In Biblical usage, an official representative sent out by a ruler on a special occasion for a specific purpose. Older, mature men usually served in this capacity. Thus, the Greek words pre·sbeuʹo (‘act as an ambassador’ [Eph 6:20]; ‘be an ambassador’ [2Co 5:20]) and pre·sbeiʹa (“body of ambassadors” [Lu 14:32]) are both related to the word pre·sbyʹte·ros, meaning “older man; elder.”
After Christ had been resurrected to the heavens, being no longer on earth in person, his faithful followers were appointed to act in his place, “substituting for Christ” as ambassadors of God. Paul specifically mentions his office of ambassadorship. (2Co 5:18-20) He, like all the anointed followers of Jesus Christ, was sent to nations and people who were alienated from Jehovah God the Supreme Sovereign
In fulfilling his role as an ambassador, Paul respected the laws of the land but remained strictly neutral toward the world’s political and military activities. This was in harmony with the principle that ambassadors of worldly governments must obey the law but are exempt from allegiance to the country to which they are sent.
How a person receives these ambassadors of God determines how God will deal with him. Jesus Christ set forth the principle in his illustration of the man who owned a vineyard and who first sent his slaves, then his son, as his representatives. The cultivators of the vineyard brutally mistreated those slaves and killed the owner’s son. For this the owner of the vineyard brought destruction on the hostile cultivators. (Mt 21:33-41) Jesus gave another illustration, of the king whose slaves were killed while acting as messengers inviting guests to a marriage feast. The ones receiving his representatives in such a manner were counted as enemies of the king. (Mt 22:2-7) Jesus stated the principle clearly when he said: “He that receives anyone I send receives me also. In turn he that receives me, receives also him that sent me.”
Jesus also used the peace-promoting work of an ambassador to illustrate our individual need to sue for peace with Jehovah God and give up all to follow in the footsteps of his Son in order to get God’s favor and everlasting life. (Lu 14:31-33) Conversely, he illustrated the folly of being associated with those sending ambassadors to speak against the one on whom God confers kingly power. (Lu 19:12-14, 27) The Gibeonites are good examples of taking action in a tactful, successful suit for peace.
Pre-Christian Envoys. In the pre-Christian period there was no official governmental office corresponding exactly to the modern-day ambassador. There was no resident official representing a foreign government. Hence, the terms “messenger” (Heb., mal·ʼakhʹ) and “envoy” (Heb., tsir) more accurately describe their duties in Bible times. However, their rank and status were in many respects similar to those of ambassadors, and some of these aspects will be considered here. Such men were official representatives who carried messages between governments and individual rulers.
Unlike modern-day ambassadors, ancient envoys, or messengers, did not reside in foreign capitals but were dispatched only on special occasions for specific purposes. Often they were persons of rank (2Ki 18:17, 18), and their office was highly respected. Consequently, they were accorded inviolability of person when they visited other rulers.
The treatment accorded a ruler’s messengers, or envoys, was regarded as treatment given the ruler and his government. Thus, when Rahab showed favor to the messengers sent as spies to Jericho by Joshua, she really was acting as she did because she recognized that Jehovah was the God and King of Israel. Jehovah, through Joshua, showed her favor accordingly. (Jos 6:17; Heb 11:31) A flagrant violation of the unwritten international custom of respect toward envoys was the action of Hanun the king of Ammon, to whom King David sent some servants in a gesture of friendship. The king of Ammon listened to his princes, who falsely called the messengers spies, and he publicly humiliated the messengers, demonstrating his disrespect for David and his government. This disgraceful action led to war.
Instead of recalling an ambassador, which is what modern-day nations do when diplomatic relations are broken, the people of ancient times sent messengers, or envoys, as spokesmen to one another during times of strain in an effort to reestablish peaceful relations. Isaiah speaks of such “messengers of peace.” (Isa 33:7) Hezekiah sent a peace appeal to Sennacherib the king of Assyria. Although Sennacherib was threatening the fortified cities of Judah, the messengers were given freedom of passage by the Assyrians because they were acting as Hezekiah’s envoys. (2Ki 18:13-15) Another example of this can be seen in the record about Jephthah, a judge in Israel. By messengers he dispatched a letter to the king of the Ammonites to remonstrate against wrong action on his part and to clear up a dispute over territorial rights. If possible, Jephthah, through his envoys, would have settled the matter without war. These messengers were permitted to pass back and forth between the armies without hindrance.