Simon the Zealot, Apostle, Martyr

Simon the Zealot, Apostle, Martyr

He had known it was going to happen. He had told Jesus repeatedly that he was hitting too close to home with the powerful and influential people. It seemed that Jesus didn’t care if he upset the people with enough power to do something about it. In one way, Simon admired that kind of fearless provocation of the powerful and yet, he also knew what happened to people who irritated and provoked Rome. He had scars and old wounds to remind him. He had memories of friends and compatriots who had spilled their blood in resistance to Rome and Rome’s allies. Now, Jesus hung from a cross. It was humiliating! Simon couldn’t understand how this was appropriate for somebody who proclaimed the dawning of a new Kingdom.

For Simon, it had always been clear that Rome was the enemy–that Rome was the problem. As a member of the Zealots, Simon was very familiar with a philosophy of resistance at every turn to repel the occupying Roman forces. If Rome wanted to stay in Israel, the Zealots meant to make them pay for it with their blood and eventual fear. Known as “dagger men,” the Zealots manipulated their small numbers to their advantage and began targeting the powerful for assassination. Willing to sacrifice themselves to shed enemy blood, they knew well that powerful people died as easily as any other when their throat was slit. 

Zealots like Simon forsook and forbade any appeasement to the Romans. Tax collectors and Jews who cooperated with the Roman Empire were additional targets for the sharp blades of the Zealots. Though they may not have expressed it, their hope was to overturn Roman dominance of Israel and replace it with their own control. When Jesus began preaching about a “new Kingdom,” Simon took notice. It sounded as if Jesus might be advocating resistance to Rome. In a way, Jesus was but it didn’t look like what Simon was expecting. So, when he was arrested, Simon surely wondered if this would be the moment that Jesus would direct his many followers to rise up and overthrow the Romans. When Jesus was whipped and beaten, Simon surely wondered if he would turn on his torturers and bring judgment upon Rome and its allies. When Jesus carried his cross on the road to his crucifixion, Simon surely recognized the throngs of people around him and wondered if Jesus might not start the revolution then. What Simon surely didn’t expect was for Jesus to die and offer forgiveness to the people who had killed him.

Simon couldn’t help but look back at how he had changed by following after and listening to Jesus. Simon had spent time with the other apostles–even Matthew the tax collector–and had not felt the need to punish them for any of their cooperation with Rome. Simon had heard Jesus tell people that they should not only walk the one mile that a Roman solider could compel them to walk. Rather, they should walk more of their own will to love the soldier who expected only hate and resistance. The Zealots would have advised you to plant a dagger in the back of the soldier at the first opportunity so that you might deal with your enemies, but Jesus was saying to forgive and love them for no other reason than that they were your enemy and brother.Simon had seen Jesus talk about judgment and a new Kingdom but had also seen Jesus offer grace and mercy as signs of the coming of the new Kingdom. It didn’t make sense from a Zealot frame of mind and, yet, Simon somehow knew that Jesus was right.

The Zealot way of resistance only brought more violence and domination. By wielding daggers against their enemies, Simon saw that the Zealots had also wounded themselves. Jesus died on a cross not in resistance of the Roman power but because of a love more furious than the great raging zeal of the Zealots. Simon clearly saw into the heart of Jesus’ new Kingdom’s way of looking at things:Love Wins. Simon was there when Jesus rose from the dead and finally understood victory in a way that proclaimed good news instead of different bad news. He could not truly be called a Zealot anymore because he had given up the path of violence and vengeance and chosen the path of peace and love for enemies.

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Read more from Joshua Hearne at his personal website and the website of Grace and Main Fellowship, the non-traditional community he ministers with.

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