Role of Apostles in the Church
What is an Apostle? What was the role of an Apostle in the early Church? Does that role have any relevance for us today? Does it have anything to do with our salvation?
Did you know that the role of the Apostles in the Church is as important today as it was two thousand years ago? The Greek word translated 'apostle' means one sent, or a messenger. In religious terms it means 'one sent from God'. Jesus Christ was an Apostle, “...consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). Prophets foretold that he would come and teach us about God the Father, “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me (Christ).” (John 6:45, Isaiah 54:13). They also said that Christ would bring salvation,“...behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation;” (Zechariah 9:9).
Word of God
In recent times God has spoken to us through His Son, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power...” (Hebrews 1:1-3). God said, “See that ye refuse not him (Christ) that speaketh.” (Hebrews 12:25).
Christ came with the full authority of God, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:” (Colossians 2:9-10). Everything Christ said on behalf of God is the 'Word of God'. It is also called the 'Word of the Lord', 'Word of Truth', 'Word of Christ', or just 'the Word'.
The Hebrew word ‘Elohim’ translated as 'God' in the Old Testament is plural and when considered along with the use of personal pronouns such as 'us' and 'our' in Genesis indicates that 'God' comprises more than one divine being (Genesis 1:26). John confirmed this when he said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). The Word ('Logos' in Greek) was creator and spokesman for the deity referred to as 'Godhead' in the New Testament (Romans 1:20 and Acts 17:29). It was the Word representing the ‘Godhead’ who spoke to Abraham (Genesis 18:1, 20) and was seen by Moses (Exodus 33:20-23). The other known member of the ‘Godhead’ whom no man, other than Christ, has seen, or heard, is the Father “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son,” (John 1:18 also 5:37). The Father has supreme authority and power over all that exists (I Corinthians 15:24, 27-28).
Like the prophets said, Christ came to teach us about his Father and our salvation (Ephesians 1:13). He spoke the words of his Father, “I have given them thy word;” (John 17:14). With the Word of God he laid a foundation of teaching (doctrine) for the Church. There is no other foundation of doctrine than that established by Christ, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11).
Appointment of Apostles
Jesus Christ was himself the chief cornerstone of that foundation. He was the Chief Apostle and Prophet, “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;” (Ephesians 2:20). He personally trained a number of men to whom he entrusted the doctrines, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me;” (John 17:4-8). Those men were the Apostles. He sent them out into the world to teach the doctrine and establish congregations of those whom God called to salvation (John 6:44).
Originally twelve Apostles were appointed (Luke 6:13, Matthew 10:2-4). All twelve had been personally instructed in the Word by Christ (Acts 1:21-26, John 15:27). They witnessed his life, death and resurrection. They recorded the very words he spoke in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament so they could be passed on to future generations.
One of them (Judas) betrayed Christ and was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:26). Matthias was chosen because he was also a faithful disciple who had been with Christ throughout his ministry and had witnessed his resurrection (Act 2:32). Paul who later encountered Christ on the road to Damascus was appointed Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:1, I Timothy 1:1). He received the Word of God during his three years in Arabia (Galatians 1:15-18, I Corinthians 15:8).
Paul was sent to the Gentiles, “I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.” (I Timothy 2:7). Like the other Apostles he was also entrusted with the Word of God, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts... ...For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” (I Thessalonians 2:4, 13).
To carry out their role the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit which enabled them to understand the things of God (I Corinthians 2:9-14) and to recall the very words they heard from Christ, “…the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost (Spirit), whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:24-26).
They also received power from God to perform signs, wonders and mighty deeds to confirm their authority as Apostles to others, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” (II Corinthians 12:12, John 20:21-23 and Acts 2:43, 5:12).
With these spiritual gifts they were able to speak in the Spirit and power of God, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:4-5).
To further assist them God gave the Apostles prominence in the Church, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” (I Corinthians 12:28). The more functional roles were given to others, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel:” (I Corinthians 1:17).
Witnesses to World
What Christ had to say is just as relevant in this age as it was two thousand years ago. His Word is to endure forever, “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” (I Peter 1:25). All preaching in the Church is to be based on that Word, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (I Corinthians 1:10).
The Apostles recorded what they had seen and heard in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.”(Acts 22:14-15 see also Revelation 1:1-2). Their writings bare witness to all men.
We do not see the writings of men like Timothy, Titus, or Silvaneus who received the word second hand. Only the writings of those specifically sanctified (set aside) for this purpose have been preserved, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;” (John 17:17-20). This was done to minimize corruption and avoid confusion, “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” (I Peter 2:6). God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33, James 3:16).
Establishing a reliable benchmark of doctrine to which all generations can refer was to prevent division caused by doctrinal differences. Peter reminds us to go back to that foundation, “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:” (II Peter 3:2 and Jude 1:17). This meant that each generation did not have to re-establish the basic doctrine about the Father and salvation, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation...” (Hebrews 6:1-2). If we remain, “stedfastly in theapostles' doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42) we can build on the foundation they laid.
Ordaining Others to Preach
Before ascending to Heaven, Christ commissioned the Apostles to feed his sheep, those whom God called to salvation in this age (John 21:15-17). To accomplish this they were sent out to teach that foundation of sound doctrine, establish congregations and ordain others who would continue preaching from that same foundation.
Paul who helped lay that foundation, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.” (I Corinthians 3:10) ordained men to proclaim the doctrines that he, as the Apostle, had taught, “...speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:” (Titus 2:1). Those men were in turn to ordain others to preach the same sound doctrine, “...the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2). They were to do this where ever they traveled, “...thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:.. ...Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:5 and 9). No other doctrine was to be taught, “...that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (I Timothy 1:3-4). In this manner the Word of God was able to be spread through the region, “...the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.” (Acts 13:49).
Those gifted to preach were to teach from the foundation of sound doctrine laid by Christ and established in the Church by the Apostles, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:11). No man has authority to change any of the doctrine that the Apostles witnessed and recorded.
The Apostles' role in establishing and maintaining sound and enduring doctrine in the Church was essential. The importance of that role is acknowledged in the vision John saw of the New Jerusalem, “...the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14).
Principles of Doctrine
Having discussed the role of the Apostles in establishing the foundation of doctrine it is important to look at the doctrines themselves because they teach us about our salvation and God the Father whom Christ came to reveal (Zechariah 9:9 and John 6:45).
Paul listed six principles of doctrine, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2). These six principles of doctrine are six steps in the plan of salvation and it is from these six principles that all doctrine extends!
The Greek word most commonly translated as 'doctrine' simply means teaching, or instruction. In the passage above the first occurrence of 'doctrine' is translated from the Greek 'logos' which means – the Word. In other words the 'doctrine of Christ' is the Word of Christ. The second occurrence of the word 'doctrine' is translated from the Greek 'didache' meaning instruction, or teaching. It means that the six doctrines Paul listed are the principle teachings from the Word Christ.
Paul indicated that we are to progress on to perfection and eternal life by building on the foundation of doctrine. If we ignore that foundation we put our salvation at risk, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;” (Hebrews 2:3). How we build on the foundation determines any reward we may receive, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (I Corinthians 3:10-15).
By looking at the six principles we will see how the plan of salvation unfolds and learn about God the Father. This is the gospel (good news) that Christ brought to us
The whole thrust of the Bible and its teaching is to facilitate the reconciliation of humanity to God. All humanity has been estranged from God because of sin which is the transgression of God's law (I John 3:4). It is something we are all guilty of, “...For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And the penalty for transgressing the law is eternal death, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). God does not want anyone to perish (II Peter 3:9). He wants to save us from the death penalty (Acts 17:30). That is why He sent Christ as the mediator of the covenant (Hebrew 8:6, 12:24, 13:20). A covenant is an agreement in which we agree to accept Christ as our saviour and obey God so our sins will be forgiven, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19, Psalm 103:12).
Conversion means a transformation of the mind, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2). Over time the corrupt and evil human nature is converted to the very divine nature that is in God, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” ( II Peter 1:4).
At the appropriate time each of us is called to Christ through whom we are saved, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44). The process begins with repentance for the remission of our sins (Mark 1:4). God then leads us through the conversion process, “...the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
The six Principles are:
1. Repentance from Dead Works
Repentance means to change one's mind, or one's life. In religious terms it means toturn to God and change from the way we previously lived to God's way. From a way of sin to a way of righteousness. Dead works are works, or deeds (Revelation 2:22-23) that lead to eternal death as opposed to works, or deeds that lead to eternal life. It is the first step in the plan of salvation that Christ and the Apostles, including Paul, preached (Matthew 4:17, Mark 6:7, 12, Acts 3:19).
We need to repent of the evil and wickedness that is part of human nature and ask God to change the way we think and act (Acts 8:22). We repent by turning to God and doing works, that show a genuine attitude of repentance, “...repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). If we confess our sins to God in genuine heartfelt prayer He will forgive us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). It is not just a matter of feeling sorry for one's self, but a deep sincere and heartfelt sorrow toward God for living contrary to His law - Godly sorrow, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (II Corinthians 7:10). Because the punishment of sin is eternal death we are literally throwing ourselves at His feet begging for mercy. Fortunately God is merciful if we truly repent, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4).
True repentance results in our sins being purged so we can serve God with a clear conscience, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).
It requires a continued commitment on our part that is not to be taken lightly, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Under the principle of doctrine regarding repentance from dead works come a number of other doctrines that Christ taught during his ministry. They include the doctrine of the law which defines the sin from which we are to repent. It also reveals to us the nature of God because the law is an expression of His righteousness. Righteousness means that everything He says and does is good, right, true and just and it is out of the goodness of His righteous nature that He leads us to repentance, “...despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). This extends further to Christ's teaching about God's love, his mercy and long suffering toward us.
2. Faith Toward God
Faith is belief. When we believe and are forgiven we develop faith toward God. Not only believing He exists, but believing what He has said! Christ taught that we should, “...repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). The gospel is the Word of God. And it is the Word of God by which we are to live, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4).
The principle of faith leads us naturally to a range doctrines taught by Christ and his Apostles, “...add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:5-8). We are advised to, “...give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (verses 10-11).
The Bible defines faith, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). The things we hope for are the things that God has promised in His Word, “For we are saved by hope:” (Romans 8:24). It takes faith to believe those promises. The Greek word translated 'believe' is 'pisteuo' which implies to entrust and to commit. Faith is a lot more than merely saying 'I believe' as some teach, it means we believe to the extent that we are prepared to make a life time commitment to God whom we entrust with our lives.
Our very first parents, Adam and Eve, had a problem with faith (see our articles on faith entitled 'Why Faith', 'Evidence of Faith' and 'Will He Find Faith'). They put their faith in what Satan told them rather than believing God. This perpetuated the spiritual captivity by Satan of all humanity that has resulted in the sorrow, suffering and death from which we need to be saved. And we are saved through our belief, “...without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6). That reward is the promise by which we share in His divine nature, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature,” (II Peter 1:4) to be His sons and daughters,“And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (II Corinthians 6:18).
Hebrews 11 clearly demonstrates that faith is a powerful spiritual concept that is central to the lives of those who believe.
3. Doctrine of Baptisms
Baptism is principally about our commitment to God. Having turned to God in faith and having repented of our sins the next step is baptism, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). God promises to forgive our sins if we are baptized, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Act 2:38). It is a formal ceremony to signify our willingness to enter into a covenant with God through His Son Jesus Christ.
A covenant is a form of contract between two parties whereby one party commits to certain undertakings in return for some form of recompense. The Old Covenant, for instance, was similar to a marriage agreement between God and the nation of Israel. If Israel served and obeyed God, He promised to be their protector and provider. That covenant was eventually annulled because Israel failed to keep its part of the agreement. It was replaced by a New Covenant for everyone who is willing to enter into a marriage type agreement with Christ. It is based on much better promises, “But now hath he (Christ) obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6).
Baptism as practiced in the Bible is by complete immersion in water. It was preached by John the Baptist who prepared the way for Christ, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Mark 1:4). He baptized Christ by immersion in water, “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:” (Mark 1:9-10).
Baptism also symbolizes a burial. Just as Christ was buried and rose again baptism symbolizes a spiritual death and burial of the old self, and the emergence of a new self committed to God's way, “Buried with him (Christ) in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12). If we are buried with Christ we will be raised to eternal life with him. Because God keeps his promises it is as if we are already saved, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Baptism is not a frivolous commitment to be trivialized by sprinkling water on a baby's head. It is the complete burial of the old self and a commitment is made to God after the informed decision of a mature mind.
4. Laying on of Hands
Laying on of hands is principally about God's commitment to us. When we are baptized and come out of the water the elders lay hands on us calling on God to fulfill His promise to give us the Holy Spirit, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Spirit in NKJV)” (Acts 2:38 see also Acts 8:17). If we truly commit our lives to God He will keep His commitment by giving us His Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the very essence, mind and nature of God. It opens our minds to spiritual understanding and enables us to grow to perfection by developing the very characteristics of God which are described as the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22 see also Ephesians 5:9). He gives us the his Spirit as a down payment, or guarantee of eternal life. We receive eternal life providing we continue to fulfill our part of the agreement, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
By the laying on of hands we receive God's Spirit for our own personal development and we also receive spiritual gifts with which we can help edify others. Paul talks at length about these spiritual gifts and their use in the Church congregations (I Corinthians 12:1 through to 14:33).
5. Resurrection of the Dead
Christ's resurrection was proof that God will raise us to immortality. After Christ died for our sins and was resurrected he was seen by the Apostles, including Paul, and over five hundred other witnesses. Christ was the first-fruits of those to be resurrected to eternal life, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20). From the outset the Apostles preached the gospel of salvation through resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-8).
They preached that there is a specific order in which resurrection is to be accomplished. First Christ was resurrected, then when he returns those called to salvation in this age will be resurrected, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (I Corinthians 15:22-23). That includes those who are alive at the time and those who have died in faith, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (I Corinthians 15:51-53).
This resurrection is described in Revelation as the first, or better resurrection, “This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:5-6). The Greek word translated as 'first' implies first in quality rather than sequentially. Those who have received immortality are to reign with Christ over those who remain alive on earth during a thousand year period known as the Millennium.
Christ confirmed that the better resurrection is to eternal life when he said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:24-25).
A short time before his own resurrection Christ demonstrated that human beings can also be resurrected to flesh rather than spirit, when he resurrected his friend Lazarus (John 11:38-44). This sort of resurrection had occurred a number of times before (II Kings 13:21, Hebrews 11:35).
The majority of people who have lived on earth died without having been called by God to Christ. They have never had the opportunity for salvation. Many have called themselves 'Christians' but have never received God's Spirit which is essential for salvation. They are not lost, the Bible indicates that their chance will come when they are resurrected to flesh after the Millennium, “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” (Revelation 20:5). They will be brought back to life for judgment,“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Revelation 20:11-12).
This is what the prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision (Ezekiel 37:1-14). People were brought back to physical life to receive God's Spirit, “And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:13-14). Although this was addressed primarily to Judah, the remnant of Israel with whom God was dealing with at the time, God said the resurrection will not be exclusive to them. God will restore the fortune of other nations at the same time as Judah (Ezekiel 16:55). There are a number of places in the King James Version that say God will “bring again the captivity” of Israel (e.g. Jeremiah 30:3). Bullinger says this phrase is an idiom which actually means that God will restore Israel rather than let them go back into captivity as many teach. Confirmation of this can be seen by reading the Moffatt, RSV, Living and Tanakh (New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text) versions. The NKJV reads “I will bring back from captivity my people” (Jeremiah 30:3). Other occurrences are in Jeremiah 30:18, 31:23, Amos 9:14, Joel 3:1-2, Ezekiel 39:25, Psalms 53:6 and Deuteronomy 30:3. Other nations will also be restored (Jeremiah 48:47, 49:6, 39, Ezekiel 16:53) at the same time as Israel (verse 55). All these nations along with Israel and Judah will be resurrected to physical life at the same time, after the Millennium, in the White Throne Judgment to be reconciled with God. They will all be given an opportunity to believe, repent, be baptised, and through faith receive eternal life in God's Kingdom. They will be restored to physical life so they can receive God's Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27) then they too can receive their inheritance which is eternal life.
Both the prophets (I Peter 1:10-12) and apostles taught much about the future coming of Christ, his return and the Kingdom of God. Abraham was also made aware of these things, “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8, see Genesis 12:3). He looked forward to the Kingdom that is portrayed as the city built by God (Hebrews 11:8-10). That city is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-3). While much prophecy in the Old Testament was concerned with the immediate fate of Israel and Judah in those days, a great deal was also focused on the distant future. The rituals, ceremonies and sacrifice of ancient Israel pointed toward Christ, his sacrifice and role as chief Apostle and High Priest. The prophets spoke about the spiritual nation which Israel foreshadowed and to which the Israelites and other nations would be restored when they are resurrected and accept Christ as their saviour. The prophets played a major part in preparing the way for Christ who was willing to sacrifice his life for the salvation of the mankind.
6. Eternal Judgment
Those who have been called to salvation in this age and received God's Spirit are under judgment now, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:17). It is Satan who accuses us before God day and night (Revelation 12:10). Fortunately we have Christ who is at God's right hand (Hebrews 8:1) as our advocate (I John 2:1).
While God is the judge of all (Hebrews 12:23) Christ as part of the Godhead executes that judgment, “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” (John 5:26-27). He is our righteous judge (II Timothy 4:8).
To judge not only means to dispense justice, it also means to rule. It is important to understand the concept that judgment extends over a period of time. When we are baptized we agree to Christ being our saviour (II Timothy 1:10), King (Zechariah 9:9) and judge (Romans 14:10). He rules and judges us until we die.
Our judgment began when we were called and came before God's throne to repent, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrew 4:16). That throne is the judgment seat. When we genuinely repent and make our commitment we enter into a covenant that requires continued obedience to God's commandments by which we are judged, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14).
At the end of our life we will not have to stand before God to give account of ourselves because we have already done that! Each day when we come before the throne in prayer to confess our sins we are forgiven and those sins are forgotten (Psalm 103:8-18). If we have been diligent in this there should be nothing further for us to confess before our life ends. We will be changed to spirit in the twinkling of an eye (I Corinthian 15:52) because judgment has already been passed, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28-29). The Greek word translated 'damnation' simply means judgment. Those who have been called to salvation and have been transformed by the indwelling of Christ (Romans 12:1-2) will be resurrected to eternal life, whereas those who have not been called and lived under Satan's regime of evil will be resurrected to judgment.
John the Baptist said that, “...all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). Many through the ages have died having never heard of Christ. Others who heard of him worshipped in vain because they had not been called by God and did not have His Holy Spirit. It would be grossly unfair if they were sentenced to eternal death without having the opportunity of salvation. For them it is not a second chance, but their first real chance of salvation. All flesh shall have an opportunity to be saved.
Salvation comes only through Christ (Acts 4:12) and we only come to Christ as God calls us (John 4:66). There is a specific order in which we are called (see I Corinthians 15:23 above). Those who are resurrected to judgment will be resurrected back to physical life after the thousand year Millennium has passed, “...I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15).
Once they have been resurrected to physical life, which will be an incredible witness to them of the existence and power of God, the process will be much the same. They will be given the opportunity to accept Christ as their saviour, to repent and enter into a covenant so they too can receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will open their minds to understand the books of the Bible so they can be judged as they live through a period of time with that instruction. It is their opportunity to have their names written in the Lambs (Christ's) Book of life. They have to go through this process because, “...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 15:50). Anyone who refuses to take up the opportunity will be destroyed in the lake of fire which represents eternal death, “...except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
After this comes the end, “Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:24-28).
Not only will God execute judgment on this world He will also judge in the sense of ruling for ever, not only this earth but the entire Universe! The tabernacle of ancient Israel foreshadowed the future time when God will dwell amongst His people for all eternity. It was also portrayed as the New Jerusalem prepared as a bride, adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:1-2).
It is from these six principles of doctrine that all other doctrine extends. They are the foundation built upon the prophets and Apostles of which Christ is the chief cornerstone. Through these principles both the plan of salvation and character of is God the Father are revealed. They are Christ's testimony. John was the last of the Apostles who had witnessed and recorded all that he saw and heard of Christ’s testimony, “...his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.”(Revelation 1:1-2).
At the end of that testimony Christ said, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19). While this statement may refer specifically to the prophecy in the Book of Revelation, it must be remembered that this prophecy recorded by John is the final chapter of Christ's testimony that began when Christ started his public ministry. That testimony comprised all that the Apostles had seen and heard during that time. Is it any coincidence that this dire warning has been strategically placed at the end of all that they recorded.
It is a warning to those who may bear false witness (Exodus 20:16) by add to, or subtract from, any part of that testimony. It should also prevent speculation becoming doctrine.
It was also the Apostles’ role to warn the world that attempts would be made to pervert the testimony of Christ. Paul warned that there would be self-acclaimed apostles, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
Christ said that there will be many false teachers who will deceive many, “...many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:11). They will use Christ's name to deceive, “And Jesus... ...said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4-5). Some will be obvious by their fruits, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-16). But others will be more subtle casting out demons and doing wonderful works in Christ’s name, but teaching iniquity (Matthew 7:21-22).
With eloquent speeches they will lure brethren back into spiritual slavery for their own purposes, “For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (II Peter 2:18-19 and II Timothy 2:26).
Desiring power and status they will introduce doctrinal heresies to gain a following, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (II Peter 2:1-3). Their heresies ensure they receive a comfortable income from their followers.
Paul marveled at how quickly the truth had been perverted in his absence (Galatians 1:6-7) leading many to turn away from him, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” (II Timothy 1:15).
Teachings contrary to sound doctrine divide the brethren, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17 see also I Corinthians 1:10). Not a few, but many false teachers have corrupted the Word of God, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God” (II Corinthians 2:17).
Men of corrupt minds who did not know the truth preached corrupt doctrine, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” (I Timothy 6:3-5). Because they lack understanding they are not worthy to be teachers, “...some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” (I Timothy 1:6-7).
These were unconverted men who have been ordained, “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). Because their teaching does not come from God it has caused much strife and division, “...who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” (Galatians 5:7-9).
They devise questions to deliberately cause strife, “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” (II Timothy 2:23). They concoct arguments to confuse the brethren, “...keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith.” (I Timothy 6:20-21). They twist the meaning of scriptures to their own advantage (II Peter 3:16) and promote their own interpretation of prophesies (II Peter 1:20).
Because of these false teachers many had, “...forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (II Peter 2:15). Their teachings spread like a cancer, “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” (II Timothy 2:16-18).
If we could take a sample of congregations at the end of the apostolic age we would see the effects that these false apostles and teachers had during those decades. Fortunately for us Christ did take a sample of seven churches that exisited in Asia at that time and summarised their spiritual status (Revelation 2:1 through to 3:22). We can see that the very problems the Apostles had warned about were experienced by those Asian congregations. Ephesus had to deal with false apostles (Revelation 2:2). Smyrna had Jews trying to pervert sound doctrine (Revelation 2:9). In Pergamos and Thyatira some were teaching the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitins (Revelation 2:14-15, 20) of which they had specific warning (Acts 15:20, 29). Sardis had lost much of its doctrine (Revelation 3:2). And although Philadelphia had fared better than most it is indicated that they did have similar problems to Smyrna (Revelation 3:9) but perhaps dealt with them more successfully. The congregation at Laodicea had become complacent thinking they were spiritually rich but were spiritually deficient (Revelation 3:17).
Christ's status report on these seven churches was not only a warning for them at that time, but also for future generations (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29 and 3:6 ,13, 22).
Doctrines of Modern 'Christianity'
Over the centuries these false teachers have influenced many. This is obvious when the doctrines of the Apostles are compared with that taught in 'mainstream' churches today. They teach a form of repentance, but deny the law that defines the sin from which they are to repent. They teach that faith is only a matter of saying the words 'I believe'. They baptise infants and teach that the Holy Spirit, that is received by laying on of hands, is a third person of a trinity. They teach that the 'souls' of the saved go to heaven and those not saved go to hell for all eternity. All of these teachings are contrary to the sound doctrine that the Apostles recorded. Even among the Churches of God certain doctrines that were not part of Christ's testimony have been introduced and caused many to err.
Because human nature is a mixture of good and evil (Genesis 3:22) is it any wonder that the teachings of false preachers are often a mixture of truth and error? There can be no error if we want to worship God in Spirit and truth as He requires, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worshi him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). To err from the truth is sin (James 5:19-20) and sin is not acceptable to God. (I John 3:8).
Paul warned about future corruption of doctrine (II Timothy 3:1-9) saying that things are going to get worse,“...evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (verse 13). Especially in the this latter time,“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” (I Timothy 4:1-3).
When the prophet Isaiah said that Christ's visage would be marred more than any other (Isaiah 52:14) he was not referring to his physical visage alone. Spiritually Christ has been marred above all men by those false teachers, prophets and apostles who have watered down, twisted and corrupted everything he taught. They have portrayed him in a wimpish fashion so that he has become despised and his name used as an expletive (see our article entitled "Marred More Than Any Man" Hopefully these false teachers will come to realize the extent of their sin and come to the throne of God in great sorrow to repent.
Be Sure You Build on a Solid Foundation
Those appointed as Apostles two thousand years ago have done their job. Christ delivered a message from the Father that has been witnessed, recorded and preserved for us today. We have no need for any man in these modern times to be our Apostle because Jesus Christ is our Apostle and High Priest. His testimony is the foundation on which we build. It is a foundation for the Church against which no one will prevail (Matthew 16:18).
That foundation of doctrine they established stands sure, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” (II Timothy 2:19). Those who are firmly grounded in that foundation are sealed with God's Spirit. With the help of that Spirit we can study and understand the Word that has been so carefully preserved and work out our own salvation “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Look to the example of the Bereans who were commended because they did not accept the word of men but searched the scriptures to see if they spoke sound doctrine, “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11). Be like the Bereans when you hear men preach - check the scriptures to see if they are preaching the true Word of God.
Studying the Word directly and you will not be ashamed, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15). It is our only reliable source of truth, “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;” (Ephesians 3:5). It gives us the truth about salvation, “...the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 3:15). And was, “...given by inspiration of God, for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction, in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfected” (verses 16-17).
God's Word helps us to discern truth from the error by getting straight to the point of the matter, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).
That truth sets us apart, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:17-21). Christ said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.” (John 14:23-24)
Hold Fast to Sound Doctrine
Hold fast to the sound doctrine as taught by the Apostles who witnessed Christ's life and heard his words, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost (Spirit) which dwelleth in us.” (II Timothy 1:13-14). Their doctrines have been preserved virtually uncorrupted for us, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” (II Peter 1:16-18). They saw Christ, heard what he said and taught his sheep from his Word, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3). Beware of the word of men (I Thessalonians 2:13) hold fast to the truth as taught by the Apostles so you can worship God in spirit and truth, rather than error.
Be thoroughly grounded in the principles of doctrine that Christ taught through his Apostles because there will be those who try to refute them, especially in these later times, “I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (II Peter 3:1-4).
John said, “...believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1). Ask yourself if they are sincerely concerned about the spiritual welfare and salvation of those to whom they preach, or are they just interested in boosting numbers to increase their income.
Beware of claims that true doctrine has been restored to God's Church today because in some instances scriptures have been twisted to support doctrines that were never taught by Christ or his Apostles. And in relatively modern times personal interpretations of prophesy from outside sources have been adopted and taught as doctrine in the Church of God. Let the believer beware!
An Apostle is a messenger. In a religious sense it is one who brings us a message from God. Christ is the Chief Apostle and High Priest through whom God has spoken in this age. The message Christ brought from his Father has been delivered. Christ ordained a number of men to witness his very words of his testimony, record them and deliver them to the Church. Their role was to witness the life, death, resurrection and testimony of Jesus Christ. These men are long dead but their witness is just as important now as it was back then. The foundation of doctrine they recorded has been permanently laid and does not need to be laid again. It provides an endurable written benchmark of sound doctrine which is the foundation on which we are to build. We have no need of any further Apostles other than Christ.
We have received strong warnings about self-acclaimed apostles and false teachers who have corrupted sound doctrine causing division and leading brethren astray. Over the centuries these false teachers have caused a great deal strife and have deceived many. Those who try to change the doctrine delivered by Christ risk their eternal life and those who ignore sound doctrine do so at their own peril.
It is crucial to salvation that we are grounded on the foundation of true doctrine so we can confidently move on to perfection. We avoid deception by studying the doctrines recorded in the gospels and epistles and referring back to them. In this way we ensure men preach the truth! Hold fast to that which is true and reject that which is not! Withdraw from those who mix truth with error!