In the gospels we see Jesus inviting those who would become His apostles to “follow” Him. In John 1:40, John the Baptist pointed Andrew and another disciple to Jesus who bid them to “Come and see,” and so they followed Him and stayed the entire day with Him. On the next day, the Lord called Philip to “follow Me” (John 1:43), which he did, also bringing his friend Nathanael to the Lord. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus approached four fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) and called them to follow Him, that they should become fishers of men. And in Matthew 9:9, Matthew heard Jesus call out “Follow Me,” which he did, leaving his tax office behind.
A few years later in His ministry, Jesus described His relationship to His disciples (not just the twelve, but all who would follow Him) with the analogy of sheep following their shepherd (John 10:27). He contrasted Himself with the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees and scribes. He likened them to robbers and hirelings, for they did not care about the sheep nor did the sheep truly hear and follow them.
As we look further in the gospels, we can see that Jesus had a lot of people who followed Him (Matthew 4:25; 8:1, 19; 12:15; 14:13; 19:2; 20:29; 21:9; Mark 3:7; 5:24; etc.). You get the picture, right?. Time and again, the Scriptures tell us about people following Jesus. Multitudes! Huge crowds. But sadly, many of them wanted to follow Him on their own terms rather than His and ended up turning back from following Him. Luke 9:57-61 speaks of some who voiced their interest in following Jesus, but set earthly pursuits as more important. In John 6, many followed Jesus, seeking a free dinner from Him. When He shared hard sayings with them, they were offended and “…from that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (v 66). There were a lot of “would-be” followers. May that not be us. Jesus is looking for those who will seriously and earnestly follow Him firm to the end.
Jesus invites, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). We need to come with a commitment, with a willingness to set aside the lusts of the flesh and mind, with a focus on dying to self so that we might live for Christ. Peter affirms that Jesus is our example, “…to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps…” (1 Peter 2:21). As our Teacher, the Lord has shown us how we should live before God with true devotion and how we should serve others in humility. In the context of 1 Peter 2, He is our example on how to deal with suffering. We need to follow Jesus’ example.
Notice this wonderful promise of the Lord: “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (John 12:26). An important observation—we cannot follow Jesus unless we serve Him. He’s not talking about religious groupies; He is speaking about devoted imitators. If we will serve Him and imitate Him, He promises heaven to us. He will be glorified and honoured in the presence of the Father, and if we serve Him, we also will be honoured by the Father. In John 13:36, Jesus said to the apostles, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow me afterward.” The apostles would have loved to simply go to heaven right away. They could not. They would need to serve in this life for a time first. The same is true for us. We should desire to be in heaven—to follow Jesus there; but before we can do so, we must live faithful before Him here.
In John 21:15-19, Jesus had a conversation with Peter. After Jesus had been arrested, Peter denied three times that he knew Him. It is fitting that in John 21 the Lord asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” And three times, the apostle confessed his love for the Lord. Then Jesus revealed to Peter that life would eventually become very difficult for him; in fact, John tells us that Jesus foretold the manner in which Peter would die—crucifixion (verse 18-19). But despite the trials and troubles which were ahead, Jesus had a simple message for Peter — “Follow Me” (verse 19b). Don’t be a fair-weather follower. It is easy to follow the Lord when the way is easy and things are going our way. But when times get tough, we need to persevere. He didn’t turn from us when things got difficult, but went to Calvary and died for us. Again, He has promised, if we serve Him faithfully, we will be with Him in eternity.
In John 21:20-21, Peter saw John and asked Jesus, “What about this man?” Having just heard about his own death, it seems Peter was curious about John’s end. What would happen to him? Tradition states that John was the only apostle to die a natural death. He endured great persecutions at times, but his death would be at an old age and not an execution. Jesus didn’t reveal this to John (or to Peter). He simply stated, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” Peter, what is it to you? It should make no difference. We cannot let the actions and circumstances of others affect what we do in our service to God. It didn’t matter what was going to happen with John—Follow Me. Even if all our brethren were to turn form the Lord, may we continue to follow Him.