There are nine Simons mentioned in the New Testament: Simon the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3), Simon Iscariot the father of Judas Iscariot (John 6:71), Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner when the sinful woman poured perfume on His feet (Luke 7:40), Simon the leper who had Jesus over for dinner in Bethany (Mark 14:3), Simon from Cyrene who was forced to help Jesus carry His cross (Mark 15:21), Simon the sorcerer who tried to buy the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9–24), and Simon the tanner who hosted Peter when he had the vision of unclean food (Acts 9:43). Finally, two of Jesus' disciples were named Simon: Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot.
Very little is known about Simon the Zealot. His name is found four times in the New Testament listed along with the other twelve disciples of Jesus (Matthew 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:13–16; Acts 1:13). Some versions, such as the KJV, call him "Simon the Canaanite." In this instance the term "Canaanite" is being used as a political qualifier rather than a geographical marker. The term "Zealot" referred to a Jewish political faction that desired Israel's independence both spiritually and as a nation. In early first century AD they sought to overthrow Rome through force and believed that the coming Messiah would bring such a victory. It seems Simon was associated with this political faction prior to becoming a disciple of Jesus. If Simon was indeed affiliated with the Zealots, he would have been at opposite ends of the political spectrum from the majority of his fellow disciples and especially Matthew who collected taxes for the Romans.
The nickname may have stuck simply as a way to distinguish Simon the Zealot from Simon Peter. It could also have meant he had great enthusiasm for the Jewish Law or Jesus' teachings. God the Father and Jesus are also identified as zealous in the Bible, referring to their strong passion for protecting the spiritual integrity of Israel (e.g., Isaiah 9:7; 42:13; 59:14–20; John 2:17). The New Testament epistles also talk about believers in Christ being "zealous for good works" or "zealous for what is good" (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 3:13; see also Romans 12:11; Revelation 3:19).
Regardless of his previous political affiliations or personality, the day Simon the Zealot followed Jesus he became a disciple. As one of the people closest to Jesus he learned that Jesus came not to fight flesh and blood for a nation, but spiritual forces for souls. Though Jesus had great zeal, turning over the vendors' tables in the temple was perhaps His only real aggressive act. Jesus engaged those opposed to Him with words of truth fitly spoken. He did not fight back when they took Him to be crucified. Jesus did not concern Himself with matters of the state, but rather told His disciples, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). He made it clear that salvation was available for everyone, healing and preaching to anyone willing to listen. In Luke 21:5–6, Jesus predicted that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and that Gentiles would take over the Jewish capital. Jesus had not come to start a revolution; He came to die on the cross providing salvation for mankind.
During his three years of ministry with Jesus, Simon the Zealot matured into an apostle empowered to spread the gospel in truth and love to all nations. Although there are various versions of his death, it is likely he served with zeal as a missionary in Persia and eventually died a martyr's death.
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