Mark 3:7-19 — The Twelve are Chosen

Mark’s Gospel now enters a new phase.  In the first part of Mark, Jesus has gained popularity among the people but opposition has emerged among the religious (Pharisees) and political (Herodians) leaders. His popularity sky-rocketed through his healing ministry among Galilean villages but opposition grew as he crossed traditional boundaries and assumed the role of an authoritative teacher.

Now the Gospel begins a new chapter in the ministry of Jesus with the selection of the Twelve in this pericope (3:13-19) that ends with their missional charge in 6:6b-13. In this section the popularity of Jesus spreads, his identity begins to dawn on the Twelve as they struggle to grasp the significance of Jesus, and Jesus’ parabolic teaching challenges his hearers. At the same time opposition grows.

This section is headed by a Markan summary statement, a typical feature in this Gospel. It not only introduces a new section but expands the popularity of Jesus.  New regions, other than Galilee, are coming to Jesus.  Having heard about his miracle-working (not what he said, but what he did!), people are now coming from not only Judea and Jerusalem, but also from Idumea (a region south of Judea), from the Transjordan (the region west of the Jordan), and from the northern coastal regions of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus is drawing from the whole of Palestine, from the whole of the region once occupied by the kingdoms of David and Solomon. Mark probably hints that Jesus’ influence is comparable to the golden era of Davidic and Solomonic reigns.

And this happens despite Jesus’ attempt to withdraw. Jesus seems to have wanted to avoid the crowds, but they followed him everywhere he went.  The crowds were so pressing–many just wanted to touch him–that Jesus had a boat ready to avoid being crushed. This is a vivid indication of how excited the people where and how potentially unruly they might become. They were desperate people–hopeless in their brokenness. Jesus, therefore, was endangered by both a zealous populous and by an official contempt. But, strikingly, he was not endangered by demons whom most in the ancient world would have feared. His authority over them was absolute. When he silence them, they shut up. When he exorcised them, they obeyed.

Though he attempted to withdraw, Jesus nevertheless healed those who came to him.  The ministry of the kingdom of God continued.  In this context, for the first time since the opening of the Gospel (1:1, 11) Jesus is confessed as “Son of God.”  There seems to be a progression in Mark’s record. Taking 1:1 as the title to the Gospel, the Father is the first to announce Jesus’ sonship.  Now, the demons announce it whereas previously they had used the language of the “Holy One of God” (1:24). The demons knew who he was (1:34).  It will be some time before the disciples learn who Jesus is and make their confession (cf. 8:29). Ultimately, in the Gospel of Mark, even a Roman soldier will confess Jesus as Son of God (Mark 15:39). At this point, however, only the Father and the demons have announced this truth that is part of the good news about Jesus.

Mark gives us a summary of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee as a kind of heading to the new focus in his Gospel. Jesus appoints the Twelve and the focus of the Gospel turns to their relationship with Jesus. Presumably, he chooses them out of the many people who are following Jesus at this point, or he has been carefully selecting some along the way until it reached the number Twelve.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had previously called Peter, Andrew, James, John and Levi to follow him. Now he completes the number.

Twelve, of course, is a significant symbolic number.  If the regions of Jesus’ influence point toward his royal character, his intentional appointment of Twelve signals the appearance of a renewed Israel as the number mirrors the number of the sons of Jacob and the tribes of Israel. The Twelve are a gathered community whom Jesus will train and then send out. They are the new community of Israel.

Jesus, Mark literally says, went up on the mountain to do this.  Given the redemptive-historical associations of the regions coming to Jesus and the number Twelve, the highlighting of the mountain reminds us of Sinai or other mountain experiences of God’s people in the past.  We remember the various mountains within the stories of Israel. God reveals himself there, and it is on a mountain that Jesus calls together his community of Twelve. It is a divine act, a revelatory moment. The significance of “mountain,” “Twelve,” and the regions of Idumea, Transjordan, and Tyre & Sidon underscores the newness (renewal) of the kingdom of God which is breaking into the world through the ministry of Jesus.

The Twelve are named. Of the Twelve, only Peter, James and John are mentioned by name in the rest of Mark’s Gospel. Simon is listed first and his Aramaic nickname (Cephas, or Peter, or Rock) is not explained. It seems as though the readers are somewhat familiar with how Simon got the name Peter and this may reflect Peter’s preaching in Rome which is the supposed basis of as well as provenance of Mark’s Gospel. The “sons of Thunder” are identified (a Greek nickname also based on an Aramaic original); they are James and John. Interestingly, though Andrew was called with Peter, James and John, he is listed fourth and disconnected from Peter (unlike Luke 6 and Acts 1). This probably reflects the close association between Jesus and his three intimate friends (Peter, James and John). We will see that intimate group emerge in the rest of the Gospel.

The names of the Twelve are listed in a different order than found in Matthew and Luke, and Thaddaeus in Mark and Matthew is known as Judas of James in Luke (and Acts 1). Judas of James (his formal name) was probably also known as Thaddaeus.  Simon is identified, literally, as the “Cananaean” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew term meaning “zealous” or “jealous.”  This is probably not a reference to a political party since Zelots as a political party did not arise until the Jewish War which began in 66 C.E. It probably refers to Simon’s zealous piety or his jealousy for the law and Jewish way of life. Judas Isccariot (from the village of Karioth) is noted last with the ominous modifier that remembers him as the one who betrayed Jesus.

Why choose the Twelve? They will travel with him and learn the way of the kingdom from Jesus–he chose them to be “with him.” This will prepare them for mission which is identified in the text.  Jesus will send (the Greek verb from which we derive the noun “apostle”) to (1) herald the coming of the kingdom of God and (2) enact the coming of the kingdom of God through exercising the authority over demons.  The Twelve are not chosen for reasons of status or hierarchy. They are chosen for mission; they are chosen to serve.

The Twelve are the nucleus of the church. They are the original community. Their identity is missional. The church follows in their footsteps.  They followed Jesus into the ministry of the kingdom of God, and we follow them as they followed Jesus. Just as missional was the identity of the founding community of Twelve, so it is the ongoing identity of the church. We are called, just as they were, to herald the coming of the kingdom of God and exercise authority over the principalities and powers of this world.

We should pause to ponder which kingdom we herald and whether we conform to rather than confront the powers of this world. Are we following Jesus–seeking first the kingdom of God, or are we seeking first the American dream?



4 Responses to “Mark 3:7-19 — The Twelve are Chosen”

  1.   Richella at Imparting Grace Says:

    Hi there–

    A friend sent me a link to your blog, and I’m so glad she did.

    My husband and I met at Freed-Hardeman in the early 80’s. We married in 1985 and Jack got his MBA while I got my Ph.T. (Putting Hubby Through) at UVa in 1987. Then we were at Woodmont Hills in Nashville and Jack taught at Lipscomb 1988-1991. I’m not sure our paths ever crossed, but I’ve certainly heard your name many times. Jack and left the churches of Christ in 1997. Since then we’ve worshipped with Baptist and non-denominational congregations, so we didn’t go far.

    Leaving the c of C was hard, although we were in accord about God’s leading us. One of the joys of getting older has been learning to appreciate the good parts of that heritage. Much of that appreciation has come from being involved with Renovare’, the ministry Richard J. Foster founded. I’m just an everyday homemaker, but I’m now serving on the Renovare’ Ministry Team and Board now–the first person from the churches of Christ to do so. Such a joy!

    Anyway, it looks from what I see here that you’re doing great work, and I want to thank you and commend you. Not that you needed my commendation, but when I feel this much appreciation I like to express it. So thank you. God bless you.

  2.   David W Fletcher Says:

    Alas, John Mark, most of us may be pursuing the American dream, in whatever limited way it is still available! But . . . as post-post-modernity grips the country and the world, the “sure-thing” dream seems to be less and less obtainable. Maybe as elusive and as “faith-filled” as the quest for the kingdom of God!

    On a different matter, any thoughts on Diarmaid MacCulloch’s HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY? There’s a good review at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/sep/19/history-christianity-diarmaid-mccullouch

    And, any time for a golf outing (on a good day, that is)?

    D Fletcher

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I have McCullough on my self. I have not yet read him. I will need winter break for that more than likely. 1000 pages take some time, especially with how dense his material is. However, he is a good story-teller. I enjoyed his history of the Reformation.

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