THE TWELVE — SIMON THE TERRORIST
by Pastor Mike Fortune
August 15, 2009
Introduction Video: Putting Passions Into Actions
- Passion is good [Luke 22:29-30; Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18]
- But vengeance is God's [Romans 12:17-21; John 15:18; 16:1-3]
- Who wants us to depend on Him, not fend for Him [John 15:13; 12:32; 18:36]
He was a radical. A zealot. Determined to overthrow Rome’s rule. He was undoubtedly prone to mistakes, exaggerations, wrong attitudes, and lapses of faith as were all the apostles and any of us, but he must’ve learned that vengeance is God’s because Acts 17:6 [NKJV] says he helped turn the world upside down. Or more accurately since Jesus came to serve, he helped turn the world right side up. He was an ordinary man. With an extraordinary hatred. But God still loved him like crazy!!! Jesus liked his zeal and passion. But the Pharisees didn’t. Which made his selection as an apostle even more insulting to the much more qualified rabbis and scribes.
We miss it today. But they didn’t then. The selection of the twelve apostles, of whom Simon was #10, was understood by everyone in Bible times as a slap in the face of organized religion. But not just religion. By choosing twelve apostles, many back then would have clearly seen that Jesus was also, in effect, appointing 12 new tribes of Israel. Not literal tribes of Israel. But Spiritual tribes of Israel. Leaders of anyone who had the faith of Abraham as Paul would say in Galations 3:29.
This becomes obvious to even casual readers of the Bible when we read Revelation 21:12-14 that the heavenly New Jerusalem will be inscribed not just with the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel on the gates, but also with the names of the twelve apostles on the cornerstones or foundations of the city. Apparently, these spiritual tribes of Israel were meant to be eternal visual aids for us. But since Revelation wasn’t written yet, so no one would miss this not so subtle judgement, Jesus Himself made this connection plainly. In Luke 22:29-30, He told the apostles, “29And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Maybe the significance of the number 12 and the judgement implied on organized religion and its leaders still isn’t obvious to you. All I’m saying is I think it would’ve been more so to them. And because of that, I think a radical teacher like Jesus who was saying radical things like that would have appealed to a guy like Simon the Zealot.
But that’s not the only reason. It was more than mere words that attracted him to Jesus. Eighteen months prior to selecting the apostles from among hundreds of disciples following Jesus by then, John 2:13-16 describes how Jesus went to the temple mount, made a whip of small cords, drove the money changers out of the temple, poured out their money, overturned their tables, and chased their animals away.
John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees and even Herod the King in public. But that was in the wilderness. Jesus confronted their hypocrisy and corruption downtown. In front of loads of people. To the Pharisees faces. This is how we began his ministry. Not in guerilla warfare. But in an all out attack in broad daylight. Sometimes we forget how radical Jesus really was. No wonder the Gospel of John, chapter 1:11, puts it this way, “11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” But after hearing what Jesus said, and maybe even seeing what Jesus did, I have difficulty believing Simon the Zealot didn’t eagerly receive Jesus with open arms.
There were four basic political and religious parties of that time of whom the Zealots were one. There were the Pharisees with their rules and laws. There were the Sadducees who were rich, in charge of the temple, and denied the supernatural. There were the Essenes, not specifically mentioned in Scripture, but described all over ancient histories as celibates and ascetics who lived in the desert devoting their lives to heavenly things doing no earthly good. And then there was the fourth group—the Zealots.
True, some of them weren’t violent. Their zeal for God didn’t lead them kill people. Like some of the people in Hamas. Which is an acronym you might have heard before on CNN if you ever watch world news about the conflicts in the middle east. Hamas [short for Harakat al-Muqa-wamat al-Isla-miyyah] means “Islamic Resistance Movement”, but interestingly it also corresponds to an Arabic word meaning “enthusiasm, fire, ardor, fervor, zeal.” Most of the time CNN does not translate the meaning of the acronym or closely associated word, as zealots, they just call the group Hamas, by its Arabic acronym.
Since the Zealots in Jesus’ day didn’t have an elaborate terrorist network, they used sabotage and assassination to advance their political agenda. One faction of the Zealots were known as the Sicarii which literally means “dagger-men.” They were called dagger-men because they carried small curved blades under their robes. They would sneak up behind Roman soldiers, tax collectors like Matthew, or anyone they didn’t like and stab them in the back, between the ribs, expertly piercing the heart in broad daylight, at public gatherings, in order to heighten fear.
But the most twisted thing about the Zealots was, because they believed only God had the right to rule over them, they actually believed they were doing God’s work by assassinating anyone who rules in His place! Jesus said this would happen in John 16:1-3. And this leads us to point number one. Passion is good. God wants us to be zealous for loving Him and serving others. We should have an extravagant love for people, even for our enemies, because God does love all people like crazy. Even terrorists. But denomination and political affiliation is often where we draw the line today isn’t it?
We’ll love atheists. But say awful things about Catholics. We’ll love African Americans, but say awful things about Muslims. We’ll love doctors and pray that our children become nurses, but we’ll shout down Americans in favor of reforming our health care system. And intentionally forward emails full of slander and libel that say anything about healthcare we don’t like regardless if its true. Did anyone else receive the flurry of emails I did after the Democratic Senator got shouted down at his own town hall meeting in Romulus, Michigan a couple weeks ago?
If we’re honest, we’re just as Zealous as Simon was. Maybe we don’t pull the trigger or detonate the bomb, but Jesus said in Matthew 5:21 that if we hold onto anger with someone, we’ve already murdered them. Yes, passion is good. Point number one. But vengeance is God’s. And this is point number two. Romans 12:17-21 says it this way: “17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
But Zealots believed vengeance was their’s. And they thought that ever since a guy named Judas the Galiliean arrived on the scene. Acts 5:37 identifies him and describes him too. “37Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.” The historian Josephus mentions this same guy in his writings and says that this event occurred “in Gessius Florus’s time” who scholars identify as ruling around 6 AD. Apparently, a violent group of Galileans led by Judas the Galilean waged a series of violent revolts against the Roman census. Soon the Romans crushed the revolts, killed Judas of Galilee, and crucified his sons. But instead of crushing the rebellion, it apparently forced the Zealot party underground. They simply became more calculated and selective in their attacks so 21 years later when Jesus started his ministry and Simon was around, the Zealots were mostly known more for being secret assasins, sicarii, meaning dagger men. They still liked to burn Roman targets in Judea, then retreat to remote areas of Galilee to hide, but they weren’t as open and easy to target as they were when Judas of Galilee was alive. Listen to words of Josephus describing their willingness to suffer any kind of death. I think we put this quote on the screen as well.
“Of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord. And since this immovable resolution of theirs is well known to a great many, I shall speak no further about that matter...It was in Gessius Florus’s time that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and to make them revolt from the Romans” (Josephus, Antiquities 18.6).
Simon was one of these bad guys. Maybe that’s why when Matthew and Mark list the twelve, his name is listed before Judas Iscariot. Perhaps he and Judas were the team that Jesus sent out two by two in Mark 6:7. We don’t know. What we do know is based on his background, some might have expected Simon to be the betrayer—not Judas. A man of such passion, zeal, and conviction, that would align himself with the most feared terrorist organization of that day, surely he couldn’t become an apostle. And even if Jesus was crazy enough to choose him, surely he wouldn’t stay one!
But that was Simon BC. Before Christ. That was before Jesus spent months working with Him, often side by side a tax collector like Matthew, someone who he would have gladly murdered earlier in his life. Passion is good. But vengeance is God’s. And I think Simon learned this. Jesus said in John 15:18, “18If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” Simon BC would’ve rejected those words. But Simon with Christ apparently took them to heart. And instead of assassinating people who disagreed with what he said about Jesus, he became willing to die for them.
And that’s what all mature growing followers of Jesus eventually decide. And this is point number three. God wants us to learn to depend on Him, not fend for Him. Jesus doesn’t want us to fight for Him! Jesus told Pilate in John 15:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Jesus didn’t come to fight for his kingdom. He came to die for it. John 15:13 says, “13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 12:32 adds, “32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Josh McDowell. And Ravi Zacharias. And Lee Stroebel. Apologetics is a fascinating thing. Defending God’s word when scoffers and skeptics question it is an important thing to do. Not so you can beat others down to lift Jesus up. But so you can have an answer for what you believe and more importantly why you believe it. Isn’t that what 1 Peter 3:15 recommends?
But do me a favor sometime and re-read the Gospels some time looking for examples of conflicts where Jesus retaliates or tries to defend himself. When he is falsely accused, even during his trial, he remains silent. It’s as if Jesus doesn’t care what you think of him at all! Or maybe it’s just that Jesus knows that it’s what we do not what we say that matters much much more.
Whatever the reason, what I hear Scripture saying to us through the life of Simon the Terrorist is that we need to learn to depend on Jesus and what He thinks of us. And we need to stop trying to fight for Jesus. Because Jesus doesn’t need to be defended. His life speaks for itself. Blessed are the weak and the meek, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. There is nothing to be afraid of. No one to be intimidated by. Truth can afford to be fair. We need not coerce, manipulate, or threaten people into believing the truth as it is in Jesus. We must not. Maybe God is waiting for the church to stop fighting for Him and like Simon the Terrorist, to start loving like Him. Passion is good. Point number one. But vengeance is God’s. Point number two. He wants us to depend on Him and love like him, not fight for him. Point number three. Because His kingdom is not of this world.
Several early sources say that after the destruction of Jerusalem, Simon took the Gospel north and preached in the British Isles. After Acts 1:13, he disappears from the Biblical record. There is no reliable record of what happened to him but all accounts say he was killed for preaching the Gospel. The man who was once willing to kill in Bible times remained willing, like His Savior, to die and eventually did. But not for a religio-political agenda. Or merely for an elect group of people in Israel. But for all people near or far from God.
Aren’t you glad God loves the whole world even when we don’t? But don’t you think we should too? I know that sounds impossible. And apart from Christ, it is (John 15:5). But the radical transformation in the life of a Zealot like Simon reminds us such a transformation is also possible in the life of a sinner like you and me. God is able. His grace is available. Even for terrorists like us.
When we all get to heaven some day, we’ll see Simon there. And I think he’ll tell you that he was an ordinary guy. With an extraordinary hatred. But somewhere along the line, I think he’ll also say he became a genuine believer and unlike Judas Iscariot, was transformed. And Jesus replaced that hatred with humility and love. Do you want God to do that for you?
Let’s read 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen. For more information see John MacArthur's Twelve Ordinary Men pages 167-180.