The Spectrum of Discipleship

As we will see, Yeshua established a high standard for His original twelve disciples—and yet there were other disciples in the first century who did not meet the same high standard Yeshua established. But how was that possible? To understand the answer to this question (and what it means for us today) let us look at what scholars call the law of first mention (or first use theory).

The law of first mention tells us that the first time a concept is introduced (or a commandment is given) in Scripture, it establishes a standard, or a precedent. All later variations will be judged by this standard. One obvious example of this is marriage. In Genesis 2, marriage was established as one man and one woman, married together for life (as one flesh).

B’reisheet (Genesis) 2:23-24

23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

While there are certain conditions where polygyny (plural wives) is lawful (and even commanded), it was not Yahweh’s original intent. There is always a certain spiritual and physical cost associated with polygyny, because it deviates from the original standard of one wife for life. Even celibacy (which is in other ways an exalted ideal) carries certain costs, in that it is not good for human beings to be alone (because that deviates from Yahweh’s original pattern).

Another example of the law of first mention is how, during the conquest of Canaan, Yahweh commanded that all spoils of war were to be utterly destroyed.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:23-26

23 But Yahweh your Elohim will deliver them over to you, and will inflict defeat upon them until they are destroyed.

24 And He will deliver their kings into your hand, and you will destroy their name from under heaven; no one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them.

25 You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it; for it is an abomination to Yahweh your Elohim.

26 Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.

However, during the conquest of Jericho, Achan the son of Carmi took forbidden spoils, and kept them for himself. This sin caused Israel to be defeated by the men of Ai. When this was discovered, Achan was put to death for disobeying Yahweh’s command.

Yehoshua (Joshua) 7:18-26

18 Then he brought his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

19 Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to Yahweh Elohim of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

20 And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against Yahweh Elohim of Israel, and this is what I have done:

21 When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it.

23 And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before Yahweh.

24 Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor.

25 And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? Yahweh will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.

26 Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So Yahweh turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.

Achan’s punishment for disobedience shows that the wages of sin is death. After Yahweh set this standard, He later allowed the children of Israel to keep the cattle and the spoils of war, so long as they destroyed the enemy king, and his city.

Yehoshua (Joshua) 8:1-2

1 Now Yahweh said to Joshua: “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.

2 And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves. Lay an ambush for the city behind it.”

Modern militaries follow this same pattern when they set high standards for discipline during basic training. The standard of discipline can be relaxed once the recruits arrive at their unit, but if there are ever discipline problems, the standards can be reintroduced very quickly.

While most scholars realize the law of first mention plays out all through the Tanach (Old Testament), few realize that it also plays out in the Renewed Covenant (New Testament), with regard to disciples. In Luke 14:26-33, Yeshua tells us that in order to be His disciple we must hate our lives and our families, and bear our own burdens. We must also literally lay down our lives in this world, forsaking all that we have.

Luqa (Luke) 14:26-33

26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

27 And whoever does not bear his cross [or stake] and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it —

29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,

30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?

32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.

33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

When Yeshua invited the disciples to follow Him, they immediately dropped their nets (i.e., their lives in the world), and began seeking to help Him further His spiritual kingdom. This is a perfect expression of the law of first mention, in that it establishes a perfect high standard.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 4:18-22

18 And Yeshua, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Shimon called Kepha, and Andrei his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.

19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

21 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. He called them,

22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

Likewise, Yeshua told the rich young ruler that before he could enter the kingdom of Elohim, first he had to give up all of his physical possessions. He had to show that he valued the things of the Spirit more than he valued anything in the material world.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:16-30

16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, Elohim. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” Yeshua said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’

19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

21 Yeshua said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 Then Yeshua said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Elohim.”

25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

26 But Yeshua looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with Elohim all things are possible.”

27 Then Kepha answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”

28 So Yeshua said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.

30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Other believers did something similar when they sold their excess lands and goods, and laid the funds at the apostles’ feet, to be used for ministry.

Ma’asei (Acts) 4:34-35

34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold,

35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

While some of the early disciples were required to sell all of their possessions, other disciples only had to sell excess houses and lands. This makes sense, in that most of the disciples were married, and they still needed a place to house their families (and guests).

Ma’asei (Acts) 21:16

16 Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.

In fact, at least one of Yeshua’s disciples was rich, and did not sell all of his things.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 27:57

57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Yeshua.

How can we understand these seeming contradictions? According to the law of first mention, the original twelve disciples met Yeshua’s perfect standard. They literally forsook all their physical possessions, and spent the rest of their lives seeking to further His kingdom. However, after this perfect standard was established, it was then relaxed, so that those who were not called to forsake all worldly possessions could still serve, to whatever extent they felt led.

Christian scholarship commonly applies the following four principles to discipleship:

  1. Memorize Yeshua’s words (learn)
  2. Apply Yeshua’s words to one’s life (apply)
  3. Imitate Yeshua (conform oneself to His words)
  4. Make more disciples (replicate oneself)

To apply these principles 100 percent, we must lay down all of our physical possessions, join the order of Melchizedek, and spend the rest of our life actively building Yeshua’s kingdom. However, even if we do not feel led to this extent, we can still apply these four principles to our lives. The reward is not as great, but this is how Joseph of Arimathea could still be a disciple without laying down all of his wealth. He simply applied these principles to the degree he felt led.

How can we know how much Elohim wants us to give to Him? The answer “simply give everything” is not necessarily correct. The correct answer is to pray, listen in the Spirit, and obey what we hear. If we do not abide in His Spirit (breath), then we are cut off from Him, and are of no use to Him. The key principle is to breathe, pray, and listen.

Yochanan (John) 15:4-8

4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

If we pray and listen and obey what His Spirit (breath) tells us to do, then we are His disciples, to whatever extent (and in whatever capacity) He leads us. We are to do as we honestly feel led, knowing that we are answerable to Elohim alone.

Yeshua was a celibate Nazirite who laid down His time, His possessions, and His life to help bring back the lost and scattered children of Israel from their apostasy. He did not live His life for Himself, but for His brothers and sisters in Israel. He spent His life furthering His Father’s kingdom here on earth. Because Yeshua’s mission was to give all that He had, and because He followed through with His mission, His reward (and His love) is complete.

But what then shall we say about Avraham, or King David? Would they have received a better reward had they been celibate Nazirites? No, in truth they would have received less of a reward, because they would not be walking the path Yahweh chose for them. We should all be glad they did not try to be celibate, when Yahweh had called them to be fruitful and multiply, or else none of us would be here today.

What we see, then, are two legitimate paths for disciples. One is to join the priesthood full time, laying down all one’s physical possessions, and going on the mission field (in whatever nation one is called). The other legitimate path is to raise up children in the way they should go, while supporting the priesthood financially, and also conducting local outreach. When the priesthood works internationally, and the rest of the disciples work locally, together we can bring more believers to Yeshua. We discuss this in more detail in Fulfilling the Great Commission.

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