Apostolic Authority Still Binding – James E. Cooper

James E. Cooper

As one reads the New Testament he is impressed with the prominence of the apostles in the early church. Much of the difficulty with the modern religious people springs from an effort to dethrone the apostles and take them out of their rightful place in the religion of Christ. Two young Theological Seminary students were discussing the inspiration of the apostle Paul, and one declared that he had as much right to assert his ideas on a religious theme as did Paul or any other New Testament writer, since he determined to measure everything the apostles said by the words of Jesus. This indicates an attitude which is not characteristic of one who understands the teachings of the New Testament.

When Jesus began his public ministry, he selected twelve men from different walks of life, and they continued with him about three years, going to school, as it were, to the Master Teacher. While He was yet alive, he sent them on the Limited Commission, called such because they were sent only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In the light of the problem now being considered, it is interesting to notice some statements Jesus made to them in this Limited Commission. There are two accounts of this particular statement, which both illustrate the same premise. In Matthew 10:40 we read: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” To this, add Luke’s statement in 10:16; “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me; and he that rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me.” So, from this statement of the authority of the apostles on the Limited Commission we learn that their position was such that the person who heeded them would be heeding the Christ, but if anyone rejected them, he was rejecting Christ, and again in turn rejecting God.

Further light on apostolic authority is seen in Matthew’s Gospel, in the account of the gathering at Caesarea Philippi, after returning from this Limited Commission. Jesus asked them what the people thought about him, and received the report concerning their opinions. He then asked the apostles what they thought of him, and Peter quickly spoke, saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus spoke,

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:17-19).

The promise in this closing statement is repeated to all the apostles, as recorded in Matthew 18:18. The passage indicates that what the apostles bind and loose in earth shall have been bound and loosed in heaven. They are not the source of their message; that source is God, who sends His Holy Spirit to inspire them and give them God’s message.

We find Jesus making a statement similar to the one made in connection with the Limited Commission on the night of his betrayal. The thirteenth through the sixteenth chapters of the Gospel of John contain the record of the happenings of that night. You will notice that the sequence shows that Jesus, “knowing that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father” gathered his apostles into the upper room, and instituted the Lord’s Supper. After the Supper he taught them at length, giving them some final instructions and encouragements. You will notice in John 13:20 these words: “Verily, Verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” After this he identified Judas as the one who should betray him; told Peter he would deny him, and then began to comfort them by saying that even though he was about to depart, he would not leave them alone, or comfortless. He would send the Holy Spirit. In his discussion of the Paraclete who would be sent to them, he tells of at least four things the Holy Spirit would do when he came. These four things are (1) “He will teach you all things” (John 14:26), (2) “He will bring to your remembrance all that I have said unto you” (John 14:26), (3) “He shall guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13), and (4) “He shall declare unto you things that are to come” (John 16:13).

From all of this we must infer that the apostles were not left to their own resources after the death of Christ. They were not to trust their own memories, because the Holy Spirit was sent to make them remember; they were not to seek blindly after truth, for the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. In addition to this, the Holy Spirit would further instruct them and reveal the future to them.

In view of this, it is interesting to notice the first chapter of the Galatian letter where Paul said that the Gospel which he preached was “not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ” and that when,

…it was the good pleasure of God…to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles, straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me; but I went away into Arabia, and again I returned unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:15-17).

Since they had received their message from God by the Holy Spirit, those among the Gentiles “received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” (4:14). The opposite attitude is seen in I Thessalonians 4:8, where he said, “Therefore he that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but God, who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you.” In First Corinthians 2:12-13, Paul writes that the things which he spoke were spoken “not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words,” showing that he considered that even his words were supplied by the Spirit.

Having seen the high and exalted position in which the apostles have been placed in the New Testament, it behooves us to consider our responsibilities of hearing them. Notice that the apostles were commissioned by Jesus to be his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:19-20), with the authority to bind and loose on earth what has been bound and loosed in heaven. Notice too, that Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit as their guide and stay as they went about preaching the Gospel. Notice again, that Jesus told them that when one hears them he is hearing Christ, and God. But when one rejects the apostles, he is rejecting Christ, and in turn rejecting God. We cannot go to God without going through the apostles. The way we know what the apostles understood about Christ is to read what they wrote. (Cf. Eph. 3:3-5.) Thus, the only way we can go to God through the apostles is to hear and heed what they wrote.

Their words stand as our final appeal in matters religious. Jesus himself wrote no books, and preserved no letters. If we neglect or forget the apostles, we reject their message. If we drift away from them and attempt to direct our own affairs, then we will have all kinds of religious difficulties, finally ending in wreck and ruin. May we have a greater appreciation for the message of the apostles, and heed it, taking care to “receive” them, and not to “reject” them.

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Author: Editor

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