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Apostles and Prophets

Many times I have heard people at church say that the day of apostles and prophets has ended. They say that now that we have the Bible we don't need apostles and prophets. Well, I say that it is not for us to say what we need, or do not need. It is for the Lord to determine what we need. What do the Scriptures say regarding the day of apostles and prophets? In this article I will address some of the arguments that have been presented to me concerning this issue, as well as some things that I have come to understand about apostles and prophets.

Must an apostle have been with the Lord during his whole earthly ministry?

I have heard at church that to be an apostle one had to be with the Lord during his earthly ministry, but this supposition is not supported in Scripture.

Acts 14:14

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:... (NIV84)

This Scripture clearly states that Barnabas was an apostle, and we know from Acts 1:15-26 that only two were qualified to replace Judas as an apostle. Barnabas was not qualified to replace Judas, but was nonetheless qualified to be an apostle. Therefore the qualification of having been with Jesus from the beginning was not a qualification to be an apostle, but rather to be one of the twelve.

Is it true that an apostle must have seen the Lord during his earthly ministry?

Others have stated that one must have seen the Lord in order to be an apostle. They use the following passage to support this idea.

Paul the apostle

1 Corinthians 9:1-2

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. (NIV84)

But this passage does not say that seeing Jesus is a requirement. This passage only says that Paul did see the Lord. Also the Lord can appear to anyone he chooses, and anyone can claim to have seen the Lord, so I cannot buy that seeing the Lord is a requirement. Also we are not told that Barnabas nor the apostle Silas had ever seen the Lord. You may be wondering why I have called Silas an apostle. I will show you.

Apostles of Christ

1 Thessalonians 1:1

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. (NIV84)

This letter to the Thessalonian church is stated to be from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. In the letter Paul is talking about how as apostles of Christ they could have used their authority, but instead were gentle among them. Now my point is that the word apostles was used, that is, plural not singular.

1 Thessalonians 2:6

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to yo u ... (NIV84)

From this alone we might conclude that Timothy was also an apostle, but we are given more information a little later in the chapter to suggest that this is not the case.

Timothy: Gospel Spreader of Christ

1 Thessalonians 3:1-3

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. (NIV84)

Now the plural is applied to Paul and Silas only, and Timothy is called a brother. Now I know that all Christians are brothers and sisters to one another, the Lord included, but careful reading of the New Testament does not suggest to my mind that Timothy was an apostle.

It was suggested at church that the apostles were only to set the foundation of our beliefs and then serve no further function. I imagine that the following passage is what gave rise to this idea.

Ephesians 2:19-20

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (NIV84)

The spirit of Scripture

We must be very careful to stay with the Spirit of Scripture. This does not say that once the foundation is laid that there is no further need of apostles or prophets. To suggest such is also to suggest that the Lord is also not actively working. Some people do in fact say that, but it is completely incorrect.

The truth of Scripture is frequently very subtle. There are apostles and there are apostles. What I mean is, is that there are the twelve apostles, (who are significant as eyewitnesses), and then there are apostles like Barnabas and Silas, and not to forget, Paul. Some people call them apostles with a capital "A" and apostles with a little "a" but I do not. They are all little "a" apostles to me, with the exception of the Apostle and High Priest of our faith, Jesus Christ.

The foundation spoken of above refers to the twelve apostles, who formed the basic structure of the Church.

Revelation 21:14

The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (NIV84)

Church structure

It has been suggested that the apostles were needed only until the fullness of Scripture was brought forth. That now that we have the Bible we no longer have need of apostles or prophets, but do the Scriptures say this? No, they do not.

Ministry gifts

Ephesians 4:11-13

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV84)

This passage says that all five of the ministry gifts are given by the Lord Jesus Christ to bring the church to maturity, that is, they will work "until" we all reach unity in the faith and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Well, this has not happened yet. We still have need for all five of the ministry gifts. It seems to me that we have a great need in the church today for genuine apostles and prophets. But of course, it is not up to me, nor does anything depend upon what I think that we need.

What an apostle or prophet does

What is the function of the apostle and/or prophet? Is it to bring forth new doctrine, as some contend? No, this is not really what they are doing in the New Testament.

Ephesians 3:4-5

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. (NIV84)

Paul is saying here that as an apostle or prophet he has been given insight into the mystery of Christ. The mystery was already there, but Paul was given understanding of what it all means. The Spirit gave this knowledge to him, because he was an apostle. Paul's obligation was to pass this knowledge onto the church as a whole. Now it is a subtle point that I am making here. Almost all of what the apostles wrote about, and spoke about, was not really new, but rather an accurate understanding of what was already written. They were not in the broadest sense bringing new revelation into the world, but rather, they were explaining what the old revelation meant, and what the events in the Gospels meant.

They supported what they said, not with what the Lord himself said, but with what was written in the Old Testament. I was astounded some time ago when I noticed that the Epistle writers almost never quoted Jesus, but instead went to the Old Testament to support whatever they were talking about. Only once do I recall an Epistle writer quoting Jesus directly. Isn't that interesting?

Gift of prophecy

1 Corinthians 13:2

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (NIV84)

This is another passage that gives us a clue about what the function of the apostles and prophets is. Again we see the ability to understand the mysteries linked to the prophet. So again we see that the Lord reveals the meaning of the mysteries to the church through the apostles and prophets, and that is usually supported with Old Testament Scripture.

Explainer of mysteries

Acts 17:11

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (NIV84)

If Paul was bringing forth new Scripture, then what were the Bereans reading to check up on Paul. It is clear that what Paul was telling them were the meaning of events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in that they were a fulfillment of prophesied events in the Old Testament. So we see that the apostle Paul was an "understander" of Scripture and an explainer of mysteries; the primary function of an apostle, or a prophet.

To say that we no longer need apostles or prophets now that we have the New Testament is not correct. No where in Scripture does it say that this is true. What with nine million harebrained interpretations of the Bible today, we sure seem to need for the Lord to raise up people that can understand what is the one Truth. But, of course, it is not a matter of what we think we need, but of what God has ordained.

Now there is a Scripture that indirectly tells us when there will no longer be any apostles or prophets living here on the earth.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (NIV84)

This passage has been shown to me a number of times by people telling me that the time for apostles and prophets has passed. They contend that the "perfection" referred to in this passage is the written New Testament. But this is clearly not the case. Do I "know" fully, even as I am fully known? Do I now see God face to face? The perfection here is the Lord Jesus Christ. When he comes, we will be caught-up to be with him forever. If the perfection here was the written Word, and then as a result prophecies, and therefore prophets, will stop, then we must also say that knowledge has passed away as well. I mean, we can't pick out what part of the sentence we want and leave the rest, now can we? Also, if the perfection referred to above is the written Word, then there can be no more prophets, right? This however cannot be the case, because we see two prophets in Revelation 11.

Revelation 11:6

These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. (NIV84)

How can they be prophesying if 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 has been fulfilled?

Now, lest any one say that they are not prophets:

Revelation 11:10

The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. (NIV84)

So they are clearly prophets, and they are clearly in our future; so it is impossible to conclude that the day of prophets is over and remain consistent with the Scriptures.

"Self-proclaimed" prophets

Now people have sneered at me when they talked of "self proclaimed" prophets. I understand that their sneer was directed to some who are clearly not prophets. However, I would like to point out that because a person says that they are a prophet, or an apostle, that they are not for that reason not a prophet or an apostle. All through the New Testament true apostles self-proclaimed that fact. Do you think it wrong to tell others what the Lord has wrought in you?

Warnings of false prophets

We have many warnings in Scripture concerning false apostles and false prophets, but that doesn't mean that we are to consider anyone who claims to be a prophet or an apostle of the Lord as being false. The very fact that the Lord warns us of false prophets, at the time of the end, also serves to inform us that there will also be true prophets. (The two in Revelation 11 if no other.) We are told in Scripture to test the spirits. We must listen and hear with our spiritual ears, and see with our spiritual eyes, in order to test the spirits.

Listen to the Word of the Lord

If the Lord has raised up a person to be a prophet and commands that person to speak to you, and you do not listen, then you are guilty of not listening to the word of the Lord. You would be guilty of opposing the Lord's message.

Things are not what they should be in the church today. The idea that a person decides that they want to be a pastor, and so they go off to Bible college, or to a seminary, and learn what that particular denomination teaches, and is then "ordained" and becomes a pastor, is not right. It is the Lord that calls, and it is the Lord that equips. So, how do we know if a person is a called apostle of the Lord?

An Apostle's ministry is marked by Signs, Wonders, and Miracles

2 Corinthians 12:12

The things that mark an apostle -- signs, wonders and miracles -- were done among you with great perseverance. (NIV84)

If a person claimed to be an apostle, but the Lord has not testified to that fact, by accompanying their ministry with signs, wonders, and miracles, then I would say that they are a false apostle. We also know that what they say and do must be consistent with the Scriptures. That is not to say that they are a perfect person. There is only one who is perfect. We see in the Scriptures that Paul publicly rebuked Peter, and he was an apostle.

It is somewhat more difficult determining that a person claiming to be a prophet is truly one. There need be no signs, wonders, or miracles.

A true prophet speaks the truth

John 10:40-42

Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed 41 and many people came to him. They said, "Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true." 42 And in that place many believed in Jesus. (NIV84)

So, the evidence that a person is a true prophet is simply that they are speaking the truth, but that is not to say that if a person is speaking truth that they are a prophet. The truth carries with it its own proof. The truth must be received simply because it is the truth. Anyone who rejects the Lord's word is in trouble, and anyone who rejects the word of the Lord's prophet is also in trouble, and for the same reason. The prophet is speaking the words of the Lord, that is, he is speaking the truth.

We must not forget that although God is speaking through the prophet, he is also working in the hearts of the hearer also. God is active in all aspects of everything.

You might be wondering why I care about all this. I care because I want the church to be what the Lord wants it to be. If the Lord has said that he put apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers into the body until we all reach unity in the faith, then I believe he did. I believe that to teach otherwise is to oppose the Lord. I don't wish to be in opposition to the Lord in any way whatsoever.

Do you know that in congregations that don't believe in pastors, that they do not have pastors? In congregations that don't believe that God will do any supernatural things, that God does no supernatural things. Is it any wonder that there are so few apostles and prophets in the modern church that denies their existence? And isn't it convenient that the Bible colleges and their products have removed the two ministry gifts that would hold them accountable to an accurate interpretation of the Holy Scriptures?

Worship the truth

I worship the Truth. I want to know exactly what God says is true. I believe that when these issues come up, and we don't carefully examine them, that it means that we really don't care what is right and wrong, that we really don't love God. To love God, is to want to know God, is to seek to please God.

Acts 7:51-53

"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him-- 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it." (NIV84)

Test the spirits

1 John 4:1

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (NIV84)

 

Ephesians 4:30

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NIV84)

 

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