Simon the Zealot

In the lists of apostles two men are named Simon. One is better known as Peter, “the big fisherman,” the most prominent of the Twelve. The other Simon is number eleven on the list, followed only by Judas Iscariot.

He is called Simon “the Cananaean” (Matthew 10.4). This could mean he was from Canaan, the land of Israel, but so were the rest of the Twelve. Most scholars believe the designation “Cananaean” has another meaning. In Luke’s list of the apostles he identifies Simon as “the Zealot” (Luke 6.15). Zealot was the name of a political party in Jesus’ day. They were fanatic patriots who believed in the independence and sovereignty of Israel free of Roman occupation.

Why would Jesus call such a radical person like Simon to be an apostle? And why would such a potentially violent man choose to become a disciple of Jesus, “the Prince of Peace”? We aren’t told. We only know Simon the Zealot was an apostle because he’s listed among the apostles. We have no record of anything he ever said or did. We can only respond to these questions with questions.

Why did Simon choose to follow Jesus? Was it because the Zealots had no real leader? Had he been influenced by the fiery preaching of John? Had he heard of Jesus’ indignation in the Temple, how He had used His belt as a whip and purged the Temple of the swindling money changers? Had he heard rumors that this preacher from Nazareth was the Messiah? A Messianic kingdom, wasn’t that the real hope of the Zealots? Perhaps that’s why Simon accepted the call to follow Jesus.

But why would Jesus choose a man like Simon to be an apostle? Jesus specifically handpicked certain men to be His closest associates – why Simon the Zealot, a political fanatic, a fire-breathing rebel? Their missions were so drastically different.

Simon wanted an independent Jewish state. Jesus taught, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Simon wanted the immediate restoration of Israel. Jesus taught, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Simon was willing to take up arms and fight for independence. Jesus taught, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” What in the world did these two have in common?

So why did Jesus choose Simon? We don’t know; we aren’t told. But here are some possible reasons to think about:

1. He liked his nickname – Simon “the Zealot.” Jesus Himself was a revolutionary. He called for His followers to make a radical choice, to choose between Him and His heavenly values and the world and its carnal lusts. He liked red-blooded, passionate, zealous people. So He called Simon to become a true “freedom fighter,” to join Him in His crusade to liberate men from the bondage of sin.

2. He liked diversity. Within His band of Twelve He had a Roman tax-collector and a Jewish nationalist – Matthew and Simon. Can’t get much more diverse than those two! Likewise, Jesus calls us from all walks of life and personal dispositions. The good news of His message is capable of accommodating everyone, of creating community and fellowship in spite of diversity. That’s the power of Jesus’ Gospel.

Whatever the reasons, Jesus called Simon the Zealot to be an apostle, and Simon accepted the call and followed Jesus. True discipleship calls for change. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10.24-25). As Simon walked alongside Jesus he began to change. His political ambitions became spiritual aspirations. His military mind became a missionary mind. His loathing of the enemy was transformed into love for all men.

He had heard Jesus say, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10.34). That’s a message that would attract any good Zealot – sounds like a battle cry! And a battle cry it is, but not the way Simon first thought. As he walked with Jesus and listened to Him teach he came to understand the real meaning of those militant words.

The Gospel cannot come peacefully into the world. The world is in darkness; Jesus is the Light. There’s the conflict, there’s the war. Jesus recruits Zealots to become Christian soldiers. Make no mistake about it – He’s out to change the world!

– Bill