The word translated “apostle” means “one sent forth with orders,” a “delegate,” or a “messenger.” Revelation 21:14 makes it clear that there were at least twelve apostles when it says, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” These would have included the eleven disciples (Matthew 10:2) plus Paul. Paul referred to himself over and over as an apostle (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:1, 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:1). He, like the eleven, had seen the risen Christ and had received a personal commissioning from Him (Galatians 1:12), which seems to be a common characteristic of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:5-9). Indeed, Hebrews 2:3 says that the apostles “heard” the gospel from the Lord. Through the apostles the Scripture was penned.
Scripture indicates that others might have been apostles as well such as Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silvanus, Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:6), and others (Romans 16:7), though it is possible that some of these are apostles in the general sense of the word, being messengers for the church as it is rendered in Philippians 2:25 speaking of Epaphroditus. It also appears that James, the half-brother of Jesus was an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 1:19). In addition to being given direct revelation from Christ, another exclusive characteristic of the apostles, they worked signs, wonders, and miracles. Corinthians 12:12 says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Hebrews 2:4 adds, “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” This is not to say that God doesn’t work miraculously today, but it was clear that God’s power was resting upon a select group of men in this select time in order to give them credibility as truly sent by Him.
The apostles had a particular job which was to lay the foundation of the church. Ephesians 2:20 says, “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” They did this as they performed miracles to authenticate their commissioning, as they wrote Scripture by inspiration of the Spirit, and as they preached the gospel and taught the saints, establishing churches wherever they went (Acts 16:5). These men literally heard and received new revelation from God which could lay the foundation of the church. Ephesians 3:5 says, “Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” Paul revealed mysteries (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:51, Ephesians 5:32), Peter had visions (Acts 10:9-16), Peter heard from God through an audible voice (Acts 10:13, 15, 19) and the Word of God was given through these human writers (2 Peter 1:21), just to name a few examples. Clearly, these men received knowledge from God that had been hidden up to this point, and this could have only come by direct revelation from God. The apostles were God’s chosen vessels to lay the foundation of the church.
The Bible indicates that this was a special office that has now passed given that the foundation has been laid and established. The Word of God is written and complete, so God is not giving new revelation (Revelation 22:18-19). Jude was one of the later epistles written given that he quotes from Peter’s epistles, explaining how Peter’s warning of apostasy was indeed coming true (2 Peter 3:3). Jude says this in verses 17 and 18, “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’” The past tense is clear. The words spoken by the apostles were “beforehand.” They “were saying” about the false teachers that would come and had in fact come. The bottom line is that even in the Scripture there is a looking back to the time of the apostles, which gives a strong indication that the time of the apostles was temporary and for a specific task and purpose as delegates and messengers of the giving of the Word of God and for the establishment of the church.