The word apostle means “one who is sent”. We often think that only the first twelve disciples were referred to as apostles. But in Hebrews 3:1-4 Christ is also called an apostle. Here it refers to the fact that God the Father gave Jesus the message of reconciliation and sent Him to the world to proclaim it (Jn. 1:17; 3:16-17; Gal. 4:4). Just like Moses who acted as a mediator when God delivered Israel from slavery (Gen. 3:10-14; 5:1-2, etc.), God’s Son did the same when He delivered people from the bondage of sin (2 Cor. 1:9-10; Heb. 3:2-3; 8:1-6; 7:22-28). Christ was faithful to His calling. He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God the Father. He fulfilled His priestly duties and now receives glory and honor from God above.
By New Testament times, the word apostle came to mean an envoy, one sent on a mission as the personal representative of the one sending him. The word was used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) for messengers who were sent by God and who spoke with His authority. In the New Testament the word can be both a title and a description. Jesus appointed His disciples to be His messengers (Mk. 6: 7-13; Lk. 10:1-24, 47-48; Ac. 1:8). Although Scripture passages mostly apply this word to Jesus’ twelve original disciples, Paul (1 Cor. 15:9) and other New Testament missionaries (Eph. 4: 11-12) were also called “apostles” (Barnabas- Ac.14:14; Andronicus and Junias- Rom. 16:7). These believers understood Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” (Mt. 28:18-20) as well as to be His witnesses (Acts 1:6-8). As representatives of Jesus they took His message of reconciliation with His authority to the far reaches of the Roman Empire (ex. 1 Thes. 1:1-8).
While Hebrews 3:1-4 ascribes the role and title of apostle to Jesus, it names Him as High Priest too. One might think these two roles are separate and distinctive, but other passages (previously mentioned here) indicate that the High Priest acted as a mediator between God and Israel through the means of the sacrificial system (Dt. 33:8-10). The High Priest’s duties were most visible during the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16; 23:26-32; Num. 29:7-11). On that day the High Priest was responsible to represent the people before God in the Holy of Holies and then relaying God’s acceptance and His “covering” of their sin to the people. In that way the High Priest had a role as messenger. He brought the message of God’s forgiveness to the people much like the apostles of the New Testament brought the message of God’s grace to those who heard the Gospel.
There is no longer a need for a High Priest as Jesus fulfilled that role completely (Heb. 4:14-16; 5:1-10; 7:1-8:13; 9:1-7, 11-14, 24-26; 10:10-14). But there is still a need for apostles. “Are there apostles today?” you ask? Of course! Every believer represents Jesus. We may not travel to a foreign country as a missionary does, but each one of us carries the message of reconciliation to the world we live in (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Like the 12 apostles before us, Jesus has commissioned us to carry this message wherever we go. Where has God sent you to be His representative? Is it at your job, in your school, in your home? Wherever you may be, as Christ’s disciple, you are also His “sent one” (Col. 4:5-6; 2 Tim. 2:24-26, 4:1-2; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 3:15). There is a world out there that is hungry for some Good News and you’re the one who has it! You do not need to be a Bible scholar or skillful in debate techniques to do this. Being an apostle simply means being willing to testify to what Jesus has done in your life. Being a witness is giving an account for what you have seen Him do. You’ve been “hired” as a spokesperson; it’s time to share the message!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/2/2016