Simon the Zealot

Luke 6:15

“Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot” (Luke 6:15).

Jesus Christ called a cosmopolitan group to follow Him as apostles. Among them was a highly unlikely member of a fanatical fringe group of rebels known as Zealots.

Little is known about Simon the Zealot specifically. His political affiliation tells us a lot about him. The Zealots were zealous to overthrow the Roman army occupying their country. Members of the Zealot group were mostly a coalition of lower priests, Jerusalem insurgents, and refugee bandit groups from the countryside dedicated to the overthrowing of the Roman rule. These individuals would resort to any means whatsoever to assert themselves and try to drive the Romans from their land.

They set up their headquarters in the temple and established an alternative egalitarian government.

He was one of two Simons who were apostles. Simon Peter, the unofficial spokesman of the group, had a high profile. Simon the Zealot is highly obscure.

The miracle of what following Jesus does is seen by the diversity in the group. Matthew the tax collector, a publican, worked for the Romans. Tax collectors did all they could to appease and placate the Romans. Their lucrative profession was dependent upon satisfying the Romans. They would do anything to avoid disrupting the status quo.

Simon the Zealot was a member of the revolutionary group that took over Jerusalem and led to the revolt resulting in the Romans destroying Jerusalem. Zealots were fanatical idealists who led the guerilla warfare against the Romans.

There were these two extremes in the group. One dedicated to appeasing the Romans and the other zealous to overthrow them.

In Christ they mutually found a higher purpose in life. In Christ these two opposites became compatible. “Love one another,” was a mandate Christ doubtlessly shared frequently.

If Simon had met Matthew under different circumstances he would likely have killed him.

What attracted Simon to Christ? The Zealots having their headquarters would have observed Christ when He first cleansed the Temple. Perhaps Simon was there, or surely he heard about it. To have seen the dynamic Christ driving out the money changers and overthrowing their tables would have inspired Simon. Seeing such dynamic action he might well have said to himself, “Jesus, you de man!” He would have liked the fire in Christ’s nature as He dispossessed the money changers and shouted down His critics.

He may have heard Christ’s fiery gripping prophetic preaching and liked His fervor.

He may have seen in Jesus one who would lead him into an adventure far greater than the Zealots could hope to offer.

Initially, he may well have thought Christ to be the Messiah who would lead a militant political revolution.

There was some confusion regarding Christ’s role even after His resurrection. It may have been Simon who asked Him: “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1: 6).

An even more challenging question is why did Jesus choose Simon. It was a risky choice. Detractors would have queried of Jesus, “Isn’t this the prophet who has a hot-blooded rebel as a member of His party?”

Jesus chose Simon because he liked the fire in his personality and he wanted him among the twelve. He wanted the dynamism and energy he infused into a group. When Jesus called Simon, like when He called each of us, He never calls us to mute our personality, but He wants us to take all of our attributes and assets and use them, not destroy them. So, Christ wanted this fire in Simon’s personality. However, He didn’t want it vented against the Romans, He wanted it vented toward evil in general.

Christ wanted diversity among His followers. Each added to the mix needed to motivate each other. They had different gifts.

Christ had in His ranks a publican, Matthew, a friend of Rome, and Simon, a zealot, who detested Rome. Yet, they grew to love one another.

It must have been shocking at first for Simon to hear Christ speak of “loving” your enemies. He must have been amazed to hear Christ speak of rendering “unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s…”

It was a personal challenge to hear Christ say, “They that take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26: 52).

That is what conversion is all about. The Zealot’s heart needed to be changed without dampening the fire burning in it.

Simon never ceased being called the Zealot. This Jewish patriot who chafed under the foreign yoke and longed for emancipation found a new freedom in Christ when he voluntarily took upon himself the yoke of Christ. He never lost his zeal. He merely redirected it.

Christ said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

The word translated “easy” means “well fitted.” Christ is saying the task He has for individuals is well suited for them and enables a person to be productive.

Christ chose Simon because He wanted an enthusiastic, devoted, catalyst in the group. He chose him because he had the capacity for a deep seated devotion to a cause.

Obviously Simon never lost his zeal, his enthusiasm. It was merely redirected by Christ. Christ needs enthusiastic followers. Former Justice of the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, noted, “It is faith in something, enthusiasm for something, that makes life worth living.”

From John Robert Seeley’s “Ecce Homo” comes this line: “no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic.”

About what are you enthusiastic? No virtue is safe unless it is an enthusiastic virtue. Make certain that your virtues are.

From Ephesians 5, “Jesus Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” That is a summary of Christ’s life.

We learn from tradition that Simon was later crucified. His zeal for the cross of Christ resulted in a devotion unto death for Christ.

He had heard Christ say, “He that takes not up his own cross and follows Me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10: 38). He was worthy.

Simon the Zealot was among the nameless legion that has faithfully been described thusly: “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:33-34).

Great zeal is depicted in that statement.

Tradition records the zeal of the followers of Christ that was kept alive as long as they lived.

Judas, the defector, committed suicide.

Matthew, author of the first gospel, was slain by the sword in Ethiopia.

Peter was crucified upside down.

James, the oldest son of Zebedee, was beheaded in Jerusalem.

James the Lesser was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple and then beaten to death.

Andrew as crucified in the Greek city of Patrae, and Simon the Zealot in Persia.

Nathanael was flayed alive in Armenia.

Judas, not Iscariot, died of an arrow wound.

Philip was hanged in Asia Minor.

Thomas was run through by a lance while praying in India.

Simon the Zealot in Persia was crucified for our Lord.

Only one died a natural death and that was John. All the rest were martyred for the cause of Christ.

Now suppose Jesus had not called Simon and he had not become a follower of Christ, into what stream would he have flown into naturally as a zealot? Here is the end result of the Zealots.

In 68 AD the Roman general Vespesian laid a bloody siege to Jerusalem. Jesus had told His followers, “when you see the city surrounded flee to the mountains.” But, with the city surrounded how could you possibly flee to the mountains.

Vespesian had built an earthen rampart all around Jerusalem and he put guards all along the top of the perimeter so that if any individual tried to slip out they could be found. Every morning as the Jews looked from the walls of Jerusalem they could see new crosses on those ramparts where their friends who had tried to escape under the cover of night had been caught and crucified. Then, mysteriously Vespesian’s army withdrew. They had just received the news that Nero had been assassinated in Rome. The law of that day stated that when an emperor’s reign ended all his military commanders were immediately discharged that a new emperor might appoint his own generals. So Vespesian withdrew to Rome and many of the Christians in Jerusalem remembered the words of Christ, “when you see Jerusalem encompassed about flee to the mountains,” and they left and their lives were spared. That nucleus of Christians now outside that realm of destruction were later to become the disciples and evangels to the world itself.

This was a moment for Jerusalem. A grand opportunity for them to lay in food and prepare for the inevitable siege that would come from the Romans. The two years that followed were a time of in fighting. The Zealots came into Jerusalem from the north from Judea. They called their allies from the south and they began to fight with the priestly generals who ruled in the temple, and instead of making this a time of fortifying the city they engaged in infighting. The Zealots and their allies otherthew the priestly generals and then they themselves were over run. Soon the Romans returned. Titus, the son of Vespesian, commanding the Roman legion in 70 AD, laid siege to Jerusalem. Josephus the historian tells of how the people ran threw the streets screaming for their lives as they heard the thud of the battering ram against the walls of Jerusalem. They knew the inevitable had come. Their warring against themselves had depleted their resources so much that Josephus writes and tells us of young mothers actually eating their own infants because starvation was so prevalent, and Jerusalem was destroyed. The Zealots who had lived by the sword now died by the sword.

What was the option for Simon the Zealot? Follow Christ and end up crucified or become one of the ones slaughtered in Jerusalem. Jesus did not want Simon to fight the Romans, He wanted Simon to fight for the cause of righteousness and salvation.

READ: II Timothy 4:7.

None of the faithful lacked zeal. Christ was the object of and fire for that zeal. It may have been Simon the Zealot whose response signaled to the others a proper response. You can do the same today for others.