James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot

We have been talking now about the men that the Lord Jesus Christ chose to be the ones used for the monumental task of founding the Church of Jesus Christ. I need not mention that these common, unqualified, unknown men, who through the power of Christ turned the world upside down and forever change the history of the world, were no different than you or I. They were called, trained and sent out as Apostles by Jesus. It is no doubt that they obtained the greatness of success by fighting the good fight, running the good race, keeping their eye fixed on the Master, and we are here today as a result of the sacrifices they made for the Kingdom. Their message of the Good News of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ, God’s free gift to man, available to all who will trust Jesus and exercise faith through Him.

We are about to begin our look at the third group of disciples. We have already looked at group one, Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James and his brother John. These were the most intimate of Jesus’ disciples. We looked at group two Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas who were a little less intimate but also accomplished great works in their ministry. Now we look to group three, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot. Less intimate than the other groups but just as faithful to the cause of the Kingdom business. We will hold the fourth member of this group, Judas Iscariot, until the next time we meet.

During the days of Jesus’ ministry He had many followers with Him at many times. Many times we see Jesus withdrawing to the mountain just to have some quite time with His Father in heaven. I question in my mind how so many people followed Jesus around and yet in the hour for which He came He was alone. I have often wondered why people come into Church and sit piously listening to a message and leave and live as the rest of the world until the next Sunday. Those who you see on Easter and Christmas each year but would never grace the door of a Church any other time. I have wondered why there are so many Christians that have no power in their life to live in the light of His truth. I wonder why I am that way as well?

Looking in the gospel of John chapter 6 we see Jesus greeting those who followed Him from the previous day when He fed them at the feeding of the five thousand. When Jesus spook to them He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” (John 6:26) Jesus knew that they were seeking Him because of their physical needs and were not there in attendance to their spiritual need. So many come to Jesus thinking of their physical needs and not realizing that they have a greater spiritual need. At the temptation of Jesus the words he answered Satin overcame the first temptation of Jesus to turn the stones into bread, which was a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) The mindset of these followers was physical and Jesus began to explain their spiritual need. In the next verse, 27, Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” People who are only concerned with the physical things of this world will come up short once they have entered into the spiritual word. That day is coming and if one does not have the seal of the Holy Spirit as a pledge for eternal life in the Kingdom of heaven they will not enter.

The people asked how they can obtain this and Jesus gave them the answer in an analogy in verses 53 and 54. “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Some say that they did not understand what Jesus meant by this statement. But I think they did by their response in verse 60. Jesus knew they were having trouble with this statement and asked them if His words were causing them to stumble. (Verse 61) They knew what Jesus was saying, they knew that it meant in order to have the eternal life that Jesus promised meant a complete acceptance of Him.

So many, all too many, want to just take the parts of Jesus than fit into their life style. They are okay with what does not change them from the things of this world that they like. Sanctification is not an instant process but it does require a constant effort in growth in obedience to His Word. In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” This is the proof of our love towards our parents that if we love them we will obey their words. This is the proof of our love towards Jesus that if we love Him, if we trust Him, we will obey what He tells us.

This was more than many of them could handle. They did not want to give up their sinful way of life in exchange for striving to live a righteous life. They loved this world which they could see with their physical eye more that the spiritual world to come which they can only see in faith. As a result we see in verse 66, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” We sometimes wonder why so many fall away? So many turn back to living for this world? It is the same problem that plagues all of us at one time or another or maybe even now, the lack of commitment.

Jesus then turned to His twelve chosen and asked them if they were going to go away also? Peter, the bold and dynamic disciple we have learned about recently gave a wonderful testimony, he confirms their belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. “Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:68-69)

Yes the disciples of Jesus were common everyday people just like you and me. And that is a great comfort to know. That it is not what we have that qualifies us to become a disciple of Christ but what we are willing to allow Him to do through us. We must be willing to become His instruments in the business of sharing the Good News of the Kingdom to come. Jesus lives through us in the spirit, Jesus directs us through the spirit, and His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, teaches us all things. (John 14:26) Jesus is not looking for our talent or our wealth, He will give us what we need, He is looking for our time and commitment. He doesn’t need weekend warriors He needs fellow soldiers in the Christian faith.

We see James the son of Alphaeus in Mark 14:40 where he is identified as James the less or the small depending of which version you are reading. This identification may mean that he was a small man in stature, or that he was James the younger in comparison to James the brother of John, or that he was of small influence. Throughout the gospels James never speaks on word, never does anything recorded, and is hardly ever mentioned. James perhaps is the least known of all the disciples. How does Christ take someone who seems to be so insignificant and use him to become one of the twelve men who turned the world upside down? James is just a mention from one of those nameless people we read of in the letter to the Hebrews. “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:32-40) People who were completely committed to the faith in their Lord and sacrificed themselves to the point of death, and as the writer of Hebrews said, “Men of whom the world was not worthy.”

How does the Lord use people like this? Nameless people that none know anything about, yet the Lord uses them to do great works for His Kingdom. People who cared not for their on self-recognition but strive to glorify God in all their efforts. How do men have such boldness, courage, and perseverance to accomplish the mission before them?

It is by their commitment and complete submission to the will of God. The Christian is a member of Christ body and He is the head of the body. (Ephesians 4:15) We are His hands, feet, and we are His voice. We keep our eye upon Jesus, He is the goal and He leads the way that we should go. Apart from Him we can do nothing. We are His instruments and we are to keep our focus on Him. It is not us, it is never about us, it is all about Jesus. If we keep focused upon Jesus God will cause the increase. (I Corinthians 3:7)

Tradition tells us that after leaving Palestine James went to Persia, now modern day Iran and preached the gospel there. The Persians completely rejected his message and crucified him.

Thaddaeus’ given name is Judas and is so called in Luke 6:16. Judas means “The praised one” in the Hebrew language and was a very common name in the days of Jesus. After the betrayal of Jesus the name Judas has lost its popularity. Judas went by the name Thaddaeus which meant “Breast Child.” This may be because he was the baby of the family, the youngest child. He was also at times went by the name of Lebbaeus, which means “heart child” referring to the same meaning as the youngest of the family.

On the night before Jesus’s crucifixion we see Jesus comforting His disciples in John Chapter 14. At this point all the disciples realize that Jesus is leaving them. Jesus was explaining the role that the Holy Spirit would play in that they would not be alone but have the Spirit of Truth living within them. In verse 22 we hear Thaddaeus ask this very profound question, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) It was a deep question to ask, as the disciples were still of the mindset of a Messiah that would establish an earthly kingdom now in their time. So the question that Thaddaeus was asking is how Jesus would do that if He only made Himself known to just the eleven of them. They had not yet fully realized that Jesus was leaving them and they would be establishing the Church rather than a physical kingdom here in the world. I don’t think they really grabbed hold of the reality until after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Then they knew they were alone but on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled them it was then they knew their mission and were on fire to carry the message to the uttermost parts of the world.

Tradition tells us that Thaddaeus was a gifted healer. It is said that he took the gospel message to Syria and healed a King there who was ill. The King was converted to Christianity. The Kings nephew, Adgar, was upset at the Kings conversion and sought out Thaddaeus and killed him. We spoke of the seal of Matthew and how it related to his death. Matthew’s seal was the scripture in one hand and a sword in the other. Matthew was martyred by the sword. Thaddaeus was clubbed to death under the order of Adgar. On Thaddaeus’ seal he holds a club.

Simon the Zealot was so called because he was a member of the Jewish Zealots. In those days there were four different groups within the Jewish society. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Zealots.

The Pharisees were a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land beginning in 149-37 BC. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD Pharisaic beliefs became the liturgical and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisees were a very conservative group. The Sadducees were a group of Jews that were active in Judea starting from the second century BC through the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The Sadducees we a very liberal group. The Essenes were a group that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. Being much fewer in number than the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, and daily immersion. Some of the Essenes groups lived in caves away from populated areas. The Group that Simon belonged to were the Zealots who were political adversaries to Roman rule in Judaea, who were determined to protect their religion from the imposition of Roman rituals and to end Gentile rule over the Jewish people. In their opposition to the Roman rule they employed terroristic means. Many a Roman soldier and citizen was murdered by the Jewish Zealots. It is said that the Zealots were responsible for the Roman crack down which caused the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Romans went through Judea massacring all the Zealots they could find. Their last stand was at a fortification in Masada. According to Josephus, the Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire towards the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarri rebels and their families hiding there.

We are told by the Apostle Paul to have a like mindedness as with Jesus. I cannot not help but wonder in amazement that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector got along. I wonder if at first Simon might have been strongly tempted to put a knife to Matthews’s throat, as he once was a traitor to the Jewish people. It does go to teach us that no matter how evil we are in our hearts the power of Jesus can heal us. “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” (Philippians 2:2)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, June 1, 2014


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