The Choosing of the Twelve, Part 4—Ordering the Twelve | Mark 3:17–18
James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,
Jesus promised that, upon the rock of Peter’s confession, “I will build my church” (Mt 16:16–18), and we noted last time that the apostle’s teaching ministry comprises the church’s foundation (Eph 2:20). Jesus gives divine offices to His church forming its structure, building it upon that foundation (Eph 4:11–12). He’s the cornerstone of the apostolic foundation, and all God’s people are living stones in His spiritual house (1 Pt 2:4–8). The twelve men in vv. 16–19 are those Christ chose as His foundation.
He organized the structure. While it’s popular to disparage “organized religion” (and sometimes right), our Lord did not create an unorganized faith. As Paul said, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace,” and “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:33, 40). Our Lord appoints apostles, and Matthew 10:1–4 tells us that the disciples were coupled, sent out by twos.
Moreover, there appear to be circles within the twelve. All lists of the apostles name Peter first, with Andrew, James, and John coming after him in differing orders—an inner circle (three of these four witnessed the Transfiguration, Mk 9:2). Philip always heads the next group, followed alternately by Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew. James, the Son of Alpheus, seems to lead the third, an interesting circle with two Judases (one named Thaddeus here and Lebbaeus in Matthew 10:3, perhaps to avoid confusion with Judas Iscariot) and Simon the Zealot.
It’s a personal structure. He had walked and ate with these men and knew them from eternity past (Eph 1:4), and we glimpse the personal side of His appointment in two ways. First, in His renaming Simon back in v. 16. Second, in the nickname that He gives to John and James—Boanerges, an Aramaic term which means “Sons of Thunder.” This obvious term of endearment highlighted their bold and even rash ways (cf. 9:38; Lk 9:54). Our Lord doesn’t just fill positions with warm bodies; He knows His disciples, loves them, and places them where they can best serve Him.