A taught one, a learner, a pupil. The Hebrew word for a disciple (lim·mudhʹ) basically refers to one who learns, is taught, or is trained. (Compare Isa 8:16, ftn.) The related word mal·madhʹ denotes a “goad” used to train cattle. (Jg 3:31; compare Ho 10:11.) The Greek word ma·the·tesʹ (disciple) primarily denotes one who directs his mind to something.
In the Greek Scriptures we read of disciples of Jesus, of John the Baptizer, of the Pharisees, and of Moses. (Mt 9:14; Lu 5:33; Joh 9:28) Jesus’ first disciples came from among the disciples of John. (Joh 1:35-42) The 12 chosen as apostles are called disciples at Matthew 10:1 and 11:1. In a wide sense the word “disciple” applied to those believing Jesus’ teaching, at least one of such being a secret disciple. (Lu 6:17; Joh 19:38) However, in the Gospel accounts it usually applies to the body of intimate followers of Jesus who traveled with him on his preaching tours and who were taught and instructed by him. The principal application of the term is to all those who not only believe Christ’s teachings but also follow them closely. They must be taught to “observe all the things” Jesus commands.
Jesus’ purpose in teaching his disciples was to make them like himself, preachers and teachers of the good news of the Kingdom. “A pupil is not above his teacher, but everyone that is perfectly instructed will be like his teacher,” Jesus said. (Lu 6:40) The effectiveness of Christ’s teaching was proved by subsequent history. His disciples continued in the work he had taught them and made disciples throughout the Roman Empire, in Asia, Europe, and Africa, before the close of the first century. This was their principal work, in accord with Jesus Christ’s command at Matthew 28:19, 20.
That Christians to this very day are obligated to make disciples of the people of the nations is made clear by the closing words of Jesus’ command: “And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” They are not making disciples for themselves, as those taught are really disciples of Jesus Christ, for it is the teaching, not of men, but of Christ, that they follow. For this reason the disciples were by divine providence called Christians. (Ac 11:26) Similarly, the prophet Isaiah had disciples but not for himself. Isaiah’s disciples knew Jehovah’s law, and with them the testimony of the law resided.
Being a disciple of Jesus is not the taking of a course of ease in life. Jesus did not please himself, but he followed a path that involved the greatest resistance from the Devil and his agents. (Ro 15:3) He said that his disciples must love him more than their closest relatives on earth and even more than their own souls. They must love their Christian fellow disciples. They must bear spiritual fruitage. A person who wants to be a disciple of Jesus has to take up his torture stake and follow the path that Christ traveled. In doing this, he will have to “say good-bye to all his belongings,” but he will receive many more valuable things now, with persecutions, and with everlasting life to come.