An apologetic consideration of the Lord’s Resurrection leads logically to the subject of ecclesiology, the institution of the Twelve being the link between the two subjects. We learn about the Resurrection, after all, from the testimony of witnesses, and the Church from the beginning was formed and structured around the testimony and authority of specific men who were the appointed witnesses of the risen Jesus. These men were originally known simply as “the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5; John 6:67; 20:24).
Certainly the Lord appeared to others besides these Twelve (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5–8; Matt. 28:9; Mark 16:9–12; Luke 24:13–35; John 20:11–18). Nonetheless, each of the four Gospels concentrates attention on a specific revelation to the Twelve (or, more precisely, the Eleven, because of the recent defection), a revelation in which the risen Lord commissioned these men with particular authority as his appointed witnesses (Matt. 28:16–20; Mark 16:14–15; Luke 24:45–49; John 20:21; 21:15–17). Although the four Evangelists differ greatly among themselves with respect to the details of this revelation—and even the locale where it took place—the fact of the apostolic revelation is the same in each account, and each contains some form of the Great Commission.
This means that the authority of these Twelve is in every case related to their qualifications to testify to the factual truth of the Resurrection. The four Evangelists, in varying ways and in accord with the local traditions on which they rely, bear witness to that common apostolic authority. By reason of a special commission given by the risen Jesus himself, those Twelve formed a corporate, cohesive unit of apostolic authority in the Church.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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