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Acts 1:1-3 by Robert Dean
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:57 mins 17 secs

Apostles, Apostles, and Apostles; Acts 1:1 – 3


One of the major things we are going to cover as we go through Acts is just developing as we go through the historical development of Acts is a biblical eschatology. We are using the word "biblical" there not as an adjective that is in contrast to non-biblical. Often in seminaries today people talk about a biblical theology. What they mean by that is not contrasting it with a non-biblical theology but the term "biblical theology" is a technical term for developing theology book by book as it is developing terms of progressive revelation through the Bible. In Acts chapter one we see no church. It had never existed before and nobody even expects what is going to happen to happen. Then in the second chapter we have the coming/outpouring of God the Holy Spirit which is a general term for the filling, indwelling and baptism ministries of God the Holy Spirit, they are unique and distinct for this age. And that gives birth to this organism called the church, the bride of Christ, composed of all those who believe in Jesus for salvation during this age. So the term "the church" is used in two senses: the universal Church, which means all believers throughout all time make up the body of Christ, and then we have the local church. Each local church is a manifestation of the universal church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So we start off in Acts chapter one where there is no church and end up on chapter twenty-eight there are local churches scattered throughout the country surrounding the Mediterranean and even beyond, and in terms of the Church universal the Church has expanded to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of believers in those thirty years. As the church begins there, especially in terms of local churches, is no organization, no authority structure. All of a sudden on one day there is nothing and on the next day there are a little over three thousand believers, and in a couple of weeks there are probably ten or twelve thousand and they are met with all of the organizational and administrative challenges to train, teach, mature and minister to thousands of people. What a challenge that was to the apostles. Any organization functions on the basis of authority and the authority that God laid down that is the foundational authority for the church is the apostles.

We are first introduced to them in the book of Acts in Acts 1:2. The focal point is on Jesus' ministry, the works of Jesus and His teaching, the words of Jesus, what He instructed His followers. So it begins with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day He was taken up, "after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen." This is indicating that His giving these commandments to the apostles occurred prior to His ascension. "… whom He had chosen" is a key phrase there. Jesus is the one who chose the original twelve.

The doctrine of apostleship is going to be foundational to things that happen in chapter one but also in chapter two when we learn that after there is this explosion of converts in the first day of the church age, the day of Pentecost, everyone continued to meet and were devoted (made it a priority) to the teaching of the apostles. What is significant about the apostles and what do we learn subsequently in the New Testament about the role and foundation of the apostles?

It is interesting that a few years ago some position books came out when it was popular to write books called, for example, Four Views on Eternal Condemnation, Four View on Eternal Security, Four Views on the Millennium, Four Views on Whatever, and having scholars representing four different theological positions write an explanation of their view. Then they would write responses and critiques of the other positions. One of these came out several years ago called Four Views on Tongues. What was interesting was that the one person who argued that they had ceased didn't even mention the 1 Corinthians 13 passage. His whole argument was based on the fact that tongues were revelatory, revelation ceased because the only control factor of revelation was the apostles, and since the apostles were a foundational office and foundational gift once the apostles went off the scene they no longer had a control verification system for revelation, therefore tongues and other revelatory gifts would have ceased. He does hit on an important point and that is that there was something unique and distinct about the presence of the apostles on the earth, and that once they passed off the scene the church really had reached a stage of maturity because there would not longer be any more special revelation from God because there would no longer be a body individuals with the authority to determine the truth or error of that revelation. So what we see here is that from the very beginning there was the establishment of an authority structure within the local church.

The term apostolos  [a)postoloj] is the Greek noun. It is not used in the sense it is used in the Scripture in external literature. In terms of classical Greek literature the word originally was used of a ship that was sent on a mission. Then it came to be applied to the commander of the vessel or naval group, or the governor of a colony. One thing that all of these had in common was that something or someone was given a mission, a task to perform, and they were sent on that task. In the New Testament the word takes on a unique and distinct meaning in that it refers to a man that is officially commissioned by an authorizing agent related to the church and then given the authority to perform the task. What is inherent in the word "apostle" as opposed to "disciple" is the sense of authority. An apostle is someone who is given the authority to act as a representative for somebody else, and that comes out of an Old Testament background with the Hebrew word sheliach meaning someone who is sent. As has been pointed out before, the background for understanding New Testament Greek vocabulary isn't classical Greek usage; it is Old Testament Hebrew usage. We can only understand a few shades of meanings or nuances from historical Greek usage, the key is to understand how these ideas were communicated in the Old Testament vocabulary. In the Old Testament the word sheliach represented someone with the authority to act as a representative of someone else. They were a proxy, someone sent with a task and with the full authority to represent the person who sent them. That is the basic idea: someone sent on a mission to perform a task.

Within that there are three different technical uses of the word "apostle" in the New Testament. The first is a designation of the original twelve as they were sent out by the Lord Jesus Christ to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Even though it involved eleven of the same people the twelve that we end up with in Acts—and they are called "the twelve" even when there is only ten or eleven—and they are called apostles, they are not the same as the pre-Pentecost apostles.

Luke 6:13 NASB "And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles." A disciple is the Greek word mathetes [maqhthj] and it means a learner, a student, someone who is sitting in a classroom situation or someone who puts themselves as an apprentice to be mentored by a teacher, leader, someone of that nature. That is a disciple. Students have no authority, they are just told what to read, what to write, how long they need to study. And there were many disciples. Anyone who was following Jesus was a disciple. There were many who were called disciples and were listening but they weren't even believers yet. So a disciple is not a term that equals a believer, it is a generic term for a student. Jesus also used the word "disciple" in an additional sense of those who were believers and were committed students and wanted to go somewhere in their spiritual life. But He takes of this broad group of followers, students who were listening to Him, He chose twelve, and these He now calls apostles. They are called sent ones. He is commissioning them, they are sent on a task, and it is important to understand what the task is on which they are sent.

Think of this as a formula. There is a person, an entity or an organization that is commissioning them or sending them on a mission. Then there is the fact that they are sent, and then there is the mission they are sent on. What we will see is important about distinguishing these three categories of apostles in the New Testament is that in two cases they are sent by Jesus and in one case they are sent by a local church. They are all sent on a mission, but the mission differs. Jesus sends the apostles in the Gospels, pre-Pentecost, to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, and He gives them specific commandments that are unique to that time period and don't carry on to later missions. So the twelve He initially chooses are chosen to take the good news of the gospel of the kingdom to the Jews. It is not a spiritual gift; it is not a church age office; it is dispensationally prior to the church age apostles.

In Matthew 10:2ff He names the twelve apostles, and in Matthew 10:5 NASB "These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in {the} way of {the} Gentiles, and do not enter {any} city of the Samaritans." That is not the mission of the church; that is the mission of these apostles prior to the crucifixion. The message is the same one that Jesus had in Matthew 4:23 NASB "Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people." That is what He sent the disciples to do. We need to look at the original mission because this is not the mission that Jesus gives the twelve after the ascension. After the ascension everything changes.

Matthew 10:1 NASB "Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits [demons], to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness." That is not normative for an Old Testament believer, it is not normative for a disciple, and after Pentecost it wasn't normative for anybody other than the twelve, the apostles, and for the same basic reason. It provided validation for the message. They don't heal everyone, they don't cast out every demon, and they didn't go into the cancer wards of the day and walk down the aisles and heal everybody. When Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda (John chapter five) and there was the lame man who had been crippled and waiting for, allegedly, the angel who would come and stir up the waters, and the first one who hit the waters would be healed. When Jesus came down to the pool there was more than one crippled individual, more than one sick person around the pool of Bethesda, but He didn't heal them all. He had a targeted mission and that was to heal that one individual because of the significant role he would play in terms of being a witness or a testimony to who Jesus was.

People, especially in the Charismatic camp, completely distort the whole ministry of healing and casting out of demons that Jesus and the disciples had because they don't understand that these were signs that would be performed by the Messiah. So these are validating His claims to be the Messiah and those who He is sending out as His proxies, as His representatives, are going to perform the same signs that He would perform because they are operating is His place, as His surrogates, as it were, out among the people.

In Matthew 10:2, 3 we have the list of the names of the twelve, including Judas Iscariot. We know Judas wasn't a believer, ever. In John chapter thirteen Jesus casts him out and He makes the point that all were clean except one. The phrase "all were clean" is a phrase that referred to believers. The one who wasn't clean was Judas Iscariot. Also, Judas Iscariot was said to have had Satan enter into him and the Greek word there is eiserchomai [e)iserxomai] which means to go into somebody, and it is always a word that is used to describe demon possession; that a demon enters into somebody and takes control of their body. It is not demon influence where the demon has some sort of influence on the individual from an external vantage point. exerchomai indicates it is internal. And what is the solution? Jesus casts the demon out. He doesn't exorcise the demon; only the magical priests did exorcism. The word that applied to Jesus and the disciples is always the word ekballo [e)kballw] meaning to cast out. So there is this terminology "into" and "out of" and that defines what demon possession is. Judas isn't even demon possessed, he is Satan possessed. Satan entered into him and that can only happen to someone who is an unbeliever. But he performed all the same miracles that Peter and James and John and all the others performed. When Jesus said one of them would betray Him they didn't all say it must be Judas, he's got that shifty look in his eye. No, they didn't say anything like that. As far as they were concerned Peter looked at Jesus and said: Is it me? Judas went out on the mission and he is empowered and doing the same thing everybody else was doing. He wasn't saved by his external works. 

Matthew 10:5 NASB "These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: 'Do not go in {the} way of {the} Gentiles, and do not enter {any} city of the Samaritans." The words "sent out" is the verb apostello [a)postellw] (apostolos [a)postoloj] is the noun), which means to send out, and as the verb moved over as a noun it became more and more technical until we reach its technical meaning in the New Testament. [6] "but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [7] And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" That is the same message that Jesus was preaching when He began in Matthew chapter four, and it is the same message that John the Baptist started off with: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." So their mission is only to Israel, and it is oriented to announcing the approaching kingdom if they would prepare for it and accept it.

Then they are given their marching orders. Matthew 10:8 NASB "Heal {the} sick, raise {the} dead, cleanse {the} lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give." These signs were distinct signs of the Messiah. In the Old Testament it was clear that this was what would be expected of the Messiah, that He would come and He would heal, He would heal the lame and give sight to the blind. The rabbis believed that only when the dead were raised and the blind were given sight would they know for sure that the Messiah was there.

They were told they weren't to take a lot with them on their mission. Matthew 10:9 NASB "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, [10] or a bag for {your} journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support." This is one of those great commands from the Lord that shows that everybody today is really a secret dispensationalist. It doesn't matter how Covenant one is, how Reformed ones is, how much of a Lutheran one is, how much one believes in replacement theology and how much one hates dispensationalism, they want their missionaries to have just a little more than what they are carrying on their backs and what they have in their pockets! Which shows that the plan doesn't always work according to the same commands every time. Initially when Jesus sent them out they were to go only to the Israelites, to the Jews, and they were not supposed to take anything with them. Empty your pockets boys, you are going to go out and trust the Lord!

What is going on here? This is where background in important. Alfred Edersheim has written one of the classic books on the life of Christ called The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. In that he explains this. He was trained to be a rabbi and he brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge about rabbinical customs to his understanding of the Gospels:

 …the directions about not taking staff, shoes, nor money-purse, exactly correspond to the Rabbinic injunction not to enter the Temple-precincts with staff, (mark, not sandals), and a money-girdle. The symbolic reasons underlying this command would, in both cases, be probably the same: to avoid even the appearance of being engaged on other business, when the whole being should be absorbed in the service of the Lord.

So when Jesus sends them out on this mission they are operating in just the same way a priest would in going into the temple. Which indicates this fits in with Jewish thought, rabbinical thought and operation, at that time of history. This lack of preparation means that they are going to have to trust the Lord to provide for them all along the way and that God's sufficient grace would take care of them.

In terms of lodging the Lord then directs them: Matthew 10:11 NASB "And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave {that city.}" You're not just looking for the wealthiest person, you want to find those who are "worthy." The idea here has to do with them being upright, respected for their spirituality and for their relationship with the Lord. [12] "As you enter the house, give it your greeting. [13] If the house is worthy, give it your {blessing of} peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your {blessing of} peace." In other words, if it is worthy then stay there, relax, enjoy your presence there; if not then leave. [14] "Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet." If they reject you and reject your message then you are not dependent upon those people for your hospitality in any way. You just move on, not worrying about the fact that you have been rejected, that the message has been rejected, the gospel has been rejected; you just keep on going to the next village and keep going all the way through the land. [15] "Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for {the} land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city." This is one of those verses that seems to suggest that there are going to be different degrees of punishment in eternity because there are different levels of revelation given to different people and different levels of rejection that are given. That is not to say they are not all in the lake of fire, it is to say everybody is in the place of eternal torments but just that some are going to be in a place that is a little more tormented. That is based on this passage and a number of others that seem to suggest that there are variations in punishment.

Matthew 10:16 NASB "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." The imagery is standard is Jewish thought and in rabbinical thought. A phrase in the Midrash relates the position of Israel among the hostile nations to sheep in the midst of wolves. The admonition also to be  wise as serpents and harmless as doves is also a Jewish phrase that we find in the Midrash (Jewish commentaries on the Old Testament) where Israel is being described as being as harmless as the dove toward God and as wise as serpents toward the hostile Gentiles nations. So the first metaphor here, sheep in the midst of wolves, is to show that they are going out and will be in a position of where they are threatened and they are in danger. But they are to be as wise as serpents and to be aware of their circumstances, but they are to be as harmless as doves—not to be reactive, mean or hostile, but they are to be gentle in how they are dealing with those who are antagonistic to them. 

Matthew 10:17 NASB "But beware of men, for they will hand you over to {the} courts and scourge you in their synagogues." The word for "courts" is the word "Sanhedrin" in the Greek. We have another comment by Edersheim which is very significant:

It is of the greatest importance to keep in view that at whatever period of Christ's ministry this prediction and promise was spoken, and whether it was spoken only once or oftener, they refer exclusively to a Jewish state of things.

That is a very important observation. What is being said here isn't something you can take out of context and apply it into the church age. This is talking about a unique and distinct set of circumstances occurring in Jesus' ministry when He is sending out the disciples to the house of Israel, and this is how they are to respond. So He talks about those who would be hostile to them and those who would be negative to their message. He is talking about Jews at that particular time in history. 

Matthew 10:18 NASB "and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. [19] But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say." Most people think of that as referring on into their ministry after Pentecost, but contextually we can't see that. This has got to be Jesus talking to them in terms of this mission that He is giving them at this time. He is not going beyond the crucifixion at this point. [20] "For it is not you who speak, but {it is} the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.

Matthew 10:21 NASB "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father {his} child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. [22] You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." That is another important passage there, the same phrase is found in Matthew 24.

At this point He does go beyond what they are going to experience in their lifetime in terms of the hostile reaction. But this is to be understood not in terms of the church, we are still talking about the message that they are offering that the kingdom is about to come. Just based on Old Testament prophecy if they did accept the kingdom then the Tribulation would have occurred somehow at this time as well because all of those things would have to have taken place, and "those who endure to the end"—same phrase found in chapter 24—related to enduring to the end of the Tribulation period where to "be saved" isn't soteriological justification, it is deliverance from the persecution that takes place.

Matthew chapter ten, then, describes the mission of the twelve apostles to Israel. This isn't church age but neither is it just a general use of the word "apostle." They are apostles to Israel. That is their mission. Because of the rejection that occurs because Israel rejects their message and turns against them what happens is there is a new dimension to apostleship which is the second meaning of apostle: the spiritual gift and office that occurs in the New Testament. This is distinct; there is no spiritual gift before Acts chapter two. It is foundational to understand that.

There were teachers before Acts 2, also administrators, healing that took place, but they weren't church age spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:28 NASB "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, {various} kinds of tongues." So God is the one who distributes the gifts but the distribution is done through the Holy Spirit and under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know this because in Galatians 1:1 the apostle Paul introduces himself as Paul and apostle, and then he says: "Not sent from men," where he uses the Greek preposition apo [a)po] which indicates the ultimate source, "nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead." God the Father is the ultimate authority but the administration of the apostleship is through Jesus Christ who chooses the twelve.

The third us of "apostle" is going to refer to people like Barnabas, and others who are mentioned as apostles but it is a lower case "a"; they are sent by a local church which commissions them. The church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to take the gospel out to the Gentiles. In that sense Paul and Barnabas are both said to be apostles but it is using the word "apostle" to describe both of them, so it is using the word in a different sense than the use of "apostle," capital "A," as Paul uses it in the introduction to his epistles. 

So three uses of "apostle": limited use, apostle to the Jews before the crucifixion; the spiritual gift of the leadership and the foundation of the church after Pentecost; and those who were sent on temporary missions by local churches or individuals. Paul also uses the verb when he sends so-and-so on a mission.

We know there is a distinction between the second category and the third category because of the qualifications that are set forth. What qualified a person to be an apostle as a foundation to the local church?

First, they are gifted by God the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, 28, 29. Second, they were to be an eye-witness of the resurrection or resurrected Christ: 1 Corinthians 15:8, 9; Acts 1:22. Third, the sign of an apostle was that they performed signs and wonders. They were endued with miraculous powers. This is illustrated in Acts 5:15; 16:16-18; 19:11, 12. But 2 Corinthians 12:12 specifically states that the signs of the apostle are miracles and signs and wonders. That validates them. Cf. Acts 2:43; 5:12.

Church age apostleship does not begin until the day of Pentecost. Every time the twelve are referred to in the Gospels it is not referring to them in terms of a spiritual gift or a mission to the Gentiles which distinguishes the church age office. Ephesians 4:8-11 makes it clear that this is a gift given by the Lord Jesus Christ to the church.

The church age apostolate is apparently limited to twelve. When the New Testament starts talking about Barnabas and others as apostles it is obviously using the word differently because when we come to Revelation 21:14 NASB "And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them {were} the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." There are only twelve and we can know with certainty who those twelve are. There are only going to be twelve names there and that means Judas isn't going to be there because he is an unbeliever. So it is going to be Matthias or Paul, one or the other. The reason they are the foundation for the church is because of the role of the apostles in the structure of the church: Ephesians 2:20 NASB "having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner {stone}." This isn't Old Testament prophets, it is New Testament prophets. At this stage the church age apostolate is apparently limited to twelve. 

The apostles were recipients of direct revelation from God and were the only authorized source for revelation. That needs clarification. There were some others who were associated with the apostles who, like Luke, wrote Scripture. Luke is associated with Paul; Mark writes Scripture and is not one of the apostles but he writes Peter's account basically of the gospel. If revelation is given through them they are someone who is tightly connected with an apostle who is the control factor for revelation. Once the last apostle disappeared there was no more revelation because there was no longer a quality control team. Ephesians 3:5 NASB "which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit."

Who were the disciples? We have the eleven, the list given in the Gospels. But who fills in the gap? Who is the twelfth? We don't think it is Mathias because this whole episode in Acts chapter one is pre-Pentecost. They cast lots, which is an Old Testament style of revelation. There is a dispensational change that doesn't occur until Acts 2. So when criticism is made of the selection of Mathias in Acts it is assuming that Peter is choosing Mathias to be a church age office-holder who has the spiritual gift of apostle. But that doesn't happen until the next chapter. Peter is still thinking in terms of apostle in the first meaning when he is selecting Mathias. He is just replacing Judas and is thinking in terms of what their mission had been from Matthew 10 to Acts 1. He is not thinking about what their mission is going to be from Acts 2 on because he still doesn't have a clue that spiritual gifts are coming and what all of that is going to entail.

The spiritual gift of apostle died in the first generation; there is no provision for successors. There is no apostolic succession. When that word and concept first started in the early church it wasn't a succession of people which is what there is now exhibited in the Roman Catholic Church and Anglicanism. In those two systems there is what is called an Episcopal form of government where apostolic succession is from one person to another. In the early church there was a succession of doctrine where there was the lying on of hands, which most of us have witnessed in ordination ceremonies or when sending out a missionary. The symbolism there is that when the pastors or deacons or whoever the group is puts their hands on somebody they are saying: We are identifying our doctrine with their doctrine. It is the early version of the good house-keeping seal approval, except it is the divine house. It is showing that what they believe and what they teach is what we believe and what we teach, and so we are authorizing them to go out. A spiritual gift is never passed on by laying on of hands, a spiritual gift is never determined by men: Galatians 1:1. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father. The first time this matter of apostolic succession came in was in the early fifth century with the claim of Leo I, the Bishop of Rome, in order to build himself and to give him a position of respectability.

What we have here at the beginning of Acts chapter one is a reference to the twelve that Jesus chose to go out to the house of Israel and to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. The Lord Jesus Christ, because He is the head of the church, is the one who chooses the apostles.