Why Jesus Had Only 12 Disciples
He called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles. (Luke 6:13)
Why So Few?
Jesus could have had hundreds of disciples, but He had only a few. He had twelve to be exact. There are valid reasons Jesus chose only a few to follow Him and be trained by Him.
All the gospels show that at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he chose twelve disciples to be with Him as he traveled about preaching, teaching, healing and casting out demons. He wanted them to see Him in action so they could learn from Him and go out to do the same thing themselves (Mark 3:14-15). Paul also mentioned the twelve disciples in 1 Corinthians 15:5.
So, why did Jesus have so few disciples when he could have had hundreds or even thousands. There are reasons Jesus had so few disciples.
First of all, Jesus knew He didn't need an army to help Him accomplish great things and extend His ministry. However, there were more theological reasons for so few disciples.
Why 12 Disciples?
There were twelves tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. Therefore, Jesus paralleled that twelve to the number of disciples He chose to mold and shape them into doing greater things after He ascended back to His Father.
Jesus was not trying to impress anyone with a great number. Instead, He wanted to usher in the Kingdom of God, and He chose to use a few men to do so. This meant He needed leaders who would pattern their lives after His.
Who Were the Disciples
Now that we know why Jesus chose twelve disciples, who were the Twelve?
The disciples were a diverse group of ordinary uneducated men with quick tempers. They argued among themselves. All of them fled when Jesus was crucified on the cross (Matthew 26:56). They were not the type of men that would be chosen by religious leaders today.
Most of them were fishermen on their jobs when Jesus said, "Come, follow me." Because it was a clarion call, the men dropped their nets and followed Jesus without questioning him or resisting or even thinking about their decision.
Peter is listed first in all of the gospels, but he was not the first one called. In fact, Peter's brother, Andrew, was a disciple first and he was the one who took Peter to Jesus. Peter is listed first because he was the most talkative a risk taker.
The disciples are listed in the chart below in alphabetical order.
Method of Death
He took his brother, Peter, to Jesus
Crucified on X-shaped cross
Bartholomew or Nathanael
Introduced to Jesus by Philip
Flayed alive with knives
James the elder
Son of Zebedee and Salome
First disciple martyred
James the lesser
Younger James; a man of strong character and one of the most fiery type.
Sawed in pieces
Described as Jesus' beloved disciple; at cross Jesus turned his mother over to John
Died of natural causes on isle of Patmos
Betryed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver
Skeptical of Jesus at first; was the one who asked, : "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
Killed with arrows
Matthew, also called Levi
Tax collected who was despised
One who was always with Jesus and tried to walk on water
Crucified upside down
Philip followed Jesus after hearing just two words, "Follow me."
Died by hanging
Simon the Zealot
Was a fisherman who became a fisher of men
Doubted Jesus and was told to stick his hand in Jesus' piercings
Killed with a spear
To Avoid Confusion
To avoid confusion, know that the twelve Jewish men Jesus selected were different from the followers who were actively involved in His ministry. They were with Him and followed Him also. For example, there were seventy-two missionaries who spoke and healed on his behalf (Luke 10:1-20) and a group of women who traveled with him as well as the twelve disciples (8:1-3). One woman who was close to Jesus, who followed Him, and who funded His ministry was Mary Magdalene.
The twelve disciples, known as the Twelve, were known as His students. Jesus committed His teachings, and He commanded them to pass it on after his ascension in order to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19). The Twelve formed the nucleus that Jesus used to build His church (16:18).
Some of the Twelve went on to write parts of the New Testament. For instance, Matthew wrote a gospel. John also wrote a gospel as well as the epistles of First, Second, Third John and the eschatological book of Revelation. Peter wrote the epistles of First and Second Peter.
Patterned after Other Twelves in the Bible
The number twelve has significant meaning in the Bible. It was significant for Jesus to choose twelve disciples instead of another number. The twelve disciples represent the new covenant just as the twelve tribes of Israel represented the old covenant (Luke 22:29-30).
The number twelve often signifies a complete divine arrangement or organization. Here are just a few of the twelves listed in the Bible.
- Jesus was 12 years old when he was left behind in the temple. When he was found, he was among the religious leaders (Luke 2:42, 49-52).
- Jesus raised Jarius’ 12-year-old daughter from a death-like state (Mark 5:42).
- The miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes, providing 12 baskets of leftovers (Matthew 14:19–20; John 6:13).
- Jacob had 12 sons which became the 12 tribes of Israel.
- According to Revelation 12:12, the New Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve disciples on the foundation of the twelve walls.
- 12 angels guarding the heavenly gates (Revelation 12:12)
Jesus knew it was better to train a few men effectively than the hundreds because He was not concerned with numbers. He was concerned with saving individuals one by one.
Therefore, Jesus would not be considered among the most productive mass evangelists of today. His numbers and His budget would not measure up to the megachurches. But He did accomplish His purpose. Jesus trained the Twelve. They went on to train others, and the church has been exponentially increased to what it is today.