From the beginning of his “public ministry” until his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus lived among the people for about three years. During that time, he healed the sick, cast out demons, resurrected the dead, and taught multitudes. And, during that time, he poured his life into a small group of people who followed him from place to place, town to town, region to region. After teaching the crowds, he would gather this small group around him, and he would meticulously explain his words and deeds of the previous day. They did not understand everything – in fact, they could not understand everything, yet. Their understanding would have to wait until the coming of the Holy Spirit. But, these people had something special – something that the crowds did not have. And because of this, they were able to understand something about Jesus that others did not understand.
Then, after his death, burial, resurrection, and just before his ascension, he gave this small group of followers a command:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Much has been made of this command. It has even been given its own title: The Great Commission. But, what is it that Jesus commanded that small group of followers to do? Did he command them to “go”? No. Did he command them to “baptize”? No. Did he command them to “teach”? No. He commanded them to “make disciples”. Consider, for example, how the ISV translates this passage:
Therefore, as you go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ISV)
As we consider what it means to “make disciples”, we must begin with Jesus’ command. Whatever it means to “make disciples”, Jesus expected this small group to carry out his command. Certainly he did not intend or expect them to carry out this command on thier own; he promised to be with them always. But, they did have work to do, and that work was the work of making disciples.
The verb “make disciples” (Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„ÎµÏÏ‰) is only found 4 times in the New Testament, three of those being in Matthew. It general means “to be a pupil/disciple” (BDAG). Since the verb is imperative in Matt 28:19, it carries the connotation of “to make a pupil/disciple”.
So, what is a “pupil/disciple” (Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î®Ï‚)? This noun form of the verb “make disciples” (Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„ÎµÏÏ‰) is far more common in the New Testament. It can mean simply a “pupil” or an “apprentice”, but in the New Testament it generally means a “disciple” or an “adherent”. So, is there a difference between a “pupil” and a “disciple”?
The standard Greek lexicon (BDAG) gives the following as the definition for “pupil” as a meaning of Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î®Ï‚: “one who engages in learning through instruction from another”.
On the other hand, BDAG gives the following as the definition for “disciple” as a meaning of Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î®Ï‚: “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views”.
The distinction is clear: a “pupil” engages in learning, while a “disciple” is constantly associated. Which did Jesus intend for his followers to make? Were they to make “pupils” or “students” by filling them with information about Jesus? Or, were they to make “disciples” who would constantly associate themselves with someone?
There is only one way to decide what kind of Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î®Ï‚ Jesus wanted his followers to make – either “pupils” or “disciples”: we must study Jesus’ understanding of a Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î®Ï‚ in context.
This study has become much more extensive since I started. I will continue to study this, and I will post additional blogs in this series as I am able. However, it may be several days between “Disciple making” posts.