[Gr., ma·the·tesʹ, a taught one, a learner].
In the Greek Scriptures we read of disciples of Jesus, of John the Baptist, of the Pharisees and of Moses. (Matt. 9:14; Luke 5:33; John 9:28) Jesus’ first disciples came from among the disciples of John. (John 1:35-42) The twelve 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. (Luke 6:17; John 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 but follow closely Christ’s teaching. They must be taught to “observe all the things” Jesus commands.—Matt. 28:19, 20.
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. (Luke 6:40) The effectiveness of Christ’s teaching was proved by subsequent history, his disciples continuing in the work he had taught them and making 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. (Acts 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.—Isa. 8:16.
Being a disciple of Jesus is not the taking of a course of ease in life. Jesus did not please himself, but followed a path of greatest resistance by the Devil and his agents. (Rom. 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. One 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-by to all his belongings,” but he will receive many more valuable things now, with persecutions, and with everlasting life to come.—Luke 14:26, 27, 33; John 13:35; 15:8; Mark 10:29, 30; see CHRISTIAN.