May 27 – From Terrorism to Discipleship (Simon the Zealot)

The twelve apostles included “Simon the Zealot” (Matt. 10:4).

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Even people of vastly different backgrounds can minister together for Christ.

During the time between the Old and New Testaments, a fiery revolutionary named Judas Maccabaeus led the Jewish people in a revolt against Greek influences on their nation and religion. The spirit of that movement was captured in this statement from the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees: “Be ye zealous for the law and give your lives for the covenant” (1 Maccabees 2:50). That group of politically-oriented, self-appointed guardians of Judaism later became known as the Zealots.

During the New Testament period, Zealots conducted terrorist activities against Rome to free Israel from Roman oppression, prompting Rome to destroy Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and to slaughter people in 985 Galilean towns.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, the few remaining Zealots banded together under the leadership of a man named Eleazar. Their headquarters was at a retreat called Masada. When the Romans laid siege to Masada and the Zealots knew defeat was imminent, they chose to kill their own families and to commit suicide themselves rather than face death at the hands of the Romans. It was a tragedy of monumental proportions, but such was the depth of their fiery zeal for Judaism and their hatred for their political enemies.

Before coming to Christ, Simon was a Zealot. Even as a believer, he must have retained much of his zeal, redirecting it in a godly direction. We can only imagine the passion with which he approached the ministry, having finally found a leader and cause transcending Judaism and political activism.

It’s amazing to realize that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax-gatherer ministered together. Under normal circumstances Simon would have killed a traitor like Matthew. But Christ broke through their differences, taught them to love each other, and used them for His glory.

Perhaps you know believers who come from totally different backgrounds than yours. Do you have trouble getting along with any of them? If so, why? How can you begin to mend your differences? Be encouraged by the transformation Christ worked in Simon and Matthew, and follow their example.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Pray for a spirit of unity in your church.

For Further Study: According to Romans 12:9–21, what attitudes should you have toward others?[1]


Simon the Zealot

The third name in the third group is Simon the Zealot. The King James version’s “Simon the Canaanite” is based on an unfortunate transliteration of kananaios, which was derived from the Hebrew qanna, meaning “jealous” or “zealous.” It is the equivalent of the Greek zēlōtēs (“zealot”), a description Luke uses of this Simon (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).

Zealot may have signified his membership in the radical party of Zealots whose members were determined to throw off the yoke of Rome by force. The Zealots developed during the Maccabean period, when the Jews, under Judas Maccabaeus, revolted against their Greek conquerors. During the time of Christ, another Judas (a common Jewish name of that period) was the outstanding Zealot leader.

The Zealots were one of four dominant religious parties in Judah (along with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) but were for the most part motivated more by politics than religion. They were primarily guerrilla fighters who made surprise attacks on Roman posts and patrols and then escaped to the hills or mountains. Sometimes they resorted to terrorism, and the Jewish historian Josephus called them sicarii (Latin, “daggermen”) because of their frequent assassinations. The heroic defenders of the great Herodian fortress at Masada were Jewish Zealots led by Eleazar. When that brave group fell to Flavius Silva in a.d. 72 after a seven-month siege, the Zealots disappeared from history.

If Simon was that sort of Zealot, he was a man of intense dedication and perhaps violent passion. His always being listed next to Judas Iscariot may suggest that those men were somewhat two of a kind, whose primary concern about the Messiah was earthly and material rather than spiritual. But whatever motivations they may originally have had in common soon vanished, as Judas became more confirmed in his rejection of Jesus and Simon more confirmed in his devotion to Him.

Apparently throughout their ministries, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot remained unknown even to most of the church. But they joined the ranks of the unnamed Old Testament saints who “experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these … gained approval through their faith” (Heb. 11:36–39).[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 160). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 10:3). Chicago: Moody Press.

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