Sunday, I taught from Matthew 10:5-15 as we continue to study through the Gospel of Matthew. In this passage, Jesus sends out the twelve after telling them to pray that God would send workers into the harvest fields. I learned something very interesting about the term “apostle” while I was studying this passage.
Did you know that Matthew only uses the term “apostle” once? You can find that one occurrence in Matthew 10:2 – “The names of the twelve apostles are these…” (then the names are listed). I already knew that John didn’t use the term “apostle” for the twelve (John uses the term once in John 13:16, but it doesn’t refer to the twelve), but I didn’t realize that Matthew only used it once. It turns out that Mark uses the term twice in Mark 3:14 (a parallel to Matthew 10:2) and Mark 6:30 which refers to the twelve when they returned after Jesus sent them out. Luke, on the other hand, uses the term “apostle” six times in his Gospel and 28 times in the Book of Acts (only in chapters 1-16, but no uses in chapters 17-28).
So, Matthew and Mark uses the term “apostle” only in reference to Jesus sending out the twelve to the “lost sheep” of Israel in order to proclaim that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Thus, it seems that for Matthew and Mark the focus of the term “apostle” was on being sent, not on the fact that these twelve spent time with Jesus nor on their authority because of their association with Jesus. Elsewhere in Scripture the term “apostle” is used to identify those who had spent time with Jesus and who had authority because of their association with Jesus, but that does not appear to be Matthew’s or Mark’s focus. By the way, the term “apostle” is also used elsewhere in Scripture in reference to those who were “sent”, but who did not necessarily spend time with Jesus: Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess 1:1; 2:6), Apollos (1 Cor 4:6, 9), and Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7).
As we’ve studied through Matthew so far, we’ve noticed that Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 9:35). Now, Jesus is “sending out” the twelve as his representative. What is their “charge”? They are also to proclaim the kingdom of God (Matt 10:7). (Luke also indicates that Jesus later sent out seventy others to proclaim the kingdom.)
To me, this study puts the “Great Commission” in perspective of the whole Gospel of Matthew. After Jesus rose from the dead but before he ascended, he told his followers:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
This commission is not something tacked onto the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Instead, the idea of sending out representatives to proclaim the kingdom is part of Jesus’ plan throughout the Gospel. This should remind us again that we are both a gathered people and a sent people. (see “The Gathered and the Sent“) God gathers us out of the world in order to send us back into the world.
Problems ensue when we begin to focus on being gathered and neglect being sent, or when we focus on being sent and neglect being gathered. We are both. Just as Jesus called the twelve to himself and then sent them out. Jesus also calls us to himself (gathers us – Matt 16:18; 18:20) and sends us out.
If someone were to examine your life from the outside, do you think they would see a balance between being gathered and being sent? Or would they see an emphasis on one and a neglect of the other? If so, which one is emphasized and which is neglected?