Marks of a True Apostle: Witness of the Risen Christ
by John MacArthur
Titles have meaning. They communicate authority and position, and they depend on the proper credentials. A person can’t simply call himself an army sergeant, a ship’s captain, or a medical doctor just because he likes the sound of the title. And he certainly can’t assume any legitimate authority by self-applying those titles. That is a sure path to confusion, chaos, and disaster.
That’s true in every setting—and particularly the church, where many men and women today have illegitimately laid claim to the title and authority of apostle. To put their claims to the test, we’ve been examining the biblical credentials of apostles.
We’ve already seen in previous posts that the New Testament apostles were chosen by God and appointed by Jesus. Today we’ll look at another of their key credentials—that they were all witnesses of the risen Christ.
The first chapter of Acts gives a fascinating, intimate glimpse of the Body of Christ in its infancy, including a detailed account of how the apostles identified the man who would replace Judas as the twelfth apostle. In verses 21-22, Peter declares that
it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.
According to Peter, the new apostle needed to be someone who was associated with Christ, who had consistently sat under His teaching, and who had witnessed firsthand His ministry and life. It wasn’t enough to know about Christ—the replacement apostle needed to know Him personally. In particular, he needed to have known Christ after His resurrection.
There were two candidates who fit that description, “so they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias” (Acts 1:23). The rest of the apostles prayed for the Lord to reveal His will and then drew lots—a common Old Testament method of determining God’s will (cf. Leviticus 16:8-10; Joshua 7:14; Proverbs 18:18)—which revealed Matthias as the Lord’s choice for the task.
Later in Acts 10:38-41, Peter reasserts the importance of the apostles’ firsthand knowledge of the risen Christ. In his sermon in Cornelius’s household, Peter says:
You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
The resurrection was particularly important because it gave credibility to Jesus’ life—it verified that He was who He said He was. So, for the apostles, being eyewitness verifiers of Christ’s resurrection gave heft to their ministry. In fact, the resurrection was the primary theme of apostolic preaching (cf. Acts 2:24; Acts 3:15; Acts 5:30; Acts 10:40; Acts 13:30-37).
And although the apostle Paul did not bear witness to Christ’s full life and ministry—which is likely why he referred to himself as “one untimely born”—he was no less a witness of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8). In fact, Paul was made an apostle by virtue of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). He didn’t witness Christ’s baptism, His miracles, His teaching, or His crucifixion. But he had met the risen Christ in a powerful and dramatic way that transformed his life and made him fit for apostolic ministry.
The primary duty of the apostles was to bear witness to Christ’s work and claims. In order to do that effectively, they had to be witnesses of His resurrection.
On that simple point of qualification, all modern apostles fall short.
#1 Posted by
Daniel Wilson | Monday, December 09, 2013at
Who are we then, if we are not apostles? Are we children of God, a learner of God's Word, follower in Christ? , is these 3 correct? Just in case if someone whom thought he is an apostle came up to me to ask me that question. Thanks. so I can correct him in the correct manner..
#2 Posted by
Joyce Wilson | Monday, December 09, 2013at
I agree. If there could be more than 12 apostles then both Justus and Matthias would have been chosen. They both were eligible, so why stop at 12 if more could be added? Only 12 built the foundation, and in the end, only 12 will be recognized for doing so (Rev. 21:14).
#3 Posted by
Daniel Wilson | Monday, December 09, 2013at
I am not an apostle... so I haven't see Jesus but I know He is real for He chosen me, I didn't choose Him. I am a child of God whom I believe Jesus is Son of God and He is risen Lord and Savior! :) God bless.
#4 Posted by
Manuel Jr. Reyes | Tuesday, December 10, 2013at
As I could remember, the Apostles will be the judges who will rule during the Millennium. There are 12 thrones for 12 apostles. If there will be more of them nowadays, how will they all fit in the prepared thrones?
Secondly, many of the self called apostles today does not glorify the Lord Jesus Christ but instead they preach demons, Satan, his evil schemes a lot. A lot of rebuking and warring against so many things. In short, true Christ is preached less by many of the false teachers today.
#6 Posted by
James Gallagher | Wednesday, December 11, 2013at
Im not fuzzy or confused by this topic at all. I know who I am and who I am not. I am NOT an Apostle. I am a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be quite honest...because I know that I was "chosen" in the Lord, before the foundation of the earth, completely undeserving, I would feel completely blessed just to sit at his feet and clean his feet daily every single day for all eternity. The alternative completely frightens me beyond words.
#7 Posted by
Brian Leffert | Thursday, December 12, 2013at
Paul reminds the church in Corinth that he laid there foundation,
not Peter, James or John:
(1Co 3:10) “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.”
He adds that others can come and build upon the foundation that he has laid.This construction terminology is obviously metaphorical, but notice here the clear distinction between the foundation and the superstructure. At the end of his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul explains to them why he has not visited them earlier even know he has greatly desired to do so:
(Rom 15:20) and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation.
He did not lay the foundation for their church, it was laid by “someone else”, and his personal application of Isaiah's prophesy have constrained his ministry to places where Christ is not yet named.
So we have two different churches with the same foundation;
(1Co 3:11) “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
but, laid by different individuals.
Paul was called to be an Apostle, here he gives insight into what he believed that meant. Paul tells the believers in Rome that he has “fulfilled” his mission work in the middle east and southeastern Europe, he says this is because he has “no more place in these parts”.
No more place to lay foundations where Christ is not named.
He believes that he must move to another mission field to be obedient to his Apostolic calling. A calling to preach the gospel, which is the foundational truth that must be believed for people to be saved, and a true assembly or church to be established. It was his only message when he first visited Corinth;
1Co 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
This is Paul's understanding of the apostolic distinctive. He believe that only apostles and prophets could lay the foundations for assemblies. All other characteristics were also shared by others, who were not called apostles. There were non apostles also present from the baptism of Christ unto his ascension, so this cannot be the apostolic distinctive. The writing of scripture and working of miracles was also preformed by those who were never numbered amongst the apostles. The Evangelist preaches the gospel where Christ is already named bringing others into already established assemblies.
The apostle preaches the gospel where there are no preexisting assemblies. He is the one who lays the foundation for this new assembly. This is why there are no offices or gifts of “church planter” or “missionary” found in the scripture, these necessary functions were already being fulfilled by the apostles.
Is their still a need for these functions to be fulfilled today?
The planting of a church in Corinth was the seal of Paul's calling.
#8 Posted by
Brian Leffert | Friday, December 13, 2013at
Luke the inspired writer of the book of Acts does not yet recognize Barnabas or Paul as apostles in chapter nine.
Act 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
Then later in chapter fourteen Luke declares that they are both now apostles not once but twice.
Act 14:4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.
Act 14:14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out,
What events have taken place in the lives of these two men during this period of time that could have caused Luke to now recognize their apostleship?
1) They were called by the Holy Spirit to be sent out to preach the gospel in regions where there were no existing churches.
Act 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
2) Other men in this church also testified to this calling of the Spirit, and they were commissioned “sent off” by these men by the laying on of there hands.
Act 13:3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
3) The first miracle of Paul's ministry happens at Paphos,
Act 13:11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time." Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.
4) God uses the miracle, and the teaching about Christ to establish a new believer.
Act 13:12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
5) God uses the preaching of Paul and Barnabas to establish many new believers among the Gentiles at Antioch in Pisidia,
(Act 13:48-49) And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.
6) These new believers would not be able to grow among the unbelievers in the synagog there, so a church is establish. They will also plant churches in Lystra and Iconium, and also appoint elders in these assemblies before returning to their home church at Antioch in Syria.
Act 14:21-23 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders ...
Which of these events have caused Luke to now in chapter 14 recognize both these men as apostles?
#9 Posted by
Ben Enders | Friday, December 13, 2013at
Brian, help me.
Using Rom 15:20 to say that Paul (or any apostle) will not lay a foundation where another has already done so and that only a “super structure” will be placed on top seems a bit premature at this point. One verse back in Rom 15:19 Paul say he has been preaching where other apostles have already preached.
What was he preaching then?
The foundation is not complete until the New Testament is complete. Is that correct?
Your question, “Is their still a need for these functions to be fulfilled today”? I think the answer is yes, but not by an apostle, because there are no more. Missionaries go to their field with the bible (the foundation) and preach (Rom 10:14).
Do I understand you correctly?
Are you saying only an apostle can start a church?
What do you think the gift of administrations means?
How do you define church?
Where in 9 does it say or imply that they are not apostles? Acts 9:17 looks pretty good for Paul and I just assumed that Barnabas was an apostle because scripture says he is and there is no evidence that he didn’t get his apostleship from Christ.
Are you are saying that to be an apostle you have to start a church? Where are you going with all of this?
#11 Posted by
Tumi Makhalane | Saturday, December 14, 2013at
Brian, the Cessationist position uses Ephesians 2v20 for their views on the foundation of the church. In that passage, the apostles ARE the Foundation with Christ being the Chief Cornerstone; the Foundation there is related with the giving of Revelation from God. Now in the passage you quoted first, the 1st Corinthians one; the Foundation in Christ. That passage is picturing the planting of a church(on that note, the term "church planter" is taken from there: "I planted, Apollos watered"), while the Ephesian 2v20 passage is teaching that the church is built on the Apostls and Prophets, which is the Revelation that they bring instead of church planting.
#14 Posted by
Tumi Makhalane | Sunday, December 15, 2013at
A slight grammatical correction. In my previous comment #11; I meant to write "..the Foundation IS Christ.." instead of "..the Foundation IN Christ"..
#15 Posted by
Brian Leffert | Sunday, December 15, 2013at
thanks for being willing to ask for clarifications.
1) I believe that Paul's statement in (Rom 15:20) is clearly referring to verse 19.
2) Paul is preaching “the gospel of Christ”, it specifically is that portion of truth concerning Christ that must be believed in order for one to be saved.
(1Cor 15:1-4) Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
(1Cor 4:15) For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
(Eph 1:13) In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
3) The foundations that the apostle Paul was laying were completed before the New Testament was finished, notice that the word “laid” in (1Cor 3:10) is past tense, as are the foundations that have been laid by others that Paul is referring to in (Rom 15:20).
(1Co 3:10) According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
4) Many are gifted to open their homes, or in some cultures build a building to host another assembly . I believe that Paul's understanding of his apostolic call was to establish assemblies in regions where Christ is not yet named.
5) The definition of “church” is those whom God has called out. This Greek word was also translated as “assembly” in the KJV.
6) I believe that we can imply from (Acts 4:36-37) that Barnabas is not yet recognized by Luke as apostolic. Luke never refers to them as such prior to (Acts 14:4) and in (Acts 13:1) he refers to them as either a teachers, or prophets or possibly both.
7) Yes I agree Ben that both Paul and Barnabas were called to minister to the Body as apostles by Christ. I also believe that brother MacArthur was called to minister to the body as a teacher by Christ, but his calling wasn't revealed to other men until we saw the fruit of his gift. I believe that Luke sees the fruit of the apostolic calling on Paul and Barnabas sometime after (Acts 13:1) not before.
Ben do you believe that the sole purpose for the apostolic calling was to establish scripture?
What is your understanding of Paul telling the church in Corinth that their presence “in Christ” or salvation, is the seal of his apostleship (1Cor 9:2)?
Why does Paul tell the Corinthian church that he has already laid their foundation, if the foundation is the completed canon of scripture?
#16 Posted by
Brian Leffert | Sunday, December 15, 2013at
I would not understand the metaphor that Paul is using in (Eph 2:20) to be saying that the apostles and prophets “are” the foundation, Christ is the foundation. I believe he is saying that the foundation is “of” apostles and prophets, as in they are the ones called to lay it.
Now if we interpret the metaphors the foundation is Christ (1Cor 3:11) the church is built on Christ, more specifically the Church is built upon the foundational truths about Christ, not on top of his physical body (metaphor), we know these truths as the gospel.
The foundation for the church at Corinth was “of” Paul, he laid it. (1Cor 3:10)
Paul is laying the foundation which is Christ, but what is that?
Is the church a physical building? No, it is a spiritual building.
What is this spiritual “house” resting on? It is resting or "founded" on the truth of the sacrificial death and the justifying resurrection of Christ, the gospel message. (1Cor 15:1-4)
It is upon the belief of this gospel message that we as "living" stones are built into this spiritual “house”.
(1Cor 3:9, 1Pet 2:5)
God can use other men who did not lay the foundation to "build" additional "stones" into this spiritual house (1Cor3:10).
#17 Posted by
Ben Enders | Monday, December 16, 2013at
No, I don’t believe the apostles only purpose was scripture. I do wonder if they (Paul, Peter, James, etc.) considered that their letters would be scripture.
A seal in this context is a mark of authenticity. It verifies the truth of Paul’s message. Since Paul’s authority and apostleship had been questioned he answers the charge. 1 Cor 9:1 Wouldn’t you just dread having to debate Paul?
Your third question is great and really made me think. I spent some time looking at the word foundation and how it is used in the New Testament and my conclusion is that a foundation can be built upon. Unlike todays monolithic concrete foundations the foundation analogy used in this time period pictures pieces of stone mortared together. I believe that 1 Cor 3:10 is saying Paul started the construction on top of the cornerstone (Christ) and others came to build upon it, so in other words, it was not complete. I get your grammatical point of “laid” being past tense but, how else could he have said that, and I’m not sure it is definitive proof that Paul completed the foundation. I checked with four different commentaries (after I made a decision, I don’t like to be influenced prior to my investigation) and they all concurred. Now that being said, I would not have a problem if Paul alone had laid the foundation (who better?)but, I would not be comfortable in using this in building a case for church planting as a prerequisite for apostleship.
Regarding #1 - Had not Peter and John already preached in Jerusalem prior to Paul?
Regarding #6 - What happens between Acts 4:36 and Acts 14:14 that turns Barnabas into an apostle? I have no time to look into this right now.
I do have questions on the approximate amount of Apostles commissioned. I always thought it was at least eighty something, but I’m not sure. My old friend Joyce makes a good point in her post; why not both?
#19 Posted by
Tumi Makhalane | Tuesday, December 17, 2013at
Thank you for making clear what I was saying. I didn't say the church is built on the "Physical bodies" of the Apostles and Prophets. I clearly explained that it is based on the Revelation they brought, just like the Jewish could say their religion is based on Moses and the Prophets. That statement doesn't mean Moses and the Prophets physical body; No cessationist has ever taught that as far as I know.
My point is not that the teaching of the Apostles and Prophets are not revealing truths about Christ; they clearly do!
Paul in Ephesians2v19-22 is informing the Gentiles that they are fellow citizens with the saints and uses the imagery of the temple to depict to them that the whole building is "build upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the Chief conerstone". A bulding is built according to the foundation laid, in this case; the truths given by Apostles and Prophets. This is the work of the Holy Spirit(v22).
Paul further demonstrate this fact of the giving out of Revelation in the passage that follows(chaper 3). He shows first that he is an Apostle to the gentiles(v1-2); then he shows that he gave Revelation and "WROTE" it down(v3), he also shows that the Revelation is meant to be read(v4) and that it is REVEALED by the Apostles and Prophets.
In light of this, Ben, can you please give me atleast 5 Apostles or Prophets who gave Revelation in the last 2000 years after the first century??? Where are their books?? Is the bible incomplete??
Let me give you an easier one: show me one Apostle today or a prophet and kindly provide us with his God-breathed words.
So what is the fuss about this passage?
Simply this: The Revelation br
#20 Posted by
Brian Leffert | Monday, December 23, 2013at
Are you saying that the writing of scripture is the unique distinctive that separates the office of apostle from the other offices in Ephesians 4:11?