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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
During the lifetime of Jesus there were many who considered themselves his disciples. That is, they followed him and listened to his words, as pupils might listen to a teacher. Although these people may have thought Jesus to be the Messiah, many of them had a wrong understanding of the sort of person the Messiah would be. They expected him to be a political leader who would free the Jews from Roman domination and bring in the golden age (John 6:14-15; John 6:60-64). When they found that Jesus was not this kind of leader, they withdrew from him (John 6:66-68).
Yet there were many, probably hundreds, who were true believers, true disciples (Luke 6:17; Luke 6:20). From these, Jesus chose twelve whom he appointed apostles (Luke 6:13; see ). These twelve were Jesus’ disciples in a special sense, and became known as ‘the twelve disciples’ or simply ‘the disciples’ (Matthew 16:13; Matthew 20:17; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 26:17). After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, all the followers of Jesus became known as disciples (Acts 1:15; Acts 6:1; Acts 9:1), and later as Christians (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16; see ).
The cost of discipleship
Jesus pointed out that those who want to become his disciples (whether in his day or in ours) have to accept his lordship in their lives. He may require them to give up their occupations, friends, possessions or status for his sake. On the other hand, he may not. The fact is that every disciple must be prepared to give up such things, should Jesus so direct. Usually Jesus will require different people to make different sacrifices, depending on who they are and what work he wants them to do. But always there will be some sacrifice. Self-denial is the only way to discipleship of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:16-20; Mark 8:34-38; Mark 10:17-22; Mark 10:28-30; Luke 14:33; Philippians 2:3-8; see ).
Just as Jesus carried his cross to the place of his crucifixion, so each of his followers has to take up his or her cross and be prepared to die for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 16:24-26; cf. John 19:17-18). Even if the Christian’s discipleship does not lead to death, it will involve a certain amount of hardship, suffering and persecution (Matthew 10:24-25; Matthew 24:9; John 15:20).
People therefore must consider beforehand what it will cost them to be Jesus’ disciples. They must be prepared for a lifetime of commitment to him. There is no place for those who make a start and then give up (Luke 14:26-33;). Disciples must be ready to accept physical inconvenience (Luke 9:57-58), to put their responsibilities to Christ before all other responsibilities (Luke 9:59-60) and to be wholehearted in their devotion to Christ (Luke 9:61-62).
Characteristics of the true disciple
A disciple is a learner, and the disciples of Jesus learn from him (Matthew 11:29; Ephesians 4:20). But merely to learn is not enough. They must put their learning into practice and maintain a consistent obedience if they are truly to be Jesus’ disciples (John 8:31). They give visible proof that they are Jesus’ disciples through practising genuine love towards each other and through bearing spiritual fruit in their lives (John 13:13-15; John 13:35; John 15:8).
This practical love extends beyond the group of fellow disciples to all people everywhere (Matthew 5:44-46). Jesus’ disciples are therefore to take his message to others in order to make more disciples, no matter who the people are or where they live (Matthew 28:19-20; see ).
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Disciple'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bbd/d/disciple.html. 2004.