In the first chapter of the book of Acts, we peek into the window of a second-story meeting of early believers who were gathered for the express purpose of praying together. As we look closely, we see “Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James … along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (1:13–14). Along with these there were enough brethren to form a prayer meeting 120 people strong. In particular, the Eleven were there, listed in the same way as in Luke 6:14–16 but in a different order and without Judas, for by this time he had hung himself (Acts 1:16–18). Peter, John, and James are probably listed first because Luke had already planned to focus on their ministries later in his book. Peter and John were fishermen. Peter is always listed first in the biblical record, no doubt in recognition of his budding leadership. John, the younger brother of James, was one of the “sons of thunder” known for their religious zeal. He is often called “the apostle of love” or the one “whom Jesus loved,” due to the close relationship he had with Jesus (John 13:23), which shines through in his writings. John wrote much about love in his three epistles (1, 2, and 3 John), and much about Christ in the Book of Revelation. James, the brother of John, was also a common fisherman who later became the chief leader in the church of Jerusalem and was ultimately killed by Herod (Acts 12:2).
Andrew was another fisherman, being the brother of Simon Peter. It was Andrew who was called by Jesus first and who then found Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah,” bringing Peter to Jesus (John 1:41–42). Andrew was the quiet one who lived in the shadow of his big brother. Philip was probably also a common fisherman. In John 6:7 we find him exasperated at the sight of 5,000 hungry men and their families: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not enough to feed this crowd.” Though sometimes lacking in faith, Philip later became a successful evangelist (Acts 8). Thomas, also known as “The Twin,” will forever go down in history as “Doubting Thomas.” Absent from the upper room when the resurrected Jesus made His first appearance to the Eleven (John 20:24), Thomas refused to believe their testimony that Jesus had risen from the grave. Eight days later, Jesus, abounding in patience, said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27).
Bartholomew is another name for Nathanael. He was born in Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1–11). Bartholomew was a friend of Philip, who brought him to Jesus (John 1:45). Matthew was a tax collector (Matt. 10:3). As such, he lived in the lower class of society along with other undesirables, fellow tax collectors, and common sinners. James, the son of Alphaeus, is also referred to as “James the Less” (Mark 15:40). All we really know about him is his name. He was not a prominent guy. Simon was a member of a political party known as the Zealots (Matt. 10:4). The desire of this Jewish group was to take over society. They had hoped that the Messiah would come to help them overthrow the Romans and aid them in their fierce advocacy of Mosaic ritual. Judas the son of James was also known as Thaddaeus (Mark 3:18). Judas appears in the Gospels as a tender-hearted, humble kind of man.
So what is the point of all this? The point is that these now famous men were nothing more than mere men, yet they were God-dependent men, men whom the Spirit of God used mightily to advance the cause of the gospel. Of these eleven disciples, Kenneth Gangel writes, “The outstanding thing about these men is that they were not outstanding. God chose ordinary men to do an extraordinary task.” Chosen not for their innate qualities or natural abilities, these common men remain examples of God’s choice of those whom the world views as least likely to succeed. This, the Apostle Paul argues, is for the purpose of making God’s power and glory more obvious:
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:26–29)
One of the pleasures of God is to take ordinary, common sinners, redeem them, and then empower them with the Spirit to walk in God-dependency. And the clearest mark of their humble, God-dependent spirit is their dedication to prayer. Praying with these eleven ordinary men were also “the women,” undoubtedly the ones who followed Jesus from Galilee. Included were Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary and Martha, Salome, and others. Mary “the mother of Jesus” is also mentioned here for the last time in the Scriptures. The brothers of Jesus, who until recently had been unbelievers, were also present at this Jerusalem prayer meeting. Approximately six months prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, it was said of them that “not even His brothers were believing in Him” (John 7:5). They are listed in Mark 6:3 as James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. Two—James and Judas (Jude)—wrote portions of Scripture, both referring to themselves as “bond-servants” of Jesus Christ (James 1:1; Jude 1:1). The absence of a reference to their family relationship to Jesus in the introductions to their letters provides an insight into their meekness and servanthood. These men had no desire to be big shots, but rather yearned only to love and serve the One they had denied for so long. It was common people like these toward whom God turned His listening ear as they devoted themselves to prayer.
[Excerpted from my book Teach Them to Pray]