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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Who Were the Twelve Apostles?

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Who Were the Twelve Apostles? In What Sense Were They Unique?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 4

The New Testament says that there were twelve apostles who had a unique relationship with Jesus Christ. Who were these men? What made them unique? The Bible says the following about this select group of followers of Jesus.

The Twelve Were Personally Chosen by Jesus

To begin with, we find that the twelve were personally chosen by the Lord Jesus to be His special disciples. Luke records what occurred. He writes.

And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles (Luke 6:13 NKJV).

These twelve men were specially chosen from among others who followed Jesus.

Matthew listed their names. They are as follows.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him (Matthew 10:2-4 NRSV).

These twelve were specially selected to be Jesus’ inner-circle.

The Twelve Preached That the Kingdom of God Was Imminent

These twelve apostles were not only chosen by the Lord Jesus, He specially commissioned them. The Bible says that Jesus sent out the twelve whom He had chosen to preach that the kingdom of God was imminent. Mark records the following.

And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach (Mark 3:14 ESV).

They were to tell people that God’s kingdom had arrived in the Person of the King, Jesus of Nazareth.

At First, They Announced the Kingdom to Israel Only

It is important to note that, at first, these twelve were to announce the kingdom only to those of the nation Israel. Matthew records the command Jesus made to these apostles.

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5, 6 NKJV).

Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. It was to them that He and His disciples originally went. It was not to the Gentiles.

The Twelve Were Promised Special Authority

When Jesus sent out the twelve to announce the kingdom of God was imminent He gave them the ability to perform miraculous signs. Matthew records this taking place.

And he [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction (Matthew 10:1 ESV).

Note the authority which they were given. It was over “every” disease and affliction.

These signs were evidence of the unique authority of the one who sent them – Jesus. We find the Lord also saying the following.

And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay (Matthew 10:7, 8 ESV).

They were given unique authority by Jesus to preach His message as well as to perform miracles which would attest to the truth of what they were saying.

Peter Was Given the Keys to the Kingdom

One disciple, Simon Peter, was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Matthew records Jesus saying the following to Peter.

And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Mathew 16:19 NKJV).

He was the one who eventually opened the doors of the kingdom to the Jews and Gentiles. This is recorded for us in the Book of Acts (Acts 2, 8, 10). His message, at that time, was that Christ had risen from the dead.

They Were Promised a Special Place in the Kingdom

These twelve disciples were promised a special place in the kingdom of Christ. They would each sit on a throne and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Scripture says.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28 ESV).

They would indeed be given a privileged position. The Book of Revelation, looking into the future, says the following will take place.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14 NKJV).

Their calling and commissioning was so sacred that in the future New Jerusalem their names will be inscribed in the foundation of that holy city.

After the Kingdom Was Rejected They Became the Foundation for the New Testament Church

Paul wrote that the church was actually built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. He wrote the following to the Ephesians.

Now all of us, both Jews and Gentiles, may come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself (Ephesians 2:18-20 NLT).

The church was built upon these apostles and prophets. They were the founding believers who proclaimed the message of Christ to the world.

After Jesus’ Resurrection, the Twelve Preached a New Message about Jesus

It is important to realize that the twelve actually preached two different messages about Jesus – one before the Day of Pentecost and a different one after Pentecost.

When Jesus sent them during His earthly ministry it was to the people of Israel to proclaim that the kingdom of God was imminent – the King had arrived. These disciples proclaimed this message and produced confirming signs.

However the kingdom was rejected and the King was crucified. After Jesus’ death and resurrection He commanded them to go into the entire world and proclaim the good news – not of the imminent kingdom but the fact that Jesus had died for the world’s sins and risen from the dead. This is the message, they, along with the other Christians, will preach until the Lord returns. This good news is for both Jews and Gentiles.

The religious rulers were not happy with their teaching. We find the following response on their part to this message of Jesus’ disciples.

They were very disturbed that Peter and John were claiming, on the authority of Jesus, that there is a resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:2 NLT).

They did not like the apostles talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When they caused Him to be put to death they thought that their problems with Jesus were over. They could not have been more wrong!

Jesus Appeared to Each of the Apostles

The Bible also says that the risen Jesus appeared to each of the apostles. We read of this in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He said.

And that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:5-7 ESV).

Each of the apostles saw the risen Christ after His death.

One of the Twelve, Judas, Betrayed Jesus and Was Replaced after He Killed Himself

Judas, one of the Twelve, betrayed Jesus. When Judas realized that he committed this sinful deed, he hanged himself. Judas’ position among the Twelve needed to be filled. A new member of the Twelve was chosen from those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. They had to have been baptized by John the Baptist, been with Jesus all through His public ministry, and been an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection. We read of this in the Book of Acts.

Peter continued, “This was predicted in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ And again, ‘Let his position be given to someone else.’ So now we must choose another man to take Judas’s place. It must be someone who has been with us all the time that we were with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us into heaven. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection” (Acts 1:20-22 NLT).

Two men met these qualifications – Joseph and Matthias. They used the method of casting lots to decide whom would replace Judas. Scripture says.

And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:26 RSV).

Matthias was the apostle who replaced Judas. He was now one of the Twelve.

They Were Specially Commissioned by Jesus to Preach the Gospel

These apostles received a special commission from Jesus to preach the gospel to the entire world.

The Book of Acts records Jesus saying.

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8 NLT).

These specially selected men were given a unique responsibility.

The Apostles Received the Power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost

On the Day of Pentecost the power of the Holy Spirit came upon the twelve apostles. Simon Peter preached the message of the resurrected Jesus to the crowd. In response, the crowd asked Peter and the rest of the apostles what they should do. The Bible says.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37 NRSV).

With Jesus having ascended into heaven, these apostles were now looked upon as ones who had special authority.

The Apostles Were Able to Do Miracles after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension

These apostles were also given Jesus’ miraculous power after His ascension into heaven. In the Book of Acts, we read.

Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked (Acts 2:43 CEV).

The power to work miracles was given to them.

This power continued throughout their ministry. We read the following in the Book of Acts.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all (Acts 4:33 TNIV).

Scripture emphasizes that there were many signs which these apostles performed. We read the following in the Book of Acts.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico (Acts 5:12 ESV).

Note that these signs and wonders were done on a regular basis by this select group.

The Twelve Apostles Formulated New Testament Teaching

These Twelve men also formulated the New Testament teaching about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This was based upon what the Holy Spirit taught them. Luke wrote the following at the beginning of the Book of Acts.

Dear Theophilus In my first book I told you about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he ascended to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1, 2 NLT).

Their teaching was based upon the instruction which Jesus gave.

We later read in the Book of Acts about the apostles’ teaching.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42 NRSV).

Thus, these men had the unique authority to formulate the New Testament doctrine, or teaching. No one after them had this authority. Indeed, they learned these doctrines directly from Jesus Christ.

After the Day of Pentecost There Was Still a Distinction between Apostles and Other Believers

Since these particular disciples were a select group the Bible made a clear distinction between them and the other believers in Christ. Indeed, after Pentecost, these apostles were seen as distinct from other Christians. We read the following description.

Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God (Acts 11:1 NASB)

The apostles were indeed a distinct group as this verse notes. They are described separately from the other Christian.

Furthermore, these apostles were distinct from other church leaders. Later in Acts we read the following description.

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them (Acts 15:4 NRSV)

It was realized by all that these men were unique from the other believers including the church leaders.

The Apostles Were Looked upon as Authority Figures

It is clear that the apostles were considered to be authority figures. When the Samaritans received the gospel, the apostles were the ones who sent representatives to deal with the issues surrounding their conversion. The Bible says.

The apostles in Jerusalem heard that some people in Samaria had accepted God’s message, and they sent Peter and John. When the two apostles arrived, they prayed that the people would be given the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14, 15 CEV).

They made the decision as whom to send to Samaria. They had this authority.

Furthermore, when the apostles made a decision others were expected to obey it. We read the following in the Book of Acts.

And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem (Acts 16:4 NKJV)

Their authority was the same as Jesus.

Peter emphasized the authority which the Lord had entrusted to them. In fact, he put it on an equal basis with the Old Testament prophets and the commands of Jesus. We read.

That you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles (2 Peter 3:2 ESV).

They were considered as equals to the prophets.

Lying to the Apostles Was the Same as Lying to God

The authority of the apostles was such that lying to them was the same thing as lying to God. We read the following in Acts.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:1-4 NIV).

While this man Ananias lied to the apostles, Peter told him that his lie was ultimately against God. Since the apostles were the representatives of Jesus Christ upon the earth lying to them was the same as lying to God.

There Was No Special Provision for Successors

There is one final thing which we must note. The New Testament knows nothing of the idea of apostolic succession – that is the doctrine that the authority of the apostles was transferred from the original twelve to others by some special ceremony of the laying on of hands and that this succession continues until today.

The Bible does not teach any type of apostolic succession where the original twelve conferred authority on others to take their place. One of the Twelve, Judas, was replaced after his suicide. However, the Twelve, as they are known, did not have successors. The Twelve made no provision for anyone to succeed them. By the very nature of their special calling and commission it was not possible to do this. Indeed, they had personally been with Jesus. Nobody else has ever had that privilege.

In summary, we find that the apostles of Jesus were indeed a unique group of men in a number of special ways.

Summary – Question 4
What Were the Twelve Apostles? in What Sense Were They Unique?

When all the evidence is weighed we find that the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ were a unique group of men. We can make the following observations.

First, Jesus personally chose them. They and they alone were selected out from all of the other followers of Jesus.

They were then given Jesus’ unique authority as His representatives to preach to the nation Israel that the kingdom of heaven was imminent – the King had arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Special credentials were given to these ambassadors of the King – the power to work miracles. In addition, special promises were also made to them. They were to receive the keys to the kingdom of God. Eventually they would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

After Judas, one of the Twelve, betrayed Jesus he killed himself. His position needed to be filled. To qualify for this unique position the person had to have been with Jesus since His baptism by John the Baptist. In addition, he had to have been an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection. A man named Matthias was chosen to Judas. The Twelve was again complete.

These Twelve apostles were the ones that formulated the teaching about Jesus in the early church. They had unique authority to speak and write divinely authoritative words.

They were seen as authority figures in the early church. Not only were they distinct from other Christians they were also distinct from other Christian leaders.

Finally they made no provision for successors. Indeed, there could be no successors to them because they alone had spent the time with Jesus.

All of these facts indicate that the twelve apostles were a unique group that performed a unique ministry for a unique time. There is no sense in which their ministry could continue or that someone could have the same authority. Therefore, we should not assume there are any apostles today.

What Were The Signs of an Apostle? ← Prior Section
Were Others, Apart from the Twelve, Called Apostles? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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