Who Was Jesus Discipled By?

When we think of Jesus and disciples, we often think of the 12 that Jesus called to be his disciples. But the opposite should also be considered.

Was Jesus a disciple?

Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, leaving his hometown to follow him, becoming a changed man after spending time with him and soon taking on his mission. Fulfilling 3 key parts of being a disciple.

At first blush, this seems unlikely, with John the Baptist only playing what seems like a minor role in Jesus’ life.

Did he not just baptize Jesus, and then Jesus started his ministry after all by himself in Galilee without John?

Yes, and no.

Let me explain, but before we talk about how John Discipled Jesus, we need to define what a disciple is.

Jesus as a Disciple

Well, this could be an article in itself or even a book.

To keep it simple, we will use two definitions. One is more academic, and the other is easier to understand and relate to.

In short, a disciple is a student. A disciple is one who disciplines himself in the teachings and practices of another. The word disciple, like discipline, comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning “pupil” or “learner.”

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In short summary, did Jesus become a student of another?

John the Baptist, in particular.

Did he focus his life on learning from John and imitating his practices?

Before we answer these questions, let’s take another angle of what a disciple is.

Real Life Church and Discipleship.org define a disples as

“A disciple of Jesus is someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus.”

Bobby Harrington

They explain this from Matthew 4:19 and its parrel Mark 1:17.

If we change it slightly to apply to Jesus.

A disciple is someone who is following someone, being changed by them and is committed to their mission in life.

In broad strokes, we can see if Jesus learned from John’s teaching and practises.

But using Discipleship.org’s definition will make it a lot easier to break it down to understand how.

Follow the Leader

How Did Jesus Follow John the Baptist?

The single largest event connecting Jesus and John the Baptist is his baptism. Which is attested to in all 4 of the gospels (Matt. 3:13-17, Mk.1:9-13, Lk.3:21,22 Jn.1:29-34) and is also mentioned in the book of Acts (1:15, 11:15).

Interestingly of all the events of Jesus’ life the one single event most accepted by historians is the event of Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist.

The very act of baptism is considered an act of submission. And in many Christian traditions, and especially in the early church, was the beginning of a discipleship relationship.

This could easily be interpreted as the beginning of a discipleship relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist.

Furthermore, in the gospel of John (3:22-24, 4:1-3), we have Jesus with his disciples baptizing. Following the practice of John of baptizing people. Linking their activities together around the Jordon.

Further connecting the two men’s ministries and lives is the arrest of John the Baptist.

Both Matthew 4:12 and Mark 1:14 have the arrest of John as the cause of Jesus moving to Galilee and beginning to preach.

If Jesus was not following John the Baptist, why did his arrest cause Jesus to move?

Then once in prison, John the Baptist sends messengers to inquire about Jesus (Matt. 11:1-6, Lk.7:18-23). Jesus points to his activities and tells John’s disciples to report back to John about what he is doing.

And immediately after this begins to speak high praise about John and his role in the kingdom of God to the crowd. Along with some contrast between himself and John.

Changed Life

Was Jesus Changed by John the Baptist?

Now this part of discipleship is hard to determine.

Was Jesus changed by his time with John the Baptist, and how?

The biggest challenge in answering this is the lack of material before his baptism.

Beyond Matthew and Luke’s miracles telling of Jesus’ birth, the only other material we have is Luke’s report of Jesus amazing the teachers at the temple (Lk 2:41-52). This only tells us that Jesus had a keen mind about spiritual things at a young age. And possible awareness of a unique relationship with God (Father), but this could be as simple as a common second temple period of referring to God as Father.

In Mark 6, sometime after Jesus’ baptism, he returns to his hometown, and they question where he got his newfound power and wisdom. So it seems highly unlikely that he had the same level of wisdom and miraculous power earlier.

What changed him?

Was it his time with John the Baptist or something else like his time in the wilderness?

Which interestingly occurred because of his interaction with John.

Jesus did not take on all the activities or lifestyle of John. In particular, John’s ascetic lifestyle, but it is responsible to believe that John’s teachings changed Jesus.

Mission

Did Jesus take on John the Baptist’s Mission?

Many Christians would say the mission of Jesus was “to seek and to save the lost.” That he being the “Son of Man” that he spoke of in Luke 19:10 was his mission.

And hindsight being 20/20, that would be a fair understanding.

But what about John the Baptist? What was his mission?

The synoptic and John all quote Isaiah as his role and mission.

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’

Isaiah 40:3-5

He did this by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4).

A few verses later, when Jesus starts his public ministry in Galilee, he closely parrels.

“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Both have a strong call to repentance.

Things needed to change for God to act or because God was acting.

It is responsible to think that Jesus’ mission evolved from here. That it becomes fuller and more focused than simply a theme of repentance. I would agree, but initially, their missions seem to be similar, if not the same.

So it does appear that Jesus did take on the mission of John the Baptist.

Conclusion

We don’t know much about the interaction between Jesus and John the Baptist, but some of the bigger milestones of their relationship are his baptism and a few interactions after. Jesus moves into centre stage, and his ministry explodes after John the Baptist is arrested.

But it’s easy to see the huge impact that John made in history that he did also impact the life of Jesus.

Jesus begins his ministry by going down to the Jordon to be baptized.

After spending time together, Jesus returns to Galilee as a changed man.

With a mission.

A mission that closely resembles that of John the Baptist, Repent.

Checking all the boxes of a person who is committed to following someone, being changed by them and committed to their mission.

Jesus’ life continues to develop, but John the Baptist is the launching pad to changing history.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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