Have you ever wondered what the word “apostle” meant to those living in the time the New Covenant was written? I believe that understanding the original meaning and use of the word “apostle” (in Greek – apostolos) will help bring clarity to the role of apostles today. Here are some things I have discovered:
Even before the New Covenant was set down in writing, Phoenicians and Greeks used the word apostle, and later the Roman Empire adopted the word and developed its meaning and function further. Apostle, in its most simplistic form, means a “sent one.” But when we dig deeper and ask who was the sender, for what purpose was the messenger sent and what was the message he carried, we discover layers of profound meaning that point to the Kingdom of God.
Two thousand years ago, apostle was not a religious title. It was used in secular language to describe a king sending out a fleet of battle ships (but not limited to ships) on a specific mission. They were to sail to foreign lands to colonize new territory and to make it just like the territory from which they had been sent. The head captain on the lead ship was called an apostle.
Alongside the apostle traveled a team of skilled tradesmen: teachers of language and culture, architects and builders, soldiers to fight and maintain order, doctors and others with foundational occupations for the success and expansion of the new colony. The apostle was sent with exclusive authority from the king to oversee and direct all that was done. His end goal was to make sure that if the king ever visited that new colony, he would immediately feel as though he had never left his capital city. The way of life, culture, language, architecture, education and so on, was supposed to be just like it was in Rome.
I have put a positive light on the role of Roman apostles from 2000 years ago, but in reality, their colonial mission was full of bloodshed and corruption. Despite this, when Yeshua gave power and authority to his disciples he called them apostles. In the language and context of that day this was understood to be a HUGE statement – namely, “Yeshua is not just rabbi, but also King; and His kingdom is on its way to taking over the world!”