It may have been perfect irony…one that was lost on the rag tag group of followers in the years 30-33. Jesus was a master at using analogy and parables as teaching tools. He called fishermen to follow his ministry and re-purposed them as fishers of men. Then there was Matthew, a Roman tax collector…a person most people loathed and avoided like the plague. And then there was Simon Zelotes…and the irony continued.
Simon Zelotes was also known as Simon, the Zealot. And the term, zealot, didn’t necessarily carry the most positive impression either in those days. Zealots in first century Jerusalem were a political movement focused on driving the Romans out of occupied Judah. In the Jewish Talmud, the Zealots were described as boorish, wild ruffians. They were condemned for their aggression and unwillingness to compromise in agreeing to peace treaties with Rome.
As a disciple of Jesus, if Simon was zealous in his belief that Jesus was the Christ…and a member of the Zealots who hated everything Roman…the irony would have been that both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Roman tax collector were polar opposites bound together in a common ministry.
It’s said that Simon was a rapid revolutionist, and loyal to a fault when he found a cause worth defending. JC channeled his rebellious nature and used his political passion to further the kingdom of heaven instead of the kingdom of men.
Zealot derives from the Greek word meaning emulator, zealous admirer, follower. Contemporary definition is that if one is a zealot, they are zealous on behalf of God.
And nowhere is that personified better than in this scene from Jesus Christ Superstar. Simon is both zealous about God and a Zealot in his agenda for Jesus to gain political power to set the Jewish nation free from Roman rule. Unfortunately, like so many of the others in first century Judah, he couldn’t quite seem to wrap his minds around the real purpose of JC’s ministry, as you can see from his expression at the end of the scene.
When JC was charged, convicted and crucified, Simon scattered with the rest of the disciples. But when Christ’s resurrection was revealed, that zealousness returned and Simon left Jerusalem and spread the Gospel through Egypt, North Africa, Spain and Britain.