It is a very interesting question to ask what the apostles knew and when they knew it. While the 27 documents we have in the New Testament were not written to specifically answer this question, they do provide information that gives at least the beginning of answers to it.
The apostles were those individuals, twelve at first, who were chosen by Jesus from among His disciples to go out with His message. They were obviously standout disciples, but even they often did not immediately grasp the things Jesus was telling them and teaching them.
While everyone who followed Jesus knew that He was special, for example, not everyone recognized Him as the Messiah of Israel. When, in Matthew 16, Jesus famously asked, “Who do men say that I am?” and Peter famously answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus declared that God the Father Himself had opened Peter’s eyes to this truth. Jesus subsequently warned Peter and the rest of the apostles present not to reveal this fact to anyone else. Obviously, though many people in Israel were aware of Jesus and His amazing ministry, not everyone was aware, or confident, that He was the Messiah.
This ignorance or uncertainty about Jesus being the Messiah was to change dramatically once Jesus was raised from the dead. You may recall that His apostles lost hope in Him when He was crucified – so much so, that they were slow to believe the early testimonies of His resurrection from the women who had visited His tomb only to find it empty. The closing verses in each of the four gospels illustrate the great dawning that Jesus’ resurrection brought to the disciples. And Jesus was not content to merely prove to His followers that He was alive forevermore, He wanted to teach them how all of this was happening according to what had been written in the Scriptures hundreds of years before by its many different authors. Read Luke 24, paying special attention to verses 25-27, 31-32, and 44-48 (see also Acts 1:1-3, as it applies to the same time period), and see how much information Jesus was passing on to His apostles during this time. As John 12:16 indicates, the apostles were beginning to recognize how practically all that they had witnessed of Jesus during the previous three years had been foretold in the Scriptures they had all heard since they were children.
The effect of all this teaching was most notable upon Peter, and fully apparent in his orations in Acts 2 and 3. Remember that he had become so weak in faith that he even denied that he knew Jesus. And yet we see him speaking with dramatic boldness about that same Jesus in Acts 2 and 3. In Acts 4:13, even the opposition took notice of the confidence with which Peter was speaking. It was what he learned from Jesus after the resurrection that made the difference.
We also see that the apostles’ learning continued even after Jesus ascended into heaven. In Acts 10, Peter is learning about the degree to which God has accepted the Gentiles. In Acts 15, Peter and others are still trying to absorb the full truth about Gentile involvement in God’s plan. Galatians 2 gives particular insight into the false steps sometimes made by the apostles as they all sought to follow Him who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
God reveals Himself to us progressively (Proverbs 4:18), “line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10). The better you understand how He did this even with the apostles, the better you will understand how He does it with you and me. We don’t “get” God all at once. He dawns on us like the sun…if we’ll come out from the rocks we’ve been hiding under.
The purpose of this blog is to proclaim Jesus Christ in terms familiar to those who read the Bible, and to help others become more familiar with the Bible. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, see the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.