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Why Jesus Had Only 12 Disciples

Updated on April 14, 2018
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Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She researches and shares remedies for using certain products for illnesses.

Famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper."
Famous painting of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper."

Jesus' 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.

Jesus with His disciples
Jesus with His 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.

Doubting Thomas sticking hand in Jesus' piercing
Doubting Thomas sticking hand in Jesus' piercing

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.

The list of the twelve names appears in Mark 3:16–19; Matt 10:2–4; Luke 6:14–16; and Acts 1:13, but those lists are not synchronized to show the order they were chosen.

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
Hanged himself
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
Peter, a fisherman and disciple of Jesus; writer of two books of Bible
Peter, a fisherman and disciple of Jesus; writer of two books of Bible

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.

Jesus with 11 disciples
Jesus with 11 disciples

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    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      2 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Doneta, you are absolutely right. Jesus did have other disciples, but He chose 12 men to follow Him closely,

      Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus after His resurrection. To distinguish between the 6 Marys in the Bible, there is a description when they are mentioned. For instance, Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Mary of Bethany.

    • Doneta Wrate profile image

      Doneta Wrate 

      2 months ago from Michigan

      There were also the 70 disciples that Jesus sent out in ministry. LuKe10. They were not as close to Jesus as the 70 were, but it sounds like in Luke 10 that they did receive some training. Mark 15:40,41 says there were also women following them taking care of their food needs and running errands. Don't make more of this than it was. If anything unsavory had been going on with the women, it would have discredited Jesus in the eyes of the people in the strict Jewish culture. Mary was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection and take the news to the disciples. Mark 15:9, Luke 24:1-9, Matthew 28:1-10

    • profile image

      Barbara Bright 

      7 months ago

      I am learned so much I will continue to read & study God Bless you.

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      8 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Reformed Eve, thanks so much for reading and commenting on my article.

      I see that you just joined HubPages. Thanks also for following me. I have responded by following you as well. Let me know if I can help you with anything.

    • reformedeve profile image

      Reformed Eve 

      8 months ago from USA

      Great article.. I love the tables and scriptures.. You put a lot of time into it! Have a blessed day!

    • Carol70 profile image

      Carol Essed 

      11 months ago from Suriname

      You're welcome and thank you

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      11 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks, Carol, and welcome to HubPages.

    • Carol70 profile image

      Carol Essed 

      11 months ago from Suriname

      Very interesting, especially how they died. That's real Christian life! Not the prosperity gospel that some teach.

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      2 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Doris, Thanks for that information to go along with my article about Jesus having only 12 disciples. I have articles about all the numbers in the Bible, but I wanted this one to focus only on this particular subject.

      When I teach about the number 12, I usually say there are 12 members of a jury. Then I jokingly say, "That's the reason there are 12 eggs in a carton."

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      2 years ago from Beautiful South

      Margaret, this is a very good explanation and a very well-written article. There is one more explanation to the number 12, and that is because 12 is a sacred number to God. Even our forefathers realized that and based the number system in the U.S.A. on the number 12 while the European system is base 10. 12" equal 1', and as you mentioned, the square root of 144 is the number 12.

      I remember a few years back when there was a movement to change the American system to base 10 to be in line with the European system. It didn't go very far. I guess God still prefers 12. I realize that you were writing about the 12 apostles, but I just thought I'd throw that in as one of the reasons there were 12. Seven is another number sacred to God. (Seven days of creation, and several other sacred 7s I won't go into.)

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      2 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Great! Tony, I like seeing different numbers in the Bible and how they usually have symbolic meanings as well as literal meanings. Thanks for the reminders about the number 12.

    • Tony Muse profile image

      Tony Muse 

      2 years ago from Texas, USA

      Here is another "12" that sometimes gets overlooked because of how some translations convert the numbers.

      Revelation 21:16 and the city lieth square, and the length of it is as great as the breadth; and he did measure the city with the reed -- furlongs twelve thousand; the length, and the breadth, and the height, of it are equal; 17 and he measured its wall, an hundred forty-four cubits, the measure of a man, that is, of the messenger;

      Of course, 144 is the square root of 12.

      Then we also have the 12,000 of each tribe mentioned in Revelation 7.

      May God bless!

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      2 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Dora, thanks for reading and commenting on the article about Jesus and His 12 disciples. Bible Trivia comes in handle at all time.

    • CaribTales profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for these details about the disciples. Without undermining the spiritual significance of these facts, I must admit that they reminds of the days when we played Bible Trivia.

    • celafoe profile image


      2 years ago from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans

      While the priciples in the article are correct, I believe that we MUST (because scripture requires us to) have total scripture accuracy when teaching or we do a disservice to our Lord by mis-representing him. It eztremely important that disciples understand it is a requirement that the signs follow as they are the proof of the efficacy of scripture. No signs , not anointed by Chrust

      The original 12 Apostles were the first but not different ALL disciples are to do the the same works.

      These signs are as active today as they were then to those that have the Holy Spirit of God and trust that they are there for them. Do they follow you?

      Mark 16:17-18 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."

      John 14:12-13 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      2 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks, charlie, for your feedback and for providing the scriptures. You might have overlooked that I wrote in my article just what you said. It is in the section under "To Avoid Confusion."

      Yes, according to the Bible, Jesus had other disciples, but the article focused on the 12 that He taught to do greater works after His ascension.

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      2 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks so much, Coffeequeeen, for reading and commenting about my article "Why Jesus Had Only 12 Disciples." I enjoyed doing the research and compiling the article.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      This was really interesting to read, thankyou. =)

    • celafoe profile image


      2 years ago from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans

      Jesus had 12 men that He trained to be Apostles. He had hundreds and probably thousands of disciples, there is no way to count them.

      Luke 6:17 And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem,

      Luke 19:37-38 Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, 38 saying:


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