Rabbi was a scholar or teacher of Jewish religion. People considered Jesus as a rabbi and often addressed him with that title. He had disciples like other Jewish teachers. However, the discipleship of Jesus was different.
Bibles documents people who had disciples. The Pharisees, during the public ministry of Jesus, considered themselves as disciples of Moses (Jn 9:28) because they were students of the Law. Isaiah (Isa 8:16), John the Baptist (Mt 9:14; Lk 7:18; Jn 1:35-37; 3:25), and Pharisees had disciples (Mt 22:16; Mk 2:18; Lk 5:33). However, the disciples of Jesus were not mere listeners, but were his committed coworkers and successors to continue his mission.
DISCIPLES OF JESUS
TWELVE APOSTLES: Out of the twelve tribes of Israel, Moses selected one representative from each tribe to investigate secretly the situation of Canaan (Num 13:1-16) before invading that region. Jesus also selected the same number of apostles as the pillars of his church, the new Israel. However, they were not from the twelve tribes of Israel. They gave up everything and followed him full time.
David selected tribal leaders to represent the twelve tribes for efficient administration (1 Chr 27:16-22). When Jesus started his public ministry as Son of David, he reestablished the rule of the twelve princes through the twelve apostles he selected on the mountain. This showed the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom in a new form.
Jesus commissioned the apostles to continue his mission in the world. After his resurrection, “Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Mt 28:18-20). Since Jesus considered his church as the new Israel, he said to his apostles, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28).
AN INTIMATE GROUP OF THREE APOSTLES: Out of the twelve apostles, Jesus had an inner circle of three. They were Peter, James, and John. Jesus allowed them, excluding others, to accompany him when he raised Jairus’ daughter (Lk 8:41-56), to the mountain for transfiguration (Mt 17:1-2), and to the Garden of Gethsemane for prayer before his arrest (Mt 26:37; Mk 14:33).
SEVENTY (72) DISCIPLES: When Moses felt overburdened with leading the Israelites, God asked him, “Assemble for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be elders and authorities among the people, and bring them to the tent of meeting. When they are in place beside you, I will come down and speak with you there. I will also take some of the spirit that is on you and will confer it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you. You will then not have to bear it by yourself” (Num 11:16-17). Jesus also selected seventy (72 in some manuscripts) disciples, shared his authority to preach and heal (Lk 10:9) sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit (Lk 10:1).
The seventy (72) disciples shared their experience with Jesus. They were rejoining when they said to Jesus,
“Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name” (Lk 10:17). Jesus affirmed it replying, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky” (Lk 10:18). Jesus assured them more power and protection (Lk 10:19). He promised their names are written in heaven (Lk 10:20).
Besides these specially designated apostles and disciples, Jesus had other disciples and followers (Jn 6:60). Those who could not agree with his teaching left him. “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn 6:66). There were women disciples who supported Jesus and his team for their survival (Lk 8:2-3; Mk 15:40-41). The secret admirers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took care of the burial of Jesus (Jn 19:38-40). When the disciples of Jesus gathered after the ascension of Jesus to select a successor for Judas Iscariot, they were 120. More must be there in Galilee because Jesus worked more there.
Jesus told the Jews who believed in him the condition for becoming his disciple, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples” (Jn 8:31). According to Paul, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12:4-7). Regardless of whatever be our position in the family, church, or society, Jesus wants our service as his disciples. Let us serve God and his people in the name of Jesus.