From Fishermen to Devout Women
"And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26).
What kind of individuals become disciples of Jesus? What relationship does Jesus have with all of his disciples? Let us consider some of the scriptures which record Jesus’ interactions with his disciples during the time of his first advent (from 30 AD to 33 AD). This may help us gain a better understanding and appreciation of his relationship with all of his disciples, from the beginning of his earthly ministry, down to our present day.
When Jesus began his earthly ministry, "the people were in expectation" of him (Luke 3:15). However, they were waiting for someone totally different from Jesus. Most Israelites were expecting a person having the appearance of royalty and high rank. After all, Messiah was to be of the royal tribe of Judah, and from the royal lineage of David.
Brother Russell noted the following.
"Had Jesus been an imposter, he would have been flaunting on every possible occasion his royal lineage. ... On the contrary, we find Jesus was ‘meek and lowly of heart,’ not boastful, nor self-obtrusive. Thus we see all the more why Jesus attractedspecial characters for his disciples, and why he failed to attract the masses.
"We see it was God’s design that Jesus should attract to himself as disciples the meek and lowly of heart, the reverential, and the sincere. And that Jesus would more or less repel the worldly wise and most of the religious rulers of his day.
"These same principles of attraction and repulsion have existed throughout the Gospel Age and are still operative. ... Throughout the Gospel Age, those who have been the true disciples of Jesus, ‘forsaking all to follow him,’ have been relatively few in number, and ‘not many great, not many wise, not many learned, not many noble according to the course of this world, but the poor of this world, rich in faith’ " (Reprint 3483).
Responding to the Invitation
Twelve of the early disciples of Jesus were chosen as apostles. What is the difference between a "disciple" and an "apostle?" In the New Testament "disciple" is from the Greek wordmathetes (S3101), and means "a learner" or "pupil." The root word means "to learn" (S3129). "Apostle" comes from the Greek word which means "a delegate," "an ambassador of the Gospel" (S652). This root word means, to "set apart" or to "send out" (S649).
A disciple of Jesus is a pupil or student of Jesus’ teachings and example, whereas apostles were individuals specially chosen by God from the group of disciples. These were "sent out" by Jesus in groups of two, in order to preach to the nation of Israel. Apostles were, therefore, also disciples of Jesus, but disciples were not all apostles.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John
"Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fisherman. And he said to them,Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him" (Matthew 4:18-22 NASB). Notice the reaction of Peter, Andrew, James, and John when Jesus called out to them and said, "Follow me." They immediately left their fishing business to follow Jesus. These four fishermen became disciples, and were later called out as apostles. Jesus must have appreciated how these four men did not hesitate to leave their business in order to follow him.
There were other fishermen who also became apostles. In fact, seven are mentioned in John 21. "Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will also come with you’ " (John 21:2-3 NASB). Why did so many fishermen become apostles? Was there something particular to the occupation of fishing? The Christian morning devotional Daily Heavenly Manna comments on Matthew 4:19. "Perhaps there was something peculiarly helpful in the fishing business — something peculiarly like the great work in which the apostles were to engage the remainder of their lives. Our Lord intimates this in his call. Fishing requires energy, tact, proper bait, and that the fisherman keep himself out of sight. And these four things are requisites in the spiritual fishing in which the Lord privileges us to engage."
The Female Disciples
Not all of Jesus’ disciples were men. Some of the more precious disciples of Jesus were women.
"Soon afterwards, [Jesus] began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve [apostles] were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means" (Luke 8:1-3 NASB).
We are not told explicitly just what these precious women disciples of Jesus contributed. Perhaps they provided and prepared food and/ or clothing and other such things to help Jesus and the apostles. Surely Jesus appreciated such kindness and generosity shown to him.
Jesus’ seamless robe was so highly regarded and admired by the Roman soldiers that they cast lots for it. It has been suggested that this seamless garment beautifully represented Jesus’ perfection, and may have been a gift from one of these noble women disciples (Reprint 2316). If so, Jesus would have surely appreciated such a gift.
Which disciple of Jesus had the privilege of being the first to speak with him after his resurrection? It appears to have been Mary Magdalene.  Why?
Mary was part of the group of women from Galilee that followed Jesus and the twelve apostles, as Jesus preached from city to city (Luke 8:1-3). Luke 8:2 tells us that Jesus healed Mary Magdalene from seven demons. She was also part of the group of women who were present while Jesus was being crucified (Matthew 27:55-56). She was part of the group of women who followed Joseph of Arimathea to see where the tomb for Jesus was located and to see how Jesus’ body had been prepared as it was placed in the tomb (Matthew 27:61). She was part of the group of women who, after returning home from the tomb, prepared spices and ointments to more thoroughly embalm Jesus’ dead body after the Sabbath. It appears that none of Jesus’ disciples initially recalled his words that he would be resurrected from the grave. "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day" (Matthew 16:21 NASB ).
On the third day, Mary Magdalene and two other women went early in the morning, while it was still dark, to Jesus’ tomb (Mark 16:1, John 20:1). What love and determination they must have had in coming to Jesus’ tomb alone, and somehow, in some way, they could get the massive stone rolled away in order to enter the tomb! They ignored the thought that Jesus’ body would stink, after being in the tomb parts of three days. Just a few weeks earlier, when Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha replied, "Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days" (John 11:39).
When the women arrived at the tomb, they found the stone already rolled away. Upon finding the tomb empty, they ran back to tell Peter and John (John 20:2). Peter and John ran to the tomb, and after finding the tomb empty, Peter and John returned home (John 20:10).
But Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, and wept (John 20:11). We see Mary’s deep, heart-felt sadness. Not only had Jesus died, but now his body was gone and she would not be able to more properly prepare it with spices and ointments.
"And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away’ " (John 20:12-15 NASB).
Again, Mary Magdalene showed great love and determination that somehow, she would find the strength to carry away the dead body of Jesus, if given the chance!
"Jesus said to her, Mary!" Our Lord Jesus revealed himself by speaking her name in an old, familiar way. "She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabboni! (which means, Teacher)" (John 20:16 NASB).
How quickly Mary’s faith understood that it was Jesus. "With a woman’s intuition she stopped not to inquire why there were no marks of the nails on his hands and feet; instead she cried out, Master!" (Reprint 2478).
Then Jesus told her to go to the brethren and tell them he was resurrected (John 20:17- 18). Jesus appreciated Mary Magdalene’s faith, devotion, love, and determination. And so Mary Magdalene was given the privilege of being the first to see and speak with Jesus after his resurrection. She was also given the duty of announcing to the disciples that Jesus was alive again. What an honor for one of such lowly beginnings. One lesson we can draw from this account is that our Lord Jesus is fully aware of, and appreciates, his disciples’ faith, devotion, love, and determination, shown toward him and toward his other disciples. He will reward each one accordingly.
The Courage to Question
Another disciple and apostle of Jesus was Thomas. At first we might only remember his initial skepticism when told that Jesus had been resurrected. But such a description of Thomas would be incomplete. The scriptures record other earlier events in his life that show him as a loyal and courageous disciple of Jesus.
John 11:14-16 (NASB) says, "So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.’ Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, so that we may die with him.’ " On this occasion, Thomas displayed such courage and loyalty that he was willing to go with Jesus even if it meant death. He encouraged his fellow disciples to do the same. Jesus must have appreciated Thomas’ heart.
On another occasion, Jesus said "I go to prepare a place for you ... I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going" (John 14:2-4 NASB). Thomas then asked Jesus, "Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?" (John 14:5 NASB). Jesus went on to answer Thomas’ question (John 14:6-7). In that interchange we see a lesson for us. When we meet together in Bible study or fellowship we should not hesitate to ask our questions regarding the scriptures. Let us have the courage like Thomas to seek out the truth, unembarrassed at what others may think. Most of the time we will receive an answer to our questions and the answer will likely be a blessing to others as well.
Responding to Correction
Now, let us examine the case of Paul. Why was Paul selected as an apostle, even though he was not a direct witness of Jesus’ 3½ years of earthly ministry?
"Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him; ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he [Saul] said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’ " (Acts 9:1-5 NASB).
We notice that Jesus considered Saul’s persecution of his disciples as if he were persecuting Jesus himself. Here, and other places in the scriptures, we see how Jesus views his disciples. He describes them as members of his own body (1 Corinthians 12:12- 27). When we suffer persecution or mistreatment because we are following Christ, our Lord feels it — and he sympathizes with us.
Acts 22:10 (NASB) records Paul’s reaction to this statement from Jesus: "And I [Saul] said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ " Saul immediately realized that his persecution of the early church was entirely the wrong course. What an honest heart he had! Jesus responded, telling Saul what he should do in Acts 9:6 (NASB), "but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do."
"Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank" (Acts 9:8-9 NASB). Saul must have felt such a deep remorse for his persecution of Jesus’ disciples that he refused to eat or drink. Had the Lord not intervened, perhaps Saul would have even died from starvation or dehydration.
"There was a disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, ‘Ananias’ ... And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.’
"But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to your saints at Jerusalem.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake’" (Acts 9:10-16 NASB).
The Lord told Ananias that Saul was a chosen "instrument" (or "vessel" in KJV). The word "chosen" comes from S1589, ekloge, and it means "a divine selection."
"So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.’ And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food, and was strengthened" (Acts 9:17-19 NASB).
The Lord sent Ananias, a humble member of the early church, on this important mission. Ananias was not an apostle. If he was an elder or a deacon in the early church we know not. But he was a disciple who was ready and willing to do God’s service. We see that the Lord is able and willing to use in his service any humble disciple who has a ready and willing heart.
The Lord chose to replace Judas with someone who very few of us (perhaps none of us) would have chosen, as an apostle — Saul of Tarsus, someone who energetically hunted down, beat, and imprisoned the disciples of Jesus. Brother Russell noted that, "Saul of Tarsus, the bitter enemy of the Lord Jesus and his followers, was, at the same time, a zealous servant of God; and his persecutions of the truth, as he himself assures us, were undertaken and prosecuted with zeal, because he thought that thus service" (Reprint 2968).
A brother noted in a discourse, "While Saul of Tarsus had been 100% wrong, he was also 100% sincere." Paul’s sincere desire to serve and honor God was shown by his prompt obedience, as soon as his mental eyes were opened. We are told in Acts 9:20 (NASB), "Immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’"
Brother Russell noted, "Saul was peculiarly fitted by birth, by education, and by temperament, for the service which the Lord chose for him. He was a chosen vessel and one of large capacity. And yet he was only a vessel. The good things that vessel was to carry were the divine message of love and mercy. So it is with all the called ‘members’ of the church. We are merely vessels. The excellency, the merit, the worth, is of our Lord. We are merely servants to him and to his church" (Reprint 4356). As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB), "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves."
Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, on the night when he was to be betrayed, while on the way from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was especially thinking of and praying for his disciples instead of himself.
John 17:6-23 (RSV) reads, "To the men Thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word ... I am praying for them ... Keep [S5083, to guard from loss or injury, to watch over] them in thy name ... that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name ... I have guarded them ... I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world ... keep them from the evil one ... Sanctify [S37, to make holy, consecrate] them in the truth; thy word is truth ... I have sent them into the world ... I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who believe in me through their word ... that they may all be one ... I in them, and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one."
In conclusion, let us respond immediately when the Lord provides us an opportunity to serve him and his disciples (as did Peter, Andrew, James, and John).
May we have such love and determination that we will serve Jesus and his disciples in whatever way we can, even if, at first, it seems to be an impossible task for us, or something we feel inadequate to do (as Mary Magdalene).
May we have the courage to ask our questions regarding scripture, in front of others (as did Thomas). If in some way we have either not been following, or incorrectly following, the instructions given to us in the scriptures, and the Lord "opens our eyes" to our error, may we promptly obey the scriptures and sincerely desire to serve and honor the Lord (as did Saul).
When we suffer persecution or mistreatment because we follow Christ, let us remember that Jesus feels for us and sympathizes with us.
As we prepare our hearts and minds to partake of the Memorial, may our examination of these scriptures help increase our understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ relationship with all of his disciples, from the beginning of his earthly ministry, down to our present day, and until the last member of his body has been found faithful unto death.
(1) S3101 means Strong’s Concordance, word number 3101.
(2) Another reasonable approach concludes that the women who came with Mary Magdalene on the first trip to the tomb were actually the first to encounter Jesus. John 20:1,2 records Mary’s first visit to the tomb the morning of the resurrection. This is the same visit that Matthew 28:1 refers to. However, Matthew — and also Mark (16:1) — mention that other women were with Mary Magdalene on that first visit.
Matthew 28:9 tells us that Jesus appeared to those other women as they left the tomb after that first visit. It is apparent from the John account that Mary Magdalene was not with them at the time, for when she came back to the apostles, and gave her report, she still had not seen Jesus personally. Mary Magdalene was younger than the other women, and in her haste she probably outpaced the others. Thus she was not with them when Jesus appeared to the others. Evidently, therefore, it was those other women, and not Mary Magdalene, who were the first ones to see Jesus alive after his resurrection. (Mark 16:9 says otherwise, but that passage is widely recognized as spurious.)
Mary Magdalene saw Jesus during her second visit to the tomb, while she lingered after Peter and John had departed