Disciples are never distinguished from the regenerate who are at a lower plane, but are regularly distinguished from hell-bound lost people. Disciples are contrasted with publicans and sinners (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17) from perishing multitudes (Matthew 9:35-38; Luke 19:36-38) and from the persecuting ungodly, (Matthew 10:22-27). Disciples are those who have been given spiritual truth and enter the kingdom of heaven, in contrast with the lost, who do not do so (Matthew 13:10-12; Mark 4:33-34; Luke 8:9-11). Disciples will feast with Christ in the consummation (Mark 2:18-19). Disciples inherit the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20) and their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20-24). Disciples are Christ’s spiritual brethren (Matthew 12:49-50; 28:7-10) and those who recognize Jesus is the Christ (Matthew 16:14-16, 20). Disciples are Christ’s little ones (Matthew 10:42); His little children (John 13:33) who cannot come into condemnation (13:33) are disciples (13:35), believers (14:1) who will have heavenly mansions (14:2-3) with the Lord Jesus. Disciples are those who bear fruit (John 15:8) and consequently are not burned eternally in the fires of hell (15:6). Disciples (John 16:7) are believers (John 16:27) and are therefore those who are promised the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 16:7-17; 14:16-18; cf. 20:19-22). Christian “brethren” are “disciples” (Acts 6:1-3; 9:17, 26-30; 14:28-15:1). Disciples are those who are not unsaved, but are “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). When Paul preached the gospel message that “by [Christ] all that believe are justified from all things, from which [they] could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39) those who “believed” received “eternal life” (13:48) and thus became “disciples” (13:50; cf. 14:1, 21-23). People who have had God “purif[y] their hearts by faith . . . disciples . . . through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . shall be saved” (15:9-11). When people heard the gospel, they either became “disciples” or they rejected the Savior and “believed not” (Acts 19:9). Disciples (Acts 9:1) are those who are of the Christian “way” (9:2). Saul received a commission to persecute Christ’s disciples (9:1-2), and he consequently persecuted all believers, all who “call on [Christ’s] name” (9:14; cf. 9:19, 21, 25-27). Scripture clearly and regularly equates the categories of believer and disciple, promises those who are in these categories the same eternal felicity, and warns of eternal damnation for all who do not become disciples or believers.
The act of making disciples is expressed with the Greek verb matheteuo.[i] Making disciples (Matthew 28:19) takes place by preaching the gospel and having people come to repent (Luke 24:47) and believe (Mark 16:15-16), and thus receive the remission of sins (Luke 24:47; Mark 16:16; John 20:23), after which the believers or disciples should be baptized (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16). The response to the preaching of the gospel is people becoming disciples by the new birth (Acts 14:21), for one is discipled “unto the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:52). As with the noun mathetes, the verb matheteuo indicates that one becomes a disciple by becoming a believer.[ii] No text teaches or implies that disciples are an elite subcategory within a larger group of Christians.
John 8:30-32 indicates that disciples are those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The discourse of John 8 takes place in the Jerusalem temple (v. 2, 20, 59), where Christ debates and refutes the Pharisees in front of a watching audience. In 8:12-13 Christ addresses “the Pharisees” and they reply. He then responds in v. 14-18, they answer Him in v. 19, and He responds in v. 19, making it clear that they are lost in their sins (v. 19). This interaction between the Pharisees and the Lord continues in v. 20-29. Although now called “the Jews” (v. 22), Christ still debates the same Pharisaic opponents, for v. 21 (“then said Jesus again unto them”) indicates He still speaks to the Pharisees of v. 13. Verse 24 (“therefore”) also shows the interaction continues through v. 29. It is very apparent that these Pharisees are lost (v. 21, 23, 24); indeed, they will be responsible for Christ’s crucifixion (v. 28). As the Lord preaches to and answers the Pharisees, many of those listening to His public disputation with them savingly believe on Him (v. 30-32).[iii] The Lord then tells those who have now believed on Him that their initial justifying faith will evidence itself in perseverance (v. 31-32). In v. 33, the Pharisees (“they,” as in v. 27) challenge Christ’s address to His new disciples. The speakers in v. 33 are not the new converts—their words are nowhere recorded in the chapter—rather, the public disputation with the Pharisees found in the rest of John eight is continued from v. 33 through the end of the chapter. Thus, John chapter eight records a conversation between Christ and the Pharisees with others looking on and listening in. Some of the onlookers believed on the Savior and received His exhortation in v. 30-32, the only break in the dialogue, and one which occurs without a record of the response of those addressed. Christ said to those who had “believed,” “ye . . . are my disciples” (John 8:31). The identification of the categories believer and disciple is explicit.[iv] The specification that those the Lord Jesus addressed would evidence their status as true converts[v] by perseverance does not undermine the His identification of believers as disciples. Christ does not say that those who believe would “become” disciples by continuing in His Word, but that those who “are” currently disciples because they have truly believed will evidence their regeneration by perseverance—they “are” saved people “if” they continue.[vi] The “if . . . then” clause is an evidence/inference construction, so “the relation the protasis[vii] [has] to the apodosis[viii] is that of ground, or evidence . . . for example, ‘If she has a ring on her left hand, then she’s married.’ Notice that the protasis is not the cause of the apodosis. In fact, it is often just the opposite.”[ix] Those who had become the Lord’s disciples at the moment they believed in Christ would persevere; if someone did not do so, he never was a true convert.[x]
[i] Discussing the verb maqhteu/w, BDAG comments:
maqhteu/w (s. maqhth/ß) . . . 1. to be a pupil, with implication of being an adherent of the teacher
a. intr., be or become a pupil or disciple (Plut., Mor. 832b; 837c; Ps.-Callisth. 2, 4, 4 tini÷; Iambl., Vi. Pyth. 23, 104 m. tw◊ˆ Puqago/raˆ; schol. on Apollon. Rhod. Proleg. A a) tini÷ (Orig., C. Cels. 2, 9, 60) of someone (∆Iwsh\f) e˙maqh/teusen tw◊ˆ ∆Ihsouv Joseph had become a disciple of Jesus Mt 27:57 v.l. [the word appears in the TR but not the critical Greek text]. Likew. as
b. pass. dep. (Just., A I, 15, 6; Hippol., Ref. 1, 2, 16) maqhteu/omai become a disciple tini÷: (∆I.) e˙maqhteu/qh tw◊ˆ ∆Ihsouv Mt 27:57. grammateu\ß maqhteuqei«ß thvØ basilei÷aˆ t. oujranw◊n a scribe who has become a disciple of the kgdm. of heaven or who has been trained for the kgdm. Mt 13:52 (grammateu/ß 2b). Abs. IEph 3:1. ma◊llon maqhteu/omai I am becoming a disciple more and more IRo 5:1. This gave rise to a new active form (B-D-F §148, 3; Rob. 800)
2. to cause one to be a pupil, teach, trans. (AscIs 3:18 kai« maqhteu/sousin pa¿nta ta» e¶qnh kai« pa◊san glw◊ssan ei˙ß th\n aÓn[a¿]stasin touv aÓgap[h]touv; Just., D. 53, 1 Cristo\ß . . . e˙maqh/teusen aujtou/ß) make a disciple of, teach tina¿ someone Mt 28:19. i˚kanou/ß make a number of disciples Ac 14:21. Abs. a± maqhteu/onteß e˙nte÷llesqe what you command when you are instructing or winning disciples IRo 3:1.—uJmi√n maqhteuqhvnai become your disciples, be instructed by you IEph 10:1 (cp. pres. subst. ptc. oi˚ maqhteuo/menoi = oi˚ maqhtai÷ Did., Gen. 69, 24; 245, 17; aor. ptc. ai˚ de« touv qeouv Cristw◊ˆ maqhteuqei√sai e˙kklhsi÷ai Orig., C. Cels. 3, 29, 24; Polu/karpoß . . . uJpo\ aÓposto/lwn maqhteuqei÷ß Iren. 3, 3, 4 [Harv. II 12, 4]).—DELG s.v. manqa¿nw. M-M. EDNT. TW. Sv.
[ii] The like is true of the related nouns maqh/tria and summaqhth/ß. However, these words appear only in Acts 9:36 and John 11:16 and consequently make only a rather limited contribution to the question of the equation of the category of believer and disciple. The verb manqa¿nw, “to learn,” is naturally employed with frequency for Christian growth (Philippians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 14:31) and for the acquisition of other sorts of information (Acts 23:27), but it likewise indicates that one becomes a “learner” or disciple of Christ at the moment of conversion (Matthew 11:26; John 6:45), and makes no division between Christians who learn of Christ and a supposed category of Christians who do not learn of Him.
[iii] The perfect tense form of “believe” in v. 31 (pepisteuko/taß) demonstrates that the aorist “believed” (e˙pi÷steusan) in v. 30 denotes saving faith in many of those hearing Christ speak. Those who “believed” or received what Christ said in v. 30 as true were the same group as those who savingly believed in v. 31-32. The perfect tense of pisteu/w is never used for spurious “faith” in unsaved people (John 3:18; 6:69; 8:31; 11:27; 16:27; 20:29; Acts 15:5; 16:34; 18:27; 19:18; 21:20, 25; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Galatians 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 3:8; 1 John 4:16; 5:10).
[iv] Note further that John records in the following chapter that one who wished to become (thelo + ginomai) Christ’s disciple came to believe on Him, John 9:25-30, 35-38.
[v] aÓlhqw◊ß maqhtai/.
[vi] Note also that John repeatedly refers to continuing faith in true disciples—they grow in faith as they continue to believe on Christ, John 2:11; 16:29-31; 20:8, 26-29. “[D]isciples . . . believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (John 2:22).
[vii] The protasis is the “if” portion of a conditional clause.
[viii] The apodosis is the “then” portion of a conditional clause.
[ix] Pg. 683, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, by Daniel Wallace.
[x] A third class condition, rather than a first class condition, is employed in John 8:31-32 because the evidence of continuance was not yet present. Christ’s admonition to those He had just brought to Himself accords with the greater framework of Biblical evangelistic methodology, so that His admonition to His new converts is good to give to any newly professed believer in the Lord. Those who profess faith should know what a “disciple indeed” looks like and have assurance of salvation promised to them if they evidence themselves as such (1 John 2:29; 3:7; 5:13). Christ’s practice of telling new believers that true salvation will evidence itself in perseverance stands in radical contradistinction to the popular and totally unscriptural practice of a soulwinner providing immediate and unconditional assurance to all who have just professed faith. If the Lord Jesus conditioned assurance upon perseverance in His counsel to those whom He, in His omniscience, knew were genuinely converted, how much more should soulwinners, who are very far from omniscient, condition assurance upon perseverence when speaking to those who have newly professed Christ but may or may not have come to genuine faith!