November 2007 • Volume XI, Issue 19
Apostles, Prophets and
One of the glorious purposes of our Saviour’s
victorious ascension into heaven (Eph. 4:8) was to give His beloved
church men to teach her the truth of His Word: "And he [i.e., Christ]
gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and
some, pastors and teachers" (11).
This text, Ephesians 4:11, is appealed to in many
Pentecostal/charismatic circles as proof for their ongoing
"Fivefold Office" or "Fivefold Ministry." This is mistaken, first, in
that this verse refers to four, and not five, offices: Christ "gave 
some, apostles; and  some, prophets; and  some, evangelists; and
 some, pastors and teachers" (11). The last phrase is crucial in this
connection. It does not say, "some, pastors; and some teachers;" it
states, "some, pastors and teachers," indicating that "pastors and
teachers" (being governed by "some") refer to one office, that of
pastor/teacher. Second, three of these four offices are not permanent in
the New Testament church (as we shall see).
Let us consider each of these four offices in turn,
beginning with that listed first, that of "apostles." The apostles, in
the technical sense in the Bible, are the eleven disciples (Judas being
an apostate), Matthias (Acts 1) and Paul (Acts 9). These men’s
qualifications include their seeing the risen Christ; their being
directly appointed by Him; their having authority over all the churches
(II Cor. 11:28); their terrible persecutions (I Cor. 4:9); and their
working genuine miracles in the service of the true gospel (II Cor.
12:12). The ascended Christ gave these men the grace and authority to
lay the foundations of the New Testament church by the gospel of Jesus
Christ and to write canonical Scripture (think of the inspired writings
of Peter, John and Paul).
These qualifications exclude any and every claim to
be an apostle since the death of the beloved John to Christ’s triumphant
return at the end of the age—contrary to the claims of Rome that the
pope is the successor of the apostle Peter and the pretensions of the
"apostles" of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Edward Irving
(1792-1834), the Mormons and many Pentecostals.
Second, Ephesians 4:11 speaks of "prophets." These
prophets are extraordinary office bearers with extraordinary gifts,
especially in that they received revelation directly from God. This
included the inerrant foretelling of future events. Thus the prophet
Agabus predicted the famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts
11:28-30) and Paul’s bonds and sufferings in Jerusalem (21:10-11). We
also have various canonical books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, James and
Jude) penned by inspired New Testament prophets. These, with the
canonical writings of the apostles, constitute the foundation of
Christ’s New Testament church (Eph. 2:20).
Third, Ephesians 4:11 speaks of "evangelists." This
name is specifically given in its technical sense to Philip (Acts 21:8)
and Timothy (II Tim. 4:5). These men, and others, such as Titus, served
as assistants to the apostles. The evangelists received an extraordinary
call; Timothy was appointed to his office "by prophecy" (I Tim. 4:14).
Evangelists exercised extraordinary gifts. Philip wrought miracles in
Samaria (Acts 8) and Timothy received the "gift of God" with the laying
on of Paul’s hands (II Tim. 1:6). In the New Testament scriptures, we
see evangelists being left in or sent to new churches to build them up,
as Timothy in Ephesus (I Tim. 1:3) and Titus on the island of Crete
These three offices, though differing from each other
in several particulars, have several important things in common. First,
they are extraordinary offices. Apostles, prophets and evangelists
received an extraordinary call. Apostles and evangelists and (probably
some) prophets wrought miracles. Apostles and prophets (but apparently
not evangelists) were inspired.
Second, these three offices involved itinerary work,
moving around from one field of labour to another. This is particularly
clear with the apostles and the evangelists.
Third—and this is especially important against the
Pentecostal assault—all three of these offices were temporary. The
apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the church, and this only
needs laying once (Eph. 2:20). Through the apostles and prophets, we now
have the inspired, inerrant, sufficient and complete Scriptures (II Tim.
3:16-17; Rev. 22:18-19). The evangelists passed away with the office
they assisted, that of the apostles. For none of these offices are we
given rules for their continuance or a list of qualifications, unlike
the permanent offices of elder and deacon (I Tim. 3; Titus 1).
Fourth, the offices of apostle, prophet and
evangelist, like the office of pastor/teacher, are teaching offices
(Eph. 4:11). This is a key idea in the context (11-16). This also
explains why the special offices of elder and deacon are not mentioned
here, for the key idea of these offices is ruling and administering the
mercies of Christ, respectively, and not teaching (as such). Rev.
Taking the Kingdom by
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the
kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force
What kind of violence and force are meant? Does it
mean that a believer should make some effort to enter the kingdom of
God? And how does this fit with salvation by faith alone through grace
The figure Jesus uses in the text quoted above is
very powerful. He is speaking in this discourse of John the Baptist, His
forerunner. John occupied a unique place in the noble company of
prophets. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and straddled
the two testaments. He had, as it were, one foot in the old dispensation
and one foot in the new. This unique place of John is the reason why the
Lord says that John was the greatest of all the prophets, yet the least
in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (11). This very statement
will give you some idea of the vast difference that came about between
the two testaments when the Spirit of the ascended Christ was poured out
In spite of the fact that John straddled both
dispensations, John died in the old dispensation and did not see the
dawning of the new day begun at Pentecost. Thus his status in the
historical revelation of God’s purpose is inferior to the one who is
"least in the kingdom of heaven."
Perhaps to understand this unique place John
occupied, we may use the figure of the kingdom of heaven as a
magnificent palace. In the old dispensation the saints could see the
door to the palace, but could not enter through the door. It was locked
because Christ, who is the "door" (John 10:9), had not yet come.
However, on that door were many beautiful pictures of
the kingdom. These pictures were the types of the old dispensation: the
sacrifices, the flood, the deliverance from Egypt, the inheritance of
Canaan, etc. They were beautiful pictures, and the Old Testament saints
could learn quite a bit about what was on the other side of the door by
looking at the pictures. But they could not enter!
Now think of John as one who stands in front of the
door. By accomplishing his ministry when he pointed out Christ as "the
Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, 36),
John, so to speak, opened the door a crack. This enabled the saints in
what was still the Old Testament to see a little bit of what was behind
the door. When they saw what was behind the door, they were so amazed,
so thrilled, so excited, that, we may say, they stormed the door in
their anxiety to enter. They could not wait. They took the kingdom by
violence and force. They would not be turned back.
This, I say, is a powerful picture of the attraction
which the kingdom of heaven has for believers. Consider that the great
burden of the Old Testament saints was their sin (cf. Matt. 11:28).
Those who labour and are heavy laden are those who have long sought to
find forgiveness of sin and salvation in the works of the law, but who
found only futility in all their labour, and for whom the law became a
burden impossible to bear. How poignant then the words of our Lord:
"Come to me ...!" (28). In the kingdom was complete forgiveness
and the splendour and glory of salvation. After all these years of
travail and anxious pain, John opened the door a crack when he pointed
out Christ as the door. The saints could not be held back. They stormed
the door. They still do. You and I do. We cannot bear the burden of sin
any longer. We flee to Christ. No one can keep us back. All our hearts
crave is to be found in Him!
Notice, however, that I consistently used the word
"saints" to describe those who storm the door of the kingdom. This
specific word is the key to the answer to your second question: "Does it
mean that the believer should make some effort to enter the kingdom?"
Taken at face value, the answer to your question is,
"Yes! Yes, of course." Jesus says so in many place. We are to enter the
narrow gate. That is something we do. We are to deny ourselves and take
up our cross if we are to be Jesus’ disciples. We do that. We are to
become like little children to enter the kingdom. That is our calling
and obligation. Saints are not and may not be antinomians who claim that
they need do nothing other than sit back in their rocking chairs and let
God do it all. Do we become careless and profane people because we
believe that salvation is by grace alone? No! What kind of a saint is
that (Rom. 6:1ff.)? Let no one say that the Reformed faith teaches any
Only saints saw through the crack in the door
and they only caught a glimpse of the riches on the other side. Only
stormed (and still storm) the door. And, do not forget, saints are
those who are already in the kingdom: by the power of God’s promise in
the old dispensation and by the Spirit of Christ in the new
dispensation. Because they are saints, they have been washed in the
blood of Christ, the sovereign ruler in that kingdom, who imputes to all
His own the righteousness He earned on the cross.
But they are sinning saints, or, if you will, saintly
sinners. And so they (you and I) must daily flee to Christ for a refuge
from the burden and weariness of our sins. We flee to Christ, the door;
we see the glorious blessedness of the kingdom of heaven; we storm the
door (with anxious petitions for forgiveness in Christ’s blood and to
obtain the blessedness that is found in that kingdom). We take the
kingdom by force.
Even the saint’s storming of the kingdom is by the
power of being in that kingdom, for it is God who works in us both to
will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). The activities in
which the believer engages, empowered by grace, are his actions, actions
for which he is even rewarded. Let no man say that he needs not to do
anything. The command of the gospel to God’s people is: "Be what God has
made you!" Storm the door and take the kingdom by violence! And go
through the door, which is Christ! Prof. Hanko
For a fuller explanation of this text,
listen to Prof. Hanko's sermon.
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