The Twelve: JSJ

Now, let us move on to the last group of four out of the twelve. We will discuss on three apostles at once in this post. It’s not that I’m lazy to write about them one-by-one. It’s just that we only know very little about them, even virtually nothing for some. The last four was almost unknown, except for you-know-who: Judas Iscariot. We will get to him in the last post. For now, please welcome James the Lesser, Simon the Zealot, and Judas who isn’t Iscariot (a.k.a. Thaddeus, a.k.a. Lebbaeus).

James son of Alpheus, the Lesser.

The ninth name in all scripture recording is James son of Alphaeus, and that is all that we know about him.


The only thing we know about him is his name, his father’s name and his family. If he ever wrote anything, it has been lost. If he ever told about anything or did anything notable, it is not recorded. He is neither stand out or notorious, totally obscure, totally common – even his name was totally common.

We know about James son of Zebedee, we know about James the brother of Jesus, but this James, eludes us. We know about the name of his father (Alphaeus), we also knew that his mother’s name was Mary (Mark 15:40) and his brother’s name was Joses (Mark 15:47, Matthew 27:56). We know more about his mother than we know about himself, which is, Mary was one of Jesus devout follower, she was a witness in the crucifixion event, and she was one who prepares the burial of Jesus. Even his nickname shows that he is not prominent: “the less” or mikros, meaning young or little.

From that nickname, scholars predicted that he might be someone quiet, small and young, who prefer to stay in the background. Nevertheless, he is still one of the apostles who in the end was used greatly by the Lord, and will have his name inscribed in one of the twelve gates of the heavenly city.

More interesting speculation about him is that Matthew’s father’s name was also Alphaeus, but we can’t conclude that James and Matthew were brothers. We also knew that in John 19:25 there was a woman named ‘Jesus’ mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas’ mentioned. Now, if this ‘Mary, the wife of Clopas’ and ‘Mary, the wife of Alphaeus’ was the same (meaning Clopas is the nickname of Alphaeus) then it is possible that James the Less was Jesus’ cousin. But again, this is just a speculation.

But one thing we know, James the lesser, might be the apostle who resembles us more than the other eleven: total nobody.

Simon the Zealot

Remember when I said that one of Jesus’ twelve apostles was a terrorist? Well, meet Simon, the Zealot. He was also mentioned as ‘Simon the Cananite’. It was not a reference to Canaan or the city of Cana, but rather, it came from the word qanna, meaning ’to be zealous’. He was evidently at a point of his time a member of the Zealots, a widely feared outlaw political sect in that period of time. The fact that he was a member of the Zealots tells us that he has a fiery and zealous personality.

The historian Josephus mentioned about four main sects of the Jews at the time of Jesus. The Pharisees were the fastidious one about the Law, the religious fundamentalist. The Sadducees were the rich, aristocratic, powerful, religious liberals who deny the supernatural. They were in charge of the temple. The third sect was the Essenes, who were not mentioned in the Scripture at all, but it was a group of celibate people studying the Law and secluded themselves in the caves of Qumran (said to be the one who wrote the Dead Sea Scroll). The last sect was the Zealots.

The Zealots was more politically minded than the other three. They hated the Romans, and their main agenda is to overthrow the Roman occupation. They advanced their agenda through acts of terrorism, violence, or even sometimes, assassination. In terms of the Law, they are similar to the Pharisees, but they are the militant version of the Pharisees. They believed that God Himself was the one who had the rights over the Jews, waiting for the Messiah to come and free them from the Romans.

They revolted once in 6 A.D., having thoughts that paying taxes to the Romans was treason. They revolted in a guerilla-style and terrorism actions, but eventually quelled by the Romans, and killed their leader, Judas of Galilee. His sons were crucified by the Romans. After that, they went underground. They formed a group of assassins named the sicarii (dagger men) who brought a curved dagger everywhere and would be ready to kill Romans soldier and politician from behind, stabbing at their ribs, expertly ripping of their victim’s heart. Galilee was their main hideout and they are so zealous that they won’t falter even in the face of tortures.

It was believed that the Romans siege over Jerusalem and their plunder over the temple were caused by the Zealots. The Romans under Titus Vespasian in 70 A.D. surrounded the city, cut off their supplies and sacked Jerusalem. It was even said that the Zealots would kill any Jews who wanted to negotiate with the Romans, allowing no one to surrender. Titus Vespasian eventually destroyed the city, slaughters thousands of Jews, and stole every treasure inside the temple. The Zealot blind hatred of Rome eventually brings the destruction of the city the loved the most.

Now Simon was one of them. The reason why he followed Jesus’ might be of a political one: hoping that Jesus the Messiah would bring an end to the Romans. Interestingly, he would be included in the twelve apostles along with Matthew, the tax collector. Well, I believe he would gladly kill Matthew because of it, or at least despise him, but of course, it doesn’t happen. He changed. When Jesus didn’t do anything to the Romans oppression (even saying to the Jews to pay the taxes of the Romans) we would be thinking that Simon will be disappointed and leave. But he did not. He changed because he knew Jesus, and he sees the truth.

Judas who isn’t Iscariot

The name Judas became notorious after Judas Iscariot betrayal. Actually, it was a very common name and a very good one. The name ‘Judas’ meant ‘Jehovah leads’. But after Judas Iscariot, it will forever be remembered as the name of the worst traitor in human history. He actually has three names: Judas, Lebbaeus and Thaddeus. Judas was probably his given name, while ‘Thaddeus’ meant ‘breast child’ or in today’s terms, ‘Momma’s child’. ‘Lebbeaus’ had a similar meaning, which is ‘heart child’. It seems that in the same group who had a traitor and a terrorist, there was someone who had a tender and childlike heart.

Like the James the lesser and Simon, few are known about this guy. But at least there was a record of him in John’s Gospel. The account came from (again) the Upper Room when Jesus held the Last Supper. It was when Jesus said to the disciples that “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to Him” (John 14:21). Judas (not Iscariot) then said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22).

Here we see the tender-hearted humility of this man. He doesn’t say anything brash or bold or overconfident. He didn’t rebuke Jesus like Peter once did. His statement is full of gentleness and devoid of any signs of pride. Jesus would manifest Himself in the eleven common people. Judas (not Iscariot) can’t believe it. He thought that it would be far better if Jesus would manifest to the whole world. Now, that’s really something!

This was a pious, believing disciple. This was a man who loved his Lord and who felt the power of salvation in his own life. He was full of hope for the world, and he hopes to see His Kingdom come into the Earth. Jesus would then give him a marvelous answer: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). Christ would manifest Himself to anyone who loves Him.

The three unknowns

It was amazing that through various yet ordinary, defected people God would want His name to be glorified. James was a virtually unknown guy, without anything special attributed to him. If there’s anything special about him, it was ‘nothing special’. But tradition said that he brought the Gospel to Syria and Persia. His death was also obscure, some said he was stoned, others say he was beaten to death; some others say he was crucified.

Simon was a member of a rebellious terrorist sect. He was zealous but fiery. He might join Jesus for the wrong reason, but in the end he was changed, and through him, God is glorified. After the destruction of Jerusalem Simon took the gospel north and preached in the British Isles, and disappeared from the biblical accounts. No reliable records about his death, but all records said that he was martyred. The one who was willing to kill for his political agenda is transformed into someone who was willing to be killed for the proclamation of salvation.

Thaddeus was the gentle hearted apostle who experiences salvation in his life and wanted others to experience Jesus manifesting in their lives. He wanted to see His Kingdom come into the Earth and he shows it in his life. He brought the Gospel to the north, to Edessa (Mesopotamia, around Turkey). There was a record that he healed Agbar the king of Edessa. His traditional apostolic symbol was a club, because it was said that he was clubbed to death for his faith, following the Lord faithfully until the end.

Thus we know the eleven faithful apostles, who are very ordinary in their life accounts, but resemble our lives more than any others. God wanted to use them to fulfill His goals, and he transformed their lives. God can do the same to you and me.

Three ordinary men, with an extra-ordinary God transforming their lives.



There was a time when I lost my desire to write and to share. There was a time when I didn't see the point of doing a blog to express my thought. I am who I am though, inconsistent as I am in doing this blog, but I do want to share and I do long to write. Today I'm giving it another go. Fingers crossed. But I still wish that "Let there be light" is the message that I convey.
  • January 1st 2012, Kristo