Jesus - Angel and Apostle
Fr. Thomas Hopko · July 21, 2010
Fr. Tom continues his series on the Names of Jesus by exploring two names that we do not usually associate with Christ.
As we continue our reflection on the names and titles of Jesus, we’re going to reflect today on two names, two titles, which we normally don’t think about at all as being applicable to Jesus. When we hear these words, we definitely do not think of Jesus Christ. One word is “angel,” and the other word is “apostle”: “angelos” and “apostolos.” Nevertheless, in the Holy Scripture and in the Church Tradition, certainly in the Scripture and, in some sense, in the Tradition, too, we know that these words are used for Jesus and they are titles of Jesus, certainly in the Bible.
Let’s look at each of them and see what they actually mean, literally. The term “angelos,” which we normally translate in English as “angel,” literally means “messenger” or “the one who bears a message.” And so, “angelos” is a messenger. And here, this is important for Christians, of course, because we believe in the Gospel, the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus, the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of the kingdom. And the term “Gospel” in Greek is “evangelos,” “yevangelie” in Slavonic. But this Gospel means a good-message. When you read in the Holy Scriptures about God’s Gospel, it’s from the two words: “ev-,” meaning “good” and “angelos,” which means “a messenger” or “a good message.”
So we know, definitely, in the Holy Scripture, how this is a kind of a technical term, even, for the Christian faith, that Christianity appeared on the Planet Earth as a Gospel. In the very first Christian Scripture that you have, we believe is the first letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, and then St. Paul used this term “Gospel” in all his letters before the actual four Gospels were written, even. Let’s just take a look at I Thessalonians here, and you can see that right from the beginning you have the greeting to the church of the Thessalonians: “Grace and peace. We give thanks to you,” and so on. And then it speaks immediately in that very first letter about the ton evangelion tou Theou, the Gospel of God. And then it’s called “the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus” or “the Gospel of Christ.”
So this expression, “to evangelion tou Theou,” in the the letter to the Thessalonians, for example, in the second chapter, that expression is used three times, and it’s used throughout all of St. Paul’s writings: God’s Gospel, the Gospel in Jesus, the Gospel in the kingdom. So the Gospel, to evangelion, is the Good-message. And the one who brings the Good-message is the Messenger, the Angelos. So here, we know that when we think even of the term “messenger” or “angelos,” in that sense probably most Christians would think of John the Baptist, right after thinking of the angels like the Archangel Gabriel who brings the message to the Theotokos, the Annunciation, which in Greek is called “Evangelismos.” And then those who preach the Gospel are the “evangelistes,” the evangelists.
We think, usually when we think of angel as the messenger, we think of John the Baptist. And here, usually the Scriptures do translate the word in Greek, “angelos,” as “messenger,” not as “angel.” So when they ask John who he is and in the various Gospels you have [John] saying, “I am not the Christ. I am not the Prophet.” “Are you Elijah?” “No.” “Well, who are you?” “Well, I am the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his path.’ ” And it says, “I will send my messenger before his face to be the prodromos, to be the forerunner.” And we’re going to see later on that this term, “prodromos” or “forerunner,” is going to be in the Scriptures applied to Jesus. At one time at least, we’ll see that. But John is the Forerunner, but he’s the Forerunner with the message. He brings the message.
Sometimes in ancient Christian iconography, Orthodox Christian iconography, certainly, when the iconography developed in the Orthodox tradition, very often on the figure of John the Baptist on the iconography, wings are put on him. He’s shown with wings on his back, and that’s to show that he’s the messenger, that he’s the angel who brings the message, who brings the good news.
I remember once in one of my parishes we had an icon. When I was pastor of St. Gregory’s Church in Wappingers Falls, on our icon screen we had an icon of St. John the Baptist. Well, it wasn’t on the icon screen; it was on a panel icon. But St. John the Baptist had wings. He had wings on him. And one boy said to me, “Why does John the Baptist have wings, Father?” And I said, “Well, because he’s a messenger, and in Greek the word ‘messenger’ is ‘angelos,’ the one who brings the message, and therefore when John is shown even in the icon that we had of him holding his head cut off on a platter”—even though his head was still on his shoulders in the very same image—because icons of course are not realistic or historical; they’re theological and liturgical statements—but in any case you have this figure of John the Baptist holding his own head on a platter in his hands—“but he has wings on him.”
So the boy says, “But, Fr. Tom, John the Baptist didn’t really have wings, you know.” And I said, “No, it’s symbolic that he’s a messenger, and the word ‘messenger’ is ‘angel.’ ” And he said, “Yeah, but he didn’t really have wings.” And before I could carry on the conversation with him, his brother, a little boy also, interrupted and said, kind of punched him and said, “Be quiet,” he said. “Neither do angels really have wings, silly boy.” You know, actually called him “stupid”: “Neither do angels, stupid.” But he saved me, so to speak, because I could immediately pick up and say, “Yeah, you see. Even when we show images of angels in icons and they have wings on them, they don’t really have wings either. Angels are bodiless. Angels have no bodies at all.” So whenever you may have wings on a figure, that shows that that figure is a messenger, and that would be in Greek “angelos” or even a “chief messenger, archangelos,” like Gabriel.
But what about Jesus? What about Jesus? Can we really call Jesus an Angel? Well, in the New Testament, he’s never called “Angel.” And, I think also, if you read, for example, [the] Letter [to] the Hebrews, [it] makes a big point, that God is not concerned with angels, that God sent his Son as a human being; it’s not with angels that God is concerned; it’s with the children of Abraham. And then it even says in the Letter to the Hebrews, the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, the psalm where it says that the Lord makes his Messiah “for a little while, less than the angels, lower than the angels.” In the Hebrew, it says, “less than gods” or “less than God.” And in the Bible there’s a kind of obscurity, especially in the Old Testament, between angels, messengers, sons of God, powers. You have all this angelology that we don’t have to get into now, but what is very clear for now is that Jesus is not an angel. He’s not like a fallen spirit. He’s not a created spirit. Jesus is God’s own Son with the same very divinity of God the Father himself.
So it would be very clear that he’s not an angel. And then, of course, humanly speaking, John the Baptist is not an angel, either. He’s a human being. They put wings on him to show that he’s a messenger, but he’s a human being. And then in our Church, Orthodox Church, there are even hymns that make that point. There’s a hymn that quotes Isaiah (Isaiah 63:9), where it says, when [he] will visit his people in the Messianic time, he will send his own servant as the anointed and it will be—I always remember it in Church Slavonic from my childhood—ni hodataĭ, ni angel, no Sam, Gospod’, they said in Slavonic. That rings in my mind from my childhood: “neither an ambassador nor an angel, but the Lord himself will come”; neither an ambassador nor an angel, not an intermediator, intermediary. Although, as we will see again, later on, Jesus is called a mediator and an intermediator between the one God and Father and creation. We’ll get to that later: the mesitēs, the mediator, even the intercessor lives to make intercessor. We’ll talk about that later: Jesus as mediator and intercessor.
But now, sticking with the issue of “angel,” we have to say that in the New Testament, in the Scriptures, Christian Scriptures, canonical Scriptures, Jesus is never called an angel, and, in fact, the point is strongly made that he’s not an angel. And certainly when you had Gnostic Christianity who thought of Jesus as some kind of a power, some kind of a creative force or something that then was found in human form or something, that would be completely and totally rejected by classical Christianity, by Scriptural, canonical Christianity. Jesus is God and he is man. He is divine and he is human, but he’s not angelic. He’s not a bodiless power who took on a body. That is not the teaching.
But still, why would we say that “Angel” is a title for Jesus? And here, the answer would be, to that question: the reason that you can say that is two-fold. One would just be the general teaching that Jesus is a messenger of God, that he is sent into the world by God, with the message of salvation. So he is a messenger. Now, it says very clearly in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, very clearly in the first chapters, that Jesus was sent to preach the Gospel, to announce the glad tidings of God, that he comes into the world, one of his first tasks in coming into the world is to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God. That, to preach, for example, in Luke 4:43, it says that he went around the various cities and he said to them, “I must preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God. I must announce as a Gospel the kingdom of God.” And so you have the word, the angel word is within the verb. And actually, it’s “evangelisasthai me dei tēn basileian tou theou”—it behooves me, or it is necessary to me, evangelisasthai, to preach, or to bring the good message of the kingdom of God.
And then you have in Mark that the reason that he came forth was to announce the evangelion of the kingdom of God. Here I’ll just read, for example, Matthew. It’s in Matthew; it’s in Mark; it’s in Luke. The fourth chapter of Matthew (Matthew 4:23), “Jesus went all about Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of diseases and sicknesses among the people.” So in Greek it is: “kai hēryssōn to evangelion tēs vasileias—to proclaim the evangelion.” Now, the one who proclaims the evangelion, the good news, the glad tidings, is the tiding-bearer. The one who brings the good message is the messenger.
If we would say that Jesus came forth to preach the Gospel, to announce the Gospel, to bring the Gospel, to proclaim the Gospel, then he’s a messenger. Then, in that sense, he is an angelos. He is someone coming with a message and bringing the good message. So, although the title and the name might not be there, the function is certainly there. He’s a messenger. He’s a messenger sent from God, a teacher sent from God, the one who brings the word of God. He is the very Word of God himself. So you could say even if the word is not used in the New Testament Scriptures, he certainly is a messenger. In that sense he is an angelos, and in that sense can be called an angel.
However, there’s still another point, at least in Eastern Orthodox tradition, about Jesus being Angel. And it comes from the Old Testament, actually. It comes from the Book of Daniel, that in the Prophecy of Daniel, you have the very well-known story of the three young men in the fiery furnace. [There were] Daniel and his co-workers, called in Hebrew Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—I think that’s Hebrew; I don’t think it’s Babylonian—but in any case, in Greek they’re called Ananiah, Azariah, and Misael. Those are the three names that they’re known by in Daniel and known in the Church songs and the Church services. They are the co-workers with Daniel, and, in the Book of Daniel, which is very well-known in the Orthodox Church because it’s proclaimed solemnly at the Paschal Vigil, where the whole story of Daniel and the three youths and the fiery furnace is read and they go into the furnace and they sing their hymn and so on. So it’s well-known.
But the story is this, to repeat it: Nebuchadnezzar, the most wicked king who ever lives, builds this big golden idol, a statue, and he sends out a proclamation that in his kingship, in his kingdom, when you hear the sound of the trigon, the lyre, the gitar, the harp—and he names all kinds of musical instruments: the flute, the trumpet, whatever—everyone’s to bow down and worship this idol. And then he discovers that there are three Hebrew youths, this Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Azariah, Ananiah, and Misael), who refuse to do it. They just refuse to do it. So he calls them before him and says, “You will do this,” and they said, “No, we won’t. Live forever, O king, but we will never worship the idol that you have built.” I remember in the children’s books that I used to read to our children when they were really young, it was called, they would never worship “the hunk of ugly junk outside the city wall.” That’s what it was called in the children’s book: “the hunk of junk outside the city wall.”
So the three young men, the three youths, refused to do it. Then Nebuchadnezzar says, “You know I can throw you into this fiery furnace and just burn you to death.” They said, “Well, live forever, O king, but we’re not going to do it.” Nebuchadnezzar says, “Do you think that your God will save you if I throw you into the fiery furnace?” They say to him, “O king, our God does whatever he wants. We have no need to answer you at all in this manner. Our God does what he wants.” Which means, of course, that whether they get burned up or whether they don’t, they’re still not going to become idolaters; they’re not going to worship that hunk of ugly junk; they’re not going to worship that idol.
So then, according to the story, of course, Nebuchadnezzar has the three boys thrown into the fiery furnace, and when they’re in the furnace, they dance around in the furnace and they sing this marvelous canticle and say this great prayer in the furnace where Shadrach stands up and prays. He says, “O God Almighty, this has all come upon us because of our sins. There is no incense, no altar, no offering, no priest, no sacrifice, no nothing, but if we remain faithful to you with our broken and contrite and humble heart, acknowledging our sin, we know that you will save us.” And he prays out of the fiery furnace. He prays in the, you might even say, symbolical prefiguration of the depth of hell. He prays to God, and they dance in the flames and they sing their canticle: “Praise the Lord, sun and moon. Praise the Lord, stars and sun, all creatures, birds and beasts and animals and fish and plants and everything: praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, sing and exalt him forever.”
But in the story, it says, when Nebuchadnezzar heard them singing praises and he marveled, and he rose up in haste and said to his noblemen, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” And they said to the king, “Yes, O king.” And the king said, “But I see four men, loose, and walking in the midst of the fire, and there has no harm happened to them. And the appearance of the fourth”—it says—“is like unto the Son of God.”
“Is like unto the Son of God.” In Greek—and this is in the Septuagint; it’s in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament—the fourth, the tetartou homoia huiō Theou—he is like a son of God. And then it continues when Nebuchadnezzar says that this fourth figure comes in and dances in the flames and the flames have no power against their bodies. It says they saw the men and perceived that the fire had not any power against their bodies, and the hair of their head was not burnt and their coats were not scorched, nor was the smell of fire even upon them. They didn’t even smell like smoke, according to the story. And then it continues, and I’m going to continue reading from Daniel 3 in the Septuagint (Daniel 3:28-:
And King Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants because they trusted in him and they have changed the king’s word and delivered their bodies to be burnt that they may not serve nor worship any god except their own God.”
And then Nebuchadnezzar publishes a decree:
Every people, tribe, language [that] shall speak reproachfully against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be destroyed, and their houses shall be plundered, because there is no other god that shall be able to deliver us.
So then the king praises the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But this fourth figure like unto the Son of God, in the text is called “Angel”: “The God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego has sent his angel and delivered his servants.” So he’s called Messenger; he’s called Angel, and in Orthodox iconographic tradition… And I have a panel icon of this right on the very wall in the room where I’m speaking right now. I’m looking at it. A friend of mine, a great iconographer named Heather MacKean who’s painting a church now in the state of Washington. She made this wonderful icon for me which shows the three youths dancing in the flames. It shows Nebuchadnezzar by the side. It shows the ugly idol. And in the flames, over Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is a figure of Christ. It’s a figure of Christ. The face is the face of Jesus, like on all of the icons. But in this icon, he has wings on him. He has wings on him. So the figure is “like unto the Son of God,” but because the text says, “God has sent his angel,” then Jesus is depicted like a messenger, the angel that God sent into the fiery furnace.
So you have that term “angel” applied to that one like unto the Son of [God] in the Daniel prophecy. But there’s also another place in the Old Testament, very, very important for this particular topic, and that is Isaiah. In the Prophecy of Isaiah, you have in Isaiah this famous canticle that is sung in Orthodox church services during Great Lent, at the compline during Great Lent, but it’s sung also on the feastdays of Christmas and Epiphany, the Nativity of Christ and the Epiphany. It’s connected to the saying that a Virgin shall conceive in her womb and bring forth a Son and shall call his name Emmanuel, which translated is meth’ hēmōn ho Theos—God is with us. And then you have this canticle of selected verses from Isaiah, taken from the Septuagint, which is sung about the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s sung about this Emmanuel, whom Christians apply to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Hebrew version which we have, for example, in the Revised Standard Version or the King James version, the way this canticle goes, as it’s sung in church is:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of his increase of his government and of his peace there will be no end. And upon the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever more the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
That’s read in church and those lines are sung in this canticle. That’s the way it’s done when it’s translated from Hebrew. But in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, done by the Jews, before even the time of Christ, this very same text is different. It’s different, and this is what it says in the Septuagint. It says:
For a Child is born to us, and a Son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder…
And then it says:
...and his name is called…
And then you have:
...the Messenger of Great Counsel.
And in Greek that is “megalēs voulēs angelos, the angel of the great counsel.” Sometimes they’ll translate this “the great counsel of the angels,” but that’s not what it says. It says, “the angel” or “the messenger of the great counsel.”
...and I will bring peace upon the princes and health and salvation to him. His government shall be great, and of his peace there is no end. It shall be upon the throne of David, upon his kingdom, to establish it and support it with judgment and righteousness. Henceforth and forevermore, the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this.
So you have this title of Emmanuel in this canticle that is not only “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” and there’s even, in some texts it says, “the Generator of the age to come, the one who gives birth to the coming age,” the age of the Messiah, but you also have this sentence, this title: “megalēs voulēs angelos—angel of the great counsel.”
The Scriptures, especially in the prefigurative Scriptures of Isaiah and Daniel, they call God-with-us, Emmanuel; they call this Son of [God] in the fiery flame; they call the Child and the Son who is born for us an Angel, meaning a Messenger. And so, it is very proper for us, when we list the names and titles of Jesus, to list among those names and titles the word “Angel.”
What about the word “Apostle”? Is Jesus ever called “Apostle”? Now, we know that those he called and sent, he called apostles, and we know that in the Holy Scripture, there were twelve whom he named apostles. And, by the way, this is one of the places where, in the four Gospels, the naming of these apostles are different. You don’t have exactly the same names. Maybe some of them had different names. But normally, when we would name the apostles… And, of course, St. Paul is called an apostle, and he defends his apostleship, although he’s not one of the Twelve, and he didn’t know Jesus even, according to the flesh; he’s converted later as we all know.
But among the Twelve Apostles, you have Peter and Andrew, the brothers; you have James and John, the brothers, sons of Zebedee; you have the other James, son of Alphaeus; then you have Philip and Bartholomew; you have Matthew, the tax-collector; and Thomas. So that would be—two, four, six, eight, ten. Then you have Judas, who betrayed him. That would be eleven. Then you have Jude, the other Jude; and then you have one called Simon the Zealot in some; you have Thaddeus in some; and even in John, you have Nathanael. So you have these various names, but there’re always twelve because of the twelve tribes of Israel. They have to be the twelve sitting on the twelve thrones. The foundation of the Church has to be the twelve, the same way [you have] the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament, you need the twelve of the New.
But in the New Testament, in addition to the Twelve, you have Jesus sending out apostles. Sometimes 70, which symbolizes the nations, of course. Sometimes 72, again, there’s a difference there. And these are also connected with Old Testament prefigurations, like the seventy who were with Moses and so on. But in any case, they’re also called apostles. So you have that term “apostle” being used. And then, in the writings of St. Paul, among the Christians, some are called apostles. For example, in [the] Philippians letter, [the] Ephesians letter, St. Paul says that in the various gifts of the Church, some are apostles, some are preachers, some are evangelists, some are healers, some are administrators, some who have various charisms. But apostles are those who are sent.
And then, in the earliest Christian tradition, that term, “apostle,” was even broadened out, in the ancient Christian tradition, to include others. For example, in the Orthodox Church, Mary Magdalene is called “Eisapostolē.” Thekla, the friend of Paul in the apocryphal writing, is called “Eisapostolē.” And then, later on, you have Nino of Georgia and Vladimir and Olga and even in our time, you have Nicholas of Tokyo. They’re called “equally apostolic” or “having a status equal to the Apostles.” So you have that term “apostle” very common in Christian teaching.
But two questions we want to ask right now are: What does that word mean? What does the word “apostolos” mean? Why is it used? What does it mean? And here, we should know, and we really must know, that the literal meaning of the term “apostolos” is someone who has been sent. So you have the teaching that Jesus sends people to preach and to teach and to bear witness and to testify, and he names them apostles.
Now, not all of Jesus’ disciples were apostles, although in some sense everyone is sent to bear witness and to testify to him, to be a martyr. And we’ll see later that Jesus is even called in Scripture a martys, a witness. We’ll get to that later, but what we want to see now is that you have that term, “apostolos,” [which] means “the one who has been sent.” And it is applied to those whom Jesus has sent, to preach the Gospel of Christ.
Here we know from the Scripture that Jesus sends the apostles, and he commissions them to preach, and they have this very particular mission and ministry of being sent by him to preach, but we have to remember immediately that in the Gospels, and particularly here St. John’s Gospel, but not only St. John’s Gospel, that expression, “to be sent,” and the verb “to send” is “apostelō—I send—apostelō.” So it is the teaching that Jesus sends and these men, and then later even some among them are the women, who have been sent.
Now, Jesus, however—and this is in all four Gospels, but particularly in John—insists that he himself has been sent, that he himself has been sent by God. And therefore, being sent by God, in that sense, he can be called an Apostle, Apostolos. And very often, in St. John’s Gospel particularly, although again it’s in the others as well, Jesus speaks of the one God and Father as “the one who sent me,” and this is very common. I’ll just read you a number of times. I’ll just stick with St. John’s Gospel here. A number of times when that particular expression is used, that Jesus is the one whom God has sent, that he has called him and sent him into the world.
First of all, let’s just remember the very famous passage that’s all over billboards in Ohio, that God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son. He gave: edōken. He gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. But then the very next verse, John 3:17, says, “For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” So he edōken, he has given his Son [whom] God apesteilen ho Theos, the one whom God has sent. So “apesteilen”: it’s a form of “[apostolos],the one who is sent.” So the one who is sending is the sender, but the one who is sent would be called, in noun form, “apostolos.”
I’ll just read again. Another example of this would be in the fourth chapter (John 4:34):
Jesus said to them, “My food and drink is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish (or accomplish) his work.”
Now Jesus is going to be called also the accomplisher or the finisher or the perfecter. We’re going to speak about that later as well, but here we want to see that Jesus says that his will is the will tou pempsantos me, of the one who sent me.” So again the Father is the one who sends; therefore Jesus is the one who has been sent. I’ll just give you another example. Jesus says in the fifth chapter (John 5:24):
Truly, truly, I say to you: he who hears my word and believes in him that sent me has everlasting life.
So we have to believe in tō pempsanti me, the one who has sent me, making me to be the one who has been sent. Again in the fifth chapter (cf. John 5:31-32), “I bear witness of myself; my witness is true,” but the testimony that he is bearing is the testimony that he is fulfilling the will of the Father. Again he says, “who has sent me,” so he’s the sent one. In the sixth chapter, Jesus again uses the same expression (John 6:29): Jesus answered, said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe on him whom he has sent,” you believe in the one whom God has sent, the one being sent, apesteilen ekeinos, the one being sent.
In the same sixth chapter (John 6:38): “For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” You have in the sixth chapter, again, another example (John 6:57), where he says, “As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eats me, even he shall live by me.” “So the living Father has sent me.” And then in the 17th chapter, the final prayer of Jesus, he uses this language over and again. I think there’s three or four times in [chapter] 17 where he has “the Father who sent me.” For example, he said about his apostles (John 17:8), “I have given unto them the words which you gave me. They have received them and they have known surely that I have [come] out from thee, and they do believe that thou didst send me—sy me apesteilas.”
And then you have again (John 17:18), “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. As thou has sent me, I have sent them. Kathōs eme apesteilas eis ton kosmon, kagō apesteila aftous eis ton kosmon. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” And then again, just one more time. I’ll just read one more (john 17:21), where he says that, he’s praying that all the apostles would be one, and he says, “As thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me—ho kosmos pistevē hoti sy me apesteilas.” And then, even there’s one more time. I’ll just give you one more: the very last line of that prayer (John 17:25): “O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.” So Jesus is the sent one. In that sense, he is an apostle.
Is he ever, specifically, called the Apostle, or an apostle, however? And the answer to that question is: Yes, there is one time where he actually has the title Apostle, and it’s in the Letter to the Hebrews. It’s in the third chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, and this is what it says. It says—in the RSV it says (Hebrews 3:1-2):
Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God’s house.
But then the author goes on to say that Jesus was faithful as a Son, whereas Moses was faithful as a servant. Jesus was faithful as the one who owns the house, whereas Moses is the one who is not the builder and the owner of the house, but he is a servant in the house.
In the King James version, it’s written this way:
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all the house.
So in our RSV, it says, “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus.” In the King James, it says, “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” Now in the Greek, “Christ” is not there, and this is what it says in Greek: “Therefore brethren holy (holy brethren, agioi), having the heavenly calling (sharing in the heavenly calling), katanoēsate (consider or think well or look to) ton apostolon kai archierea tēs homologias hēmōn Iēsoun.” So: “Consider the Apostle and the High Priest of our homologia, or confession of faith, Jesus.”
So Jesus in Scripture is called the Apostle. He is the Apostle. He’s the quintessential Apostle. He is sent by God, and then he sends the apostles. Some of his disciples are sent as apostoloi, as apostles, those who [are] sent to bring the message. And in that sense, they’re angels, because they’re carrying the message. And it’s interesting, we’ll see later, in the Book of Revelation, the heads of the seven churches are called the angels of the churches, the angels of the seven churches. And here, I think that angels [refers] to the messengers to those churches.
One last little point here, and that is that the Holy Spirit is also sent. God sends the Holy Spirit into the world through Christ. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to the world from the Father, and in that sense you could say the Holy Spirit is an apostolos also. It’s one who has been sent, because that’s all that the word means: “one who has been sent.” But sent to bear the message of the Gospel, sent to bring the word of God, sent to do the work of God, sent to accomplish the will of God, sent as a servant and messenger of God—that’s what it means to be an apostolos.
Being an apostle is one of the gifts of some of the Christians in the Church who have a very specific mission to be sent, and not just simply sent to evangelize as those who bring the good-message as angel messengers bringing the good-message of God—salvation—but sent for other things: sent to govern, sent to administer, sent to oversee, sent to serve, sent to bear witness, sent to testify like martyrs. But what we want to see right now, very clearly, is that those two words—Angelos and Apostolos, Messenger and the One who has been Sent, Angel and Apostle—those are terms that are applied in Holy Scripture primarily and usually to God’s creatures, the bodiless-power angels and human messengers, and human beings who are sent like the apostles of Christ, but it is also used for Jesus himself, and it is also used for the Holy Spirit.
But what we want to see now, today, is that in Scripture, Jesus Christ is called and even depicted iconographically, sometimes, with the wings of an angel, with the wings of a messenger. He is the Son of man who comes as the Messenger of God to pull the people out of the pits of the fiery furnace, to raise them up from the dead; he’s God’s Angelos, and he’s the Angelos Megalēs Voulēs, of the Great Counsel, of the counsel of heaven, of God, of the sons of God, of all the angelic hosts. He is the Angel, with a definite article, and he is also the Apostle of our confession. Our faith, of our confession, he is the one who is sent from God to bring this salvation.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, and he sent him, as Apostle of our confession, not to judge or condemn the world, but that through him, as the one sent from God, the Apostle of our confession and the Messenger from God, he is sent for our salvation, for our sake, as Angel and as Apostle.