Galilee was where Jesus began His public ministry after His baptism by John (Mark 1:14–15), so it is no surprise that the first disciples He called were Galileans. What we might not have expected, however, is that these Galileans first called by our Lord were not experts in the Scriptures nor renowned Jewish theologians; rather, our Savior called successful businessmen to serve Him. We are accustomed to viewing Andrew, Simon, and the sons of Zebedee as fishermen, and indeed they were (vv. 16–20). Yet these were not individuals who barely eked out a living. In the first century, fish was one of the staple foods of the Mediterranean world, and fish from the Sea of Galilee were in high demand. Fishing the Sea of Galilee was a lucrative occupation, so James, John, Andrew, and Simon left much behind to follow Jesus.
Anyone can be a disciple of Jesus, for the term disciple simply means “learner.” However, not everyone can be an Apostle, for one must be a witness to the resurrection to be called to that office (Acts 1:21–22; 1 Cor. 15:7–9). Thus, while the four men named in today’s passage were certainly disciples, they would also become Apostles. John Calvin highlights this fact in his commentary on Mark 1:16–20. True, Calvin says, Jesus called these men to be His disciples, but His words “I will make you become fishers of men” indicate that our Lord was also calling them to a specific office that is not shared by all believers. Christ may call many people to be His disciples without taking them from their existing vocations, but those whom He appointed to the Apostolic office He set apart from their previous work. As the office of Apostle passed away when the last Apostle died at the end of the first century, the Lord does not appoint anyone today to the Apostolic vocation. Calvin applies the words of Jesus more broadly, however, noting that God still calls some disciples to remain where they are and others to take on the public office of elder in His church.
This public office involves becoming “fishers of men,” those who devote their lives to raising up other disciples through instruction in the things of God. Such a call means participating with the Lord in His activity of fishing, which the prophets saw as God’s catching men and women for judgment (Ezek. 29:4). Those who become fishers of men are catching people for judgment, that is, preparing them to be ready to meet the Lord unafraid on the last day by instructing them to live lives of faith and repentance