During His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus chose 12 men to be His apostles. He told them they would one day sit on 12 thrones and judge the 12 Tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). After the death of Judas Iscariot the Holy Spirit led the remaining 11 Apostles to choose someone to replace Judas as the 12th Apostle. That person had to have accompanied the 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.” (Acts 1:21-22) The Apostles chose Matthias. How many other men were chosen to become Apostles according to the requirements the Holy Spirit gave them? None. Look through the Book of Acts and the letters of those men who were Apostles of Christ “beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us” and you will not find one new Apostle added to the 12. Not one. That’s because 12 is the number God chose for the Tribes of Israel and 12 is the number of Apostles Jesus chose to sit on the thrones to judge the 12 Tribes. The number did not and will not change. Ever. Period.
One other area of note is that the names of the 12 Apostles will be etched in the 12 foundations of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14), after the Lord Jesus Christ deals with Satan and judges the dead from His great White Throne (Revelation 20) and creates a new Heaven and new Earth (Revelation 21). One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues took John in the Spirit in a great and high mountain to show him “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” Who or what did the angel show John? “… the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” (Revelation 21:10-11). John saw that the “holy Jerusalem” will have a great and high wall with 12 gates and 12 angels at the gates. The names written on the gates “are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel; three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west” (Revelation 21:12-13). If you’re interested in seeing which of the names of the 12 Tribes of Israel go on which gates, look at how God designed the location of the Tribes around the Tabernacle (Numbers 2). Look at which tribes were on the east, north, south, and west, then look again at Revelation 21.
“Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” This is a permanent listing on the foundations of the New Jerusalem. Why only the names of the 12 Apostles who left the small upper room on Pentecost to preach the Messiah’s Kingdom offer to Israel? Because the New Jerusalem is connected to Israel, not Gentiles. But, you say, there are other apostles named in the Book of Acts and the letters of the Apostle Paul. If there could be only 12 Apostles, how is Paul listed in the Bible as an Apostle? Apostle of what?
I’m glad you asked because that is one of the most important questions the Church should ask and answer. Followers of Christ are often referred to as members of a “flock,” as in a flock of sheep, and leaders are often called “shepherds.” That’s for a good reason.
“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” Acts 20:28-29
“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” 1 Peter 5:2-4
Sheep tend to wander and are easily separated by enemies. Just look at the Church today. Are we sheep or what? Christians have taken the Lord’s prayer that we all be one even as Jesus is One with the Father (John 17:20-21) and made a mockery of it. Christianity is known not by the oneness of its members, but by divisions and disunity. No wonder we struggle to live up to our Lord’s deep desire for us. The liberating concept of one people following Jesus Christ in continual unity has become thousands of different groups of people clamoring and claiming to be the Church. The fact is we’ve missed God’s signposts that are right under our noses! No wonder unbelievers have little interest in becoming believers. The Church has missed the primary point of being the “Body of Jesus Christ.”
The New Testament is laid out well for our understanding. The Gospel accounts (Matthew – John) are followed by the Book of Acts, which is followed by Paul’s Letters, which are followed by the Letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of these Bible Books and guided how it would be presented to the world.
Much of what we see in Scripture is the “finger” of God pointing us to His Truth. God points when He’s ready and that has always been the perfect time. God pointed and His Son came into the world as a baby born to a virgin. God pointed and John the Baptist “prepared the way of the Lord.” God pointed and Jesus Christ preached, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) God pointed and Jesus died on the Cross. God pointed and Jesus rose from the dead. God pointed and His Spirit fell on the 120 in Jerusalem. God pointed and the Apostle Peter preached to Jews in Jerusalem that they should repent and “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38) God pointed and Jesus called His enemy Saul of Tarsus to be “a chosen vessel” of the Lord to bear His Name “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) None of these were determined, decided or directed by men. God pointed and it was done.
“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:1-10
Do you see it? Paul and Barnabas, backed up by Peter, stood up to the accusations of false brethren “that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” What Paul is writing about to the Galatians is the “truth of the gospel.” The “truth” of the Gospel is that Jesus committed the “gospel for the uncircumcised” to Paul and the “gospel for the circumcised” to Peter. So, what happened when the leaders realized what the Lord Jesus had done? “… when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” Paul had a unique ministry to Gentiles, while the 12 Apostles had a unique ministry to Jews. That’s important to see because it impacts our understanding of what God was doing then, has been doing for 20 centuries, and is doing now.
Also, notice that after the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 we don’t read again about the ministries of the 12 Apostles. We know that Peter, James and John continued to minister to the circumcised, but the Holy Spirit did not inspire Luke to mention them again (other than a brief mention of James when Paul visited him in Jerusalem – Acts 21). The second half of the Book of Acts is all about Paul’s going to the Gentiles and how Jews conspired to kill him. So simple, yet most Christians have missed the clear signs that the Holy Spirit placed in His Inspired Word for all of us to see.
The first sign that everyone should see clearly is what we saw Jesus tell Ananias about Saul of Tarsus – “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” Notice the first emphasis of our Lord is on “Gentiles.” The children of Israel are mentioned last. Paul, who was a Jew, called himself “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), “a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:7), and “a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Timothy 1:11). Paul knew what Jesus had appointed him to do and he was not going to let anyone, even the 12 Apostles, tell him to do otherwise.
That does not mean Paul had nothing to do with the 12 Apostles or didn’t care about them. We see in his writings and actions a deep burden for the Jews in Israel. In Romans 9 Paul wrote of great sorrow and continual grief in his heart for people he called “my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.” Paul spearheaded the collection of money and gifts from Gentile believers to deliver to Jewish believers in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8 & 9). He cared deeply for those of the circumcision, but knew God had called him to a special ministry to the uncircumcision.
Paul was not the only Apostle to the Gentiles. In our next study we will meet those men and see how God used them.
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.”