Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:3f “. . .and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;. . .”
Simon the Leader, Andrew the Usher, James the Thunderbolt, John the Beloved, Philip the Analyst, Bartholomew the True, Thomas the Melancholy, Matthew the Tax Collector, and James the son of Alphaeus are followed by Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot. At the Last Supper, in those agonizing moments when Jesus was trying to explain that events soon to happen would not be understood by many, but eventually would be clear to the disciples, Thaddaeus, also known as Judas (not Iscariot), asked, “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” (JN 14:22). The key word in this question, “manifest,” reveals Thaddaeus was still thinking Jesus intended to be a political Messiah, and was wondering how Christ could mount a throne without everyone knowing it.
Thaddaeus implied he wanted Jesus to reveal Himself to the world, to come out into the limelight, to prove His Messiahship publicly. We can’t help but think Thaddaeus was contemplating what it would do for him if Jesus did “manifest” Himself. As part of the inner circle, he had much to gain if Jesus became king.
Thaddaeus momentarily stumbled into a common trap we all trip on. We often forget, the kingdom is about God, not us. It’s hard for us to remember the work, not the worker, matters most. To remind us of this, God let some of the Apostles disappear into oblivion, vanishing as fast as if falling through a trap door.
The kingdom is not about us. Even what good we do accomplish for Christ, He does through us. The disciples became great men, but had God not worked through them, their lives would have been humdrum at best. We workers are belts and wheels, God is the power. We are channels, the Holy Spirit the river. We are the body, Jesus the Head and Life (Maclaren). This is the key fact our enemies fail to take into account when maligning us. They see only the weak, human element in our efforts, and thus always forecast pending doom for our cause. All the while, the Holy Spirit continues His mighty work, spreading the kingdom of Christ. In this very hour, the opponents of Jesus are assailing His Church at a feverish pitch, and howling at record levels. And yet, despite their clamoring, we are living in the greatest time of expansion in the history of our faith. “Our God is marching on.”
Nothing can thwart the extending of Christianity. Our cause is unstoppable, because in the drama of redemption, Jesus is the Superstar. The rest of us are minor actors, whose role is to echo John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (JN 3:30). From the outset “the true Hero of the Bible is God; its theme is His self-revelation culminating forevermore in the Man Jesus” (Maclaren).
His noble cause, the Great Commission, matters most. Pursuing personal fame is a fleeting exercise in futility. Whatever height of success we attain here, we will not be long remembered. “The world has a short memory” (Maclaren).
This should not surprise us. Faithful work has often been unrecorded and forgotten. This should not deter us. Our task is to strike every blow well, leaving to God the length of each echo. Whether we are known or unknown, if our post is conspicuous or obscure, let us fill our roles faithfully, for Jesus never forgets.
Even the least known Apostles remained faithful, though they received little glory on earth. These lesser lights were overlooked by men, but sixty years later John the Beloved told of their revered spot on the stones of Heaven (RV 21:14). Their names are carved where they will be seen forever. Dear laborer, strive for this glory. Focus primarily not on us here and now, but on Jesus there and then.
Matt. 10:4a “Simon the Canaanite,. . .”
This eleventh disciple is better known to us as Simon the Zealot (LK 6:15; AC 1:13). The Zealots were a political party of radical nationalists who detested Rome. They started out as vigilantes, taking law and justice into their own hands, and seeking to punish any who seemed to them a traitor. Over time, as their crusade to gain freedom repeatedly failed, they kept growing more and more radical.
The Zealots finally degenerated into terrorists, guerrilla fighters, who made ambush attacks and escaped into hills and forests to hide. They became skilled assassins, infamous for stabbing Roman soldiers and then disappearing into the crowd. Josephus, the Jewish historian, called them sicarii, Latin for daggermen.
The Zealots justified their actions by appealing to what Phinehas did in the Wilderness (NB 25:8). Israel had engaged in a sex orgy, and God’s anger was kindled. Danger was in the air, and several leaders gathered before the Tabernacle to pray, hoping to avert God’s wrath, but one presumptuous leader, Zimri, defied the Lord and in broad daylight brazenly took a woman named Cozbi into his tent to have sex with her. Realizing how serious an affront to God this insolent act was, Phinehas grabbed a spear, entered the tent, and pierced Zimri and Cozbi through the stomach. With this, the plague of God’s wrath stopped and Israel was saved.
Phinehas was dubbed the zealous one (4 Mac. 18:12), thus the name of this political party that idolized him. They were prepared to die for their country, and did not shrink from letting their loved ones also die in the struggle for freedom.
Their vigilante spirit led to gross abuses and horrid cruelties. Their fanaticism helped cause the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The famous defenders of Masada were Zealots. After this brave stand, the Zealots vanished from history.
A remarkable fact about the band of disciples is that it included Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector. Matthew worked for the same Roman government Simon sought to overthrow. Had these two met anywhere other than under Christ’s eye, Simon would have been tempted to stab Matthew. People who would normally hate each other can grow to love one another if both love Jesus.
By picking Matthew, Jesus risked losing favor with most of the populace. By choosing Simon the Zealot, Jesus risked the ire and hostility of peace-loving, law-abiding citizens. By selecting these two men, Jesus confirmed His kingdom is not of this world. He deflected both men away from petty political differences, headed them toward spirituality, and turned them toward each other. Christ united two antithetic extremists, two diametrically opposed fanatics. Jesus obviously desired variety among His workers. This would be a helpful lesson for all of us to learn. We should not seek to surround ourselves with workers who are all alike.
The Twelve differed from each other, finding similarity in their love for Jesus. This is reflected in our church staff. We also have all kinds of differences.
Some like to golf. Last time I played golf, I shot a 92. . . .on nine holes. I lost every ball I brought with me and finally walked off the green disgusted and humiliated. I either had to quit golfing or give up my religion. Some love to fish. Last time I fished as a boy, my dad used pliers to pull a hook out of my head. Last time I went fishing as an adult, my father in law said, “Grab that fish and take it off the hook. It won’t hurt you.” I grabbed it, it flopped and sliced my hand open.
Some love to bike. I knew biking wasn’t for me when I was riding down the sidewalk one day and a lady pulled out of her garage and hit me. Some hate McDonalds. I eat there five times a week. My wallet loves it, my arteries don’t.
Some love to travel. I have to do it all the time and am miserable every mile of the journey. The other day, in a disgusting restroom at the New Orleans airport, I walked up to a urinal. I had a clothes bag in one hand, but no place to hang it; I had my briefcase in the other hand, but the floor was too dirty to set it down. I stood there like an imbecile, trying to figure out what to do, and whining to the Lord about how I dislike traveling. I’ll spare you the details of how I solved my dilemma, but it was a rather ingenious solution if I do say so myself. Some love computers. Give me a hammer and I will fix all your computer troubles.
Variety is desirable, but becomes healthy only when different people turn their differences toward a common objective. Simon the Zealot had a fiery nature which needed to be redirected. Jesus turned Simon’s impure fire into consecrated ardor. I heard someone say the Greeks did not write obituaries, but instead asked, “Did this person live life with passion?” The thought intrigues me. I would like to rephrase the question, “Did he or she live with passion focused in the right direction?” We all have passions for various things. We are all able to feel deeply. I urge us to pray for God to turn that passion in the direction of Him and His cause.