What is a disciple? It may seem like an elementary question, but, it can clarify a great deal. The most basic questions are filled with profound truth. Who is God? A list of attributes will tell you profound things. Why did Jesus have to die? A list of reasons will help you appreciate the significance. Continuing in this fashion, let us explore what exactly is a disciple.
In Jesus’ day, the discipleship paradigm was already existent. If somebody admired a rabbi, they would ask them to take their yoke upon them. And if the rabbi approved, he would say to follow him. The student then would follow him around everywhere soaking up everything he could. Jesus adopted the discipleship model to grow his disciples. A close comparison from modern times would be an apprenticeship.
“A disciple in those days was a lot deeper than we think of a Christian these days. It was a really demanding occupation. It was like an apprenticeship. Like an apprentice of Jesus so to speak. When you have an apprentice carpenter this becomes what they do in life. This is who they are in life. This is what they invest in. That is why they buy different tools, that’s why they invest in a particular way of doing things. That’s why they learn, that’s why they practice and even physically endure the pressure that’s experienced in this occupation.”
(Gen J Sermons, The Ministry of Discipleship: Vision)
To continue the apprenticeship comparison, as a Christian, there is a certain knowledge that can only be attained by learning on the job. An apprentice carpenter doesn’t become competent because they read a textbook through and through. They become competent because they watched the qualified carpenter, then they followed their example. As a Christian, there is a certain knowledge that we only gain when we apply our faith and work out our salvation.
“Jewish disciples did not do their learning in the classroom…But they would follow their rabbi from place to place, watching carefully what he did and sharing closely in his work as he directed them. So they were essentially apprentices who learned their discipleship on the job…If someone was a follower of Jesus it shaped their whole lives. Disciples were encouraged to be ‘dusty with the dust of their rabbi’, that is to walk so closely behind their teacher that the dust kicked up from his sandals would fall onto them.”
(Peter Morden, The Message of Discipleship)
The Greek word for disciple is the word ‘mathetes’. It literally meant ‘student’ or ‘learner’. From the Greek word ‘manthano’, ‘to learn’.
Identifying as a learner is helpful because it promotes a humble disposition. If we can maintain a humble posture towards learning, we are sure to succeed in our walk.
As we journey with Jesus, we will have our whole world flipped upside down. Which is exciting news. We get to learn, throughout a lifetime, how the Christian worldview, filters into every arena of life. Being a Christian is invariably a life-changing journey.
Jesus died so that we would become a certain type of person. A Jesus-like person. Not just a learned person.
Discipleship accomplishes spiritual maturity. And the spiritually mature bring great glory to God. I believe the model of discipleship was chosen because it was the best way to accomplish God’s original goal – that humanity would be good image-bearers. Good representatives.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis chapter 1, verses 27 to 28)
This is the most foundational purpose of God’s creation. That we would be representatives and that we would enact God’s will here on earth.
The word image here is the Hebrew word ‘tselem’. Literally meaning an idol or statue. We are God’s living statues.
“In the Ancient Near East, setting up a king’s statue (or ‘image’) was equivalent to proclaiming his dominion. It declared him lord over the area in which the statue was erected (compare Daniel 3:1, 5-7). So, when God creates humanity in his image, he is saying that humanity is God’s statue – the evidence that God is the Lord of creation.”
(Andrew Reid, Genesis: Salvation Begins)
As a living statue, we have the capacity to represent God, to show that he is Lord and to show that he is a good God. As a disciple, as we get dusty with the dust of our rabbi Jesus, we learn more and more about what being a good image-bearer means.
Though it may be a simple question, knowing what a disciple is can be very enlightening. It can provide us with security in who we are as Christians. We are apprentices to Jesus, committed and humble learners, we are living statues of the one true King.
Roden Meares enjoys playing basketball, reading comics and going to the gym. He has a passion for evangelising and helping others in their faith through writing.
Roden’s previous articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/roden-meares.html