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Jesus’ Model of Discipleship

A guest article from Alyssa Lillo, a student at Oral Roberts University.



Educational principles in North America reflect the ways in which young people are taught, trained, and developed to become responsible mature adults in society. Similarly, Christian discipleship is the way in which new believers are developed to become mature Christians in the Body of Christ. In Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus commands his disciples to go and make disciples, known as the Great Commission. Jesus spent his entire ministry, which lasted three and a half years, training his disciples.[1] Jesus purposely called his disciples, established relationship with them, travelled with them, taught them to pray, and showed them how to live in light of his message. The Great Commission is an exhortation from Jesus who wanted his disciples to go and do likewise. Jesus’ methods of discipleship were influenced by his Jewish heritage and the Greco-Roman world. Additionally, the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20) provides an example of how the disciples were to continue training new followers of Christ.

“The Exhortation to the Apostles” by James Tissot



Historical Background to Discipleship in the Greco-Roman and Jewish Society

Jesus was a Jewish man trained in Torah. He also lived in the Greco-Roman world, which influenced the way his disciples perceived discipleship. In ancient Rome, it was a common practice for young men to become students to older or more experienced men for their chosen vocations.[2] Whether it was manual labor or educational, many would spend considerable time to learn in specific areas.[3] To the culture outside of Judaism, the closest form of discipleship was better known as an apprenticeship. A student or the student’s father would seek out and pick a teacher to learn from for an agreed period of time.[4]

Philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, championed discipleship in the Greco-Roman period. Socrates, a Greek philosopher, developed the Socratic method, which was teaching by asking questions.[5] He gathered a following of several young men. Plato was one of Socrates’ students and Aristotle was one of Plato’s students. The Greco-Roman teaching method exemplifies master-student relationships that would have been familiar to Jesus. Although the religion was very different, some of the methods of discipleship of the Graco-Roman society was similar to the Jewish culture.

Believers are called to continue making disciples until Christ returns.

The Sages and Rabbis of the Jewish culture during the time of Jesus, exemplified discipleship through the teaching of the Torah (the commandments of YHWH).[6]  The Torah was taught in the synagogues, which means “Beit Midrash—the House of Study.”[7] This was a place where instructors read aloud and taught the meaning of the Torah. Many Sages had five main disciples and some followers.[8] Hebrew boys were taught the Torah at the age of five. At the age of twelve they were trained in an apprenticeship, which involved heavy memorization. The students who were exceptional in their studies were appointed under a specific Sage to receive further learning. These Sages became a father-figure to the boys as they left home to live full time with their teachers.[9] The boys left their families, friends, and life as they knew it to be with the Sage at all times. Later on, those that finished training became a Sage and taught others.

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Category: Biblical Studies

About the Author: Alyssa Lillo is a student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, majoring in Ministry and Leadership with Local Church Pastor as well as Evangelism and Outreach concentrations. After graduation she plans to work with a Christian non-profit (church or organization) to bring the light of God through outreach and discipleship to all she encounters.

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