Men Condemned to Death
"For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all,
as men condemned to death.”
1 Corinthians 4.9
The role of the apostles in the scheme of redemption was with purpose. While Jesus has many disciples, he chose twelve for a specific work (Luke 6.13). There were others who were appointed for this work such as Matthias and Paul (Acts 1; 1 Corinthians 14.9). Here are some passages that point out the distinct role of the apostles:
I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery…
Now to him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past…
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
1 Corinthians 2.7,10
For the reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit…
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you (the Christians to whom Peter was writing), in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news (the apostles) to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
1 Peter 1.10-12
Clearly their role was to make known God’s eternal purpose. In regard to the twelve, this was why Jesus told them to “tarry in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24.49). They would receive this power when the Holy Ghost would come upon them (Acts 1.8). This was why the Holy Ghost fell upon them (i.e., the twelve). It was not to save them from their sins, but to empower them with a ready remembrance of the many things Jesus had taught (John 14.26; 1 Corinthians 14.37).
We know this to be true from what is stated in Acts 1.8b. The latter part of this verse states what they would do after the Holy Ghost came upon them: “…Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” This witnessing began on the day of Pentecost. In Acts 2.4 we read, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” They spoke to the multitude in Jerusalem (Acts 2.6,8: “…every man heard them speak in his own language…and how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”). Was this understandable by the many Jews present? Notice from Acts 2.11: “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” When this was done, whosoever would “call on the name of the Lord would be saved.” We find from Acts 2.41 that about 3,000 did so.
What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? If we look back to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, we will find the answer. When asked, “What shall we do?” (v. 36), Peter replied, “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.”
In regard to Paul, it was why his call to be an apostle was “out of season” (1 Corinthians 15.8-9). This message which aroused so much anger and hatred of Jesus was the very means whereby they would be forgiven. In this way they were to make other disciples (Matthew 28.19-20). We are indebted to them for their convictions in the face of the persecution they endured (1 Corinthians 4.9-15; Hebrews 10.32-34). Let us heed the admonition of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.1: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”