Apostles and Prophets
By Noel Chartier
Today there are many who claim to be apostles while others claim they are the direct successors of the apostles (re: apostolic succession). However, not everyone who makes such a claim is genuine. John told us in the Revelation that there are those which say they are apostles, and are not (Revelation 2:2). In his epistle, John also told us to try the spirits whether they are of God (1 John 4:1). The church in Ephesus did just that, they tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars (Revelation 2:2). They had put these pretenders to the test and Jesus commended them for it.
In order to determine who is a genuine apostle, we should first ask, what is an apostle? There is no question that an apostle refers to men in the Bible, and what normally comes to mind is the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. The word apostle is translated from the Greek word apostolos seventy-eight times, but is also translated as messenger twice, and he that is sent once. This word is also very close to the word apostello, which is usually translated send.
Some have taken the position of over simplification claiming that the meaning of apostle applies to all those who are sent as messengers. However, when taking the whole council of God, this meaning proves to be impossible. The meaning of apostle is not merely to send, for all believers would then be apostles, for Jesus, speaking to the church regarding the great commission said, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). Jesus also appointed the seventy (Luke 10:1-11) and sent them as labourers into His harvest to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick, but none of these are ever called apostles.
The apostle Paul, speaking on the gifts of the Spirit asked, Are all apostles? (1 Corinthians 12:29) The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is no! How then can we verify the claims of those who say they are apostles? The church at Ephesus had tried them which say they are apostles (Revelation 2:2) and so should the church today, for there is a real possibility that they could be false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13). This is not a trivial subject, for Paul says these are deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. They may appear to be ministers of righteousness, but Paul says they are ministers of Satan (v. 14-15). However, we can be sure there are certain conditions outlined in the Bible that must be met to confirm whether they are true apostles of Christ or not.
The first time the word apostle is mentioned in the New Testament it speaks of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2). In Luke's account, after Jesus had spent the night in prayer, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles (Luke 6:13). These twelve are specifically referred to as the apostles whom he had chosen (Acts 1:2). These twelve were personally chosen by Jesus Christ out of all His disciples to hold the office of an apostle.
These are distinctively referred to as the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 1:17), and the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14), and should not be confused with messengers [same word as apostles] of the churches (2 Corinthians 8:23), such as Barnabas (Acts 13:3, 14:14, 26), or Epaphroditus who was an apostle or messenger of the church at Philippi to Paul. Any local church assembly could send out their own messengers for a specific ministry, but to be an apostle of Jesus Christ one had to be directly chosen by Jesus Christ. With this criterion, it is obvious that there are no true apostles of Jesus Christ living today.
The twelve apostles were also given a special endowment of the Holy Spirit like no other (John 14:26, 15:26-27, 16:13). The Lord also gave them (the twelve) power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease (Matthew 10:1). Even after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the hands of the apostles were many signs [same word as miracles] and wonders wrought among the people (Acts 5:12). Although there were others who performed miracles, such as Stephen (Acts 6:8) (miracles were also a gift of the Spirit), a distinctive mark of an apostle was the ability to perform mighty miracles.
Because of their many signs and wonders, the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them (Acts 5:13). None of the people were so bold, nor dared to join themselves to the apostles, rather, the church exalted them. The apostles were often called the twelve and none of the believers would even think to count themselves among their number.
The ability to perform mighty miracles then was one of the true signs of an apostle. In fact, Paul declared that his power to perform mighty miracles proved his apostleship. He said, for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds (2 Corinthians 12:11-12).
Any claiming to be an apostle must verify his apostleship with these identifying marks. The people were well aware of the signs of an apostle, Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one (Acts 5:15-16).
The apostolic era was such an extraordinary period in time that history has not been able to duplicate it. If there is an apostle alive today, let him stand up and relieve some of the crisis's we are now facing. There are long waiting lines for surgeries and many patients have to wait in hospital hallways for lack of bed space. Please help us. We can be sure if there were any apostles living today, the news would spread very fast and the media would jump on it and the whole world would know.
The writer of Hebrews stated, How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Hebrews 2:3-4, note Mark 16:20) The apostles accompanied and were trained by Jesus for three years before they went out proclaiming the gospel, and God bore them witness with signs and wonders and various miracles.
Just prior to the ascension of Christ, He told His disciples, to wait in Jerusalem where they would be baptized with the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:5). He said, ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).
In Mark's record of this event, Jesus said, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following (Mark 16:15-20).
Today, many have tried to claim this set of verses for themselves and others have tried to apply this to all believers but it has led to much confusion. However, there is no need for confusion, for in the immediate context, and in light of the greater revelation of Scripture, the signs that would follow them that believe was referring to the eleven (Mark 16:14) apostles. It appears that the purpose of these mighty miracles were to confirm (v. 20) their message, as the writer of Hebrews assures us (2:3-4), especially in the absence of the New Testament Scriptures which was not complete until John, the last living apostle, wrote the Revelation.
There were more criteria laid out when the time came to select a replacement Judas. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22).
Jesus told the apostles, Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations (Luke 22:28). And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27). Because of their close relationship with Jesus they were especially fitted to give testimony concerning the facts of redemption.
A true apostle then, had to be an eyewitness of the Lord Jesus Christ and his resurrection beginning from the baptism of John until he was taken up from us. The death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ was to be the central part of their ministry, therefore they must have the utmost confidence in this great truth, having heard Christ's predictions concerning His death and resurrection and finally being eyewitnesses of this infallible proof (Acts 1:3). All of the twelve, including Matthias who replaced Judas fulfilled this requirement.
Then, after the sending of the Spirit on Pentecost, with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all (Acts 4:33). The resurrection proved that Jesus was the Saviour and Creator, for only the Creator of life could defeat death.
Paul also saw the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and used this to defend his apostleship, saying, Am I not an apostle? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1). He could also say, they laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people (Acts 10:29-31).
When Peter preached his first sermon after Pentecost, he said, This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses (Acts 2:32). When Peter brought the good news to the house of Cornelius he said, That which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead (Acts 10:37-41).
Luke's gospel was written, to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word (Luke 1:1-2). The apostles were true and credible witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and because of this many have received the gift of eternal life. The apostle Peter would write just before his martyrdom, For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16).
The apostle John began his first epistle like this, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
Up to now we have seen that all true apostles were chosen directly by the Lord Jesus Christ, performed mighty miracles, were eye witnesses of all that Jesus began to do and teach beginning from the baptism of John, and had personally seen the resurrected Christ. However, there is one more important and concluding sign of an apostle. They were responsible for giving us the New Testament Scriptures.
Luke, who was a special companion of the apostle Paul, wrote his gospel to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word (Luke 1:1-2). Not only were the apostles eye witnesses of Jesus Christ, they were ministers of His Word. The early church was well aware of this so they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42).
Paul said, the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). After his conversion, Paul apparently went into Arabia for three years where he received the gospel which he preached by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:15-18). He told the church at Ephesus, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to youward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:2-5).
Jesus had told the apostles, the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:26). And again, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come (John 16:13). But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning (John 15:26-27).
Jesus had personally discipled the apostles for over three years and were therefore, specially fitted to transmit God's revelation for others. The apostles and prophets first received and communicated God's revelation to His people verbally, then under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, permanently scribed it into New Testament canon. When the last apostle, John, penned the Revelation, the Scriptures were complete and the office of apostle and prophet ceased, being withdrawn by the Spirit, ending what some have called the apostolic era.
The Bible tells us prophecies, they shall fail (1Corinthians 13:8), or literally, they would cease or come to an end. This took place when that which is perfect is come (1 Corinthians 13:10). In the context, that which is perfect or literally, that which is complete, clearly refers to the complete revelation of God. Some have tried to force this passage to mean Jesus at His second coming. However, this cannot refer to Christ because that is a neuter pronoun. Obviously, Jesus is not a that.
John announced the completion of God's revelation with these words, For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19). With this seal, John declared that the prophecies of God had now ceased. With the Revelation of God now complete, the office of prophet and apostle served no purpose.
There is no need for any more revelations for the Revelation of God is complete, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Scriptures are totally sufficient to meet all our needs and supply us with the answers for every situation, and the indwelling Holy Spirit is able to lead us into all Truth.
Paul tells us, he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). Apostles and prophets were not necessarily for all people or all ages. Paul says that Christ gave some apostles and prophets, and it appears that the office of apostle and prophet ceased, for the very conditions for their existence proved their continuation impossible.
We are told that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Once the foundation had been laid, there was no need to build it again. There will not be more than 12 foundation stones with the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14), and in Christ's kingdom, these twelve will sit upon twelve thrones ruling the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).
Finally, one last word of importance, Jesus warned that many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many (Matthew 24:11), so we ought to beware of false prophets (Matthew 7:15). We are also warned us about false apostles (Corinthians 11:13). The apostle John had later confirmed, many false prophets are gone out into the world (1John 4:1). One false prophet of notable stature was the seventh century prophet Mohammad who received different revelations than that found in the Bible. The number of his followers are now over a billion, however, the test of any prophet, both old or new is this, To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:20). If their prophecies do not conform to the Word of the Lord, thou shall not be afraid of him (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
There is no apostolic succession and no Scripture to support it. Apostles are recognized by "those who have ears to hear" for God's Church is an organism not an organization.
That there are true prophets is obvious because otherwise there could be no false prophets. Ever see a counterfeit $3 bill? Of course not.
Christians should have more integrity of heart than to discard the Scriptures that their favorite preachers reject.
That's UNBELIEF and God doesn't honor unbelief.
The only sense of a prophet today is one who tells forth the Word of God as already written in the 66 books of the Bible. Today, many come forth saying "the Lord told me" which is the modern day equivalent of "Thus saith the Lord". I would be very careful around such as these as they could very well be speaking in the Lord's name presumptuously (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). They could just be ignorant, but they could also be a false prophet.
There is nothing left to be added to God's canon of the Scriptures which has already been given to us by the prophets and the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Adding to or deleting from God's Word is strictly forbidden in God's Word. On the one hand people reject certain portions of the Scriptures that they do not like, and on the other hand some are always trying to bring forth some new revelation of God. Beware of these.