("one sent forth".) The official name of the twelve whom Jesus sent forth to preach, and who also were with Him throughout His earthly ministry. Peter states the qualifications before the election of Judas' successor (Acts 1:21), namely, that he should have companied with the followers of Jesus "all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John unto the day that He was taken up, to be a witness with the others of His resurrection." So the Lord, "Ye are they that have continued with Me in My temptations" (Luke 22:28). The Holy Spirit was specially promised to bring all things to their remembrance whatever Jesus had said, to guide them into all truth, and to enable them to testify of Jesus with power to all lands (John 14:26; John 15:26-27; John 16:13-14). They were some of them fishermen, one a tax collector, and most of them unlearned.
Though called before, they did not permanently follow Him until their call as apostles. All were on a level (Matthew 20:20-27; Mark 9:34-36). Yet three stood in especial nearness to Him, Peter, James, and John; they alone witnessed the raising of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration, and the agony in Gethsemane. An order grounded on moral considerations is traceable in the enumeration of the rest: Judas, the traitor, in all the lists stands last. The disciples surrounded Jesus in wider and still wider expanding circles: nearest Him Peter, James, and. John; then the other nine; then the Seventy; then the disciples in general. But the "mystery" was revealed to all alike (Matthew 10:27). Four catalogues are extant: Matthew's (Matthew 10), Mark's (Mark 3:16), Luke's (Luke 6:14) in the Gospel, and Luke's in Acts 1:13.
In all four the apostles are grouped in three classes, four in each. Philip heads the second division, i.e. is fifth; James the son of Alpheus heads the third, i.e. is ninth. Andrew follows Peter on the ground of brotherhood in Matthew and Luke; in Mark and Acts James and John, on the ground of greater nearness to Jesus, precede Andrew. In the second division Matthew modestly puts himself after Thomas; Mark and Luke give him his rightful place before Thomas. Thomas, after his doubts were removed (John 20:28), having attained distinguished faith, is promoted above Bartholomew (or Nathanael) and Matthew in Acts. In Matt, hew and Mark Thaddaeus (or Lebbaeus) precedes Simon Zelotes (Hebrew "Canaanite," i.e. one of the sect the Zealots). But in Luke and Acts Simon Zelotes precedes Jude (Thaddaeus) the brother of James. John gives no catalogue, but writing later takes it for granted (Revelation 21:14; Revelation 21:19-20).
In the first division stand Peter and John, New Testament writers, in the second Matthew, in the third James and Jude. The Zealot stood once the last except the traitor, but subsequently became raised; bigotry is not always the best preparation for subsequent high standing in faith. Jesus sent them in pairs: a good plan for securing brotherly sympathy and cooperation. Their early mission in Jesus' lifetime, to preach repentance and perform miracles in Jesus' name, was restricted to Israel, to prepare the way for the subsequent gospel preaching to the Jews first, on and after Pentecost (Acts 3:25). They were slow to apprehend the spiritual nature of His kingdom, and His crucifixion and resurrection as the necessary preliminary to it. Even after His resurrection seven of them returned to their fishing; and it was only by Christ's renewed call that they were led' to remain together at Jerusalem, waiting for the promised Comforter (John 21; Acts 1:4).
From the day of the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Spirit they became new men, witnessing with power of the resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus had promised (Luke 24:45; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; Acts 1:22; Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; Acts 5:32; Acts 13:31). The first period of the apostles' working extends down to Acts 11:18. Excepting the transition period (Acts 8-10) when, at Stephen's martyrdom, the gospel was extended to Samaria and. to the Ethiopian eunuch by Philip, Jerusalem is its center, and Peter' the prominent figure, who opened the kingdom of heaven (according to Jesus' promise to him, Matthew 16:18-19) to the Jews and also to the Gentiles (Acts 2; 10). The second period begins with the extension of the kingdom to idolatrous Gentiles. (Acts 11:19-26).
Antioch, in concert with Jerusalem, is now the center, and Paul the prominent figure, in concert with the other apostles. Though the ideal number always remained twelve (Revelation 21:14), answering to the twelve tribes of Israel, yet just as there were in fact thirteen tribes when Joseph's two sons were made separate tribal heads, so Paul's calling made thirteen actual apostles. He possessed the two characteristics of an Apostle; he had" seen the Lord," so as to be an eye witness of His resurrection, and he had the power which none but an Apostle had, of conferring spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 9:1-2; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Romans 1:11; Romans 15:18-19). This period ends with Acts 13:1-5, when Barnabas and Saul were separated by the Holy Spirit unto missionary work. Here the third apostolic period begins, in which the twelve disappear, and Paul alone stands forth, the Apostle of the Gentiles; so that at the close of Acts, which leaves him evangelizing in Rome, the metropolis of the world, churches from Jerusalem unto Illyricum had been founded through him.
"Apostle" is used in a vaguer sense of "messengers of the churches" (2 Corinthians 8:23; Philemon 2:25). But the term belongs in its stricter sense to the twelve alone; they alone were apostles of Christ. Their distinctive note is, they were commissioned immediately by Jesus Himself. They alone were chosen by Christ Himself, independently of the churches. So even Matthias (Acts 1:24). So Paul (Galatians 1:1-12; Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Their exclusive office was to found the Christian church; so their official existence was of Christ, and prior to the churches they collectively and severally founded. They acted with a divine authority to bind and loose things (Matthew 18:18), and to remit or retain sins of persons (John 20:21-23), which they exercised by the authoritative ministry of the word. Their infallibility, of which their miracles were the credentials, marked them as extraordinary, not permanent, ministers.
Paul requires the Corinthians to acknowledge that the things which he wrote were the Lord's commandments (1 Corinthians 14:37). The office was not local; but "the care of all the churches." They were to the whole what particular elders were, to parts of the church (1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1:1). Apostles therefore could have strictly no successors. John, while superintending the whole, was especially connected with the churches of Asia Minor, Paul with the W., Peter with Babylon. The bishops in that age coexisted with, and did not succeed officially, the apostles. James seems specially to have had a presidency in Jerusalem (Acts 15:19; Acts 21:18).
Once the Lord Himself is so designated, "the Apostle of our profession" (Hebrews 3:1); the, Ambassador sent from the Father (John 20:21). As Apostle He pleads God's cause with us; as" High Priest," our cause with God. Appropriate in writing to Hebrew, since the Hebrew high priest sent delegates ("apostles") to collect the temple tribute from Jews in foreign countries, just as Christ is the Father's Delegate to claim the Father's due from His subjects in this world far off from Him (Matthew 21:37).