were all looking and waiting for the expected Messiah. But in the whole circle of our Lord’s disciples Philip has the honour of being first called. The first three had come to Christ, and conversed with Him before Philip, but afterwards they returned to their occupation, and were not called to follow the Lord for about a year after. But Philip was called at once. “The day following,” we read, “Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.” These words, so full of meaning and rich blessing to the soul, “Follow me,” (we believe) were first said to Philip. When the twelve were specially set apart for their office, he was numbered among them.
Immediately after his call, he finds Nathanael and leads him to Jesus. It is evident, (from the glad surprise resulting from this information) that the two had spoken of these things before. His heart was now well assured of their truth; hence the joy expressed in these words, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” There is an evident earnest heartedness about Philip, though little is said of him in the Gospels. Our last interview with him, like the first, is deeply interesting. Having heard the Lord repeatedly refer to His Father in John 12, 13, and 14, he manifested a strong desire to know more of the Father. The prophetic words of our Lord about His Father appear to have made a deep impression on his heart, and little wonder. “Father, save me from this hour;” “Father, glorify thy name;” “In my Father’s house are many mansions;” are sayings which, we doubt not, sank deep in all the disciples’ hearts. But there is a beautiful simplicity about Philip, though lacking in intelligence. “Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” There is evident reproof, if not reproach, in the Lord’s reply to Philip. “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” There had been the revelation of the Father in His own Person, and he ought to have known Him. He had now been a long time with His disciples, and they ought to have seen that He was in the Father, and the Father in Him, and thus have known where He was going, for He was going to the Father. They had both the “words” and the “works” of the Son, to convince them that the Father dwelt in Him. They had heard His words, they had seen His works, they had witnessed His character; and these things were fitted and intended to bring the Father before them. His own Person was the answer to every question. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He was the way —the only way to the Father. He was the truth; the truth as to every one and everything, as they are, is only known by Him. He is the life —“that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” But it is only by the teaching and power of the Spirit that he who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” is known and enjoyed. And there must be subjection of heart to Christ, if we would know the teaching of the Spirit.
After this deeply interesting and instructive conversation with the Lord, all is uncertain as to Philip’s history —his name disappears from the Gospel narrative. He has his own place in the catalogue. (Acts 1:13)
Tradition has so frequently confounded Philip the evangelist with Philip the apostle, that all is uncertain. No doubt his remaining years were spent in devoted service to his Lord and Saviour, but where, it is difficult to say. Some think that Upper Asia was the scene of his early labours, and that in the latter period of his life he came to Hierapolis in Phrygia, where he suffered a cruel martyrdom.
BARTHOLOMEW. It has been very generally believed, both by ancients and moderns, that the history of Bartholomew lies concealed under another name. That he was one of the twelve apostles is perfectly clear from the Gospel narrative, though nothing more is said of him than the bare mention of his name. In the first three Gospels Philip and Bartholomew are mentioned together; in John’s Gospel, it is Philip and Nathanael. This circumstance has given rise to a very common conjecture that these are but different names for the same person. Nothing was more common than this among the Jews. For example, Simon Peter is called “Bar-jona,” which simply means —the son of Jona. “Bar-timeus” again, means the son of Timeus; and “Bartholomew” is a name of the same class. These are merely relative, not proper, names. From this custom being so general among the Jews, it is often extremely difficult to identify persons in the Gospel history.
Assuming, then, that Nathanael of John is the Bartholomew of the synoptical Gospels, we proceed with what we know of his history. Like the rest of the apostles, he was a Galilean; he was “of Cana in Galilee.” We have seen in a former paper, that he was first conducted by Philip to Christ. As he approached the Lord, Jesus greeted him with the most honourable distinction, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” He was, no doubt, a man of true simplicity and integrity of character, and one that “waited for redemption in Israel.” Surprised at our Lord’s most gracious salutation, and wondering how He could know him at first sight, “Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.” Solemn, yet blessed thought! he stood before One —a man —in this world, who knew the secrets of his heart and ways. Nathanael was now fully convinced of the absolute deity of the Messiah, and owns Him in His higher glory as “the Son of God” as well as “the king of Israel.”
The character of Nathanael and his call, are considered by many as being typical of the remnant of Israel, without guile in the latter day. The allusion to the fig tree —the well-known symbol of Israel —confirms this view of the passage; and so does his beautiful testimony, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the king of Israel.” The spared remnant, seen and known by the Lord, will thus confess their faith in Him, as the prophets most fully show. And all those who thus own the Messiah shall see His universal glory as the Son of man, according to Psalm 8. That coming day of widespread glory is anticipated by our Lord in His concluding remarks to Nathanael: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” Then will the heavens and the earth be joined together, as if by Jacob’s ladder. But we must now return to the direct history of our apostle.
The most distinct and conclusive passage as to his apostleship is John 21. There we find him in company with the other apostles, to whom our Lord appeared at the Sea of Tiberias after His resurrection. “There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples,” who probably were Andrew and Philip.
There is a generally received tradition that Bartholomew travelled as far as India preaching the gospel —probably to that part of India, which lies nearest to Asia. After travelling in different places, seeking to spread Christianity, he at last reached Albanople in Armenia the Great, a place overgrown with idolatry. There he was arrested in the midst of his labours by the governor of the place, and condemned to be crucified. The date is not certainly known.
MATTHEW —called also Levi, the son of Alpheus; but not the same person, we believe, as Alpheus the father of James. (Matt. 10:3, Mark 2:14, and Luke 5:27 -29) Though a Roman officer, he was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” and probably a Galilean, but of what city or tribe we are not informed. Before his call to follow the Messiah, he was a publican, or tax-gatherer, under the Romans. He seems to have been stationed at Capernaum, a maritime town on the Sea of Galilee. He was what we should call a customhouse officer. It was in this capacity that Jesus found him. When he passed by, He saw him “sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, ‘Follow me’. And he arose and followed him.” But before proceeding with the history of Matthew, we would say a few words on the character of his occupation, as it is so frequently mentioned in the New Testament, and is really a generic term.
Publicans, properly so called, were persons who farmed the Roman taxes or revenue. They were, usually, persons of wealth and credit. It was considered among the Romans an honourable position, and generally conferred on Roman knights. Sabinus (it is said, father of the Emperor Vespasian) was the publican of the Asiatic provinces. They employed under them inferior officers, and these, generally, were natives of the provinces in which the taxes were collected; to this class Matthew no doubt belonged.
These petty officers were everywhere notorious for their fraudulent exactions; but to the Jews they were especially odious. The Jews looked upon themselves as a freeborn people, and that they had this privilege direct from God Himself. “We be Abraham’s seed,” was their boast, “and were never in bondage to any man.” Consequently, the Roman tax gatherers were the visible proofs of their slavery, and of the degraded state of their nation. This was the chain that galled them, and betrayed them into many acts of rebellion against the Romans. Hence it was that the Jews abhorred publicans. They looked upon them as traitors and apostates, and as the ready tools of the oppressor. Besides, they were most arbitrary and unjust in their taxations; and having the law on their side, they could enforce payment. It was in their power to examine each case of goods exported or imported, and to assess the alleged value in the most vexatious way. We may gather, from what John said to them, that they overcharged whenever they had an opportunity. “And he said unto them, Exact no more than is appointed you.” (Luke 3:13) See also the case of Zaccheus. (Luke 19: 9)
Surely these things were more than enough to bring the whole class into the greatest detestation everywhere. But we will confine ourselves to what we learn of them in the New Testament. The spirit of truth never exaggerates. There we find them classed with sinners; (Matt. 9:11; 11:19) with harlots; (Matt. 21:31, 32) with heathen. (Matt. 18:17) As a class, they were regarded as outside, not only from the privileges of the sanctuary, but also from the privileges of civil society. And yet, notwithstanding all these disadvantages, their ranks furnished some of the earliest disciples both of John the Baptist and of our Lord. They had less hypocrisy than those who were esteemed better; they had no conventional morality; and they had no false religion to unlearn. These things may be fairly argued from the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. (Luke 18) Conventional goodness is a great hindrance to the soul’s salvation. It is difficult for such to take the place of a lost, ruined sinner that grace may have a free course and do her blessed, saving, gracious work. He who would be justified of God, must take the publican’s place, and offer up the publican's prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” We now return to the history of our apostle.
With great readiness Matthew obeyed the call of Jesus. His lucrative situation was at once given up; and his conversion, so thorough and manifest, was accompanied with much blessing to others. There was a great awakening and interest among his own class. “And Levi made a great feast in his own house, and there was a great company of publicans and others that sat down with them.” A feast is the symbol of joy and rejoicing —the immediate effect of a hearty surrender to Christ. It is worthy of note that in his own Gospel he gives his well-known name, but neither of the other evangelists speaks of “Matthew the publican.” Along with the others he was chosen one of the twelve. From that time he continued with the Lord like the rest of the apostles. Blessed privilege! —“a familiar attendant on His person, a spectator of His public and private life, a hearer of His sayings and discourses, a beholder of His miracles, a witness of His resurrection and ascension to glory.” This he does not testify, though he saw it. Matthew was with the other apostles on the day of Pentecost, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. How long he continued in Judæa after that event, we are not informed. His Gospel is supposed to be the first that was written, and has a special reference to Israel.
Ethiopia is generally assigned as the scene of his apostolic labours. There, some say, by preaching and miracles, he mightily triumphed over error and idolatry, was the means of the conversion of many, appointed spiritual guides and pastors to confirm and build them up, and to bring others over to the faith; and there finished his course. But the sources of information on these points cannot be trusted.
THOMAS. The apostle Thomas was duly called by our Lord to the apostleship and is duly mentioned in the various apostolic lists. Of his birthplace or parents we are not informed in scripture, but tradition says he was born at Antioch. John relates all that is known of him with any certainty. But though our knowledge of Thomas be thus limited, there is no character among the apostles more distinctly marked than his. In fact, his name has become, both in the church and in the world, a synonym for doubting and unbelieving. It is said of a famous artist, when asked to produce a portrait of the apostle Thomas that he placed a rule in his hand for the due measuring of evidence and argument. His mind was thoughtful, meditative, and slow to believe. He looked at all the difficulties of a question, and inclined to take the dark side of things. But we will glance for a moment at the portrait, which the pen of inspiration has drawn of him in the three following passages.
1) In John 11 his true character distinctly appears. He evidently viewed the proposed journey of our Lord into Judæa with the darkest forebodings. “Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go that we may die with him.” In place of believing that Lazarus would be raised from the dead, he feared that both the Lord and His disciples would meet their own death in Judæa. He could see nothing arising from such a journey but complete disaster. Nevertheless, he does not seek to hinder the Lord from going, like the other disciples. This too is characteristic. He had deep affection for the Lord, and such was his devotedness that, though the journey should cost all of them their lives, he was willing to go.
2) The second time referred to was after the Last Supper. (John 14) Our Lord had been speaking of going away, and of the home He would prepare for them in heaven, and that He would come again and receive them unto Himself, so that where He was they should be also. “And whither I go ye know,” He added, “and the way ye know.” But to our apostle’s mind these beautiful promises only awaken dark thoughts of the unseen, unknown, future. “Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” Evidently he was eager to go, and earnest in his inquiries, but he wanted to be sure of the way before taking the first step. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” So long as the eye is fixed on Christ, we cannot make a false step. It is the single eye that receives the light of heaven, which sheds its radiance over the whole path.
3) The third time was after the resurrection. (John 20) He was absent when the Lord appeared the first time to the disciples. When they told him that they had seen the Lord, he obstinately refused to believe what they said. From what he says, we may fairly gather that he had seen the Lord on the cross, and that the overwhelming sight had produced a deep impression on his mind. “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” The following Lord’s Day, when the disciples were assembled, Jesus appeared, and stood in the midst of them —His own place as the centre of the assembly. He again saluted them in the same words of peace, “Peace be unto you.” But He at once turned to Thomas, as if he had been the main object of His appearing that day. “Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” The effect on Thomas was immediate: all his doubts were removed, and in true orthodox faith he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Some have thought that the faith of Thomas in this instance rises far above all the other disciples, and that nothing higher in testimony ever dropped from apostolic lips. This opinion, though a common one, cannot be founded on the general context. Christ, in reply to Thomas, pronounces those more blessed who saw not, and yet believed. It can scarcely be called even Christian faith, as our Lord evidently hints. Christian faith is believing in Him whom we have not seen —walking by faith, not by sight.
Thomas, we have no doubt, represents the slow, unbelieving mind of the Jews in the last days, who will believe when they see. (Zech. 12) He was not present at the first gathering of the saints after the resurrection, the reason why we are not told. But who can estimate the blessing that may be lost because of absence from the sanctioned meetings of the saints? He missed the blessed revelations of Christ as to relationship, “My Father, and your Father; my God, and your God.” His faith is not connected with the position of son-ship. “He has not the communications of the efficacy of the Lord’s work,” as one has said, “and of the relationship with His Father into which Jesus brings His own, the church. He has peace, perhaps, but he has missed all the revelation of the church’s position. How many souls —saved souls, even —are there in these two conditions?”
The future apostolic labours of Thomas, and the end of his life, are so filled with traditions or legends, that we know nothing certainly. Some say he laboured in India and some in Persia. His martyrdom, it is said, was occasioned by a lance, and is still commemorated by the Latin Church on December 21, by the Greek Church on October 6, and by the Indians on July 1.
JAMES —the son of Alpheus. The identification of the Jameses, the Marys, and the Lord’s brethren, has long been a difficult point with critics. This would not be the place even to refer to their theories and arguments. But after looking at different sides of the question, we still believe that our apostle is the James who was a principal man in the church at Jerusalem —who is the author of “The General Epistle of James” —who is also called the Lord’s brother and surnamed “the just,” and “the less,” probably because he was low in stature. Identification of persons is extremely difficult in such histories, from the habit, so common among the Jews, of calling near relations, brothers and sisters, and from nearly all of them having two or more names.
In the four lists of the apostles, James holds the same place. He heads the third class. They appear to be in fours. Peter heads the first, Philip the second, and James the third. Very little is known of James until after the resurrection. From what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:7, it is evident that the Lord, before His ascension, honoured James with a personal interview. This was before the day of Pentecost, and may have been for the special encouragement, guidance, and strengthening of the apostle. We will now notice the principal passages, from which we gain our knowledge of James.
In the first chapter of the Acts we find him, with the others, waiting for the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Ghost. After this we lose sight of him, until, he is visited by Paul, (Gal. 1:18, 19) which would be about the year A.D. 39. Now we find him equal with Peter as an apostle. He was at this time the overseer of the church at Jerusalem, and on a level with the very chiefest apostles. The place he held in Peter’s estimation appears from the fact, that when he was delivered from prison, he desires that information of his escape may be sent to “James and to the brethren.” (Acts 12:17)
In A.D. 50 we find him in the apostolic council, where he seems to deliver the judgment of the assembly. “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.” (Acts 15) None of the other apostles speak in this manner. It would appear that he had risen greatly in apostolic position and authority. About the year 51, when Paul paid another visit to Jerusalem, he recognises James as one of the “pillars” of the church, and places his name before both Cephas and John. (Gal. 2:9) Again, about the year 58, Paul paid a special visit to James in the presence of all the elders. “And the day following Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present.” (Acts 21:18) It is easily seen from those few notices, that James was held in the very highest esteem by the other apostles, and that he filled a most important position in the church at Jerusalem. His attachment to Judaism was deep and earnest, and his advancement in Christianity appears to have been slow and gradual. He was a perfect contrast to Paul; Peter forms a link between them.
The martyrdom of James is placed at about 62, close upon thirty years after Pentecost. The testimony of antiquity is universal, as to his distinguished piety and sanctity. His humility, too, appears great: though he was the Lord’s brother, or near relation, he styles himself the servant of Jesus Christ, and does not so much as give himself the title of an apostle. For the reputation of his holy and righteous life, he was universally styled, “James the Just.” And as he conformed to Jewish customs with a measure of regularity, he was by no means so offensive in the eyes of his unbelieving countrymen, as the apostle of the Gentiles. But notwithstanding the high opinion that was entertained of his character, his life was prematurely ended by martyrdom.
For an account of the life, character, and death of James, we are chiefly indebted to Hegesippus, a Christian of Jewish origin, who lived in the middle of the second century. He is generally received as a credible historian. His narrative of the martyrdom of James is given fully, and in his own words, in Smith’s “Dictionary of the Bible.” We can only give it in substance.
As many of the rulers and people of the Jews became believers in Jesus, through the labours of James, the scribes and Pharisees were greatly stirred up against him. The whole of the people, they said, will believe in Christ. Therefore they came together to James, and said, “We pray thee, stop the people, for they have gone astray after Jesus as though He were the Christ. We pray thee to persuade all that come to the Passover concerning Jesus. Persuade the people not to go astray about Jesus; for the whole people, and all of us, give heed unto thee. Stand, therefore, on a pinnacle of the temple that thou mayest be visible, and that thy words may be heard by all the people; for all the tribes and even the Gentiles are come together for the Passover.” But in place of saying what he was told, he proclaimed with a loud voice in the ears of all the people that Jesus was the true Messiah; that he firmly believed in Him, that Jesus was now in heaven at God’s right hand, and that He would come again in power and great glory. Many were convinced through the preaching of James and gave glory to God, crying, “Hosannah to the Son of David.”
When the scribes and Pharisees heard this, they said to each other, “We have done wrong in bringing forward such a witness to Jesus; let us go up and throw him down, that the people may be terrified and not believe in him.” And they cried out, saying, Even James the Just has gone astray, and they threw him down. But as he was not killed with the fall, they began to stone him. Then one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he pressed the clothes, and brought it down on the head of James. Thus the apostle died, and, like the proto-martyr Stephen, he died praying for them in a kneeling posture. It was almost immediately after this that Vespasian commenced the siege of Jerusalem, and the Roman army turned the whole scene into desolation, blood, and ruin.
SIMON ZELOTES —also called “Simon the Canaanite.” He seems to be a different person from Simon the brother of James. We have no account of him in the Gospel history. He is duly named in the Gospels and in the Acts, and then disappears from the sacred page.
It is generally supposed that, before his call to be an apostle, he belonged to a sect among the Jews called “The Zealots.” They were conspicuous for their fierce advocacy of the Mosaic ritual. They looked upon themselves as the successors of Phinehas, who, in zeal for the honour of God, slew Zimri and Cozbi. (Num. 25) In pretending to follow the zeal of the priest of old, they assumed to themselves the right of putting to death a blasphemer, an adulterer, or any notorious offender, without the ordinary formalities of the law. They maintained that God had made an everlasting covenant with Phinehas, and with his seed after him, “because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for Israel.” These high sounding claims and pretensions deceived both rulers and people for a time. Besides, their fury and zeal for the Law of Moses, and for the deliverance of the people from the Roman yoke, gave them favour in the eyes of the entire nation. But, as must ever be the case under similar circumstances, their zeal soon degenerated into all manner of licentiousness and wild extravagance. They became the pests of every class of society.
Under a pretended zeal for the honour of God, they charged whom they would with being guilty of blasphemy, or of some other grievous sin, and immediately slew them and seized their property. Josephus tells us that they failed not to accuse some of the “prime nobility,” and when they had succeeded in turning everything into confusion, they meantime “fished in the troubled waters.” He bewails them as the great plagues of the nation. Attempts were made at different times to suppress the society, but it does not appear that they were ever much reduced until, with the unbelieving nation, they were swept away in the fatal siege.
Simon is frequently styled “Simon the Zealot,” and is supposed to have belonged to this troublesome faction. There may have been true and sincere men among them, but good and bad alike passed under the odious name of “Zealots.” Nothing is certainly known of the future labours of our apostle. Some say that, after travelling for a while in the East, he turned to the West, and penetrated as far as Britain, where he preached, wrought miracles, endured many trials, and at last suffered martyrdom.
JUDAS —the brother of James. This apostle is also called Jude, Thaddeus, and Lebbeus. These different names have different shades of meaning, but the examination of such niceties comes not within the range of our “Short Papers.” Judas was the son of Alpheus, and one of our Lord’s kindred, as we read in Matt. 13:55, “Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?”
When, or how, he was called to the apostleship we are not informed; and there is scarcely any mention of him in the New Testament, except in the different catalogues of the twelve apostles. His name only occurs once in the Gospel narrative, and that is when he asks the following question, “Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” (John 14:22) It is quite evident from this question, that he was still entertaining, like his fellow-disciples, the idea of a temporal kingdom, or the manifestation of Christ’s power on the earth, such as the world could perceive. But they understood not yet the dignity of their own Messiah. They were strangers to the greatness of His power, the glory of His Person, and the spirituality of His kingdom. His subjects are delivered, not only from this present evil world, but also from the power of Satan, and from the realm of death and the grave: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Colossians 1:13) The answer of Christ to the question of Judas is all-important. He speaks of the blessings of obedience. The truly obedient disciple shall surely know the sweetness of fellowship with the Father and the Son, in the light and power of the Holy Ghost. “It is not here a question of the love of God in sovereign grace to a sinner, but of the Father’s dealings with His children. Therefore it is in the path of obedience that the manifestation of the Father’s love and the love of Christ are found.” Verses 23 — 26.
But we must bear in mind, when remarking on the questions or sayings of the apostles, that the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified. The thoughts, feelings, and expectations of the apostles, after that event were altogether changed. Hence we find our apostle, like his brother James, styling himself, “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.” He neither calls himself an apostle, nor the Lord’s brother. This was true humility, and founded on a true sense of the altered relations between them and the exalted Lord. On the day of Pentecost it was proclaimed, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord, and Christ.”
Nothing is certainly known of the later history of our apostle. Some say that he first preached in Judæa and Galilee, then through Samaria into Idumea, and to the cities of Arabia. But towards the end of his course Persia was the field of his labours, and the scene of his martyrdom.
From 1 Corinthians 9:5 it may be fairly inferred that he was one of the married apostles. “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” There is a tradition about two of his grandsons, which is both interesting and apparently true. It has been handed down by Eusebius from Hegesippus, a converted Jew. Domitian, the Emperor, having heard that there were some of the line of David, and kindred of Christ still alive, moved with jealousy, ordered them to be seized and brought to Rome. Two grandsons of Jude were brought before him. They frankly confessed that they were of the line of David, and kindred of Christ. He asked them about their possessions and estates. They told him they had but a few acres of land, out of the fruits of which they paid him tribute and maintained themselves. Their hands were examined, and were found rough and callous with labour. He then inquired of them concerning the kingdom of Christ, and when and where it would come. To this they replied, that it was a heavenly and spiritual, not a temporal kingdom; and that it would not be manifested till the end of the world. The Emperor, being satisfied that they were poor men and harmless, dismissed them unbound, and ceased from his general persecution of the church. When they returned to Palestine, they were received by the church with great affection, as being nearly allied to the Lord, and as having nobly confessed His name —His kingdom, power, and glory.
MATTHIAS —the apostle elected to fill the place of the traitor Judas. He was not an apostle of the first election —immediately called and chosen by the Lord Himself. It is more than probable that he was one of the seventy disciples, and had been a constant attendant upon the Lord Jesus during the whole course of His ministry. This was a necessary qualification, as declared by Peter, of one who was to be a witness of the resurrection. So far as we know, the name of Matthias occurs in no other place in the New Testament.
According to some ancient traditions, he preached the gospel and suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia; others believe that it was rather in Cappadocia. Thus the great founders of the church were allowed to pass away from earth to heaven without a reliable pen to chronicle their labours —their last days —their last sayings, or even the resting-place of the body. But all are chronicled in heaven, and will be held in everlasting remembrance. How marvellous are the ways of God, and how unlike they are to the ways of men!
The manner of this apostle’s election was by lot —an ancient Jewish custom. The lots were put into the urn, Matthias’ name was drawn out, and thereby he was the divinely chosen apostle. “And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen… And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” The solemn mode of casting lots was regarded as a way of referring the decision to God. “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.” “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” (Lev. 16:8; Proverbs 16:33) The apostles, it will be remembered, had not yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost. The lot was never repeated after the day of Pentecost.
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