22 Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— 23 that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22–23, NKJV)
Christ came for the whole world (Jews and Gentiles). The apostles of Jesus testified what Moses and the prophets said would occur concerning the Christ was fulfilled in Jesus. Paul takes note of some primary things Moses and the prophets said about the Christ: 1) He would suffer (read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53). Peter said of Jesus, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). 2) He would rise from the dead (read Psalm 16:8-11). The resurrection of Jesus fulfilled this psalm (Acts 2:29-31). Jesus was the first – the beginning of the resurrection of all the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-22). 3) He would proclaim light to Jews and Gentiles (read Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:6). Through His gospel, Jesus lights the way of salvation for every soul on earth (Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:34-35). God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to suffer death for our sins, to be raised to exaltation for our salvation, and to light our way to eternal glory.
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. (Matthew 10:40, NKJV)
Before Jesus sent His apostles “into all the world” to “preach the gospel to every creature,” He sent them on a limited commission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mk. 16:15; Matt. 10:5-6). Today’s verse is within the context of that limited assignment. Jesus encouraged them with a concise principle: Receiving the apostles is equivalent to receiving Him and the Father who sent Him. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus reinforced this principle to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Jno. 13:20). When we accept the apostles’ teaching, we are accepting Jesus and the Father. The antithesis is also true. When we reject the apostles, we are rejecting the Son and the Father: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Lk. 10:16). It is a flawed and futile exercise that exalts Jesus while minimizing and discounting His apostles. (They spoke His word!) Friend, you have not accepted Jesus when you reject what His apostles taught (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16). After all, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jno. 14:15).
18 Therefore they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols; and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass. 19 Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they testified against them, but they would not listen. (2 Chronicles 24:18–19, NKJV)
At first, Joash, the king of Judah, “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 24:2). Yet later, he listened to the leaders of Judah and fell away from the Lord (2 Chron. 24:15-17). Listening to the counsel of men rather than the prophets of God, Joash and Judah turned back to idol worship. Led by the king, they even killed the prophet, Zechariah, in the court of the temple, because he rebuked their sins (2 Chron. 24:20-21; Jesus referred to this in Matt. 23:34-36). Indeed, the prophets of God were “an example of suffering and patience” (Jas. 5:10). Now, God speaks to us “by His Son” through His apostles and prophets (Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:1-2). The choice between listening to the will of men or to the word of God remains. Shall we join with those who cried, “Crucify Him!” and reject His word, or shall we stand with “the apostles of the Lord and Savior” who spoke Christ’s truth (2 Pet. 3:2)? Will you listen to the Lord or men? That depends on whether you want to fulfill the will of God or the devil (Jno. 8:43-44).
15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15–16, NKJV)
This passage is not difficult to understand. Yet, it undergoes no end of abuse at the hands of those who refuse its teaching on how the gospel saves sinners. Christ’s commission to the apostles is forthright: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (v. 15). The gospel is for all, and the apostles made known its power to save “to all nations” (Rom. 1:16; 16:25-26; Col. 1:23). Responses to the gospel and their corresponding results are stated candidly in verse 16. The person who believes the gospel and is baptized will be saved from sin, but the person who does not believe the gospel will be condemned in sin. Believing the gospel of Christ compels one to be baptized to be saved. Yet, controversy arises over whether water baptism is necessary for salvation. Jesus said it is. Why? Because “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and cannot justify the sinner (Jas. 2:17, 24). Water baptism is faith at work as one submissively obeys Christ’s command (Acts 2:37-38; 10:34-35). Obedient faith does not earn salvation (Lk. 17:10). When the believer obeys the gospel, God frees that person from sin’s bondage to become a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). Belief and baptism are essential to be saved. Unbelief is condemned. Instead of arguing with Jesus, we plead with the lost to believe and be baptized to be saved.
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20, NKJV)
There is a context to this statement that informs our understanding and its application. It is not an unrestricted statement giving two or three Christians carte blanche to do anything they decide is in Christ’s name. Here and in other Scriptures, apostolic authority must exist for Christ’s approval and fellowship. The immediate context of today’s passage addresses dealing with sin by a Christian against another Christian (Matt. 18:15-17). Heaven’s approval for the forgiveness and retention of sins rests upon the teachings the apostles receive from heaven (Matt. 18:18). That is, what the apostles bound and loosed on earth was already determined by the Lord. The inspired apostles revealed heaven’s will, and they were united in faith and practice in the name of (by the authority of) Christ (Matt. 18:19-20). Christ was “in the midst of them” (His apostles) as they revealed heaven’s will. When we follow their teachings, we are following heaven’s will by heaven’s authority (Col. 3:17). Doing so assures us of fellowship with the apostles and the Lord God (1 Jno. 1:3). Two or three Christians gathered together do not establish what God’s will is. What the apostles taught is the authority we have to act in the name of Christ as individuals, as several saints, or as the local church.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NKJV)
These are final words spoken by Jesus to His apostles before He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). He uses two “you shall” statements that distinguish the apostles from every other disciple of Jesus. Understanding them eliminates many false concepts about the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and what it means to be witnesses of Jesus. First, Jesus told His apostles “you shall receive power.” Then, He told them when it would happen – “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” This Holy Spirit baptism was a specific promise made to the apostles, not to every Christian (Acts 1:4-5; Jno. 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). It would be fulfilled “not many days from now,” and ten days later on Pentecost, it was (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4, 33). Holy Spirit baptism would equip the apostles for their assigned work, which is the second “you shall” statement. Jesus told His apostles “you shall be witnesses to Me.” Witnesses testify of what they have seen (Jno. 3:11). The apostles were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. They saw Him raised from the dead (Acts 1:22; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-42; 26:16; 1 Cor. 15:4-8). Christians do not “bear witness” of Jesus because we have not seen Him. They did, and we believe their testimony. Christ gave His church apostles “for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). Let us thank Christ for the apostles, not be led astray by false doctrines that would usurp their power and work.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21–23, NKJV)
Following His resurrection, Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). According to John’s account of this assignment, Jesus sent them into the world even as the Father had sent Him (Jno. 17:18; Heb. 3:1). The Father gave the Son the word of everlasting life to speak (Jno. 12:48-50). His apostles, who were sent into the world with the good news of God’s salvation, were guided by the Holy Spirit “into all truth” (Jno. 16:13). The word which the Holy Spirit revealed to them contained why, how, and when sins are forgiven and retained. The forgiveness and the retention of sins is not arbitrary, but available to all (Acts 10:34-35). A freewill decision to believe and obey must be made upon hearing the good news that Jesus is Christ. Those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins are forgiven (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19). Those who do not believe and obey the gospel call to be saved remain lost in their sins. The gospel saves the lost, yet, many will not believe it and obey it, therefore, their sins are retained. The decision to believe and obey the gospel to be forgiven continues to be the most important decision a person will ever make (Acts 2:21, 37-38, 40-41). Will your sins be forgiven, or retained?
21 “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21–22, NKJV)
Jesus spoke these words to His twelve apostles before sending them out to preach “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6-7). After His resurrection, He would send them into all the world to preach His gospel (Mk. 16:15). Jesus was preparing them for the resistance they would face because of their faith in Him and their work for Him. The gospel produced harsh reactions from faithless family and friends as well as strangers in the first century. (It still does.) Their lives would be endangered and embroiled in controversy. Jesus exhorted them to endure the hatred and persecutions “to the end” to be saved. This helps us understand what Jesus went on to say, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34, 35-36). Many react to the truth of the gospel with hostility, including family members. Just as He called the apostles to endure, He calls us to love Him more, follow His truth first, deny ourselves, and always fear God rather than people (Matt. 10:37-39, 28). When we choose family (or ourselves) over the truth of the gospel we are no longer worthy of Christ. We will lose our life, not save it (Matt. 10:37-39).
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1, NKJV)
In the Roman Catholic Church, an imprimatur is “a license granted by a bishop certifying the Church’s approval of a book to be published” (thefreedictionary.com). The word is more generally used to denote “a mark of approval or distinction” (merriam-webster.com). No such ecclesiastical certification is issued by the church of Christ in the New Testament. Today’s verse affirms our conduct must imitate the apostles of Christ to the extent they also imitate (mimic) Christ. Some scoff at binding apostolic approved examples today. “Where is your apostle badge?” is sarcastically asked when an appeal is made to apostolic examples to authorize practices. The apostles not only left us their inspired words, they also left us examples to follow. Jesus said, “He who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Jno. 13:20). Their examples help us pattern our conduct after the will of Christ. By following their examples we are assured of the Lord’s favor (Phil. 3:17). How can one possibly think the Lord is pleased by refusing to follow the apostles’ examples (that imitate Christ)? “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9). The “imprimatur” of heaven is the apostolic doctrine, taught by their words and their examples. We ought to follow their examples because they have heaven’s approval (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:4, 9).
41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:41–42, NKJV)
The apostles had just been beaten and threatened for preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:40). One would think they would go underground to avoid further pain and threats of death. But, astonishingly, they continued daily to teach and preach, both publicly and privately. Their faith in Christ was greater than their fear of men. The apostle Paul vividly portrays the suffering of the apostles when he said, “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (1 Cor. 4:11–13). Later, Peter would exhort us to have courage to gladly accept suffering as a Christian: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:16). Like the apostles, we must “not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” – regardless of the reactions of those who refuse to believe in the power and authority of Jesus Christ to save.