Do you ever feel like you just don’t fit in with the culture around you? Like your values and priorities are so different from those of your peers that you struggle to relate? If so, you may find encouragement in the life of Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples.
Simon grew up in Galilee during a time of political turmoil and rebellion against Roman occupation. The Zealots were a sect of Jewish nationalists who sought to overthrow Roman rule by any means necessary. As a Zealot, Simon would have passionately hated the Romans and been ready to fight them violently.
Yet when Simon encountered Jesus, his perspective completely changed. He left behind his radical cause to follow a Messiah of peace and humility. As one of the twelve, Simon walked closely with Jesus for three years, hearing His teaching and witnessing His miracles.
Let’s take a closer look at Simon’s journey from religious extremist to devoted disciple. Discover what we can learn from this unlikely follower of Christ about leaving our past behind and embracing God’s call on our lives.
From Zealot to Disciple
The Gospels mention Simon the Zealot specifically in the lists of Jesus’ twelve disciples:
“James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot” (Luke 6:15 NKJV)
“Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.” (Matthew 10:4 NKJV)
His epithet “the Zealot” distinguishes him from the Apostle Simon Peter and indicates his affiliation with the radical Zealot movement before meeting Jesus. The Canaanite nickname in Matthew carries a similar meaning.
As a Zealot, Simon would have participated in violent acts of resistance against Rome. Zealots rejected Roman taxation and sought to drive out the Roman legions occupying Judea by force. They assassinated Jewish officials who collaborated with Rome and attacked Roman soldiers and caravans.
The Zealots saw themselves as defending God’s honor against the pagan Romans who oppressed His people. But their methods directly contradicted Jesus’s call for nonviolence.
When Simon left the Zealot cause to follow Jesus, he made a complete ideological u-turn. Instead of hatred, Jesus preached unconditional love—even for enemies. Instead of armed conflict, Jesus pursued spiritual transformation through preaching repentance.
Simon’s background makes his inclusion among the twelve so striking. What drew this radical extremist to become a disciple of Jesus?
Clearly, Simon saw something in Jesus that changed his perspective entirely. Meeting Christ reshaped Simon’s passions and priorities. The righteous anger fueling his violent resistance suddenly paled in comparison to the divine love and grace he encountered in Christ.
A New Mission: The Kingdom of God
As a Zealot, Simon believed in the coming Messiah who would overthrow Israel’s enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus proclaimed that very same kingdom—but in a radically different way than Simon expected.
Jesus’ kingdom did not rely on violence or political revolt. It advanced through transforming individual hearts and lives with the good news of salvation. The enemies it defeated were spiritual: sin, death and darkness. And the revolutions it sparked were internal ones, overthrowing the reign of evil and corruption in human souls.
When Jesus called Simon to follow Him, He invited the Zealot to join a kingdom revolutionized. To work for change not through hatred and bloodshed, but through love, service and sacrifice.
This new mission captured Simon’s passion and zeal, redirecting it from national politics to eternal purposes. He embraced Christ’s profoundly different kingdom, leaving his former violence behind.
Just like Simon, answering Jesus’ call requires us to align our purposes with His. Our mission is no longer worldly causes or even personal fulfillment, but seeking first His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
This may require leaving behind career ambitions, relationships, habits or mindsets that conflict with His desires for our lives. But as we make His priorities our own, we join in Simon’s journey from misplaced zeal to devoted discipleship.
Characteristics of a Devoted Follower
Walking closely with Jesus for three years profoundly shaped Simon the Zealot. What can we learn from Simon’s example about how becoming a sincere disciple changes us?
- Forsaking the Past – Genuine conversion requires decisively leaving sin behind. When Simon chose to follow Jesus, he abandoned his former violent way of life. Dedicated disciples turn their backs on old habits, mindsets and affiliations that are contrary to God’s heart.
- Embracing the Truth – As Jesus taught Simon about the Kingdom of God, the Zealot accepted new ideas that may have first seemed radical or unrealistic. Sincere followers open themselves to truth that confronts their assumptions and transforms their thinking.
- Exchanging Anger for Mercy – Zealots like Simon tended to be hot-headed, outraged and vengeful toward Rome. But Jesus showed a better way: loving enemies, forgiving persecutors, and overcoming evil with good. Genuine disciples adopt Christlike humility, compassion and grace.
- Trading Ambition for Service – The Zealots were motivated by political liberation for the Jewish nation. As a disciple, Simon learned to seek the eternal welfare of all people through selfless ministry. True followers of Jesus care more about serving God and others than pursuing personal goals.
- Persevering Through Hardship – By the time Simon witnessed Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion, he had left everything behind to follow Him. Like Simon, faithful disciples withstand suffering, confusion and discouragement in order to keep pursuing Christ.
If Simon exemplified these qualities, it was only through the work of God’s Spirit within Him. The more we yield to that same Spirit, the more He will produce His loving, zealous character in our lives.
The Rest of Simon’s Story
The Gospels tell us little about Simon’s life after the crucifixion and resurrection. But there are a few traditions about his later ministry:
- Simon may have initially preached the gospel in Egypt, before joining the Apostle Jude in Persia. Some traditions link him to missionary work around modern-day Georgia.
- Along with Jude, Simon possibly helped convert King Abgar of Edessa to Christianity.
- Most accounts say that Simon died a martyr after being tortured or sawn in half while preaching the gospel.
Though the details are uncertain, these traditions affirm Simon’s ongoing commitment to spread the kingdom of Christ. The same fiery passion that once fueled his radicalism as a Zealot was transformed into a determination to share the good news of salvation with all who would listen.
Two thousand years later, Simon the Zealot’s story still inspires us to evaluate our priorities. Are we zealous for earthly causes and ambitions that fade away? Or does Christ’s eternal Kingdom fire our passion?
Simon shows that absolute devotion to Jesus requires leaving lesser loyalties behind. It means embracing truth that confronts our limited perspectives. It involves exchanging hatred for love, and selfishness for selflessness.
As modern disciples, may we emulate Simon’s willingness to forsake his past and fully surrender his future to Christ’s transformational work. May his zeal challenge us to devote every passion and talent we possess to declaring God’s glory among all nations.
The same Spirit who transformed Simon from extremist to disciple still changes lives today. He cultivates within us the same qualities that made Simon a faithful follower of Jesus. As we yield to Him, we join the centuries-long legacy of bold disciples advancing God’s Kingdom against all opposition – through love.
Let Simon’s profound conversion remind you no one is beyond Christ’s reach. His grace can reshape anyone – even you – into a new creation empowered to carry out His purposes. Will you, like Simon, allow your zeal to be transformed?
Key Takeaways on Simon the Zealot
- Simon belonged to a radical political party, the Zealots, who used violence to resist Roman rule. His background makes his conversion to following Jesus so striking.
- Answering Jesus’ call required Simon to leave his former militant cause behind and embrace Christ’s way of peace.
- As a disciple, the passion that once fueled Simon’s violent zeal was redirected to advancing Jesus’ spiritual Kingdom.
- Simon exemplifies key traits of devoted followers, like forsaking the past, pursuing truth, cultivating mercy, embracing service, and persevering through trials.
- Tradition holds Simon went on to preach the gospel in Egypt, Persia, and the Caucasus region, until he finally died a martyr’s death for the faith.
- Simon’s life reminds us that absolute devotion to Christ may require leaving other attachments behind. It means embracing the transforming work of the Holy Spirit within us.