Simon called the Zealot has apparently two surnames in Scripture, but they mean the same thing. He is called Simon the Canaanite in Hebrew—not because he was an inhabitant of Cana or a Canaanite, but that word, when interpreted, means precisely the same as the Greek word Zelotes. He was called Simon the Zealot. I suppose that he had this name before his conversion. It is thought by some that he was a member of that very fierce and fanatical political sect of the Jews called the Zealots.
But this does not seem very probable, since the sect of the Zealots had scarcely arisen in the time of the Savior. And therefore we are inclined to think with Hackett, in his exposition of the Acts, that he was so called because of his zealous attachment to his religion as a Jew. There were some in the different classes of Jewish society who were so excessively full of zeal as to gain the name of zealot. But it strikes me that he must have been a zealot after conversion, too, for within that sacred circle that surrounded our Lord, every word was truth and the Master would not have allowed any of His disciples to have worn a surname which was not expressive or truthful.
He was Simon the Zealot before he knew not the Messiah. He surely could not have been less Simon the Zealot when, gifted with the Holy Spirit, he went forth to cast out demons, heal the sick, and to proclaim that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. I should be glad if many among us would earn the same title by so living that men would call us zealots, or even “fanatics,” for this is so sleepy an age concerning religious things, that to be called fanatic, nowadays, is one of the highest honors a man can have conferred upon him! May we so act and live that we might truthfully wear the title of Christian zealots...
If you would see crowns put upon the head of the Savior and His Throne lifted high—and I know this is your great ambition! If you would see Jehovah, your Father, glorified even to the ends of the earth—then be filled with zeal! Under God, the way of the world's conversion must be by the zeal of the Church. Simon the Zealot must lead the van. The rest may follow in their places—knowledge, patience, courage, prudence, every grace shall do exploits—but this shall be first, this shall bear the standard high! Zeal for God, zeal for His Truth—this shall be in the van, and may you stand side by side with the most zealous in the day of conflict, that you may be there in the hour of victory.
Some of you have sought for the conversion of souls. When I look upon some of you I know you are spiritual mothers and fathers in Israel—not to ones or twos, but scores! Shall your zeal relax? We have, by God's Grace, lived to see many of our enemies clothed with shame. We have preached the Word till that Word begins to tell and make the solid rocks of error shake. Will you draw back? Will you lose your force? Will you slacken in prayer? Will you refuse to receive the blessing which awaits you? Will you take your heads from the crown when it is ready to descend? I pray you do not so! Let us be banded together as one man! Let us contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints! Let us pray with fervor! Let us live in holiness! Let us preach constantly and preach with fire! And let us so live that we may impress our age and leave our footprints on the sands of time.
As for some of you who never were zealous—who are the fathers of no spiritual children. As for some of you—whose religion gets into a very narrow compass and is good for very little when it gets there—I pray you bestir yourselves. If your religion is a lie, do not profess it! If it is a farce, do not enslave yourselves to it!
But if there is anything in religion, it is worth everything! It cannot sit second at the table—it must have the first place. The Christian man is to be, first of all, a Christian man! Next to that a tradesman or what you will—but first of all a Christian man. The first thing with the Believer is his Lord. Christ will be nowhere if He is not first and chief and that religion is vain and void which does not fill the soul and take up the throne of the heart.
May God allow us, then, to wear the character, if not the name of Simon the Zealot, and then we will wait at His footstool and serve Him after such sort as He shall help us to do and His shall be all the praise. But, ah, we must be converted first! So let the sinner remember that his first business is with this text—"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved"—that is, trust Jesus, for it is written, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. He that believes not shall be damned." God grant you Divine Grace to trust Christ and then to be zealous for Him. Amen.
Adapted from Spurgeon's Sermons, Zealots (No. 639), by Charles Spurgeon.