The word “apostle” comes from Greek apostolos, meaning “one who is sent” or, more simply, “messenger.” Jesus set apart the Twelve to be his messengers, sent with a message. Matthew and Luke call the Twelve “apostles” early on (Matt 10:2; Luke 6:13). Sometime thereafter, Jesus “sends” the Twelve to proclaim the gospel (Matt 10:5; Luke 9:2; see Mark 6:7).

John’s Gospel is a bit different. The writer doesn’t seem terribly concerned with the organizational structure of Jesus’s movement. “The Twelve” are only mentioned twice (6:67ff; 20:24), and only in contexts that highlight that they sometimes struggled to believe, just like everybody else. Furthermore, the one time that the writer uses the word apostolos (13:16), it is in the generic sense of “messenger” and not a title applied to Jesus’s closest followers.

In short, the Fourth Gospel isn’t overly churchy. It doesn’t devote a great deal of time or attention to hierarchy or institutional concerns in the early Jesus movement. He never even mentions Jesus’s baptism or the institution of the Lord’s Supper!

What we do have, however, is today’s text in which Jesus sends all his disciples (vv. 19, 20, 25, 26) to continue the mission he began.

After the crucifixion, while they were still wondering about Mary Magdalene’s incredible account of her encounter with the risen Christ, the disciples still cower in fear behind closed doors. Then Jesus appears in their midst. He imparts the Holy Spirit and charges them to continue the mission that he began: “As the Father has sent me,” he says, “so I send you” (v. 21).

Given John’s seeming disinterest in setting apart the Twelve for special attention, I don’t see how we can assume he’s doing so here. Though the Twelve are certainly present (well, most of them), John uses the more general word “disciples” throughout the passage.

Jesus is not giving marching orders to an elite cadre of spiritual superstars. All Jesus’s followers are included in this commission. The Father sent me into the world to reveal God’s truth, he says. Now you go do the same.

It’s a charge to everyone: the Twelve, Mary Magdalene, anybody else who gathered in the upper room. And if we pay attention to Thomas’s story, even some who for whatever reason weren’t there that first Easter Sunday—anyone who hasn’t seen the risen Christ for themselves but still believe.

Anyone. Not just the ordained or the seminary educated. Not just the ones who’ve logged enough hours of Sunday school or sat on enough committees.

All of us. In every age and every corner of the earth.

Jesus sends us.

Discussion

• What does it mean that Jesus sends the disciples as the Father has sent him?
• How does the forgiveness of sins (v. 23) figure into God’s mission in the world?
• Why is it important that the disciples first receive the Holy Spirit?
• How does Jesus address Thomas’s doubts—and ours?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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