Regardless of one’s personal religious belief, non-belief or affiliation, the influence of a group of ordinary men, from in and around Galilee, living in the meridian of time, is undeniable. Their witnesses of the living Christ have reverberated around the world and down through the ages. These followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, unlearned and unremarkable in so many ways, have transformed lives and literally altered the course of human history for more than 2,000 years. There simply is no plausible human explanation to adequately express the outsized global impact of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
The New Testament record of Luke says, that Jesus “went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
“And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.”
They were called from ordinary paths and pursuits including a number of fishermen, a tax collector and a political zealot. Each ordinary man possessed a unique perspective, a set of experiences, latent personal gifts and a desire to become dynamic disciples of Jesus Christ.
The title of apostle was neither small nor insignificant. Pastor and author John MacArthur has observed that the definition of apostle actually transcends the typically referenced meaning derived from the Greek noun apostolos, which means “one who is sent.” He asserts that the English word apostle is a transliteration, not than a translation, of the Greek word.
MacArthur writes, “The apostles were ‘sent ones,’ but they were not mere messengers. The Greek word for ‘messenger’ was angelos, from which we get our word angel. An Apostolos was something more significant than a courier or a herald: Apostolos conveyed the idea of an ambassador, a delegate, an official representative.”
MacArthur further noted that the word apostle has an exact parallel in Aramaic — shaliah. Aramaic was the language of Jesus. A shaliah exercised the full rights and carried the absolute authority of the ruling council of Israel they represented.
The apostles were not mere messengers — they carried a certain witness to the living reality of the living Christ and possessed the full rights, authority and priesthood keys to declare His divinity as His chosen delegates, proclaim His gospel as acknowledged ambassadors and build His kingdom as His official representatives.
The original Twelve Apostles — Peter, James, John, Andrew, Phillip, Nathaniel (Bartholomew), Thomas, Matthew, James, Judas (Thaddeus), Simon, Judas Iscariot (and Mathias who replaced Judas) — were indeed ordinary men. Yet, they possessed the keys and authority and right to continue to teach the gospel of Christ Jesus and strengthen the church following the Savior’s death, resurrection and ascension.
The apostles traveled the ancient world proclaiming the good news of the gospel while attempting to keep the little band of Christians together. Eventually they all were slain for their testimonies of the resurrected Christ. The apostles Peter and Paul preached, and were imprisoned for, the witnessing words they taught in Rome. They suffered death for the authority they professed and the testimony of Christ they bore. Ultimately, with the loss of the apostles, the keys, rights and authority were also lost.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that those keys and associated priesthood power, along with the rights and authority of the holy apostleship, were restored to the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith between 1830 and 1844 and continue today.
The “latter-day” apostles called of God through Joseph Smith were similarly ordinary men — craftsmen, farmers, merchants and teachers. In 1841 nine of the apostles were in Liverpool, England, at the same time. That is the greatest number of apostles to ever be assembled at one time outside of the United States. The church conference the apostles convened in England proved of paramount importance to their ministry and historic to the church as a great gathering of souls followed in the British Isles and Europe. Galvanized in their commitment to Christ, their coming together as a united body of apostles prepared them for an unprecedented season of service and success.
In the decades that followed, more than 70,000 individuals, inspired by the apostles’ testimonies of Christ and blessed by the gospel they taught, passed through Liverpool as they began their long trek across the ocean and then over the plains of the United States. Gathering with their fellow believers in the tops of the mountains in Utah strengthened the church. Such success could not have been expected or predicted, by worldly standards anyway, to come from the leadership of such ordinary men.
Today The Church of Jesus Christ has more than 16 million members in 170 countries who gather in local congregations while living the good news of the gospel in their homes and communities.
This weekend in Rome, Italy, 15 modern apostles are assembling to participate in the dedication of the Rome Temple. The temple is where members of The Church of Jesus Christ from around the region will come to make sacred covenants that bind and bless families on earth and in heaven.
Like their ancient counterparts, these ordinary men come from a wide array of backgrounds, including doctors, lawyers, businessmen, a pilot and educators. The 15 apostles serve in two distinct but united councils. The First Presidency consists of three apostles, with Russell M. Nelson, the senior apostle, designated as president and prophet, Dallin H. Oaks as first counselor and Henry B. Eyring as second counselor. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles members include:
M. Russell Ballard, Jeffrey R. Holland, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, David A. Bednar, D. Todd Christofferson, Quentin L. Cook, Neil L. Andersen, Ronald A. Rasband, Gary E. Stevenson, Dale G. Renlund, Gerrit W. Gong and Ulisses Soares.
These ordinary men are each extraordinary in their testimony and witness of the Savior Jesus Christ. Like their counterparts from the original Twelve Apostles and their brethren from the 1800s, these 15 men are carrying out a global ministry to bless, lift, teach and compassionately care for all of God’s children.
In the race and chase of the modern city, few will note the apostles' arrival to or departure from Rome or acknowledge the critical modern connection to ancient apostles. But convening as the combined First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is historic and not just to the 16 million members of the faith around the world. It will matter because He who sent them with His power, authority, rights and keys will work through these apostles to bless the nations and the people of the world. In Rome this week, the Savior’s charge to the ancient apostles to “Go and teach all nations” continues.
To the world these apostles will appear, like their counterparts in ancient Israel, as 15 ordinary men. But those who pay attention to the testimony modern-day apostles proclaim will recognize the voice of the Master Healer — Jesus Christ, whom they represent as delegates, ambassadors, representatives and special witnesses. Through these ordinary men, and the millions of ordinary men and women worldwide who listen to their words, a most extraordinary, unexpected and inexplicable ministry will remain a force for good — as it has since the Savior first invited Peter to “follow me.”