The 12 closest friends of Jesus are called the 12 disciples or apostles. The word disciple means someone who is a student or pupil of someone else. The biblical sense of the word is that the person is not just a learner, but an adherent of the teacher’s doctrines. Apostle means that the person is a representative, ambassador or delegate of someone else. Practically there is little difference between the way these two words are used in the Bible. However, there is one small distinction. Not all disciples are called apostles in the Bible. But all apostles are disciples (that somewhat depends on how you define Paul the Apostle).
Let’s take a quick look at the original 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. Here they are in alphabetical order with a summary of each one.
Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before he joined with Jesus (John 1:35-40). His brother is Simon Peter, whom he brought to Jesus. They were both fishermen. Jesus met them on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16-18).
Bartholomew Nathanael was praised by Jesus as being a Jew without guile (John 1:47). Though he was cautious in accepting Jesus as the Christ, it took little time to convince him that Jesus was the Son of God (John 1:49). Tradition says that he was a missionary in Armenia and India.
James the Elder (or James the Great)
James is one of the two sons of Zebedee. Also known as the sons of thunder. Peter, James and John made up the three closest friends of Jesus. While James seems to be a prominent figure in the personal life of Jesus, we know little about him. When he is mentioned in the Bible, he is always mentioned along with his brother John. He was beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:1, 2).
James the Younger (or James the Less)
This James was the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18). He lived in Galilee and was the brother to the Apostle Jude. Matthew the tax collector may have been their brother. This is the James who probably wrote the Epistle of James (though that is disputed).
John the Beloved
John is the brother of James the Elder and son of Zebedee. He was known as the beloved disciple. He wrote the books of John, First John, Second John, Third John and Revelation. He was the last of the apostles to die. Though there were attempts to martyr him, he lived into old age.
Judas was the treasurer among Jesus and His disciples. He was also the traitor who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16; John 12:5, 6). Judas was from Judea whereas the other disciples were from Galilee.
Jude or Thaddeus
He was the brother of James the Younger and the author of the book of Jude. He was known by several names. One is “Judas, not Iscariot.” (John 14:22) Very little is known about him.
Matthew, unlike the other disciples who were fishermen, he was a tax collector, also known as a publican. He is sometimes called Levi in the Bible (Mark 2:14). He wrote the first book of the New Testament which bears his name.
Simon Peter was the brother to Andrew. He was the most outspoken of the disciples. Along with the brothers James and John, he made up the third of the inner circle of Jesus’ closest disciples. He probably wrote 1 and 2 Peter. His Greek name, Simon, and Aramaic name, Cephas, both mean rock.
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, Peter became the dominant leader of the disciples. Throughout the first part of the book of Acts he is the fiery preacher among the Jews. The last part of the book is dominated by Paul and his outreach to the Gentiles.
Like the other disciples (except Matthew), Philip was a fisherman. He was from the city of Bethsaida (John 1:44). He seemed to have a missionary heart. He preached boldly to large crowds in Samaria but was willing to be led into the desert to preach to one Ethiopian man and lead him to Christ (Acts 8).
Simon the Zealot
This is the other Simon (besides Peter) who was a disciple of Jesus. He was a Caananite (Mark 3:18). Though we don’t know much about him we know that the Zealots were a fanatical Jewish nationalist group. They hated Roman rule and were devoted to Jewish law.
Today sometimes called Doubting Thomas was also known by his Greek name Didymus. He is known as Doubting Thomas because of his proclamation that he would not believe that Christ had risen unless he could place his fingers in the nail prints of Jesus’ hands and side. Jesus did not criticize Thomas for this. However, Jesus pointed out that though Thomas had the chance to see and touch Jesus, there would be many who would come after Thomas who would believe though they could not see Jesus in the flesh (John 20:24-29).
There were many other men and women who followed Christ in the Bible. There were also disciples of some of the disciples. Of the four writers of the beginning books of the New Testament, called the Gospels, Matthew and John are in the list above. Mark was a follower of Peter and Luke was a disciple of Paul.
King James Version Bible, (KJV)