The Authority of the Apostles

Mike Johnson

Many people today say that we only need the words of Jesus to guide us, failing to understand the authority of the apostles. Christ certainly has authority (Mt. 28:18, 17:1-8), but we must understand that authority also resides with the apostles. This thinking is seen with some who place a great deal of emphasis on the red letter edition of the Bible --an edition in which all of the words of Christ are in red. They might say, "If it isn't in red, I don't accept it."
Jesus always taught the truth, but He did not teach all of the truth during His personal ministry. We do need the words of Jesus, but we also need the teaching of the apostles and other inspired teachers.

During Jesus' personal ministry, He told the apostles that after he left, the Holy Spirit would be sent by God, and He would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all things that he had taught them (Jn.14:26, 28). In John 15:26, he said, "But 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." Jesus said (Jn. 16:13) that when he left the Comforter (or Holy Spirit) would be sent, and "Howbeit 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." Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he gave the Great Commission in which he told them to go and preach the gospel to all nations (Mt. 28:18-20, Mk. 16:15-16). He also told them to go and tarry at Jerusalem and they would be endured with "power from on high." He revealed that He would send the promise of His father upon them (Luke 24:49-52). This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost a short time later (Acts 2); the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and the first gospel sermon was preached.

Jesus told the apostles that they would be given the "keys" to the kingdom of heaven. After speaking of the church being built, Jesus said to Peter (Mt. 16:19), "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Later, in Matthew 18:18, he said the same thing to all of the apostles. A key is symbolic of "authority." The apostles would have the authority to "bind" and "loose." They did not have "legislative" power, but, guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles had the authority to carry out heaven's decisions. They announced heaven's will to mankind.

Paul, in II Corinthians 5:20, referred to himself and the other apostles as "ambassadors for Christ." The word ambassador means "one who is entrusted with a message from one sovereign to another." This office is one which entails great respect. An ambassador carries on the business of the sovereign in the way that he would conduct that business if he were present. The apostles functioned as representatives for Christ to mankind. It was "as though God did beseech" the Corinthians through them, and the purpose of their work was so that man might be reconciled to God (v. 20b). Thus, the apostles spoke for Christ.

Paul, in Ephesians 6:20, while in Roman imprisonment, referred to himself as an "ambassador in bonds." He was an ambassador, but it is interesting to note that he, as an ambassador, had been imprisoned. For the Romans to treat Paul in this manner was to greatly insult the great king whom he served.

The apostles were representatives of God and Christ. There were, consequently, serious repercussions to rejecting their message. In John 13:20, Jesus told the apostles, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me."

In Matthew 19, the apostles had just witnessed the rich young ruler refusing to sell all that he had. This prompted Peter to ask, ". . . we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" Jesus told them, ". . . Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Jesus has ascended to heaven to His throne, and He will be seated on it at the day of judgment (Acts 2:31-35; Heb. 1:13; Mt. 25:31; I Cor. 15:24-28). The period of regeneration started on Pentecost (Acts 2) after the ascension when the gospel was preached. The people heard the Word and obeyed it, and this period will continue until the end of time. The twelve thrones and twelve tribes are not literal. The twelve tribes sustain no literal relationship to the apostles. This figure is used to refer to the true Israel which is the church (Rom. 9:6, Gal. 3:29). The apostles are our judges as, guided by the Holy Spirit, they revealed the mind of Christ to mankind. They told us what "truth" was on matters of faith and practice. During their lives, they judged in person; now we have their written communication (the Bible) so they still judge us in this sense as God's Word is our standard.

After the church was established, we learn that it was the apostle's doctrine (Acts 2:42), not the teaching of Moses, which the early church continued in. Paul said, in Philippians 4:9, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."

In conclusion, God and Christ serve as our authorities. We must, however, recognize the role of the apostles as our authority for today as well. Their teaching, along with the teaching of other inspired people, is found in God's Word, the Bible.

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