By Victor Knowles
“Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him” (Luke 9:12). The Twelve. That’s what they were called. That’s how they were known.
• “He took the Twelve aside” (Matthew 20:17).
• “Calling the Twelve to him” (Mark 6:7).
• “The Twelve were with him” (Luke 8:1).
• “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?”
• “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together” (Acts 6:2).
• “He appeared . . . to the Twelve”
(1 Corinthians 15:5, 6).
Before they were known as apostles, they were known as “the Twelve.” Why 12? Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose 12 men to follow him? Why not three or five or 10? Why not 100?
Some have suggested that 12 is the number symbolizing governmental perfection. The nation of Israel was comprised of 12 tribes, each one headed by one of the 12 sons of Israel. Perhaps Jesus chose 12 men to be his apostles to announce a new kingdom that would include all nations. Jesus told the Twelve, “When the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
Called and Commissioned
Jack Hyles said, “Nobody is fit to be a leader unless he would rather be a follower instead of a leader.” That was certainly true of the Twelve. They were perfectly content to be with Jesus, to travel with Jesus, to be trained by the Master Apostle. After all, Jesus Christ is called “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1, New American Standard Bible). The word apostle means, “a delegate, a messenger, one sent forth with orders.” God sent Jesus as the apostle to train 12 men to be his apostles. The one sent was now sending others. Practically his entire ministry was spent in the training of the 12.
In his book All the Apostles of the Bible (Zondervan, 1988), Herbert Lockyer writes, “A fact we cannot deny is that no body of men, few or many, has ever exercised so vast an influence on the world as the small circle of ordinary men Jesus called, trained, commissioned and empowered to further his cause.” These are the men of whom it was said, “They have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, King James Version).
The Twelve had the best teacher the world has ever known. He took a personal interest in each one of them. He called them by name. He prayed for them by name. You can read their names in Matthew 10:2-4. Parents are still naming their sons after them. In the church “God appointed first of all apostles” (1 Corinthians 12:28). The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles” (Ephesians 2:20). The apostles are Christ’s gift to the church (Ephesians 4:11). The first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42).
The Day of Pentecost was “graduation day” for the Twelve. The Holy Spirit was their commencement speaker. Jesus had told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Now the followers became leaders. John Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” What leadership lessons can we learn from the apostles?
Courageous Preaching and Accurate Teaching
A good leader will courageously preach the gospel of Christ. Jesus chose the Twelve “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). The church got its start when “Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd” (Acts 2:14).
The history of the church is a history of bold preaching. Even when they were arrested, put in prison, and flogged, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 2:17-42).
Today we must, like Paul, be set for the defense of the gospel (Philippians 1:16). Leaders must know what the gospel is (1 Corinthians 15:1-3) and what it is not (Galatians 1:6-9). C. S. Lewis said, “Jesus Christ did not say, ‘Go into all the world and tell the world it is quite right.’” Our message is not, “I’m OK, you’re OK.”
A strong church cannot be built on a weak message. We have “no creed but Christ,” but we must believe and boldly proclaim everything the Bible says about Christ. We believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he is the Son of the living God, that he is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, that he lived a sinless life, that every word he ever spoke is eternally true, that he was delivered up for our offenses, that he died an atoning death, that he was buried in a rich man’s tomb, that he bodily arose from the dead on the third day, that he ascended into Heaven, that he intercedes for us today, that there is salvation in no other name, and that he is coming back again some day.
A good leader also will be a careful student of Scripture. Peter began his sermon on Pentecost by saying, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16-21). He understood Old Testament prophecy. He quickly showed how prophecy pointed to Christ. Philip did the same with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-35). People today are starving to death for a simple explanation of the Word of God.
Good leaders will begin with Scripture and tell people about Jesus—not themselves or something that will tickle their ears (2 Timothy 4:3). They will watch their life and their doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16). They will “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). They will step in and put to silence those who are teaching things that are contrary to sound doctrine (Titus 1:10, 11). If our doctrine is bent, our living will be crooked.
Wise Decisions and Clear Communication
One of the first tests of the apostles’ leadership is found in Acts 15. Some believers, who were also Pharisees, were saying the Gentile believers must be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1, 5).
A council was held in Jerusalem with the apostles and elders about this question. The church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas and others to Jerusalem. There was a lot of discussion. Peter spoke. So did Paul and Barnabas. So did James. Everyone listened respectfully to their personal testimonies and careful explanation of Scripture. They came to the conclusion that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are coming to God” (Acts 15:19).
The apostles and elders “with the whole church” decided to send a letter to the Gentile believers, explaining what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” regarding their situation (Acts 15:28). The mission was accomplished and the believers who received the letter “were glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31). A potential disaster was averted because the apostles helped believers to focus on the grace of Jesus in matters of salvation (Acts 15:11). In the process they used clear, concise, and candid communication. The church knew where they stood on this issue. Today the church needs leaders who know the difference between essentials and opinions and can clearly communicate the difference.
Fearlessness and Faithfulness in Obeying the Great Commission
Jesus gave the apostles their “marching orders” before he went back to Heaven. He commissioned them to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47) and to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We can easily trace the travels of Paul in his three missionary journeys. Paul could truthfully say, “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:19, 20).
Around the third century, Origen of Alexandria (circa 185-254) wrote that the apostles divided up the world between them. Eusebius (circa 260-341) also wrote about this division of labor: “The apostles and disciples of the Savior scattered over the whole world, and preached the Gospel everywhere.”
Probably the first countries visited were those mentioned in Acts 2:9, 10. According to tradition, Peter traveled to Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia. We know that Peter wrote to Christians in these same places (1 Peter 1:1). Thomas is said to have been assigned Parthia (today’s India); Andrew went to Scythia (today’s Ukraine), Turkey, and Greece; Philip went to North Africa; Matthew went to Persia (today’s Iran) and Ethiopia; Bartholomew went to Armenia and Southern Arabia; and James (son of Alphaeus) went to Spain.
We do not know with certainty that all of these traditions are true, but we cannot imagine the apostles being disobedient to their Lord and failing to go into all the world to preach the gospel. There is good evidence that all of the apostles, with the exception of John, died violent deaths in their fulfillment of the Great Commission. They were faithful until death and received the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). No wonder their names are written in Heaven! “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, Missouri. www.poeministries.org
Which Apostle Are You Most Like?
As you strive to learn lessons on leadership from Jesus’ 12 disciples, check out these fun, sort of silly quizzes to see which one you’re most like.