The Incomparable Role of the Apostles
Part IV of V
In reviewing several items of peculiarity involving the apostles of Christ, it was previously noted that the apostles received a special call, a special commission, and special credentials to aid the special needs of these men in their unique role as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. The Apostolic Commission is almost universally misunderstood, being labeled the Great Commission by those perpetuating the continual binding of its precepts upon the church of every age.
The Bible proves unmistakably that the Great Commission belongs solely to the apostles and not to Christians in general. The Commission was the appointment of the apostles to serve as ambassadors, representing Christ’s kingdom here on earth. As ambassadors, the apostles were duly authorized to make known the Law of Christ, establishing the precepts by which humanity could enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The Apostolic Commission Supported Scripturally
Seven times the Bible records Christ delivering the Commission to the twelve apostles; and in the story of the conversion of Saul which is related three times, the same appointment and Commission appears, serving to introduce Paul as an apostle wholly equal to the Twelve. Recognizing the emphasis which is placed upon certain numerals in the Bible, it is interesting to note the number of times the Commission appears.
The following passages detail the issuance of the Apostolic Commission, and it should be carefully noted that in every instance it is only those appointed to apostleship who receive the Commission. The church of the New Testament was never instructed by the apostles to obey the orders of the Commission the way such is commonly vocalized from the pulpit today. Note the recipients:
(1) Matthew 10:1ff
(2) Matthew 28:18-20
(3) Mark 16:15-20
(4) Luke 24:44-49
(5) John 14-16
(6) John 20:21-23
(7) Acts 1:4-8
(1) Acts 9:1-19
(2) Acts 22:1-23:11
(3) Acts 26:1-18
The New Testament abounds with the necessary evidence essential to the confirmation of the apostles alone receiving the Great Commission. At least 60 times (in addition to the passages related above – totaling 70 times) language is used to denote the special role of the apostles in delivering the gospel to the earth’s human population.
The Apostolic Commission remains in effect today as the chosen apostles continue to make disciples of all nations through the doctrine of Christ bound upon all men in the New Testament. Notice from the passages below the clear and certain language used to describe the ever abiding work of the apostles in gathering the lost unto Christ:
1 Corinthians 1:1
1 Corinthians 1:17
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
1 Corinthians 3:10
1 Corinthians 4:1
1 Corinthians 4:9-13
1 Corinthians 7:25
1 Corinthians 7:40
1 Corinthians 9:16
1 Corinthians 14:36-37
1 Corinthians 15:1-3
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
2 Corinthians 4:1-5
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
2 Corinthians 10:1-8
2 Corinthians 10:13-16
2 Corinthians 11:4-15
2 Corinthians 12:11-13
2 Corinthians 13:10
1 Thessalonians 2:4-6
1 Thessalonians 2:13
2 Thessalonians 2:14-15
1 Timothy 1:1-14
1 Timothy 2:1-7
2 Timothy 4:17
1 Peter 1:10-12
2 Peter 1:16-21
2 Peter 3:2
1 John 1:1-5
1 John 4:13-14
3 John 9-11
Each of these affirms the authority residing in the apostles to reveal the gospel of Christ to all men. No one has become a Christian without obeying the doctrine preached by the apostles in fulfillment of the Apostolic Commission. The fulfillment of the Commission is achieved by three distinct means:
(1) By the audible preaching of the gospel through inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
(2) By distributing the gift of the Holy Spirit to baptized believers by laying hands upon them, conferring supernatural powers that enabled the infant church to teach and practice the truth spoken by the apostles and to perform miraculous acts of confirmation through the power of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them.
(3) By continuing to teach the gospel through the inspired written revelation, containing within its own pages the undeniable evidence of infallibility resulting from divine impartation and plenary verbal inspiration.
With this perspective of the apostles and their commission in mind, read again the metaphor of the Vine and the branches which Jesus applied to the apostles in John 15:1-11. The simple allegory consists of four principle parts: 1) the vinedresser; 2) the vine; 3) the branches; 4) the fruit.
The explanations of the first two symbols are unarguably evident from the text. God the Father is the Vinedresser and Christ is the Vine (15:1, 5). The common explanation within the church today of the branches and the fruit is that all Christians are the branches, while all new converts to the gospel are the fruit.
This explanation seems untenable based upon the literal framework of the allegory. If all new converts are represented by the fruit, it must be admitted that the fruit eventually transforms into a branch that represents the Christian; thus you have two symbols applied to the same group. In the natural order, the Vine never becomes the vinedresser, nor does the branch become the vine, nor does fruit become a branch. In order that this straightforward metaphor might have genuine and consistent meaning, is there an explanation that will harmonize with the context in which the statement appears, while remaining true to the allegoric use by Christ? The answer is yes.
Throughout the entire discourse of John 14-16, even continuing into the prayer of Christ in chapter 17, Jesus is, in every instance, the first person speaker while the apostles are referred to in second person. Third person references are applied to the Father (15:2), the Holy Spirit (15:26), the world (15:18), and future Christians (15:16).
All of these third person references appear in the immediate context of the allegory of the Vine and the branches. In fact, does not the statement of 15:16 provide lucid explanation of the branches (apostles) bearing fruit (all Christians)? Christ chose the apostles (Matthew 10:1ff), appointing them as ambassadors who were charged with preaching His divine precepts to all men (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).
The apostles would “make disciples of all the nations,” or, in the words of John 15:16, they would “go and bear fruit.” The fruit is a representation of every person who obeys the gospel delivered by the apostles (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15-16). Just as natural fruit never transforms into a branch, neither do Christians ever become equal to the apostles.
The metaphor given by Christ is much more beautiful in meaning when it is realized that individual Christians are represented by the fruit clinging to the branches (apostles), which are attached firmly to the Vine (Christ), overseen and cared for by the Vinedresser (God the Father). Although wild grapes often appear as individual fruit set on a branch, it is impossible in the allegory of the common domestic vineyard narrated by Christ to not recognize the assembly of the local church bound together as a cluster of fruit clinging tenaciously to the branch which unites them to the vine.
The apostles are the branches which bear fruit, and their fruit remains (cf. John 15:16). The simple allegory breaks down if taught in such a way that the fruit ceases to remain fruit, but is inexplicably changed into a branch. If such is possible, could the branch likewise become the Vine? If so, Christ is not the only Vine. The true meaning of Christ’s metaphor becomes readily apparent when these paradigms are considered. The explanation of the four principle parts of the allegory are fully related by Christ: 1) the Vinedresser is God the Father (15:1); 2) Christ is the Vine (15:1, 5); 3) the apostles are the branches (15:5); 4) all Christians are the fruit (15:16; cf. 17:18-21).
Teaching the parable in this manner calls attention to the unique role of the apostles in the church, emphasizing the need for all men today to carefully obey the apostles’ doctrine while rejecting the vain philosophies and conjectures of uninspired preachers and teachers today. Every man will be judged by the word of Christ spoken through His chosen apostles, and not by the errant teachings of sincere, but fallible men who change beliefs with the change of the seasons. The church must learn to differentiate between the role of the apostles and the roles given to others in the church. Understanding the difference in roles will lead to recognition of the difference in promises and instructions related in the New Testament.