What is an apostle according to the Bible? Listen to this lesson to learn about gifts bestowed on men designed for the local church. Hear nine facts about biblical apostles. See three things indicative of apostles. Hear six facts about prophets and find out the difference between Old Testament and New Testament prophets. Understand that the purpose of these two foundational spiritual gifts was to establish the local church at its beginning.
Click here for the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) book Dr. Dean referenced during this lesson.
Also, at the 2020 Pre-Trib Study Group conference, Dr. George Gunn made an informative presentation on the NAR.
The Apostles and Prophets
Ephesians Lesson #139
January 30, 2022
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to be together this morning to focus upon Your Word. We know that Your Word is that part of the equation for our spiritual growth today; we are sanctified by truth. But we are also sanctified as a result of our walk by the Spirit, and so it is through God the Holy Spirit and Your Word that we are brought to spiritual maturity. This is the means by which we grow.
“Father, as we study today, may we come to understand more fully what is going on in the purpose of the local church in this Church Age that we may recognize its significance in terms of our worship and in terms of our spiritual growth. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
We have been studying in Ephesians 4, what we are provided in Christ.
Ephesians 1 begins emphasizing the fact that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. The first three chapters go through a number of different ways in which God has blessed us, because as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are “in Him.”
That is our position, our legal identity: in Christ. In Christ we have been blessed with all the spiritual blessings which Paul identifies at the end of Ephesians 3. They are beyond anything that we can ask or think.
Then in Ephesians 4–6, he begins to talk about how we should live in light of all of those blessings, in light of who we are in Christ, in light of this high exalted position that we have as members of the body of Christ.
Not only do we have certain things that are provided for all of us, covered in Ephesians 4:1–6, but in Ephesians 4:7, for each one of us grace was given. We learned that that phrase is mostly used by Paul in relation to the way we have been gifted by God in terms of spiritual gifts.
Ephesians 4:8–9 references Psalm 68:18, talking about the ascension, applying that verse which focused on the ascension of God in triumph to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in the Old Testament. And applying that to the ascension of Christ to heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of the Father awaiting the time when He is to ask for and will be given the Kingdom.
It moves from there to the fact that He has given us certain things, related to spiritually gifted leadership, Ephesians 4:11–13, which we have been introducing ourselves to over the last couple of Sundays.
Ephesians 4:11–13, “And He Himself [Jesus Christ] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, [the purpose for those gifted leaders is given in Ephesians 4:12] for the equipping of the saints [that equipping goes to another level. It’s in a different word translated ‘for’ in the Greek]
“… for the work of the ministry, the equipping of the body of Christ [for the edifying of the body of Christ] till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
This gives us the foundation of what Christ has provided for His body that we might grow to spiritual maturity, because that’s the end game. Christ is not interested in us staying as diaper babies, which unfortunately is true for a lot of churches.
One of the most significant observations I heard was about 30 years ago at a pastors’ conference by Dr. Earl Radmacher, who at that time was the chancellor of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary. Now he is with the Lord.
He made the observation that the church is the world’s largest nursery; and the nursery workers, that is, the pastors, don’t have a clue how to get the babies out of diapers. That’s true. Most churches have no vision for developing the sheep into mature Christian saints.
It is sad that they don’t know how to do this. They put the emphasis on a lot of the wrong things instead of what the Scripture teaches. The central passage for what the Lord has designed and provided for us to have spiritual growth is this passage that we are beginning to study.
We introduced a few things about the church over the last two Sundays,
What the Bible teaches about the church [ecclesiology]. The purpose for that is just so we understand some basic things that the Scripture say about the church.
1. The use of the term “church” in the New Testament:
- The universal church or the invisible church; that is, all of those who have trusted in Christ as Savior through the centuries whether they are alive today or are with the Lord in Heaven.
- “Church” in the New Testament Greek is a singular. It refers to both individual congregations, as well as to a group of churches in a city. For example, the church in Ephesus or the church in Corinth. Or it can refer to a number of churches within a region, churches in Syria and Jerusalem and Samaria.
It’s a Greek singular, but the English translates it as a plural, so it’s using that one singular noun. That’s important because there have been some cults and sects that say, “See, there should only be one real church in each location,” and that is not what the Scriptures teach at all.
- The singular “church” also refers to a single group, a local expression of the body of Christ, such as West Houston Bible Church. We’re just a local expression of the body of Christ.
When did the church begin?
The body of Christ was initially formed on the Day of Pentecost and AD 33, Acts 2.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus used the future tense of the verb, “I will build My church,” indicating it wasn’t in existence yet; it was sometime in the future.
Acts 5:11 is the first time the word “church” is used in Acts. It recognizes the church is already in existence, that is, the body of Christ.
What is the sign of the Church?
1. The baptism by the Holy Spirit, which is for every single believer at the instant of salvation. It is not something we experience. It’s not something that is indicated by some overt action. It is simply the non-experiential act by the Holy Spirit, where He is used by Christ to identify us with His death, burial, and resurrection.
John the Baptist said it was yet future, “One will come after me who will [future tense] baptize you by the Spirit and by fire.”
Acts 1:5, just before Christ ascended to Heaven, He referred back to John’s baptism, “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized by the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
2. Ten days later the Holy Spirit descended, described in Acts 2:2–4.
3. We are not to identify the church with the Kingdom.
This is a common error today. The Kingdom to which the Old Testament referred, which is predicted and prophesied that it will be ruled by the Messiah, is a literal geopolitical kingdom that will have as its head the Lord Jesus Christ as the greater Son of David, who is ruling from the throne of David in Jerusalem. That does not happen until Christ returns at the Second Coming.
Also emphasized: we have to distinguish the different ways in which “kingdom” has been used in the Scripture in the Old Testament:
- It refers to the universal rule of God over all His creation.
- It is used to describe God’s theocratic rule over Israel. Remember, God is the King of Israel according to the Mosaic Law, and so that’s referred to as a theocracy. He’s the theocratic kingdom.
- That future reign of Messiah from the throne of David in Jerusalem.
The church is not spiritual Israel, the church is distinct from Israel. God has one plan for Israel and another plan for the church. They are to be kept separate.
Another passage that we looked at last time related to the Kingdom, Daniel 7:26–27, emphasizes that in the future, during that time when the antichrist rules—identified as the little horn among these beasts in Daniel 7—that his dominion is taken away.
Daniel 7:26, “But the court shall be seated [I think that’s a picture of what we see described in Revelation 4–5] and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever.”
Daniel 7:27, “Then the kingdom and dominion …”
The Kingdom is not given to Christ until after it is taken away from the antichrist. We haven’t seen the antichrist yet, so that tells us the Kingdom has not come in any way, shape, or form.
We must understand that we are in the Church Age. We are the body of Christ. And as such we have been given distinct privileges and assets that no other believer in any other dispensation has. Part of that is Christ has given these gifted individuals to the church.
Ephesians 4:11–12, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”
Their purpose is stated two different ways in the next verse. The overall purpose is, Ephesians 4:12, “the equipping of the saints [equipping for two things] for the work of ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ.”
It will take us two or three sessions to get through this verse, to understand it, because there are a number of problems in the way it’s translated, sometimes in the way it’s taught. We need to be very specific to make sure we understand exactly what is going on in this verse.
When we get to the last two nouns given, “pastors and teachers,” we will discuss how they are related to one another in terms of the Greek construction. Generally speaking, when you see the word “some” repeated four times in English, it is actually translating a certain grammatical structure in the Greek.
The Greek MEN in the front of each of these phrases is indicating the structure. So, it’s some this, some that, some the other thing. That’s why the English translates it “some.” It also indicates that when you get to those last two nouns that they are viewed as probably the same person.
Even though they’re distinct, they are united by way of this construction. We will get to the details of that later because there’s a lot of debate about that.
He gives four gifts here, one of the things that has to be addressed because there’s a heretical movement today called the New Apostolic Reformation. It is very, very sad because you find a lot of the people that are associated with that to be extremely focused on politics, yet we are not having an apostolic reformation.
We’ll see this morning that there has been no apostle since the death of the Apostle John in approximately AD 95 or 96. Yet many of these individuals out there are often linked with dominion theology and post-millennial theology and theonomy, which emphasizes bringing back the Mosaic Law for today. There are a lot of problems with all of those things.
The New Apostolic Reformation isn’t restricted to a denomination or a particular group. It’s just sort of a fluid group. There actually is an outstanding book The New Apostolic Reformation, written by a couple of graduates from Talbot Seminary and Biola University. It indicates a lot of the problems.
One of the problems that I had during the previous presidential administration was a large number, not everyone, but a large number of those who were part of the so-called Christian Council or Evangelical Council that surrounded President Trump all bought into New Apostolic Reformation. Not every one of them did, but a number of them did.
We have to remember that the right thing done in a wrong way or for a wrong reason is wrong. Only a right thing done for the right reason in the right way is right. And this was extremely troublesome to me when I understood just how theologically flaky and heretical some of those people were that surrounded the president.
Not all of them. Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffers up at First Baptist in Dallas and several others were fairly solid, but a large number were very fringe at best. So, we have to understand some of these particular issues.
I’m not going to go into New Apostolic Reformation in any more detail than that, but I encourage you, if you’re interested, to get that book.
What the Bible teaches about Apostles.
Exactly what is an Apostle? We have to focus on that question. What was the function of these Apostles? Are there four or five different spiritual gifts in this group? Are they all permanent or are some temporary? We will examine those.
44 years ago, Dr. Robert Duncan Culver, who at the time was a Professor of Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School up in Chicago, published an article in the Bibliotheca Sacra, the Theological Journal of Dallas Theological Seminary, entitled “Apostles and the Apostolate in the New Testament.” He was very prescient in what he said when he opened the article.
“A number of currents of thought in contemporary church life [remember this was 44 years ago] invite fresh attention to the precise nature and purpose of the New Testament apostolate. Some Roman Catholics and ‘charismatics’ are presenting new ideas about revelation. In the age of lawlessness, persons in many denominations and sects are raising questions about ecclesiastical authority. Others have misconceptions about ‘the signs of an apostle.’ In addition, there is the growing habit of referring to certain foreign missionaries or strong religious leaders as apostles—apparently intended literally rather than metaphorically.”
A lot has happened with regard to that since then. At the time that he wrote this, the movement known as the Wimber Wagner Movement, Wagner Wimber Movement, the Signs and Wonders Movement, or Power Evangelism was just beginning in Southern California.
It became quite large and influential in the 80s and 90s. The prime mover and shaker behind it was Peter Wagner, a professor from Fuller Theological Seminary. Peter Wagner believed that all of these gifts were present for today, and this was a five-fold ministry that needed to be restored to the church for it to be healthy. That movement was also called the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit.”
When that began to lose its steam by the late 80s or early 90s, Peter Wagner started another movement which I referred to earlier, the New Apostolic Reformation. When he started that he said the one thing that we missed in the third wave was the emphasis on the rise of new apostles. This is a very present problem in contemporary Christianity.
What does the Bible say?
1. The noun translated “apostle” is the Greek APOSTOLOS, which comes to us in English by way of Latin. It’s just basically transliterating the word, moving from one language to another. It is used 80 times in the Greek New Testament, which I broke down:
34 times are used by Luke who was Paul’s associate. 34 times by Paul; but notice only three times by Peter. Once each in: Matthew, Mark, John, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Jude; twice in 2 Peter; and three times in Revelation. The dominant use is in the Gospel of Luke, as well as Acts, and also by the Apostle Paul.
2. APOSTOLOS has a long history, going back many centuries in classical Greek.
But in classical Greek it didn’t have the same sense or nuance that it has in the New Testament. It was originally used in classical Greek for a high ranking admiral or a general officer who commanded either an army or a naval fleet. In fact, it was often used for the fleet itself that was sent out on a mission.
The basic meaning is to be sent out, but it doesn’t have the sense of a personal emissary or representative until you find it in the New Testament where it has this specific use of a personal envoy that is commissioned by someone for a specific task or mission.
It has its roots in that sense in the Hebrew shalach, the verb form. It was used for sending a messenger on a mission in several contexts. For example, in 2 Chronicles 17:7 it is used to refer to someone sent on a mission, where it uses a form of the word shaliach, which was a specific messenger.
I actually ran into this in Modern Hebrew. Some years ago, as you know, when I was in Kiev I met the shaliach from the Jewish Agency for Israel, known as JAFI, who’s become a good friend. I spent some time with him in Miami last summer. Shaliach was his title because he sends out their teams into various countries where there’s a large number of Jews, and their job is to find these Jews.
In a lot of places, like Russia and Ukraine, there are people who sort of know or think that they might be Jewish. For so many years, because they would be persecuted, the families would not tell their children or grandchildren that they were Jewish.
These teams would identify some who were Jewish, and then they would teach them what it meant to be a Jew with the end in mind of getting them to make aliyah or immigrate to Israel.
This idea developed in the Old Testament, mostly in the intertestamental period in rabbinical literature in the sense of someone who is sent by a man, as a representative, as the man himself, stated in the Talmud.
Jesus used a similar idea, Matthew 10:40, talking to the disciples, “He who receives you receives Me and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
That’s the idea using the Greek verb APOSTOLOS related to the noun.
Within Judaism this idea had developed of an official representative of various groups representing the different bodies of authority within Judaism. Paul, in fact, functioned as a shaliach when he was sent by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to go to Damascus, find Christians, and bring them back as prisoners.
In summary, the root meaning of APOSTOLOS within intertestamental Judaism had that idea of someone who is commissioned with a task and given the authority to carry out that task. He is responsible for fulfilling that, so it inherently has picked up the idea of command and leadership responsibilities.
3. Jesus appointed His disciples to be designated as apostles. They are known as “The Twelve,” even after Judas was gone. They’re called The Twelve before Matthias comes in, so this just became sort of a nickname for the group whether they were actually 12 or not.
Luke 6:13, “And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve.”
There are many disciples. A disciple is simply someone who’s a learner, somebody who is a student. You all are disciples by the fact that you’re here with a desire to learn and to be taught. From a wide number of disciples, Jesus chose 12 who He named apostles.
John 15:16 refers to it this way, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you [talking to His disciples; the selection of the 12 minus Judas, because by John 15 Judas had left] and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”
An apostle is one who is commissioned by Christ Himself to the task of establishing the church in the Church Age. That’s the technical meaning of an apostle.
4. There is one group designated as the 12 apostles, and that these are the ones who are called and commissioned directly by the Lord Jesus Christ to go and make disciples and to proclaim the Gospel, to establish churches, and to provide for revelation.
Through them God would reveal the New Testament. What’s interesting is the phrase at the end of Revelation 21:14, talking about the New Jerusalem, in the new heavens and new earth, “Now the wall of the city had 12 foundations …” THEMELIOS.
I make this point because there is another Greek word for “foundation,” and this is the same word that’s used in Ephesians 2:20, so that’s an important connection], and on them are the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb.”
We won’t get into the issue of identifying those 12 apostles. Just as a side note, the issue is, is Paul’s name there or is Matthias’ name there? If they’re both there, you have more than 12.
It’s funny, when you look at numbers in Scripture there are different listings of the 12 tribes of Israel because there were actually 13, but they’re always called the 12 tribes of Israel. So, God’s math is interesting in these passages.
5. There were certain qualifications, and an apostle must’ve been an eyewitness of the words and works of Jesus Christ.
Acts 1:21–22, where they are about to select someone to replace Judas, “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
Two things come out in that verse: they wanted someone who was qualified because they had been with Jesus from the period of His baptism at the inauguration of His public ministry, were witnesses of His teaching throughout that time and of His resurrection.
Nobody today meets that qualification. This is a qualification to be one of that foundational group that was called the apostles, The Twelve. That would exclude anyone in any century since the second century of being an apostle.
6. These 12 are the foundation of the church.
Ephesians 2:19 and earlier tells us that in this Church Age we now have a new entity made up of Jew and Gentile alike. We are united in the body of Christ. In the passage Ephesians 2:15–19, they’re identified as a new man, a new body, a new building, and a new temple: four different metaphors to describe this new entity that we’re a part of that is known as the church.
He concludes Ephesians 2:20 talking about this new temple that the Holy Spirit is building, otherwise known as the body of Christ, “… having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”
The Greek word translated “foundation” is the same word that is used of the foundation stones in the New Jerusalem, the 12 foundation stones of the 12 names of the apostles. Here it is using that same word for “foundation” for the apostles and prophets.
According to the preeminent Greek lexicon, “foundation” means the basis for something taking place or coming into being. That’s what a foundation is; you only lay the foundation of a building once. It may have 60 floors, 100 floors, 120 floors, but there’s only one foundation.
It was laid once in the first century and everything after that builds on it, so that indicates that both apostles and prophets are part of that foundation, which was laid in the first century, and they do not come in subsequent generations.
They are foundational gifts, and it would be limited to that narrow technical use of apostle—those who are commissioned by Christ; those are part of that initial group.
7. Others in Scripture are called apostles. This is a generic or general term. They’re identified by apostles, but they don’t have the office of apostle. This is a non-technical use of the term. What distinguishes them is that The Twelve are all commissioned by Christ.
They all witnessed the resurrected Christ. The resurrected Christ appeared physically to Paul on the road to Damascus and was specifically and directly commissioned by Christ. But these others are not commissioned by Christ. They are commissioned by maybe another apostle or by a local church.
For example, Barnabas is called an apostle in Acts 14:14, “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in amongst the multitude crying out …”
Barnabas and Paul were selected and sent out by the local church in Antioch to take the Gospel. They went to Cyprus, then to south-central Turkey, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. They were commissioned by a local church; they weren’t commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ. They were sent out on a mission, to take the Gospel and to plant churches in that particular area.
Paul was an apostle technically among The Twelve because he was commissioned by Christ. He is a witness of the resurrected Christ, but he’s also an apostle in the general sense as he and Barnabas were commissioned by the local church and sent on that mission.
In 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul makes the statement, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles [indicating the group of The Twelve], the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”
Cephas was the Aramaic name for Peter. Peter is one of The Twelve, so it appears that when he says “the other apostles” here and then includes “the brothers of the Lord”—because remember Jude and James were not saved until after the resurrection, so they wouldn’t fit the qualifications of the other apostles.
They were not there with Christ from the beginning of His baptism all the way through to the resurrection, and they’re not even saved until after the resurrection. He uses the phrase “other apostles” in a generic sense. It’s an appositional phrase; he is talking about the brothers of the Lord and Peter. Peter, of course, would involve both senses.
1 Corinthians 9:6, “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain working?”
He includes Barnabas in that group, so we know that he’s primarily thinking in terms of that generic sense; however, both he and Peter would be of The Twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:5, talking about those who witnessed the resurrected Christ, “… and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by The Twelve.”
Peter is one of The Twelve, so this is one of the places where he’s talking about the 12 apostles as just a nickname. Because when Christ was resurrected, how many apostles were there? Judas is dead; there’s only 11.
This is one of those places where they’re still called The Twelve, even though there’s only 11. He means that this is the technical group that become the apostles of the early church, the foundations.
1 Corinthians 15:6, “After that He was seen by over 500 brethren at once [He appeared to a large group], of whom the greater part remain to the present [In other words, ‘If you don’t want to believe Christ was raised from the dead, we have a lot of witnesses. It only takes two or three to confirm something as true, and we’ve got at this point over 512 witnesses of the resurrection of Christ], but some have fallen asleep.”
1 Corinthians 15:7, “After that [after He appeared to the 500] He was seen by James [His brother], then by all the apostles.”
Wait a minute! In 1 Corinthians 15:5 he refers to Peter and The Twelve. That’s the narrow sense of apostle, but in 1 Corinthians 15:7 he’s talking about a different group than The Twelve. So this is more of that general sense, those who are commissioned by the other apostles to a different ministry.
8. The apostles were given credentials. How do you know you’re an apostle? Well, the apostles performed miracles; they performed signs and wonders.
2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul says, “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.”
The apostle that Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4:11, is that same foundational group that he mentions in Ephesians 2:20, which refers to the narrow group of those whose names will be on the 12 foundation stones in the new heavens and new earth.
They are the foundation of the church, so this was a temporary gift. We can see that already because there’s no more being added to that in that sense.
9. Three things that indicate apostleship was temporary:
- The office was limited to those who had witnessed the resurrected Christ and were called and directly commissioned by Him, which doesn’t happen anymore.
- Apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church, something that only happened once in the early church at the very beginning. That’s the meaning of the word “foundation.”
- The use of “apostle” to designate someone who was sent by a congregation does not mean they have the spiritual gift, but that they were commissioned to a particular task. They certainly did not have the office.
This gives us a pretty good understanding of that first gift, and it’s connected to the second category gift of prophets. It is also a foundational gift, which means it will be temporary.
1. New Testament prophets are founded on the meaning of the Old Testament prophets.
The significance of that statement: there have been those in the last 30 or 40 years who have argued that New Testament prophets aren’t like the Old Testament prophets: Apostles are the ones who replace the Old Testament prophets. New Testament prophets were different; thus, we still have New Testament prophets, who don’t have to fit the qualifications of 100% accuracy required for the Old Testament prophets.
In a lot of charismatic churches and other churches some will stand up and they “have a word of prophecy” They may be wrong, but it’s okay because they’re New Testament prophets. They are playing fast and loose with the meaning of the terms.
Anybody who picks up a Bible and has read through Genesis to Malachi, then reads about prophets in Acts will automatically assume that the prophet in the New Testament means the same as in the Old Testament.
There is no place where there’s any new information given saying, “Oh, we are going to call them New Testament prophets, but they’re not the same as Old Testament prophets.” It’s the same term.
2. Like apostles the New Testament prophets were foundational-gifted people who were temporary and limited to the first century. Next time we will show why there’s some temporary gifts and why some are not temporary.
3. Prophets are listed with other spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God has appointed these in the church [Notice the first two are the same that we have in Ephesians 4:11]: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers [no mention of pastors anywhere except Ephesians 4:11], after that miracles, and gifts of healing, helps administrations, varieties of languages.”
Romans 12:6, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.”
Prophecy is listed both in the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as in Romans 12, but it was nevertheless a temporary gift as were others. We know at this point that the gift of apostle was a temporary gift and the gift of prophet was a temporary gift. It is specifically said to be temporary in 1 Corinthians 13, which we will look at next time.
4. New Testament prophets were to be evaluated. This is grounded on the Old Testament tests of:
- consistency with other authoritative revelation, Deuteronomy 13
- predictions must come true with 100% accuracy, Deuteronomy 18
Deuteronomy 18:20, God speaking to Moses, “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”
Why? Because if he’s speaking in the name of other gods, he is clearly a false prophet because the first commandment in the 10 Commandments is that “you shall have no other gods before Me.”
Deuteronomy 18:21, “And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’”
That’s a good question. Many people today will hear others say, God told me this, God told me that … but how do we know that God told them that? This is the issue. You have to authenticate the messenger before you listen to them.
Deuteronomy 18:22, “when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
In other words, everything he says, every detail of the prophecy has to come true. You’re not going to find some psychic who is going to have 100% accuracy. You’re not going to find a false prophet—a prophet of Baal or a prophet of the Asherah—having 100% accuracy.
They may be able to guess pretty well. I read something the other day about a psychic who predicted that there would be a war between the United States and Russia. Well, there’s a lot of people who are predicting that and not calling themselves psychics. They’re just hedging their bets.
That’s the criteria here: every single thing that they say would have come true. Some prophets spoke about things that were in the far distance, but they gave a lot of prophecies related to near-current fulfillment, so that they could be validated as a prophet of the Lord.
In Deuteronomy 13:1–2 we have another situation, “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign and a wonder …” [Notice the assumption there is that there will be prophets who perform miracles. They will do a sign or do a wonder] and the sign or wonder comes to pass …”
Many say, “Well, if it’s going to be fake, it won’t come to pass. It’s going to be a fake miracle.” That’s not what He’s saying, He’s saying this person has a sign or a wonder and it comes to pass. A lot of people think that you validate just on the basis of the experience. No! You have to validate on the basis of what the Word of God says.
“… of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—’and let us serve them.”
Wait a minute! That contradicts what God said, “thou shalt have no other gods before Me”!
- The first test is Deuteronomy 18 that everything that the prophets said would happen comes to pass.
- The second test is you have to evaluate what he says in light of previously accepted revelation, so that you can evaluate whether or not he’s telling truth.
If he’s contradicting what is already accepted revelation, then you know he is a false prophet. If he says, “‘Let us go after other gods, which is not known, let us serve them,’ Deuteronomy 13:3, “you shall not listen to that to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you …”
God allows these false teachers to test us to see if we’re going to stick with what the Word of God says or get involved in following our emotions and follow after some false teacher. God warned the Israelites that these false teachers would come and God will use them “… testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
The issue for us, believer, is that we have to trust the Word of God and nothing else. We don’t trust our emotions, we don’t trust our experience. We don’t look at it and say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense to me. Is that what God said? Yes.”
Then we believe it and trust it, and we don’t rely on our emotions, our intellect, or any other human factor as something that causes us to disbelieve the Word of God.
God continues speaking to Moses, Deuteronomy 13:4–5, “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that Prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death …”
Why the death penalty? Because he is deceiving people. If somebody comes along under the Mosaic Law saying, “There are many ways to God. You don’t have to believe in Jesus, you can be a Moslem, you can be a Buddhist, you can be any of these other religions that don’t believe Christ died on the cross for your sins; all roads lead to God.”
Under the Mosaic Law what you’re telling people will lead them to eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. That is such a serious deception and so dangerous that they need to be removed from society, so they should be executed under the death penalty. God is serious about protecting His people and protecting His Word from false teaching.
5. The emphasis on New Testament prophets was the giving of divine revelation. Biblical authors such as Luke, James, and Jude weren’t apostles of the first order like Peter, Matthew, and John. They had the New Testament gift of prophecy, which was primarily for the giving of revelation.
6. The purpose of these foundational gifts was to provide spiritual direction in the early years of the church through verbal and written revelation until the New Testament was all written and the Canon—meaning the standard, the 27 books of the New Testament—were all completed.
That leads us to our topic next time, “What does the Bible Teach about Temporary Gifts? How do we know these gifts were just temporary?
All of this was designed for the purpose of equipping the saints to do the work of ministry, to bring us to maturity. That’s the focus of these four gifts: the apostles and prophets was the foundation at the beginning of the church; then evangelists and pastor-teachers.
The focus for individual believers is to make sure that you are listening to a pastor who understands that His primary mission is to feed the sheep. His primary mission is to give spiritual nourishment to the congregation, so that they can grow and mature and be effective in their spiritual life and in the ministries that God has given to them.
Frankly, that doesn’t happen in just an hour a week. You have to get to the point where you recognize that this is more important, your spiritual life is more important than anything else that we do in life.
That needs to be the priority and govern the decisions we make about how we spend our time, how we spend our money, what we emphasize in our life. Because the only thing that we take with us when we die is our spiritual maturity.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to be challenged by Your Word, that we are to live our lives on the basis of what’s been laid down in Your Word; that we are to grow to maturity. We are not to remain babies, we’re not to remain spiritual infants. We are to grow to spiritual adulthood that we may be effective in our spiritual life and in our ministry to others.
“Father, we’re thankful that You have given us so much in Your Word, and that it will take more than a thousand lifetimes to truly understand all that is there. But much of that we can understand to some degree, and it is very clear from this passage that we are to focus our attention on being equipped to do the work of service, the work of ministry, that You have provided for us.
“Father, we pray too for any who may be listening online to this message this morning or any who are watching it in the future or anyone here that has never trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. The gospel is good news. It’s exciting news that God has given us salvation. He has provided forgiveness for the penalty of sin through the work of Christ on the cross. And that we appropriate that not by works or by a ritual, but by simply trusting in Christ, believing in Him.
“As the Scripture says, ‘he who has not believed in the name of the Son of God is condemned already, but he who has believed has everlasting life.’
“Father we pray that You would challenge each of us with the truth of this message and of Your Scripture this morning. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”