What is an apostle?

One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Luke 6.12-13 NLT

Making important decisions
How did Jesus choose his apostles? If he was willing to forego sleep, and to devote so many hours to the process, it was clearly an important decision, one that required input from his father. But I would love to know how he prayed, what he said, and how the Father spoke to him. My own prayers are so often chaotic and confused, and often on the run. If only I could be as intentional, and as devoted, perhaps my decision making would be more God-shaped. Perhaps the fact that I don’t commit the time and energy to prayer that Jesus did is a result of unbelief that it either makes a difference or is necessary. Perhaps it comes from a certain arrogance or pride that says to me that I don’t need God for my decisions. That I can do it on my own.

What exactly is an apostle, and how were they different from “all his disciples?” I am not aware of a definition in the Bible, but my understanding is that an apostle is one kind of missionary – one who is sent as a pioneer into unreached places, a forerunner, a trailblazer, a leader, a founder.

There are of course other kinds of missionary, since not all are pioneers. Anyone following the call of God to work cross culturally for the kingdom of God is a missionary. But an apostle is a spiritual leader, and the first to arrive. Apostles are associated with the unreached, and beginnings, but other kinds of missionaries continue to assist churches in cultures not their own long after the apostolic age.

I’m not sure that Jesus would have used the word “apostle” when he chose the twelve, even of Luke uses it here. I imagine it was a term coined by the early church when they spoke of their founding fathers. But what did Jesus say? Surely not, “I am appointing you to be apostles.” More likely he said, “you are the ones I have chosen to establish my kingdom, here and around the world. You are to be the forerunners, the founders, the pioneers.”

Who knows if his disciples understood what he meant. Perhaps he said nothing more than, “You have chosen to follow me, but now I want you to be more than that. You twelve are to be the ones who will introduce my kingdom to the world.”

All the rest
But what about all the rest, the disciples who were not apostles? They were followers of Jesus but not part of the inner circle. What was to be their role in the new order that Jesus was introducing, the new ideology that he called his “kingdom.” They were like the “normal Christians,” although “Christian” was not a word that was used then. How did they think of themselves? Were there some who felt left out, some who wanted to be in that small band of apostles, but who felt overlooked?

Perhaps no one really thought this way. No one had any inkling of what Jesus was starting. They simply liked what he did and what he said about things. They saw him choose twelve people to be his close friends, but they saw nothing odd in that. They saw Jesus as a teacher, and understood that the usual practice of spiritual teachers was to gather a select group to be their special followers, to study their teaching, and to become teachers themselves of the new ways and ideas.

It is still the same. All through history since that time there have been certain individuals who have felt “called” into a special relationship with Jesus, a relationship that role of leadership, trailblazing, pioneering. Taking the “kingdom” to places and people where it is unknown, and establishing it there.

Which are you?
Are you an apostle or an “ordinary disciple”? There is little doubt in my mind that God loves us all equally, and wants all of us to live in relationship with him and in the way he taught us to, and that living and speaking that way is a vital part of seeing his kingdom established and grow wherever we find ourselves.

But some of us will feel a pull toward something different, a conviction that we are to leave our homes, and normal life, to take this message to the unreached, to see the kingdom established in new places, in places beyond the reach of the Christian world. In some cases those places will be geographically remote from where we find ourselves. But in other cases they will be unreached realms right next door to where we live. But they are different from where we come from, and there is no church there.

If that is your calling, to boldly go where no believer has gone before, then Jesus may be choosing you to be an apostle too.

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