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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Fifty-Fifth (Disciple)

What does the word "disciple" mean to you? If you look it up in a dictionary, or maybe a few of them, it's quite interesting what you'll find. Across the various definitions, while there is the same or similar idea, the specific definitions actually vary. The most interesting part is that a majority of those definitions actually reference Christianity, or even Christ Himself.

We know the word is used in scripture and that it's attributed, at a minimum, to the twelve individuals Yeshua gathered, and who stayed with Him throughout His ministry. It is also used generally by Yeshua when teaching (Matthew 10:24,25,42), to refer to followers of John the Baptizer (Matthew 9:14, 11:2), and even to refer to followers of Yeshua that ultimately ended up leaving during His ministry (Matthew 8:21-22, Luke 9:59-62, John 6:66). In fact, the Greek word that we get "plethora" from was used to describe the number of disciples at one point (Luke 19:37). The word disciple is not limited to following teachers or leaders still alive, either. The Pharisees called themselves disciples of Moses (John 9:28).

So, we know that being a disciple is not limited only to following Yeshua, it can mean following anyone. There were even multitudes of disciples of Yeshua, not just the twelve most well known (Luke 19:37, John 8:31). They were just called out in scripture based on also being designated apostles (Luke 6:13), but there were other disciples that were also named (John 19:38, 21:1-2). What does being a disciple actually mean, though? How can we be a disciple of Yeshua, like all the disciples referenced in Acts, even though He's not physically here?

The word itself only occurs in the New Testament, and it comes from the Greek base word of μαθητ, or mathet. It occurs in a few different forms, one of which is even used specifically for a female disciple (Acts 9:36). The overwhelming majority of the time (as in more than 260 occurrences) it is in the form μαθητής, or mathetes.

As we look at all the occurrences of this word, we start to see some aspects of what being a disciple of Yeshua is all about. It's important though to keep in mind context, and in this case that means recognizing that we can't take everything the disciples did as things we should do as disciples. People are flawed, and especially when it comes to being a follower in general. For instance, the disciples were recorded as being in fear and even questioning how much Yeshua cared for them (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25). When it got really rough, they even left Him (Matthew 26:56). This is certainly not something we should emulate in being disciples of Messiah ourselves.

As a result, when we are trying to figure out how to be a disciple we need to focus on the good things the disciples did as well as the things Yeshua was trying to teach them to do. When we do this, we find some key characteristics of disciples of Yeshua that we can seek to incorporate into our lives so we can become closer to Him and hopefully witness to others so they come to Him as well. The most obvious characteristic is following Him so we'll just get that one first (Matthew 5:1, 8:23, 9:19, 16:4-5, Mark 3:7, 6:1, 8:10, etc.).

The other aspects of being a disciple sort of fall into three broad categories. There are aspects that involve being disciples in Messiah's body as a whole, those that involve our spiritual nature, and those that are more of an active portion of being a disciple of Yeshua. We should strive to embody the parts of all three categories as we fulfill our role of disciple.

In the body, or the ekklesia, we know that Paul taught about certain roles and responsibilities, but as you go through the gospels and the book of Acts you find some other aspects that might not be so obvious initially. For one thing, disciples aren't just disciples. You don't drop your role as a disciple to become an apostle (Luke 6:13), or any other role in the body (Acts 6:2-4). We are always disciples because there will never be an end to the learning and leading we require from Him.

Another part of being in the body of disciples is knowing our place. Not only are we not to presume to be above, or better than Yeshua in any way (Matthew 10:24, Luke 6:40), which is pretty obvious, we also are not to consider ourselves any better than any other disciple in His body (Matthew 20:24-28, Mark 10:41-45, John 13:5). More than that, we need to love (John 13:35), care for (Acts 11:29), and strengthen other disciples (Acts 14:22, 18:23,27).

This doesn't just go for those well established or highly knowledgeable disciples, and sometimes our sinful nature makes that a hard pill to swallow, doesn't it? If someone crosses us, it makes it really hard to be kind and take care of them. But we know from the account of Saul, who became Paul, that it doesn't matter who someone is, or was, we should care for them as disciples just the same. Paul admitted himself that he did horrendous things to disciples of Yeshua. He was even there approving the stoning of Stephen. Yet, knowing those things, Ananias still tended to him and baptized him (Acts 9:19). Still others, rather than let Paul be persecuted the same way he persecuted disciples, protected him and helped him escape (Acts 9:25).

One of the best parts of being Yeshua's disciple though, is that we are a part of His family. If we do the will of YHWH, we are His mothers, sisters, or brothers (Matthew 12:49, Mark 3:35, Luke 8:21). Much like the disciples present during His ministry, today through the Holy Spirit our closeness to Yeshua gives us opportunity to be privy to additional detail or information He chooses to reveal to us (Matthew 16:20-21, 20:17-19, Mark 4:34, 9:31). And, while we can't enjoy it now, eventually, just like those disciples around during His ministry, we will be able to have meals with Him as a family (Matthew 9:10, 15:36, 26:18, Mark 2:15, 14:17-18, Luke 22:11).

As far as our spiritual nature, as disciples we are expected to trust and have faith in Him completely. We are not to worry about worldly things, but only to trust that He will take care of us (Matthew 8:21-22, 6:25-34, Luke 9:59-62, 12:22-31). We are to fear only YHWH (Luke 12:4-8), and not even natural disasters or weather (Matthew 8:23-27). We are to believe (John 2:11) and trust in Him so much that when He calls, we come (Mark 8:1), and whatever He commands, we do (Matthew 11:1, 14:22, 21:6, 26:19, 28:16, Mark 6:45, Luke 9:14, 12:22, 19:29, Acts 9:10-17).

Last, but not least, we have some aspects of being a disciple in which we are expected to more actively take action, rather than passively as situations arise. We cannot be a disciple without studying (John 8:31) and knowing His word (John 2:17, 22). Other than supernatural intervention like Paul experienced, this is the only way to learn from Him (Luke 10:23, 12:1, 20:45-47), seek understanding from Him (Matthew 24:3, Mark 7:17, 9:28, 10:10, Luke 8:9, John 9:2, 11:8), and receive rebuke, or correction, from Him (Mark 8:33). We are also expected to make sacrifices to follow Him, denying ourselves in order to be His disciple (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 14:26-27, 33). Sometimes, this means that even if we're confused or don't understand where He's leading or why, we follow anyway. The disciples present during Yeshua's earthly ministry were confused more often than not, yet a core group of them continued to follow anyway (Matthew 15:16, 16:9, 28:17, Mark 7:18, 6:52, 4:13, 9:32, Luke 18:34, 9:45, John 12:16, 20:9, 6:60).

One of the things that might be confusing until you actually dig into it is that as disciples we're expected to fast (Matthew 9:14-15, Mark 2:18-19, Luke 5:33-35). No, this is not related to the intermittent fasting craze that has become popular these days, but I do think that's a testament to one of the reasons we're expected to do it. It actually has to do with ensuring we are being led by the spirit and not by the flesh.

We're also expected, as disciples, to take action externally to the body of disciples. We are to share our belief in Him with others (Acts 18:28) as well as the good works and miracles He does in our lives (John 9:15,28, 15:7-8), praising YHWH as we do (Luke 19:37). This may result, in some cases, in persecution or tribulation, but as disciples we are to expect that (John 16:33, Acts 9:1, 14:19). Either way, persecution or not, we are also expected to move on if people refuse to believe or do not welcome the message (Matthew 10:14, Acts 19:9).

As we can see, being a disciple of Yeshua does actually require some effort! This is not a passive role as some religious leaders would have you believe. Don't be overwhelmed or apprehensive though, that's why we were sent the Helper! (John 15:26) Plus, He gives His disciples power and authority to do great things in His name! (Luke 9:1, Acts 3:6-8, 5:12-16, 6:8, 8:6-8, 9:34, 40, 14:10, 19:11-12)

Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

PS - We can't leave this week without acknowledging the coincidence(?) in one of the verses we looked at. John 6:66 is a verse stating that many disciples turned back and no longer followed Yeshua. This set of numbers may seem familiar, because the same author, John, used it to identify the antichrist (Revelation 13:18) and walking away from Yeshua is certainly anti-Christ! Yes, I know, chapters and verses were not in the original writings, but this alignment of numbers is fascinating nonetheless!

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