The Esoteric Significance of Jesus’ Inner Circle

by Joshua Tilghman on January 25, 2014

Divine RayMost Christians are aware of Jesus’ inner circle. They are the three that were closest to him: Peter, James, and John. But what is hardly known is why these three?

It has nothing to do with Jesus favoring them. It has to do with the soul qualities that they represent and the role these soul qualities play in developing consciousness and birthing the Christ within. All of the disciples represent specific soul qualities, but these three—through their unique role as the inner circle of Christ—represent the main qualities which unveil the process of spiritual evolution from the natural man to the enlightened man.

I believe this can be ascertained by the unique role they play in the Gospel narratives with Jesus. I am going to discuss these events briefly first, and then we’ll discuss why Jesus only allowed these three to be present. You’ll probably even have an “aha” moment before we reach the final conclusion and discuss why these three men get the special designation of Jesus’ inner circle.

Jesus singles them out for Jairus’ daughter

The first time Jesus mentions the inner circle is when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. As he enters the house (symbolically the body-temple), the scripture states:

“And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James” (Mark 5:37).

Traditionally, this event has been viewed as Jesus’ power to raise a young girl from the dead, but this is not what is meant by the story. The story is actually about the Christ who energizes part of the lower nature to conform to the higher nature through faith. This is the true spiritual definition of Biblical healing, and spiritual healing proceeds physical healing. Consider the points below:

In Matthew’s account Jairus states that his daughter is dead (Matt 9:18). When Jairus approaches Jesus in Luke’s account, his daughter is dying (Luke 8:42). Which is it? Scholars have used these passages to disprove the Bible’s inerrancy, but the debate is irrelevant because the story is an allegory about the awakening of consciousness to the higher nature.

Jesus states:

“…Why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth” (Mark 5:39).

The girl’s sleep symbolizes the state of the soul that is oblivious to spiritual enlightenment. Jesus wakes her, and progress in the process of spiritual evolution has been made.

Jesus singles them out to witness the transfiguration

The second event where we see the inner circle with Jesus is at his transfiguration. The scripture states:

“And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, James, and John, and leadeth them up into a high mountain apart to themselves” (Mark 9:2).

I have addressed this topic in another article at length already HERE, so I am going to be brief.

The transfiguration also represents the raising of consciousness. As Anny pointed out in her former article, ascending mountains represents the ascension of the lower nature with the higher. Even though the process is focused on the Christ, the inner circle had to be present, “apart to themselves,” because these soul qualities are always present in birthing the Christ nature within; they are direct witnesses of the radiant Christ nature because esoterically they are most directly involved within every soul who births the Christ.

Jesus singles them out in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Our third example of Jesus singling out these men happens at the Garden of Gethsemane. Although all his disciples enter the Garden, he tells them:

“Sit ye here, while I go pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee” (James and John.)

Again, why does Jesus just take these three men?

Jesus is going through severe suffering. He states: “…My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to the point of death: tarry ye here, and watch with me” (Matt 26:38).

Jesus is suffering because he is about to go through the crucifixion and transcend the lower ego. Jesus goes on to pray (meditate) while these three disciples keep falling asleep. Just as in the account of Jairus’ daughter, sleep is mentioned, only this time by the disciples themselves.

Their sleep symbolizes the long process of spiritually awakening the Christ within. The Christ nature strives several times to “wake” them, finally conceding and allowing them to sleep because the Christ nature (higher self) is the final energizing factor of the lower nature. It’s a process that takes time. Jesus allows them to sleep because it is only the Christ nature itself which does not give up on us and presses in to make the transformation of our consciousness to take place. This is the true “grace of God” by which we are transformed.

Jesus, as the higher self, will leave Gethsemane to complete the transformation of his death at Golgotha. This is the final phase of the transcendence of the lower ego into the spiritual ego.

The significance of the inner circle

So why is it that these three men are the ones that make up his inner circle and are present at these special events? Let’s break down each disciple individually.


As we have already discussed in other articles, Peter represents the lower mind and ego. Now we’re going to show how this clearly plays out in the Gospel narratives.

At one point in Matthew chapter 16, Jesus asks Peter who he was. Peter responds with, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This represents the beginning of the lower mind recognizing the Christ nature within, which is why Jesus will eventually be able to build His church upon Peter. But as we’ll soon see, this is also the beginning of putting the ego on display which continually wrestles with the Christ nature, always assuming, doubting, denying, and causing internal conflict, until the lower mind is transcended and the spiritual ego takes shape. We can all identify with this process in our own lives. J

The true church, as a symbol formed in the causal body on the upper mental plane, cannot be truly built until the lower mind has been crucified. This is why Jesus also tells Peter in John 21:18 that he will be crucified as well.

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst wither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”

Peter’s youth is symbolized by a strong lower ego which walks where it wants. But Jesus also reiterates that when Peter is spiritually matured, he (as the lower mind) will be crucified (stretching forth his hands).

It is my belief that there was never an actual Apostle named Peter who was crucified, but I certainly respect your beliefs if you do. As an interesting side note, there is a legend which goes so far as to say Peter was crucified upside down. For me, that legend further points to the allegorical nature of Peter’s crucifixion: the ego is in a sense opposite the Christ nature, and to say Peter was crucified upside down is a fitting symbol.

Whenever the list of the twelve disciples are mentioned, Peter always comes first. This is logical because Peter is the natural man. As such, he is always quick to act against the higher self, the Christ. Jesus is always rebuking him, even calling him Satan (ego), because the ego never understands the nature to which the Christ must rise within us.


For James I went directly to Gaskell’s Dictionary of Scripture and Myth. Unlike Peter and John, there is not much mentioned about him in scripture. After you see the quote below, I think you’ll understand why:

James: “A symbol of the mental edifice of the human being, that is, the mentality or instrument of the mind, which is built up by the soul-qualities through aspiration and enlightenment. As a symbol of one of the four elements, James signifies Air (mind).

To put it more bluntly, James represents reason and the intellect. He is a scaffold for which the Christ nature begins to work through the individual. As I began to ponder his role, I couldn’t help but think about how important reason is for the human being. It plays the major part in developing the moral nature (John). Therefore he must also be always present with Christ and plays a vital role as one of the three in the inner circle.


Put plainly, John represents the love/moral nature. He is the one that rests his head on Jesus’ chest (the heart), and is also the one whom Jesus “loved.” Think about him in relation to Peter. There seems to be an underlying opposition between he and Peter at certain points in Jesus’ ministry. One such episode is present at the end of the Gospel of John. After Jesus tells Peter about the crucifixion he must endure, Peter seems to get jealous (an affliction of the lower mind). The scripture states:

“Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple who Jesus loved following…Peter seeing him saith unto Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow me” (John 21:20-22).

The love and moral nature drives us inward, towards the Christ and higher self. It is a higher ideal and lasting quality working through Peter (the natural man) and James (reason and the intellect) which helps bring the Christ nature to fruition within the individual. John gets the benefit of remaining and even writing the Book of Revelation which describes the final process of awakening of the individual to become a pillar in the house of God, forming the New Jerusalem (the true human).

Putting it all together

These three characters are the inner circle because collectively they are the main soul qualities which are present at every stage of initiation to birth the Christ within. I have not yet done an in-depth study on what the other disciples represent, but I am willing to bet they are not part of the inner circle because they are already contained within the main three. For example, we have already discussed how Peter is always first on the list of disciples mentioned. Interestingly Andrew comes next, which Gaskell tells us in the astral nature. The astral nature is allied with Peter, the natural man, and would naturally come second on the list of the twelve. James, (the mental man) and John (the love/moral nature) always follow in subsequent order. In retrospect, the natural man comes first, followed by the astral nature and then the mental nature. Finally John (love from the Buddhic Plane) follows James representing the mental plane, the exact order of an esoteric understanding of man. Interesting!

As another interesting side note, and with the help of Gaskell’s Dictionary, Peter is earth (natural man), Andrew is water (emotions), James is air (mental), and John is fire (Buddhic). We have all four important elements of the ancient world represented in the first four disciples on the list. Interesting again.

In a future post I will discuss the soul qualities of the other disciples with more research. Perhaps this will add much to this discussion here.


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Roselle January 26, 2014 at 8:38 am

Great site, and good post – thank you. It ties in with much of my own understanding from other wisdom traditions.

I come and check in here from time to time as I’m very interested in esoteric spirituality of all colours, even though I’m not a christian – and I’m particularly interested in the symbolic and metaphorical relationship to the life of Jesus.

I just wanted to comment on the supposed crucifixion upside down of Peter: as I’m sure you know, but I’m interested to see the parallels: this upside down crucifixion is by no means limited to Christianity. Odin is crucified upside down on the World Tree, and there is too the Hanged Man of the Tarot. I interpret these as you have done Peter: that one has to ‘die’ to the egoic/lower natures in order for spiritual transformation to become possible.

All best

Roselle, UK


Joshua Tilghman January 26, 2014 at 9:15 am


I did not know Odin was crucified upside down as well. Interesting. Thanks for your comment. We learn something new everyday. I also might add that this fact further points to the allegorical nature of all scriptures. Blessings!


Sparks January 26, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Hi Roselle,
I also have an interest in the subject of colors and their esoteric spiritual meaning, as well as the animal kingdom…
it all just keeps flowing, moving through us and I wonder what all the colors would be if we could see it, this phenomenal energy
I can only say one thing with certainty and that is, there are so many colors we have not even seen, not even on the home depot color swatches!
Your post brings forth many excellent points…
thanks for your unique contribution!


Roselle January 28, 2014 at 11:06 am

Thank you, Sparks – that’s kind!


Paul January 26, 2014 at 9:51 am

Interesting post, Josh. It all makes sense. You’ve now piqued my curiosity with regard to studying more about this subject. I once very briefly attended a church (Unity Church of Christ) that taught that each of the disciples represented an aspect of spirituality. Peter is called the “son of Jonas” (that is, the son of he who was swallowed by the great fish in the story of Jonah). I believe that there is a connection between his walking on the water (the book of Matthew), and his being swallowed up by the great fish (the book of Jonah). Could this be an extension of your discovery regarding the three disciples? In addition, the Hebrew name of James is “Jacob.” This also is something I believe we could look into.

Thanks for sharing this.



Joshua Tilghman January 26, 2014 at 10:31 am

Thank you, Paul. And yes, I believe the twelve tribes all represent soul qualities as well. Your comment about Peter as the “son of Jonas,” and the connection it may have with Jonah and the whale is an interesting one. I believe Jonah’s story is also the story of the Christ as told through the sign of Pisces. I will certainly look more into this matter as I’m sure you have stumbled upon something. Blessings!


Sparks January 26, 2014 at 12:38 pm

This article is outstanding on the esoteric interpretation of Scripture, as you continue to share your knowledge on it with us, you have the gift to express all these hidden aspects with clarity, beauty and understanding for the reader.
It reminds me of my own thoughts of how very much Scripture is speaks to us through everything that is unseen.
At one time I felt the apostles were representative to the 12 signs of the zodiac and the planets of which Christ is the Son/Sun/Center. We do not know their astrological signs, but for me this makes sense…”as above, so below”.


Joshua Tilghman January 26, 2014 at 1:20 pm


I always appreciate your comments on the blog! And you are correct about the 12 Apostles being related to the 12 Zodiacal signs and Jesus being the 13th, represented by the sun! I have spoken a little about this in a former blog post on Jesus and the Zodiac. Blessings!


Sparks January 26, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Hi Josh,
Yes, I read that particular article on the site here, and it comforted me to know that I wasn’t the only one making these correlations…
You’re the best Josh!


Roselle January 28, 2014 at 11:12 am

Yes – that’s my understanding also…


Sparks January 26, 2014 at 12:53 pm

and when we add Myth to the interpretations, it adds more icing on the cake!
Joseph Campbell’s lifetime works on interpreting myth in mankind’s evolutionary journey helped me very much in understanding Scripture and appreciating its content.
Bringing it all together is like finding a long, lost treasure! The Bible/Scripture then becomes awesomely beautiful, a gift for our souls to navigate…
Thank you Josh!


joel January 26, 2014 at 9:03 pm


I have enjoyed enjoyed your articles since I discovered it about a year ago. The way you write gives me much clarity on Spirit and the Christ. Thank you so much.

One question, the picture on this page……is their a significance? I had a dream and I was in a field similar to the photo and a Beam exactly like this shot from my chest into the sky as I floated in the air drawing me up.

You probably have better things to do than answer this…..but if you can, I would be much appreciative as I have searched for some time.

Thanks and Blessings to you!



Joshua Tilghman January 27, 2014 at 3:38 pm


I don’t mind taking the time to answer…anytime! The picture is a random picture, but the universe speaks in mysterious ways. For me, the picture was captivating and representative of the power from a higher plane.


Frank January 27, 2014 at 12:53 am

In one of your previous articles you wrote “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego represent the physical body, our intellect, and our emotions (collectively comprising the EGO) which are killed off, manifesting the Christ within”. I believe these three allegorical characters are identical to Peter, James, and John…. And the tin man, cowardly lion, and the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. I think you hit the bulls eye talking about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego…. Peter, James, and John also represent the physical body, our intellect, and our emotions.



Joshua Tilghman January 27, 2014 at 3:48 pm


You have a great point!


Raymond Phelan January 27, 2014 at 11:21 am

Hi Josh,

Really enjoyed this brilliant article. The clarity you bring to Scripture’s lead characters esoterically is truly breathtaking! Thank you.

On the point of Peter’s upside down crucifixion, it reminds of the time the Apollo Astronauts went to the moon. In order to land they had to reverse spaceship and come down to the moon’s surface. Similarly as man has to do a complete 360% outward-inward turnabout to touch Christ base.




Joshua Tilghman January 27, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Raymond, I do appreciate your words of encouragement. I owe a lot to the great thinkers of esoteric interpretation before me, and still have to learn so much. And interesting comment about the outward-inward turnabout. Many blessings, Raymond. Looking forward to reading more of your work


anny January 27, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Hi Josh,

To my surprise I found this whole new blogpost with a string of comments already attached when I reached the last of the comments on Paul’s post just now. Another link that did not reach me.

I think it is a very interesting article with a lot of deeper meaning inside. This is focussing on the phase of waking up the consciousness (Lifeforce/kundalini?), which indeed proves to be a prolonged phase, I think.

In this connection, does this inner circle of three also have anything to do with the three glands that are to be ignited and fused? Do they symbolize them also?

I think the names used also have a meaning here. For instance in the story of the daughter of Jairus, I think Jairus is the one it is all about. His name is Jair in Hebrew, which means something like “he will be light” (Kundalini experience?).

But also the names of the disciples:

Peter is really petra which means rock. Jesus says something like he will build his church on that rock, that foundation. But what is that rock, that foundation. It is his other name, Simon, Sjim’on, which contains the verb ‘sjma’, to hear, to listen, linked by the hook of the number 6 to the number 50 of higher awareness. Listening to the message that will bring man to higher awareness (in meditation) is the foundation.

James. How did they ever get to James? James is Ja’akov, Jacob, and as that name symbol of the descending incarnating spirit. As such it is logical that here he is symbol for mind/reason also.

John is Jochanan, God (JHWH) is merciful, is Love. Divine Love.

“As another interesting side note, and with the help of Gaskell’s Dictionary, Peter is earth (natural man), Andrew is water (emotions), James is air (mental), and John is fire (Buddhic). We have all four important elements of the ancient world represented in the first four disciples on the list. Interesting again.”

A very interesting side note. I ask myself, is there also a disciple that symbolizes the fifth element, ether?




Joshua Tilghman January 27, 2014 at 3:59 pm


Thanks for supplying the extra information with the names. I didn’t want to make the post any longer than it was since the information would have been too divergent, but I did think about going into Peter’s name in more detail. The transformed ego is truly a rock indeed!



Roselle January 28, 2014 at 11:10 am

Josh, one of the things I really like about your site is your approach to unity-in-diversity. You seem to recognise that there are many paths to the truth, not all of them Christian. Divergence makes for richness, and together we can fill in the gaps.

This seems to me to epitomise love-in-action, and I think THIS is how we’ll change ourselves and the world for the better…

I so value this.



Joshua Tilghman January 29, 2014 at 11:53 am

Absolutely, Roselle. As Tommy pointed out in his article, the gnostic tradition is at the heart of all major religions, at least at their inceptions.


Cherie Erten January 28, 2014 at 11:39 am

Informative and believe it or not I know someone who put in plane site that Peter would be interpreted as the natural man /ego. Look at Leonardo DaVinci’s painting of the “LAST SUPPER”. It is Paul who has the knife and at a strange angle. Was the Ego still out to get the Enlightenment until the very end? No matter how enlightened we become the Ego always be always to stab us in the back.


Joshua Tilghman January 29, 2014 at 11:55 am

Right on, Cherie. This is how the ego works, and the ego will always be there. But I look at it as going through the process where the lower ego is transformed in the spiritual ego. Besides, without the ego we wouldn’t benefit with the individuality to see the spiritual need for transformation in the first place.

The Last supper is an interesting painting. It is filled with enough concealed meaning that many blog posts could be dedicated to it.



Pedro January 28, 2014 at 9:37 pm


Have you ever taken a look at the hidden symbolism in Da Vinci’s Last Supper? Notice how upon a closer inspection the hands of every apostle are very expressive, while Jesus seems to be rockin’ steady in the middle. See how the “apostles” are also conveniently grouped in four trios, depicting the months and seasons around the sun…



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