Christ Himself gave… the Apostles

Gordon MackleyPosted on Monday, August 5, 2013 by Gordon Mackley

Amos 8:4-7 & Luke 11:37-49

Introduction: this is part of our continuing series on Spiritual Gifts, that of Apostleship.

There are no apostles in the Old Testament but here is a reading of an Old Testament Prophet and a New Testament reading where Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. So looking at the two readings, you could be forgiven for wondering whether I had completely lost it – hopefully you will conclude that I have not!

It is always nice to have readings that make us all feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ but apostleship is a very serious business which can involve high risk. It is important therefore to be real and if we are going to undertake it, to understand the dangers.

In this blog, I shall define what an apostle is, look at who were the early apostles, what apostleship meant then and what apostleship means now.

Definitions

It is important that we understand correctly the meanings of words used commonly, but where the distinction between them is not necessarily correctly understood. To do this, we need to go back to the root of the words from their original derived languages:

  • Evangelist was discussed in a previous blog. The word comes from Greek euangelistes, eu – ‘good’ and angellein ‘announce’;
  • Disciple comes from Latin discipulus pupil, from discere ‘to learn’
  • Apostle comes from Greek apostolos – person sent forth, from apo – ‘away’ and stellein ‘to send’
  • Missionary comes from Latin missio ‘to send off

So ‘apostle’ is very close to ‘missionary’. Their roots are simply from different languages. People tend to regard apostle as a rather higher class more spiritual person than missionary, but this is really only english usage.

We need to note that apostle and disciple do not have the same meaning and the way to remember the distinction is that the 12 started out as disciples (pupils) learning from Jesus and then when they had learnt sufficient, he sent them out as apostles.

An apostle is not the same as an evangelist although an apostle will need to do evangelising. The core part of apostleship is being ‘sent out’. As already stated, this is essentially the same as ‘missionary’.

Background

The word apostolos was originally a secular term used by the Greeks and the Romans to describe special envoys sent out to establish the dominion of the empire. These envoys were sent to certain territories and charged to subdue, conquer, convert, instruct, train and establish the new subjects in the culture of the empire. So Paul’s use of this term is subversive. Apostles as defined by Paul are envoys of the true Lord and Paul is stating that this is Jesus and not Caesar or any other earthly ruler.

The word apostle is used 79 times in the New Testament. It is used more than any other ministry title. 1 Corinthians 12:28 ranks apostleship as the first (greatest) spiritual gift. So apostleship is serious stuff and not to be taken lightly.

How many ‘apostles’ were there originally?

Interestingly if you check websites, you will come up with a whole set of different answers. This is my list of those who are specifically named and who are also referred to in the Greek as ‘apostolos’:

  • Simon (Peter), Andrew; James (son of Zebedee), John; Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the Zealot) and Judas Iscariot. (The original 12 as listed in Matthew 10:2 & 3)
  • Matthias (who replaced Judas Iscariot) – Acts 1:26
  • Paul (Saul) – Many references including Romans 1:1
  • Andronicus and Junia – Romans 16:7
  • James (the ‘half brother’ of Jesus) – Galatians 1:16-17
  • Jesus – Hebrews 3:1

Total: 18

The inclusion of Jesus may surprise us but Jesus was sent out from the Godhead (from ‘Heaven’ if you wish to describe it thus) to be a Jewish man on earth. The difference was that Jesus did not just proclaim the good news as other apostles did, he also was that good news!

By the definition used by Paul and others, all these early apostles had to have seen the physical risen Jesus, to have believed in him as son of God and then gone out and proclaimed that good news to others.

The actual total of those named is not the most important issue here, but the fact that there are distinctly more than 12.

More about Junia

Despite attempts over the years to create a male version of this name (‘Junias’ in some translations), no such name existed.

The name ‘Junia’ did not have a male equivalent and Junia has to have been a woman. It is clear that women had an important place in early Christianity and we are reminded also of Phoebe, called a ‘Deacon’ by Paul (not the wife of a Deacon – Paul’s use of Greek is explicit) who was entrusted with taking (and therefore by custom also reading to the church) Paul’s letter to the Romans (16:1-2)

I raise the issue of women here as this is a serious point.

There are some who argue that there were only 12 apostles, all men, and they wrote scripture and did various miraculous works and then there were no more apostles thereafter. In this view later ‘apostleship’ therefore does not exist. We have seen however that actually seventeen men and one woman were named (note that they did not all write scripture) and biblical usage would suggest therefore that it is probable that there were (unnamed) others who did all manner of things not actually recorded.

There were over 500 (both women and men interestingly specified) who saw the resurrected Jesus according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:6), so this also makes both a larger number of ‘apostles’ and the inclusion of women likely.

The ongoing significance of apostleship

All of this gives us confidence that although physical appearances of Jesus have ceased, a similar work of apostleship by both men and women has carried on to the present day. It certainly cannot be denied that those who people normally call ‘missionaries’ (of both sexes) have existed up to the present time and so remembering the similarity in derivation of ‘apostle’ and ‘missionary’, this also gives us confidence in the gift of apostleship to both women and men through the ages.

If we look at the two passages:

Luke 11Woes on the Pharisees and the experts in the law

37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you – be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 ‘Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 ‘Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the market-places.
44 ‘Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.’

45 One of the experts in the law answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.’
46 Jesus replied, ‘And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
47 ‘Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.”

Note that at the end, Jesus compares prophets and apostles. The passage speaks for itself but a few notes might be helpful:

  • The Pharisees were a Jewish political pressure group who were very moralistic and wanted Jewish religious ‘purity’ under the auspices of religious law
  • The Teachers of the Law were the leaders and teachers of Jewish religion (‘The Law’ or Torah)

Both sets of people were prominent members of the Jewish establishment within an occupied Roman province. They were both keen to maintain the establishment and religion. Jesus states that they had got their priorities wrong and were not showing real love for God which is shown in love for people.

Amos 8

4Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, 5 saying, ‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?’ – skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, 6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
7 The LORD has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.

Again the passage speaks for itself but a few notes might be helpful:

  • Amos was a farmer from the southern Kingdom of Judea whom God sent to tell the very materially affluent people (at that time) of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) how badly they had got it wrong and what was about to befall them as a consequence
  • ‘New Moon’ refers to official Judaistic religious feast days (always on New Moon days) on which no work was permitted. No work was permitted on Sabbaths either, so the passage is saying that those carrying out the religious observances could not wait for them to finish so that they could get back to their normal work day exploitation and fraudulent practices.

The last verse is chilling. Amos’s prophecy was delivered in 750 BC and within thirty years, Assyria had defeated the Northern Kingdom (Israel), killed or exiled the inhabitants and then the country effectively ceased to exist, exactly as prophesied by Amos. (The Southern Kingdom of Judea had a slightly different destiny).

Thus we can see the same message in the Old Testament as in the New.

The Bible is consistent about what is important and there is a great similarity between Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Prophets gave the bad news of getting it wrong but almost always with some prediction of better things to come (‘Good News later’) although in Amos’s case the latter is only five verses right at the end of the last chapter (9) after eight and a half chapters of bad news!

Apostles gave (give) the Good News of Jesus having now already put things right!

As stated, Jesus is both prophet and apostle. He gave warnings of getting it wrong with some good news to follow, but uniquely he is the actual good news itself!

The reaction to prophets and apostles is not always good, as Jesus pointed out in Luke 11:49,

“I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute”

The Lives of the Prophets (a Jewish historical book) records that Amos was killed by the son of Amaziah, a priest of Bethel (in the Northern Kingdom) who had been (falsely of course) telling the Northern Kingdom that everything was fine in their relationship with God.

In regard to the early apostles, we don’t know much about Junia and there is debate about Andronicus, but of the others in my list; all were by tradition martyred except John (and Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide). Jesus was of course crucified.

Apostleship in a modern context

In our modern secular society, people have no problem if Christians worship amongst themselves on Sundays and don’t get involved in the ‘real world’. However to help the poor and oppressed, it is often necessary to confront the rich and powerful and to state what is actually right and what is wrong.

Recently the reaction to our Archbishop Welby’s comments about the morality of high interest short term loans made to the poorest in our society shows the type of reaction you can get in secular societies when someone challenges its values.

In a more seriously dangerous environment, we can think of Ben Freeth and the late Mike Campbell who challenged Robert Mugabe Zimbabwean government to support justice against corruption and we can think of countless missionaries across the world who often have to challenge authority in order to carry out their God given missions in those places.

Apostles need not be sent necessarily to far away parts. There is work that God may choose to send you amongst those in need much closer to home.

Wherever they go, what are the characteristics of apostles?
  • An apostle is sent out by God to do some specific work although earthly agencies may (should) also be involved (similar to ‘missionary’). The ‘earthly’ agencies are needed for both prayer and mundane matters such as funding;
  • They are sent with the power and authority of the sender (if truly sent by God that gives them awesome power and authority!);
  • They must proclaim the ‘Gospel’ (good news);
  • ‘The Gospel’ is not only spiritual and detached from the physical ‘here and now’. It is very much about present physical reality;
  • Jesus commands apostles to make disciples… teaching them to obey everything he commanded the original apostles to do. (We can see all the practical work around the needy included in scripture from beginning to end);
  • So this includes issues of poverty, injustice, advocacy etc.;
What is the Gospel (‘good news’) that they must proclaim?

It includes – but is NOT only:

  • Believing in your mind the facts about Jesus, as given in the Bible;
  • A great personal spiritual experience;
  • A personal saving from a bad experience after physical death to a good one (however that is understood).

It is also:

  • Believing that Jesus is Lord of the world – over and above all earthly leaders of all times and places;
  • That by conquering death, Jesus gave the means to take away from evil regimes the fear of death as a weapon;
  • It is a call for total allegiance which includes head, heart, soul and strength to live a more fulfilled life than would otherwise have been the case (‘repentance’);
  • It is a summons to ACT in the new kingdom that Jesus inaugurated, in every aspect of our lives – not for any personal benefit but to improve life for others spiritually and physically (make ‘God’s Kingdom come on earth’ as in the Lord’s Prayer) before Jesus’ return. This can be extremely threatening to ‘the establishment’ in most places and times and is therefore personally often very risky for those involved.

Even if apostleship is not one of your personal gifts, we need to remember Paul’s words that the body needs all of the different parts and you can still support apostolic individuals or organisations in some way by prayer, assisting in advocacy, giving money – there are lots of opportunities!

So what about you?

If ‘apostleship’ is one of your main spiritual gifts – or even if not, but you still feel you could assist others in their apostleship by using your gifts…

Are you up not only for the rewards – but also the risks?

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