There are so many names in the Old and New Testament. We read of Adam, Noah, Joshua, David, Mary, Joseph, Paul, Peter. And the rarely-mentioned names like Jason, Philemon, Jairus, Cornelius… The great scope and sweep of biblical history from Genesis to Revelation is a tremendous river of events and real people rolling on and under the Providential care of the Holy God we serve. These real people are ones we will have fellowship with forever. They aren’t characters, and they are not long-gone. They are alive! They’re in heaven eagerly awaiting their resurrection body, awaiting the arrival of the rest of their brethren, and worshiping Jesus right now like we will do when we get over yonder.
It’s important to remember that. When we read the Bible and see that Cornelius was commanded to go to Joppa and speak with Simon the Tanner, those are real people, alive today in heaven. Do you ever wonder more about these men and women, the oft-mentioned like Paul and the little-mentioned, like Simon the Tanner? How their lives were, how they died, what their conversion story is?
There is one man who is mentioned with fair amount of frequency in the New Testament but who is rarely talked about: Apollos. The Holy Spirit introduces to us to Apollos first in Acts 18:24. He is subsequently mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1-17, 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, 2 Corinthians 10:1; 7-11, 1 Corinthians 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 16:12, 19, Titus 1:5; 3:12-13.
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. (Acts 18:24)
What an introduction! Wouldn’t you want someone to say that about you? “Competent in the Scriptures”? I would. Here we learn his name, where he was from, and where he came to. I like the geographical references. They ground us and give the “story” a place to hang our mental hat. Alexandria is in Egypt and Ephesus is in Turkey. Both are coastal cities.
From that one verse we learn a lot. Apollos was a Jew with a Greek name, living in the north African Egyptian city of Alexandria. Alexandria was a Greek influenced city, named after the conqueror Alexander the Great. It was and still is Egypt’s largest seaport and until 641AD when the Muslims conquered Egypt, it was the nation’s capital.
Apollos’ powerful introduction continues:
He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:25-28)
What a joyous remark, “He was fervent in spirit”. May we all be so. In addition, Apollos didn’t know a lot at that time, but what he knew, he taught vibrantly, accurately, and fervently. May we all be so. Note that Apollos was absent the Holy Spirit at that time, he only had the baptism of John, not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thus, his eloquence in the flesh must have been highly notable. Imagine when Apollos received the Holy Spirit and his speech was energized by the mind of God! What a powerhouse Apollos must have been.
About Apollos knowing only the baptism of John. Here the Jamieson-Fausset Critical Commentary explains:
He was instructed, probably, by some disciple of the Baptist, in the whole circle of John’s teaching concerning Jesus, but no more: he had yet to learn the new light which the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost had thrown upon the Redeemer’s death and resurrection; as appears from Ac 19:2, 3.
Yet despite being learned, mighty, eloquent, fervent, bold, and from a sophisticated city, Apollos was teachable! Priscilla and Aquila taught him more accurately and Apollos not only submitted to their correction, he absorbed it so well he was encouraged and recommended to brethren in Achaia. The Holy Spirit was doing a marvelous work in Apollos.
He greatly helped the saints there, this was noted. Apollos was a powerful rhetorician, able to refute Jews in public through extemporaneous speaking, but doing it all through scripture and not of his own persuasion. He is a towering entry into the sheepfold at this early time.
Cut to about twenty years later. Apollos has become so popular that a faction has formed behind him, along with a faction behind Peter and one behind Paul.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12)
Jamieson-Fausset Critical Commentary again:
Those alleging the name of Apollos, Paul’s successor at Corinth (Ac 18:24, &c.), were persons attracted by his rhetorical style (probably acquired in Alexandria, 1Co 3:6), as contrasted with the “weak bodily presence” and “contemptible speech” of the apostle. Apollos, doubtless, did not willingly foster this spirit of undue preference (1Co 4:6, 8); nay, to discourage it, he would not repeat his visit just then (1Co 16:12).
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity. (1 Corinthians 16:12)
Jamieson-Fausset Critical Commentary again:
Apollos, I greatly desired … to come unto you—He says this lest they should suspect that he from jealousy prevented Apollos’ coming to them; perhaps they had expressly requested Apollos to be sent to them. Apollos was not at Ephesus when Paul wrote (compare 1Co 16:19, and 1Co 1:1). Probably Apollos’ unwillingness to go to Corinth at this time was because, being aware of the undue admiration of his rhetorical style which led astray many at Corinth, he did not wish to sanction it (1Co 1:12; 3:4). Paul’s noble freedom from all selfish jealousy led him to urge Apollos to go; and, on the other hand, Apollos, having heard of the abuse of his name at Corinth to party purposes, perseveringly refused to go. Paul, of course, could not state in his letter particularly these reasons in the existing state of division prevalent there. He calls Apollos “brother” to mark the unity that was between the two.
In Titus 3:13 we read that Apollos is still esteemed five or so years later when Paul wrote to Titus
Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. (Titus 3:13)
Apollos was used greatly by the Head of our Church. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6). No matter how revered or lowly the man is, it always comes back to Jesus. Everything that is done is done by Him, through Him, with Him, and for Him. He raised up a mighty man in the scriptures that greatly helped the church, and aided Paul in laying the foundation. When it was time for Apollos to go home, the Lord called him and there he has been ever since. When we get there, either through death or rapture, and at the appropriate time, we can sit with Apollos and hear the rest of the story. What a blessing it will be to glorify Jesus in His work on earth by hearing testimonies of that work done by the other saints.