Episode 12: Everyone knows that Jesus had twelve disciples but many would be surprised to find out that the institution of discipleship existed centuries before the time of the apostles. In episode twelve viewers will gain a better understanding of what it means to be a disciple from the understanding of Judaism in the days of Messiah. Jesus tells us that “Every disciple fully trained will become like his teacher.” Indeed, to be a Christian means to be a disciple of Jesus, a student responsible for learning and becoming like one’s rabbi.
-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 12: Raising Disciples
The Lesson: The Mystery of the Meaning of Discipleship
Whenever we consider being disciples of Christ, most of us in the church probably think that means being believers in Jesus. However, according to First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki, it’s really much more. But how much more? What does it really mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
Toby first spends a lot of time in this episode showing the audience what discipleship meant in Judaism in the late Second Temple period; during the earthly lifetime of Jesus:
The disciples of Yochanan and the disciples of the Prushim would often fast, and they came and said to him, “Why do the disciples of Yochanan and the disciples of the Prushim fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
–Mark 2:18 (DHE Gospels)
Here we see that not only did Jesus have disciples but that John the Baptist and the Pharisees had disciples. In fact, all of the teachers or Rabbis in all of the streams of Judaism in that day had disciples. But we still need to understand what it is to be a disciple in general and a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth in particular.
To me, a lot of the information presented about discipleship wasn’t a great revelation since I’ve been exposed to it before, but it may be that some Christians believe only Jesus had disciples and that he only had twelve of them. This, of course, is not correct:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.
–Luke 1:10 (ESV)
While some translations say that seventy were sent out and others say seventy-two, Toby says that from the context in the rest of this chapter, those sent out were also disciples of Jesus. This illustrates how common disciples were in that day and age. He also cites Acts 9:36 to illustrate that women were disciples, Acts 6:1 and 6:7 to illustrate how there were many, many disciples, and Acts 11:26 to show that there were both Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus.
According to Toby, the word “Christian” is used only three times in the Bible, but the words “disciple” and “disciples” relating to followers and students of Jesus were used many times. Perhaps it’s more accurate to call ourselves disciples of Christ rather than Christians. But then again, that would depend on the meaning of disciples and discipleship. Which brings us to our first clue:
Clue 1: All early believers of Jesus were called disciples.
But going back to the question I just asked and the question Toby repeatedly asks, we need to understand how Christ’s original Jewish audience and the first Jewish readers of the Gospels would have understood discipleship. To get the answer, we turn to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel.
Aaron provides a great deal of background information on early Jewish discipleship including the fact that discipleship predates Jesus by quite a bit. Discipleship was considered the primary method of higher Jewish education, but it wasn’t just a matter of going to school and studying different subjects. A disciple was a student but specifically, a student of a Torah teacher. In the days of Jesus and before, when a young man thought he wanted a life of Torah learning, he would apprentice himself to a Torah master, however, this apprenticeship might not be what you imagine.
A disciple was to be a learner/imitator. He would memorize all of his Master’s teachings, learn to imitate his Master’s style of dress, mannerisms, inflections of speech. The disciple in some ways considered himself a servant or even a slave to his Rabbi, his “great one.” In some ways, he thought of himself as a son to a Father, but the Rabbi was considered greater than the disciple’s biological Father. Disciples were tremendously devoted to their Masters, more so than to their own families or even their own lives. And so it was with the disciples of Jesus, their Master and ours.
Back in the studio, Toby describes the concept of discipleship as a job description.
A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.
–Luke 6:40 (NASB)
That the disciples of Jesus were imitators of their Master and memorized his teachings is the reason why we have the Gospels today.
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
–1 Corinthians 11:1 (NASB)
Here we see that Paul considered himself a disciple of Christ as his imitator, and he suggests to the readers of his letter that they should imitate Paul. Were they then Paul’s disciples? I’ll answer that in a bit, but we have arrived at our second clue:
Clue 2: The primary job of a disciple was to be like his teacher.
Even the Pirkei Avot or “Ethics of our Fathers,” a set of Jewish teachings that predated Jesus says, “Raise many disciples.”
A Rabbi’s job was to create a new generation of disciples who would learn everything from the Rabbi and about the Rabbi and then, when they were fully trained, the disciples would become Rabbi’s themselves, raising up their own generation of disciples in order to preserve the Torah teaching and wisdom of their own Master. This process would be repeated from one generation to the next with the goal of creating an unbroken line of discipleship, generation by generation, that would preserve the teachings of Torah for each Teacher, often by establishing great schools such as the Houses of Study of Shammai and Hillel. This maps well to Matthew 28:19-20 where Rabbi Yeshua instructed his Jewish disciples to raise up a generation of disciples from the people of the nations, which the Church often refers to as “the great commission.” However, as we’ve seen, the idea of “the great commission” hardly does justice to what Jesus was actually commanding.
Now we have arrived at the third and final clue:
Clue 3: The job of a disciple was to raise up more disciples.
But here Toby introduces a strong caveat:
But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
–Matthew 23:8-12 (NASB)
This set of verses has often been misunderstood or just not understood at all. Does this mean we shouldn’t have respect for our Bible teachers and Pastors? Here’s where having a Jewish perspective on the New Testament comes in especially handy. According to Toby, this is Jesus defining the difference between the relationship of Jewish disciples to the Sages and disciples of Jesus, our Master, to himself.
Remember, the purpose of discipleship was to learn all there was to learn from your Master and then to establish your own House of Study in your name passing on what you originally learned. Your disciples would be taught in your name, not in the name of your own Master, and your disciples would teach in their own names, not in yours (actually it was more like, “I teach you in the name of my Master, who taught in the name of his Master,” and so on).
Jesus said his disciples would be different. Each Torah Master would eventually age and die, but his teachings would be preserved in his disciples and in each generation of disciples that followed. Jesus is alive! We hear this enthusiastically declared every Easter or Resurrection Day in Church. James, Peter, and Paul were not to set up their own houses of study and teach in their own names by making their own disciples (in spite of what we saw relative to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1). They were not to raise up disciples for themselves but instead, they were and we are to raise up disciples for our Master, our one and only Master, Jesus the Messiah, Yeshua HaMashiach.
What Did I Learn?
I learned the meaning behind Matthew 23:8-12 which I tended to ignore in the past because I couldn’t figure it out. It makes a lot of sense now. I used to think that we inherited a broken system of discipleship since the teachings of Jesus were never transmitted generation to generation in the manner we have seen described in this FFOZ TV episode. Now I realize that it was by design, since we were never intended to be the students of any Master except Jesus. He is our only teacher, our only Torah Master. This does not mean we shouldn’t respect any Bible teacher or Pastor in our Church, but we must always remember that none of them take the place of Jesus. If we see a group of believers who esteem their Pastor or spiritual leader as anything approaching our true Master, then there is something wrong (and sadly, such situations make an appearance the news media from time to time, usually as scandals involving some highly public and popular religious leader).
I also thought of some questions as I was watching this episode and in fact, I was reminded of some of the narratives of Toby from other episodes that involve how he commonly introduces himself. He says that he isn’t Jewish but rather a Gentile who practices Messianic Judaism. It isn’t always apparent, but he usually wears a kippah while on camera (A kippah is a head covering typically worn by religious Jews either just in synagogue or during their waking hours, depending on their level of observance).
What is the difference between being a Gentile who practices Messianic Judaism and a Gentile who practices Christianity? More importantly, how do these two “states” relate to being a disciple of Christ, our Master? Since this television show was created to present the Gospels and Jesus Christ to a more traditional Christian audience by introducing a more Jewish perspective and interpretation, what does that say about the level of discipleship and imitation of our Master relative to “Messianic Gentiles” and Christians?
This question is especially important to me, since it factors into how I think of myself as a disciple of the Master by calling myself a Christian and attending Church. One of the motivations for me to return to Church after an absence of many years was the book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile written by FFOZ president and founder Boaz Michael. Have I become a better imitator of my Master by following this template of church attendance and Christian affiliation or a worse one? At some point in the near future, as the one year anniversary of my returning to Church comes near, I plan to write one or more “meditations” on the application of Boaz’s Tent of David in my life and the results I see so far.
Closely related to this situation, Toby also didn’t drill down into something that I think it’s vital to know. When we say that a disciple of Christ is an imitator or Christ, just exactly what are we imitating? This isn’t an idle question. Many in the Hebrew Roots movement insist that discipleship means imitating the Jewish Jesus in every aspect of his Judaism, including wearing kippot (plural of kippah) and tallitot (plural of tallit) and to otherwise look and act in a manner identical to modern religious Jews (in spite of the fact that Jesus isn’t a “modern religious Jew,” but rather, he was an ancient Jewish Rabbi and he is the Jewish Messiah King).
The clue that may lead to an answer was provided at the end of this episode by Boaz Michael who appeared on camera and said that next week (episode 13), the topic would be how the Torah is the foundation of Messiah Yeshua’s instructions to his disciples. How can the Torah be applied to both the Jewish and Gentile disciples of our Master?
I’m hoping my review next week will help answer these questions.
Today is Hoshana Raba, the last day of Sukkot. Lord, please abundantly save us. Candle lighting for Shmini Atzeret is tonight at sundown. God, continue to be with us.
5 thoughts on “FFOZ TV Review: Raising Disciples”
Non-Jews of a Hebrew Roots persuasion imitating modern religious Jews may present some problems, but those who attempt to imitate what they perceive as ancient Jewish practice instead often present even worse ones when they also presume that their supposedly ancient practice is in some way superior to modern Jewish practice. I haven’t read Boaz’s “Tent of David”, so I’ll ask if he addresses in it the implications of Is.56, and if so, with what recommendations for modern non-Jewish praxis?
I’d have to say “yes,” PL, if you mean relative to salvation. I re-read the various blog posts I wrote commenting on Tent of David and that, plus my memory of my recent reviews of the FFOZ TV show tell me that the primary message Boaz wants to transmit to “the Church” both via his television show and the “Tent of David” returnees to traditional Christianity is the vision of the scriptures through a more “Hebraic” or “Jewish” lens.
The “imitation” of Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master isn’t particularly at the same level as we might imagine Chassidic disciples, who would dress identically to their Master, imitate his vocal inflections, gait, eat his favorite foods and so forth. First off, as you say, imitating the finest details of the behaviors of a Rabbi who lived and died (and was resurrected) 2,000 years ago would be quite a challenge for anyone, and imitating modern Jewish religious behaviors doesn’t make a Jewish disciple out of a Gentile Christian.
I can only conclude that the level of our (by “our” I mean Gentile disciples) imitation isn’t at the micro level, but within a sort of common framework that Jewish and Gentile disciples can share. These would be, in part, to imitate the behaviors Messiah taught about, such as giving charity, feeding the hungry, displaying humility, and so on. Also, relative to salvation, we disciples must see that the message of Messiah was more than a simple plan of personal salvation, but a corporate mission to encourage and support Jewish return to Israel as well as Jewish return to Torah.
Getting back to “Tent of David,” Gentiles who are “Judaically aware” in the church act as sort of “ambassadors” representing a particular point of view within a traditional Christian framework, illustrating how it is possible to view the scriptures differently, sometimes in a very fundamentally different manner, still be true to the meaning of the text, and showing how Jewish people and Judaism (via the Jewish Messiah) holds the keys for opening the connection between the people of the nations and God.
What I don’t believe imitation means is for people like me to start wearing a kippah and tallit katan while out and about, being obnoxious to Christians about what they eat and how they mow their lawns on Saturday, and believing we are imitating our Master and being good disciples.
I forgot to add that, as the episode stands, some Christians might get the wrong idea about discipleship and imitation since the practice of Jewish and Christian behavioral distinctions and identity were not addressed. That said, episodes tend to build on one another and those concepts may be brought out in future shows. Then again, the information being presented is supposed to be at an elementary level and FFOZ might be trying to avoid any sort of controversy in their presentation to a Christian audience with little or no knowledge of Messianic Judaism.
Sorry, I didn’t understand the beginning of your reply about “relative to salvation”. I asked about implications of Is.56 for non-Jews (if mentioned in “Tent of David”); and the only mention of salvation in this chapter is in its first verse which mentions that it is near to come (i.e., soon to come) and that this is a justification for guarding justice and doing what is right. Much of the chapter addresses the commendable position of foreigners who have joined themselves to HaShem, keeping Shabbat and clinging to His covenant (which implies some involvement with Torah, though possibly only in the generic sense that you describe). While these might possibly be converts to Judaism, I think there would not be such an emphasis on their being foreign if they had done so, nor would HaShem have invoked the notion in verse 7 of His house of prayer as being for all peoples.
I do understand that the TV episodes are at an elementary level that minimizes the likelihood of controversy, I wondered if “T-o-D” might have elaborated more or addressed the issues of HR vs. MJ praxis.
Sorry. I haven’t gotten much sleep the last couple of nights, so I’m a little “foggy.”
The emphasis of TOD wasn’t really on the commendable position of foreigners as described in Is. 56. It’s more of a guide and a support for “Messianic Gentiles” to either stay in or return to the church, offering their perspective to their more traditionally Christian brethren with the idea of encouraging the expansion of a more “Jewish” way of looking at the scriptures.
It describes the promise and the pitfalls of such a move, but the book is attempting (in my opinion) to counter the trend among Hebrew Roots Gentiles to abandon the church as apostate and lost, having Hebrew Roots Gentiles treating Christian Gentiles as if they are some sort of pariah.
The way to promote a particular viewpoint with a population is not to create separate silos, but to live with each other, so to speak. Hebrew Roots Gentiles need to stop thinking of people in the church as “bad” and traditional Christians will only be encouraged to take a look at the “Messianic” perspective on the Bible by interacting with Gentile believers who already have that perspective.
Hope I’m a bit more clear this time.