Matthew 10:1 – And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal every disease and every affliction.
It seems kind of fitting that Jesus would use 12 apostles to plant the New Testament church, since he had used the 12 tribes of Israel to keep the Old Testament covenant.
The account of Jesus sending these 12 disciples forth to minister is also recorded in Mark 6 and Luke 9.
Mark tells us that Jesus sent them out in pairs. This gave each of them a companion to share the labor, the joy and the opposition they would soon encounter. Besides, if they split up, the gospel message could be shared in many, many more places. The apostles were sent into the world by Jesus, just as Jesus had been sent into the world by his Father.
The most important thing in this verse is that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits and sickness/disease. Jesus confirmed his teaching through the working of miracles; his disciples would do the same.
Matthew 10:2-4 – The names of the twelve apostles are these: First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
The really great thing about this list is what is NOT on it.
- There are not super wealthy people, who could influence others to accept the gospel just because rich people have influence.
- There were no naturally gifted orators who could convince people to accept the gospel just because they were persuasive arguers/speakers.
- There were no overly handsome or good looking people who could influence others to follow them because of their beauty.
- There were no super intelligent scholars, who could convince people to accept the gospel because it was the smart thing to do.
Jesus chose plain, ordinary men of good character and honesty who would testify to the truth of the gospel that they learned from Jesus. They would also testify of his death and resurrection. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they were willing to lay down their lives to bear witness to the truth.
Luke tells us that Jesus chose them early in his ministry (before the Sermon on the Mount) so that they would be witnesses to everything that he taught and everything he did from the beginning of his ministry until his resurrection from the dead.
You and I have also been called to bear witness to the truth of the gospel and to share what Jesus has done for us. Aren’t you glad that you don’t have to be rich or famous or really well educated to understand and accept the grace of God? I know I am!
Matthew 10:5-6 – These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Gentiles (or Greeks as they are sometimes called in the New Testament) are simply non-Jewish people. They did not know the true God and in their ignorance they worshipped many false gods.
The Samaritans were a group of people living in the region between Jerusalem and Galilee. They were a mixed race of people who embraced a false religion which was an amalgam of Judaism and idolatry. They worshipped Jehovah along with other false gods.
Clearly, the disciples were not to share the Kingdom of Heaven with the Samaritans or the Gentiles. Why not?
God has a divine order in dealing with mankind: to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.
The Jews were the chosen people of God. It was through them that the Messiah had come. It was through them that all the nations of the earth would be blessed; Jesus was a fulfillment of the covenant made long, long ago with Abraham and his descendants. So it makes sense that they should be the first to hear and see the Messiah. They should have the first opportunity to accept the New Covenant, because they already had a relationship with God.
Secondly, the disciples were what we might call ‘green horns’. They needed to learn how to effectively share the gospel. The easiest way to do that was among the people who were already intimately acquainted with the promises of the old covenant. It would take a lot more wisdom, knowledge and Holy Spirit power to share the gospel with those who knew nothing of God’s former dealings with mankind. The disciples weren’t ready for that yet.
Thankfully, Jesus would soon charge his apostles to spread the gospel to ‘Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world’, which eventually included you and I!
Matthew 10:7 – “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
The disciples were all to preach the same message – The kingdom of Heaven was arriving imminently. In other words, they were to tell as many Jews as possible that God was ready to fulfill his promises to them! Now, after generations of waiting, God is ready to implement the kingdom of the long awaited Messiah. Because of that, it was time for men to repent of their sins and prepare themselves to be citizens of this new kingdom. When the Messiah was manifested, they must be ready to believe him, accept his doctrine and submit to his authority.
There are still people today that have not heard the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven. They need a chance to repent of their sins and become citizens of the Kingdom of God. What are you doing to spread the word?
Matthew 10:8 – “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.”
The power and authority Jesus gave to the disciples was for a very specific purpose – the confirmation of the message regarding the Messiah and his kingdom.
These gifts were not to bring honor or renown to the disciples, but to demonstrate God’s love toward mankind.
God was sending the Messiah to bless us, to rescue us from the tyranny of Satan, to save us from death, to heal our diseases and relieve us from our misery. Only God could receive the glory for the miracles that were performed, because they were done by his might and power.
So, God was the author of all these blessings. The apostles were merely channels for transmitting the bountiful blessings of God from heaven to earth. Therefore, they had no right to be selective as to who could receive these benefits; they could not pick and choose who to minister to or charge anything in return for the miracles.
Isaiah 55:1-2 – Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Let me ask you this: what is the purpose for all the bountiful blessings God has given you and I in our generation? Are our spiritual gifts, material blessings and resources only to contribute to our personal happiness, or does God expect us to use them for his glory and the spread of his gospel to the lost? Are you a channel that God can use to further his kingdom?
Matthew 10:9-10 – “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”
The implication is that the disciples could take with them whatever money they had on hand, but they were not to delay their journey by attempting to provide more. Nor were they to pack a whole bunch of baggage to take with them. Why do you suppose Jesus gave them this command?
One reason was that extensive planning and packing would cause delays and stress. But the main reason was probably to develop their ability to trust in God for whatever they needed. Their focus was to be on God and the mission set before them. God would be the one to provide food, clothing and necessities.
In my opinion, this is much harder than it sounds, especially at first. Put yourself in their shoes. What if you and I went on a missionary journey, trusting God to provide. What if we wanted steak but God provided bologna? Would we complain or be thankful? What if we were expecting a king size pillow top memory foam bed, but we wound up with a sleeping bag on someone’s cold stone floor? Not only did the disciples need to trust God to provide, they had to learn to accept the provisions that God miraculously provided.
1 Timothy 6:6-8 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing let us be with these things content.
It seems to me that comfort is something our culture really values. If God calls us to a little bit of discomfort for the sake of the gospel, can we accept that with thankfulness? Are we content with the level of worldly goods God has given to us? Are we good stewards of these blessings, or do we selfishly keep them all to ourselves?
Matthew 10:11-13 – “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”
While they were not to take extra money or provisions, they were to make wise choices about where to stay. They were to seek out godly and upright men, who had a reverence and thirst for God, and who would be willing to receive and provide for two ministers of God.
Once they had found such a household, they were to stay in that place and not move again, even if a better opportunity appeared. Their time was not to be spent in seeking better accommodations or comfort, but to preach, minister healing and deliverance, and pray. After all, their main goal was not personal enjoyment; it was to spread the gospel.
In these verses, the word “house” refers to family. The apostles were to show proper respect and civility to their host family, while the family would provide gracious hospitality to them.
Matthew 10:14-15 – “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah that for that town.”
If the town where they went to minister rejected the gospel, the apostles were not only to leave that town, but place a witness against it by removing the dust of that town from their feet.
The Jews believed that even the dust of the Gentile nations was impure, and was to be shaken off or removed when they went to cross the border into Israel. This was to prevent the pollution of the heathen nation from touching their holy land.
In this instance, the implication is that those Jews who rejected the gospel message were no longer holy, but were impure and profane, on a level with heathens and idolaters. Therefore, even the dust of their town must be removed from God’s true followers. Interestingly, some of the apostles wound up doing this very thing! See Acts 13:51 and Acts 18:6.
This contempt for the gospel would not go unpunished by God. One day these unbelievers will be judged more harshly than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were destroyed by fire and brimstone.
What does this passage say to us about the profanity of the world that touches us every day? Do we despise and reject the things of the world that pollute our holiness, or do we tolerate those things, or even enjoy them? Are we influencing the world for Christ, or is the world influencing us to accept sin?
Matthew 10:16 – “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
So, the apostles have been commissioned by Jesus to travel around, spreading the good news that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand, with miracles to confirm their doctrine. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t be glad to be a part of that?
Satan – that’s who! And he is not going to stand by idly while his human slaves are rescued and set free. He is going to use them to fight back against the kingdom of heaven.
Thus, Jesus makes it very plain to the apostles that they will face persecution, discouragement, opposition, legal action and other dangers. The enemies of the gospel have a malicious nature, ready to devour and destroy the ministers of Christ, just as a wolf naturally wants to hunt down, kill and devour a sheep.
How are they to react to these attacks? They are to be wise as serpents – meaning they need to act prudently, not irritating the enemy unnecessarily. On the other hand, they are to be innocent as doves – meaning that they should not be over cautious, allowing the enemy to dictate when and how they minister. Honestly, this is still a good rule to follow today.
Matthew 10:17 – “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues…”
Here Jesus is speaking of the future. None of the 12 encountered these circumstances on this first missionary journey, but they all did after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected.
Flogging was the same as whipping. Tradition says that the guilty party was laid upon the ground before the judge. The blows were then inflicted upon his back. The limit was 40 (Deuteronomy 25:2-3), but the judge could determine any number less than that. It was not until after the beating that they were tied to a post.
To make the beating more severe, the Jews would attach thongs or lashes to the rod (usually 3). That means one strike delivered 3 lashes at once. They would then strike the person 13 times, giving 39 lashes. The apostle Paul was beaten in this manner 5 times.
The most grievous scourging of all was when the Romans would fasten pieces of iron or lead to the thongs. These were capable of ripping and tearing flesh. Keep in mind, the Romans were not limited by the Old Testament law. They could whip someone with as many lashes as they chose. It was the Romans who whipped Jesus before his death. Jesus did not ask his disciples to suffer in a way that he did not also experience.
Matthew 10:18 – …and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”
‘Governors and kings’ refer to Gentile leaders appointed by the Romans. These included proconsuls, porcurators and even emperors. On the first missionary journey, the apostles were to speak only to the Jews. Thus, we see that this too, is a future event which takes place only after the resurrection of Jesus. By this statement, Jesus plainly shows that he intends for the Gentiles to have opportunity to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
The purpose of appearing in these high courts is to bear witness of the Messiah to the highest leadership in the land. Once the Gentiles are informed of the gospel, they are responsible for this knowledge. To reject it means to reject eternal life.
Matthew 10:19-20 – “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
Again, it was one thing to be arrested and beaten by the Jews, because their power was limited by the Old Testament and by the Romans. But when you are standing before the highest Roman/Gentile powers, there was no limit as to what they could do to you.
Also, the apostles were uneducated laborers and fisherman. How could they explain/present the gospel in terms that these Gentiles could not refute or ignore? I can see why the apostles might be a bit anxious, can’t you?
But Jesus never wants us to operate in a spirit of fear.
2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Therefore, he comforts his ministers with the assurance that when these events take place, God will be with them every step of the way. The Spirit himself will give them the words to speak; words that will cut through every argument that tries to exalt itself above the truth of the gospel. The Gentiles may be able to out-reason the apostles, but they could never out-reason the Holy Spirit! The truth of the gospel would be made plain to them, and they would have to decide what to do with it – accept it and change their ways, or reject it and thus reject God at the same time.
Matthew 10:21-22 – “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
The natural bonds of family are some of the strongest bonds we know. Most people count on family to come to the rescue during distressing times, to provide safety and comfort, and to offer assistance and guidance when needed.
But Jesus tells us that the enemy will stop at nothing in the fight for men’s souls. Satan will incite his wicked followers to hate even their closest family members; anyone who accepts the gospel must be stopped before they turn others from Satan to Christ.
If we examine the witness of Christians from foreign countries, particularly those involving Islam, we find clear evidence that this is happening today.
To some degree it is true in the United States as well. I have known some people who are estranged from their families just because they changed from another religion to Christianity.
In the midst of all this betrayal, Jesus offers hope. Victory is assured to the Christian. This includes those who endure until Jesus returns as well as those who endure until their trial is concluded or their life is over. Regardless of which circumstance applies, the Christian who endures will receive eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 10:23 – “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
In some ways, this verse is easy to understand and in other ways, it is very puzzling. Let’s begin with the easy part.
The overall sense of this verse is that the apostles should practice prudence – if their lives were in danger, they could certainly shake the dust off their feet and move on to a new city.
What they did NOT have was permission to deny Christ. They must always be true to the Savior who, out of love, would die for them long before they were asked to give their lives for his glory. There are still some places in the world today where Christians must choose between their faith in Christ and their life on earth. I believe that if God calls us to make this choice, he grants us the grace to stay true to him.
Another thing the apostles did NOT have was permission to retire. No matter how many cities and towns they were kicked out of, they were to move onto the next one and continue to spread the gospel. Do you plan to retire some day? While you can certainly retire from your life’s profession, you can never retire from Christianity. Wherever you go after retirement, be sure to look for new opportunities to spread the gospel!
Now for the difficult part of this verse: The stipulation that the apostles would not visit all the towns of Israel “before the Son of Man comes.”
It seems rather clear that the phrase does not refer to the first missionary journey that the apostles are about to embark on. That mission is covered in full in verse 5-15. The culmination of that journey was a pronouncement of final judgment on those who reject the gospel message.
It also seems rather clear that beginning in verse 16 Jesus is looking forward in time to future events/missions. So at some future time (future to the apostles at the time of Jesus), there would be difficult persecutions; the question is what constitutes the end of these events? What is meant by the phrase “Before the Son of Man comes?”
Some scholars believe it refers to the judgment of Israel and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Some believe the phrase has dual meanings and that it not only refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, but also refers to an event still further in the future – the second coming of Christ.
Rather than spending a lot of time arguing one way or another, I think our time would best be spent concentrating on the ‘here and now’. Let’s be about our master’s business today and let tomorrow take care of itself.
Matthew 10:24-25 – “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”
Beelzebul or Beelzebub was the name given to one of the false gods of the Philistines. It meant ‘the god of flies’, so called because this idol was supposed to protect the Philistines from the numerous swarms of flies common in their land. Among the Jews the name signified ‘the god of filth’ and was esteemed as the lowest and most offensive of all the idol gods. By giving this name to Jesus, they were pouring out upon him the greatest possible abuse and contempt.
According to this scripture, what evil men have said and done to Jesus, they will certainly not hesitate to say and do to his disciples. This includes all manner of suffering and shame up to and including physical death.
However, in Luke 12:4 Jesus tells us not to be afraid of those who can kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do! God has guaranteed our place in heaven; no man can change that!
This is the end of today’s post. Normally, I try to give you some words of encouragement, relief and strength for your daily walk in Christ. But this week, I would like to do something a little different.
According to OpenDoorsUSA.org, 11 Christians are killed every day for their decision to follow Christ. Instead of focusing on ourselves this week, can we commit to pray for Christians around the world who are facing some of the same persecutions that were endured by the apostles?
Let’s pray that God will give them an abundant provision of courage and faith as they bear witness to the gospel of Jesus.
Let’s pray that governments who are hostile to the cause of Christ will be toppled and that Christianity will be embraced in these lands.
Let’s pray that those who have been ostracized by their families will find love and support from other believers.
Above all, let’s pray that the name of Jesus will be lifted up in all lands, so that all men have an opportunity to know him and Lord and Savior!