The ministry of the Apostle Paul is, we believe, greatly misunderstood. Coming to grips with his message may be the largest hurdle in a proper understanding of Scripture.
Some try to lump him with the twelve by claiming that it was wrong for them to choose Matthias to replace Judas — they should have waited until God chose Paul.
Others relegate him to secondary status by saying that the things Jesus said are more important for us to follow than anything Paul might say.
And there are those who see his ministry essentially as a power struggle with Peter.
Paul can’t be dismissed that easily — or at all. He was given a special ministry to a group of people who, prior to that point, had no connection to God (Colossians 1:21). Those people are Gentiles — anyone who isn’t a Jew — us. He is our apostle. More on this in future posts, but first a look at the twelve apostles.
The twelve apostles were chosen by Jesus to minister with Him to Israel, and only to Israel (Matthew 10:5-7). Their ministry was to preach the kingdom of heaven, the term Matthew uses for the Millennial Kingdom when Christ will be on the throne in Jerusalem and the nations will be blessed through Israel. They will sit on twelve thrones over the tribes of Israel during that kingdom (Matthew 19:28).
Even after Jesus Christ died and rose again, the ministry of the twelve was about the kingdom (although the message now included the resurrection). In the last conversation that the eleven (minus Judas) had with the Lord before He ascended to heaven, they asked if the kingdom was going to be restored to Israel at that time (Acts 1:6-8). The Lord only told them that the timing wasn’t for them to know, but that they should continue witnessing as they had been — about the kingdom — with the Holy Spirit to empower them. Their ministry was to begin in Jerusalem. Why start in the city that had just days before crucified the king? Because the kingdom message they were preaching made it clear that the world couldn’t be reached until Israel repented. From Jerusalem and Judea, they were to go to Samaria. Why? Because the Samaritans were the remnants of the 10 “lost” tribes and the world couldn’t be reached until Israel was reunited.
To jump ahead a bit, this explains why you don’t see anywhere in Scripture that the twelve apostles got more than a handful of miles away from Jerusalem. With Jerusalem rejecting the message again — as demonstrated by the stoning of Stephen — the kingdom couldn’t begin and the rest of the world couldn’t be reached through Israel at that time. That’s why you hear very little about the twelve apostles after Acts 11. Peter gets mentioned a few times, and we hear about the death of James in Acts 12, but that’s about it. (Don’t confuse the apostle James with James the half-brother of Jesus who wrote the New Testament book and shows up in Acts several times.) Peter and John later wrote New Testament books, but the audience for those books was also Israel (Galatians 2:9).
At Pentecost, the twelve were in the Jewish capital, for a Jewish feast, in fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, in front of an audience made up entirely of Jews. Their message was completely and totally about the kingdom. Peter explained (Acts 2:16-21) that the prophecies of Joel regarding Israel were being fulfilled that day. He went on to prove that Jesus Christ, whom they had just crucified, was their Messiah (Acts 2:36). The response he called on the people to make was to repent for their sin of rejecting the Messiah and be baptized to have their sins forgiven. There was nothing in the message about grace, nothing about Christ dying in their place, nothing about the blood of Christ.
Pentecost wasn’t the beginning of the Body of Christ, the church of today. It was a message for Israel about the kingdom. This was the ministry of the twelve.
As for whether the apostles should have waited until the Lord added Paul to their number… When they made the choice of Matthias, they first prayed and asked for the Lord’s guidance. He demonstrated His will when they cast lots — a common Old Testament method that God used to reveal His will — and He chose Matthias. The apostles didn’t make the choice, the Lord did. In the very next verses, at the start of Acts 2, we read that they were ALL gathered and the Holy Spirit came upon ALL of them. This could not, and would not, have happened if they had been wrong in choosing Matthias.
Add to that all the evidence that Paul had a different ministry — which (along with answers to the other questions at the beginning of this post) we will get to in our next posts.