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Why Jesus Had Only 12 Disciples

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes about spirituality as well as many other topics.

Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper"

Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper"

Why Did Jesus Have So Few Disciples?

Jesus could have had hundreds of disciples, but He had only a few—12 to be exact. It turns out there are a couple of important reasons Jesus chose only a few disciples to follow and be trained by Him.

All of the gospels agree that at the beginning of Jesus's ministry, he chose 12 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 and go out to do the same thing themselves (Mark 3:14–15). Paul also mentioned the 12 disciples in 1 Corinthians 15:5.

But why did Jesus have so few disciples when he could have had hundreds or even thousands? There are a couple of important reasons for this.

Jesus with His disciples

Jesus with His disciples

Why 12 Disciples?

  • He was humble: Jesus knew He didn't need an army to help Him accomplish great things and extend His ministry. He wanted to usher in the Kingdom of God, and He needed only a few men to do help him do this. This chose disciples who would pattern their lives after His.
  • 12 tribes of Israel: According to the Old Testament (also called the Hebrew Bible), there were 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus mirrored that number when He chose 12 disciples to represent a new covenant between God and His children.

Biblical Significance of the Number 12

The number 12 has significant meaning in the Bible. It was significant for Jesus to choose 12 apostles instead of another number. The apostles represented God's new covenant, just as the 12 tribes of Israel represented the old covenant (Luke 22:29–30).

The number 12 often signifies a complete divine arrangement or organization. Here are just a few appearances of the number 12 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’s 12-year-old daughter from a death-like state (Mark 5:42).
  • The miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes, providing 12 baskets of food (Matthew 14:19–20; John 6:13).
  • Jacob had 12 sons, each of whom became father to one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • According to Revelation 12:12, the New Jerusalem will have the names of the 12 disciples on the foundation of the 12 walls.
  • Guarding the heavenly gates are 12 angels (Revelation 12:12).
Doubting Thomas placing his hand in Jesus' piercing

Doubting Thomas placing his hand in Jesus' piercing

Who Were the 12 Disciples?

Now that we know why Jesus chose 12 disciples, who were they?

They 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 probably not the type of men who would be chosen by religious leaders today.

Most of them were working fishermen when Jesus said, "Come, follow me." Because it was a clarion call, the men dropped their nets and followed Jesus without questioning, resisting, or even thinking twice about their decision.

The list of the 12 names appears in Mark 3:16–19; Matthew 10:2–4; Luke 6:14–16; and Acts 1:13, but these lists are not synchronized to show the order in which they were chosen.

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Read More From Owlcation

Peter is listed first in all of the gospels, but he was not the first one called. In fact, Peter's brother, Andrew, was called first, and it was he who brought Peter to Jesus. Peter is listed first because he was the most talkative and a risk-taker.

The disciples are listed in the chart below in alphabetical order.

Jesus's 12 Apostles

ApostleDescriptionMethod of Death

Andrew

Brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus.

Crucified on X-shaped cross

Bartholomew or Nathanael

Introduced to Jesus by Philip. He was skeptical at first and asked,"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Flayed alive with knives

James the Elder

Son of Zebedee and Salome.

First disciple martyred

James the Lesser

Younger James. A man of strong and fiery character.

Sawed in pieces

John

Described as Jesus's beloved disciple. At the cross Jesus turned his mother over to John.

Died of natural causes on Isle of Patmos

Judas

Betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Hanged himself

Matthew, also called Levi

Tax collected who was despised.

Matryred

Peter

Always with Jesus. Tried to walk on water.

Crucified upside down

Philip

Followed Jesus after hearing just two words: "Follow me."

Died by hanging

Simon the Zealot

A fisherman who became a fisher of men.

Martyred

Thaddeus

Also known as Jude, writer of the next to last book in the Bible before the Book of Revelation.

Executed with an axe.

Thomas

Doubted Jesus and was told to place his hand in Jesus's piercings.

Killed with a spear

Peter was a fisherman, disciple of Jesus and writer of two books of the Bible

Peter was a fisherman, disciple of Jesus and writer of two books of the Bible

Chosen for a Special Mission

Jesus had many disciples or followers, but he chose just 12 of them to be his disciples—his closest students who would become his messengers.

However, there were many others who were close to Jesus, as well. For example, there were 72 missionaries who spoke and healed on his behalf (Luke 10:1–20), as well as a group of women who traveled with Him (8:1–3). One of these women was Mary Magdalene.

The 12 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.

Building the Church One Person at a Time

Jesus knew it was better to train a few men effectively rather than focusing on the masses because He was not concerned with numbers. He was concerned with saving individuals one by one.

Today, Jesus would probably not be considered among the most productive evangelists. His numbers and His budget would not measure up to the modern megachurches. But He did accomplish His purpose. He trained the Twelve, and they went on to train others. It is because of this carefully constructed foundation that His church has grown to have the great presence it enjoys today.

Jesus with 11 disciples

Jesus with 11 disciples

Sources and Further Reading

Comments

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on May 02, 2020:

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 from Michigan on May 02, 2020:

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

Barbara Bright on December 10, 2019:

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

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on November 09, 2019:

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.

Reformed Eve from USA on November 09, 2019:

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

Carol Essed from Suriname on July 25, 2019:

You're welcome and thank you

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on July 24, 2019:

Thanks, Carol, and welcome to HubPages.

Carol Essed from Suriname on July 24, 2019:

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

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on March 23, 2018:

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."

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 23, 2018:

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.)

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on March 10, 2018:

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 from Texas, USA on March 10, 2018:

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!

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on March 10, 2018:

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

CaribTales on March 09, 2018:

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.

charlie from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans on March 08, 2018:

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.

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on March 08, 2018:

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.

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on March 08, 2018:

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.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 08, 2018:

This was really interesting to read, thankyou. =)

charlie from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans on March 08, 2018:

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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