In my articles on the Ephesians 4 ministries (part 1, part 2, part 3), also known as the five-fold ministries, I emphasised one very important characteristic to remember about Christ. In Ephesians 4:8-16, we read that, upon his ascension, Jesus gifted people as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (or pastors) and teachers. But, even more importantly, I highlighted the fact that Jesus is the greatest apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher that has ever lived.
It still might be weird for us to think of Christ in all five of these ministry roles. We usually note him as prophet, priest and king, which he was. But to think of Jesus as apostle or as evangelist, well, that’s maybe not as kosher. And even to consider Christ as a prophet or teacher can seem quite derogatory, since Jews and Muslims are willing to recognise that about him, but nothing more.
But do take courage. When referring to Christ as apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher, I am not denigrating him. I’m simply recognising that he walked in all five of these ministries. He is still the divine Lord of heaven and earth. But he was the faithful apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher.Yet, even more, any person functioning in these ministries can only function in them because Jesus was the greatest one. He is Lord and he is the one who gifts people in these ministries, as Ephesians 4:8-16 makes clear. And when we consider what these ministries are really about from a foundational-biblical perspective, we should not start with Paul or Peter or another Scripture writer (though they need to be looked at as well). We need to start with Jesus. It sounds so simple, so Sunday-school simple. But these ministries are to be centred in Christ, since he was the greatest of all five.
But, here is the problem. Or maybe somewhat of a problem. Jesus is no longer here. The great apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher has ascended to the Father’s right hand reigning over all. So how do we come to know these ministries post-ascension? How do these ministries become a reality today?
Well, this is where we take great courage from the reality that Jesus was faithful to his promise to send the Holy Spirit to complete the work he started. Upon Jesus’ ascension and enthronement, we are told that the Father and he would send another in his place. We know the verses all to well:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. (John 15:26)
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
The Holy Spirit was to be ‘another Advocate’ or ‘another Helper’ like Christ (John 14:16). He was sent to be in the place of Christ, just as if Christ were still with his people. But, whereas, through the incarnation, Jesus was bound by the restrictions of being human, the Holy Spirit could come to indwell and empower all of God’s people. Therefore, multiple apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers could be empowered to fulfil these roles.
Hey, that is very good news! Maybe this is part of acting out those ‘greater works’ Jesus promised (John 14:12).
And, so, though it might have been awkward to consider Jesus as apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher, how much more difficult is it for us to consider the Holy Spirit in those five roles?
But, the Spirit was the promised one that would come in the place of Christ. He would be poured out on all flesh, which took place at the Feast of Pentecost that we read about in Acts 2. And he is even continually being poured out upon all people who follow Christ today.
But he was not poured out and given to God’s people for tingles and good worship experiences in our buildings, though I do not negate those. He was given in the place of Christ to accomplish all that Christ had started in his time on earth. Thus, the Holy Spirit was called to continue the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching ministries of Jesus. And I think he has done and is doing a fine job as part of the Triune God.
So, though it might challenge us beyond our formulated boxes, we must consider that the Holy Spirit has an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching role today. He is only finishing out the work that Jesus started.
In the next article, I briefly show how the Spirit functions in all five of these ministries.