Claim to fame: Jesus's band mates and traveling buddies
Aside from Peter and Judas (boo, Judas!), there are lots of other guys hanging around Jesus and making it their mission in life to follow his teachings. So who are they?
Matthew gives a list of the twelve as follows: Peter, Andrew (Peter's brother), James son of Zebedee, John (James's brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector), James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas (boo, Judas!) (10:2-4).
And why are they so important to Jesus? Other than the fact that it gives him someone to talk to during long walks between villages, they're also Jesus's de facto family.
When he's in his hometown talking to the crowds, his mom and brothers come looking for him, probably to tell him to stop all this messiah foolishness. But, Jesus tells everyone that his disciples are his kin now. In fact, "whoever does the will of [his] Father in heaven is [his] brother and sister and mother" (12:50). Ah, family.
Why is family so important to Matthew? Because he's helping create the bonds of the church. After all, sometimes your family will let you down (by not believing you that Jesus is the Messiah). But, the family of God? They're always there for you.
And what do the disciples get for being in Jesus's inner circle? Only the ability to exorcise demons and to heal everyone (10:1). Pretty sweet deal, right?
Just a minute. These perks come with a price. The disciples will be persecuted, tormented, and reviled in some of the places they go. Basically, Jesus tells them they "will be hated by all because of [his] name" (10:22). Wonder what the return policy is on those exorcising and healing powers.
Maybe this is why, when Jesus is arrested, the disciples see the writing on the wall and get a little scared. Matthew tells us that when the twelve (well, eleven at this point) see Jesus on trial for his life, "all the disciples deserted him and fled" (26:56). Loyalty? Forget that.
Overall, even given their failings, Matthew is a whole lot nicer to the disciples than the other gospel writers. Sure, they misunderstand Jesus and ask silly questions sometimes. Maybe they occasionally think Jesus is a ghost (14:26) or lack even faith the size of a mustard seed (17:20). But they're good guys. Really. Jesus doesn't usually get on their case too badly about these screw-ups. In fact, sometimes their questions and mishaps move the story forward. They're very useful blunderers.
That's probably why, in the end, the eleven remaining disciples rejoin him and all is forgiven and forgotten. Jesus even gives them The Great Commission. They're supposed to go out and "make disciples of all nations" (28:19). They get to heal and preach and baptize all in Jesus's name. Pretty good for a bunch of guys from Galilee.