God has graciously gifted his Church with a variety of gifts that serve and strengthen his people. As we read the New Testament, we can see that God has provided these gifts in form of leaders who lead and servants who serve which causes each local church to be strong and vibrant.
The twelve apostles hold a significant place in Christian history, as they were chosen by Jesus Christ himself to spread the message of the kingdom of God. Jesus called the twelve apostles and gifted them to his Church with specific apostolic gifts to accomplish their mission. Understanding their foundational work and the role the occupied as a gift to the early Church is vitally important in the study of Christianity.
Who Are the Twelve?
The twelve apostles were chosen by Jesus from among his larger group of disciples. Jesus handpicked these specific men to become his closest followers and leaders. While all believers can be referred to as disciples, the term “apostle” was reserved for this select group who were commissioned and sent out on a special mission by Christ.
Each apostle had a distinct personality and background, contributing to the diversity of the group. They included Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew (Nathanael), Matthew (Levi), Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), Judas (son of James), and Judas Iscariot (the traitor).
When Jesus was up on the mountainside, great crowds were following him. He took that opportunity to separate twelve men from the general disciples and specifically called them apostles. They are often referred to as “the Twelve” in Scripture, but the term apostle is critically important.
In the Greek language, the term apostle (ἀπόστολος) was used outside of Scripture to refer to cargo ships that would be loaded down with freight and boxes and then dispatched from one port to another port across a body of water where the cargo would be unpacked and delivered. When Jesus employs the term to refer to his selected band of preachers, he is communicating something of great significance. Apostles were entrusted with sacred cargo and sent out on a mission to deliver that cargo to the nations. They began in Jerusalem and spread the gospel to the ends of the world.
The Apostolic Gifts
When Jesus called the twelve apostles, he granted them power and authority over demons and the ability to heal diseases. These apostolic gifts were closely tied to their mission of preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. Through these miraculous signs, the authenticity of their apostleship and the message they proclaimed were validated. It’s important to note that these gifts were temporary and specifically connected to the apostles and their close associates during the age of the apostles.
God has chosen to use miracles, wonders, and signs to direct attention to his sovereign throne and to validate his chosen leaders. In Exodus when Moses was charged with leading Israel away from Pharoah, the rebellious leader determined to disobey God’s order. It was through a series of signs that served as plagues that God demonstrated the reality that his throne is far superior to Pharaoh’s throne.
Exodus 7:3 – But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt
In the New Testament, we get a glimpse of Jesus performing miracles, wonders, and signs in his earthly ministry. These signs included healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, causing the lame to walk, making the deaf to hear, raising the dead, casting out demons, and rebuking wind and waves with sovereign authority. After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, Peter preached at Pentecost and called people to repentance. In his famous sermon, he said the following:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.”1Acts 2:22 ESV
It was during the age of the early Church that the apostles were gifted with apostolic gifts. According to Acts 5:12, “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.” Many signs and wonders were done at the hands of the apostles (Acts 14:3; 15:12). What was the purpose? It was always for the purpose of validating and authenticating the Messiah, his message, his people, and his apostles. Once his message was completely recorded at the close of the apostolic age, the apostles died, the biblical canon of Scripture was complete, and these gifts ceased. We must be mindful that Satan will seek to mimic the power of God with “false signs and wonders” in the last days as well when the “man of lawlessness” or the “man of sin” who is the antichrist is raised up to deceive people and direct people to worship him (2 Thess 2:9).
The Scriptures are completely sufficient and serve as God’s authoritative Word to his people. Therefore, there is no longer any need for special revelation or direct revelation coming from God because his Word is final and sufficient. This is not only true in terms of the gift of an apostle, but likewise the gifts associated with the apostles (apostolic gifts) such as healing, tongues, and prophecy. Anyone claiming to be an apostle today should be considered a direct assault upon the sufficiency of Scripture.
The purpose of miracles, wonders, and signs at the hands of the apostles was always for the purpose of validation and authentication.
- Validate the Authenticity of the Messiah
- Validate the Authenticity of their Apostleship
- Validate the Authenticity of the Gospel
- Validate the Authenticity of Jesus’ Church
- Complete the New Testament Canon of Scripture
In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he speaks about the signs of a true apostle. In Paul’s day the church was plagued by men who claimed to be official apostles when in fact they were charlatans. Paul writes:
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.22 Corinthians 12:12 ESV
While God is sovereign and can still perform miracles such as the healing of disease, he does so based on his sovereign will rather than gifting specific men with the gift to heal the sick or cast out demons. That age has now passed, but God remains sovereign to this very hour. We must beware of those who come in the name of Jesus claiming apostolic giftedness and authority which is no longer given to God’s people in this era of redemptive history.
The Mission of the Apostles
The primary mission of the apostles was to preach the gospel. They were heralds of the message, entrusted with the task of announcing the arrival of the King, and calling people to repentance. Preaching was central to their role, and they were not entertainers or celebrities but messengers appointed by God. Their preaching was characterized by its authority, clarity, and conviction. According to Mark 3:14, Jesus sent these apostles out to preach.
The word “preach” (κηρύσσω) means to herald or announce or proclaim a message to a group of people from a significant authority figure. It depicts the town crier who would go out and with a loud trumpet blast or with a loud shout and would call everyone to gather where he would deliver an important message. This announcement was done with a measure of authority (the very authority of the one sent) and was to be received as if the king himself was standing there speaking to the people.
Jesus modeled this style of preaching himself, consistently emphasizing the need for repentance and announcing the nearness of the kingdom of heaven (Matt 3:2; 4:17). The apostles followed in his footsteps, proclaiming the same message to the people they encountered during their mission (Mark 6:12).
The twelve apostles played a pivotal role in the establishment of Christianity, as they were chosen and commissioned by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel of God. Their authority and apostolic gifts set them apart as messengers of God, and their preaching was characterized by its authoritative proclamation and call to repentance. Understanding the unique calling and mission of the twelve apostles provides valuable insights into the early days of Christianity and the foundational work they accomplished.
While the office of the apostle and the apostolic gifts ceased with the death of the last apostle, their legacy continues to impact the Church to this day. Their commitment to preaching and spreading the gospel serves as an example for believers today, emphasizing the importance of proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God with authority, clarity, and conviction. These men turned the world upside down and today we continue to walk in their footsteps as we declare the same message of the gospel of Christ.