Matthew 4:18-22: Why Did They Follow Him?

In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples. All of them immediately leave behind their family fishing business to follow Jesus.

Why did they follow Jesus? They had good jobs. Why did they exchange them for an unpredictable life of economic insecurity? When a scribe requested to follow Jesus, Jesus told him that “[f]oxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 NRSV). “There are times when I go homeless, friend,” Jesus was saying. “Is that the type of life you really want?” Yet, Peter, Andrew, James, and John not only followed Jesus–they followed him immediately, as in right after he called them. Why?

When I was in college, I had to write an undergraduate thesis for my major, which was religion. A young lady in my seminar wrote about the twelve disciples, and one of her questions was, “Why did they follow Jesus?” I don’t entirely remember her answer, but I remembered her question when I was reading Matthew 4-5 for my daily quiet time. I wondered if the Bible contained any answers, and, after much thought, I concluded that it did.

So why did the disciples leave everything behind to follow Jesus? The reason is this: They believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the person who would rule Israel and the rest of the world. Both before and after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they thought that he was the one who’d restore Israel (Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6). They desired power and influence. James and John exemplified this attitude when they asked to sit beside Jesus in his kingdom (Matthew 20:21).

So did the disciples believe that following Jesus entailed a crown and not a cross? Their view on this seems to have changed over time. When Jesus said that he was going to Jerusalem to die, Peter rebuked him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” That prompted Jesus to call Peter “Satan,” then to give his disciples a lecture about taking up their cross to follow him (Matthew 16:21-26). At first, the disciples didn’t really anticipate a cross, for Jesus or for themselves.

Later, when James and John asked for thrones next to Jesus in his kingdom, they affirmed their willingness to drink the cup of persecution that Jesus was about to drink (Matthew 20:22). At the Lord’s supper, Peter said he’d die with Jesus (Matthew 26:35). The disciples still expected status and prestige in Jesus’ kingdom, but they acknowledged the possibility that their deaths could precede that.

But they didn’t think that death was a barrier for Jesus. In John 6, when many of Jesus’ disciples abandoned him because of his hard teaching, the twelve stuck with him. Jesus inquired why, and Peter responded, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v 68). For Peter, Jesus as the Messiah had power over life and death. Consequently, they could embrace the possibility of their martyrdom even as they maintained their hope that Jesus would grant them status in his kingdom. Similarly, the death of Jesus himself did not inhibit the faith of the thief on the cross that Jesus was the Messiah. There Jesus was, dying right next to him, yet the thief believed that Jesus would get power once he entered his kingdom (Luke 23:42).

So the disciples followed Jesus because they thought he was the Messiah, and being with the coming king could bring ultimate advantages. But why did they believe that he was the Messiah? The New Testament has some answers on this.

In Luke 5:2-11, there are details about Jesus’ calling of Peter, James, and John that are not in Matthew. In that passage, Jesus tells Peter to cast his net into the sea. Peter replies, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” (v 5). Immediately, they caught so many fish that the boat was about to sink! Peter then realized that he was in the presence of a man of God, and his own personal inadequacies became glaring to him. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” he exclaimed.

And so the miracle may have confirmed for Peter that Jesus was the Messiah. Yet, there are other things to notice. First of all, Peter appears to have already known Jesus, and, second, he calls him “master.” Peter was not an official disciple (or, for Luke, apostle) until Luke 6:13-16, yet he still recognized Jesus as some sort of authority. Why?

John 1:35-51 may contain some answers. Peter possibly knew Jesus through his brother Andrew, who initially followed John the Baptist. According to the Gospel authors, John the Baptist recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, and Andrew respected his mentor’s opinion. Andrew’s regard for Jesus may have rubbed off on Peter, such that Peter called Jesus “master” even when he wasn’t a follower. Or perhaps Peter saw something in Jesus that he admired, only he was not yet ready to leave everything behind. But the miracle gave him the extra boost to follow Jesus as the Messiah.

Also in John 1:35-51, we see other disciples receiving Jesus. The passage is not specific about why Philip followed him, but Nathanael was impressed because Jesus saw him (Nathanael) under the fig tree before Philip called him. That must have been some miracle, even though I’m not exactly sure what it was! One minute, Nathanael was asking if anything good could come out of Nazareth. The next minute, after Jesus tells him about the fig tree, he praises Jesus as the new king of Israel.

So Jesus’ miracles played some role in convincing the disciples of his Messianic identity. But the Gospels are clear that there is an additional factor, and Calvinists are going to love this: God personally revealed to the disciples that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25). When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

So why did the disciples follow Jesus? A desire for power. Miracles. A respect for John the Baptist. Something about Jesus’ personality that seemed worthy of honor. A revelation from God. Most of these were legitimate reasons. Some of them were not. All of them set the disciples on a journey in which God used them profoundly.

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9 Responses to Matthew 4:18-22: Why Did They Follow Him?

  1. I'M HERE says:

    What’s the true miracles?
    Why did so many missionary work passionately for Jesus today?

  2. James Pate says:

    Hey there, I’m Here! Thanks for your comment.

    There are probably a variety of reasons that there are Christian missionaries today. A sense of calling. A desire for adventure. Wanting to save lost souls or expose people to a better way of life.

    One thing I will say: A lot of missionaries encounter the miraculous–healings, the conversion of tribes, visions, etc.

  3. Julie says:

    Thank you for this! It is just what I needed!

  4. Which is the most important?
    Jesus was asked twice, by two different men, the same basic question about which is the most important or greatest commandment in the Law. Here is how Jesus answered that question:

    #1
    “One of the teachers of the law… asked him [Jesus],
    ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “ is this: ‘Hear, of Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than THESE.” [Mark 12:28-31, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18]

    #2
    …an expert in the law, tested him [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’”

    Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.” [Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18]

    But in contrast with Jesus, Paul the Pharisee didn’t know the greatest, most important, first commandment according to Jesus. Paul made up his own rule. Paul wrote:
    “The entire law is summed up in a SINGLE command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:14, Leviticus 19:18]

    And again, Paul wrote:
    “He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this ONE RULE: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Romans 13:8-10, Leviticus 19:18]

    Jesus said it’s TWO commandments, with the greatest, most important, first command to
    .1) first, love God with everything you’ve got, and
    .2) second, love people.
    Paul said no, it ONE commandment- to love people.

    This is very similar to The Beatles- “All you need is love. Love is all you need. Love, Love, Love.” (In other words, the second commandment, the love of man, without the love of God. Love as me, myself and I define love to be, and continuously redefined by sinful men.)

    In essence, it is also the same principle as what Eve did in the Garden of Eden, forgetting about the Tree of Life, which is the first tree in the middle of the Garden, and instead referring to the second tree as “the tree that is in the middle of the garden.” [Genesis 3:3 & 2:9 2:17, 3:24]

    Kind of like the Pharisees with Jesus, who were pushing the false idea that we can consider ONE commandment in the Law, alone in isolation, to be “the greatest commandment in the Law.”

    Or like today, false teachers in the Chrislam – Purpose Driven – Seeker Sensitive – Emergent – Liberal – Ecumenical – New Age – world church movement pushing the false idea that the ONE RULE is “Loving God and Neighbor together.”

    The Lord God Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Son of Yahweh the Most High God of Israel, said:
    “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.”
    Not one. TWO.

    Sometimes, Paul was wrong. Jesus is always right. I’m following Jesus.

    Here are answers to 2 common objections:
    .a) What about the so-called “Golden Rule”?
    Jesus spoke the 3 chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, including 7:12. Jesus didn’t make PART of this one verse out of context into “The Golden Rule” or “one rule.” Jesus did not use the term “Golden Rule,” it’s simply a tradition of men. The sentence begins with “So” in the NIV and Amplified Bibles, and “Therefore’ in the NASB and King James Bibles, which ties 7:12 to the previous sentences. So 7:12 cannot stand alone as One Commandment.

    .b) What about the so-called “Great Commission”?
    Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, including “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus never used the term “Great Commission,” it’s simply a tradition of men. Yes I agree it’s a commandment given by Jesus, it’s not optional, and it applies to us today. We need to carry this out, with our own God-given abilities and talents, using the skills, and circumstances we have. But we don’t need to put words in the mouth of Jesus, we can let Jesus speak for himself, and we can listen to Him – and obey Him.

    Evangelism is part of the Second Commandment given by Jesus, to Love people. Evangelism is not the most important commandment, and it isn’t the entire Second Commandment. So if our priorities are “The Great Commission and the Great Commandment,” we have our priorities upside down and confused, and we are not listening to the voice of Jesus. Never mind what Paul said. Let’s listen to the voice of Jesus first, and get our priorities straight.

    The people who will protest most loudly against this truth are the modern “Pauls:” traveling evangelists, speakers, writers, abusive absentee mega-church pastors, Crusaders, and self-appointed “apostles” like Paul, who find it “profitable” to “be like Paul” rather than follow Jesus the Jewish Messiah.

  5. Dear Jamesbradfordpate
    Thank for sharing your feelings and experience.
    However, the feelings and experience that matter the most are those of God – personified by Jesus.

    Which Commandment did Jesus feel is the Most Important?

    This is a question of fact about the content of the text in the 66 Books of our Bible. It is comparing the words of Jesus with the words of Paul (and other men) regarding which one is the Most Important Commandment and which one is the Second commandment, which together fulfill the Law and the Prophets. (Not The Law the Prophets & the Writings, not “All Scripture,” not “The whole Bible”)

    It isn’t a question of men’s opinions about “what Paul really meant” or “what Paul must have known” or “what Paul was actually referring to here” or “what Paul was clearly implying” or “what we must conclude that Paul was assuming”, etc. etc.

    These lines of reasoning all go back to the false idea that “Paul must have been right and Paul couldn’t possibly be wrong, so whatever Paul was thinking at the time must have been correct, and we just have to figure out what Paul’s intended meaning was and what Paul was really thinking when he wrote these words.” That would mean that your opinion about the unknowable unwritten “mind of Paul” becomes the “Word of God.” No. Wrong.

    Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The words spoken by Jesus, recorded in our Bible by Matthew Mark Luke & John, should be above all other words. This has literally been the Orthodox position for almost 2000 years. Paul is inferior, Jesus is superior. The words of Jesus are superior to the words of everyone else in the Bible and to everyone else in the world. Jesus is in agreement with the Law and the Prophets and came “to fulfill them.” [Matthew 5:17-20]

    What Jesus clearly and specifically said is also superior and more important than your opinions about what you think Jesus meant or implied, but didn’t say elsewhere. For example, when Jesus was speaking about “a new command I give you,” Jesus didn’t say THE new commandment, or the FIRST commandment, or the MOST IMPORTANT commandment, or the ONE commandment, or the GREATEST commandment, or ONE RULE.

    The false teaching about “one rule” is the false teaching of the Pharisees of Paul’s day, and Paul the Pharisee was pushing this false teaching. This contradicts the clear specific teaching of Jesus about the first and greatest commandment and the second. Jesus warned us about the Pharisees in Matthew chapters 15 & 16, and quoted the Prophet Isaiah regarding them:
    “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
    [Isaiah 29:13]

  6. What is an Apostle?
    Here is the answer based on the original sources:
    The words and actions of Jesus and the Original Apostles in the text of the New Testament.

    .1) Gospel of Mark – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him…” [Mark 3:13-14]

    Three chapters later,
    “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” [Mark 6:6-7]

    .2) Gospel of Luke – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “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…..” [Luke 6:12-14]

    Again three chapters later,
    “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” [Luke 9:1-2]

    .3) Gospel of Matthew – which is organized by theme, not necessarily in chronological order.
    “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon…” [Matthew 10:1]

    Without any clear time reference, continuing on the theme of the Apostles, Matthew does record “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…” [Matthew 10:5] Matthew never said that the Apostles were “sent out” immediately after being appointed. If we didn’t also have the clear records in Mark and Luke, it would be a fairly logical assumption that Jesus sent them out right away, but it would still be just an assumption. In this case, that assumption would clearly be wrong. The Twelve Apostles were absolutely NOT sent out right away after being appointed Apostles, according to Mark chapters 3 through 6, and Luke chapters 6 through 9.

    So being an Apostle of Jesus involves being sent by Jesus, yes. But that isn’t the only meaning, or even the first and primary meaning. The first thing was “that they might be with Him” personally, together, for His entire earthly ministry, from the time of John the Baptist until Jesus rose to heaven. Jesus poured his life into the 12 Apostles for 3 ½ years very personally training them to be the leaders of the church, and Jesus chose Peter as first among equals.

    The NIV translation inserts the heading “Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas” for the passage Luke wrote in Acts 1:12-26]. The NIV headings were not part of the original text, and sometimes they can be misleading, but in this case I believe the heading is right on.

    Jesus and the Original Apostles knew what an Apostle is better than anyone else in the world. Why is this a strange idea? Why do so many people frequently attack and tear down and dismiss the Original Apostles, particularly Peter, as if they were all incompetent, stupid, and wrong in so many ways, and they didn’t even know what an “Apostle” was? The answer to that question is, they have been listening to the voice of Paul, rather than the voices of Jesus and the Original Apostles.

    As we consider the question “what is an Apostle”, we should carefully listen to the words of the leader that Jesus personally appointed as first among the Apostles, and trained personally for 3 ½ years, Peter.

    “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.” [Acts 1:21-22]

    Neither Paul, nor James, nor Luke were with Jesus and the Apostles the whole time, so they were not qualified to be a “witness with the Apostles of Jesus’ resurrection”, which is what it means to be an Apostle. Matthias was qualified, appointed, and later recognized as part of The Twelve. No one except Judas ever lost his apostleship.

    Responding to a question from Peter,
    “Jesus said to them:
    …you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Matthew 19:28]

    We cannot prove that Judas was present at that time, and we cannot prove that Matthias was absent at that time when Jesus spoke those words. Even if Judas was physically present, as we all realize now, he was not a true follower of Jesus. And even if Matthias was physically absent at that particular occasion, Jesus is still establishing the basic qualification for having one of the twelve thrones as being “you who have followed me,” not someone who will follow Jesus in the future, like Paul, James, Luke or anyone else in the world.

    At the Last Supper, Jesus said to His Apostles:
    “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Luke 22:28-30]

    Was Judas present when Jesus spoke those words? Even if someone wants to be argumentative and say we can’t prove that Judas wasn’t there at the time, we certainly can’t prove that Judas WAS there. Judas obviously didn’t stand by Jesus in his trial, as the whole world knows. But that was the requirement Jesus gave to “sit on thrones:” “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” “You”, speaking to His 11 Apostles who had been walking with Him faithfully for 3 ½ years. Not others in the future who will follow the risen Jesus Christ. Notice that at the Last Supper, when Judas lost his throne and Matthias was definitely absent, Jesus chose to speak of “thrones” rather than “twelve thrones” as he had previously.

    The Apostle John recorded about the New Jerusalem,
    “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” [Revelation 21:14]

    The Apostles are 12 faithful eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus during His entire earthly ministry, and Matthias is the 12th. That’s the short version of my definition of “what is an Apostle.”

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