Mark tells us the names of the Lord’s original 12 disciples in Mark 3:16-19. Some of them are better known than others. For example, Peter, Matthew, Judas Iscariot, James, and John are better known than the other seven.
With about half of them, we basically know nothing other than that their names are included in the lists of the original 12 that the different Gospel writers give. This is amazing when we consider that these men will sit upon thrones judging the nation of Israel in the kingdom of God. They also formed the foundation of the Church, with Christ being the cornerstone (Eph 2:20).
One of these virtually unknown disciples is Simon the Cananite. Even though he is basically a little-known apostle, I think that he is a hero of the faith in more ways than being one of the original 12.
Mark and Matthew give him the title “the Cananite” (Matt 10:4 and Mark 3:18 read Kananitēn in the MT; the CT reads Kananaios). While it is possible that this title simple means “one that comes from Cana [or Canaan]” the majority of scholars think that is derived from Aramaic and that it means “one who is zealous” or simple “the Zealot.” Most translations render it that way (NET, NLT; HCSB; LEB; NIV; NASB). Some render it “the Cananite” (NKJV; YLT; NRSV and RSV = “the Cananaean”; NASB says “or the Cananaean”; LEB says, “Literally the Cananean”). The KJV reads “the Canaanite.” Simon is specifically called the Zealot in Luke 6:15 (Simōna ton kaloumenon Zelōten = Simon the one called the Zealot) and Acts 1:13 (Simōn ho zelōtes = Simon the Zealot).
In the first century there was a political party known as the Zealots. It is possible that Simon was associated with that party. They hated the fact that Rome was ruling over Israel. The Romans were pagans and idolaters. The Zealots saw the situation as one that dishonored God. How could idolaters be in charge of God’s people and God’s Temple? They longed for the day that the Romans would be defeated and removed from power.
Even if Simon was not a member of this political party, it appears that he too was “zealous” for the honor of God. At the very least, he was sympathetic with the political platform of the party. His title strongly suggests that he wanted somebody to come in and defeat the Romans.
It seems that when he first believed in Jesus as the Messiah and then followed Him as a disciple that Simon assumed that this is what Jesus was going to do, within a few years. But at some point, Simon realized that Jesus was not going to do what he hoped. Perhaps it was when Jesus talked about loving one’s enemies or when He said His disciples should turn their cheek when persecuted. He even taught that disciples should bless the ones who persecuted them. My guess is that such teachings did not set well with Simon, especially when applied to the Romans.
Simon absolutely understood that Jesus did not share his zealous outlook when He allowed Himself to be crucified by the Romans.
But this is where Simon stands out as a big hero of the faith. Even though we know little about him, we know from the book of Acts (Acts 1:13; see also Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30; 2 Tim 2:12), and from church history as well, that Simon remained faithful to the Lord. In other words, he changed his beliefs. Evidently, since he went by the title the Zealot, they were strongly-held beliefs.
And isn’t that an important part about being a faithful disciple? A disciple must be willing to change his views when his Teacher shows him that his beliefs are wrong. Simon did that. He adopted the teachings of the Lord even though they challenged his very identity.
When the Scriptures challenge our beliefs, even long held and strong beliefs, may we be willing to change what we believe. That is part of being a hero of the faith. Often times, Christians are not willing to do that. May we all be more like Simon the Zealot.