“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,” (Ephesians 4:11 (ESV)
Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the Father’s will (Ephesians 4:8-10). Christ now distributes the spoils throughout his kingdom. After his ascension came all the spiritual gifts empowered by the Spirit, who was then sent (see John 7:39; 14:12; Acts 2:33) as the promised Comforter (John 14:15-31; 15:26-27; 16:4-11). Jesus not only has given and distributed spiritual gifts to the church, but also has given the church gifted men. Today’s text gives us the four specific offices of gifted men.
Apostles. Apostles (ἀπόστολος; apostolous) generally refers to a special messenger. The word literally means “one who is sent” (John 13:16; 2 Cor. 8:23; Php. 2:25). It is also a term specifically used of the twelve disciples who saw the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22). These included Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot.
The Apostle Paul was uniquely set apart as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:10-19; Gal. 1:15–17) and was numbered with the other apostles. He also miraculously encountered Jesus at his conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1–9; Gal. 1:15–17). Those apostles were chosen directly by Christ, so as to be called “apostles of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). They were given three basic responsibilities: 1) to lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20); 2) to receive, declare, and write God’s word (3:5; Acts 11:28; 21:10–11); and 3) to give confirmation of that word through signs, wonders, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12; cf. Acts 8:6–7; Heb. 2:3–4).
The word “apostle” is also used in a more general way of other men in the early church, such as Barnabas (Acts 14:4), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess. 2:6), among others (Rom. 16:7; Phil. 2:25). These are called “messengers [or apostles] of the churches” (2 Cor. 8:23), rather than “apostles of Jesus Christ” like the 13. They were not self-perpetuating, nor was any apostle replaced when they died.
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “The apostles include the Twelve, who had the office of apostleship by virtue of being with Christ (Acts 1:21–22) and having been appointed by Him (which would also include Paul; 1 Cor. 15:8–9; Gal. 1:1; 2:6–9). But “apostles” also included others who were recognized as apostles, such as James (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19), Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14; 1 Cor. 9:6), Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7), possibly Silas and Timothy (1 Thes. 1:1; 2:7), and Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6, 9). This latter group had the gift of apostleship but not the apostolic “office” as did the Twelve and Paul. Apostles, then, were those who carried the gospel message with God’s authority. “Apostle” means “one sent as an authoritative delegate.”
Soli deo Gloria!