Jesus knew that he was doing something new. Because opposition was rising, he needed to form a new community around him. If Jesus were to be taken out of the picture, something else would need to be in place. New leadership was required. Thus it is no accident that Luke places the choosing of the Twelve immediately after the remark about the beginnings of a plot against Jesus.
The selection of those who would end up leading the new community after Jesus' departure was no minor affair. It was a matter of prayer—in fact, Luke shows that the choices followed a full night of prayer. The presence of prayer shows the action's importance. No other New Testament passage speaks of all-night prayer. Jesus knew this step was the first of many actions to put something new in place that would outlast his earthly ministry.
This text is one of several where Luke associates an event with prayer (1:13; 2:37; 3:21; 5:16; 6:12, 28; 9:18; 11:1-2; 18:1; 22:41, 45). Dialogue with God is crucial to spiritual well-being for Luke, particularly a humble attitude as one approaches God in prayer (18:9-14). For Luke prayer is a concrete way of expressing our necessary dependence on God.
The twelve men Jesus chose would be specially trained to lead the church. Only Luke among the Gospel writers calls them apostles at this point. He tells the story aware of where Jesus is taking them. Even though only some of them are mentioned later in Luke's writing, the whole list is important for two reasons.
First, there is an instructive variety in the figures named. In the group we have fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James and John. We also have a despised tax collector, Matthew. On the other hand, we have a "Zealot," Simon. The juxtaposition of Simon and Matthew should not go overlooked. One would have collected monies for Rome, while the other would have fought to overcome Roman sovereignty. Yet in Jesus they became part of the same community, functioning side by side. These are people from diverse strata and perspectives, woven together by Jesus into a newly formed community. Finally there is Judas, who is named with the note that he would betray Jesus. Even the seeds of discord and rejection were present in the inner circle. So it was after a night in prayer.
Second, the selected group numbers twelve. This appears to be no accident. Jesus is forming a new, specially trained group of disciples, but the number twelve mimics the structure of Israel. The echo could hardly be missed. The point is not that this new group of disciples is intended to replace Israel permanently. An examination of Acts shows that the disciples present their message as the natural extension of promises made to Israel. These promises are now meeting their fulfillment in this new community. The Twelve represent something new and something parallel to Israel. The new community is both distinct from and connected to God's promises for the nation. This is why Jesus promises them authority over Israel later in Luke (22:30). Jesus is building a new structure, but one with points of contact to the old. The leaders of what is to become the church reflect the variety that will always be present in the body. That variety does not emerge by accident, but is the result of Jesus' conscious selection.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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