Reading through the four Gospels, one can see that the original twelve disciples are not sinless, perfect or infallible. On the most basic level one of the Twelve denies Jesus and one betrays Him. More frequently they don’t understand Him, and by the end of Mark’s Gospel they all have abandoned Him.
“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:14)
Jesus does upbraid and rebuke the glorious disciples for their failures. On one occasion, quite famously, Jesus called Peter, the head of the Apostles, “Satan.”
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.’ (Matthew 16:21-23)
Jesus was not afraid to severely rebuke the Apostles when they failed, in order to teach, correct and exhort them. Are we not to imitate Christ? An errant Apostle is to be rebuked and straightened out by Christ, whose Body we are. The successors to the Apostles are not greater than the Twelve.
One of the most heart-wrenching scenes concerning the Apostles, comes from the Last Supper.
“And when it was evening he came with the twelve. And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I?’” (Mark 14:17-19)
“Is it I, Lord?”
None was totally sure of himself. They were each terrified by the possibility that they would be the one who betrayed Christ. Note: they don’t deny the possibility. Because they each have to ask, they each recognize they could do it, or perhaps, had already considered it.
Those first disciples at least had the humility and self awareness to question themselves regarding the accusation from Christ that one of them would betray Him. As true disciples of the Master, they were humble, and had learned introspection; they each knew the value of self examination, truthfulness and repentance. Each recognized that one of them could and would betray the Lord was realistically a possibility. Each honestly wondered about himself.
“…and as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:21-22)
They were sitting with Christ, eating with Him, and yet admitting to themselves and to Christ: they could not only fail Him but even turn against Him. What does it take for an Apostle, or their successors, to recognize that one of their own will or has turned against Christ?
The 12 Apostles could be humble and recognize that each of them could fail Christ, betray Him, or sin against Him. They were not hierarchs who do not or cannot admit error, sin, failure or foible. They did not circle the wagons around each other, self defensively and in opposition to Christ or the world. How terribly awesome that self admission, the heart of a penitent: “I can betray Him” – I, the Apostle, one of the chosen Twelve. They were afraid, but not of what people would think of them, nor of making a mistake, or admitting they were wrong. They were afraid because they admitted to their own self-willed sinfulness.
“’For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this. A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (Luke 22:22-24)
Just one second after pausing to recognize that one of them would betray Christ – again, they don’t deny that this could happen, they are trying to figure out which one of them would do it – they begin to argue among themselves which one of them was to be regarded as greatest! They obviously are already jockeying for power and prestige, each already forgetting his terrifying realization of the last minute that he might betray Christ. Jesus immediately and once again rebukes their failure and wrong attitude.
It is how the Christ speaks to one who strays from being a disciple. It is how the Body of Christ is to imitate Him. Rebuke the disciple who strays, and recognize that the one who betrays Christ and the Apostolic fellowship, disciple though he be, has left the fellowship, like Judas.