by Mike Johnson
Many acknowledge the authority of God and Christ but do not accept or understand the authority of the Apostles.
Some people today say we only need the words of Jesus to guide us. Some who take this position place a great deal of emphasis on the red-letter edition of the Bible — a version in which all of the words of Christ are in red. They might say, “If it isn’t in red, I don’t accept it.” Christ has authority (Matthew 28:18, 17:1-8), but we must understand the authority, which also resides with the apostles. Jesus always taught the truth, but He did not teach all of the truth during His ministry. We need the words of Jesus, but we also need the teaching of the apostles and other inspired teachers.
During Jesus’ ministry, He told the apostles that after He left, God would send the Holy Spirit who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all things He had taught them (John 14:26, 28). In John 15:26, He said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” Jesus said (John 16:13) that when He left, He would send the Comforter (or Holy Spirit) and informed them, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He also gave the Great Commission, in which He told the apostles to go and preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). He also told them to wait at Jerusalem, and they would be endued with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Christ revealed that He would send the promise of His father upon them (Luke 24:49-52). The fulfillment of this promise took place on the day of Pentecost, a short time later (Acts 2), when the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and preached the first gospel sermon.
Jesus also told the apostles that they would receive the “keys” to the kingdom of heaven. After speaking of building the church, Jesus said to Peter (Matthew 16:19), “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Later, in Matthew 18:18, he said the same thing to all of the apostles. A key is symbolic of “authority.” The apostles would have the authority to “bind” and “loose.” They did not have “legislative” power, but they had the authority to carry out heaven’s decisions, guided by the Holy Spirit. They announced heaven’s will to everyone.
Paul, in II Corinthians 5:20, referred to himself and the other apostles as “ambassadors for Christ.” The word ambassador means “one entrusted with a message from one sovereign to another.” This office is one that entails great respect. An ambassador carries on the business of the sovereign in the way he would if present. The apostles functioned as representatives for Christ to all people. It was the same as "God pleading" with the Corinthians through them, and the purpose of their work was so that people might have reconciliation with God. Thus, the apostles spoke for Christ.
Paul, in Ephesians 6:20, while in Roman imprisonment, referred to himself as an “ambassador in chains.” He was an ambassador, but it is interesting to note that he, as an ambassador, had been imprisoned. For the Romans to treat Paul in this manner was to insult the great king whom he served.
The apostles were representatives of God and Christ. There were, consequently, severe repercussions to rejecting their message. In John 13:20, Jesus told the apostles, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
In Matthew 19, the apostles had just witnessed the rich young ruler refusing to sell everything he had. This situation prompted Peter to say, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” Jesus told 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.” Jesus has ascended to heaven to His throne, and He will be seated on it at the Day of Judgment (Acts 2:31-35; Hebrews 1:13; Matthew 25:31; I Corinthians 15:24-28). The period of regeneration started after the ascension on Pentecost (Acts 2) when the apostles preached the gospel, and it will continue until the end of time. The twelve thrones and twelve tribes are not literal. The twelve tribes sustain no literal relationship to the apostles. Jesus uses the figure to refer to the true Israel, the church (Romans 9:6; Galatians 3:29). The apostles are our judges as, guided by the Holy Spirit, they revealed the mind of Christ to everyone. They told us what “truth” was on matters of faith and practice. They judged in person in their lifetime; now, we have their written communication (the Bible), so they still judge us in this sense, as God’s Word is our standard.
After the church’s establishment, we learn it was the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42), not Moses’s teaching, in which the early church continued. Paul said, in Philippians 4:9, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
In conclusion, God and Christ serve as our authorities. However, we must recognize the role of the apostles as our authority as well.