Talmidim In Ancient Times
It is a common belief among many Christians that Yeshua was the first man in history to gather talmidim (disciples) around him. Is this assumption correct?
No! Hebrew history shows that Yeshua was by no means the first rabbi to gather talmidim . In fact long before the days of Yeshua, all the great sages of Jewish history had their own talmidim.
The Hebrew term talmid literally means student, its plural being talmidim. The responsibility of each talmid was to learn everything that his rabbi (lit. meaning - revered one or master) would teach. They learned to eat the same foods as their rabbi. They learned to celebrate the Shabbat the way their rabbi did and to perform tzedakah (righteousness or charity) as he taught. They even learned to pray and fast along with their rabbi. They learned how to keep the mitzvot (commandments) of Adonai. The talmidim followed their rabbi everywhere he went reflecting every aspect of his life.
A talmid became a living reflection of his rabbi. Once fully trained, some talmidim would in turn become rabbis to the next generation, gathering around them talmidim of their own . In this way the traditions and customs of Israel were handed down from one generation to the next. A practice that dated all the way back to the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. We see in Scripture, that even Moshe (Moses) passed on all he received from God, to his talmid -Y'hohsua (Joshua).
Through the rabbi-talmid chain, the oral teachings surrounding Torah passed down from generation to generation. This unbroken chain seen in the Mishna where the Pirkei Avot begins with a description of how this method of learning carried the Torah from Moshe to Ezra as it states:-
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua (his disciple) Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets, the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly. The Men of the Great Assembly said three things, 'Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah." (Avot 1:1, 2)
It was this same fence that the Men of the Great Assembly instructed should be built around Torah that Yeshua railed against when he castigated the leaders and teachers of his time. As he stated he did not come to put an end to Torah, but instead to fulfill it. The fences of tradition were the problem two thousand years ago and still remain as a stumbling block to true unity between Jews and Gentiles within the Messiainc Community of today.
Rabbi -Talmid Relationship
In rabbinic literature suggests that, the connection between a rabbi and his talmid was expressed as a father-son relationship. The Torah sages were often referred to as Father and the talmidim as his family.
Hence the collective teachings of the Torah teaching Rabbis are called "Sayings of the Fathers." Sages would say - your teacher is to be accorded higher honour than your birth father, "because your birth father brought you into this world, but your teacher brings you into the next world." (Bava Metsi'a 2:11)
Rabbi Yeshua - The Last Great Master!
Like the sages before him Yeshua gathered around him his own selected talmidim, as we read in the Gospels that shortly after his immersion he called twelve men to become his talmidim. However, there was one major difference between his talmidim and those of earlier rabbis. Yeshua's talmidim did not elect to follow after him, instead as Scripture shows they were given to him by God Himself.
Yeshua spent the next three and one half years teaching guiding and mentoring them, in a similar way to that the sages before him. However, there was one profound difference between his teaching and that of his forefathers. Yeshua was unique in that he was the Son of God and as such the last great sage, after whom none would follow.
Unlike the sages before him, Yeshua did not encourage his talmidim to become masters themselves. Instead he instructed them that they were not to be called Rabbi or Father, as had been the practice for many generations, because as the Son of God he alone was and still is the Master for all time to those who will trust and follow his words. We read in Matthew 23:8 -10 where he instructs his talmidim saying:-
"You are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Messiah."
Raising Up Talmidei Yeshua
The words of the master appear at first reading to be in conflict with the words written later by James, John, Peter and Paul in the letters of the Brit Hadashah (New Testement). They talk continuously about elders, fathers, teachers and leaders being ordained by the Messianic Community throughout the latter part of the 1st century. However, as one ponders the context in which these words are written we begin to see that they were not making talmidim for themselves but rather for their master Yeshua. Even down to this very day we have among us some who are teachers, elders and leaders, but they must never take the place of the Master Yeshua. We must never become the talmidim of men and pass on the traditions of men.
Rather, we must become Talmidei Yeshua always striving to raise up new talmidim for our Master because he is still alive in heaven awaiting the time when God the Father will give approval for his return to earth as the King and High Priest.
As we have seen Yeshua spent over three years teaching and training his talmidim and before departing from them, he gave them one final instruction --
"Go and make people from all nations into Talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh" and teach them to obey everything I have taught you." (Matthew 18:19-20)
His instruction is still valid today -
and as Talmidei Yeshua we deem it a privilage
to share what we have been taught with others,
whom God is calling to be his Talmidim with us.
Written by Graeme Purdie 2003