Monday, April 21, 2014

What are the biblical qualifications for an apostle?

An apostle (“one sent” or “to send forth with a commission”) is one whom God has sent with a message. An apostle is accountable to his Sender and carries the authority of his Sender.

The Lord Jesus Himself is called “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession”(Hebrews 3:1). As the Apostle Jesus Christ represented God to men and as High Priest He now represents man to God in heaven. 

While He was here on earth, the Lord Jesus personally selected from His many followers twelve men and gave them special responsibility to receive and spread His message after He returned to heaven (John 17:6–20, Matthew 10:1–4, Mark 3:14–15, Mark 6:40). These chosen and sent ones were His apostles. During the time Jesus was training them, the criteria which He used to choose them is not given, but it is an interesting study to look at the common traits of those twelve men. 

On occasions the Lord sent forth men who were not apostles, in Luke 10:1 He appointed seventy also, and sent them two by two, these also were laborers sent into the harvest (v2). The instructions given to these seventy (Luke 10:1-12) were similar to those given to the twelve apostles. To both groups the Lord gave the power to cast out unclean spirits and demons (Lk. 10:17), but the apostles also had power to “heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease” yet this is not stated of the seventy. Not all disciples are gifted in every way (1 Cor. 12:7:31).

One of the twelve apostles was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to His enemies. In agony of conscience, Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Thus, when Jesus returned to heaven, He left behind only eleven apostles.

Some days later, the remaining apostles were praying with Jesus’ mother, His brothers, and other believers. The group totaled about 120 (Acts 1:12–26). Simon Peter addressed the group and told them that Psalm 69:25 predicted Judas’ desertion and Psalm 109:8 predicted that the defector’s place among the apostles should be filled.

Peter proposed choosing a new apostle and set the qualifications. Anyone under consideration needed to have been with Jesus during the whole three years that Jesus was among them. That is, he needed to be an eye-witness of Jesus’ baptism when the Father validated Jesus’ person and work. He needed to have heard Jesus’ life-changing teachings and been present to see His healings and other miracles. He needed to have witnessed Jesus sacrifice Himself on the cross and to have seen Jesus walk, talk, and eat among the disciples again after His resurrection. These were the pivotal facts of Jesus’ life, the heart of the message they were to teach, and personal witnesses were required to verify the truth of the good news. 

The prayer group nominated two who met these qualifications, Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. They cast lots, a method of determining God’s will that was common at that time. The lot fell to Matthias, and he became the twelfth apostle.

On repeated occasions, these men gave witness of their personal observations of the Lord Jesus, using such words as, “We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen” (Acts 10:39–40).

Sometime later, Saul, one of the Pharisees, was trying to stamp out the new “cult” of Christianity by killing and jailing some of Jesus’ followers. While Saul was breathing out his threats on his way to Damascus, the risen ascend Christ personally appeared to him. This undeniable encounter with the resurrected Lord revolutionized Saul’s life. In a vision to another believer in Damascus, the Lord Jesus said that He had chosen Saul “as My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15, 22:14-15). Following his conversion, Paul spent some time in Arabia, where he was taught by Christ (Galatians 1:12-17). The other apostles recognized that Jesus Himself had appointed their former enemy to be one of them. As Saul went to the Gentile, God changed his name to the Greek “Paul,” and the Lord Jesus sent many messages through him to the churches and to unbelievers. It was this apostle, Paul, whom the Holy Spirit used to write over half of the books of the New Testament.

In two of his Epistles, Paul identifies the office of apostle as the first that Jesus appointed to serve His churches (1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 12:27–30, Ephesians 4:11). Clearly, the work of the apostle was to lay the foundation of the Church in a sense secondary only to that of Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:19–20), thus requiring eye-witness authority behind their preaching. After the apostles laid the foundation, the Church could be built.

While Paul never claimed to be included among the original twelve, he, the others, and all believers have recognized that the Lord appointed him as His special apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:1, 1 Corinthians 9:1, Acts 26:16–18). There are others in the early church referred to as “apostles” (Acts 14:14, Romans 16:7, Galatians 1:19), but only in the sense that they were appointed, authorized, and sent by churches on special task. These individuals bore the title in a limited sense and did not possess all the qualifications of apostleship that the original twelve and Paul did.

No biblical evidence exists to indicate that these thirteen apostles were replaced when they died (see Acts 12:1–2, for example). The Lord Jesus appointed the apostles to do the founding work of the Church, and foundations only need to be laid once. After the apostles’ deaths, other offices, not requiring an eye-witness relationship with the Lord Jesus, would carry on the work.

In Matthew 10:1-15 the Lord Jesus first chose His apostles and sent the out with special power and authority to perform miracles. These miracles were part of their “credentials” (Acts 2:43, 5:12, 2 Cor. 12:12, Heb. 2:1-4). The healed the sick (and note that these included all kinds of diseases), cleansed the lepers, cast out demons and even raised the dead. These four ministries paralleled the miracles that Jesus performed in Matthew 8 and 9. In a definite way, the Apostles represented the Lord and were an extension of His work. 

While some of the principles are of lasting value for God’s people in all ages, the fact that some were later revoked by the Lord Jesus proves they were intended to be permanent (Luke 22:35-36). Christ’s commission to these twelve men in Matthew 10 is not our commission today. He sent them only to the people of Israel. “To the Jew first” is the historic pattern, for “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). These twelve ambassadors announced the coming of the kingdom just as John the Baptist had done (Matt. 3:2) and Jesus Himself (Matt. 4:17). Sad to say, the nation rejected both Christ and His ambassadors and the kingdom was taken from them (Matt. 21:43). 

The Lord’s commission to us includes “all the world” (Matt. 28:19-20), not just the nation of Israel. We preach the gospel of grace of God (Acts 20:24). Our message is that “Christ dies for our sins,”

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