Thanks for reading through the gospel of Matthew with us! I’m praying for you. Today’s entire chapter is about Jesus sending out the twelve disciples to do ministry along with his instructions and warnings to them.
JESUS SENDS OUT THE TWELVE DISCIPLES / 10:1-16
This chapter describes Jesus’ appointment of the Twelve for their first apostolic mission. Though this was the first time they went out on their own, they had been given authority from Jesus to carry on the work of preaching and healing.
10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.NIV Jesus had many disciples (learners), but he appointed twelve to whom he gave authority and special training. The twelve disciples had already joined Jesus (Mark 3:14-19, see also the Harmony of the Gospels at the back of this commentary), but Matthew waited until writing his missionary discourse to introduce these twelve disciples. This records the first time Jesus sent them out on their own. These men were his inner circle. Many people followed and listened to Jesus, but these twelve received the most intense training. We see the impact of these men throughout the rest of the New Testament. They started the Christian church. The Gospels call these men the “disciples” or the “Twelve”; the book of Acts calls them apostles. The choice of twelve men is highly symbolic. The number twelve corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel (19:28), showing the continuity between the old religious system and the new one based on Jesus’ message. Jesus looked upon his mission as the gathering of the true people of God. These men were the righteous remnant (the faithful believers throughout the Old Testament who never abandoned God or his law) who would carry on the work the twelve tribes were chosen to do—to build the community of God. These were the righteous remnant chosen out of the apostate nation and given a twofold responsibility: (1) to represent the nation before God; (2) to reach the nation for God. The Gospels and Epistles stressed the ministry of the twelve men together and its significance. The number was so important that when Judas Iscariot killed himself, the disciples chose another man to replace him (see Acts 1:15-26).
These twelve men had Jesus’ authority over the forces of evil. Jesus empowered his disciples to drive out evil spirits. The disciples could speak the word, and God’s power would cast out the demons. Jesus also gave these disciples power to heal every disease and sickness. It was important that they have these powers because Jesus was extending his mission through them. Jesus directly confronted demons and sicknesses. The disciples carried Jesus’ purpose and his power.
|LIFE APPLICATION – CALLED AND CHOSEN|
|Jesus “called” his twelve disciples. He didn’t draft them, force them, or ask them to volunteer; he chose them to serve him in a special way. Jesus did not choose these twelve to be his disciples because of their faith—it often faltered. He didn’t choose them because of their talent and ability—no one stood out with unusual ability. The disciples represented a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences, but apparently they may have had no more leadership potential than those who were not chosen. The one characteristic they all shared was their willingness to obey Jesus. Christ calls us today. He doesn’t twist our arms and make us do something we don’t want to do. We can choose to join him or remain behind. When Christ calls you to follow him, how do you respond? Have you given him only a halfhearted commitment or your whole heart?|
10:2-4 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter).NIV In verse 1, these men are called “disciples”; here, the word “apostles” is used to stress their role as messengers, “sent ones.”
The first name recorded was Simon, to whom Jesus had given the name Peter (see John 1:42). Jesus “surnamed” him Peter, meaning that he had given him a name in addition to the one he already had—he did not change Simon’s name. Peter was also called Cephas. “Peter” is the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic Cephas—a word meaning “stone” or “rock.” Peter had been a fisherman (4:18). He became one of three in Jesus’ core group among the disciples. He also confessed that Jesus was the Messiah (16:16). Although, later, Peter would deny ever knowing Jesus, he eventually would become a leader in the Jerusalem church, write two letters that appear in the Bible (1 and 2 Peter), and be crucified for his faith.
His brother Andrew.NIV Andrew was Peter’s brother and also a fisherman (4:18). Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist and had accepted John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus was “the Lamb of God.” He had left John to follow Jesus and then had brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:35-42). Andrew and John were Jesus’ first disciples (John 1:35-40); Andrew then had brought Peter to Jesus (John 1:41-42).
James son of Zebedee, and his brother John.NIV James and John had also been fishermen (4:21). James would become the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2). John would write the Gospel of John, the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John, and the book of Revelation. The brothers may have been related to Jesus (distant cousins); thus, at one point their mother requested special places for them in Christ’s kingdom (20:20-28).
Philip. Philip was the fourth to meet Jesus. John 1:43 states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me'” (niv). Philip then brought Nathanael (also called Bartholomew)—see John 1:45. Philip probably knew Andrew and Peter because they were from the same town, Bethsaida (John 1:44).
Bartholomew. Scholars think that Bartholomew is the same person as Nathanael. In the list of disciples here and in Mark, Philip and Bartholomew are listed together (Mark 3:18); in John’s Gospel, Philip and Nathanael are paired up (John 1:45). Thus, it stands to reason that since John does not mention Bartholomew and the other Gospels do not mention Nathanael, then Nathanael and Bartholomew must be the same person. Bartholomew was an honest man; indeed, Jesus’ first words to him were, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false” (John 1:47 niv). Bartholomew at first rejected Jesus because Jesus was from Nazareth. But upon meeting Jesus, his attitude changed, and he exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 nrsv).
Thomas. We often remember this disciple as “Doubting Thomas” because he doubted Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:24-25). But he also loved the Lord and was a man of great courage. When Jesus determined to return to Judea and enemy territory, Thomas said to the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16 niv). Thomas was tough and committed, even if he tended to be pessimistic. Thus, when the other disciples said that Jesus was alive, Thomas did not believe them. However, when Thomas saw and touched the living Christ, doubting Thomas became believing Thomas.
Matthew the tax collector. Matthew, author of this Gospel, described himself by his former profession, probably to show the change that Jesus had made in his life. Also known as Levi, he had been a tax collector (9:9). Thus, he had been a despised outcast, but he had abandoned that corrupt (though lucrative) way of life to follow Jesus.
James son of Alphaeus.NIV This disciple is designated as son of Alphaeus to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee (and brother of John) in 10:2. He is also called “James the younger” (Mark 15:40). Matthew is also called “son of Alphaeus” in Mark 2:14, but James and Matthew were probably not related.
Thaddaeus.NIV Thaddaeus is also called “Judas son of James” (see Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13).
Simon the Zealot.NIV Some versions of Scripture call this disciple Simon the Canaanite. Simon was probably not a member of the party of Zealots, for that political party did not appear until a.d. 68. Most likely the word “Zealot” that is used here indicates zeal for God’s honor and not extreme nationalism; it was an affectionate nickname.
Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.NIV The name “Iscariot” is probably a compound word meaning “the man from Kerioth.” Thus, Judas’s hometown was Kerioth in southern Judea (see Joshua 15:25), making him the only one of the Twelve who was not from Galilee. It was Judas, son of Simon Iscariot (John 6:71), who would betray Jesus to his enemies and then commit suicide (27:3-5; Luke 22:47-48).
|LIFE APPLICATION – NO LITTLE PEOPLE|
|The list of Jesus’ twelve disciples does not give us many details—probably because there were not many impressive details to tell.|
|Jesus called people from all backgrounds and occupations—fishermen, religious activists, tax collectors. He called common people and uncommon leaders; rich and poor; educated and uneducated. Today, many people think only certain people can follow Christ, but this was not the attitude of the Master himself. God can use anyone, no matter how insignificant he or she appears. When you feel small and useless, remember that God uses ordinary people to do his extraordinary work.|
10:5-6 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”NIV Jesus sent out the twelve disciples on a mission to preach the coming of the kingdom (10:7) and exercise the authority over demons and sickness that Jesus gave them (10:1). Jesus gave specific instructions, however, regarding the focus of their ministry: “Do not go among the Gentiles or . . . Samaritans.” A “Gentile” was anyone who was not a Jew. The “Samaritans” were a race that resulted from intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles after the Old Testament captivities (see 2 Kings 17:24). When the Jews returned from exile, they refused to allow the Samaritans to help them rebuild the temple (Ezra 4). As a result, the Samaritans developed their own religion, accepting only the Pentateuch as God’s authoritative word. In 109 b.c., the Jews burned the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim.
This did not mean that Jesus opposed evangelizing Gentiles and Samaritans; in fact, Matthew had already described Jesus’ encounter with Gentiles (8:28-34), and John 4 recounts his conversation with a Samaritan woman. Jesus’ command to go rather to the lost sheep of Israel means that the disciples should spend their time among the Jews (see also 15:24). These words restricted the disciples’ “short-term” mission to Galilee. Gentile territory lay to the north and Samaritan territory to the south. Jesus came not to the Jews only, but to the Jews “first” (Romans 1:16). God chose them to tell the rest of the world about him. Later, these disciples would receive the commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (28:19 niv). Jewish disciples and apostles preached the gospel of the risen Christ all around the Roman empire, and soon Gentiles were pouring into the church. The Bible clearly teaches that God’s message of salvation is for all people, regardless of race, sex, or national origin (Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 25:6; 56:3-7; Malachi 1:11; Acts 10:34, 35; Romans 3:29, 30; Galatians 3:28).
“Sheep” was an affectionate term used often of God’s people in the Old Testament, as in Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34. We can see their “lostness” in the thoughtless rituals and man-made laws commanded by their religious leaders. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came to regather the lost sheep.
10:7-8 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”NKJV
|The disciples went out as Jesus’ representatives, spreading his message. John the Baptist and Jesus had preached “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2; 4:17 nkjv), so he sent his disciples out to also preach that the kingdom of heaven was near. The Jews were waiting for the Messiah to usher in his kingdom. They were hoping for a political and military kingdom that would free them from Roman rule and bring back the days of glory under David and Solomon.||[Missions is] a tale of tears, trials, testings, and triumphs, of opposition, of substituting human devices for divine methods, of candle lights in the darkness, and the bright shining of a new day.
V. Raymond Edman
But Jesus was talking about a spiritual kingdom. The gospel today is that the kingdom is still “near.” Jesus, the Messiah, has already begun his kingdom on earth in the hearts of his followers. One day the kingdom will be fully realized. The disciples were also to use the authority and power he had given them (10:1) to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons, just as they had seen Jesus do. These four miracles were exactly the miracles Jesus had done and would demonstrate that the disciples had Jesus’ power.
Jesus gave the disciples a principle to guide their actions as they ministered to others: Freely you have received, freely give. The disciples had received salvation and the kingdom without cost; they should give their time under the same principle. Because God has showered us with his blessings, we should give generously to others of our time, love, and possessions.
|LIFE APPLICATION – FREELY GIVE|
|Pastors, teachers, and missionaries should not plan on getting rich by their pastoring or teaching. Full-time Christian workers deserve a reasonable wage for their labors, but not an enriching one, nor should profit play a part in anything they provide or do. The spirit of capitalism—maximum profit for minimum investment—has no place in the church’s ministry.|
|Beware of well-heeled ministries, preachers who parade diamond rings or tailored suits, mission agencies overly dependent on Western wealth, and churches where six-figure salaries chair all the committees. Jesus sets the precedent for kingdom work: It is to be more humble than showy, more economically marginal than heavily endowed, more trustful in God than in upscale donors.|
10:9-10 “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.”NIV These instructions seem, at first, to be contrary to normal travel plans, but they simply reveal the urgency of the task and its temporary nature. Jesus sent the disciples in pairs (Mark 6:7), expecting them to return with a full report. This was a training mission; they were to leave immediately and travel light, taking along only minimal supplies. They were to depend on God and on the people to whom they ministered (10:11). Most people leaving on a journey would carry money in their belts. Normally each one would carry a bag for the journey to carry supplies, an extra tunic for added warmth at night, sandals to protect feet on rough terrain, and a staff for help in walking. But Jesus forbade them to take along any of these things.
Mark recorded that Jesus instructed the disciples to take nothing with them except staffs, while the accounts in Matthew and Luke say that Jesus told them not to take staffs. One explanation for this difference is that Matthew and Luke were referring to a club used for protection, whereas Mark was talking about a shepherd’s crook used for walking. Another explanation is that according to Matthew and Luke, Jesus was forbidding them to acquire an additional staff or sandals, but instead to use what they already had. The point in all three accounts is the same: The disciples were to leave at once, without extensive preparation, trusting in God’s care rather than in their own resources. Jesus’ instructions pertained only to this particular mission. Indeed, just after Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper, Jesus would ask them: “‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one'” (Luke 22:35-36 niv). Different times and situations would call for different measures, but Christian workers still can reveal the simplicity of Christ when they carry out ministry without excessive worldly entanglements.
Jesus said “the worker is worth his keep,” meaning that those who minister are to receive care from those to whom they minister. The disciples could expect food and shelter in return for the spiritual service they provided. These words are paralleled in Luke 10:17 and were quoted by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:18, where they are given the ascription, “the Scripture”—alongside a quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4. Thus, this Scripture was used by Paul to urge the churches to financially support the workers among them.
10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.”NRSV Each pair of disciples would enter a town or village and stay in a worthy person’s house (that is, the home of a believer who had invited them to lodge there during their ministry). The command to stay there until they left the city cautioned them never to offend their hosts by looking for “better” lodging in a home that was more comfortable or socially prominent. To remain in one home would not be a burden for the home owner because the disciples’ stay in each community would be brief. The “worthy” were those who would respond to and believe the gospel message.
Jesus instructed the disciples to depend on others while they went from town to town preaching the gospel. Their purpose was to blanket Galilee with Jesus’ message, and by traveling light they could move quickly. Their dependence on others had three other good effects: (1) It clearly showed that the Messiah had not come to offer wealth to his followers; (2) it forced the disciples to rely on God’s power and not on their own provision; and (3) it involved the villagers, making them more eager to hear the message. Staying in homes was an excellent approach for the disciples’ short-term mission; this was not to be a permanent way of life for them. Yet the faith and simplicity that this way of life portrayed would serve them well in the future.
10:12-13 “And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”NKJV As the disciples entered a household, they were to greet it. The actual words of this greeting are recorded in Luke 10:5, “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house'” (niv). At this time, people believed that blessings could be given as well as taken back. The disciples would bless the household upon entering. If the household is worthy (that is, had accepted them and their message), then the blessing of peace would remain upon that house. But if the household is not worthy (that is, did not accept their message), then the blessing of peace would return to the disciples, who would then leave that house. The peace returning from that house also indicated judgment to come (10:15). The words of blessing that the disciples had given would not be fulfilled there. These words mean that those who would receive the disciples also would receive the Messiah. Those who cared for God’s emissaries would receive blessing in return: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (10:40 nrsv).
10:14 “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”NRSV The disciples should also expect rejection, such as Jesus had faced in Decapolis (8:34). So Jesus further instructed that if anyone did not welcome them (that is, take them in and offer hospitality) and refused even to listen to them, then they should shake off the dust from their feet as they left.
Shaking off dust that accumulated on one’s sandals showed extreme contempt for an area and its people, as well as the determination not to have any further involvement with them. “Dust” was so common on highways that it came to signify that which clings to one’s life (such as sin). To shake the dust off one’s feet was a gesture of total repudiation. Pious Jews shook dust from their feet after passing through Gentile cities or territory to show their separation from Gentile influences and practices. When the disciples shook the dust from their feet after leaving a Jewish town, it would be a vivid sign that they wished to remain separate from people who had rejected Jesus.
Shaking off the dust of a place, Jesus said, would be a testimony against the people. Its implications were clear and had eternal consequences. The act showed the people that the disciples had discharged their duty, had nothing further to say, and would leave the people to answer to God. We should not take this verse to mean that if one member of a family refuses to accept Christ, we should abandon effort to the other members. Nor should we stop ministry to others in a community if there are some who reject our words. Jesus was saying that if the disciples were rejected by nonbelieving Jews, they should treat those Jews the same as nonbelieving Gentiles. By this statement, Jesus was making it clear that the listeners were responsible for what they did with the gospel. As long as the disciples had faithfully and carefully presented the message, they were not to blame if the townspeople rejected it. Likewise, we are not responsible when others reject Christ’s message of salvation, but we do have the responsibility to share the gospel clearly and faithfully.
10:15 “Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”NKJV God had destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven because of their wickedness (Genesis 19:24-25). To Jews, the judgment of these cities was a lesson not only in punishment of great evil, but also in the finality of divine judgment. Those who reject the gospel will be worse off in the day of judgment than the wicked people of these destroyed cities who never had heard the gospel at all.
10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”NIV The disciples would go out with the message like sheep among wolves (the “wolves” were the enemies of the believers—in this context probably the Jewish religious leaders). The solution? Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. These words may have come from a local proverb. To be “shrewd as snakes” speaks of prudence or cleverness. The Egyptian symbol of wisdom is a serpent, which has great skill in avoiding danger. They were also to be “innocent as doves,” that is, to be sincere and to have pure intentions. Shrewdness can become no more than cunning without the balance of innocence. However, innocence can become naïveté, or even ignorance if not balanced with shrewdness. Jesus’ followers would need both to be prepared for the battles that lay ahead. They would need to be unafraid of conflict but also able to deal with it in integrity. Jesus warned them that the gospel would not be warmly welcomed in all places. At times there would be outright antagonism, as Jesus describes in the following verses.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SENSIBLE SHEEP?|
|The opposition of the Pharisees would be like ravaging wolves. The disciples’ only hope would be to look to their Shepherd for protection. We may face similar hostility. Like the disciples, we should not be sheeplike in our attitude (thoughtless and unprepared), but sensible and prudent. We are not to be gullible pawns, but neither are we to be deceitful connivers. We must find a balance between wisdom and vulnerability in order to accomplish God’s work.|
JESUS PREPARES THE DISCIPLES FOR PERSECUTION / 10:17-42
10:17-18 “Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.”NRSV The danger of arrest and persecution would come from without (governors, kings, Gentiles) and from within (councils, synagogues). The “councils” were the local courts that settled small problems among the Jews. In the early days of the church, these were the prosecutors. “Flogging” was a form of punishment where a person was whipped with a leather whip across the back; the law allowed a maximum of forty lashes. These floggings often occurred in the synagogues themselves. The “governors and kings” referred to the pagan rulers who alone could demand the death penalty. The persecution, and perhaps death, that the disciples would face because of their relationship with Christ would be a testimony to the religious leaders and to the Gentiles. These persecutions would provide opportunities for presenting the gospel. Later, the disciples experienced these hardships (Acts 5:40; 12:1-3; 22:19; 2 Corinthians 11:24). Interestingly, the word “martyr” comes from this Greek word “witness” or “testimony.”
Why would this happen? The new movement of Christianity would eventually face great opposition—from Jews and Gentiles alike. While it may not have seemed possible as these disciples roamed the hillsides with the popular teacher, a day would come when some would have to choose between their faith and persecution (or death). Jesus warned that they would need to focus on their mission and turn their defense into a testimony for their faith. In times of persecution, we can be confident and hopeful because Jesus has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).
|LIFE APPLICATION – BEWARE|
|Christians are not called to naïveté. We shouldn’t be thoughtless and needn’t be conned. We’re not fools and don’t have to play the sucker to anyone’s shell game.|
|It’s one thing to suffer persecution, and another to walk stupidly into the middle of a fire. “Beware” alerts us to study human nature, know the world we live in, and exercise caution without cynicism. If you’re basically clueless about how the world works, find a mature Christian who can teach you street smarts without compromising standards. There is no harm in knowing the other party’s game plan.|
10:19-20 “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”NRSV Jesus told the disciples that when (not “if”) they were arrested and handed over to the authorities, they should not worry about what to say in their defense. The thought of being brought before Gentile rulers terrified any Jew, but Jesus warned his disciples not to be afraid. What you are to say will be given to you at that time—God’s Spirit would speak through them. The phrase “Spirit of your Father” is Old Testament language and recalls the inspiration of the prophets. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as a defense lawyer coming to the disciples’ aid. This verse and 3:11 are the only places in which Matthew mentions the Holy Spirit. This promise of an infilling of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled in Acts 2, where the Spirit empowered the disciples to speak. Some mistakenly think this means believers do not have to prepare to present the gospel because God will take care of everything. Scripture teaches, however, that we are to make carefully prepared, thoughtful statements (Colossians 4:6). Jesus was telling his followers to prepare but not to worry. He promised special inspiration for times of great need.
10:21-22 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.”NRSV Jesus detailed some aspects of the coming persecution. The Jews considered family denunciations and betrayals a sign of the end times. These words may allude to Micah 7:6, “For the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household” (nrsv). This passage speaks of internal corruption in Israel; Jesus said this was a sign of the last days. Not only will faith in Jesus tear families apart, but believers will also find that they will be hated by all types of people. As Jesus’ disciples share his authority, they will also share his sufferings.
|LIFE APPLICATION – FAMILY BETRAYAL|
|When those closest to you become your worst enemies, you may wonder if faith is worth the hassle. Consider these four questions:|
|1. Who’s closest to you really?|
|2. Whom can you count on when even a parent thinks you’re on the wrong track?|
|3. Who demands first priority in your life?|
|4. Who can work miracles to mend a disrupted family?|
|If your response to all four questions is “Jesus,” then you also know who loves your family more than you can and who wants to reach them with God’s love, probably through you. Trust the Lord for each relationship you think is lost. Jesus is in the miracle business.|
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”NRSV These words have received a variety of interpretations. (1) The one who endures to the end of persecution (that is, keeps the faith through suffering) will be delivered from physical suffering. This we know can’t be true because some have been martyred for their faith.
|(2) “The one who endures to the end” of life’s trials will be saved into eternal life. That person will not face spiritual harm. This view tends to support a “salvation by works” viewpoint. (3) The one who endures until the end (meaning wholly, completely) will enter into Christ’s kingdom. This view is more likely because standing firm to the end is not a way to be saved but the evidence that a person is really committed to Jesus. Persistence is not a means to earn salvation; it is the by-product of a truly devoted life.||Besides being put to death they [Christians under Nero’s persecution] were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified; others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night.
Tacitus, Roman historian
Jesus’ point was that persecution will come and his followers must be patient and faithful through it. Their reward is certain.
10:23 “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.”NRSV While Jesus told the disciples to expect persecution, he also warned them against foolhardiness. If they faced persecution in one town, they were to flee to the next. They ought not cast their pearls before swine (7:6), nor should they abort their ministry in fear. They were to leave and move on if the persecution became too great. Perhaps this is part of being “shrewd as snakes” (10:16). Persecution was a regular experience of the early church. The apostle Paul faced intense persecution. He fled Damascus by going down over the wall in a basket (Acts 9:25). After being stoned and left for dead outside of Lystra, Paul got up and moved on to Derbe (Acts 14:19-20). Persecution did not halt the mission of the early church; in many instances, it forced the believers to move out into the world to spread the gospel (Acts 11:19).
“For truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”NRSV This difficult sentence has received many interpretations. Following are four:
- Some have understood this to focus on the immediate context of verses 5-16. The disciples would not have time to go through all the towns before Jesus would catch up with them. This interpretation is too simple, however, given the language in the text that refers to events after the resurrection of Christ. At the time of Matthew’s writing, the disciples had completed the mission, so Jesus obviously was referring to something else.
- Some suggest that the coming of the Son of Man refers to his coming judgment against the Jews, fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in d. 70. But it is an unlikely interpretation to connect the destruction of Jerusalem with the return of the Son of Man.
- Still others explain that the “coming” refers to Jesus’ appearance in triumph after his resurrection.
- Because of the events of the book of Acts, it seems more likely that Jesus was referring to events after his resurrection. The meaning of his words would be that the task of the mission to the Jews would be so great and so difficult (for many would refuse to believe) that it would not be accomplished even by the time of his second coming.
10:24-25 “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”NIV Jesus used a common proverb stated two ways (student and teacher; servant and master) to show that both must share the same experiences. A student or servant is not above the teacher or master. In Judaism, a student (disciple) shared the daily experiences of his teacher; in pagan cultures, a servant fought beside his master. Both receive the same treatment.
Jesus used a play on words by saying if the head of the house has been called Beelzebub because “Beelzebub” meant “lord of the dwelling.” Beelzebub was the god of Ekron (2 Kings 1:2-3, 6, 16). Beelzeboul (Greek) may have been a term coined on the spot by Jesus’ accusers. The word has two parts: “Baal” which was the name for local Canaanite fertility gods in the Old Testament, and “Zebul” which means “exalted dwelling.” This became a name for Satan himself, prince of the demons. The Pharisees did this very act, accusing Jesus of using Beelzebub’s power to drive out demons (see 12:24). If Jesus, who is perfect, was called evil, how much more the members of his household. Jesus’ followers should expect that they would face similar accusations. God promises to vindicate those who stand firm (10:22).
|LIFE APPLICATION – STICKS AND STONES|
|Jesus was accused of being Beelzebub, and he told his followers to expect the same treatment. Words are powerful weapons, and Jesus’ disciples can count on hearing a good number of bad ones slung at them.|
|When you’re the victim of intimidation or slander, keep your cool. Jesus took those knocks too. Instead of getting testy, try laughing a little because trading insult for insult is never Jesus way.|
10:26 “Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.”NKJV Jesus’ followers can expect persecution, but they must never be afraid. “Do not fear,” Jesus said. The gospel mission must be accomplished. The parallel in the phrases (nothing covered or hidden that will not be revealed or known) stresses that the truths entrusted to the disciples will be known no matter what the opposition. There is also a hint that the knowledge of the kingdom was presently vague or known in only a limited way, but would later be openly revealed by God. Although the truth may be “hidden” or kept secret for a while, it will not remain so. One day the truth will be “revealed” and “known.” Jesus was speaking of the days of his ministry as the time of using parables, concealing the truth, and being rejected by many. The time of revelation would be either Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (when his followers would fully understand Jesus’ words) or the Second Coming. Jesus’ followers did not understand everything about Jesus at that time, but one day all their questions would be answered.
10:27 “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”NRSV The dark is not a picture of sin, but of privacy. What Jesus had told them privately they were to proclaim publicly. These parallel phrases (dark and light; what you hear whispered and proclaim from the housetops) describe bold, public proclamation of the truths that Jesus had taught the disciples privately. To “proclaim from the housetops” pictured the common practice (since roofs were flat) of using roofs as platforms for making public announcements. The disciples had a mission and a responsibility to teach what they learned from Jesus.
10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”NIV The disciples might face death, yet Jesus warned them not to be afraid. People might be able to kill the body, but they would not be able to kill the soul. The only One worthy of our fear is God who can destroy both soul and body in hell. It is far more fearful to disobey God than to face martyrdom. The worst that people can do (kill the body) does not compare with the worst that God can do. While the Greeks believed that only the soul lived on after death, Jesus says unmistakably that hell is a place of destruction for soul and body—the whole person. (For more on hell, see commentary on 5:22.) Some have interpreted this as annihilation, the complete destruction of the person. But that conclusion is unwarranted by this verse. More likely, it is hyperbole, representing the fearful judgment of God. We are not to be afraid of people, but we are to be afraid of (that is, in awe of) God.
10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”NIV This awesome God whom we are to fear (10:28) is also the God who cares about the smallest sparrow. When we fear him, we have nothing to worry about because he loves us. Sparrows were the cheapest type of living food sold in the market; a penny was the smallest copper coin. Sparrows were not of high value in the world—a penny could buy two of them. Yet God is so concerned for them that not one falls to the ground without God’s consent. That God knows the number of the very hairs on our heads shows his concern about the most trifling details about each of us. Because God is aware of everything that happens to sparrows, and because he knows every tiny detail about us, Jesus concludes that his followers need never be afraid. Sparrows will fall to the ground; God’s people will die, sometimes by martyrdom. Yet we are so valuable that God sent Jesus, his only Son, to die for us (John 3:16). Because God places such value on us, we need never fear personal threats or difficult trials. God our Father is in control. He sees the sparrow fall; he knows and controls everything that happens to us. God cares not only about the “big” problems and situations of life, but also about the tiniest details.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WHEN BAD NEWS COMES|
|During the Vietnam war, the worst sight in the world (Stateside) was two dress uniforms walking up to a door. It meant a casualty at that house, and many tears were shed at those doorsteps.|
|Bad news comes. People without an anchor—without God— are shaken to the foundations. Grief strikes us all with bitter arrows, but God’s people rest in hope, respond with courage, and live on by faith. God’s care for each of us is greater than the enemy’s hatred. Grieve when bad news comes, but don’t fear.|
10:32-33 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”NRSV People have a clear choice. Everyone who acknowledges Jesus Christ (that is, publicly confesses faith in or declares allegiance to him) will be acknowledged by Christ before his Father in heaven. Jesus’ followers would face earthly courts of law where they would have to publicly claim to belong to Jesus Christ, usually at their peril (10:17-25). But for the disciple to acknowledge Jesus means that Jesus will claim that disciple as his own before the Father in heaven.
On the other hand, the person who denies their relationship to Jesus Christ would in turn face denial by Jesus before the Father.
|These words refer to those whose true allegiance would be revealed under pressure. Jesus probably did not refer to those who formerly believed and fell away (for no profession of faith has been mentioned or implied). Matthew stressed the Last Judgment and the relationship between the Father and the Son. Jesus was making the astounding statement that each person’s standing before God is based on his or her relationship to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the advocate whose intercession before God will depend on one’s faithfulness in acknowledging him.||It has never ceased to amaze me that we Christians have developed a kind of selective vision which allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet almost totally pagan in the day-in, day-out guts of our business lives . . . and never realize it.
10:34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”NKJV The Jews believed that when the Messiah came, he would usher in a time of world peace. Jesus’ first arrival would not bring that universal peace. The very nature of Jesus’ claims forces people to make a choice. They must choose to believe who he said he is, or they must choose to reject him. Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword (that is, “division”) that separates families, friends, and nations. Conflict and disagreement will arise between those who choose to follow Christ and those who do not. In saying this, Jesus was not encouraging disobedience to parents or conflict at home. Rather, he was showing that his presence demands a decision. Because some will follow Christ and some will not, conflict will inevitably arise. As his followers take their crosses and follow him, their different values, morals, goals, and purposes will set them apart. Do not neglect your family, but remember that your commitment to God is even more important than they are. God should be your first priority. Ironically, those who accept him do find inner peace because of their restored relationship with God. One day, however, there will be universal peace (Isaiah 9:5-7), for the Prince of Peace will resolve all conflict. For more on Jesus as peacemaker, see Zechariah 9:9-10; Matthew 5:9; John 14:27.
10:35-36 “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”NRSV Jesus was quoting from Micah 7:6 (already alluded to in 10:21, see commentary above). In Micah, these divisive conditions led to a yearning for the Messiah; in this context they were caused by the Messiah’s coming. Jesus explained the response to his call—there will inevitably be conflict between those who respond and those who do not. Sometimes the reaction is violent, and angry family members become like foes. In the early church, Jews who became Christians were excommunicated from the synagogues and often shunned by their families. Even today, the road is difficult for Jews or Muslims who turn to Christianity. Their own family members become their worst enemies. Jesus did not come to make such divisions happen; instead, his coming, his words, and his call inevitably will cause conflict between those who accept him and those who reject him.
10:37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”NRSV Jesus did not force his followers to break family ties to follow him (as opposed to some present-day cults). Jesus was pointing out that his disciples must have singular loyalty to him. When discipleship conflicts with family loyalty, following Jesus must take the priority over natural love of family. If one must choose, one must take Jesus. Christ calls us to a higher mission than to find comfort and tranquillity in this life. Love of family is a law of God (see Ephesians 6:1-4; 1 Timothy 5:8), but even this love can be self-serving and used as an excuse not to serve God or do his work. We must not be so devoted or enmeshed in family love that we push Christ into the background.
10:38 “And whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”NRSV These words applied to the disciples and to all who want to be worthy of Jesus (“worthy” meaning willing to follow and serve, as in 10:11). To take up the cross was a vivid illustration of the humility and submission that Jesus asked of his followers. When Jesus used this picture of his followers taking up their crosses to follow him, the people knew what “taking up the cross” meant. Death on a cross was a form of execution used by the Roman Empire for dangerous criminals and political prisoners. A prisoner carried his own crossbar to the place of execution. Jesus’ followers faced social and political oppression and ostracism; yet he warned them against turning back. For some, taking up the cross might indeed mean death; for all, it means denying self. Jesus’ words meant that his followers had to obey God’s Word, spread the gospel, and follow his will, no matter what the results were for them personally. Soon after this, Jesus would take up his own cross. Jesus was speaking prophetically here as well. Jesus’ words became graphically clear after his crucifixion.
To follow Christ is a moment-by-moment decision, requiring denial of self and taking up one’s cross. Following Jesus does not mean walking behind him, but taking the same road of sacrifice and service that he took. The blessing for us is that he walks with us along the way.
10:39 “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”NRSV This verse is a positive and negative statement of the same truth: Clinging to this life may cause us to forfeit the best from Christ in this world and in the next. The Christian life is a paradox: To attempt to find (or save) your life means only to lose it. The Greek word for “life” is psuche; it refers to the soul, the total person, the self, which includes the personality with all its dreams, hopes, and goals. A person who “finds” his or her life to satisfy desires and goals apart from God ultimately “loses” life. Not only does that person lose the eternal life offered only to those who believe and accept Christ as Savior, but he or she loses the fullness of life promised to those who believe.
By contrast, those who willingly “lose” their lives for the sake of Christ actually “find” them. They will receive great reward in God’s kingdom. To lose one’s life for Christ’s sake refers to a person refusing to renounce Christ, even if the punishment were death.
Jesus preached on this theme more often than we may wish to acknowledge:
- “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39 nrsv).
- “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 nrsv).
- “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35 nrsv).
- “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24 nrsv).
- “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33 nrsv).
- “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25 nrsv).
It would be easier to give one’s life in battle or in martyrdom than to do what Christ actually asks of us. Not only does Christ demand loyalty over family, he also demands loyalty over every part of our lives. The more we love this life’s rewards (leisure, power, popularity, financial security), the more we will discover how empty they really are. The best way to “find” life, therefore, is to loosen our greedy grasp on earthly rewards so that we can be free to follow Christ. We must risk pain, discomfort, conflict, and stress. We must acknowledge Christ’s claim over our destiny and our career. In doing so, we will inherit eternal life and begin at once to experience the benefits of following Christ.
|LIFE APPLICATION – PATH TO GREATNESS|
|The gospel takes us by surprise. We think we have life pretty well figured; then God upsets our schemes and shows us a better way.|
|Take your life, for example. Ambitious life goals are without a doubt one of the best aspirations a person can have—incentive, drive, challenge, direction. Then God announces, “Wrong! This is not my way!”|
|Without Christ, ambition is pointless and challenge misdirected. But a life surrendered to Christ gains eternal focus and divine incentive.|
|Want to find your life? Put Jesus first, let his Word be your guiding light, and get close to others who know him well. Welcome to a new path to greatness!|
10:40-42 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”NRSV In 10:11-14, Jesus described how the disciples should go about their ministry—staying in homes of worthy people. Those who would welcome the disciples would receive great reward. The word “welcomes” may refer both to hospitality (receiving the messenger) as well as conversion (receiving the message). Jesus’ representatives carry all his authority. Those who welcome the disciples welcome Jesus; those who welcome Jesus welcome the one who sent Jesus—God the Father. Again Jesus unmistakably claims his relationship to God. Jesus spoke these words to his twelve disciples, but then repeated the saying three more times using prophets, righteous people, and little ones. “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”NRSV To give a cup of cold water was an important act of courtesy and hospitality. It would not be out of the ordinary and, therefore, would deserve no reward. The disciples definitely were “little ones” who were insignificant and despised in the eyes of the world. Those who would receive (welcome) the disciples merely because they were disciples would not lose their reward. Because the disciples would come with God’s authority, their acceptance by people would test the people’s attitudes toward God. It is that attitude that leads either to reward or loss of reward. For more on rewards, see Matthew 16:24-27; 19:28-30.
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.