In this passage, Jesus continues to teach, cast out demons, and heal. Great crowds of people have come to see what was happening and to benefit from what was happening. People were climbing over one another trying to get to Jesus. And after a while, it was time for Jesus to get away for a bit. Jesus leaves the crowds, and his followers go with him on a mountain. Among his followers, Jesus calls a handful of people close to him while he is on this mountain.
The fact that Jesus goes up on a mountain in verse 13 has tremendous symbolism. This is Exodus language. This is redemption and restoration language. It calls to mind how God met with Moses on the mountain in Exodus to instruct God’s people. This is the language of the prophets who speak of God’s rescue from Exile. It calls to mind the promises of God to return to mount Zion to rescue Israel. This isn’t a casual hiking excursion into the hills, Jesus is saying something by going “up on the mountain”.
Then, Jesus selects 12 men, not for merely functional reasons, but for theological reasons. There were 12 tribes in Israel. If Jesus didn’t want his 12 disciples to be identified with the 12 tribes, he would have chosen a different number. These 12 were all male. We know that there were many women who joined Jesus’ entourage, but possibly because of the social climate of the day women were not part of the closet disciples. More likely however, is that the 12 tribes were representative of 12 sons of Jacob (10 sons and 2 grandsons) so its natural to choose 12 men as representatives of “New Israel”. Jesus is showing that he is restoring Israel, but not in the ways the Pharisees and people like them thought.
Just like he has been teaching about a new Law, he is now beginning to teach about a new people of God. Israel had been waiting for God to rescue and restore them and Jesus is doing this, but not in the way people expected. He says the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingly authority has come, and he is showing how things are different. The Law is changing. The true people of God are different.
Verses 14 and 15 tell us what these 12 will do. First and foremost, they will be with him. This is the most important thing. More important that doing things for Jesus, is knowing Jesus, and this is seen from his first followers. We have to wait several chapters before Jesus sends out his 12 disciples. For the time being, they are simply to be with him. What a privilege! He gives these 12 authority to preach and cast out demons. They are going in his authority as an extension of his ministry. They will preach this good news of God’s Kingdom. But first, they will simply be with the Lord.
In doing this, Jesus begins to draw a distinction between the masses who are coming to him and the disciples who are following him. The masses of people may belong to national Israel, but unless they believe and repent, they are not the people of God. He is going to send his disciples to them so they hear the good news and have opportunity to believe and repent. The crowds are coming for the show and for the miracles. The crowds are coming to Jesus on their terms. But the disciples are different. They are following Jesus. They are with Jesus. Sure, they benefit and there is something great for them in doing this, but it’s different. They want to be part of the Kingdom, not just benefit from it. They want to know their king, not just see what he can do. They want to be loyal subjects to the King, not merely people who benefit from his authority. They have come to Jesus because he calls them by name. Coming from different backgrounds and circumstances, Jesus calls them to himself. And there is one he calls who will betray him. And again, we are given knowledge, that something terrible is going to happen.
The Bridegroom is going to be taken. The Pharisees are plotting his death. And a betrayer is among his closest followers. But he is the King. He is establishing God’s authority restoring Israel and giving a new law. Of course we know that his coming death is part of this great rescue plan as well. His Kingship will be established through resurrection. Restoration will be brought through not just a New Israel and a New Law, but through New Life. These are the benefits for those who are not only among the crowd, but who are the true disciples.This is the good news, this is the Gospel.
We are the new people of God. He gives us a new Law to love. And he promises new Life. The King gives his followers eternal life in the Kingdom. He can do this because he gave his life and took it up again by his superior authority. His followers, his disciples, can partake in this kingdom and in this resurrection because he invites us to do so.
Have you responded to this invitation in belief and repentance? Have you yielded your whole life to Jesus our Messiah and King? Is there any part of your heart or life that you are withholding? Believe in what he has done. Believe that it is good for everything in your life. And repent to align your will with his, your plan with his, your life with his.