Apostles

Published on June 10th, 2020

The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:22)

We confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”  What is this “apostolic church”, and why was it necessary for Saint Matthew to give the list of the apostles?  Realize first that the word apostle identifies someone who is sent to both speak for and represent the sender.  Thus Jesus is called apostle in Hebrews 3:1: “…consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him…”  It is quite clear from the Gospels that Jesus’ sender is God the Father.  As apostle, Jesus speaks for and represents God the Father.  It is true that the Son of God and God the Father have eternal intimacy.  However Jesus, as a man, is uniquely recognized as God’s apostle.  To see and hear the incarnate Son of God is to see and hear God the Father (e.g. Jn. 14).  The Jews had a Hebrew word that communicated the meaning of apostle.[1]  The word in English is “shaliach”.  When a shaliach spoke it was understood that it was the equivalent of the sender speaking.  Thus when Jesus spoke, His words were those of God the Father.  When a shaliach rendered a decision relative to his office as shaliach, it was recognized as the decision of the sender.  Thus all decisions made by the man Jesus, were decisions recognized as decisions from God the Father.

Consider now the apostles listed in our text.  This is no small matter to identify these men as holders of the awesomely authoritative office of apostle.  When they spoke or wrote, Jesus was speaking.  When they acted or when they rendered decisions (e.g. the Church Council in Acts 15), it was Jesus acting and rendering decisions.  It is no wonder that such a big deal is made for the replacement for the apostle Judas (Acts 1), as well as for the authenticity of Paul’s apostleship. Paul must repeatedly insist and prove that he is truly an Apostle (e.g. 2 Cor 11:5ff; 12:11; Gal 1:1).

The apostolic writings of the New Testament are often misunderstood because Christians fail to realize that frequently “we” in such writings is referring to the apostles and not to Christians generally. Consider 1 John 1:1-3a: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have gazed upon and touched with our own hands—this is the Word of life. And this is the life that was revealed; we have seen it and testified to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.”  The “we” and the “us” are the Apostles, and it is their authority as apostles—and indeed fellowship with them—that we as Christians must seek.

When the apostles performed miracles or when their very presence created instances of the miraculous, this was simply a verification of the fact that they were officially apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, and such miracles verified their word as Christ’s word.  And what was the heart of the apostolic word?  It is the crucifixion of Jesus and all that relates to it—of course including His resurrection.  The Apostle Paul summarized succinctly:  We preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23).  Though today’s pastors are not apostles, yet they continue the apostolic proclamation:  They must preach Christ crucified, the heart of the apostolic words, actions and writings.

[1] See Theol. Dictionary of the NT, vol. 1, 414ff.  “The Greek [apostolos] gives us only the form of the NT concept; the Shaliach of later Judaism provides the content…There is full identity between apostolos and shaliach in Jn. 13:16.” (421).