Since the very early days, Christians have been known by a variety of names. From the book of Acts we know that Christians were called: Those who belong to the Way, Disciples, Brethren, Saints, Believers, Friends, Nazarenes and Christians. Today I would like to reflect upon the name "Disciple.”
When we speak about "the disciples", we usually mean the twelve men whom the Lord Jesus called to follow Him throughout His earthly ministry (Luke 6:13-16). However, the Lord had more disciples than the Twelve. From Luke 6:13 we know that the Lord chose the Twelve from among His disciples. He had many disciples. From among the very large group of men and women who followed Him, who hung on His every word, who loved to hear Him teach, He chose twelve.
In the gospels "disciples" is used in two ways. At times it refers specifically to the Twelve. At other times, it is used in a general way to refer to the people of the land who came out to hear Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth teach.
In the book of Acts the word "disciple" occurs often in its general sense. Ananias of Damascus was a disciple (9:10). Tabitha of Joppa was a disciple (9:36). Paul of Tarsus (9:26), Timothy of Lystra (16:1), and Mnason of Cyprus (21:16) were all disciples. These people, who clearly did not belong to the Twelve, were disciples. Further, there are many instances in the book of Acts where the body of believers is called "the disciples" (e.g., Acts 6:1, 2, 7).
The background of this name lies in the gospels. It was the special name for those who gathered around the Lord Jesus during His ministry. He was the teacher or master: they were His disciples.
In the Ancient Near East, students would gather around a certain teacher. They would learn from him, and take over his philosophy, practices and way of life.
Many people gathered around the Lord Jesus. They came to learn from Him, (Matthew 5:1, 2). They believed in Him (John 8:30). The Lord said to them:
"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples." John 8:31
A disciple of Christ continues in the word of Jesus Christ. He learns from Christ, believes in Christ and abides in the word of Christ. He adopts the teaching of the teacher as a way of life.
A disciple also forsakes the world in order to follow the teacher. This was very strictly true of the Twelve. They had to leave behind their jobs (Mark 1:18, 19), their parents (10:29), their earthly possessions (10:28), take up their crosses and go forward even to death (Matthew 10:38). Jesus Christ said that those who would follow Him had better first consider the cost.
Christ does not call us to follow Him in the same way as the Twelve did. That is simply not possible since He is no longer physically upon the earth. However, that Luke carried the name "disciple" over into Acts to describe all Christians tells us something. The use of this name in Acts for those who did not know Christ during His earthly ministry teaches us that the relationship of the following generations of Christians to the ascended Christ is essentially no different from that enjoyed by the disciples who walked with Him "on the earth.”
We may not brush aside the solemn sayings of our Lord regarding the nature and cost of discipleship. We must be willing to give up everything we have for the sake of obedience to Him. We must love Christ above all – above parents, above husband or wife, above children, above brothers and sisters, even above one's own life. That is hard. But it's what the Lord requires.
Because the teaching and the call of the Lord reaches so far into our lives, many cannot handle it. Many defect. Before He was taken up from us, "…many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him" (John 6:66). Today as well, many who once followed the Lord have drawn back. They are no longer with us. They have abandoned the teaching of Christ and the way of life He demands.
What about you? Are you following the Lord?
Follow Him. There is no one else to whom you can go. He has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God.
Disciple is a common term for Christians in the Acts: however, it disappears completely from the rest of the New Testament. Disciples was no more adequate as a permanent title for Christians than teacher or rabbi was for the ascended Christ exalted as Lord and King at the right hand of God the Father. However, the synonym "to follow", used regularly in the gospels to refer to the activity of disciples, occurs in Revelation 14:4.
The 144,000 who have the name of the Lamb and of His Father written on their foreheads, i.e., the full number of the redeemed, are described as those "who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”
Follow the Lamb of God. He gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin. He alone is worthy of our reverence, our worship, our adoration.