On returning to Galilee, Jesus proceeded in the first instance to the Lake of Tiberias, where, as we have seen, He had fixed his head-quarters. Here He might at any time, by crossing the lake, place himself beyond the reach not only of the Jewish rulers at Jerusalem, but of the tetrarch of Galilee. Herod, however, is supposed to have been now and for some time previously absent at Rome; and if he were not, there was little to excite his hostility in the proceedings of a religious teacher who expressly disavowed any political objects; and he had little inducement to make himself the instrument of the hostile purposes of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, especially as he had already incurred more popular odium than he liked for his treatment of John, whom he still detained in prison.
At our Lord’s desire, a boat was kept in attendance, in which He could at any time proceed to whatever quarter He desired, and on board of which be could avoid the pressure of the multitudes that followed Him about, or from whose deck He could, as formerly, conveniently address the crowd upon the shore. In a little while, however, Jesus quitted this neighborhood for another tour in Galilee.
Previous to this tour, our Lord, although He had probably always some disciples with Him, had not yet organized a body who were to become his constant adherents, his commissioned witnesses, and the appointed teachers of all that they might learn from Him, or that thereafter might be taught to them by the Spirit from on high. Such a body He now appointed, selecting from among his followers twelve whom he called apostles; and that they might be able to speak with authority when he sent them forth to preach, He imparted to them some measure of his own miraculous powers. They might heal diseases and cast out devils; but as the power of raising the dead is not mentioned, it was probably not. imparted; indeed Jesus himself had not yet shown his own power to this extent.
With seven of these apostles we are already acquainted, Peter and his brother Andrew, John and his brother James, Philip, Bartholomew (otherwise Nathaniel), and Matthew. The others, to whom we have not previously been introduced, are these—Thomas or Didymus, both names meaning a twin, the former in Syriac and the latter in Greek; another, James, the son of Alphaeus (otherwise Cleophas), whose wife seems to have been a sister of the mother of Jesus, so that this James was our Lord’s cousin-german; Judas or Jude, called also “Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddeus” (the latter being the Syriac for Judas, and the former perhaps from the place of birth), who was also another cousin, being brother to this James. Simon, called “the Canaanite” to distinguish him from Simon Peter, was not so named, as some have fancied, from his Canaanitish descent, nor from the village of Cana, but from a Hebrew word signifying a zealot, whence he is sometimes called Simon Zelotes, a name which indicates that he had belonged to that Jewish sect called Zealots, which was animated by a most bitter and uncompromising zeal against the Roman rule, as a thing accursed, unlawful, and by every means to be put down. If Simon was really a member of this fierce sect, it was a great change for him to be placed thus intimately near to ‘Him who was “meek and lowly in heart.” The last of the twelve was Judas, distinguished from the other Judas by the surname of Iscariot, taken probably from the name of his native village.
We know nothing of the antecedent history of the five last named apostles; but there can be no doubt that they were of the same class as the others. It is usual to call them as a body “peasants;” but if by that term is understood such as husbandmen and shepherds, this does not seem to have been the case. Those of whom we do know anything were fishermen, and dwelt in towns, and probably some others were of the same calling, and all of the same class, men earning their living by some trade—“workingmen,” in short, as distinguished among ourselves from “laborers” and “peasants.’’ Our Lord himself had been born into this class, and till He took his place as a public teacher, was known only as a working man of Nazareth. This class, intelligent everywhere, is especially so in the East, where the language of the working man is about as good, and his manners as polite, as those of any rank; and public opinion quite recognizes his fitness to discharge becomingly the duties of any station to which he may attain, or of any office he may undertake. Hence in the East no surprise is felt at a working man coming forward in any public capacity, political or religious, which with us might seem a strange thing. Thus we see that no one expresses surprise at the apostles appearing as public teachers. Persons of this class received a good common and religious education, the terms being with them synonymous, education being simply regarded as an instrument of religious knowledge. They were taught to read and write, and instructed in the laws of Moses and in the history of the Old Testament, and those who were attentive might gain a good knowledge of the other parts of Scripture from the Sabbath-readings in the synagogue. This supplied in part the deficiency of books, for, being copied by hand, and therefore consuming much time and labor, which had to be paid for in the price, books were scarce and expensive, and none but the rich could afford for their own use so costly a possession as a copy of the entire Bible, though copies of particular books might not be beyond the reach of working men.
We may be reminded that the Jews expressed surprise at the knowledge possessed by Jesus, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned,” Joh_7:15; and by Peter and John, seeing they were “unlearned and ignorant men.” But this means simply that they had not received what was considered a high theological education, which added to the common education such as we have described, a critical knowledge of Hebrew, an acquaintance with the received interpretations of the law, and an intimacy with the traditions of the fathers; and whoever had not received this education in the schools, was regarded as an uneducated man by the arrogant Pharisees of that day, whatever other knowledge he might possess.
The choice of the twelve by our Lord to be his ministers and followers, furnished an appropriate occasion for a public declaration respecting the spiritual nature of his kingdom, and the life and character required of those who would become his true followers. He therefore ascended an eminence that was near, and his disciples being gathered around Him, with the multitudes spread out beyond, He delivered that impressive discourse known as “the Sermon on the Mount.” In this discourse our Lord showed that the righteousness in which the Scribes and Pharisees vaunted, and which the nation generally regarded as the perfection of holiness, went for nothing as a qualification for that “kingdom of God” which He came to establish. He required something deeper, better, more spiritual; He required that those who came to Him should give Him their hearts to be filled with holy and blessed things. The germ of this discourse is to be found in the words, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not see the kingdom of God.”