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Gowan is correct to note that Josephus, who had turned to the Romans, is most certainly offering a politically acceptable assessment of these sworn enemies of Rome that he calls "bandits." It is difficult to discover reliable information about the zealots when Josephus, who opposed them bitterly, is the only source.Gowan lists several individuals and groups who rebelled against Rome with violence; while the term Zealot applies to only some of the "players" as he calls them, it is often used for any of these rebel factions.The Zealots do not figure prominently in the biblical records. One of the twelve, Simon Zelotes (Mk.) was probably a member of some group originally.Barabbas was clearly a zealot; the term used to describe him in John is the same word used by Josephus to describe the Zealots.But zeal for the work of the Lord is totally different from the attitudes and actions of the zealots--they were not doing the will of the Lord.In the history of the Church there are many examples of such misguided zeal, most notably, the crusades.These were all disparate groups and individuals; but because they all had essentially the same goal, and similar methods, they can be grouped together under a discussion of zealots.
But the designation has come to be used of all who rebelled against Rome with force.The zealots would seek to enforce these beliefs by violence of any kind.In the end, though, they lost their sense of order and their high motivation.Whether it refers to the Zealots or not is debated; Hengel argues against the is absolutely essential for Christianity to succeed.Jesus Himself was filled with the zeal of the Lord when he cleansed the Temple.