“He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mk 3:14-15)
Often we think about discipleship as an activity that we do: Make disciples; multiply. But without first building a foundational understanding of Jesus’ purpose and intention in discipleship, we easily can take discipleship in a wrong direction, following our own agenda. There are many examples in history of sects such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have intense and well developed discipleship programs and ministries, but diverged from Jesus’ purpose in discipleship and became cults. There are ministries that haven’t strayed as far, but whose emphasis on discipleship becomes legalistic and self-promoting, focused on their own ministry expansion, not Jesus-centered or God’s kingdom-minded. To avoid this, we are hoping to deeply plumb the depths of Jesus’ Purpose in Calling His Disciples so our efforts and activities may be useful to God in advancing His kingdom.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ purpose in calling Twelve disciples was threefold: 1) To be with him, 2) to send them out to preach, and 3) to have authority to drive out demons. Although all are interrelated to one another, we want to focus on what meaning and purpose Jesus had in mind for his disciples when he appointed the Twelve. From this, we can understand better what the meaning and purpose of being with Jesus is for us today.
Being with Jesus is not a means to an end, but is the ultimate goal (Rev 21:3). We will first look at God’s desire to be with his people as shown in examples from the Old Testament, and in the second half focus on Jesus’ meaning and purpose for his Twelve, and how that should impact our view of discipleship today.
God’s Desire To Be With His People In The Old Testament
Jesus’ purpose of calling disciples to be with him is the fulfilment of God’s desire to be with his people as promised in the Old Testament. We can trace God’s plan to reveal a way to be with him: from the Garden of Eden, through his calling of the Patriarchs, and the example of the Exodus--specifically the Tabernacle and later the Temple--and finally expressed through the promise of a new covenant, which was fulfilled by Jesus.
Garden of Eden: God made mankind in his image, in order to have a relationship and fellowship with him in the garden. True paradise is being with God. Satan broke the relationship between God and man, yet God proclaimed a way to destroy Satan’s work through “the offspring of a woman” (Ge 3:15). God has a plan to restore our relationship with him through Jesus.
Patriarchs: God started his salvation work by calling one man Abraham, promising to bless all nations through his offspring (Ge 12:3; 22:18). We call this plan his covenant promise, which is unconditional, based on what God would do through Abraham’s line, eventually leading to Jesus Christ (Ro 4:16, 24; Gal 3:16). All Abraham needed to do was to trust God and follow his direction. God was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on the basis of his covenant promise.
The Tabernacle: By delivering Abraham’s descendants--the Israelites--out of Egypt, God expanded the nature of his plan to include a community (later a kingdom). After leading them to his presence on Mt. Sinai, God revealed his plan to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:6). In order to do so, God commanded them to build a tabernacle according to the pattern He showed them on the mountain (Ex 25:9, 40; 26:30), and established a sacrificial system overseen by a priesthood. The purpose of these is well expressed in Exodus 29:42b and 45-46: “There I will meet you and speak to you;” and “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” Jesus fulfilled this by becoming the “living tabernacle.” John 1:14 says, “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” In this verse, dwelling is the same as tabernacle. The tabernacle, sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood were only the shadow and patterns of the reality in heaven (Col 2:17). Jesus is the perfect sacrifice and our everlasting high priest (Heb 8:1-2; 9:11-14).
The Temple: In the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant, with the mercy seat, representing God’s presence. David, after uniting the nation, brought this ark into Jerusalem, the center of Israel (2Sa 6), expressing that God is King over Israel. David wanted to build a glorious temple for God, where the ark would be in the Most Holy Place. God accepted David’s desire, and gave a Messianic promise to David pointing to Jesus (2Sa 7; Lk 1:32b-33). Solomon built the temple for God, in line with his father David’s desire. God promised that his eyes and heart would always be there. But if the Israelites rejected God as their God by turning to other gods, the temple would become a heap of rubble (1Ki 9:3-9). Solomon’s temple was completely destroyed by Babylon. The root cause of the exile of both Israel and Judah was idol worship. From this we learn that being with God is not just one-sided, but relational. God bore his people’s unfaithfulness and was with them in Exile, to discipline them and teach them to respond to his love (Isa 41:8, 10; 43:1-5; et al.). The temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, and later remodeled by Herod. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple (Mk 13:2) and related the temple to his body (Jn 2:19). When he died on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mk 15:38). In this way God opened a new and living way for us (Heb 10:20) to freely come to God (Heb 4:16). There is no Jerusalem temple today. Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the temple by becoming the temple in which we dwell with God forever (Rev 21:22).
The New Covenant: To explain the nature of the relationship God wants with his people, the Bible uses the concept of a covenant. The first covenant, as declared in Exodus 19:5-6, depended on the people’s perfect obedience to God’s laws. Yet no one could keep the law, so this covenant became a great burden (Ac 15:10). So God established a new covenant, which did not depend on man’s faithfulness, but on God’s mercy and grace: the forgiveness of sins, accessed by faith. During the Last Supper, Jesus revealed that this New Covenant was fulfilled in his broken body and shed blood (Lk 22:19-20). Through the blood of Jesus our sins are forgiven and we are enabled to serve God in fellowship on the basis of this new covenant. In this way God removed the obstacle of our sin, which prevents us from coming to God. Furthermore, this promise is to dwell with us through the Holy Spirit, who teaches us and enables us to live with God (Jn 16:13; Gal 3:14b). God would be their God, and they will be God’s people. They would know the LORD, from the least to the greatest (Jer 31:31-34). With the coming of this covenant, the old covenant has been made obsolete (Heb 8:13).
Jesus Called His Disciples To Be With Him…
Jesus said that the Old Testament pointed to him, and his salvation work in the gospel (Jn 5:39; Lk 24:44). Jesus is now the fulfilment of God’s desire to be with his people, revealing all we need to know about who God is, and therefore how to have a relationship with Him (Heb 1:1-3). While Jesus walked on earth, many people followed him and were served by him. From among them Jesus called and trained Twelve people as his disciples, as God had chosen Abraham and Israel. From this example all Christians learn how to follow Jesus as his disciples. So our study of Jesus’ discipleship is not primarily about methods and practice, but about timeless principles and the overall intention of Jesus in calling them. Wherever and whenever disciples are being called, this primary goal and purpose in discipleship applies. Therefore it is essential to understand in detail the meaning and purpose of being with Jesus.
The Meaning of Being With Jesus
Relationship with Jesus. What does the phrase: “Being with Jesus” mean? Fundamentally this means having a relationship with Jesus (Jn 15:5). From this relationship we grow to be like him by living together with Jesus: Following him, developing his value system, learning his heart. Jesus’ purpose, Jesus’ vision, becomes mine. His joys are my joys, his concerns my concerns. “Being with Jesus”, therefore, means more than just attending meetings or joining conferences. Also, it means more than just claiming a relationship with Jesus on the basis of Bible knowledge or my personal feeling. This relationship is real, tangible, and will impact and transform our practical lives. Such a relationship is ongoing and developing, as we grow in knowing him and becoming like him (Eph 4:13,15; 2Pe 3:18).
Love relationship through obedience. This relationship should be a love relationship between Jesus and his disciples (Jn 15:9). Jesus demonstrated his love for us through dying on the cross (Ro 5:8). His love for us is unconditional (Jn 3:16), sacrificial (Jn 15:13) and never fails (1Co 13:8). Based on his love, Jesus invites us to love him, responding to his love and developing this love relationship. The way to love is not by doing things for him according to our own idea (Mt 7:21-23). Rather, Jesus tells us to respond to his love by obeying his word (Jn 14:15). Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (Jn 14:23a). He also said, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (Jn 15:10).
Life-long commitment. Our loving response to follow Jesus is not only for a short period of time, but requires lifelong commitment. We see this in the example of the disciples. When Jesus called them they left everything and followed him to the end of their lives except Judas Iscariot (Mk 1:18, 20; 2:14b; 3:13b). To stay with Jesus daily was not easy, but they did so. Not only the outward situation, but our own fixed ideas can hinder our commitment to Jesus. Jesus made it clear that to be his disciples they need to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him (Mk 8:31-34). This is the commitment Jesus requires of all his disciples. This is not easy to do, but his disciples kept lifelong commitment to Jesus by the help of the Holy Spirit.
The Purpose of Being With Jesus
Jesus’ purpose of being with his disciples is to give them life to the full (Jn 10:10). He does this by transforming them from a self-centered life to a Jesus-centered life, one that is vibrant, influential, and growing. We can understand this view based on the following three points:
Jesus called his disciples to be with him…
...so that they may know him.
...so that they may have faith in him.
...so that they may witness to him.
These three are foundational, interrelated and also interdependent. We will look at them one by one.
Knowing him is to know who he is: his personality, character, thought world, desires, lifestyle. We know what he did, what he spoke, how he responds to situations. This was why he invited his disciples to come and be with him (Jn 1:38-39). Spending time with him every day, observing his lifestyle, hearing his teaching and interacting with him in his ministry gave them the unique privilege and opportunity to know Jesus very well. We have this same opportunity as we study the Bible and engage in ministry with Jesus. Knowing Jesus is more than just information and knowledge. He called his disciples to learn and follow his example, to do as he did, becoming just like him (Jn 13:13-15). Jesus served crowds with compassion, and then later taught his disciples to practice this compassion, saying, “You give them something to eat” (Mk 6:34). Although he was the Son of God, he humbly served, and taught his disciples to serve (Mk 10:45).
This goal of knowing Jesus: to become like him, is inline with God’s eternal purpose for discipleship, as Romans 8:29 reads, “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” This is a dynamic process of growth in grace and knowledge (2Pe 3:18). This is the primary point of proclamation, admonishing, teaching: Jesus himself, so that we may grow up in maturity in him (Col 1:28).
Jesus invited his disciples to know the meaning of his death and resurrection, teaching his suffering again and again and to follow this way of life (Mk 8:31,34; 9:12,31; 10:32-34). So Paul expressed his life goal of knowing Jesus and the power of his resurrection by sharing in his sufferings and becoming like him in his death (Php 3:10-11).
Therefore, knowing Jesus is a matter of inner transformation, not behavior management. From the inside out we act. Discipleship which does not focus on inner transformation may produce a well-behaved person, who is inwardly still sick. A person who really knows Jesus as he intended will first emulate his inner character: Love and forgiveness, humility and service, and then model behavior accordingly.
Knowing Jesus is related to faith in him. Our faith in Jesus should be grounded in his true identity, which we come to know through relationship with him. What kind of faith did Jesus want his disciples to have? Simply speaking, faith in him as the Messiah. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God with authority through his teaching (Mk 1:15, 22). He drove out demons with a word (Mk 1:25). He revealed himself to them as the Lord who calms winds and waves (Mk 4:40). Jesus healed the deaf and mute, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead and proclaimed good news to the poor (Mt 11:4-5; Lk 4:18-19; Isa 35:4-6; Isa 61:1). He revealed himself this way so they could confess him as the Messiah God promised in the Old Testament (Mk 8:29). This confession has eternal consequences (Mk 8:38). Faith in Jesus as Messiah is related to faith in what Jesus has done and is doing. Jesus the Messiah opened the only way to God. No one comes to God except through him (Jn 14:1,6). He is uniquely able to bring us to God because he is our mediator, between God and us (1Ti 2:5). Faith in him as Lord and confessing faith in his resurrection leads to salvation (Ro 10:9-10). There is no other Savior that God has given us except Jesus (Ac 4:12). The result of believing in Jesus brings eternal life (Jn 3:16). The content of all that we believe is from the Biblical witness (Jn 20:31). This interdependence between knowing and believing leads to a dynamic life of faith. One that is not stale and static, but growing and developing like a vine and branch (Jn 15:5), being made into Jesus’ image.
...so that they may witness to him.
Bible References: Lk 24:48; Ac 1:8; Mt 28:18-20; Heb 1:3b; Mk 13:26; 16:20; Ro 10:14-15; Ro 1:16
Content and basis of our witness: All that Jesus revealed to his disciples, what they came to know and believe through relationship with him, Jesus wanted them to share as his witnesses (Lk 24:48). Our witness to Jesus is not the biography of a dead man; rather we testify based on a living relationship with Jesus: who was raised from the dead, ascended to heaven, sat at God’s right hand (Heb 1:3b), will come again in power and glory (Mk 13:26), and sent the Holy Spirit in answer to his promise to be with us always (Mt 28:20).
Source of power to witness: There would be opposition from within and without. So Jesus told them to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come on them. Jesus said: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Ac 1:8). The Holy Spirit gives us courage, wisdom and strength to overcome difficulties and testify to Jesus.
The impact of our witness: On the basis of Jesus’ power and authority, their witness to Jesus would make disciples of all nations down through the generations (Mt 28:18-20). Jesus continues to work with his disciples (Mk 16:20), sending us as his Father sent him, with authority to give the message of forgiveness of sins (Jn 20:21,23). Our witness is so important as the way Jesus is working to save people today. We came to believe in Jesus through the witness of others. How will our generation come to know the saving work of Jesus, and be introduced to relationship with him, unless there are witnesses (Ro 10:14-15)?
Growing as witnesses: We learn more about Jesus as we witness to him, walking the direction he is going and doing the work he commanded. Our faith in him grows, as we experience the power of his gospel at work in our world (Ro 1:16), and this gives us more to witness to.
Jesus-centered life is therefore described as being with Jesus, for Jesus, through Jesus. He is working in all who follow him to transform them into his image as we know him, have faith in him and witness to him.
Being with Jesus in the Context of Community
From the tabernacle to the temple, to the new covenant to the church, God’s will for relationship was to be in the context of a community. In our western culture, we have a strong bias to individualism, which makes us emphasize “personal relationship with Jesus” while ignoring this basic truth about community. Individuals are to be united and built up together into a community, like stones built up into a spiritual house (1Pe 2:4-5). To ignore this important aspect of being with Jesus is dangerous, and aberrant. We don’t grow as disciples by ourselves, nor can we raise disciples by ourselves. This is done in the community where Jesus is at the center.
Individual disciples each have their own unique gifts, abilities, talents and character, as well as weaknesses and flaws, lived out in different experiences and life stages. It is Jesus who gave these unique gifts and is working in each one, equipping them for their own works of service. Jesus is the head of his body, and we are all members who are to respect and love one another (Eph 5:23,30). As we do so, the body of Christ may be built up until we all become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-13). Therefore our measure of success in discipleship should not be limited to the individual, but the overall health of the community of disciples, the body of Christ.
Jesus promised to be with us always to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20b). While Jesus was on the earth, this relationship was physical and geographical. That was short-lived, as Jesus had to die on a cross. But he promised his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans, but send the Advocate to be with them forever (Jn 14:15-20). After his ascension the early disciples experienced this relationship through the Holy Spirit, as recorded in the book of Acts, beginning at Pentecost. Down through the generations, Jesus has kept his promise through the Holy Spirit dwelling with his disciples even until today.
God’s ultimate plan is to have eternal fellowship with all his people, from all generations, in complete intimacy, for all eternity. Yet in each stage along the way, God is pleased to be with his people, who simply trust his plan and follow his instructions. We trust in the revelation of his plan to us, shown in Jesus Christ, and look forward to the ultimate completion of his plan. We may understand more than the Patriarchs and ancient Israel, but still we live by faith, not fully understanding everything. We trust in God’s plan, revealed in Jesus, and obey Jesus’ words: be with him, make disciples, and love one another.