The heart of the Gospel is the kingdom of God. I did a series on this and wrote that the kingdom is present. It gives life and is grounded in relationships. The kingdom of God is available to all and requires that we follow Jesus in our whole lives. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to be his disciple, his apprentice in kingdom life. He did not spread his message in a book or a series of podcasts. He was never a guest on Good Morning Israel, never released a series of hip videos. The kingdom life was imbued in the lives of Jesus’ followers through the relationship of rabbi and disciple.
Jesus was a rabbi, a spiritual teacher. We often think of him as someone who strolled out of Nazareth into the life of the Messiah and rarely pause to consider the cultural and physical realities of the world in which he walked and taught. Based on what we see in scripture, Jesus was an itinerant sage. He traveled, taught in people’s homes, relied on the support of others, and had a group of people who followed and learned from him. Over and over he was called by the title “rabbi,” which means teacher. The language he used, the way he lived, taught and called people to follow him line up with the life of a rabbi.
Jesus certainly took seriously the Mishnah’s encouragement to make many disciples. There were the twelve apostles who were his closest students. There were another seventy-two that he sent out to spread his message. (Luke 10:1) The story of his miraculous feeding of the five thousand demonstrated that many came to listen to his teaching, and that they would travel a great distance to do so. (Matthew 14:13-21) Many hearts were stirred by Jesus’ kingdom vision and chose to be his disciple in order that they might walk into the kingdom life.
What does this mean for us today? Does Jesus expect us to be his disciples today, and if so how can we be expected to follow someone who is not physically present with us anymore? There is no doubt that Jesus expects us to be his disciples in this day and age. His final word before his ascension into heaven was to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make converts of all people.” He didn’t tell us to make sure we believe in him or have the right theology. Jesus said that we are to make disciples of all people. His desire is that the same disciple-teacher relationship he had with his followers would mark our lives as well. So, practically speaking, how do we do this today? How do we follow Jesus when he is not bodily present with us today?