"Just What IS an APOSTLE?"

Chapter 7

When an Apostle Dies

What should happen – as far as God’s people are concerned – when an apostle dies? Does the fact an apostle is dead give those who remain any right to overturn his teachings?

The Message of II Peter:

Fortunately, God has not left us in the dark on this subject, as a specific book within the Bible deals with this particular topic. The book of II Peter was written, “Knowing that shortly I must put off [this] my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (II Pet 1:14-15). The very purpose of the book is to remind those reading it of the specific things Christ delivered through the apostle Peter, so they would continue to have these things within their own minds after his death.

Peter then goes on to show how Christ dealt with three individuals specifically – Peter, James and John – only John and himself being alive at that time. The New Testament was canonised immediately prior to their deaths. Not only was the book of II Peter to guide those to whom he was writing, but God then used the New Testament to help preserve the Church through the millennia to our time today. Peter therefore tells us all, We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place” (II Pet 1:19).

Scripture Is Not for Private Interpretation:

This illumination did not originate with Peter but with Christ. In addition, Christ was about to preserve those within His Church – following the death of Peter – by giving a more clear and consistent grasp of scripture through the instruction the apostle Peter was about to leave them. This is why he points out, “that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy [Spirit]” (II Pet 1:20-21).

Just as the scriptures were originally written by the action of a single Spirit, so they are to be understood in one way, and one way only. To accurately comprehend that “Way,” requires a gift or grace from the identical Spirit of God that inspired the scriptures in the first place. That unique gift can only come from God Himself.

False Teachers:

God chooses not to reveal His will to each and every individual privately, but has chosen to reveal His Truth in a structured way – via apostles who possess this “more sure word of prophecy” (II Pet 1:19). For, as Peter warns us, “there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (II Pet 2:1-2).

Such false teachers, he tells us, “despise government” – particularly the Government of God – and are “presumptuous” and SELF-willed.” In addition, they are “not afraid to speak evil of dignities” – including the apostle that originally enlightened the people they mislead (II Pet 2:10). We should also be aware that they are to be a common problem, for many shall follow their pernicious ways” (II Pet 2:2).

The Attitude of Balaam:

The attitude displayed by such men is identical to the attitude of Balaam (II Pet 2:15). In addition to wanting money, Balaam wanted to be looked upon as a prophet of The Eternal – even though he was a pagan priest. This was undoubtedly due to the recognition he would thereby receive. Unlike God’s true servants, Balaam was not interested in truly following God’s Way, but rather wanted to go his OWN way to whatever degree he reckoned he could get away with. He gave the impression he was following God (Num 22:18-19), but in practice advised Balak how to undermine God’s purpose by enticing Israel to sin with the women of Midian (Num 31:14-16).

Christ therefore warns us, through II Peter, that such carnal men would consistently turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (II Pet 2:21) in order that they may follow their own ways. Also notice that the source of the “commandment” from which they turn is made very plain: it is, “the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour” (II Pet 3:1-2).

An Unbroken Leadership:

Peter and the other apostles were sent by God to illuminate His people. As apostles they illuminated them for the first time, and properly interpreted the scriptures that had been written previously by the prophets of old.

This same illumination process happens to each of us. God does this by leading His Church using His Spirit within an apostle, when that apostle is alive. However, following that apostle’s death, the very same leadership – from the very same Spirit – must continue unbroken over the Church, if it is to remain the same Church of God.

II Peter shows us that God’s Government will then include the spiritual heritage left by the apostle. It is vital, therefore, that the human leadership in a Church organisation also submits to what God has placed over it. Leadership within the True Church of God is never merely from a human leader down. God’s True Government is always from God down.

Human leadership within God’s Church must be seen to place itself clearly and unambiguously beneath this spiritual heritage left after an apostle’s death. The death of the apostle sent should have absolutely no effect on this aspect. Its true source does not change. The understanding obtained via the former revelation and the type of administration over the Church must both continue uninterrupted.

In Summary:

When II Peter was written, Peter was about to die. He knew, from what Christ had told him, that it was imperative for people to keep the original revelation in mind after his death. He also knew that deceiving men, with the same attitude as Balaam, would put them to the test on this specific point. God therefore saw fit to have him write the epistle of II Peter. God also saw fit to preserve this book down to our day – because He knew that we also would be tested in similar ways.

We must always keep the source of all revelation we have received clearly in mind. That revelation did not come originally from man. To be God’s Truth, it had to come from God Himself. It was merely delivered to us via a man – an apostle – sent by God with His Truth for His people. Just as in II Peter, even after that man’s death, we also must be sure that the spiritual legacy left to us remains over us – if we are to continue as the true people of God.