Jesus’ Disciples: More Than the Twelve

It may surprise some that the twelve were not the only disciples of Jesus during His earthly ministry. A fresh look at the life of Jesus reveals that He built an extended discipling community in Galilee beyond His twelve men.

Although the gospel writers do not give us a direct description of this community, they do provide indirect references to its existence. Evidence is found here in Luke 6 when Jesus calls together His followers and selects from that larger group the twelve disciples.

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:12-16).

Although we have no indication of the total number of disciples following Jesus, we do know that it is a group larger than twelve and included women.

Another glimpse of this wider discipling community of Jesus is found in Acts chapter 1. Judas has committed suicide, so the eleven disciples who were left decided to fill the vacancy. The criterion for Judas’ replacement was that he was to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry and to have been a witness of the resurrection. What is fascinating to me is that there was a group of candidates for the position, and the eleven then narrowed it down to two finalists. This tells us that there were more disciples around Jesus during His entire ministry in Galilee that was broader than twelve we think of. Luke writes:

“‘Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’ So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias” (Acts 1:21-23).

Some closing observations:

  1. Making disciples occurs on three levels: one-on-one, a small group, and a broader discipling making community.
  2. The optimal environment to make disciples of Jesus is in community.
  3. As a discipler it is OK to have an inner circle with whom you spend more time than with other disciples.

3 thoughts on “Jesus’ Disciples: More Than the Twelve

  1. Lewie,

    Would you mind following up this article on “More than the Twelve” with another article on the dynamics between Jesus’ relationship with the Three (James, John, Peter) vs. the Twelve?


    P.S. You have a lot on Jonathan/David and Paul/Timothy…I’m assuming because there’s a lot of biblical material available. Do you have extended work on Moses/Joshua and Elijah/Elisha?

  2. bdawg and lewie,

    I have thought about these relationships and wondered why three seemed to be closer to Jesus. My thought is this: Peter, James and John were the closest to Jesus because they responded to Jesus’ love in a way the others did not. It was not that they were the favorites of Jesus. I think all of his disciples had the same opportunity to respond to Jesus. The invitation was to all of them. Perhaps, if given more time the rest of his disciples would have responded to Jesus’ love on a level that drew Jesus closer to them (and them closer to Jesus) enabling the disciples to experience more of his love.

  3. E-dawg,

    That those three responded to Jesus’ love more may certainly be true, although it can only be hypothesized from Scripture. We can assume that it was John who was “the beloved,” but not the “lover.” Peter seems to have ups and downs. Not much is said about James’ relationship with Jesus. The only indication of the Three together taking the initiative is in Mk 13:3 when they were asking Jesus questions. But that doesn’t say too much…

    What is explicitly recorded in Scripture are several times when Jesus hand-picked Peter, James, and John and flat-out denied anyone else to accompany him. It seems that Jesus had different (or rather, stronger) prerogatives with the Three than the rest of the Twelve. Such events include the transfiguration where Jesus took the Three “by themselves” (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2; Lk 9:28). Again, Jesus allowed only the Three to join him when he rose the little girl from the dead (Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51). Lastly, on the night before his death, in Gethsemane, Jesus brought only the Three close with him (Mt 26:37; Mk 14:33).

    Jesus’ marked relationship with the Three may have been based on various factors. We may suggest that part of it is because James, John, and Peter where 3 out of the first 4 disciples Jesus ever met (although James and John did not seek Jesus on their own; they were sent by John the Baptist.) We may also suggest that Jesus saw in the three a special potential for kingdom leadership, but this is sticky and somewhat speculative (the sons of Zebedee were arrogant and hot-headed.)

    In the end, I think all we can take for certain from Scripture is that Jesus had a decidedly different agenda with the Three than the Twelve, just as he had a different agenda with the Twelve than the 70/72.

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