It may surprise some that the twelve were not the only disciples of Jesus during His earthly ministry. A fresh look at the life of Jesus reveals that He built an extended discipling community in Galilee beyond His twelve men.
Although the gospel writers do not give us a direct description of this community, they do provide indirect references to its existence. Evidence is found here in Luke 6 when Jesus calls together His followers and selects from that larger group the twelve disciples.
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:12-16).
Although we have no indication of the total number of disciples following Jesus, we do know that it is a group larger than twelve and included women.
Another glimpse of this wider discipling community of Jesus is found in Acts chapter 1. Judas has committed suicide, so the eleven disciples who were left decided to fill the vacancy. The criterion for Judas’ replacement was that he was to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry and to have been a witness of the resurrection. What is fascinating to me is that there was a group of candidates for the position, and the eleven then narrowed it down to two finalists. This tells us that there were more disciples around Jesus during His entire ministry in Galilee that was broader than twelve we think of. Luke writes:
“‘Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’ So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias” (Acts 1:21-23).
Some closing observations:
- Making disciples occurs on three levels: one-on-one, a small group, and a broader discipling making community.
- The optimal environment to make disciples of Jesus is in community.
- As a discipler it is OK to have an inner circle with whom you spend more time than with other disciples.