Bible Study

The Twelve Disciples

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These Twelve Jesus Sent Forth

The instructions which Jesus gave to his twelve disciples when he sent them on a mission of preaching and healing are preserved in their fullest form in Matthew 10. They are detailed and explicit. Jesus told the twelve where to go, what to preach, and how they should use the power with which they had been newly endowed. He gave precise guidance for their conduct during their missionary tour.

To these instructions he added certain statements foreshadowing the rejection of his message, the persecution of his followers, and the consequent disturbance of family loyalties.

The disciples were naturally slow to grasp the ideas of rejection and persecution. Though some among them had heard John the Baptist refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God, they had not interpreted that as requiring death at the hands of his enemies. They were satisfied that Jesus was Son of God and Messiah of Israel, and they looked for the early establishment of his kingdom.

His words and actions were consistent with one who had been divinely selected for that high office. Not only the disciples but the people were astonished at his doctrine. In the Sermon on the Mount he had contrasted certain rabbinical interpretations of the Law with his own precepts. In the cleansing of the temple and his reference to his Father’s House, and in his self-designation as the “bridegroom” and “Lord of the Sabbath”, he had used phrases which implied certain tremendous claims. Nor was it only in controversy with his opponents that he had employed language which set him apart from ordinary men. In addressing those on whom he had conferred some benefit, or in stating the conditions of discipleship, he frequently used language which was understandable only if he were acknowledged as the channel through which salvation comes to men. Thus to the palsied man he said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee”, indicating that he, in his own person, possessed the power of granting or of withholding forgiveness; and on entering the house of a publican he said, “To-day is salvation come to this house”.

Throughout his ministry Jesus uttered many sayings in which the same high claims were implicit. Even in his weeping over Jerusalem they were evident. “If thou hadst known . . . the things which belong to thy peace. For the days shall come that thine enemies shall lay thee even with the ground . . . because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation”. He himself had preached there. It was in rejecting him that they rejected the things which belonged to their peace. In the prophetic words of Zacharias the dayspring from on high had visited them to give light to those in darkness, and Jesus, identifying himself with that dayspring, said that they knew not the time of their visitation.

But if in these and other comparable sayings the disciples perceived the true measure of Christ’s pre-eminence, they must also have searched their own hearts, enquiring what standard of spiritual excellence must apply to the disciples of such a man, and what were the conditions of discipleship.

The claims which Jesus made were nowhere more striking than when he stated the conditions of discipleship, and as his claims were high, so the conditions which he imposed were correspondingly severe.

In the charge which Jesus gave when he sent forth the twelve, he emphasized that if they aspired to follow him they must act in accordance with the principles which he had taught in the Sermon on the Mount. As they had then heard him speak, so must they now translate those precepts into practice in their own lives. If he had then said: “Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth”, and had exhorted them on the worthlessness of money, so he now said: “Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses”. If in the Sermon on the Mount he had said: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on . . . Take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself”, so he now said: “Provide no scrip for your journey, neither two coats, nor yet staves”. If in the Sermon on the Mount he had said: “Salute not your brethren only”, so he now said: “When ye come into an house”—whether you know the occupants or not—“salute it”. But he also drew their attention to something else.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had not only given expression to high ethical teaching. He had also shown a foreknowledge of his own rejection. In the last of the Beatitudes he had said: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. He had immediately made this statement intensely personal by adding: “Blessed are ye when ye are persecuted for my sake”. Thus Jesus had indicated that his message, and he personally, would be unpopular to the point of persecution. Further, that his followers would share that persecution, and in so doing would qualify for a heavenly reward. In these statements there is at once a high claim on the part of Jesus, and a severe test of discipleship. The announcement that endurance of persecution for his sake would qualify for a heavenly reward could have been made by no ordinary man; and discipleship undergoes its severest test when measured by reaction to persecution and tribulation. Yet from the form in which Jesus expressed himself it is clear that a disciple must expect and be prepared to endure persecution should it befall him.

So to the twelve, as he sends them forth, Jesus reinforces this teaching of the Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues . . . and ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved”.

Persecution was not to damp their enthusiasm. In the Sermon he had said that they were the light of the world—a city set on an hill that could not be hid—“let your light so shine before men . . . that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven”. Therefore now he says: “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops, and fear not them which kill the body . . .”.

Their discipleship, so far from guaranteeing them immunity from persecution, would be the cause of persecution. Though in special circumstances and for special purposes they might receive divine guidance and protection, as for example when it was given them what to say before councils and governors, this would not prevent scourging, nor ultimately death. For it is clear from the context that Jesus warned his followers that death might be the penalty of their allegiance to him.

In the words of Jesus, it was enough for the disciple to be as his master, and the servant as his lord. Jesus himself was not free from any of the trials which confronted his followers. He did not use his miraculous powers to ensure for himself comfortable conditions, for he suffered from weariness and had not where to lay his head; nor to provide food, for he suffered hunger and thirst; nor did he compel obedience to his commands, for his message was addressed to those who had ears to hear. In no way did he use his powers on his own behalf, but accepted the role which God had appointed for him. And the duty of his disciples was to follow the example so nobly set.

The claims which Jesus makes on his disciples elsewhere are equally searching and equally indicative of his high position. The genuineness of his claims once granted, it must be acknowledged that the single-hearted allegiance which he required was a reasonable condition of discipleship: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple . . . Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple”. These unparalleled claims are coupled with the promise of divine reward: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it”.

The disciples were to count their present possessions as nothing. The love they bore to friends or kindred must be as nothing compared with the love they bore to Christ. Their very lives must be accounted nothing if their allegiance to Christ placed them in jeopardy.

These claims of Christ did not exhaust themselves in the immediate circle of those who were contemporary with him. They remain permanently valid. Thus Jesus counselled the twelve to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. The apostle Paul echoes his words when he exhorts the Romans to be wise unto that which is good and simple concerning evil. Similarly he has the words of the Lord Jesus in mind when he writes to Timothy: “If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him; if we suffer we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us”.

The lesson therefore applies to the believer of all ages. Although Jesus does not walk among us, we hear his words and benefit from his example. He who early in his ministry said to his disciples: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, said to them at the end of his ministry: “Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations, and I appoint unto you a kingdom”.

In his messages to the churches and to the saints of all ages he indicates that he is still conscious of those who bear tribulation, and have patience, who labour for his sake and do not faint; as also he exhorts others to fear not the things which they shall suffer, but be faithful unto death, knowing that he will give a crown of life.

Our allegiance to Christ is therefore based on the same fundamental truths as was that of the twelve men to whom Jesus gave his charge. The conditions of our discipleship are the same. We look for no present reward. We give thanks to God for what protection and immunity from persecution He in His mercy provides, but we do not presume upon it. The measure of our endurance is the measure of our faith. Our hope is fixed, not upon avoidance of tribulation, but upon the fulfilment of His promise whereby we look for new heavens and a new earth.

In answer to the question—“Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with”, the two disciples answered: “We are able”. For that answer we can have nothing but admiration. The firmness of our resolve to follow Christ should be modelled upon it, and by it we should measure the quality of our own discipleship.

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