The word disciple comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means learner. Disciple also means follower. The first disciples were chosen to follow Jesus and to learn from him. The original disciples were the twelve apostles or messengers. They represent the twelve tribes of Israel who were chosen to go out into the New Israel and preach the Good news. These men were from ordinary ways of life and not from any particular religious background, such as priests. For instance one was a fisherman, one a tax collector and another a zealot.
All followed Jesus without question leaving their jobs and their families to go with him and spread his work. Come with me and I will teach you to catch men” Mark 1:17. Jesus taught them they were expected to do God’s will and their role was unimportant as long as they spread the Word. They had endure great hardship to follow the path they were chosen for. In many cases families were split as many could not understand their beliefs and a great deal of self-sacrifice was necessary, especially as they were treading new ground. The early disciples needed to know what came first, family or Jesus. Peter says “we have left everything to become your followers” and Jesus responds by promising a rich reward for those who give up their family for his sake.
Mark 10:28 -30. They had to have tremendous faith and strength of character. As time went on many disciples were persecuted and killed for their beliefs. The first disciples were breaking new ground and had to learn as they went along. They needed blind faith in what they were doing and it was first hand knowledge of Jesus himself that gave them their courage and strength but, unlike to day, they had something more tangible to follow as Jesus was flesh and blood and could lead by physical example.
The early disciples were all called to follow on an equal basis but they had to give everything and follow immediately. They were taught that this did not mean they would be alone as they would be part of a much larger family which included Jesus. The early disciples had very human failings. This is described best in Mark’s Gospel possibly because he personally knew many of the early disciples and the other gospel writers came later, after the first followers had died. Mark saw them as men rather than heroes. One example of this is in Mark 4:38 and Luke 8:24 in the stilling of the storm.
Mark tells of the disciples asking “Do you not care” Luke leaves this out possibly because the idea that the disciples would question Jesus would seem top disrespectful. Mark’s earlier accounts of the first disciples is probably the most accurate as they would have had human failings as they were ordinary people trying to carry out an extraordinary job. They had failings like everyone else and even at the Last Supper Jesus told them they would all fall from their faith which horrified them but when he was arrested they all fled showing their human frailty.
They were not super-human and their faith was always being tested. The lesson shown here was that if Jesus choose men with failings then their was hope and forgiveness available for all and gave the disciples the common touch that their followers could understand giving encouragement to the Church that followed them. The job of the first disciples was to spread Jesus’ words and to set up the first Church regardless of personal cost. They needed to have faith, humility, love for children, fidelity in marriage and they must receive the Kingdom of God like a child.
These were the same then as they are now but in to day’s society many interpretations are brought to bear and the earliest disciples had a simpler path to follow not only did they have first hand knowledge of Jesus but a far less complicated path to follow. For instance the question of fidelity was a much clearer issue then. The early disciples set an example of what was expected of discipleship in the centuries to come and their main purpose was to spread the word of God.