Who were the 12 apostles, companions of Jesus in the short span of his mission and who received from him the task of bringing the Word into the world?
When we speak of the life of Jesus we tend very often to imagine him alone, intent on preaching, bringing consolation and hope among the most unfortunate, to perform miracles. Even thinking back to His Passion and death on the cross, few figures are mentioned in the Gospels at his side.
The truth is that from the beginning of his mission, Christ was almost never alone, because from the beginning he began to gather around himself disciples who followed him everywhere and shared with him every aspect of life. The tradition speaks of 70 disciples, among whom Jesus then chose 12 men particularly close, with whom he shared the Last Supper and to whom he entrusted the task of spreading His message, the Word of Salvation of which He was ambassador and herald in the world.
To one of them in particular, Peter, asked to found the Church. In the Gospels of Mark and Luke there is a clear difference between apostles and disciples, while in Matthew the 12 end up conforming to all those who followed Jesus. All the apostles, except Judas Iscariot, are numbered among the saints and blessed. But who were the 12 apostles?
The names of the 12 apostles
According to tradition Jesus chose 12 apostles as 12 were the tribes of Israel. We have already stressed in previous articles how important the numbers were in Jewish culture and religion. The Sacred Scriptures are imbued with a strong numerical symbolism, according to which numbers are rarely used only to indicate a quantity, but rather as symbols of human or God-related realities. In particular, the number 12 and its multiples recur in many passages of the Bible. 12 They were the tribes of Israel, and each of them was descended from one of the 12 sons of Jacob; 24 The Ancients were appearing in the Revelation of John, seated on as many seats; 12 stars make up the crown of the woman clothed in the sun, who embodies the Church, always in the Apocalypse.
The importance of the number 12 regarding the apostles is confirmed by the fact that, after the betrayal of Judas, since they remained in 11, it was necessary to immediately find a substitute, in order to return to the completeness desired by Jesus: so Matthias was chosen.
So who were the 12 apostles? Here are their names: Peter and his brother Andrew, James and Judas Thaddeus, also their brothers and cousins of Jesus, James and his brother John, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, Bartholomew, Simon said the Zealot or the Canaanite. They were joined by Matthias, who replaced the traitor Judas Iscariot.
Paul of Tarsus never knew Jesus, but is called the “apostle of the Gentiles”, because he brought the Word between the Greeks and the Romans, obtaining countless conversions.
The jobs of the twelve apostles
But what did the apostles do before following Jesus’ call?
Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen, as were James, John and Philip. From fishers they became fishers of men.
Matthew worked instead as a tax collector, while Judas Iscariot was the treasurer of the apostles, the depository of alms that were offered to them.
Judas Thaddeus, the apostle with a big heart, was presumably a peasant and was married. Indeed, perhaps he was the spouse of the famous Cana Wedding.
What are the Acts of the Apostles
It is a part of the New Testament, the fifth book immediately after the Gospels, and tells what happened to the disciples and the Church of Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus, dwelling on the first missions of the apostles, on the life of the Church of Antioch, on the Council of Jerusalem and on the journeys of Saint Paul to Rome. For this reason the work was attributed to Luke, a doctor and companion of Paul himself, who wrote it between 70 and 90 AD.
It is divided into 28 chapters and is a valuable document because it allows to realize the speed with which the Gospel message spread in the Mediterranean basin immediately after the death of Jesus.
The letters of the apostles
Often in ancient times letters were used as a vehicle of knowledge and teaching. The Letters of the Apostles also had great value in spreading the Gospel message and in the desire to unite in spirit all the new Christian communities in the countries facing the Mediterranean.
Together with the Acts of the Apostles and the canonical Gospels these Letters are part of the canon of the New Testament and collect letters written between 50 and 100 AD, 13 attributed to Saint Paul and 7 letters “Catholic”, or “canonical” 1 of James, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of Judah. The epistle to the Hebrews has been attributed to Paul for centuries, but the attribution is uncertain. Certainly, it was Paul, the apostle who did not know Jesus, one of the most fervent and tireless among the apostles, and his letters are the testimony of this.
Difference between Apostles and Disciples
We have already mentioned the difference between the 70 disciples and the 12 apostles.
In fact, once we have established who the 12 canonical apostles were, we can consider as an apostle any follower of Jesus who, after following him in life and witnessing His death and resurrection, chooses to bring His Word into the world.
But the apostles themselves are only those who, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, were invested by Him with the mission of bringing His message of salvation into the world. This is why Jesus sent down on these chosen the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and ordered the head among them, Peter, to found his Church and take it everywhere.
What did the apostles do after the death of Jesus
After the death of the Messiah, his apostles separated and began to preach the Good News and bring it into the world. Unfortunately, they found themselves having to deal with those who did not accept the new religion brought by Jesus and promoted by them. All the apostles suffered martyrdom and were tortured and slaughtered in the name of their faith, and for this very reason, the example they left is still so precious and important today. The very fact that the apostles accepted their destiny is a demonstration that they really witnessed the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and that is why they knew that every word of His was true, while they took care to bring it into the world.