Large crowds impeded the Master’s ability to effectively visit the towns and villages in which He wanted to deliver the message of the kingdom. He likened His generation to a large and abundant harvest that must be gathered quickly or lost. Time was running out.
Yeshua compared proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to the act of harvesting the crop. He compared those who proclaimed the good news to harvesters. He told His disciples:
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38)
Yeshua frequently employed crop and harvest metaphors to illustrate kingdom principles. For example, when commenting on His work in Samaria and Judea, He told His disciples, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal …” (John 4:35-36). These sayings bear a resemblance to a famous rabbinic maxim, a saying of the second-century Rabbi Tarfon:
The day is short, the task is plentiful, the workers are lazy, the wage is great, and the Master of the house is adamant. (m.Avot 2:20)
The workers to which Rabbi Yeshua and Rabbi Tarfon referred are disciples.
Rabbi Yeshua decided to send more workers out to gather the harvest by dispatching the twelve as His apostles. He called the twelve disciples to Him and invested them with His authority—authority over demons and authority to heal disease and sickness. As He prepared to send them out, Matthew recites their names and refers to them for the first time as “apostles.”
Popular assumptions picture an apostle as a spiritual giant with superhero, miracle powers. On the contrary, the Greek word apostolos refers to a messenger sent out on a mission. It corresponds exactly to the Hebrew shaliach, a word based upon the Hebrew verb “to send (shalach).” In Judaism, the term shaliach (sent one / apostle) referred to a legal agent or representative that a man dispatched on a mission to represent him and his interests. The man sending a shaliach vested his “sent one” with his authority to accomplish the mission.