Part Two: What about the Multitudes?
At this moment, I hear you ask, “What about the multitudes? Did they not follow? Are these also believers but not disciples then?” Please do not be offended, but those who ask this question are usually the ones who have no desire to be disciples. And if they can prove that multitudes are believers, it gives them the justification to stay right where they are. Well, you can’t really blame them for to these, to believe means to be saved, not to follow Jesus as a disciple.
Multitudes in the Gospels In the gospels, the word multitudes is always used in contrast to disciples. This can mean one of two things, depending on one’s perspective. The traditional view is that they are believers of Jesus Christ but have not made the decision to be disciples. However, this raises a few questions that I find very difficult to answer and reconcile.
If these are indeed believers, why would Jesus send them away? If these believed in Jesus, why would Jesus deliberately keep the mysteries of the Kingdom from them, as if they are some second-class believers? Can you imagine your pastor telling you to go home so that he can share deeper secrets with those more deserving? If these were His own, why would Jesus describe them as sheep without a shepherd. Plainly, He was not their shepherd – yet. That means, they were not His sheep.
“But they followed!” you say, “surely then, they believed.” Indeed, they believed; but not necessarily in what Jesus would have them believe. They believed in what they wanted to believe. After all, they did want to make Jesus king. But the moment they did not receive a Messiah of their desire, they abandoned Jesus.
That said, let’s also be clear that one can follow without believing or understanding anything. Look at the crowds and mobs of today. Do you think they really believe in everything they picket about? I think not. Of course, it all begins with a core group who believe enough to do something (see, faith produces action). Yet, with herd mentality, it’s easy for many others to follow without even knowing why they are there. It just sounds and feels right. After all, everyone is doing it (sounds familiar?).
Without doubt, there would have been some who genuinely wanted to know more about Jesus. And these would constitute those who approached Jesus to be disciples. Once again, it is premised on their faith in Him that compels them to follow Him. The One we believe, we follow.
From the above, you will agree with me that it is not quite as straightforward to broadly declare the multitudes as believers or not believers. We will never know but the Lord does. That is not the point of this article at all. All I am convinced about is that one can follow without believing; but one cannot believe without following. Against this, the more pertinent question for each Christian is this: “If I believe, would I then follow? Why do I fight being a disciple so much?”
Multitudes in Acts By the time we come to the book of Acts, the word multitudes, and its various forms, is used very differently. Acts 6:1 records that “the number of disciples were multiplying”. The twelve apostles then “summoned the multitude of the disciples”, not believers. And finally in Acts 6:7, we are told that “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” Notice that it is used in conjunction with the word disciples. And when it is not used in this context, the crowds referred to non-believers, who more often than not, opposed the disciples.
Do you honestly think that they had such a good discipling programme that many believers signed up immediately? I don’t believe this is the right interpretation at all. Consider this instead: In the book of Acts, there is simply no distinction between believers and disciples. On the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 were added to the disciples; and then 5,000 more later. From Jerusalem, the gospel travels to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. Acts 11:21 tells us that “a great number believed”. What the city of Antioch saw as believers of Jesus Christ, Acts 11:26 records as disciples. Once again, we see that believers are disciples. And right there in Antioch, these believer-disciples were called Christians, which literally means “followers of the Christ”, for the very first time.
Considering the number of mentions of the word disciples, it makes for a very interesting observation (revelation?). Of the 274 NT mentions, 242 are found in the gospels and only 32 in Acts. Surprisingly, there is not a single mention in the epistles and Revelation! How do you explain this? Jesus’ Great Commission was for them to make disciples, and there is not a single mention of the word disciple? Either they missed this important detail and messed up big time. Or there was simply no need to make any distinction between believers and disciples because there was none in the first place. Every New Testament believer of Jesus Christ is a disciple of Jesus Christ!
- Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship
- Misconception #1: Discipleship is a separate decision/event from believership: Part One
- Misconception #2: Believers must be called to be disciples
- Misconception #3: Disciples are a special class of believers
- Misconception #4: Discipleship is an optional add-on to salvation
- Misconception #5: Discipleship is a ministry or programme in the Church
- Misconception #6: Discipleship is one aspect of the spiritual walk
- Misconception #7: Discipleship is about me