The Rock in a World of Sand
From Gospel Translations
It may be the most overlooked aspect of the gospel. It probably doesn’t sound like especially good news, but just history — the lives of a few ordinary men. Maybe, though, you’ll marvel with me at the wisdom of God, and the magnificent investment of Christ, in creating this reality called the apostles.
Jesus recruited twelve men, and gave the bulk of his time and energy during his ministry to developing and preparing them for leading the church after he was gone. Think about that. Twelve men. Have you ever paused to consider whether he might have done it another way?
Or put the question this way: Why have the risen Christ appear “not to all the people” but only to the apostles? That’s how Peter said it in his first gospel sermon to Gentiles: “God raised [Jesus] on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:40–41).
Why not have the risen Christ appear to all the people, to countless thousands in Jerusalem and beyond? And why not appear bodily to Christians today? Why the apostles first, and so prominently, even though he also appeared to “more than five hundred brothers at one time” (1 Corinthians 15:6)? Why focus his appearing to such a limited group in the first century? And what makes it good news for you and me?
For Our Clarity
Appearing to countless thousands, without a clear, headlining group like the apostles, may have seemed wise initially, but it would have created utter confusion over time. Who speaks for the risen Christ once he ascends? Whose word about the meaning of his resurrection, among the thousands who saw him, do we believe? What about believers who genuinely saw him risen but remembered details wrongly and wrote with flaws, or had little context from his life? The apostles knew the whole story, from the very beginning. “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10:39).
Jesus, as the preeminently good leader, planned well for his people after he was gone. He would not have his church devolve into spiritual anarchy and chaos. He put in place authoritative spokesmen — men whom he had invested in personally and extensively for more than three years — who would speak for him, by the direction of his Spirit, once he sat enthroned in heaven.
Peter highlights in Acts 10:41 that the apostles “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” By establishing this clear group of representatives, who had shared life with him so intimately, and then saw him resurrected, Jesus made plain whom the church should listen to in his absence. The apostles would speak and write the authoritative words on Jesus’s behalf, and when they died, the church would be left with their writings, called the New Testament, as the ongoing authority in the church.
For Our Confidence
On the other hand, it’s important to note that Jesus’s authoritative spokesmen are not only a limited, clearly vested group, but they are also a plurality — not a solitary individual.
Personal visions are the province of liars and lunatics. Individual visions, with history-altering claims, and no witnesses to verify, make for the beginnings of false religion, as in the tragic shams of Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and too many others.
Our confidence would be left wanting had the risen Christ appeared only to one apostle and left the resurrection account to his word alone. But instead, our faith is enriched with multiple witnesses, persuasive in the unison of their testimony. Lunacy is ruled out by such a plurality. Conspiracy is dispelled when the witnesses risk their own lives to stand by their story.
The blessed plurality of the apostles also highlights the uniqueness of Christ as the lone singularity in the church. The apostles are plural. Local church leadership is plural (1 Timothy 5:17; Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1; James 5:14). We have but one singular leader who stands between the people and their God: the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
Even when Jesus appeared specifically to Paul on his way to Damascus, Paul was not alone. His traveling companions heard the voice (Acts 9:7), saw the light (Acts 22:9), and could testify that something extraordinary had overpowered him, and that he wasn’t out of his mind or making this up.
He Led and Loved Us Well
So alongside the great truths of the gospel — Jesus’s divinity (“he is Lord of all,” Acts 10:36) and full humanity (“Jesus of Nazareth,” Acts 10:38), and death, and resurrection, and offer of “forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43) — this additional ray of glory shines in the apostolic gospel: He appeared “not to all the people,” but to those he chose, and prepared, as his witnesses — twelve ordinary men whose teaching is still leaving an extraordinary impact in the world today.
This is Jesus caring well for his church. You are greatly loved. The risen Christ not only loved you by going to the cross for you — the great demonstration of his love — but he also loved you by planning ahead for your flourishing. He chose and discipled twelve men, and he appointed them as his authoritative spokesmen, so that you would have a rock to stand on in a world of quicksand.