By Dr. Richard D. Patterson
Since very ancient times, there have been powerful leaders who have had a large number of followers, such as Hammurabi, Thutmose III, Cyrus the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. The same is true today (e.g., Vladimir Putin). The dictionary defines a follower as “one who follows or believes the teacher or theories of someone.” Not only politically, but in every aspect of life each of us is a follower (yes, even leaders are followers) in some fashion, such as in business, education, society, or sports (etc.). In our everyday living there is often (sometimes perhaps too often) someone, something, or some personal desire that we do long to follow. This is common enough even in intellectual or spiritual matters, whatever the religion.
It is not strange, then, that followers or some aspect of following is often attested in biblical accounts. In this study we shall explore the scriptural record noting examples of following so as to discern what constitutes proper following and how to be a faithful follower of the Lord.
“Following” in the Old Testament
Among the God-given instructions that Moses delivered to the Hebrews was the command, “You must follow the LORD your God and revere only him; obey him, serve him, and remain loyal to him” (Deut. 13:4).1 Although directed primarily against listening to false prophets (vv. 1-3, 5), the instruction clearly prescribed a proper way of life for God’s people. As Merrill points out, “What is required is wholehearted commitment to the Lord and his commands, supernatural signs to the contrary notwithstanding.”2 Although given to God’s people long ago, it is no less true today. A believer must be obedient and truly committed to the Lord and the standards of his Word, knowing that they teach what is best for them (cf. Ps. 119: 7-11).
Unfortunately, Israel was not always fully committed to the Lord despite all that he had done for them. For example, after the Lord had enabled his people to secure the land which he had promised, The Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh built an altar outside of the Promised Land. The other tribes sensed disloyalty not only to Israelite unity but perhaps may have feared a certain disloyalty also to the Lord himself (Josh. 22:10-15). They likened the conduct of these tribes to the Israelite’s earlier sinning at Baal-Peor in bowing down to the gods of the Moabites, which had occasioned severe divine consequences (Num. 25:1-9). Therefore, the tribes in the Promised Land said to them by way of reprimand:
Why have you disobeyed the God of Israel by turning back today from following the LORD? You built an altar for yourselves and have rebelled today against the LORD. … Now today you dare to turn back from following the LORD! You are rebelling today against the LORD; tomorrow he may break out in anger against the entire community of Israel. (Josh. 22:16, 18)
Still later, even during the prosperous reign of King Solomon, Israelite lack of faithfulness emerged, due to the influence of his relations with many foreign women,
Solomon worshiped the Sidonian goddess Astarte and the detestable Ammonite god Milcolm. Solomon did evil in the LORD’s sight. He did not remain loyal to the LORD, like his father David had. [Having built altars for these gods east of Jerusalem], He built high places for all his foreign wives so they could burn incense and make sacrifices to their gods. (1 Kings 11:5-6, 8).
Solomon sinned grievously against the Lord (v.6). The two gods Molek and Chemosh the Moabite equivalent of Molech or Milcolm [vv.7-8]), are particularly mentioned perhaps because of the extremely abominable practices associated with their worship, including child sacrifice (Lev.18:21; 20:2-5; Jer. 32:35).3
The danger of not fully trusting and following the Lord is witnessed in connection with King Amaziah of Judah. Having defeated the Edomites (2 Chron. 25:5-13), “He brought the gods of the people of Seir and made them his personal gods” (v.14). For this he incurred the Lord’s anger. Accordingly, the Lord sent one of his prophets to rebuke and reason with the king. Amaziah, however, remained unmoved and even threatened the prophet’s life. Therefore, the prophet said to Amaziah “I know that the LORD has decided to destroy you, because you have done this thing and refused to listen to my advice” (v.16). And so it came to pass, for in his pride Amaziah challenged King Jehoash of Israel to war, only to lose the war and be captured (vv.17-24).
In addition, Jehoash followed up his triumph with a thrust against Jerusalem that resulted in the loss of some six hundred feet of the city wall, the confiscation of the temple furnishings and palace treasures, and the taking of many prisoners of war. Amaziah’s lesson in self-will had cost his nation dearly.4
Amaziah’s successes had caused him to be filled with pride and self-assurance—a condition that caused him not only to stop his allegiance to the Lord but, even to turn to gods of his own choosing. The result was disastrous. God’s people should have learned the divine lesson concerning trusting in false gods. Unfortunately, they did not, for which both Israel and Judah were later to perish. The tragic closing events of Amaziah’s life illustrate the fact that when one becomes so enamored by selfish desires that he turns away from following the Lord, tragic consequences may lie ahead.
Thus God’s prophet Zephaniah begins his prophecy with God’s declaration of his coming two-fold judgment, first against the earth (Zeph. 1:2-3) and then especially against his people (vv.4-6). This pronouncement should have served as warning and correction to God’s people, for in the Lord’s message he not only condemned the false prophets of Baal, but also those people “who turn back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of Him” (v. 6; HCSB). These people “have drawn back from any pretense of worshiping the Lord. They seek God neither in personal prayer nor in formal worship. They have no concern for the Lord who redeemed His people (cf. Jer. 2:13, 32-35; 3:6-10; 5:2-13; etc,).”5
All of this is reminiscent of an alarming time during King Ahab’s reign (874-853 B.C.). It was an era of Israel’s spiritual apostasy spurred on by Ahab himself, for he was an open worshipper of Baal and other false gods. The prophet Elijah had confronted the king about this and, following the Lord’s instructions proclaimed: “As certainly as the LORD God of Israel lives (whom I serve), there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command” (1 Kings 17:1). And so it happened. God sent a drought upon the land due to Israel’s failure to follow the Lord solely. Indeed, this was a basic covenantal requirement:
Make sure you do not turn away to serve and worship other gods! Then the anger of the LORD will erupt against you and he will close up the sky so that it does not rain. The land will not yield its produce and you will soon be removed from the good land that the LORD is about to give you (Deut 11:16-17; cf. Deut 28:23-24; 1 Kings 8:35).
Because of this, God allowed Elijah to go into seclusion. Therefore, Ahab sought for Elijah to punish him.
In due course of time, as the famine became increasingly severe…
In the third year of the famine, the LORD told Elijah, “Go and make an appearance before Ahab, so I may send rain on the surface of the ground.” So Elijah went to make an appearance before Ahab. (1 Kings 18:1-2)
When Elijah met with the king, he told him that there would be a confrontation between himself and the false prophets and therefore instructed the king,
Send out messengers and assemble all Israel before me at Mount Carmel, as well as the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah whom Jezebel supports. (I Kings 18:19)
When the people and the false prophets had assembled at Mount Carmel,
Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the LORD is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” (v. 21).
Elijah’s words of advice proved to be pertinent, for in the subsequent contest between God’s prophet Elijah and the false prophets the Lord demonstrated himself to be the one true God. Accordingly, the people repented and the false prophets were put to death (vv. 39-40). Interestingly, Moses’ admonition to the Israelites of his day that they should not pursue other so-called gods and thus put the Lord God to a test had come to be applicable to the time of Israelites of Elijah and Ahab (cf. Deut 6:13-16).
It is of further interest to note that Jesus gave this same advice to Satan at the time when the Devil was attempting to tempt him (cf. Matt 4:7; Luke 4:12). May we be those who are so totally committed to Christ that we follow him regardless of the trying situation we may face. No matter how bleak things may seem at present, we know that God is in control. All we have to do is trust the Lord and follow him.
Let us, then, not be those who fail to follow the Lord completely but who are faithful followers of the Lord and consciously seek his leading daily. As the hymn expresses it:
Moment by moment I’m kept in His love,
Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.6
No sampling of Old Testament references to following the Lord would be complete without noting Psalm 23. This very well known Psalm concerns our Lord’s functioning as our shepherd. “Shepherd” was a familiar term, being used of kings of other nations such as the great Hammurabi of Babylon. Shepherd is indeed a common metaphor of earthly leadership. The functioning of shepherds was, of course, very familiar to the people of God. Here in Psalm 23 the psalmist declares that because Yahweh (the Lord) was his shepherd, he would “lack nothing” (v.1). He then proceeds to enumerate several areas of his life that are overseen and cared for by the Lord (vv. 2-5).
Because of God’s complete provision for him, the Psalmist can boldly state: “Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me [or follow me; e.g., ESV; NASB; NIV] all my days, and I will live in the LORD’s house for the rest of my life” (Psalm 23:6). God’s immeasurable “goodness” (cf. vv. 2-5) is thus fully appreciated by David.7 The word “faithfulness” here in verse 6 (NET) is the common Hebrew noun ħesed, which indicates faithful or loyal love (and sometimes rendered “mercy”). It is a term characterizing God’s moral integrity, especially in relation to his people Israel. It is indeed a relationship of enduring covenant love. “It is an “unfailing love” (Ps. 46:7)—one that is better than life itself (Ps. 63:3). Because it is an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), God’s people may always call upon him with confidence in all circumstances (Ps. 86:1-7).”8 David is certain that God’s goodness and loyal love will be with him throughout the remainder of his life. Moreover, as Van Gemeren observes, “The ‘experience’ with God takes on transcendental significance, as it gives the believer a taste of everlasting fellowship with God.9 David declares that his will be a life lived in the “Lord’s House”– that is, in God’s loving presence and thus it will be a life of worshipful experience.10
“Following” in the New Testament
As we move on to consider the theme of “following” in the New Testament, we note Paul’s message to the Corinthians concerning the necessity of living a faithful Christian life (1 Cor. 10:1-13). Having pointed to the Old Testament historical record of God’s provision for the Israelites as he brought them out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness (vv. 1-5), Paul then notes that one of the great wonders was the divine presence. Based upon the times that God supplied the Israelites need for water by means of Moses’ striking a rock (e.g., Exod. 17:1-7;Num. 20:2-13; cf. Pss. 104:18; 105:41; 114:8), Paul informs the Corinthians that God’s continuous supply of the peoples’ needs was accomplished through the spiritual rock that followed them (v. 4).
Interestingly, “The word rock is used in Scripture with a wide variety of meanings, almost all associated with God, either as a secure foundation or stronghold or obstacle to evildoers.”11Indeed, the imagery associated with “rock” appears very frequently (e.g., the Psalms) to symbolize God himself (e.g., 1 Sam. 2:2). It is he in whom the believer finds a place of refuge (Ps. 18:2 [MT 18:3]). Therefore, believers may confidently put their trust in him for all things and in all of life’s circumstances (c. Deut. 32:15).
So it was for the Israelites in those wilderness times. To return to 1 Corinthians 10:4, under divine inspiration, the Apostle Paul reveals that the specific member of the Trinity who was Israel’s spiritual rock was Christ: the Israelites “all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” How tragic it was, then, that despite the divine Rock’s provision for them, the people in the wilderness failed to honor and submit to the Lord (vv. 5-7). This was a lesson that Paul desired the Corinthian believers to learn so as to put their full confidence and trust in Christ Jesus (vv. 8-13). “In all these points the experience of the Israelites was a warning to Christians; and therefore those who thought themselves secure should take heed lest they fall.”12
Nor should today’s believers be those who live selfish and ungrateful lives, for Christ is still present and is the One who will lead and guide them, and supply their every spiritual need.
The reality of God’s presence should bring real joy and foster a deepened trust in the Lord’s presence for their lives. This will enable them to stand firm in the midst of life’s tests and trials. Indeed, these experiences, when surrendered to Christ, will equip believers for a life of rewarding service for the Lord (cf. Paul’s assurance to Timothy in 2 Tim.4:6-8).13
Although life’s struggles may be devastating, believers must not forget that the Lord is present to strengthen, protect, and deliver them. This should encourage believers to follow Him. Moreover, in due time it will yield a great reward. Such is assured in several well known hymns. For example:
It may be through the shadows dim or o’er the stormy sea:
I take my cross and follow Him—wherever He leads I’ll go.
…I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so—wherever He leads I’ll go.14
O Jesus Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be;
And, Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.15
Jesus expressed the challenge to follow him several times during his earthly ministry. Early in his ministry,
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). He said to them, “Follow me and I will turn you into fishers of people.” They left their nets immediately and followed him. (Matt 4:18-20)
The call of Peter and Andrew was followed immediately by that of James and John:
Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then he called them. They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him. (vv. 21-22)
This pair of brothers (who apparently were fellow partners) were to become significant supporters of Jesus Christ. They were also leaders among the other disciples of Christ who would be called later. Peter, James, and John became a select inner triad as Jesus’ special confidants, “chosen by to be with Jesus in moments of special significance (17:1; 26:37), and mentioned by name from time to time whereas the rest of the Twelve receive little or no individual mention beyond the listing of their names (10:2-4).”16 Moreover, as Turner suggests,
The immediate, unquestioning, sacrificial response of the first disciples to Jesus’ authoritative call to discipleship is a model for radical discipleship today. Discipleship is still incumbent upon Christians, whether or not they are called to “vocational ministry.” The unquestioning obedience of Peter and Andrew, James and John condemns any delay or ambivalence in responding to Jesus. 17
Rather than continuing to live for self, as Jesus himself said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24), we must choose to follow Jesus and his plan for our lives!
Jesus’ challenge to follow him was often made thereafter. A very interesting account of such an occasion is found in Matthew 9:9-13. Here (v. 9) we learn that when a tax collector named Matthew (or Levi, Mark 2:14) was sitting at his tax station, he was told by Jesus, “‘Follow me.’… And he got up and followed him.” Luke (who also records this incident) reports that in so doing he “left everything behind” (Luke 5:27-28). It would appear that Jesus invited Matthew/Levi to be one of his disciples, a call that he happily accepted. So greatly did he cherish the invitation that he gave up his governmental position so as to be an active follower of Jesus. The call of Matthew/Levi must have seemed at first to be amazing to Jesus’ other disciples, because tax collectors were looked down upon by Jews (cf. Matt. 5:46; 18:17; 21:31-32), “as collaborators with the Romans and as unclean because of their graft and because they continually handled pagan coins and came into contact with the Gentiles.”18
Subsequently, Matthew held a dinner for his colleagues and friends, apparently to inform them of his new commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. As France points out,
In the ancient world generally a shared dinner was a clear sign of identification, and for a Jewish religious teacher to share a meal with such people was scandalous, let alone to do so in the “unclean” house of a tax collector. The attentive reader of the gospel might recall the vision of the messianic banquet in 8: 11-12: here, as there, the guest list is not at all what most Jews would have expected.19
As the meal continued, certain Pharisees questioned Jesus’ disciples as to why their master would associate with such people (Mark 2:16). When Jesus overhead their questioning, he assured them that his very mission in life was especially aimed at the call of sinners in order to bring them to a state of belief (v, 17). Is it any less the case for today’s followers of Jesus? Do we not need to be concerned that we attend to God’s desire, “Since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4)? As Turner observes;
Christians today dare not hide their light under a basket due to legalistic scruples. Associations with unbelievers must be handled with wisdom, so that ethical compromise is avoided, but fear of such compromise cannot become an excuse for isolation from those who most need the message of the Kingdom.20
True believers are those who faithfully follow Jesus’ leading regardless of the circumstances. This could at times prove to be dangerous. Yet as Jesus taught his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). More important than personal gain and worldly prestige or favor is the assurance that true wealth and purpose in living reside in following Christ and will, regardless of dangers, be properly rewarded by the Lord (vv. 26-27). As David Brown reminded his readers, “In times of severe persecution, and in prospect of suffering in any shape for the sake of the Gospel, it will be our wisdom and be found a tower of strength, to weigh both issues — the gain and the loss of each course.”21 Indeed, death to self is but a path on the road to a rich, eternal life with Christ.
In passing, it is also interesting to note Jesus’ self-proclaimed title, “Son of Man” (v.27). This was the name of the coming Messiah revealed to Daniel (cf. Dan. 7:13-14). Indeed, this title or name of the Messiah was proclaimed by Jesus himself “on about fifty separate occasions.”22
Thus he connects this title with his future coming in glory. After the times of future suffering, there will be spectacular activity in the skies. For Jesus told his disciples, “Just like the lightening comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be (Matt. 24:27). And then,
The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt 24:30-31)
It will lead to the soon establishing of his everlasting earthly kingdom (cf. Rev. 21-22). Although not specifically mentioned here, this coming of the Son of Man “in his glory and all the angels with him” (Matt. 25:31) may also have been prefigured in Jesus transfiguration (Matt 17: 1-8) and his post-resurrection appearances. Moreover, believers have the special opportunity each week to remember that Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). Moreover, the title “Son of Man” reminds believers that the heaven-sent Messiah is both fully human and divine. In light of the Mark’s gospel record it may also safely be said, as Colin Brown points out,
Mark presents Jesus as the messianic Son of God. As the Son of Man He is also the servant who came, “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”(10:45). Jesus Messiahship involves rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection 8:31; 9:12, 31; 10:33f.; 12:31). Mark presents the way of Jesus as the way of Yahweh, so that rejecting Jesus means rejecting Yahweh.23
Although the specific title “Son of Man” is not used in the well-known Christmas hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” both the divinity and full humanity of Jesus are attested:
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold Him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see, hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Blessed as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.24
Another very familiar account in the gospels is that of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:18-22; Mark 10:16-22; Luke 18:18-23). When a young man asked Jesus, “What good must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16), Jesus told him, “Keep the commandments” (v.17), to which the young man asked, “Which ones?” (v.18). Jesus then specified commandments six through nine, climaxed by reference to the fifth commandment. When the young man assured Jesus that he had done so, Jesus then gave him a basic challenge to obtaining eternal life, “If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (v.21). Since the young man was very wealthy, such an answer was very troubling to him. For the young man believed that in his present state there must be some good work that would make eternal life with God a certainty. Perhaps he thought that he had the resources to give or do what was necessary to accomplish this. Moreover, As Osborne concludes, Jesus had hit upon the primary problem in the man’s life. His possessions have clearly become his god and have thus replaced God in his life. Therefore, the only recourse is to do what must be done with all idols: get rid of them. … This does not mean that he had never engaged in almsgiving. He could not have said he had kept “all” the commands if he had not. Jesus is not talking about almsgiving but about idolatry.25
It is simply true, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). What the rich young man needed to understand was that the means to eternal life stood before him. Eternal life with the Lord is begun and accomplished through complete faithful obedience to Christ. Whatever the cost, submission to and dependence on him is minimal in comparison with an eternal reward. Subsequently Jesus instructs his disciples concerning the essence and reward of following him (vv. 23-27). Then Jesus told them;
I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are revealed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (vv. 28-29).
Whatever might appear to be so precious in this life is minimal in comparison with what a faithful follower of Christ will come to enjoy in eternity. As France remarks;
Yes, says Jesus there is a “reward” for leaving everything to follow him. … As in 13:8, 23, “a hundred-fold” points to a disproportionate large “recompense,” and the following parable will underline that God is more generous to those who serve him than human society might expect.26
True righteousness, then, has its own reward. No amount of worldly success or wealth can compensate for the value of the soul or for a life lived with Christ Jesus. Moreover, as we have noted, our great and blessed reward lies ahead. Thus Paul tells Timothy,
I have competed well, I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally, the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous judge, will award it to me in that day –and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler are in harmony with his earlier instructions to his disciples.
If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)
Self-denial is difficult for everyone, but for a person whose heart is devoted to the living Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for all, a life of great spiritual gain is available and readily given and should be followed (2 Cor. 5:15). Thus Jesus told his disciples that an assurance of that reality was to be given to some of them in the not too distant future (Luke 9:27). By this Jesus may have been referring to the transfiguration, which was to occur shortly after this. At that time Peter, James, and John were present and amazed by the marvelous glory, which they beheld and heard (Luke 9:28-30. Later, Peter would testify to the marvel of that tome when they beheld the power and majesty of Christ, and the honor and glory that Jesus received from God, the Father (2 Pet. 1:16-18).
Interestingly, it was this same Peter, who had followed Jesus so closely and promised Jesus that no matter what he would follow him (Mark 14:29), who alone among the disciples followed Jesus. Later, he would even follow Jesus when he was arrested. Yet he followed, “from a distance” (Mark 14:54). He was not quite ready to be identified with Jesus before the assembled high priest, chief priests, elders and scribes who were looking to find some incriminating evidence against Jesus. Eventually, of course, the risen, resurrected Jesus confronted Peter and challenged him to a life of faithfulness, even though he also predicted Peter’s own crucifixion because of his ministry for the Lord. Thus Jesus said;
“I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go.” (Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God.) After he said this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)
In the days that followed Peter must have often recalled Jesus’ earlier prediction of his own crucifixion and challenge to his disciples to follow him—whatever the cost. Even as a kernel wheat must die in the ground if it is to produce grain…
“The one who loves his life destroys it and the one who hates his life in this world guards it for eternal life. If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12: 25-26)
As Kostenberger remarks, Jesus’ disciples are to look for honor, not from others, but from God the Father. And this honor will sovereignly be bestowed upon Jesus’ followers for committed faithful service to him Jesus.27 Mounce adds:
To serve Jesus one must be where he is. And as Jesus and the believer travel the same road of self-denial, they will be together honored by the Father. The essential point is that Jesus and his followers are one in their obedience to the Father and have together embarked on the road of obedience to the Father.28
More than the three wise men who followed a star to find the one who had been born “King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:1-2), the disciples were to follow this same “King” –even if it was to cost them their lives. According to Christian tradition all of Jesus’ disciples (including Matthias, who replaced Judas, Jesus ’betrayer [cf. Acts 1:15-26]) were martyred for their faithful service to Christ except John, who died in exile in his later years. 29
Summary and Application
As we noted at the outset of our study the basic teaching of the Old Testament is found in Moses’ recorded words in Deuteronomy 13:4: “You must follow the LORD your God and revere only him; and you must observe his commandments, obey him, serve him, and remain loyal to him.” The instruction is plain and simple enough. To be a true follower of the Lord means to be a faithful, committed believer who trusts in the Lord’s leading in all things. This entails a constant and consistent obedience in all things (cf. Ps, 119: 7-11).
Unfortunately, with God’s people Israel all of this was too often lacking, so that in progressively turning away from the Lord to follow selfish desires and plans it meant tragic consequences—even at times God’s judgment. So it was that we learned from several texts the need for God’s people to stay faithful, regardless of the difficulties or how terrible the circumstances the present situation might appear to be. Yes, believers must keep in mind that for his sheep (the believers) God is the Shepherd and he is sufficient to meet and grant all that that his sheep really need (Ps. 23).
The New Testament confirms and builds upon this, showing that Jesus Christ is that “Good Shepherd” (John 10: 11-16). Moreover, he is the ultimate “Great Shepherd” (Heb 13:20) and as Peter, one of Jesus’ close followers said, The “Chief Shepherd” (1Pet. 5:4), who when he comes again will reward his faithful servants. In addition, Paul reminds us that God is at hand and can and will supply whatever we truly need (1Cor. 10: 1-2). Thus it is that:
No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it. (v. 13)
It is altogether fitting, then, that Jesus himself said to his disciples, as well as to the crowds that often gathered around him, “Follow me.”
Jesus Christ is our prime example of a faithful follower, even as he told God, the Father, in his special prayer toward the end of his earthly ministry prior to his crucifixion: “I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Indeed, Jesus is our ultimate example of faithful following. Thus Peter declared to his readers that Christ left them “an example for you to follow in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21). Although Peter was addressing those who were slaves in his time, all believers need to heed his instructive words (cf. vv. 22-24), because we, too, “were ‘going astray like sheep’ but now … have turned back to the shepherd and guardian” of our “souls” (v. 25).
As Myhre wrote, “Lord, let it not be that I follow You merely for the sake of following a leader, but let me accept You as Lord and Master of every step I take.”30 Let us, therefore, not follow Israel’s all-too-often practice of selfish infidelity, for that would render us also to be untrustworthy, inconsistent “followers.” As Jesus warned his disciples, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:38). Let us, rather be consistent, faithful followers. Indeed, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and like his disciples we are his sheep and are expected to follow him (John 10: 1-18). Moreover, it is our privilege to encourage others to be Jesus’ followers (cf. John 1:43-46).
Let us as believers, therefore, not be those who adhere to any selfish, personal desires such as self-importance; rather, let us be those who honor and humbly follow the Lord (cf. e.g., Phil 2:3-11; Col. 3:12-17; 1 Pet. 5:5). May we always be known as faithful followers of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As Margaret and Howard Brown expressed it:
Jesus calls me—I must follow,
Follow him today;
When His tender voice is pleading
How can I delay?
Follow, I will follow Thee, My Lord,
Follow every passing day;
My tomorrows are all known to Thee,
Thou wilt lead me all the way.31
1 Unless otherwise noted all scriptural citations are taken from the NET.
2 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, in The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 231.
3 Richard D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, “1 and 2 Kings,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, 13 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 3: 730.
4 Patterson and Austel, ibid., 877.
5 Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2003), 273. In the form in which it appears in Zephaniah the verb “denotes a willful turning of oneself away or back from someone or something. When that someone is God (cf. Isa. 59:12-13), it is a deadly condition” (275).
6 Daniel W. Whittle, “Moment By Moment.”
7 It is commonly assumed that David is the author and that Psalm 23 stands about mid way through his first collection of Psalms (Pss. 1-41).
8 Richard D. Patterson, Hosea (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2009), 43.
9 Willem A VanGemeren, “Palms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, 13 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) 5: 256.
10 God’s presence is a familiar theme in the Psalms. The reality and pleasure of living in God’s presence is also especially relevant to Christians. See further, Richard D. Patterson, “The Pleasure of His Presence,” Biblical Studies Press, 2009.
11 “Rock,” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, eds. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 733.
12 Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 170.
13 Ricard D. Patterson, “The Pleasure of His Presence,” Biblical Studies Press, 2010.
14 B. B. McKinney, “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.”
15 John E. Bode.” O Jesus, I have promised.”
16 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 145.
17 David L. Turner, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort, 18 vols. (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2005) 11: 74.
18 Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, in Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 335.
19 France, Matthew, 353.
20 Turner, “The Gospel of Matthew,” 138.
21 David Brown, “Matthew—John,” in A Commentary Critical, Experimental And Practical on the Old And New Testaments, 6 vols. ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948) 5: 91.
22 Alistair Begg & Sinclair B. Ferguson, Name Above All Names (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 103.
23 Colin Brown, “Person of Christ,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, rev. ed., 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 3:790.
24 Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
25 Osborne, “Matthew,” 718.
26 France, “The Gospel of Matthew,” 742, 745.
27 Andres J. Kostenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 379.
28 Robert H. Mounce, “John,” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, 13 vols. (Grand Rapids” Zondervan, rev ed., 2007) 10: 5 36.
29 For details concerning the later lives and ministries of Jesus’ disciples, see Emil G. Kraeling,The Disciples (Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1966.
30 Charlen Myhre as cited in Quotable Quotations, ed. Lloyd Cory (Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1989), 139.
31 Margaret and Howard Brown, “Jesus Calls Me, I must Follow.”
Dr. Richard Patterson holds an (A.B., Wheaton College; M.Div., Northwest Baptist Theological Seminary; Th.M. Talbot Theological Seminary; M.A., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles)
In his years of service he has been Professor at Grand Rapids Baptist Theological Seminary, and Northwest Baptist Seminary; Professor and Chairman of Biblical Studies at Los Angeles Baptist College and Seminary; and Professor, Chairman of Biblical Studies, and Dean of Graduate Studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The latter also honored Dr. Patterson with Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 1994.
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