Jesus was intentional about investing his life into a small group of twelve individuals. Even among larger crowds, the twelve disciples accompanied him throughout his ministry. Some may not realize that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi. He grew up in the schools of Jewish traditions where he would study under other Rabbis to eventually become one himself.
Because Jewish Rabbis were teachers, many younger Jewish men would choose Rabbis under which to study. Yet, we see Jesus doing differently with the disciples that followed him. Instead of these disciples seeking Jesus out, Jesus sought them (John 1:40-52; Matt. 4:18-22).
Jesus discipled these men for a lengthy period of time and gave them everything they needed to then do the same to others who would come after them.
Here are a few principles showing how Jesus discipled his twelve:
- Jesus discipled them in their immaturity. The disciples did not automatically possess a faith that was whole and vibrant when they met Jesus. Although they did believe Jesus was the Messiah, they were still Jews who needed to be taught the new way of living through freedom in Christ. There were many times of doubt for these young men: when they were walking toward a village from Jerusalem and the disciples were not really ready to forsake all they had to follow him (Luke 9:57-62); when the disciples doubted his power when over 5,000 people were hungry and there wasn’t enough food (John 6:1-15); when Jesus walked toward their boat during a storm and the disciples were frightened by his appearance (Mark 6:45-52); or even when Peter was walking on water toward Jesus and doubted then began to sink because of his lack of faith (Matthew 14:22-33). All throughout these circumstances, Jesus was patient to disciple and teach these men through their doubts and their immaturity.
- Jesus shared life with the disciples. It was not just a “teaching” relationship that Jesus had with the disciples. It was a life-sharing relationship. The most important facet of discipleship, in my opinion, is sharing life – showing vulnerability. Although Jesus was perfect, he was also truly human. If this is true, there were times when the disciples were able to experience that vulnerability first-hand: when there were those selling animals and money-changers in the temple and Jesus, in his righteous anger, overturned the tables (John 2:13-22); when the woman caught in adultery was found out by the Pharisees and Jesus calls out the sinless one to cast the first stone (John 8:1-11); or maybe the most real of all times was in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is so distressed and depressed that his body reacts by sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:39-46). In this non-exhaustive list, there is more than enough reason to believe that Jesus wanted the disciples to see how a true believer acts in times of testing, anger, and even depression.
- Jesus used the Old Testament law to teach the disciples. There were many times, especially during the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-7:29), where Jesus quoted the law as a teaching opportunity. In fact, the most quoted Scripture from the mouth of the Messiah is from Deuteronomy itself. Although the Sermon on the Mount was to a group of 5,000+, the disciples were most definitely present during this teaching of Jesus and were able to learn from it.
- Jesus used probing questions to teach them. Personally, I find it very difficult to ask questions that demand answers. Yet Jesus in his perfect wisdom, and on multiple occasions, asks the disciples some very difficult questions: it was Jesus who asked the disciples and the large group of people all of the questions in the Sermon on the Mount about salt and light (Matt. 5:13); about the law and its fulfillment (Matt.5:17); also regarding loving those who are your enemies (Matt. 5:46); one of the most popular questions about anxiety and worry (Matt. 6:26-30) and judging others (Matt. 7:3-4); and even questions about bearing fruit in the Christian life (Matt. 7:16). But one of the most convincing questions from Jesus is where the disciples are asking him questions about who he truly is and he responds with a question by asking “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15), which resulted in the whole faith of his disciples.
- Jesus took time to invest in them. Although most discipleship models do not recommend taking this long, Jesus took three and a half years before he released the disciples to their respective ministries. What we see here is Jesus giving enough time for these disciples to express full, whole faith in Him (Matt. 16:16-17), and enough time for Jesus to equip them to do the same with others (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-48). More than anything else, it is crucial to understand that the most important element of discipleship is time. Time is what all of us are running out of, yet it is what will reveal to us, as mentors, who is ready to go and disciple others.
- Jesus released them to disciple others. The most vital element of discipleship is to release those whom you are discipling to go and disciple others. In fact, Jesus commanded them to do so (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus gave them a command to invest in others that will result in the early church and thousands being saved. I can’t help but think this is the most overlooked step in discipleship in the Church today.
Jesus was the perfect (pun intended) example of what it means to disciple others. In fact, there are many, many things we can learn from him in this aspect of his ministry. However, these five principles give us hope that discipleship is not only simple, but it is doable for every believer. Not only is it doable and simple, but it is commanded of us by the true Discipler.
May we strive to invest in people as Jesus did.