The Heart of Jewish Discipleship (Part 1)*

The heart and core of Jewish Discipleship is the art of imitation!! In Luke 6:40, our Rabbi Jesus said, “Every disciple, after he has been fully trained, will be like his Teacher.” When the disciple was fully trained, he became a carbon copy of his teacher, a mirror image, an exact replica. He then passed on the teaching to disciples of his own, who in turn, when fully trained, became teachers and raised up disciples of their own. Discipleship was much more than just learning some elementary principles in the faith, like we typically do today. The goal of a 1st century, Jewish disciple was to become fully trained so that he could become just like his teacher. A true disciple was expected to be able to repeat his Master’s teachings word for word! He was expected to live in such a way that was a mirror image of his teacher. That was at the heart of Jewish discipleship.

How it Worked

In the days of Jesus, all young boys (and in some cases girls) were taught by their local rabbi the Torah and the Prophets beginning at age 5; meaning that at age 5, they began to memorize the Torah and the Prophets! The first things they memorized were, 1) the Shema (Dt. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Nu 15:37-41). 2) They would also memorized the book of Leviticus. Why Leviticus? Because it’s about holiness.

Every day they would rehearse the Scriptures and their rabbi’s teachings until it came to them by rote memory. At the age of 12, after 7 years of memorizing the Bible, girls would be taught be their mothers how to be godly women, wives and mothers. Boys were apprenticed to craftsmen, usually their fathers. Some became carpenters, some stone masons, some farmers, and others fishermen; but those that were exceptional in their studies of the Scripture were apprenticed to a rabbi. That disciple’s trade was to become a rabbi. He would leave his home and move in with the rabbi. He studied everything about him! Not just his thoughts on the Scripture, but he studied his marriage, how he parented his children, his business affairs, the way he judged certain cases, the way he treated others—everything! It was the belief of the rabbi that the Torah affected every aspect of life, so the disciple would learn to imitate his Master’s disciplined life in order to become like him. That was Biblical discipleship.

More Than a Teacher

To a disciple, his Master was more than just a teacher. In fact, a disciple’s Master was regarded more highly than even his own father. This was because even though an earthly father brought him physically into the world in which they lived, the rabbi was able to usher him, spiritually, into the World-to-Come, or Paradise. So the rabbi became a new, sort of surrogate, father to the disciple and those disciples became his well-trained sons.

When one was searching for the lost property both of his father and of his teacher, his teacher’s loss took precedence over that of his father since his father brought him only into the life of this world, whereas his teacher, who taught him wisdom [i.e., Torah], brought him into the life of the World to Come. But if his father was no less a scholar than his teacher, then his father’s loss took precedence…. If his father and his teacher were being held captive, he must first ransom his teacher, and only afterwards his father—unless his father is himself a scholar and then he must first ransom his father. (m. Bab. Metz. 2:11)

That’s how serious the rabbi/disciple relationship was taken. It’s not that the disciple’s family was abandoned, but his family loyalties took second place to his Master. If that sounds familiar, listen to the words of our Rabbi Jesus:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:26)

Really, that was not a new concept. The language of “hate” used in this verse is not hatred like we think of it today. Jesus is using an ancient Hebrew idiom that demonstrates comparative language. In other words, the love for the Master must be so great, that all other types of love, even love for family (usually our strongest love), must look like hatred by comparison. Each and every one of us is called to this radical practice of discipleship! We are not disciples of Jesus just because our family has a strong Christian tradition. We are not disciples of Jesus just because we regularly attend church, were baptized, go to youth group, or attend a small group. We can only be a disciple of Jesus if we’re willing to relegate all our normal, earthly affections for family, friends, etc., to the status of hatred when compared to our love of Jesus and the priority that he has in our lives!

As I end here, I want to ask you to prayerfully consider these questions and discuss your answers with a friend(s):

  • Why don’t we practice the kind of discipleship today that I just described?
  • Do you consider yourself to be a disciple of our Rabbi Jesus?
  • If your answer is “no,” or you’re not sure, what is it in your life that is currently preventing you from answering His call to follow Him as His disciple as you now understand what that means?
  • What do you intend to do about that? Whatever that may be for you, ask one or two friends to hold you accountable and to ask you regularly how that’s going.

In closing, would you do me a favor? Please, let me hear from you. What’s one take away you got from this teaching? I’d love to know. And please consider subscribing to Equip 4:12 so you know when the next posting is up and ready and so you can take advantage of the free download I have for you as my way of saying thank you. If you like what you heard, please share this with a friend.

Now may the love and grace of God fill you and guide you each day. May you daily surrender to, and be filled with, the Holy Spirit. And may your heart constantly be filled with joy and gratitude over what our Lord, Savior and Rabbi Jesus, the Messiah, has done for you.



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