Disciple? Apostle? What’s the Difference?

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“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you'” (John 20:19, 21).

“What is the difference between a disciple and an apostle?” That was the question posed to me by Coke Smart. Coke asks some very insightful questions.

At the very core, a disciple and an apostle are one and the same person. These two words describe the nature of what it means to be a Christian. These two words describe the direction, progression, and the aim of a Christian. Let me explain.

The Greek is helpful here.

  • The Greek word for disciple is μαθητης – mathetes
    • This literally means a follower, a learner, a disciple
  • The Greek word for apostle is αποστολος apostolos
    • This literally means a sent out one

The pattern of discipleship is demonstrated by the ministry of Jesus. Jesus called the disciples to him in order to teach and equip them for the purposes of sending them out to be his emissaries. Do you see the direction? the aim?

Jesus calls to himself     –>       Jesus      –>     Jesus sends them out with a mission

This pattern continues to repeat and never ends. We are constantly called to be with Christ to grow and learn and be equipped, in order that he can send us out to be his emissaries.

Jesus never calls his disciples for merely the purposes of educating and building up of the individual. The educating and the building up of the disciple is always for the purpose of sending them out.

I find it interesting that we see both in the verses above. Jesus comes to the disciples who have hidden themselves for fear of the Jews (v.19). They were afraid because they saw Jesus die. They no longer had anyone to follow. And without anyone to follow, they were distressed and discouraged.

But once they see the resurrected Christ, and after Jesus breathes the breath of the Holy Spirit unto them, they are commissioned and sent out. As the Father has sent the Son to be good news to a sin-sick world, so Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim all that Christ has done (v.21).

Guess what the Greek word for “sent” is? That’s right: αποστελεκεν – aposteleken. 

After this moment on, the disciples become fearless and courageous apostles who proclaim the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A disciple and an apostle are one and the same person. If you are a Christian:

  • you are a disciple – one who follows Christ in order to learn and the grow,
  • and you are an apostle – one who is sent out to be Christ’s emissary.

Thanks Coke! That was fun to look at what it means to be a disciple and an apostle.

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