What Is a Disciple?

March 01, 2024

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What comes to mind when you hear the word disciple? Maybe you think of a martial artist sparring with his sensei. Maybe you think of a certain rock band from the 90s. Or if you’ve been a Christian for very long, you probably think about the twelve closest followers of Jesus. 


Let’s take a closer look at what it really means to be a disciple. The word for “disciple” in the New Testament is the Greek word mathetes (moth-ay-tayss), which simply means “learner.” The twelve guys who ministered alongside Jesus weren’t the only disciples. You don’t get to be a disciple by being appointed to some special position. Disciples are simply learners. 


Learning about God from expert teachers really kicked into gear after the Jews returned from exile—about 500 years before Jesus was born. In those days, a learner was called a talmid—which is the Hebrew equivalent of mathetes. These learners would commit themselves to certain rabbis or teachers and then spend years learning all they could.


Jesus’ earthly ministry was built around this teacher/learner relationship. All through the gospels, you can see how Jesus moved His disciples from teachable moment to teachable moment. But His teaching wasn’t just for the core group of twelve… In Luke 10, Jesus sent out a group of around seventy disciples. And in Matthew 11, He opened up His teaching to all “who are weary and burdened.” When He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” the word He used for “learn” was a form of mathetes


As He taught, Jesus was preparing His learners for the day He would send them out to make more disciples. The Great Commission means taking what we’ve learned from Him and passing it on to new disciples. And those learners pass it on to even more disciples… and on and on until He returns. 


Being a disciple starts with learning but continues with application. The point is to do what we’ve learned. Jesus taught His disciples before He sent them out to make disciples who make disciples. Let’s commit to being lifelong learners so we’ll be ready to go wherever His Spirit leads.

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