Who Were the Disciples?
Jesus wasn’t a loner. He traveled with a dozen hand-picked followers who seemed to get things wrong more than they got anything right. They were ordinary guys, not experts in religion or philosophy, just fishermen and a tax collector and, uh, more fishermen. Frankly, for some of them we have no information but their names, yet they were still part of the original Team Jesus.
What was so important about these “disciples”? Why did Jesus pick them, and what can we learn from them today?
1. Teachers need students.
It was common for a Jewish rabbi (or teacher) to select a group of students who would live in the rabbi’s home and receive daily lessons. Jesus was no different, but as a traveling rabbi, he had to take his students along with him. Some scholars suggest that some of the disciples, then, were quite young, even teenagers. This might explain some of their behavior along the way.
2. Humanity is a team sport.
We were created to be in relationships. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, significant others, cube-mates, baristas—people need people. This was apparently true of Jesus, too. It’s one way we know he was fully human, and not just a hologram. He had authentic friendships with twelve guys from Galilee.
3. They were next-gen leaders.
This is scary, because we see very little leadership potential in the disciples—at least in the time they were running with Jesus. They bickered with each other, clambering for top billing; they promised more than they delivered; they asked the wrong questions, completely missing the point of Jesus’ teaching; they wanted to call fire from heaven to devour their enemies. (Yes, that last one is true.) And yet Jesus was grooming them as leaders of the Church that would develop after he left.
And as we follow their stories, we find Peter emerging as an adventurous leader and heading to Rome; John becoming a wise elder statesman in Ephesus; even “doubting Thomas” taking Jesus’ teaching to India and beyond. Ancient tradition has other disciples going far north, east, west, and south with the message of Jesus.
4. They’re portals for us.
Ever said anything you regretted later? Then you’ll love Peter, who took foot-in-mouth disease to a whole new level. Are you hot-tempered, wishing you could make lighting strike the tailgating car behind you? Meet James and John, nicknamed “The Sons of Thunder.” If Jesus selected these struggling disciples to learn from him, then there’s hope for you. There’s hope for all of us. These people, as seriously flawed as they were, give us entry into Jesus’ story. As he teaches them, he’s teaching us. As he’s forgiving them, he’s forgiving us.
It’s amazing, when you think about it, that the Bible portrays the disciples with such brutal honesty. These stories came from those disciples themselves! Apparently they realized that the power of Jesus’ teaching came not from the brilliance of the learners, but from the transforming love of the Teacher.
By Randy Petersen