Good morning. Today we will continue our series on “The 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ”. This message will shine the spotlight on 2 of the lesser known apostles, namely Simon the Zealot and Thaddaeus. Probably most people, including many Christians, would be unable to come up with these 2 names if asked to list all 12 of Jesus’ apostles. After today, hopefully we will be able to remember and recognize them.
Before we begin our discussion, I want to point out a common division that is made among the apostles. In each of the listings found in the gospels, the apostles’ names are always presented in 3 distinct groups. These groupings are believed to have a particular significance.
The first group is Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Of the 12, these 4 men definitely had the closest and most intimate fellowship with Jesus. They are each mentioned several times in Scripture. As presented earlier in this series, Peter, James, and John are known as “the inner circle”. They often got to go with Jesus to experience things that the other apostles did not. On occasion Andrew was included with them (Mark 13:3).
The second group is made up of Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, and Thomas. These 4 apostles enjoyed a strong, healthy fellowship with Jesus. There is a fair amount of information about each of them in the gospels, including several quotations which they spoke. However, most Bible scholars think that they were not as close to Jesus as the first group.
The third group consists of James the Less, Simon the Zealot, Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot. Other than Judas Iscariot, who is mentioned at length only because he betrayed Jesus, there is virtually no information given about these men. These 4 are thought to have had the most limited fellowship with Jesus among the apostles.
All 12 apostles enjoyed a special relationship with Jesus. They walked with Him for 3 years and witnessed many amazing things. That said, they all had different levels of fellowship and intimacy with Him. Some were very close companions to Jesus, while others appeared to be more distant.
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
Simon the Zealot is also referred to in the gospels as Simon the Canaanite or Simon the Cananaean. In this instance Canaanite is being used in its political sense, and does not refer to Simon’s place of origin. Here the term Canaanite is synonymous with the word Zealot. Simon was a member of the militant political movement called the Zealots. Simon the Zealot is not to be confused with the more well-known apostle Simon Peter (Peter), Simon the Leper (of Bethany), Simon of Cyrene (who help Jesus carry the cross), Simon Iscariot (the father of Judas Iscariot), Simon the Magician (who sought to duplicate the apostles’ miracles), or Simon the Tanner (who provided shelter for Peter in Joppa).
Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus were nicknames of the apostle Judas. He is also called Judas the son of James or simply Jude. As in the case of Simon, there is little information in the Bible about Thaddaeus. His nickname comes from the Aramaic and means “beloved” or “near to the heart”. Thaddaeus, whose actual name was Judas, is sometimes confused with Judas Iscariot (another of the apostles), Judas of Galilee (a false teacher), Judas of Damascus (who helped Ananias find the blinded Paul), Judas Barsabbas (a prominent member of the Jerusalem church), or Jude (one of Jesus’ brothers).
Simon the Zealot was an ultra-patriotic Jew who was fiercely loyal to his people. He was passionately committed to the cause of throwing off Roman authority. Thaddaeus expressed curiosity and even seemed confused about some of Jesus’ teachings. The meaning of his nickname suggests that the other apostles found Thaddaeus to be a likeable, friendly person.
Neither of these 2 apostles wrote any portion of the Bible. It is widely accepted that the short New Testament book of Jude was written by Jesus’ younger brother. Seeing that Jesus’ brothers did not accept Him as the Messiah until after the resurrection, it is almost certain that Judas the apostle (aka Thaddaeus) was a different person entirely.
II. THEIR MINISTRY WITH JESUS
There are no stories recorded in Scripture that mention Simon the Zealot. There are no Biblical quotations attributed to him. Some think that he may have been the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana, but this is unverifiable. For certain, he either was or had been a member of an early fanatical political movement called the Zealots. This group fervently, and sometimes violently, pursued independence from Roman rule and actively sought to stir up Jewish rebellion. The Zealots practiced guerilla-like tactics to create strife and were known to stab and kill Romans and/or sympathizers if possible. Many people thought of them as terrorists.
On the night of the Last Supper, just before they departed from the Upper Room to go pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told the apostles to start carrying weapons for their own protection. They looked around the room and found 2 small swords or daggers. Later that night, during Jesus arrest, Peter used 1 of them to cut off a man’s ear. It seems most reasonable that the other knife belonged to Simon the Zealot (Luke 22:35-38).
There is only one instance in the gospels that directly involves Thaddaeus. During their discussion on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus taught that He would disclose Himself only to those who loved Him and kept His commandments. Thaddaeus remembered the triumphal entry from just a few days before when Jesus had been welcomed by the masses and hailed as the long-awaited king. He wondered what had changed over the course of the week that would cause Jesus to make such a strange statement (John 14:18-24). Thaddaeus obviously misunderstood Jesus’ true intentions. Like most first century Jews, he was expecting the Messiah to reveal Himself in power to the whole world.
Simon the Zealot and Thaddaeus shared in the numerous experiences of the other apostles. After the resurrection, both men were witnesses of the risen Christ. They saw Jesus ascend into Heaven and subsequently became bold advocates of the gospel message.
III. THEIR MINISTRY AFTER JESUS WAS GONE
When all of the remaining apostles waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot were there (Acts 1:13). They partook in the discussion and final decision to name Matthias as Judas Iscariot’s replacement. Afterwards, these 2 men departed from Jerusalem in differing directions to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
According to tradition Simon the Zealot made his way to Persia, which is modern-day Iran. There are differing accounts of his death, but some believe the he was martyred (perhaps by crucifixion) for refusing to sacrifice to the sun god. Tradition suggests that Thaddaeus journeyed to Edessa, a region of modern-day Turkey, where he preached the gospel and performed miracles. He may have been clubbed or axed to death for his faith.
The contrast between Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax-collector is quite stark. Simon had a deep allegiance to his Jewish kinsmen and was bitterly opposed to Rome. On the other hand, Matthew betrayed his Jewish heritage in deference to Roman authority by serving as their employee. This vast disparity clearly indicates the variety that existed among the apostles. Jesus chose 12 very different men with very different backgrounds and perspectives.
One of the lessons we can learn from Simon the Zealot is that we must lay our political agendas and ambitions at the foot of the cross. This is not to say that we can’t have our own opinions about how governments should operate, but these must always be secondary to the gospel. The Bible calls us to live at peace with one another, yet all too often we fight about and are bitterly divided over politics. This simply should not be...
Thaddaeus was a curious fellow who apparently misunderstood what Jesus’ mission was all about (In his defense, so did most people). That said, by asking questions he was able to learn and grow. His inquisitive nature allowed him refine his theology and to mature in the faith, thus proving to be an admirable quality. We should imitate this.
Next week we will look at the last of Jesus’ 12 original apostles and learn about the man that replaced him. Until then, have a blessed week.