Zealots were a radical Jewish sect from the time of Jesus. Zealots believed in armed struggle against the Romans and expected a warrior Messiah. Simon, one of the 12 apostles, was known as “the zealot”.
The name “zealot” comes from “zeal”, which means fervent devotion. Zealots took their devotion to the Word of God to the extreme, believing that they should do everything to defend it, even killing people.
For the Zealots, Roman domination was an affront that could not be tolerated. Israel was God’s chosen nation but the Romans did not believe in God and did not honor Him. Jews were not to be associated with Gentiles. For this reason, the Romans needed to be expelled from the Holy Land, using force.
Look here: who were the Gentiles in the Bible?
The zealots caused several violent rebellions against the Roman empire over the course of about 100 years. All rebellions have failed. One of the greatest rebellions incited by the zealots culminated in the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70, as Jesus had predicted ( Mark 13: 1-2 ).
Zealots in the Bible
The Bible does not speak directly about zealots, but revolutionary thinking was very present among Jesus’ disciples. They hoped that Jesus would drive out the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel but Jesus explained to them that his Kingdom was not of this world ( John 18:36 ). Some disciples were also ready to fight for Jesus but he refused violence ( Matthew 26: 51-52 ).
Also read: who were the Essenes? Does the Bible speak of them?
After Jesus’ resurrection, when the Jews were debating what to do with their disciples, Gamaliel spoke about other revolts that had taken place. The case of Judas, the Galilean, may be a reference to one of the initial zealots’ revolts ( Acts 5:37 ). But Jesus’ disciples did not have the same purpose as the zealots. They preached an eternal spiritual kingdom that was for everyone, not just Jews.
Simon, the zealot, was one of the 12 apostles. His nickname “zealot” distinguished him from Simon Peter, another apostle ( Luke 6: 13-15 ). The Bible does not say why he was known as a zealot. He may have been a member of the zealots before he was a disciple of Jesus or he may have been given that nickname because he was so fervent for Jesus’ message.
See also: who were the 12 apostles?
Every Christian must be zealous for the gospel but not fall into the error of zealots. They were so concerned with political issues that they did not understand the true message of Scripture. Their distorted view prevented them from recognizing the true Messiah: Jesus.