For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Christ Transmitted to the Saints
What is the strategy of God to fill all things with Christ?
“He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:10-12).
The objective and strategy of God
Ephesians 4:10 makes known to us the divine objective, the goal of God: to fill everything with Christ. Starting from verse 11, the Scriptures show us the strategy followed by our blessed Lord in order to achieve His Father's purpose. In verse 10, we find the “what”, and here, we can say, we find the “how-to”. It is necessary for us to know not only the purpose, but also the strategy, since both things are directly related to us.
This strategy is first about how Jesus Christ himself gave – in his church – some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. Such was, and still remains, the first action taken by our Lord toward the achievement of His objective. Now, as we have already stated, the strategy is related to the purpose of God expressed in verse 10. Therefore, in a first approach, we could say that the gifts of ministry are, as a whole, the means through which Jesus Christ is transmitted to the saints. God’s purpose is to fill everything with Christ. To that end, Christ first pours Himself into the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 and then, through these gifts, He gives Himself to the saints.
The gifts of ministry are, therefore, like the channel through which the saints are filled with Christ. Although this conduit is fivefold, the content remains the same. Each particular gift is a channel through which one aspect of Christ flows to his saints. In order to attain the whole measure of Christ, it is, therefore, absolutely necessary to take all the gifts of ministry into account. The fullness of Christ is transmitted to His people through the sum of all these gifts. If one single of them were missing, then a part of Christ would fail to be conveyed to the saints.
The content transmitted is Christ Himself
Equipping God’s people, His saints, is the same thing Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Galatians: “…until Christ is formed in you” (4:19,NIV). It is no wonder then that, in the book of Acts, mention be repeatedly made to the fact that the content which the Lord’s ministers were transmitting was no other than Christ Himself. “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42, NIV). “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there” (Acts 8:5, NIV). “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20, NIV) “…This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ, he said”(Acts 17:3, NIV).
Now, it is important to remark that the ministers did not preach about Christ; they preached Christ. They were not communicating an intellectual message about Christ, they were proclaiming Christ Himself. People did not receive mere information about Christ; they received and retained Christ Himself. Otherwise, we could not explain how many churches were capable of making it “on their own”. Paul, after spending a short period of time in a certain place, would usually have to leave town due to the constant persecution he was under. So in many of those churches he could not even prepare elders. However— wonder of wonders— these churches grew and developed!
The truth is, in fact, that these churches were never left alone. The Lord Jesus Himself remained with them in the person of the Holy Spirit. The church in Thessalonica is a beautiful illustration of this. It seems that Paul could not stay there for more than three months. When Timothy comes back to him bringing news about the Thessalonians, six to nine months later, Paul writes his first letter to them. From this letter we learn that this young church, which had existed only for about a year, was already strong and vigorous. When the foundation is well laid, the Holy Spirit is sufficient to build the church on it.
Christ gathered all five ministries in Himself
Now, why does it take five different gifts to communicate Christ to the saints? And why these specific gifts and not others? The reason is very simple. Jesus Christ, in the days He manifested Himself to men, did so precisely as an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor and a teacher. The gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 are but the ministries carried out by Christ Himself. That is why the gifts of ministry can be best described as “the ministries of Christ”.
Now, Jesus Christ was not just another prophet or apostle; He is, par excellence, the Apostle, the Prophet, the Evangelist, the Pastor, and the Teacher. In fact, He and only He can be each of these gifts. He is not only the first apostle, but also the Apostle of apostles. Therefore, we need to point out that, as important and necessary the gifts of ministry are, they are neither head of the church nor its ultimate point of reference. The absolute and only point of reference for the church is Jesus Christ Himself. The gifts of ministry are a relative point of reference for the church. They are a means, not an end. Jesus Christ alone is the perfect pattern of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Then the apostles find in Jesus Christ their perfect model, and so do the rest of the ministries.
Jesus Christ, the apostle of our profession, is the One that we have to consider (Hebrews 3:1). As for His quality of prophet, he is “the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:15). Jesus Christ is the prophet promised by Moses to our forefathers: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people” (Acts 3:22-23).
Christ was the prophet through whom God finally spoke to us in the last days: “ In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”(Heb. 1:1).
As an evangelist, Jesus Christ did not only announce the good news of peace to those who were far away and to those who were near, but rather made that peace Himself. For that reason, he Himself is our peace (Eph. 2:14-17). He is, He made and He announced that peace. He Himself is the good news. According to Romans, the gospel of God, promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, was precisely about His Son (1:2-3).
The Lord Jesus Christ is also the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 P. 2:25). He said: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Finally, Jesus Christ is the Teacher. In the last supper with His disciples, after washing their feet, He said to them: “You call me ‘Teacher’, and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher…” (John 13:13-14).
Therefore, Jesus Christ, in order to empty Himself fully into His church, has given some to be apostles, in plural, to communicate Himself to His saints; in the same way, He has given some to be prophets in order to be transferred to the church, and so on with the rest of the ministries.
Christ in the four gospels
Now, is there a place where we can meet and behold Christ as an apostle, as a prophet, as an evangelist, as a pastor and teacher? Yes, wonderfully so. Where? In the four gospels. Now we can understand the reason there are four gospels. Every one of them is a revelation of Jesus Christ. Only one gospel would not have been sufficient to contain the full revelation of Christ. It took four of them to do so. Each one of them shows a face, an aspect, a facet of Christ which he manifested during the days He walked with us in human flesh, and which the Holy Spirit inspired in the four gospels. The gospels resemble the four living beings that appear in Revelation (cf. 4:6-7) and the four living creatures in Ezekiel, each with four faces (cf. Ezekiel 1:5-10).
Now, in the four gospels, how do we find Christ’s roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher? We have always been told and taught, and rightly so, that in the gospel of Mathew Jesus Christ is presented as King and Lord; in the gospel of Mark, as Servant; in the gospel of Luke, as Savior, and in the gospel of John, as the Son of God. In the illustration of the four living creatures that appears in the book of Revelation, John tells us that the first figure was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle.
Coincidentally, these four figures fit perfectly, and in the same order, into the four gospels: the lion fits into the gospel of Mathew; the ox into the gospel of Mark; the one with a face like a man fits into the gospel of Luke, and the one that seemed like a flying eagle fits into the gospel of John. In fact, Mathew reveals the authority of Jesus; Mark, His attitude of service; Luke reveals Him as the perfect representative of the human race, and John, more than any other, reveals to us the deity of Jesus Christ. Notice that the fourth living being did not look simply as an eagle but as an eagle in its flight.
Here is the point. The images of Jesus that appear so clearly in the four gospels match precisely with the description of the different offices of Ephesians 4:11. In other words, each one of the four gospels present Jesus in that form because it is precisely in this way that Jesus Christ was manifesting Himself as Teacher, Pastor, Evangelist, Apostle and Prophet.
Indeed, in the gospel of Mathew, Jesus taught as a teacher who had authority and not as the scribes. The gospel of Mark reveals His relentless service because it is precisely here that Jesus is presented as pastor. Luke introduces Jesus as the Son of Man; that is, the perfect representative of all the human race, who brings salvation to all men, because Luke shows Him as evangelist. And John, by showing Jesus as the Son of God, reveals to us that He is the eternal life that the Father has given us, and that his life is the foundation of the Christian life. Jesus is the One sent by the Father, who comes to reveal His life to us. In other words, He is the apostle and prophet that comes from the Father.
If we presented the four gospels backward, from John to Mathew, we would see how perfectly they fit in the order followed in the presentation of the gifts in Ephesians 4:11. Thus, the Christ of the gospel of John is the Christ of the apostles and prophets. The Christ of the gospel of Luke is the Christ of the evangelists. The Christ of the gospel of Mark is the Christ of the pastors. And the Christ of the gospel of Mathew is the Christ of the teachers.
In other words, the apostles and prophets prepare the saints with the revelation of Jesus Christ that is in the gospel of John the apostle. The evangelists train the saints with the revelation of Jesus Christ that is in the gospel of Luke. Pastors train the saints with the revelation of Jesus Christ that is in the gospel of Mark. Teachers equip the saints with the aspect of Christ revealed in the gospel of Mathew.