When Jesus commissioned His disciples, He was very clear. He told them to make more disciples. But that begs the question: What is a disciple?
The term “disciple” comes from the Greek word “athetes,” which means, “to learn.” The Hebrew word for a disciple is “talmidim.” That word, too, is connected with learning. So, in its most basic sense, a disciple is someone who learns.
To build on that basic sense of what a disciple is, it’s helpful to see how the term was used in the Bible. In the Old Testament, priests would train young men to offer service to God (1 Samuel 3.1 ESV). Temple musicians were trained by master teachers for the purpose of praising God with their instruments (1 Chronicles 25.8 ESV). Prophets taught others to learn and follow the instructions of the Lord (Isaiah 8.16 ESV).
Later, Rabbinic schools were established to raise up future teachers and leaders. In Jesus’ day, there were “disciples of Moses” John 9.28 ESV, “disciples of the Pharisees” Matthew 22.16 ESV, “disciples of John the Baptist” Matthew 9.14 ESV, and, yes, “disciples of Jesus” Matthew 28.18 ESV. So, what is a disciple? A disciple is someone who follows someone else in order to become like them and continue their work.
In the New Testament, the term “disciple” is primarily used to describe a follower of Jesus. In the Book of Acts, disciples of Jesus are also referred to as “believers” in Jesus Acts 6.7; 9.26; 14.21-22 ESV. The disciples are first called “Christians” in Antioch Acts 11.26 ESV. In the Epistles, the term “disciple” is used less often. In its place, terms like “brother/sister,” “saint,” and “believers” become more prominent. But they all point in the same direction: A disciple is someone who follows Jesus in order to become like Him and continue His work.
Clarifying this definition is important if you are going to be committed to making disciples. Your vision of your end product can’t be fuzzy. If you’re going to make disciples of Jesus, you have to know what a disciple is and what you’re working toward. The Apostle Paul was very clear about what he was trying to produce in the lives in every person he met and every church he planted.
To the church at Rome, he wrote, “for those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers” Romans 8.29 ESV.
To the churches in Galatia, he wrote, “I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives” Galatians 4.19 NLT.
It’s clear that Paul’s goal was to see people become more and more like Jesus. He wanted people to be conformed to the image of Jesus, to be matured into the likeness of Jesus, and to become mirrors that reflect Jesus into the world. As you invest in a few, you are not simply conveying knowledge about the Bible. You are investing your life to raise up people who will follow Jesus, grow to be like Him, and carry on His work. That’s the end product.
This blog features an excerpt from one of our Student Series book, Invest In A Few.