In our last article we looked at pempo, a word meaning, “I send.” This word was used to focus attention on the sender and the act of sending, while minimizing the personal importance of the one sent.
Now we are going to look at the other word for “send,” which is apostello (ah po STELL oh). This word was first used of a ship or naval expedition which was sent out. Later it described a band of colonists sent overseas. It came to be used generally of dispatching some mission or messengers. In all its early uses apostello included (a) an express commission and (b) being sent overseas.
By the time of the New Testament the overseas element had drained out of apostello, but the express commission was all the more central to the word. When the church in Antioch sent out the first Christian missionaries, the name for them was apostolos, the noun form of apostello (Acts 14:14). When the church in Philippi sent a man to serve Paul in Rome, the man was called their apostolos (Phil. 2:25). He was a man on a mission.
Even more important in the New Testament is the special use of apostello/ apostolos to describe the twelve men chosen by Jesus to be sent forth on his mission (Mark 3:14-19). As personal representatives of their Sender, they exercised unique authority in the early church. What they bound on earth was bound in heaven (Matt 16:19) and what they forgave, God forgave (John 20:23). They fulfilled an earlier saying of the Jewish Rabbis, “The one sent by a man is as the man himself.”
But the most important apostolos was Jesus Christ himself (Heb 3:1). He was sent forth from heaven with the commission to represent God to man. In John’s gospel, in particular, we repeatedly find the word apostello describing Jesus as sent to be the object of our faith and love. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29).