It is so common to spiritualize scripture that many things Christians now say have no real Biblical meaning. A popular example of meaningless Christian-speak is when someone is said to be “following Jesus”.
To where exactly are we following him? And how?
A variation of this is the trend of calling yourself a “Jesus-follower” instead of a Christian. I suppose their thinking is that being called a Christian is too anchored in dogmatic tradition, whereas “following Jesus” is more like subscribing to the Lord’s Facebook page.
Let’s find out what the Bible says about following Jesus.
How People Followed Jesus
When people followed Jesus in Matt-John, they used their feet (Mat 14:13). Most of the time it was a literal physical following, not a spiritual following by faith. When Jesus uttered the words “follow me” he meant literally drop your nets, leave your families, and travel with me.
The most famous of these “follow me” commands are spoken to potential disciples.
“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19
It takes an out of touch commentary to turn this into a spiritual command to follow the Lord in faith. I’m sure that if Jesus traveled from church to church today and said, “follow me”, the spiritualized “follower” would respond with another twenty dollar love gift instead of packing their bags and literally following him.
Peter and Andrew had the good sense to follow him with their feet:
“And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” – Matthew 4:20
James and John did the same thing.
“And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” – Matthew 4:22
Great multitudes followed him at one time.
“When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.” – Matthew 8:1
This is not a spiritual faith following, but people literally walking behind a first century celebrity. We know this because the Lord addresses this literal crowd a few verses later.
“When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” – Matthew 8:10
The disciples followed Jesus even when the Lord followed other people!
“And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples.” – Matthew 9:19
This literal following would be one reason Jesus instructed his followers to sell all their possessions (Luke 12:33). They would not need their houses, their extra camel, nor their spare land if they were literally following the Son of God into a literal kingdom.
This became a prerequisite to following Jesus and for earning treasures in heaven:
“If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” – Mat 19:21
Taking Up the Cross
It was not only their physical possessions that they were to sell, they were told to leave their families and careers as well.
Jesus gave up a successful (conjecture) carpenter career when he began ministering. He left his mother and brothers as well. He expected the same of his followers. We find that when Jesus spoke of “taking up his cross”, he was referring to their leaving their fathers and mothers and denying themselves for the sake of following the Lord (Mat 10:37-39, Mat16:24-26, Mat 19:29).
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – Mark 8:38
Where No Man Could Follow
There came a time in the Lord’s ministry where no man could follow him anymore.
“Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.” – John 13:36
Up until that time they were literally following Jesus ministering to Israel only (Mat 10:5). They identified other true disciples by their traveling with them (Mark 9:38). Suddenly, no one could follow Jesus. He was leaving; he was dying, and then going to heaven.
It was impossible to follow Jesus as he ascended up to heaven that day. They could not walk with him, nor could they ascend to heaven with him. They could only obey him by staying in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49).
The Lord in Heaven
Today, it is curious that people think they can follow Jesus when the Bible says he is seated in heavenly places (Eph 1:20).
In the Bible, people literally followed him across the nation Israel. Today, people “follow” him by sitting in pews. Seated in heavenly places, the Lord is not going anywhere at the moment, and neither are those who claim to be following him.
However, he has sent apostles to minister instructions in his place. The Lord’s apostle to the Gentiles instructs us to follow him as he is of Christ.
“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1
Yet, even the Apostle Paul is dead today. It’s a good thing he recorded his instructions in the Bible and that there are faithful men that follow after his God-given pattern (2 Tim 2:2, 2 Tim 3:16). The Bible contains God’s instructions. The Bible rightly divided contains God’s instructions for you.
Stop being a “Jesus follower” and start studying the Bible rightly divided and your spiritual life will start to move.
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” – Phil 3:17