Discipleship

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Introduction

We have often mentioned that we do certain things because we are followers or disciples of Y’Shua.  We also hear people using these terms often in religious conversations.  But what does it mean to be a disciple? What makes a disciple different from a student, apostle, follower or fan? If we claim that we want to be disciples of Y’Shua, what are the implications for us? Several people asked Y’Shua this question and He provided some really interesting answers.  Y’Shua also made clear what the potential results will be if we do decide to become His disciples. Let us do a study on this topic and see what it meant in the days of Y’Shua and what it would mean today.

Biblical context before Y’Shua

The concept of discipleship is not that prominent in the Tanach.  We do see the principle in some cases, but the concept only really comes to the fore in the Gospels.  In the Tanach, we see examples of people being taught as if they were disciples, without the writers applying the term. The first example of such a relationship would be that of Samuel and Eli.  His mother, Hannah, gives Samuel to YHVH.  She takes Samuel to the High Priest, Eli, in order for him to serve YHVH.

1 Samuel 1:9–11 9 Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She, greatly distressed, prayed to YHVH and wept bitterly. 11 She made a vow and said, “O Elohim of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to YHVH all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” 1 Samuel 1:24–28 24 Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with a three-year-old bull and one ephah of flour and a jug of wine, and brought him to the house of YHVH in Shiloh, although the child was young. 25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and brought the boy to Eli. 26 She said, “Oh, my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to YHVH. 27 “For this boy I prayed, and YHVH has given me my petition which I asked of Him. 28 “So I have also dedicated him to YHVH; as long as he lives he is dedicated to YHVH.” And he worshiped YHVH there. 1 Samuel 2:26 Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with YHVH and with men.

We see that Samuel was raised by Eli, and Eli taught him to minister to YHVH. He stayed with Eli in the tabernacle at Shilo from a young age and remained with Eli for a long time. The second example, we see is the case of Elijah and Elisha.

1 Kings 19:19–21 19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. 20 He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.

Here we see Elijah being lead by YHVH to choose a prophet to succeed him.  Elisha was a normal working farmer, that was called to follow Elijah.  From the moment he was chosen, he stayed with Elijah and followed him wherever he went. We see later that their bond became so strong the Elisha  refused to let Elijah go somewhere on his own.

2 Kings 2:1–2 1 And it came about when YHVH was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here please, for YHVH has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As YHVH lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

We can also see the respect that Elisha had for Elijah in the response he gives Elijah. Elijah asks him what he could still do for Elisha before YHVH takes him.  Elijah’s answer reveals to me the type of respect and admiration he had.

2 Kings 2:9 When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” 2 Kings 2:15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him.

We see from the witnesses and the miracles that Elisha did that YHVH had passed the spirit from Elijah to Elisha. In neither of these cases is the relationship called a master/disciple relationship.  What is clear from both cases, is that they learn from their masters by being with them. They learn by observing all aspects of their lives.

The Disciples of Y’Shua

The same pattern repeats itself with Y’Shua and His disciples.  When we talk about His disciples, we also need to get a bit clearer with our definition of His disciples. Y’Shua had a large group of people that followed Him wherever He went.  This group included men and women. These people were not called by Y’Shua to follow Him, they chose to follow Him because of what He did. The second group was the twelve men that Y’Shua specifically called to follow Him and were His constant companions.

Matthew 9:9 9 As Y’Shua went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Mark 1:16–20 16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Y’Shua said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.

They followed Him everywhere and he shared  information with them that He did not share with His larger group of followers. This brings me to a first set of rules of what differentiated disciples from followers or students.

  1. Disciples were chosen or selected by the master. Students or followers chose to follow their teacher.
  2. Disciples remained with their master constantly.  Students and followers show up for specific events and then return to their everyday lives.

These two points are nicely summed up in the following quote (1):

Yeshua now limits his focus for the moment to the twelve talmidim (disciples) who have responded to his call. This in itself is significant as one understands the early manner of calling a disciple. In the ancient world, it was not a disciple who signed up for a particular rabbi, but the other way around. When a rabbi could see a promising student as a possible talmid, only then would the rabbi himself issue the call. Those who accepted the call would enter into a time of concerted apprenticeship with their rabbi.
This was not modeled after the Greek structure of learning, which was primarily concerned with transmitting information. The Jewish model of learning was not just transferring of information but more of a transformation of life. That is why the talmid would also live closely with his rabbi—so that spiritual lessons would be observed in daily action, not just written on a school blackboard.

It is clear that His disciples were chosen to share His whole life with Him.  They were not chosen simply to learn key points of His Gospel.  They shared His life, and thus had a much deeper insight into the practical application of what He was teaching the larger group. When Y’Shua was talking to the Pharisees, He uses the word “son” to refer to their disciples.

Matthew 12:27“If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges.

We know from Scripture what the commandment is for teaching your sons.

Deuteronomy 6:5–7 5 “You shall love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

From this context we see that teaching is a continuous activity. It is not a continual activity like a student/teacher relationship. For people who are not native English speakers:  Continual means start and stop, while continuous means never-ending. A student starts his lesson at an appointed time, completes the lesson, and then continues his life without any input from his teacher. Because the disciple, or son, is with his Master all the time, every minute is used to shape the understanding of the disciple. It is an 24/7 endeavor, that impacts all aspects of the disciple’s life. A student may have many teachers at the same time.  All will teach him on a specific topic or facet of life. This brings us to another distinction between a student and a disciple. 3. A student learns certain skills.  A disciple learns all from his Master. We also see that Y’Shua did not allow everybody that wanted to become a disciple.  The man that Y’Shua cured from the demon possession wanted to go with Him.  But, Y’Shua sent him back to his people to testify of the things that YHVH had done for him.

Mark 5:18–20 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things YHVH has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Y’Shua had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Purpose of discipleship

Why did Y’shua take disciples? We know that he had enough followers. We know that He was instructing these crowds and teaching them about the gospel that He had come to share.  You can find a good example of such an education session in the Sermon on the Mount. In this teaching He instructs all His followers about what the Kingdom of YHVH is all about. In one section of this teaching, the Beatitudes, Y’Shua makes specific reference to what the purpose is.

Luke 6:40 “A pupil (or disciple) is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. Matthew 10:24–25 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!

Thus, we see from this teaching that the purpose for a disciple is to become like his master.  Because the relationship is a continuous one, this implies that the disciple will be like his master in all aspects of life.

Cost of discipleship according to Y’Shua

Being a disciple sounds like a good situation to be in.  Yet, in more than one case Y’Shua specifically pointed out what it would mean to be His disciple.  In most cases, these were sacrifices or tough decisions that a follower would need to make.

Luke 9:57–62 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Y’Shua said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Master, permit me first to go and bury my father.60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of YHVH.61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Master; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.62 But Y’Shua said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of YHVH

Here, we see that Y’Shua made it clear that the choice of following Him was not going to make anybody part of a new earthly kingdom.  Unlike what the people in Israel believed at that time, He did not come to set up a new kingdom for Himself on earth.  The choice to follow Him was also a choice that should not have any doubt or delay.  We saw earlier that Matthew and the others immediately stopped what they were doing and followed Him.  There is no record of them asking any questions or mentioning any conditions.  Matthew must have given up quite a lucrative business as a tax collector to become a disciple of Y’Shua. Once they made the decision to follow His calling, there is only one way – forward with Him towards the goal.  This is also what Paul confirmed as the way he led his life.

Philippians 3:13–14 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of YHVH in Messiah Y’Shua.

This is clear to us that being a disciple was a task of 100% dedication.  In the case of Y’Shua, it was also a task with extreme urgency. Y’Shua made this clear to all who had the intention of following Him. It was a decision that meant a lot of sacrifice and choices.  In some cases, it may even mean that their loved ones would reject them. But the choice of following Him had to be more important than conforming to the demands of your family.  Please note that this is not an instruction to ignore the commandment to respect your parents, but simply to first love YHVH your Elohim.

Luke 14:25–27 25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

The choice to follow Y’Shua would also have an impact on earthly possessions. Once again, this statement does not give a general condemnation of material things. It emphasizes the priority that the person should attach to his discipleship.  The men that chose to follow Y’Shua as a disciple, left everything behind to follow Him.  They dedicated all their time to learn from their Master.  They were not distracted by daily jobs, chores or any other commitments other than their discipleship.

Luke 14:33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Change of the term in Acts

Later on, in the book of Acts, we see a change in the application of the word.  In the book of Acts, the word “disciple” starts to refer to all the followers of Y’Shua.  It is no longer referring to the 12 anymore.

Acts 6:1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. Acts 18:23 And having spent some time there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. Acts 21:3–4 3 When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.

This group of disciples of Y’Shua is then what later become the “Christians” (Greek: Χριστιανός – Christianos) as described in this verse:

Acts 11:25–26 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

We see that the original disciples are now absorbed into a different group. They are being referred to as “the Apostles and elders.

Acts 15:2 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Acts 15:6–7 6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days YHVH made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. Acts 16:4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.

Y’Shua’s original disciples still hold a higher position, as they are the ones to decide key matters and issue decrees. Thus, we see a change from the gospels in the use of the word.  Yet, this group still did what Y’Shua taught and they believed in Y’Shua being the Messiah. Thus, they still complied with the original definition of the word. They can also be seen as that which the gospels described as “followers.” What is more fascinating is that after the book of Acts, the word “disciple” is not used again in the Apostolic Scriptures. Paul, James, John, Peter and the author of the Book of Hebrews, do not use this term. The Greek word for disciple, μαθητής – mathētēs, does not get used anymore. The root of the word, is still being used as a verb, indicating the act of learning. Paul refers to himself as an apostle.

1 Corinthians 9:1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Y’Shua our Master? Are you not my work in the Master?

Discipleship todayDiscipleship - father and daughter

So where does all of this leave us today?  It is impossible for us to be chosen to physically follow Y’Shua around.  Thus, the true definition as seen in the Gospels is no longer possible.  We would, therefor, need to base our role model on the definition as we would see it in the book of Acts. The disciples in the Book of Acts were a group of people that had similar beliefs.  They all believed in the fact that Y’Shua is the Messiah, and that what He taught His disciples, they should learn and do.  Thus we see a second generation of disciples, developing here.  They also spread all over the world, as we can see in the geographical context in which the word is used in the book of Acts.  What exactly these early disciples believed and did, is a study for a later time. We could also still apply the true intent of discipleship in our daily lives. This implies that all that Y’Shua taught, we should reflect in every aspect of our lives.  This means that we cannot separate our beliefs from other parts of our lives. We need to ensure that every action we do can be held up to His scrutiny.  As Y’Shua explained to those who wanted to follow Him: He must be the first priority in our lives.  This means that doing His will is more important than good relations with your own family.  Doing His will is more important than your earthly possessions. Once He has become your main focus, there is no looking back.  We need to keep our eyes on Him and follow His instructions. Look again at what Y’Shua said about putting your hand to the plow.  No looking back to the past. Is this the same idea that Paul had in this verse?

Philippians 3:13–14 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of YHVH in Messiah Y’Shua.

In some of his letters, Paul also gives the disciples instructions on how they should be following in the footsteps of their Messiah.  How His teaching should become part of all aspects of their lives.  One of my favorite passages from Paul comes from his letter to the saints in Messiah who are in Philippi:

Philippians 4:4–9 4 Rejoice in YHVH always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. YHVH is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to YHVH. 7 And the peace of YHVH, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Y’Shua. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and Elohim of peace will be with you.

Paul tells us that our purpose should be to be imitators of Y’Shua.  This means that we will do exactly as He did.  This is what modern discipleship is about.  Not only studying and learning, but also doing. Paul does not tell us to be students, or followers.  This is too passive.  He wants us to be imitators.  Action!

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah.

Our disciples

Not only should we be disciples of Y’Shua the Messiah, but we should also have disciples that we teach. We see the concepts of discipleship in the following instruction:

Deuteronomy 6:6–7 6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 11:18–19 18 “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 19 “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.

From the instruction given above, it is clear that the teaching of our children should be a continuous activity.  We need to be teaching our children all the time.  We cannot simply leave it, or hand it over to another person.  This is why we have the conviction to homeschool our own children.  It allows us to be the only ones that have the right to teach them in all aspects of their lives. Not only in their academic interests, not only in their religious upbringing, but in all aspects of life. They can learn from us in everything we do together. We can bring the teachings of Y’Shua the Messiah into all aspects of the upbringing. In the same way, we are also able to keep them from evil.  They do not need to hear from one teacher that evil is good and then hear a different story from their parents. Daily we bless our Father for this privilege that we have been given.

Conclusion

From this we study, we have seen that the concept of discipleship existed early in the Scriptures, without being called by that name.  Later the term meant the constant companions of Y’Shua during His time on earth, and then it referred to all those who believed in Y’Shua and His teachings. We have also seen that the disciples, in the days of the Apostles, were growing while receiving teaching and instructions from the Apostles and elders.  Paul was one of the people teaching these disciples scattered all over the world.  He was teaching them to follow in the way of Y’Shua.  This is still what we need to do today as disciples. We need to follow in His ways, and have Him as our goal.  All we think, do or say needs to be done in a way that He would have approved of if He was standing next to us. We also need to act in the same way when it comes to our own children.  We have been given the instruction to teach them the way of YHVH.  We need to take them as disciples and teach them throughout the day and night, that they will follow Him in all their ways.

Mark 8:34–38 34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

References:

  1. Kasdan, B. (2011). Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary (p. 103). Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers.
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