|Topical Bible Study||August 1957|
The People of the Bible
Article XXVII—The Four Gospels
Jesus and the Apostles
“Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” —Matthew 10:1-4
WHILE in our last article we dealt at considerable length with Jesus, the central personality of the entire Bible, our appreciation of him increases as we study him in association with his chosen representatives, the twelve apostles. We used the expression “his chosen representatives,” and it is true that Jesus did invite these twelve to the position of apostleship; however, he looked upon them as having been given to him by his Heavenly Father. In a prayer toward the close of his ministry, Jesus referred to his apostles as “the men which thou gayest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gayest them me.”—John 17:6
The word “apostle” means “one sent forth.” While every devoted, truth-enlightened follower of Jesus is commissioned by the Holy Spirit to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom, to these twelve a special commission was given, and extraordinary powers were conferred upon them which were not given to the disciples as a whole.
The commission first given to the twelve is recorded in Matthew 10:5-8 and reads: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”
In this commission Jesus associates his apostles with the great theme message of the entire Bible, that is, the kingdom. The Old Testament prophets had foretold that Jehovah would send a King, the Messiah, who would set up a kingdom and through that kingdom would extend blessings of peace and health and life to all mankind. Jesus was that King. The apostles accepted him as such, and now they were commissioned to preach that the kingdom was “at hand.”
It was at hand in the sense that the King had made his first appearance. The holy prophets had said that the King would come and that “of the increase of his government and peace” there would be “no end.” Now the King had come. The Royal Majesty of the heavens was in the midst of Israel, and the responsibility was laid upon the apostles to make this known.
The foretold kingdom of the Messiah was to benefit the people of all nations, but when the apostles were first sent forth, their commission limited them to proclaim the message only to “the lost sheep … of Israel.” But this was only a temporary restriction, conforming to the divine arrangement to give the Israelites the first and, for a limited time, the exclusive opportunity to share with Jesus in the rulership of the kingdom. This temporary limitation was in fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Daniel 9:24-27. Later the commission to proclaim the Gospel was enlarged to include all nations.—Acts 1:8
Not only were the apostles sent forth to preach that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, but they were also commanded and empowered to perform works like those which the kingdom would do on behalf of humanity when it was established; that is, they were to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils.” As opportunity afforded they performed all these miracles, much to the joy of those who benefited from them.
A Lesson in Faith
Jesus said to his apostles, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8) These chosen apostles were to be ambassadors of Christ. They were to represent him both in word and in deed. It was essential, therefore, that they be filled and controlled by his Spirit, which was the spirit of unselfishness, of generosity, of giving. This Spirit of Jesus was the Spirit of the Heavenly Father, whose greatest exhibition of giving was in the gift of his beloved Son to be the Redeemer and Savior of the world.
So Jesus wanted his disciples to be generous in their giving of themselves and the message of the kingdom. In order that this spirit of giving all and gaining nothing might be inculcated in them, his instructions were that they were not to provide themselves “gold” and “silver” and apparel, that is, not beyond their barest needs. In giving these instructions he quoted from the Old Testament, “The workman is worthy of his hire,” indicating that if they were faithful in the discharge of their responsibilities their physical needs would be provided.—Deut. 24:15; Luke 10:7
When the apostles returned from their first missionary tour, Jesus asked them if they had lacked anything so far as their material needs were concerned, and they said, “Nothing.” (Luke 22:35) This restriction pertaining to the taking of supplies of money, food, and clothing was later removed. Apparently Jesus wanted his disciples to learn the lesson of trust and, by actual experience, to sense his own position in the world, concerning which he said that while the birds of the air have nests and the foxes of the field have holes, “the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20) Jesus “freely gave” everything.
Hearing the Gospel of the kingdom as proclaimed by any of the Lord’s duly commissioned servants imposes a measure of responsibility upon those who hear. But Jesus did not want his apostles to feel that they were under obligation to convince and convert all to whom they witnessed, or to think that those who failed to respond would be given no further opportunity of salvation. They were faithfully to bear witness to the kingdom message but were not to coerce their hearers into accepting. When their message was not received they were to shake the dust off their feet and go elsewhere.
Jesus added to this that so far as those who rejected the message were concerned, it would be less “tolerable” for them in the day of judgment than it would be for “Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Matt. 10:14,15) An important point to be noticed in this statement is that it will be tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah and for those who rejected the message presented by the apostles, but differing in degree by the amount of knowledge available to each.
The Unfriendly World
Jesus said to his disciples: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (vs. 16) What a vivid illustration! It applied to the apostles and has applied since then to all the true followers of the Master. The divine qualifications for the ministry require all of the Lord’s people to have dispositions like sheep. They are forbidden to fight for their rights. If smitten on one cheek, they are to turn the other. They are not to render evil for evil.
The only force in the life of the true Christian is the force of love. Their only message is one of love. In proclaiming this message they are to be meek and humble and nonaggressive. How like the defenseless sheep! Yet these sheep like ambassadors of the Master perform their work surrounded by “wolves” howling, snapping, and biting, ever threatening to attack and kill.
Oh, the wolves do not mean to act like wolves. But, controlled by selfishness and supposing that the ambassadors of Christ are a menace, they resort to the only methods they know in order to rid the world of these so-called intruders; that is, by threats, persecution, false accusations, and, as it was in the case of Jesus and many others in the Early Church, by putting them to death.
Surrounded thus by wolves, the apostles were to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. They were to use the best wisdom possible in order to avoid engendering unnecessary antagonism. They were not to compromise for the sake of peace but were to pursue a course of peace the best they could. They were to be as harmless as doves. If harm was to come to anyone as a result of their ministry, it was not to stem from them but would be due to the opposition of the wolves.
“But beware of men,” Jesus said to his apostles, “for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.” (vss. 17,18) This is an interesting statement. Obviously, the purpose of bringing the apostles before governors and kings would be to accuse and condemn them, but Jesus said that actually the testimony would be against the accusers. This is because their efforts to persecute and destroy the Lord’s harmless “sheep” would reveal the deep degradation of their hearts and the blind prejudice which ruled their lives.
As for the apostles, they were not to be overly concerned about these experiences, unpleasant though they were sure to be. They were not to endeavor in advance to decide just what they would say under trying circumstances. The circumstances would help to indicate the appropriate words; and besides, Jesus promised that it would be given to them by the Holy Spirit what they were to say.—vss. 18-20
This promise, we believe, applied more particularly to the apostles and not to all the followers of the Master, except in a limited way. The apostles were to be the inspired representatives of the Lord. While the inspirational power of the Holy Spirit was not received by them in full until Pentecost, yet even in their pre-Pentecost ministry they occupied a more favored position in the Lord’s arrangements than did the other disciples. However, many of the Lord’s people have testified of the wonderful manner in which the Lord has helped them in their witnessing for him under difficult circumstances. All true Christians should be ardent students of the Scriptures. They should thus be ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that is within them. Those who do live up to their privileges as students of the Word will find that they do have an answer for their opponents when needed. No doubt the Lord helps them recall the points of truth they have learned. And, because they learned them from the Lord’s Word, it is the Lord who gives them utterance.
But Jesus’ promise to his apostles went beyond this. In the early days of their ministry especially, and prior to Pentecost, they did not have the opportunity of becoming fully acquainted with the divine plan, as revealed in the Word; and this lack was to be made up to them by special help from the Lord when needed. During this period they were in special training for their later ministry, when Jesus would no longer be with them in the flesh; and these special manifestations of divine grace and power were essential for them.
Master and Pupils
The association of Jesus and his apostles was as Master and pupils. This was not with the thought, however, that Jesus was a dictator over his apostles but more with the idea of his being their teacher, their schoolmaster. As in every other respect, Jesus was faithful to his apostles as their teacher. When relating his parables to a mixed group he was always ready, when asked, to explain them to his apostles.
When they reported to him that some thought he was the foretold Elijah, others that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead, and still others that he was the resurrected Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets, Jesus asked, “Whom say ye that I am?” (Matt. 16:13-20) When Peter replied, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus was pleased, and said,” Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
The apostles believed that Jesus had come as the great King and Messiah of the Old Testament prophecies, and they expected that he would establish his authority as king of the Jews very soon and that this governmental authority would spread until it embraced all nations. Jesus knew they would be greatly disappointed in this expectation, but he did all he could to prepare them for it. He related a parable of a certain nobleman who went into a far country to receive a kingdom and to return. (Luke 19:12) The introduction to this parable states that Jesus related it because his disciples thought the kingdom was to be established immediately. He wanted them to understand that he must first go away and that the kingdom would not become a reality until his return.—Luke 19:11
Learning from this parable that their Master was going away, they later asked him about it. They wanted to know what sign would indicate the time of his return. (Matt. 24:3) It was in his reply to this question that Jesus presented the many “signs” described in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew. The final one of these signs mentions the time when the willing and obedient of mankind, as portrayed by the sheep in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, are said to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. This, of course, will be at the close of the “times of restitution of all things.”—Matt. 25:34; Acts 3:19-21
Holy Spirit Promised
Jesus realized that without the aid of the Holy Spirit his apostles were not able to grasp his teachings clearly, and there were some points of truth that he did not even try to make plain to them. He said, “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” But he added that he would send the Holy Spirit, referring to it as the “Spirit of truth,” which would guide them into all truth. He promised also that the Holy Spirit would help them to recall the many things he had said to them. (John 14:26; 16:12,13) This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost.
In the “Upper Room”
Jesus’ great love for his disciples is clearly revealed by the record of his association with them in the “upper room” the night before he was crucified. It was here that he instituted the memorial of his death, asking his apostles to eat the bread and drink the cup containing the “fruit of the vine,” which, he said, represented his broken body and shed blood.—Matt. 26:26-30
It was in the upper room that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, thus teaching them a lesson in humility. (John 13:4,5) It was also in the upper room that Jesus revealed to the eleven that Judas would betray him. (John 13:21-30) By contrast, and very sincerely, Peter avowed his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus; but Jesus foretold that Peter would deny him.—John 13:36-38
One of the remarkable things Jesus said to his apostles in the upper room was that they would be able to do the same miraculous works as they had seen him do; yes, “and greater works than these shall ye do,” he added. (John 14:12) The apostles were given the power to perform miracles, but the larger fulfillment of this prophecy will be during the thousand-year reign of Christ when, in association with Jesus, all his true followers will participate in the great work of healing all the sick and raising all the dead.
Jesus made many wonderful promises to his apostles while with them in the upper room that night. One of them was, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13,14) The implication is that those who make requests in Jesus’ name would be in full harmony with him and his teachings, hence their requests would be in harmony with God’s will. But this was a wonderful assurance for Jesus to give to those who shortly were to go out into the world as his ambassadors.
Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Enlarging upon this he said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:15,23) This is another reassuring promise, but again with a condition attached to it—“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” We cannot doubt that many times in later years the apostles rejoiced in the fulfillment of this promise. What a blessing it must have been to them when in prison or otherwise suffering for Jesus’ sake!
Jesus knew that the success of the apostles’ ministry would require that they also love one another; so he said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Jesus’ love for his disciples was so great that he gladly laid down his life for them, and he expected his disciples to be willing to lay down their lives for one another.
Jesus also realized that the world would not be friendly to his disciples even as it was not friendly to him. We quote Jesus on this point: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore, the world hateth you.” (John 15:18,19) On this point Jesus explained further, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33
Surely Jesus was lavish in his assurances to his apostles that they could depend upon him and upon his Father to be with them in their every experience. The reality of these promises depended upon the degree of faith with which they were able to lay hold upon them. If they believed fully they would have complete rest of mind and heart. Indeed, Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”—John 14:27
Finally, in the upper room that night Jesus prayed for his apostles and, indeed, for all who would believe on him through their word. (John 17:20) It was a wonderful prayer. He said to his Father: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine, … and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.”—vss. 9,10
He continued: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”—vss. 15-18
Jesus further prayed, “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me,” and further, “hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (vss. 21,23) Jesus not only desired that his Heavenly Father’s love be shared with his apostles and those who would believe on him through their word but he also wanted them to share his heavenly home and glory; so he prayed: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”—vs. 24
To Gethsemane and the Cross
Following this prayer Jesus and his disciples left the upper room, walking out of the city, across the brook Cedron, to the Garden of Gethsemane. As they walked Jesus said to them, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” To this Peter replied, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” (Matt. 26:31,33) In the upper room Peter had said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.”—Luke 22:33
Reaching the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus left his apostles behind to rest, while he went deeper into the garden to pray. They did not fully grasp the great strain that was upon their Master at this critical time; and it being late at night, they fell asleep. While they slept Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”—Luke 22:42
During this period of communion with the Father, Jesus returned to the disciples and found them sleeping. The first time he addressed Peter, asking, “Couldest not thou watch one hour?” Perhaps Jesus singled out Peter because he had made such an outspoken avowal of loyalty. Jesus returned to the sleeping disciples twice more and the last time said: “Sleep on now and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”—Mark 14:37,41
But the apostles did not continue to sleep. They accompanied Jesus to the exit from the garden, and there they met the mob which had come out from Jerusalem to arrest their Master. It was here that Peter drew his sword in defense of Jesus and was directed to desist from this attempt to prevent the arrest. Here was one of the most important lessons which Jesus wanted his apostles to learn; namely, that he was voluntarily surrendering to his enemies to be put to death. Later they were to understand why, for they were to learn that Jesus had come to be not only the Ruler of the world but its Redeemer and Savior as well.
Jesus had very little contact with his apostles subsequent to this time. Peter followed the mob into the judgment hall, where, as foretold, he denied his Lord. Apparently John was nearby during the crucifixion, for Jesus addressed him concerning his mother, saying to him, “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:27) Jesus thus indicated that he wished John to be responsible for the physical needs of his mother.
We have but briefly noted some of the main experiences in the association of Jesus and his chosen apostles. In all of them we have seen his loving interest in his disciples and his desire that they be properly trained to be his ambassadors and that they be imbued with the proper spirit of unselfish devotion to the cause which he had come into the world to promote, which was his Heavenly Father’s great plan of salvation. We will endeavor to become better acquainted with the apostles themselves and note the manner in which the life and teachings of Jesus directed their lives of devotion to the divine cause.