Among the most well-known facts of Jesus’ ministry is that twelve disciples traveled with and assisted Him as He preached to the crowds and healed the sick. The title “disciple” is certainly not inappropriate for these men, as the New Testament applies it to them (Matt. 11:1). But it was not the fact that the Twelve were disciples that set them apart. Both the Hebrew and Greek terms translated as “disciple” simply mean “learner.” Anyone who learns and follows the teaching of Jesus is rightly called a disciple, so there have been many millions of disciples throughout history.
Today’s passage indicates what made the Twelve unique, namely, that they were appointed as “apostles.” As Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said, every Apostle is a disciple but not every disciple is an Apostle. The Apostolic office is a unique one that involves more than just learning. In the ancient world, the same title was used for secular officials commissioned to speak in the name of the Caesar or another authority. To disobey an apostle sent by the Caesar was to disobey the Caesar himself. Thus, to disobey one of Christ’s Apostles when he speaks for His Master is to disobey Jesus Himself. The Apostles had unique authority, particularly in the exercise of the Apostolic preaching ministry, for Jesus commissioned them to preach (Mark 3:14). This preaching comes to us today in the form of the New Testament, so Apostolic authority is invested in sacred Scripture. Paul tells us as much when he says that the content he taught by preaching is identical to the content he taught by writing (2 Thess. 2:15).
The preaching of the Apostles was an out ow of their being “with him,” for one of the purposes in Jesus’ calling them was so that they would have fellowship with Him (Mark 3:14). Moreover, in calling twelve disciples/Apostles, Jesus made it clear that He was not continuing Israel unaltered; rather, He was doing something new. Twelve Apostles recalls the twelve tribes of Israel that were the foundation for the old covenant community. By calling twelve Apostles, Jesus established a new covenant community that would stand in continuity with ancient Israel without repeating its story exactly. This is confirmed in Jesus’ calling the Twelve to Him on a mountain, for the old covenant community was formally constituted under Moses at Mount Sinai. On a mountain, Jesus inaugurated a new era and a new community, ful lling Moses’ work and stepping into His role as mediator of the new covenant.
Many people try to separate Christ from His Apostles, but that is not possible. True, only Christ is God incarnate and only Christ atoned for sin; however, the words of the Apostles carry the same authority as the words Christ spoke while on earth. The New Testament is the very Word of God and therefore the very Word of Jesus, because Jesus is God and because the Spirit of God inspired the Apostles (2 Tim. 3:16–17). If we reject the words of the Apostles, we reject Christ.