Jesus the Apostle

 

Among Jesus’ many titles, the author of the book of Hebrews adds “Apostle.”

 

Therefore, holy brothers, sharers in the heavenly calling, direct your attention to Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession who was faithful to the one who made him, just as was also Moses in his house. (Hebrews 3:1-2)[1]

 

This is a title not usually associated with Jesus but one that perfectly fits his role as the Logos and spokesman for his Heavenly Father. Like the office of high priest, an apostle can serve as an ambassador between God and man. The term “apostle” is used in relationship to what the author of Hebrews wrote in is opening remarks: “God spoke in antiquity to the fathers through the prophets; in the last of these days he has spoken to us through a Son….”

            The meaning of the term “apostle” comes from its root verb “send” (apostello).  Its basic meaning is an agent or an ambassador, who, within the limits of his assignment, had the same authority as the one who sent him. The apostle was legally identical to his master. He had the power of attorney and “apostle” accurately describes the office Jesus held and his relationship to God.

            A man’s agent is like the man himself, not physically, but legally. As apostle or agent Jesus was sent with the full authority of the one who sent him. Jesus said that the one who received his own apostles whom he had sent received Jesus himself, and not only Jesus, the One who had sent him (Mt 10:40-42; Jn 13:20). The NT apostles were apostles of Jesus, and Jesus was an apostle of God. It is in this context that Jesus could say both, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), and without contradiction, “The Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28). In character and authority he could be seen as identical with the Father, but in all other ways the Father was greater.

            There are many biblical illustrations of how apostolic authority worked: Jehu was ritually made king when Elisha sent one of the sons of the prophets to anoint him. It was not necessary for Elisha to anoint him himself for the anointing to be authoritative (2Kings 9:1-10). Paul sent a message to the Corinthians giving them authority to deliver to Satan the man who had been living with his father’s wife, because Paul was “with them in spirit,” meaning that his legal authorization was there (1Cor 5:1-5).[2]

            The principle of agency is important to understanding NT Christology. In John’s gospel it is especially evident from his “Logos” (the Word) language to his emphasis upon Jesus being sent from the Father. He quotes Jesus saying, “Truly, truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (Jn 13:16); and the most famous John 3:16-7 passage, “…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

            The Word (logos) is personified by John as if it were a heavenly being with God at creation speaking with divine words the creation into existence—“Let there be light!” In much the same way that “Wisdom” was personified (in this case as a woman!) as the craftsman, companion and counselor at the Creator’s side during the creation of the heavens and the earth (Proverbs 8). Both Word and Wisdom are personifications of God himself and were used by their authors as illustrative and literary tools to describe the breath and greatness of God’s powers to act within His creation. The man Jesus[3] became a real life personification of both God’s wisdom and word

            The best example in the OT of a supreme agent or apostle of God was Moses. To him God spoke face to face.[4] Moses was to deputize his brother Aaron to be his agent to do the speaking on his behalf:  “And it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.”[5] Moses wasn’t God, of course, but he was a direct agent of God as functioned both to Aaron and Israel as God’s “sent servant” to deliver Israel—God’s apostle.

Moses spoke one of the most compelling prophecies of a coming Messiah in the Hebrew Bible when he said: “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.”[6]  Clearly, Moses didn’t see that future prophet as God, but as a future prophet God would send. If, as some suppose, Jesus was Yahweh and the God Moses was speaking with face to face, would Moses have talked of Jesus being a future prophet that God would send?  

At Pentecost Peter applied this prophecy of Moses to the newly raised from the dead and exalted Jesus of Nazareth.[7] When God spoke to the disciples on the mount of Jesus’ transfiguration he said, “This is my son…Listen to him!”[8] –clearly marking Jesus as God’s Supreme Apostle, one sent to lead all mankind into the Kingdom of God.

But Jesus reminded his followers that a prophet is without honor among his own. In one of his most stinging parables, recorded in each of the synoptics, he identified himself as the last in a long line of prophets sent by God to Israel, God’s vineyard. One by one the agents were sent by the vineyard owner to those in charge of it, but they were all mistreated, beaten, ignored or killed. “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” Well, as they say, the rest was history. Jesus closed the parable with the obvious message that he was the son that the God of Israel had sent and he too would be killed.[9]

Jesus is the Supreme “Apostle of God,” first born Son of God, now exalted to God’s throne and made Lord of all creation under God the Father. Completing the thought I began with, the writer of Hebrews continues:

 

“Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses…Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house.”[10]

 

Jesus never claimed to be God but he speaks, like an apostle, for God with all the authority of God. As God himself said, we’d better “Listen to him!”   –Ken Westby        

 

 

 

[1] Translation by George Wesley Buchanan from his commentary, To The Hebrews, volume 36 in the Anchor Bible Commentary series, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1972.

[2] Ibid, p. 7, p 55-56.

[3] 1 Timothy 2:5

[4] Numbers 12:8

[5] Exodus 4:16

[6] Deuteronomy 18:15, 17

[7] Acts 3:22; 7:37

[8] Matthew 17:5

[9] Mark 12:1-12

[10] Hebrews 3:3, 5-6 NIV