Are there apostles today? Go to Facebook and conduct a search using the term “apostle.” There are certainly many people today who claim such a title and position. The word, “apostle” can be defined broadly as a messenger, an envoy, a delegate, or one commissioned by another to represent him in some way. In most cases, the use of the word “apostle” in scripture refers to a specific calling and office within the New Testament Church that is associated with certain descriptions, qualifications, and parameters. Let’s consider the word “apostle” in such a context and ask ourselves: are there apostles today? Do any people today who claim such a title truly meet the Biblical qualifications for that office?
First, New Testament apostles were numbered, named, and chosen by Jesus. Jesus hand-selected all of his apostles. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). Jesus “called to him those whom he desired” (Mark 3:13). Twelve people were originally appointed by Jesus to be His apostles, named in Mark 13:17-19 and Matthew 10:2-4.
The apostles forsook everything to follow Jesus, took no provisions for their journeys, received no pay, and were, for the most part, common and uneducated men. (Matthew 19:27; Luke 9:3-5; Matthew 10:8; Acts 4:13)
Initially, during the ministry of Jesus Christ, the apostles (who were Jews) were only commissioned to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). They proclaimed the Kingdom of God, telling the people “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Luke 9:2; Matthew 10:7). Jesus commanded them to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, [and] cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8).
Having been numbered, named, and chosen by Jesus, the apostles were sent to the lost House of Israel during Christ’s earthly ministry. Next, they were to be special witnesses to his resurrection. Betrayed by one of the twelve, Judas, Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Preceding the ascension of Jesus, the eleven remaining apostles were ordered by Jesus “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father,” saying that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon [them], and [they] will be [His] witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The commission to go first to the Jews with the Gospel would later be extended to the entire world (Mark 16:15).
While the apostles perhaps had an expectation that the Kingdom to come would be immediate (Acts 1:6-7), it would later become evident that—upon the Jew’s overall rejection of the Gospel—there would first be a time extended to the Gentiles for inclusion. After the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, Jesus will return in power and great glory, and the twelve apostles will at that time sit on twelve thrones judging Israel. (Acts 13:46-47; Romans 11:11-12; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:25; Rev. 19:11-16. Rev. 20:4). Twelve apostles: hence twelve thrones.
Since a time would be extended to the Gentiles for inclusion, Jesus himself would appoint an apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). The Book of Acts, an accounting and description of what the early church did, reveals a course of action by Peter in the first chapter that was perhaps not God-ordained. Though zealous, Peter had a track record for messing up: speaking too soon, saying the wrong thing, wanting to take the incorrect course of action (Matthew 16:23). Appearing impatient, Peter seems to have taken matters into his own hands in regard to replacing Judas:
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).
While this course of action reveals his understanding that there needed to be twelve in the office, and that the replacement also needed to be a witness of the resurrection, Peter seems to have failed in understanding that the replacement would be God’s choice and not man’s.
Having yet to be filled with the Holy Spirit, which was to come at Pentecost, the apostles seemed to have acted prematurely in selecting Matthias. In selecting from their own discernment two options from which to cast lots (Matthias and Justus), were they really leaving the decision entirely up to God? It appears God had someone else in mind to “take [Judas’] office” (Acts 1:20). Luke, the writer of Acts, hints at this by noting that Matthias was “numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26) rather than appointed as the twelfth.
As the days of the early Church get underway, evidence of God’s final apostolic choice begins to surface in the life and ministry of Paul. Like the eleven, who were called by Jesus, named an apostle, and were eyewitnesses to the risen Lord, so was Paul: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1). Jesus choose Paul and appeared to him as he had to the others. Paul recounts,
“[Jesus] 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. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:5-10).
Jesus personally revealed Himself and the Gospel to Paul, appointing him an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 1:12,16; Acts 9:3-5; Acts 26:15-16; Gal 1:1; Romans 11:13). Paul declares: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1).
In the ministry of the apostles during the early church, they were witnesses to “all that [Jesus] did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem,” his death on a tree, and his resurrection (Acts 10:39-41), Most of them had “been with [Jesus] from the beginning” (John 15:27), testifying with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:33). Eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16), they testified to “that which was from the beginning, which [they] have heard, which [they] have seen with [their] eyes, which [they] looked upon and have touched with [their] hands, concerning the word of life” (John 1:1).
The apostles in the early Church, after Pentecost, were validated in their calling and message by accompanying signs and wonders performed on a regular basis (Mark 16:20; Acts 5:12). The signs and wonders were proof of their legitimacy as apostles of the Lord. Paul, in defending his apostleship before the Corinthian church, stated: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Cor. 12:12). These signs included: casting out demons, speaking in new tongues, picking up serpents and drinking poison without being hurt, laying hands on the sick for recovery, and raising the dead (Matthew 10:8; Mark 16:17-19).
These were epic displays of God’s power, evidence of their authority and apostleship, plainly manifesting whose teachings the crowds ought to follow. Paul raised Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:10). Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:40). The people
“carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:15-16).
God was doing unusual miracles through Paul. Even the small towels and aprons that had touched his skin were taken to the sick, and their diseases were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:11-12) Shipwrecked on an island, Paul was bitten by a viper, but shook it off and suffered no harm. (Acts 28:3-5) The list could go on.
The twelve apostles were chosen and personally instructed by Jesus, eye-witnesses of his resurrection, and validated as such through signs and wonders. The calling of their office included laying the foundation of the church. Speaking of Christians as the household of God, Peter said, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). Every solid structure has a foundation. The Church has been “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2:20). Paul, the apostle for the Gentiles, laid a foundation for the church upon which others build, which foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11).
The apostles accomplished the laying of the Church’s foundation through their witness of the Gospel and full revelation of God’s Word. Paul made the Word of God fully known (Col 1:25), finishing his ministry received from the Lord—testifying to the Gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). The Church has a foundation: a faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 1:3), the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42) upon which we are to test all things (1 John 4:6). We have a foundation built on the apostles and prophets—God’s Word. “God’s firm foundation stands” (2 Tim. 2:19).
Christ’s Church, His bride, is pictured as the Holy City Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God in Revelation 21:2. “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:14). There is an apostolic foundation for the Church. Twelve apostles called, twelves thrones upon which for them to sit, and twelves names inscribed on the foundation of the Holy City.
A contractor hires foundation layers to lay a foundation, an obvious. Are foundation layers needed in a building project once the foundation is laid? The first-century apostles accomplished that to which they were called; they laid the foundation for the Church. Nearly 2000 years later, are we still laying the foundation for the Church? “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Are we to pioneer a new message, lay a new foundation? Have we been with Jesus during his earthly ministry, eye-witnesses to his resurrection? Did Jesus personally appoint any of us to the office of apostle? Is that calling demonstrated with miraculous signs and wonders done regularly? What special revelation for the Church have we received from the Lord Jesus Christ that wasn’t already given? (Gal. 1:12; 1 Cor. 4:7).
Have any of you who claim apostleship status today forsaken everything to follow Jesus? (Matthew 19:27) Do you serve the Church without pay? (Matthew 10:8) Are you uneducated? (Acts 4:13) A Jew? (Mark 3:13). Made accurate predictions? (Jude 1:17) Ever been dragged before governors and kings to witness? (Matthew 10:18) As an “apostle,” do you expect to be martyred for the sake of the Gospel like Peter and so many others were? (John 21:18-19).
Apostles were exhibited by God as last of all, like men sentenced to death, spectacles to the world, fools for Christ’s sake, weak, hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, buffeted, and homeless. The apostles labored, working with their own hands, blessing when reviled, and enduring when slandered. They were like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13). The apostle Paul suffered afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger (2 Cor. 6:4-5). He was poor while making others rich (2 Cor. 6:10).
Keeping in mind the descriptions, qualifications, and parameters for the calling and office of apostleship in the New Testament Church, mimicking impostors should be tested and marked. Men who claimed to work on the same terms as the apostle Paul—but did not—were called out by Paul himself: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13). The Church in Revelation was commended by Jesus for testing those who call themselves apostles and are not, and finding them to be false (Rev. 2:2).
In conclusion, we see that the office of apostleship seems have been limited to twelve individuals, whose names will be on the foundation of the Holy City to come. These people have already been named in scripture and have fulfilled their calling to lay the foundation for the Church. They will sit on twelve thrones judging Israel in Christ’s coming Kingdom. They were Jews and eye-witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and resurrection, having fully revealed God’s Word to mankind for the Church Age once and for all. Their authority and calling was validated with accompanying signs and wonders. We are certainly to question and test those who today claim such an office and authority.