On Being a Disciple Thoughts on Mark 1 & 2

  1. Jesus used the words “follow me” when calling the apostles. What was it about this calling that was different from other callings?

Mark describes Jesus calling five of the twelve apostles in the passages 1:16-20 and 2:13-14.  For Andrew, Simon, James, John, and Matthew, the call resulted in an immediate following (1:16-20).  The calling of Matthew did not use the words “immediately” (CSV) or “at once” (NIV). However, there is a sense that Matthew quickly left his tax collecting business behind (2:13-14).  By uttering the words “Follow me” (1:17; 2:14), the apostles left what they were doing and attached themselves to Jesus and his ministry.  While he did not use those words for James and John, Mark did state that they were called (1:20).

There are several reasons that the words “follow me” were so powerful.  First, let’s look at the Greek term Mark chose – οπισω which can mean behind, after or following.[1]  The call was specific – “come after me” or “come behind me.”  Apparently, Jesus was calling the disciples to walk with him in an exclusive relationship.  What is interesting is that Mark did not use the word ακολουθεω which he did use when calling others to follow him in a way that included sacrifice (8:34; 10:21).  It was not that the apostles were to escape sacrifice.  Far from it.  But the following that Jesus called them to was as a teacher calling students.  Jesus was calling the disciples to learn and live with him.

It leads to the second point.  The call to follow was an aberration to how teachers (rabbis) and students interacted.  In Jesus’ time, rabbis had schools, and those schools were full of students.  However, the rabbi never called students to him; the students applied to learn from the rabbi.[2]  By contrast, Jesus, with power, calls these men to be under his tutorship and authority. This was going to be a different relationship.  Learning was not going to be from books or in a school.  Learning under Jesus was going to involve going after, “fishing” as it were (1:17), for people and ushering them into His kingdom.  All five disciples left businesses and lifestyles to follow the Master who called them to ministry.


  1. What is the difference between an apostle and a disciple?


For many people, the terms “apostle” and “disciple” are interchangeable terms referring to the twelve selected followers of Jesus.  However, just before Jesus ascended, after his resurrection, he commanded those twelve (and others) to make more disciples (Matt. 28:19).  The term disciple is also used to describe the twelve not only after they had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:13) but also while they were with Jesus (Mark 2:15, 16, 18, 23).  As for the term “apostle,” Paul, a convert after Jesus’ passion and ascension, was not one of the original twelve, yet took the title (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1 plus others).  Apostleship is also a title ascribed to Jesus by the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 3:1).

For Mark, an apostle (αποστολος) is one who preaches, casts out demons (3:14; 6:12-13) and heals (6:13).  Mathew and Luke also use the word in their narrative in commissioning the twelve (Matt. 10:2; Luke 6:13).  Luke goes an extra step and separates the twelve Jesus chose to be apostles from the rest of his followers – disciples (Luke 6:13). This would lead us to believe that more than just the twelve were following Jesus and were labeled “disciples.”  But only the twelve were called to be “apostles.”  Αποστολος refers to a follower, messenger, or an envoy.[3]  The word is closely associated with αποστολη which is an office of ministry (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1 et al.).[4]  Disciple (μαθητης) is used in reference to a follower, but more of a student as opposed to an ambassador.[5] The word is far more common in the Gospels than αποστολος in reference to those that followed Jesus.  In most cases, the use of μαθητης is when his followers are learning from Jesus either by instruction (Mark 4:34; Matt. 5:1; Luke 6:17-20) or demonstration (Mark 8:10).  Therefore, the twelve were both apostles and disciples.  They were emissaries for Jesus as well as followers.


To be a disciple of Jesus is more than just embracing the grace that he gave through the cross.  Mark 1:16-20 and 3:13-19 show five men who left everything behind to follow him.  The first four left an average life of fishermen, and Matthew left a sinful life of a tax collector.  There must be something more than just believing that would cause these dramatic reactions to Jesus’ call.  But the first move is to follow.  When the Holy Spirit softens our hearts, and we accept the free gift of salvation, we are commissioned to be disciples of the Savior.  We are to grow and learn through the foundational tripod of Christian living: scripture study, prayer, and fellowship.  However, as we grow in our faith, more is demanded of our discipleship.

Mark recounts Jesus’ commissioning the twelve apostles for ministry in 6:7-13.  They were to go forth and do the work that Jesus was doing: preach, cast out demons, and heal the sick.  Because there is a difference between the office of apostle and the status of a disciple, an initial inclination may be that this was just for those who are explicitly called to that office.  However, looking at other passages, the call to ministry is to all who call themselves disciples.  Luke 10:1-12 uses parallel language to describe the calling of seventy-two men for the mission.  They are not labeled as apostles but are given the same basic set of instructions.  Matthew 28:19 calls all the followers to go and make disciples from all nations.  Mark’s recounting of the Great Commission (16:14-18) includes various miracle working along with evangelism (although this passage does not appear in earlier manuscripts).


What this means is that no follower of Jesus, whether they were with Jesus as one of the twelve, one of the disciples that surrounded him, a member of the early church, or a follower of Jesus today, is exempt from working to increase the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of. Not everyone does this in the same way, as Paul speaks of in 1 Cor. 12 – 14.  But, being a disciple means that we are commissioned to do ministry to the areas, and the people God calls us to.   Not all are called to be apostles, but all are called to be disciples.  Being a disciple is more than just learning at the feet of the Master, but going and doing what he did in order to build his Kingdom.  Jesus doesn’t just call disciples to the confession of truth, but he calls them to active, specific, kingdom building ministry.

[1] The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible: New International Version (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Pub., ©1996), 2098.

[2] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed. Vol 9 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006-©2012), 713.

[3] The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible: New International Version, 2057.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 2092.

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