|The Barnabas Ministry
Two Calls in the Ministry of
Consider the following passage from the beginning of Jesus' ministry:
And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men (Mark 1:14-17)."
Often, these two calls are merged together, but it is clear from this passage and throughout the gospels that these two distinct and different calls existed in the ministry of Jesus. Recognizing this distinction will help us understand both more clearly. Let us first examine the call of "followship" in the gospels, and afterwards the call of the gospel.
Disciple = Follower
The Greek term maqhth;" (mathetes, meaning "pupil, disciple") and its cognates are used 237 times in the gospels. The vast majority—220 instances— are used to describe Jesus' disciples. A verb cognate of "mathetes," maqhteuvw ("matheteuo", make a disciple) is used to refer to the making or training of disciples. This term is used rarely in the New Testament but does appear in one of the more well-known passages on the topic, Matthew 28:18-20.
In the gospels, the term "disciple" is almost always used to refer specifically to the twelve apostles. This is especially seen in Jesus sending out "The Twelve" in the limited commission:
When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee (John 4:1-3).
When the eleven apostles sought to replace Judas they proposed two men that were apparently part of this larger group of disciples (Ac 1:21ff).
Because of the lack of precision of the term "disciple" in the gospels, we should speak of "followship" in discussing those who actually followed Jesus physically.
Followship Was For
Jesus called men to accompany him for the express purpose of training them to carry out his mission of reaching the world with the gospel.
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. And He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach (Mark 3:13-14).
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables… With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything (Mark 4:10-11, 4:33-34).
And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest (Matthew 9:36-38)."
And having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. … These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near (Matthew 10:1, 10:5-7).'"
And ordering the multitudes to recline on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the multitudes (Matthew 14:19).
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?"
He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
He said to him, "Tend My lambs (John 21:15)."
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:45-48)."
As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world (John 17:18).
Faith and Obedience in the
Ministry of Jesus
Faith and obedience are regular themes in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Typically, the object of faith in the gospels is Jesus, his identity as the Messiah, and his message; the object of obedience is the command of Jesus through the gospel:
Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21).
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:10-12)."
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).
For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14-15).
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).
Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
For example, Jesus said the faithful apostles were saved (Mt 19:28, cf. Jn 17:2, 17:12). Jesus said Zacchaeus was saved (Lk 19:9), he also forgave the sins of some individuals (e.g. paralytic in Mt 9:2, sinful woman in Lk 7:48). Lastly, Jesus also made a promise about Paradise to the thief on the cross (Lk 23:43). These do not relate to "following Jesus as a disciple" but to faith and repentance (in the cases of Zacchaeus, the sinful woman and the thief) and pure grace (the faith of those carrying him, in the case of the paralytic).
Except in the case of the apostles, there is no connection between "followship" and salvation; followship was not in view in the pronouncement of forgiveness or salvation.
Followship and "Taking up
The apostles have been considered "prototypical" Christians, as though all Christians needed to follow in their footsteps. The apostles certainly had things to their credit, having "left everything to follow" Jesus (Mt 19:28). But there is another side to the story of the apostles, and we must consider it if we are to understand followship and "true discipleship." Let us consider the most significant aspects of this discussion: the "taking up of one’s cross" (the ultimate aspect of followship), and then apostolic faith.
Here is the definitive "taking up
the cross" passage from each of
synoptic gospels in parallel form:
|Matthew 16:16- 28||Mark 8:27-9:1||Luke 9:18-27|
Jesus came into the
district of Caesarea
Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, "Who do people say
the Son of Man is?"
And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
went out, along with His
to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His
disciples, saying to them, "Who do people say that I am?"
And they told Him, saying, "John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets."
And He continued by questioning them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered and said to Him, "Thou art the Christ."
|And it came
about that while He was
alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying,
do the multitudes say that I am?"
And they answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again."
And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God."
|And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."|
warned the disciples that
tell no one that He was the Christ.
From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.
warned them to tell no one
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly.
|But He warned them, and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day."|
took Him aside and began
Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to
But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
took Him aside and began
But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
|Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?||And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?||And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?|
|For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."||For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.|
|For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS."|
|"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."||And He was saying to them, "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."||But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."|
This matter of "taking up one’s cross" runs head-on into the Messianic expectations of the period, as Jesus’ remarks are given in the context of a discussion of his destiny and their expectations. Clearly the masses expected a king (ref. John 6:15, 18:37) to expel the Romans. Consider the words of F.F. Bruce regarding Messianic expectations in the first century:
At the time, however, when to most people 'Messiah' was the
warrior who would lead his people to victory over their Gentile
it was natural that Jesus should warn Peter and the other apostles not
to repeat in public what they had said about his being the Messiah. But
he said more than that: according to Mark, it was from now on that he
to tell his disciples that, far from attacking and overthrowing the
of Rome, he himself would be repudiated and put to death. When Peter
him to stop talking like that, he insisted that this was the path of
will for him, and added that those who were still determined to follow
him must realize clearly what lay ahead for their leader, so that they
might count the cost for themselves and be prepared one day to carry a
cross to the place of execution as he was prepared to carry his. (F. F.
Bruce, ibid, p. 186-187).
But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. …
And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory (Luke 24:21, 25-26)?"
And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)?"
The sayings about bearing the cross form part of warning the
to count the cost (see the context of Matt. 10:38 and Lk. 14:27). This
is coupled with the warning that a servant is not above his master
10:24, cf. Lk. 6:40, Jn. 13:16, 15:20). Moreover, the saying common to
all three Synoptic Gospels occurs in the context of Jesus'
of Peter's confession of him as the Christ. For Jesus the inevitable
of being the Christ is suffering, death and the opposition of men.
therefore, those who associate with him as the Christ are liable to the
same fate. (Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament
Theology, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1975. Volume I, pp. 403-404).
Followship and Faith
Another significant failing of the disciples is the persistent lack of faith. In one case, the faith of a centurion is praised and immediately afterwards the lack of faith of the disciples is revealed (Mt 8:5-10, 23-27). This persistent problem with the disciples' faith is one of the prominent themes of the gospels (e.g. Mt 14:31, 16:8, 21:21, 28:16, Lk 24:25).
The point here is not to criticize the disciples, but to help us understand the important differences between followship and faith; "taking up the cross" and true discipleship. Hebrews 11:1 says: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Followship had very little to do with faith—faith in what is seen is not faith! Jesus' remark to Thomas at the apex of the gospel of John speaks volumes in this regard:
Discipleship in the Early
Per their training and commission from Jesus, the apostles were charged with taking the gospel to all nations:
Language difficulties aside, Jesus clearly wanted the Eleven to win converts from the Jews and Gentiles alike, to baptize them and teach obedience to his commands. This is exactly what the early church did. How they did it, how they viewed it and how they talked about it sheds great light on the shifting concepts of discipleship in the church age.
Disciple = Believer!
The first time the members of the early church are referred to collectively, they are referred to as "believers."
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them (Acts 4:32).
And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of
women, were constantly added to their
number (Acts 5:14).
|Church, Congregation, Added, Together (7)||2:41, 2:47, 4:23, 4:31, 4:32, 5:11, 5:14|
|Believers (4)||2:44, 4:4, 4:32, 5:14|
The change in terminology makes a lot of sense, since there was no physical Jesus to physically follow after Jesus' resurrection and ascension into heaven. This change reflects the change in the concept of discipleship in the church age compared to the earthly ministry of Jesus. Discipleship shifted from the "follow me" call in Jesus' earthly ministry to 1) believing the message about Jesus as the Christ (Ac 2:38, 5:42, 8:12, 9:22) and 2) becoming a part of the church through baptism (Ac 2:41).
Faith and Obedience Were
the Expected Responses to the Gospel
The expected responses to the gospel were faith and obedience, specifically repentance and baptism. To the hearers on the day of Pentecost, the expectation of the apostolic message was "repent and be baptized" (Acts 2:38). These became known as "believers" (Acts 2:44) who had been "added to their number" (Acts 2:41, 47).
The next few times respondents to the gospel message are discussed, they are referred to by their believing response to the gospel of the Messiahship of Jesus and being added to the church, as we saw above. As the church pushes on its missionary efforts to other parts of the world, these same ideas keep appearing again and again:
Pct of NT
|Remainder of NT||
Another approach might be to
consider the various means of address
the epistles, since it is easy to skim the introductions of the letters
and see how the churches were addressed in context.
Corinthians 1:2, 2 Corinthians
1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, Philemon 1:1-2,
Child in the Faith (3)
1:1, Philippians 1:1,
2 Peter 1:1
1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4
|Saints (5)||Romans 1:7, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2|
|Called/Chosen (4)||Romans 1:7, 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2 John 1:1-2, Jude 1:1|
|Brothers (2)||Colossians 1:2, Philemon 1:1-2|
|Loved by God (2)||Romans 1:7, Jude 1:1|
Of course, there are limitations to the conclusions one could draw from these types of evidence, but the trend to move towards "believer" terminology and away from "disciple" terminology is still overwhelmingly clear.
The introduction to Romans is especially interesting because it ties together many of these concepts:
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark (Acts 12:25).
And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:42).
But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them (Acts 17:34).
And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas (Acts 20:4-5).
The Distinction between the
Call of Discipleship and the Call of
The proclamation and expectation of the gospel changed from the days of the earthly ministry of Jesus to the church age. During Jesus' earthly ministry, he called disciples to follow him as a means to equip them for meeting the needs of others. He also taught about salvation through belief and obedience to his commands.
The early church proclaimed the gospel of Jesus being the Christ. The expectation of the gospel was belief, obedience (namely, repentance and baptism) and becoming a member of the church. The concept of "discipleship" in the sense of physically following Jesus was completely obsolete, since Jesus had ascended into heaven and could no longer be "followed." Yet, those believing in Jesus as the Christ, obeying the gospel and becoming members of the church were still known as "disciples," just as the followers of Jesus during his earthly ministry were known.
The Power of Faith
Drawing attention to the severely neglected concept of faith in the church age is not to say that the early church somehow practiced a lesser "commitment" to Jesus than those followers during his earthly ministry. The book of Acts readily testifies to their tremendous commitment. But this commitment was based upon faith.
Nor is the call to faith an attempt to minimize the concepts of repentance and baptism, which clearly have their place. The point is that faith is the key and foundation to the rest.
People with real faith live according to their beliefs, since a lifestyle in harmony with those beliefs is the only logical alternative. The heroes of the first century, as in all times, endured hardship and persevered because of faith, not because of "commitment:"
Copyright © 1999 John Engler. All rights reserved.