What is an apostle?
An apostle, as defined in the original Greek language, is a messenger: one to send a message or one sent on a mission.
By definition an apostle is one who goes. In the general sense, like a missionary. But there are major differences. The call of an apostle is to go to where the gospel has not yet gone, to where there is no current church and plant a new church in the community. Then pass authority over to pastors and elders by appointing them in every church and imparting spiritual gifts wherever he goes. Then the apostle moves on to the next mission leaving behind a fully functioning and healthy church. And so the apostle goes from place to place to where they have not yet heard the gospel, planting churches wherever he may go and revisiting them to help them become a healthy church.
What an apostle is not:
True apostles depend on God and support themselves where necessary, and will not ask the church to support them or their ministry.
2 Corinthians 12:14,15
Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.
An apostle is not a pastor. There are many pastors who are calling themselves apostles today. This simply does not fit within the understanding of what an apostle does. Apostles are called to be on the go, traveling around from church to church. He likely will stay at a church for a time to help strengthen them but he does not have a permanent paid position. His income is based on the giving of the local church offerings wherever he may go. When he initially plants a church, he may receive a temporary regular payment if the church can afford it but he is to not be a burden to the church. This may lead to needing to find work outside of the ministry from time to time.
The qualifications of an apostle are from God: They are the first ones to go and bring the gospel to a community. God calls His apostles through the local church eldership, equips them and anoints them for service. However, not all who call themselves apostles meet the criteria.
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
2 Corinthians 11:13
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. (2 Corinthians 12:12
One of the marks of an apostle is signs and wonders coming from them. If not then they are not apostles.
Beyond the days of Jesus:
Apostles continued throughout the church age as well as evangelists, pastors, teachers and prophets. All of these callings will continue throughout the Church age until we all, as Christ’s Church, are made perfect together with Him when we meet Him in the air.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Besides the original 12 apostles, 10 others by name were called apostles. This would not be counting people who are not named or those called by God throughout the Church age.
The original 12 apostles:
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.
Note that when the 12 disciples of the Lord were sent out, they were referred to as “apostles” rather than “disciples”.
Other apostles by name in the Bible:
Acts 1:26 – And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
James, the Lord’s brother
Galatians 1:19 – But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
Paul and Barnabas
Acts 14:14 – But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out.
Silas and Timothy
1 Thessalonians 1:1 – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2:6 Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
1 Corinthians 4:6 – Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. 9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.
Philippians 2:25 – Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger (apostle) and the one who ministered to my need.
*Note that the word “messenger” in this passage is the word for “apostle” in the original Greek language. The same word used for Paul and the disciples of Jesus.
Andronicus and Junia
Romans 16:7 – Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
*Andronicus and Junia were both apostles. (Kinsman is a male relative).
The Lord Jesus Christ
Hebrews 3:1 – Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus
It is easily perceived here that God did not appoint simply twelve apostles and that it would end with them. We see also the apostolic call continues throughout the Church age as is the intent of Christ until He returns. And we can see that it is already being fulfilled through many God called apostles AND missionaries.