An apostle is a special messenger of Jesus Christ. In the original language of the New Testament, the Greek word is apóstolos, which is a noun from the verb apostéllo, meaning "to send". So an apostle is one who has been sent, or in other words, an ambassador. The Lord chose the term apóstolos to indicate the distinctive relation of the Twelve Apostles whom He chose to be his witnesses because in Classical Greek the word was seldom used (Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 26). Therefore, it designates the office as instituted by Christ to witness of Him before the world (John 17:18).

The office of apostle is a very special role within the church. The apostles are in the unique position of being part of the foundation of the church, along with Jesus Christ Himself:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Eph 2:19-21)

Therefore the apostles are founders of the church. That is, their role was to establish the church in the first place along with Jesus. It is not a continuing role on the earth today since the church has already been founded two millennia ago. The role of the apostles has been fulfilled in the initial establishment of the church. However, the apostles are indeed part of the church today, as is the Lord. They are with Him in heaven.

Only people who personally witnessed the mission of Jesus on the earth are qualified to be apostles. This is made clear in the requirements for choosing a new apostle to replace Judas:

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22)

Since no one on the earth today meets this requirement, it is not possible for mortals to be apostles now. Since Judas was replaced with Matthias, it may appear that the apostles were to be replaced on a continuing basis. However, Judas was replaced, not because he died physically, but probably because he died spiritually. The office of apostle is a permanent office, not only in mortality, but also in heaven with Christ. Thus, a replacement was need for Judas, not only on the earth to continue the mission of the apostles to establish the church, but also to ultimately maintain a full complement of apostles in heaven. The apostles are still part of the church today, and they have a role to fill in the future. Jesus said this to his apostles:

"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt 19:28)

Although apostles are no longer on the earth, the apostle Paul warns us to be careful about people who claim to be apostles:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Cor 11:13-15)

2004 William C. Hamer