Simon the Zealot
“Simon” is a very common name in the New Testament. In fact, there are nine Simons who all interact with Jesus or his apostles. From Simon Jesus’s half brother to the Simon who was the father of Judas Iscariot, it can be hard to keep track of all the different Simons in the Bible. It can get more confusing because two of Jesus’s apostles were named Simon: Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot.
While most people are familiar with Simon Peter (more commonly known as just Peter), many wonder, “Who is Simon the Zealot?” In reality, very little is known about Simon the Zealot. He is one of the most mysterious of Jesus’s 12 apostles. Simon the Zealot is only mentioned in the New Testament four times when he’s listed alongside the other apostles. Nothing about his history, his life, or his role as an apostle is discussed in the Bible. What we do know about Simon the Zealot comes from other records, stories, and guesswork.
Where Does the Word “Zealot” Come From?
Simon is called Simon the Cananaean in the Amplified Bible or Simon the Canaanite in the King James Version or New King James Version of the Bible. This title could be a reference to where he’s from, but it is most likely a translated version of the Greek word “zealot.” That’s why Simon is called Simon the Zealot in the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, and New Living Translation.
The word “zealot” comes from Greek and refers to someone who is extremely dedicated to their beliefs to the point of fanaticism. There was also a radical Jewish sect that was called the Zealots. The Zealots wanted an independent Jewish nation and detested the Roman Empire’s taxation. They believed that the Messiah would come and be a great general who would help them achieve the victory of an independent Jewish nation. They were freedom fighters known for violent uprisings. One Zealot sect in particular, called the Sicarii, were known for being assassins who would try to cut off Roman rule in Israel.
Many scholars believe that Luke, the author of the Book of Luke, added the word “zealot” to Simon’s name to help distinguish him from Simon Peter. This mysterious apostle could have belonged to the radical Zealot sect. Some people believe he was an active member when he became one of Jesus’s apostles. Some people even speculate that one of the two swords at the Garden of Gethsemane belonged to Simon the Zealot (the other to Peter who uses it to defend Jesus).
If Simon was a member of the Zealots, there could have been interesting dynamics between the apostles. Simon could have served as the counterpoint for Matthew, the former tax collector. Choosing Simon and Matthew could have been a way for Jesus to show his gospel was for everyone from all walks of life. The Zealots also regularly agreed with the Pharisees, who Jesus opposed frequently during his ministry. So Simon’s potential association with this Zealot sect could have been a dynamic one where he had to reconcile some of his beliefs with his new faith in Jesus.
Some scholars aren’t sure if the Zealots were particularly active during the lifetime of Jesus, so Simon could also have had nothing to do with them. Instead, Luke may have just used the term to distinguish Simon and to show his dedication to Jesus. Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact meaning of the word “zealot” in Simon’s name in the New Testament.
Was Simon the Zealot a Missionary?
While not much is known about Simon the Zealot, many speculate that he was indeed an active missionary who helped spread the gospel across the world with the other apostles. Most scholars believe that Simon actually worked with Jesus’s brother Judas Thaddeus in Egypt, and that the two of them helped spread the gospel in Egypt and Persia.
How Did Simon the Zealot Die?
There are several stories about how Simon the Zealot may have died. One popular theory is that he was martyred. Eusebius, a Greek historian of Christianity, wrote that Simon the Zealot became the second bishop of Jerusalem. This statement agrees with the writings of Hegesippus. As the bishop, Simon may have been martyred by Roman Emperor Trajan sometime during Trajan’s rule in the years 98–117 AD.
Simon may also have been martyred during his time as a missionary. Jacobus Voragine wrote in 1275 that Simon was martyred in Persia. Voragine writes that Simon was sawed in half. Christian Ethiopians believe that while Simon did die in this manner, he was killed in Samaria, not Persia. According to this record, two jealous bishops sawed the apostle in half when he preached against idolatry. Many artistic depictions of St. Simon the Apostle show him holding a saw because of this story. Another theory suggests that Simon died peacefully during his time as a missionary in Edessa (in modern southeastern Turkey).
Ultimately, no one is quite sure how Simon died. Most scholars agree with the records of Hegesippus because his seem to be the most contemporary with other gospel accounts.
What We Do Know About Simon the Zealot
We may not know the details of Simon’s life or even of his time as an apostle or as a missionary. But because he was one of Jesus’s chosen and closest followers, we do know that Simon was a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. Whether or not he was a member of the Zealots, Simon the Apostle was a firm believer in the gospel of Christ. He may have grown to learn that he needed to fight for the souls of the people he came across instead of the nation. He may have seen Jesus’s peaceful ministry and learned the importance of salvation over politics.
Jesus was never a military general like the Zealots hoped for, but Simon the Zealot found that he is so much more. He came to die for those he loves and to bring them to God. It’s speculated that Simon may have felt powerless during the crucifixion when he was unable to stop the violence. But he would later learn that Christ’s death was a part of why he came, and Simon most likely learned about the power of the resurrection.
We also know that Jesus chose each of his apostles for a reason, and he chose Simon. He may have chosen Simon to show that the gospel is for everyone, or he may have chosen him for a reason we don’t understand. But Simon the Zealot followed Jesus faithfully and helped spread the gospel to many.
Jesus’s apostles, including Simon, followed Jesus with courage and dedication. See the 12 apostles and Simon the Zealot like you’ve never seen before by watching The Chosen. Download the iOS app or Android app today to see Simon and his dedication to Christ.