“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” Romans 1:1
In this part of our study of the Book of Romans we’ll see what’s important about Paul being “called to be an apostle.”
The Greek words are kletos apostolos — literally “a called apostle.” Kletos is an adjective from the verb kaleo, “to call,” which has the idea of being invited to a particular office. That office was the noun apostolos.” Christians are used to hearing the term “apostle,” but the word is only a transliteration of apostolos. The word comes from apo (from) and stello (to send). The meaning of the word is someone who is sent with a commission. Ancient Greeks used the word to describe a person sent on a mission with credentials as a representative of another person (envoy) to carry out the orders of that person.
Paul presented himself boldly as having been called by Jesus Christ to be an official representative of God, fully credentialed by Christ for everything the Lord would order him to do. Think about that for a moment. Let the power of the meaning of those words sink into your mind and heart. Paul is not just another preacher, not just another writer, not just another Christian leader. Paul was called “Personally” by Christ Jesus to represent Him to the world. With this in mind, look again at how Jesus called Paul.
“While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” Acts 26:12-18
Look at what Jesus “called” Paul to do.
- Make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you
- Deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you
- To open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God
- That they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me
Wow! What a calling – what a ministry Paul was to have. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, called to Saul of Tarsus from Heaven to give him his marching orders. Can you imagine being the commander of one nation’s army and being called by the king of the opposing army to become a commander in his army? How would you respond? Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) when “the Lord” called him to become a leader of disciples. Saul was knocked to the ground and blinded and heard the Voice of God from Heaven. Saul obeyed and became Paul, “a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle.”
Paul’s apostleship is unique. Look at what the Apostle Peter said in Acts 1.
“And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, ‘Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.’ (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.) ‘For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’ ‘Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.’ And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.’ And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:15-26
Peter said that it was vital the disciples of Christ chose someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot as an apostle. Judas had been “numbered” with the other apostles and had “obtained a part in this ministry.” What was the number? 12.
“And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: 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 tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.” Matthew 10:1-4
Why 12 apostles and not two or ten or 20?
“Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:27-29
The 12 Apostles will sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 Tribes of Israel. That’s the reason for the number 12. It corresponds to God’s future plan for judging Israel. The Holy Spirit made it clear immediately following Christ’s Ascension to Heaven that 11 of the original apostles remained (Acts 1:12-14), but that they had to select one more to bring the number back to the number 12. The criteria for the person who would be added to the Lord’s group of apostles was that he had accompanied the other apostles “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” Based on that criteria the disciples came up with two names: Barsabas, surnamed Justus, and Matthias. The disciples prayed for guidance: “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” The disciples cast their lots and Matthias was numbered with the 11 apostles. When the time comes for the Lord’s apostles to judge the 12 Tribes of Israel, Matthias will be on one of the 12 thrones judging the Tribes. That’s a high honor.
What was the ministry Matthias and the other apostles were called to do for the Lord? Judging the 12 Tribes is a future ministry. The first ministry Matthias and the others were called to do was make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to do everything Christ had commanded them. (Matthew 28:19-20) The specifics of that ministry are clearly explained in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the first several chapters of Acts. I say the first chapters of Acts because the ministry of the 12 apostles is not addressed much after Acts 10 and not at all after Acts 15. Once the leaders of Israel rejected the apostles’ message of the Messianic Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Lord turned to a new apostle and something He had hidden from the “12” Jewish apostles.
There is no question that Jesus Christ called Paul (Saul of Tarsus) to be an apostle. We read in Acts 9 that Paul was Christ’s “chosen vessel” to bear His Name “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” The Book of Acts refers to Paul as an “apostle” (e.g. Acts 14:4, 14). Paul referred to himself many times as an “apostle” of Jesus Christ (e.g. Romans 1:1, 5; 11:13; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 4:9; 9:1-2, 5; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 12:11-12; Galatians 1:1, 17; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:1, 11; Titus 1:1).
If that’s not enough proof of Paul’s apostleship, the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to write in his last letter before death about the special position of the Apostle Paul.
“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:14-16
So, why wasn’t Paul numbered with the 12? Why won’t Paul sit on one of the 12 thrones judging the 12 Tribes of Israel? For one thing, Paul didn’t meet the criteria of being one of the “12” apostles. He had not accompanied the other apostles all the the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, “beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” We know from the timeline that Paul was most likely living in Jerusalem at the time John the Baptist was baptizing and Jesus was teaching and healing in Israel, and that he was old enough to be included as an apostle (based on the age of the Apostle John). So, why didn’t Peter and the other disciples consider Saul of Tarsus to be the 12th apostle? Why didn’t the Holy Spirit instruct them to send someone to find Saul and bring him to the meeting before Pentecost so they could vote on him as well? Simple. Paul did not qualify. He could never qualify for being an apostle of Christ as explained by Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Saul was not a believer in Christ at the time of Christ’s Ministry on earth. In fact, Saul became the chief enemy and persecutor of the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and Syria after Stephen’s martyrdom. There’s no way Paul could have been the 12th apostle.
I share this because there are many people who teach that Peter and the apostles made a mistake choosing Matthias as the 12th apostle. Their theory is that Peter made his decision to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot in the “flesh” and should have waited for Christ to call Saul of Tarsus so that he (Paul) could be selected as the 12th apostle. The fact is it didn’t happen because that’s not what God had planned for Paul or the unsaved Gentile world.
In the next part of our study, we’ll look at the differences between Paul and the 12 Apostles and how it impacts the Church today.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”