A Bible Lesson on Matthew 10:1-33

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

At the end of Matthew 9, grieved at the misery of Israel and humanity in general, Jesus tells the disciples to pray that God would send out workers into His field, that He would provide shepherding for sheep without a shepherd.  Now Jesus, the Great Shepherd, now turns to those same disciples and commissions them to go out in His name and do exactly what He’s been doing.  Commentators look at this passage as a first Christian ordination service.  What Jesus commands here is relevant both in the fairly short term, where the mission is limited in time and extent, and in the long term where it extends to the end of this age and to the ends of the earth.

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.

Jesus has authority.  That was evident to all.  He acted and He taught with authority.  In a limited way, His disciples are given that authority as they go forth to minister in His name, on His behalf, according to His purposes.

2 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;

3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;

4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

This is quite a crew.  There is genuine diversity here.  All kinds of occupations and temperaments are represented here.  As many have noted, if they weren’t Christ’s, Simon the Zealot probably wouldn’t have thought twice about throttling the “Roman collaborator” Matthew!  The apostle John who gave us the Gospel of John was not at all the same kind of impetuous fellow as Peter.  Judas proved to be a traitor.  All of this Jesus knew in advance, and here they are together being commissioned.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,

6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

For the time being, the mission is to Israel.  This is not the last word on the matter.  The commission in Matthew 28 is to go to the ends of the earth.  But here in the short run, Jesus tells the disciples to confine their work to God’s people Israel.

7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

The KJV uses “preach,” but the sense in modern language is indeed “proclaim.”  It is to the job of a herald for the King, to announce His presence.  John proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom in the sense that it was on the way in time.  Jesus and His disciples proclaim the kingdom’s present nearness in space.  Jesus is here, bringing His kingdom.  What’s the cure for the misery of humanity?  It’s Christ and His righteous rule and reign.

8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.

In Luke 10, the 72 report that demons are subject to their commands.  The book of Acts is full of healings and raising of the dead in Christ’s name.  In the long term, the miseries of the fall will be ended forever with the coming of Christ’s kingdom.  Sickness, death, demonic activity will all yield to the gracious coming of the kingdom of Christ.

Of course, none of these benefits ought to be for sale by Christ’s disciples.  They are the good gifts of God, both in the short term and in the long.  We ought to recoil at the notion of treating the grace of God as a commodity to be traded on.  But the instruction here goes beyond that.  Christ tells His disciples to be largely oblivious to economic/material considerations as they go about His work.

9 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts,

10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

The emphasis here is on not carrying spare stuff … no extra cash, no extra clothing or extra provisions.  The mission is too vital and pressing to be worrying about carrying stuff that might prove useful sometime in the future but in the present is extra weight.  If one is on the King’s business, one can (and indeed must) expect the King to provide the moment-by-moment physical support that is needed.

11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.

12 As you enter the house, greet it.

13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

Initial “worthiness” in this context seems to be decency and hospitality.  Any Jewish visitor to a Jewish town should expect to be given hospitality.  This is instruction to take it where it is offered, pronouncing a blessing as a home is entered.  If that home proves to be less than honorable/unworthy of the Gospel, then there is no loss to the disciple or the Kingdom.  The Gospel has come near, bringing the potential for peace and blessing, and any loss is the home’s.  And the loss is complete in any place where there is no real reception of the proclamation of the King’s proximity.

14 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.

15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Here is serious warning.  Not even gross immorality is in the class of failure to embrace the Good News of the presence coming of the Kingdom.  God’s Son, Messiah, Savior is here.  Indifference to that will damn the soul.  To shake off the dust is to very visibly and emphatically warn the home or town.  Barnes describes it as a statement that the object is completely impure, profane, pagan.   Eternal regret for blessing squandered/despised will be greatest for those given the greatest light.

Jesus now begins to tell the disciples what they can expect to meet.  They are to go and proclaim.  They carry wonderful good news of the Kingdom.  But that doesn’t mean they should expect to be well-treated.

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Barnes’s rendering of the first phrase is: “I send you, inoffensive and harmless, into a cold, unfriendly, and cruel world. Your innocence will not be a protection.”  Sheep are in constant danger and can count only on their Shepherd for protection.  This is stark realism on the part of Christ.  This is a fallen world and there is real evil.  Christ’s disciples ought not be surprised when God’s Kingdom and they as its heralds are not welcomed, and indeed attacked.  Don’t be naïve, Christian disciples.  Be as prudent as serpents and as harmless as doves (with purity of intention).  Snakes know how to make for cover when there is danger.  Doves don’t injure or look for danger and they don’t deserve wrath.  Christians will be attacked, but shouldn’t seek martyrdom and or do anything genuinely deserving hatred.

17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,

Again, this is not to surprise Christ’s disciples.  Jesus is laying out the temporal cost of obedience that will be paid by at least some believers, and especially the apostles.  There will be persecution and abuse from the religious.  And that will morph into “legal” proceedings.

18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

Beginning with the apostles, Christian people through the centuries have been charged by governments with all kinds of ridiculous things … that in the end boil down to one thing: loyalty to the real King and Lord.  Their trials before civil authorities are then ultimately for the sake of Christ and are opportunities to bear witness to the truth about Him and His Kingdom.  The real concern in those trials is not obtaining justice (there is no promise of such) or protecting the reputation of the disciple.  It is about maintaining the honor of the King.  The concern of the disciple must be the reputation of the King.  And the promise here is that where the disciple has been as prudent as a snake and as innocent as a dove, when the time comes Christ will indeed be honored.

19 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.

20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

God will be true to Himself.  The promise here is not for eloquence, or for powers of persuasion, or necessarily even for articulation of perfect theology.  It is rather that the humble disciple of Christ depending upon Him when called to account for His name sake will ultimately not dishonor Him.  Simple Christian people depending upon Christ in persecution have burned brightly for Him throughout history, by the grace and power of His Spirit.

21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,

This is a more or less direct quote from the prophet Micah.

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; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

The situation that produced the misery in Micah is not the same as that here in Matthew, but the end is similar.  The Christian believer need not think that there have never been such hard times.  He or she must, however, not be surprised or wilt under that misery.  The message here is “Don’t be surprised by persecution from governments and even family.  Hold fast.  To give up is not an option.  This is for eternity.”

22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

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.

The first part of this verse is plain.  Believers cannot deny Christ, but they are not to be looking for martyrdom.  When persecution comes, if there is an honorable way to escape, it is completely appropriate to take it.  The second part of the verse is not so plain.  Which coming?  What is meant by “towns of Israel”?  There are many opinions, none completely convincing.  What is clear is the urgency here.  Believers are to carry the Gospel with them across the world and it’s to be widely shared.  In the short term, these being sent out need to get going.  In the long term we are all to be about proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom.

Again to the matter of persecution there is this:

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.

25 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.

There is no reason for Christian people to expect better treatment than was given Christ.  Jesus has already been maligned and knew He was on the way to Calvary.  Christian people are not called to purposely incite needless ill will from the world, but persecution surely will come.  It’s guaranteed.  In fact, in the same way that kids might pick on a small child when they’d be afraid of his big brother, cowards will persecute innocent Christian believers … and ultimately cower before the Master of those believers.

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

So, don’t be afraid.  In the first place, the truth will ultimately be vindicated/brought to light.  If that’s not so in this life, then it will surely be so in the next.  The believer who patiently holds onto Christ will be shown to have acted in wisdom and faith.  That will be plain to the whole universe.  Against that grand realization, what sense does fear make?  Instead, what is true about Jesus ought to be boldly proclaimed, shouted for all to hear.

27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Don’t be afraid, in light of whose approval really matters.  Reformation history tells us that when John Knox was buried, eulogy spoken by one Regent Mortin included the words “Here lies one who neither flattered nor feared any flesh.”  There’s the account of Bishop Hugh Latimer (later martyred by Mary Queen of Scots) speaking audibly to himself during the English reformation as he preached with King Henry the 8th in attendance, “Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say.  The king is here.  …  Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say.  The King of kings is here.”  Christian people know that God is always “in the room.”  If He is who the Scriptures say He is, our absolutely constant concern must be His glory, not our reputation or comfort.  (Latimer’s words to his fellow martyr Ridley as they went to be burned at the stake were “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”)

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Don’t be afraid, in light of your great value and the superintending providence of God.  Humans all bear His image.  Christian people bear His name, are His special chosen delight.  He is active in His creation and every last creature is His concern.  If this is so, can anything come to a Christian believer that catches Him by surprise or ought to cause a disciple fear?  Arguing from the lesser to the greater, indeed if He cares individually for small birds He surely knows the situations of His saints.

32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,

33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Be of good courage and have the long view.  This is for keeps.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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