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Jesus Appoints and Sends Out The Twelve To Proclaim The Kingly Rule of Heaven With Admonitions, Warnings And Final Promises (9.35-11.1).
In this section Jesus appoints and sends out His twelve Apostles. His purpose for them is that they might proclaim the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and reveal its presence on earth by the signs and miracles that will result as they evangelise (10.1, 7-8). But He is full aware that their message will only be accepted by the minority as He has made clear in 7.13-27. So He warns them of two things. Firstly that they are not to expect total success in their evangelism, and secondly that they must expect to sometimes have a rough time of it.
In regard to the first He points out that their ministry will rather result in dividing the nation into two, splitting off those who respond to their message, from those who reject it. This was what they should have expected, for, as He had already taught, while some will choose to enter the narrow gate, they will be the comparatively few, while others will choose the broad gate, and they will be the many (7.13-14). Some will choose to build on rock because they hear and respond to His teaching, others will choose to build on sand because they refuse to hear and respond (7.24-27). And this was indeed something that had already been indicated by John’s teaching concerning the wheat and the chaff (3.12). So whatever the disciples were expecting, Jesus was fully aware of the difficulties of the way ahead, and was not even expecting that the majority of the Jews would respond.
This is confirmed in His words to the twelve as He now sends them out for the first time. Rather than seeing all the Jews as responding to them, His clear indication is that they will split ‘Israel’ into two, or rather will cut off from Israel all who refuse to believe. This He demonstrates as follows:
So it is clear from all this that Jesus was not expecting a mass movement by which most or all Jews would turn to Him and enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. He was very much aware of the tensions in Galilean society, and the thoughtless fanaticism of many. And He recognised from the start that His Apostles’ preaching would bring bitter division, as some responded to His truth and some rejected it.
As we shall see later it was quite clear to Him that in setting up a new ‘congregation of Israel’ in the midst of the old, and thereby setting aside the unbelieving of old Israel as no longer being Israel, He was expressing a revolutionary new idea which would result in a new nation which could hardly be acceptable to the old regime. From then on the majority of ‘Israel’ would no longer be seen by God as Israel at all. The nation would be take from them and given to a nation producing its fruits (21.43). For just as the Israel of Sinai were all cut off in the wilderness, and none, apart from rare exceptions, entered the land, being replaced by a new generation, (so that a ‘new Israel’ entered the land), so now God would cut off a large part of present Israel because of their rejection of their King, and form a new Israel from what remained. From then on they and they alone would be the true Israel, and this new Israel would be open to all who responded to Jesus Christ.
Many seek to argue that some of the words spoken in what follows could not have been spoken by Jesus at this time, given the circumstances in which they found themselves. They claim that none of these things described actually happened to the disciples on these preaching trips. But that is to make unwarrantable assumptions on the basis of our lack of knowledge, and by their ‘reading between the lines’. We do not in fact know what problems the Apostles encountered on their journeys, and when we think of the stirring impact that their mission must have made (twelve effective wonder workers appearing among the people doing mighty works, compare Luke 12.17) it must be considered quite possible, indeed probable, that some of them were dragged before synagogue courts, and even before Herod and local governors, and given a beating before they were then let go as a warning to them. So if we do want to read between the lines, it would seem reasonable to suggest that we should do so in terms of what is written in those lines. (We have nothing else to go by, and the Scriptures often describe commands and warnings while not describing how they were carried out and fulfilled, even though they were, e.g. Exodus 17.1-7).
And if some ask, why is it then not mentioned we have two replies. Firstly that the Gospels are concentrating on the presence and doings of Jesus Christ, and only cursorily mention the doings of Apostles, and secondly that, just as Matthew assumes that his readers will gather from these words that their mission actually was carried out (he does not actually say so), so he and the other evangelists may have assumed that their readers would recognise that these other things did also happen. We might also add that they were probably so used to it in their own ministries that they did not see it as anything unusual (note how James the leading Apostle could be martyred and it only be mentioned briefly so as to indicate an attack on the Apostles in Jerusalem. There was no specific interest in the actual martyrdom except as an indicator of what was happening (Acts 12.2)).
There is in fact nothing described in Jesus’ words, apart from His own firm demands on them, that would not be reasonably anticipated by someone who was familiar with the Law and the Prophets. Consider for example:
And we must ever remember Jesus’ deliberate tendency to over-emphasise in order to bring home His point. We have only to consider the Sermon on the Mount to recognise the vividly exaggerated way in which He could lay out His case so as to prepare them for the worst (e.g. 5.22-26, 29-30). The One Who could give such warnings in such vivid terms would be likely to do the same here. And that is what we find. (Rhetoric must not always be taken literally. It is intended to spur men on. Despite Churchill none of us ever fought the enemy on the beaches of the UK. But we did figuratively). There is, however, no reason to doubt that the persecution and family problems that He describes did actually happen and would go on happening, as they still do to some today. Families would treat converts to Jesus as ‘dead’ to the family, and there may well have been some cases of actual death. The fact that the Gospel writers saw them as simply a necessary part of their testimony, and therefore as not worth mentioning, should not make us say that they did not happen. For in the light of the way the Old Testament prophets were treated, what Jesus describes had to be anticipated. And this would especially be so given the fact that their erstwhile fellow missionary John was lying in prison, something almost totally ignored by the Gospels, and that the reputation of the Herod family for the arrogant treatment of their subjects was well known. We must therefore emphasise that there is nothing in Jesus’ words, (once toned down in order to take into account the deliberate over-emphasis and rhetoric), which could not have been their present experience, as we shall see further as we consider the text. The disciples had to expect the worst.
For Jesus would not have been fair to His disciples if He had not warned them of the dangers that lay ahead in these terms. They were the new prophetic men who were taking on the mantle of the prophets, and He must have expected them to be persecuted as the prophets had been (5.11, compare 23.34-35). And this was especially so in view of His own words already on record from an early stage that He Himself expected a ‘taking away’ of Himself that would give His disciples reason for mourning (9.15). Thus He clearly already had a dark foreboding about the future.
And besides He had Himself already experienced what close neighbours could do at Nazareth when they objected to the truth (Luke 4.29), and how volatile the people could be. Had He not been Who He was He might well already have been dead. And He already knew of the fervency of the feelings of the Pharisees against Him (9.34). The Galileans were a fanatical people, and easily stirred in religious matters. Thus He would have had to be very shortsighted not to expect some kind of violent opposition from both the authorities and the people when His Apostles went out, especially as some of the Apostles might quite easily trespass on parts of Galilee where Gentile influence was more pervasive, in their aim to reach all Jews, even possibly causing a stir in Jewish parts of cities like Tiberias (which was mainly occupied by Gentiles), and may well in their enthusiasm not have been guarded in their words.
In fact His aim to limit their preaching to Jews may well have had as one reason behind it His reserve against their reaching out further until they were better trained, on the grounds of what might be the consequences from the point of view of the reaction of the authorities, which might be too much for them at the present time, and that even though He was quite clear in His own mind that God had a welcome for Gentiles (8.10-13, 28-34; Luke 4.24-27). For in view of the fact that He had already arranged for some Gentiles to hear the truth about Him (Mark 5.19-20; compare also John 4.4-42), even though in a way to which none could not object, we do need to have some explanation of why His concentration was so wholly on the lost sheep of the house of Israel. For we must remember that His early life had been sustained by gifts from Gentiles (2.11).
Once examined the whole passage is in fact seen to be a basic unity, being put together in the form of a chiasmus, the second half reflecting the first in reverse order, whilst also expanding on the thoughts contained in it.
Analysis of 9.35-11.1.
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus went all about their towns and saw the crowds that were thronging Him as being like sheep without a shepherd, and that in the parallel He goes out to preach and teaches in their towns. In ‘b’ He commissions His disciples for their preaching ministry and, calling them by name, gives them Kingly authority over evil spirits, death and disease, and in the parallel declares that because they go out in His Name their being received will be the same as if those who received them were receiving Him, and thus receiving Him Who sent Him. In ‘c’ they are to go to Israel freely giving of themselves, and in the parallel this is seen as losing their lives for His sake (compare 19.29). In ‘d’ they are to take no provisions with them because the labourer is worthy (axios) of his hire, and in the parallel such worthiness is spelled out. In ‘e’ they are to offer or withhold peace, and in the parallel He points out that for the majority His purpose is not to bring peace. In ‘f’ He warns of judgment on those who refuse their testimony, and in the parallel those who do not confess Him will not be confessed before His Father. In ‘g’ they are to go forth as sheep and to be as harmless as birds, and in the parallel they are treasured because they are more important than birds. In ‘h’ they will be brought before different types of court, and in the parallel they are not to be afraid of those who can kill the body but not the soul. In ‘i’ they are not to be anxious because the Spirit of their Father will speak in them, and in the parallel they are not to be afraid of men because Jesus Himself will tell them what to speak in the light, and they will hear in their ear what they are to declare from the housetops. In ‘j’ households will be divided because of Him and they will be hated of all men for His Name’s sake, and in the parallel because men have called Him Beelzebub they will call them the same. And centrally in ‘k’ in the face of persecution they are to persevere with their ministry until He comes to them.
The Selection And Sending Out of The Apostles (9.35-10.8).
While the speech is clearly one whole, it is also divided up into smaller sections each of which forms a chiasmus in itself. In this the first smaller section the Apostles are commissioned, given authority and named in the light of the needs of lost sheep of the house of Israel. This smaller section can be analysed as follows;
Note here how in ‘a’ Jesus preaches the Good News of the Kingly Rule, and heals the sick and diseased, and in the parallel His disciples are commanded to do the same. In ‘b’ the crowds are like sheep without a shepherd, and in the parallel His disciples are to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In ‘c’ we have the ‘sending out’ commission, and in the parallel the names of the ‘sent out ones’ (Apostles). Central in ‘d’ is Jesus’ vital giving of His own authority to the Apostles.
9.35 ‘And Jesus went continually about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness.’
This verse closes off the last section and opens this one. It describes a continuing ministry as the tense of the verb reveals. ‘All the cities and the villages’ indicates intention. There were too many for Him to reach them all immediately, as He would soon acknowledge (10.23). The synagogues were the places where men and women went to worship and to study the Scriptures. While there was still a welcome for Him there they were a sensible focal point for Jesus. And the fact that He continued going to them indicates their continuing welcome. ‘Their synagogues’ reflects the fact that synagogues were locally owned. Each town had ‘its’ synagogue of which it was proud. But Matthew would in fact, as a public servant, have had little to do with synagogues. He would never have been welcomed there. (Thus he would never have been able to see them as ‘our synagogues’, even when he entered them with Jesus. He would always be the least Jewish in emphasis among the Apostles because the Pharisees would never see him as acceptable. As far as they were concerned his conversion had not taken place in the right way, and it was a conversion to heretical ideas. To them he was still an outcast). The preaching of the Kingly Rule of Heaven together with the healing of ‘disease and sickness’ (almost certainly intended to reflect 8.17 and Isaiah’s prophecy, see on that verse) which demonstrated that that Kingly Rule had come, is now the constant theme (4.17, 23; 10.1, 7-8). Indeed He will shortly emphasise that the ministry of John has been superseded because the Kingly Rule is now here (11.11-13; 12.28).
9.36 ‘But when he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd.’
The great crowds that gathered around Jesus had touched His heart. He was ‘moved with compassion’ towards them. The word for compassion used here is a word solely used of Jesus in the Gospels apart from when He uses it in His own parables. It is at the heart of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. For He saw these people as distressed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. This description of sheep without a shepherd is firmly based on the Old Testament (Numbers 27.17; 1 Kings 22.17; 1 Chronicles 18.16; Ezekiel 34.6, 12 compare Jeremiah 50.17). And the description of Israel as sheep is even more common (2 Samuel 24.17; 1 Chronicles 21.17; Psalm 23; 44.11, 22; 74.1; 78.52; 79.13; 95.7; 100.3; 119.176; Isaiah 53.6; Jeremiah 23.1; 50.6; Micah 2.12). Without a shepherd sheep are in a hopeless condition.
The scattering of sheep was a picture of the exile (Psalm 44.11; Jeremiah 50.17; Ezekiel 34.6, 12) and of persecution (Zechariah 13.7). Thus Jesus looked on these people as in their own kind of exile, an exile from which He had Himself come in order to deliver them (2.15). A group of scattered sheep without a shepherd would soon have found themselves in great distress in Palestine, especially in the dry summers. Unlike goats they were not good at looking after themselves. And what with thorn bushes, and predators, and scavenging dogs, and a disinclination to forage, and shortage of water, their situation if left to themselves would be desperate. In a similar way that was how Jesus saw these people, as scattered and distressed sheep, because their shepherds had failed them. It was because of their spiritual hunger and thirst that they had flocked to John and were now flocking to Him.
‘Distressed and scattered.’ Various alternative translations have been suggested, ‘worried and helpless’, ‘harassed and helpless’, ‘distressed and downcast’, ‘harassed and dejected’, ‘bullied and unable to escape’, ‘mishandled and lying helpless’, partly depending on whether we are thinking primarily of the sheep, or of the people that they represent. But in the end they are all saying the same thing.
9.37-38 Then says he to his disciples, “The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.” ’
Jesus saw the people who came to hear Him, or who wished to come to hear Him, as a harvest to be gathered in (compare John 4.35-36). In His view many of them were there just waiting for someone to come and harvest them in, and it was for that that He was training His disciples. And that was the vision that He wanted to give to them. In Matthew, as we have already seen, the harvest points to the gathering in of the good wheat to God’s barn (3.12). The Pharisees may have seen the people as chaff to be burned, but Jesus saw them as wheat to be harvested (see 3.12 where both are depicted as the Coming One’s task). But whereas John had depicted this as an ‘end time’ event because he held the same mistaken views as the disciples and everyone else in Judaism who were waiting for the ‘consolation of Israel’, Jesus makes clear that it is a process that is to begin now and is to continue as more and more labourers are sent out into the harvest fields. The ‘last days’ were here, but they were to be a continuing process as more and more harvest was gathered in. Nevertheless, as He will make clear later, that harvest time will in the end also result in judgment on the unrighteous, on those whose lives are more like weeds (13.30, 39-42). The ‘Lord of the harvest’ here is clearly God as representing the owner of the fields being harvested. It is His ‘field’ that is being harvested. Jesus is the Harvester, and the disciples are to assist Him in the harvesting.
These actual words appear to reflect a standard procedure followed by Jesus when He was commissioning His disciples for ministry (compare Luke 10.2 before He sends out the seventy with words which are almost the same). It is apparent that these words were spoken to all the disciples indicating that they were to gather to pray, and then when they had done so, those appointed would be sent out. But all would as a result feel that they had a part in the mission. Compare how He also uses similar words prior to sending out the seventy, once the number of trained disciples has grown (Luke 10.2; see also Acts 13.2).
By this time of prayer He joins all His disciples with Him in what is happening, and brings home to all of them the greatness of the waiting harvest (compare John 4.35-36), and the fewness of those who genuinely labour to gather it in. So all the disciples are involved by Him in the sending out of their fellow-workers, although it is very much with a view to themselves also one day being a part of it.
And as those who are sent go out they also must carry a burden on their hearts that others might join them in the task. So that even as they go they too are to pray that God will send out even more into the harvest field. Here we have a clear reminder that Jesus is building up to the future. He is preparing all His disciples for what lies ahead, and seeking to establish a multiplying effect. But He knows that as yet not all are ready to go, and He will initially therefore commence with a small band of twelve. The number indicates His intention. They are to go out to the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’ (19.28), that is, initially to the Jews. Of course, the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’ was even then just a picturesque conception. Apart from a few who clung to their identity with them, many of the tribes had almost disappeared. Not many traced their ancestry to the Northern tribes. What being a member of ‘the twelve tribes’ really signified was a claim to be the seed promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as defined in Old Testament terms. But what that meant in reality was all who had entered within the covenant, whether by birth or choice, for the idea that all were descended from Abraham was but a myth. Few could prove that descent (Jesus was One Who could - 1.1-17). They were descended not from Abraham, but from members of Abraham’s family tribe; from the mixed multitude (Exodus 12.38) who had become a part of Israel at Sinai; and from those who had later attached themselves to Israel in accordance with Exodus 12.48-49. They were really a conglomerate nation. But all saw themselves as the seed of Abraham.
And now the same ‘twelve tribes’ (the future seed of Abraham) are to come under the authority of the Apostles (19.28). And only those who enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven will thus be members of the new ‘twelve tribes’. They will be the new nation which replaces the old (21.43). Those who reject Him will be cast off (see e.g. John 15.1-6; Romans 9-11). Their dust will be shaken off the feet of the disciples (10.14). And from the old will arise a purified nation. It is only later that the disciples will discover that God’s notion of the twelve tribes, while seeming smaller, is in fact larger than theirs (James 1.1; 1 Peter 1.1), and that the seed of Abraham will be increased by Gentiles becoming His seed by faith (Galatians 3.29), although even that is still founded on this idea. But at this stage the disciples would have seen it as signifying mainly that the Jews who responded to Jesus, along with a few proselytes, would form the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’, the true seed of Abraham.
So here for the first time through this exhortation to pray that we find in 9.37-38 He brings the many into cooperating in the sending out of the few. They had already been taught to pray, ‘May Your Name be hallowed, may your Kingly Rule come, may your will be done’, now they were to pray for the sending forth of labourers in order to accomplish that very purpose. So He is already building up the sense of community and fellowship among His disciples. This is no longer simply a matter of teaching and stirring men and women so as to send them back to their farms and their occupations to carry on with their lives as usual and await the Coming One, as John had done. It is the implanting of a new vision. It is the commencement of a great new mission. For as He has demonstrated, now that the Coming One is here, things can never be the same again.
At first in Acts this vision of going out into the harvest field will be partly lost sight of. It will soon be apparent there that the Apostles were quite ready to settle in Jerusalem and enjoy their great success, thinking that they were doing what He had asked, (like us they were ever foolish and slow to act). But then God would step in and thrust them out from there and make them go elsewhere, we know not where. (But He knew). For the last we know of them is in Acts 15, and in a few letters. But it would be a mistake to think that they just disappeared. They went out effectively sowing the seed of the word of God. And under that sowing grew up a healthy young church, the new Israel. And we know that Papias (early second century AD) knew many who had known the Apostles, and demonstrated that their words were still revered. Indeed for the first fifty years after the death of Jesus they were the living prime sources of His words. But because all the attention was rightly on Christ (the hugeness of the idea of His coming blacked out everything else) and not on them, their doings were not seen as important except in so far as it indicated His pre-eminence. And had it not been for Acts, which demonstrated how the Kingly Rule of God reached Rome, and Paul’s letters, we would have known almost nothing about these intervening years, and the huge work that the Apostles accomplished. That is something that is rather revealed by its product, the early church. Quite rightly, in their eyes, Jesus had to increase, and they decrease. He was the star, they were the extras.
Jesus also wisely knew that by teaching the Apostles to pray like this He would ensure the continual renewing of their own impetus. For once their initial enthusiasm had died down, or once the numbers who had to be reached began to get on top of them, this would be the incentive that would keep them going, and the prayer to which they could turn in order to deal with their concerns. We too are to have the same burden. And as we pray we will similarly find ourselves thrust out to play our part in the harvest field. This picture of the harvest will soon play a great part in His parables (chapter 13).
10.1 ‘And he called to him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness.’
It is apparent that the twelve had already been appointed by this stage. This was a sign of the future that Jesus saw as ahead. Unlike the other prophets He would not just come and go, to be replaced by another. Some of the prophets did establish groups of disciples (e.g. 1 Kings 20.35; 2 Kings 2.3, 5, 7, 15; 4.38; 6.1; Isaiah 8.16), but there is no thought of their sending them out on a permanent mission which was to continue to expand. They would establish the teaching of their masters. But they would not propagate his name. In contrast Jesus was the fountainhead from which all would flow. It was His Name that they were to take out (5.11; 7.22).
Nor did any prophet pass on authority and power like this. Moses spirit came on the seventy while he still lived (Numbers 11.17, 25), and on Joshua at Moses’ death (Deuteronomy 34.9), Elijah’s spirit came on Elisha at Elijah’s death (2 Kings 2.10-11, 15), but in no case was it of their own doing, and God’s control over the situation was made quite clear in all cases. Here, however Jesus took it upon Himself. He was His own divine authority. And He sent them out in His Name, and dispensed His own divine power.
He gave them authority to cast out ‘unclean spirits’ and to heal sickness and disease. This was a specific imparting of power, not just of wisdom. His power was to be channelled through them as He worked through them at a distance. They would thus be fully representing Jesus in authority and power. And theirs would now be the privilege of bringing about the healings on behalf of those for whom He was to suffer (8.17). And as 4.23; 9.35; 10.7 make clear this was all connected with the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. By this His rule was now being manifested on earth, and would be in time to all nations (24.14; see Psalm 22.28) and that had to include the expulsion of all that was unclean, especially unclean spirits, and also the restoration of wellbeing and wholeness among men. This would demonstrate that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was here! They had to go out and proclaim, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52.7; compare Psalm 22.28; 103.19 - especially in LXX) and call men in submission to Him. Contrary to what most commentators say, Isaiah 52.11-12 probably has this situation in mind (see our commentary on Isaiah). They would go out from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2.1-4) bearing ‘the vessels of the Lord’, that is the holy things of God.
‘Unclean spirits’. Usually elsewhere in Matthew this is ‘demons’, but compare 12.43. This description is found ten times in Mark, five times in Luke and twice in Acts. It contrasts these demons with the Holy Spirit, and possibly with God’s ‘ministering spirits’, the good angels. As ‘unclean’ they have no access to God. It may also be an indication of their sinfulness, which is what in fact would prevent their access to God.
10.2-4 ‘Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the public servant; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.’
In 9.37-38 the prayer of all the disciples had to be for the sending out of labourers into the harvest, but such prayer is always dangerous. For the one who prays in this way very soon finds himself involved. Thus we are now given the names of the first to be ‘sent out’, the twelve Apostles (apostoloi - sent out ones). It is clear from this that Jesus has already chosen out twelve whom He sees as ready for the task. They are a mixed bunch but mainly, if not all, Galileans.
They include among them at least four fishermen, an ex-public servant and a fervent nationalist, a ‘Cananaean’ (a ‘zealous one’, even more fervent than the general run of nationalists). But even in naming them the dark shadow that lies ahead is brought out. Among them was one who would one day betray Him.
It is tempting to see these pairings as indicating the composition of the twosomes (Mark 6.7) in which they would first go out, although later these may have varied (compare the pairing of Peter and John in Acts). It is possible that of all the Gospel writers, apart from John, Matthew was the only one who knew of the initial pairings. Mark places Andrew after John and James, rather than after Peter, and places Matthew before Thomas. Otherwise his list is the same. We may have in this a small pointer to Matthew’s connection with the writing of this Gospel, especially as only here is it mentioned in the lists that he was a public servant (Luke also places Matthew before Thomas). In his humility he here places his companion first. Luke’s list is not too different. He follows Matthew’s order for the first six, switches Thomas and Matthew, and puts ‘Simon the Zealot’ with James the son of Alphaeus, and Judas the son of James (Thaddaeus, Lebbaeus) with Judas Iscariot, possibly to bring the two named Judas together (the contrast of the good and the bad). Judas the son of Alphaeus probably changed his name to Thaddaeus after the other Judas had brought shame on the name, although it may have been when he was first converted, a new beginning requiring a new name. It should, however, be noted that there are some manuscript differences with regard to a few of these later names, although not important ones.
‘Apostles’. The significance of this term is as an official appointee and representative who has been sent out to perform a function. The function of these Apostles will now be described. It is to proclaim the Kingly Rule of Heaven, to cast out evil spirits and to heal the sick and diseased, demonstrating the presence of God’s Kingly Rule among them.
‘The first, Peter.’ This may simply indicate that he is first mentioned, but in view of the fact that he always comes first in the lists of Apostles, and certainly takes the lead in Acts, we may see it as indicating more than that. But in view of the way in which the working together of the twelve as a whole is emphasised in Acts, it must be seen as meaning ‘first among equals’, a situation partly resulting from his impetuous nature and the special confidence that Jesus had placed in Peter, James and John in the cases of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane. ‘First among equals’ was a phrase which would centuries later become important when the church had to withstand the exaggerated claims of a much later Bishop of Rome. It was the attitude of these later Bishops of Rome, as they would seek to gain pre-eminence contrary to all that Jesus had taught, that would cause the division in the church that still exists today.
The suggestion that the twelve divide into three fours headed by Peter, Philip and James the son of Alphaeus has little merit. There is certainly no evidence for it elsewhere, and it would seem surprising if at least one out of James and John, who were selected out with Peter by Jesus for special duties, should not have held a position of leadership if such a division was to be made. On the other hand divisions into two are witnessed to by Mark. After Acts 15 all the Apostles disappear from history, including Peter apart from his letters, although references in later literature which put him on a parallel with Paul in the eyes of the Roman church as a martyr, may point to him as having visited Rome. There is, however, no solid evidence that he did so. On the other hand it must seem probable. Impetuous Peter would surely want to see the church which existed at the centre of the Roman Empire. But in those days there was no such thing as a sole bishop of Rome, or even a pre-eminent one. The Roman church had a number of bishops of equal standing. Thus to speak of Peter as ever having been ‘the Bishop of Rome’ is unhistorical, although along with Paul he might well have been made temporarily one of the bishops of the church if he was ever in Rome for a period of time. But it is nowhere stressed until centuries had passed. It was certainly never anything that he could pass on.
However, in considering this question of the Apostles we must recognise that Jesus chose these men for the qualities that He saw in them, and that in the first part of Acts they are seen as ministering powerfully. And we must remember that apart from Acts we know nothing about the early church at all, thus it is totally unreasonable to judge them from silence. Certainly in the first part of Acts they played a full part, including incidentally Matthias. (See our commentary on Acts).
10.5-6 ‘These twelve Jesus sent forth, and charged them, saying, “Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Jesus now sent out the twelve, and His instructions were that they were not to take roads that led into purely Gentile territory, nor enter cities of the Samaritans, but were to go to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. In the chiasmus these last are paralleled with 9.36. These were to be the sole object of Jesus’ interest from now on until His intentions were changed by meeting a Canaanite woman who sought His assistance for her daughter (15.24, see context).
Note the typical thesis and antithesis as found in the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Do not go to the Gentiles and the Samaritans, but go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. There was in fact no likelihood of the disciples going to either the Gentiles or the Samaritans (in Acts they were reluctant to go to them even after they had been specifically commanded to do so). That is only stated in order to bring out the positive emphasis on who they were to reach. Compare 5.17, ‘not to destroy, but to fulfil’. 6.19, ‘do not lay up treasure on earth -- lay up treasure in Heaven’.
These words were not intended to indicate that no Gentile or Samaritan who came for healing or to hear their message must be helped. There were many Gentiles in and around Galilee, and where they came with the crowds to hear the teaching of the disciples they would be welcomed, as had always been the case in Jesus’ ministry. (And Judaism always accepted Gentile proselytes). But reaching out to them specifically would be quite another thing . That was not at this stage to be the aim of the disciples who were rather to go to places where they would expect to find the lost sheep of the house of Israel. We must, however, be quite clear who ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ were. They were not the whole of Israel without exception. Jesus is quite clear on the fact that many Jews will refuse to listen to them and will turn them away. In their case the disciples must shake the dust off their feet and go elsewhere. They were not to go to them. They were not to cast their pearls before swine (7.6). But others would welcome them with open hearts, because of their sense of need, and their desire to know God. It was to them that they must go.
Indeed who the lost sheep of the house of Israel were has already been explained in 9.36. They were the large crowds who were tending to follow Him because their hearts were unsatisfied and the Jewish leadership had failed them. There were many like them waiting in the towns and cities longing for a way of salvation. But there were also many Israelites in some of those towns and cities who were not ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (10.14-15). It is true that theologically they were lost, and that they were Israelites, (although now to be rejected Israelites), but their hearts were closed towards Him. They were quite happy with their shepherds, and did not know that they were lost. They did not think of themselves as lost. And when His messengers arrived they would refuse to give them a hearing. Thus the disciples were told not to go to them but were rather to shake their dust off their feet, a sign that in God’s eyes they were not true members of Israel, they were not the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’. In contrast the lost sheep of the house of Israel were those whose hearts were open to receiving the disciples and hearing their message. Jesus could have said with Paul, ‘They are not all Israel who are Israel’ (Romans 9.6).
It is the condition of these ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ which has aroused His compassion (9.36), and He therefore considers that it is they who must be given the first opportunity to hear the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God. It is to be ‘to the Jew first’ (Romans 1.16), and especially those whose hearts God had opened. However, we must stress again that this is not just a way of speaking of all Israel. The identity of the lost sheep is defined in 9.36, ‘He was moved with compassion for them (the crowds) because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd’, and this was while He was going ‘about all their towns and villages’. So ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ does not refer to all Israel, but to those within the towns and villages of Israel who were bewildered and astray, and without a shepherd. This is confirmed in Jeremiah 50.6. ‘My people have been lost sheep, their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains; they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place.’ We should note that here in Jeremiah the clear distinction is made between the false leaders of the people (the king, and the princes, and the prophets, and the priests, and the judges, and the teachers of Israel, and those who followed them - see Isaiah 3.14-15; 10.1; Hosea 4.5-6; 5.1) and the ‘lost sheep’ who sense their emptiness of soul and are waiting and longing for God, and are separate from the others. The same distinction is found in Matthew.
On this basis the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ are those who are not confident in themselves. They sense that they have been led astray by their teachers. But in their seeking, they do not know where to turn. That is why they are looking to the new Prophet. An example of one such is found in Psalm 119.176 where the idea in context is of one who is seeking God’s salvation (verse 174), and who cries, ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep’, and he calls on God to ‘seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.’ The Psalmist is lost and bewildered but his heart is reaching out to God, and there is that within him which clings to God’s commandments. He is one of God’s lost sheep. It is of these lost sheep that Isaiah in 53.6 also declares, of those who hear his report, ‘all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone into our own way’ (Isaiah 53.6), and there the solution is found in the Lord laying on the Shepherd Servant the iniquity of ‘us all’. These are the ‘many’ for whom He will offer Himself (20.28; Isaiah 53.11, 12). It should be noted in this regard that this passage in Matthew 10.5-6 is found very much in the heart of the ‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by (through) Isaiah the prophet’ section, where all Matthew’s direct citations are from Isaiah. It is sandwiched between 8.17 which cites Isaiah 53.4; and 12.17 which cites Isaiah 42.1-4; and we can also compare 3.3; 4.15; 13.14; 15.7 and see 20.28). Isaiah was thus at this stage very much in mind in Matthew’s penning of this section. This confirms that the connection of the phrase ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ with Isaiah 53.6 must be seen as very relevant, following, as it does in Matthew, a citation of Isaiah 53.4. Already therefore in mind is the Servant Who will give His life a ransom for many (20.28).
So this confirms that ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ who must first be sought are those in Israel who feel that they are shepherdless, whose hearts have not forgotten His commandments, and who are waiting to be found. They are the kind who flocked to John the Baptiser, and are now flocking to Jesus. They are not satisfied with the spiritual guidance that they are receiving. They are looking for something else. So this is not an indication that Jesus is restricting His ministry to ‘the Jews’ as such. It is an indication that He sees in these people, who are among the Jews and whose hearts are open, the nucleus of His new Israel which will arise out of the old, and is intending to concentrate on them for the time being. On the other hand this does not indicate a ‘spiritual Israel’, as though there could be two Israels. It is rather a new Israel growing out of the old (21.43; John 15.1-6), the establishment of the true Israel as spoken of by the prophets (Isaiah 6.13; 44.1-5; 48.10; Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hosea 1.9-10; Zechariah 13.8-9). Jesus is saying that the true Israel will now be formed of those who have responded to Jesus the Christ. For it is Jesus Who represents in Himself the true Israel. He is the One Who has come out of Egypt (2.15). He is the true Vine (John 15.1-6). Unbelievers in the old Israel will be ‘cut off’, they will be burned as useless branches (which is expressed here in Matthew by the shaking from the disciples’ feet of their dust), while Gentiles, like the centurion in chapter 8, (and later many others) will be able to be grafted in, a process which will go on until the whole of true Israel are saved. (See Romans 9-11, and our article on ‘Is the church Israel?’).
This was actually the idea also in the Old Testament. There it was those who were true to the covenant who were in the end the true Israel. Those who sinned in the wilderness were excluded from the land. Israel as a whole, apart from the few, would become ‘not my people’ (Hosea 1.9). That was why Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant which would seize the hearts of men making them His people (Jeremiah 31.31-36; Hebrews 8.8-13). And now that is happening and this new and true Israel will be founded on the Apostles (16.18; Ephesians 2.11-22).
10.7 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’.”
And as they go out the twelve are to preach ‘The Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’. But while the words are the same, this is not the same message as that of John. For John was looking ahead to a Kingly Rule that was about to break in, but was still in the future, a Kingly Rule that would arrive in the coming of the Coming One for Whom he was preparing the way. But these are proclaiming that the Coming One is now here, and that men can now enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven by responding to the One Who Has Come. The Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand for all who will believe, and if they respond it can be theirs. For to enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven is to come into the position of submission to the King, Whom God has proclaimed both at His birth (1.23; 2.2), and after His baptism (3.17), Who is manifesting that Kingly Rule by His power over evil spirits (12.28) and Who is now establishing His Kingly Rule prior to being enthroned in Heaven (Acts 2.36). This was how kings were established in those days. First they were acclaimed, then they established their position, often by force, and then when they were finally recognised by sufficient people they were enthroned. In the same way Jesus has been acclaimed and is now establishing His position preparatory to His enthronement (28.18).
We have already been told how to enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. It is not just by saying, ‘Lord, Lord’. Saying ‘Lord, Lord’ is, of course necessary, but equally necessary is it to recognise that this then involves a commitment to do, and a genuineness in doing, the will of His Father Who is in Heaven (7.21). To acknowledge His Kingly Rule and not to obey His will is a contradiction in terms. Thus in the Day that is coming the question will be whether they were ‘known’ (acknowledged personally as His) by the King, something revealed by whether they had heard His words and done them (7.22-27).
10.8 “Heal sick people, raise dead people, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.”
And the evidence that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is here is found not only in the establishing of His renewed Law (5-7), but in the establishing of the well-being of His people and the casting out of the foes of the Kingly Rule (4.23; 9.35; 11.5). Thus His followers are themselves also to fulfil the Messianic signs (11.5; compare chapters 8-9). Just as He is doing, they are to heal sick people, raise dead people, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons, this last being specifically stated later to be conclusive evidence that the Kingly Rule of God has come (12.28). In fact no incident of a leper being healed by a disciple is known, and raisings from the dead were few (Acts 9.40-41; 20.9-11), which the more confirms that this was what Jesus actually said. But by reproducing the miracles of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17.17-24; 2 Kings 5.1-19) in greater measure they would make it clear that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was here.
Note the lack of article on the nouns. These are to be the by-products of their preaching, in the same way as they are with Jesus. Central is the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. It is to establish the Kingly Rule of Heaven that Jesus has been sent (Mark 1.38). The other results will follow as and when people seek them. It will be observed that they follow the pattern of 11.5, with blindness, lameness and deafness all being included within ‘being sick’, while the healing of lepers and the raising of the dead are clearly to be recognised as specific Messianic signs.
‘Freely you received, freely give.’ Many preachers charged for their services, as no doubt did many wonder-workers and healers, although the Rabbis were forbidden to do so (they were rather to depend on generosity). Thus Jesus may here be telling His disciples that they must offer their services freely for no payment, as the Rabbis were supposed to do. But it is more probable that what He is really saying is that having freely received all the benefits of God’s goodness, they should pass them on in abundance, without stint. They were to show the generosity of spirit which should be the mark of the servant of God (5.44-48), especially in offering God to men and women.
Instructions Concerning Their Going Out (10.9-15).
Having declared to them their main responsibilities and objectives Jesus now instructs them about the way in which they are to go about their ministry, and it is immediately apparent that while the principles behind these instructions are permanent, the details are particular to their situation. For they have in mind the society in which they lived.
The principle of hospitality, that is the sense of responsibility to provide hospitality to travellers and strangers, was strongly held throughout the ancient world. Inns were few, and often not very reputable, and such hospitality was therefore very necessary for respectable people. And once that hospitality was offered it was seen as providing a bond between the giver and the recipient. Good men would do anything rather than betray someone to whom they had offered hospitality (compare Genesis 19.7-8; Judges 19.23-24). To give hospitality to someone and then to betray them was considered totally disreputable. The contrary position was that to be refused hospitality was a bad sign. It was a sign of enmity. It was a sign that no favour was being offered. It was a refusal of friendship.
It was also recognised within Judaism that a Teacher should especially be given hospitality, for he was not allowed to charge for the teaching that he provided. Many teachers did got around the ancient world charging for their services, but among the Jews to charge for teaching the Law of God was not approved of, although how far the latter applied in Gentile-affected Galilee we do not know.
There were some Teachers who went around taking advantage of and sponging on the people whom they went to, especially when the new churches were formed, and that was why Paul always sought to be independent and cater for himself, contrary to what Jesus was saying here, while acknowledging the right of others to do differently. But that was in a sophisticated city environment and among the Gentiles where people saw things from a different angle. Jesus in fact provides against the dangers that Paul foresaw by His further instructions against accumulating ‘wealth’ as they went around. So Jesus’ instructions must be seen against this background.
Jesus’ instructions therefore cater for such situations:
In Mark 6.7-13 there are similar instructions, although they may have been in respect of a further mission. But note their abbreviated form. However the principles are on the whole the same. On the other hand the instructions in Luke 10.3-12 were given to the seventy. So while we would expect them to be similar, we would not necessarily expect them to be the same in every detail, as turns out to be the case.
It should be noted that in the Rabbinical writings it was stated that a man ‘may not enter the Temple Mount with his staff or his sandal or his wallet, or with the dust on his feet’. The idea there would seem to be that he must thrust all worldly thoughts and sense of independence aside. He has come to meet with God, and must be prepared in heart an mind, and unencumbered. He must leave worldly activity outside. Something of this may well be in Jesus’ mind. All the attention of His disciples must be on God as they go in His Name.
Analysis of 10.9-15.
Note that in ‘a’ their worthiness to receive a response is stressed, ‘the labourer is worthy of his provision’, and in the parallel the punishment for failing to give that response to the true labourer is emphasised. In ‘b’ they are to seek out those who are worthy and in the parallel they are to shake from their feet the dust of the unworthy. Centrally in ‘c’ they are to bring blessing on the house that welcomes them.
10.9-10 “Do not procure for yourselves gold, or silver, or copper in your money belts; no food wallet for your journey; neither two tunics, nor shoes, nor staff. For the labourer is worthy of his provision.”
The first point that Jesus makes is that they are not to provision themselves out beyond the bare necessities that they are used to, nor build up provisions for themselves, either on their starting out or while on their journey. They must rather continually go forward trusting their heavenly Father for all provision (6.19-34), humbly accepting what He gives them without taking wrongful advantage of it. They were not to look for luxuries, but were only to accept the minimum necessary. One purpose of this was in order to keep them spiritually dependent and humble. It would be very necessary. The new power that they had received could easily have gone to their heads and might even have encouraged greed, as grateful people loaded gifts on them.
‘Do not procure for yourselves gold, or silver, or copper in your money belts.’ Thus they were not to take with them a store of money on their journey, whether of large or small amounts, or accept it from well-wishers, nor were they to accumulate it on their travels. By this it would be seen that they were genuine and prophetic men, and they would also be saved from greed and covetousness.
‘No food wallet for your journey.’ They were not to take a food wallet for self-sustenance, either at the beginning of their journey, or as they moved on from one city to another. For they were to depend on their heavenly Father for His provision and were to become one with the people among whom they ministered. They were not to be ‘independent’. By this there would be a bond between themselves and those who welcomed them, and they would be able to discern between the places where they were welcome and the places where they were not.
‘Neither two tunics.’ Nor were they to provide themselves with two tunics, or accept gifts with that in mind. Having two tunics might well have been seen as a sign of those who were better off, but even if not it would indicate a lack of total trust. It may suggest that by providing a ‘spare’, which most might have seen as normal, they would be reflecting their independence. But that was what they should not be. They were not to be independent. If a need did arise in this regard they were to be totally dependent on the provision of their Father (6.30). Or the idea may be that men wore two tunics when they thought that they would be sleeping in the open. By not doing so they would be demonstrating their trust that God would always provide them with overnight accommodation.
‘Nor shoes.’ They were not to take extra shoes, over and above the sandals that they wore (compare Luke 10.4; that they were to wear at least sandals is suggested by the fact that they were to ‘shake the dust off their feet’ which assumes footwear). Or it may be that the ‘two’ applied to the shoes as well (‘neither two tunics nor two pairs of shoes).
‘Nor staff.’ They were not to procure a staff for themselves. The point here is that they were not to arm themselves, but were to depend for their safety on their heavenly Father. On the other hand those who normally carried a staff for getting along were not required to dispense with it (that is probably the significance of Mark 6.8. It is quite likely that as Jesus spoke questions were asked and discussion followed).
‘For the labourer is worthy of his provision.’ And the reason for all this was that they could expect such things as they needed to be provided by those who welcomed them, as they needed them, because of their faithfulness in their labours and the care of their heavenly Father (6.25-34). They could accept such provision, for it was in line with what they were providing, while excess would not have been acceptable because it would be more than a prophetic man should expect.
There was good sense in all this. It would demonstrate whether they were really welcome (hospitality was considered important by the Jews, especially for teachers, and there were few inns. Thus if they were themselves wanted by the people such things would be provided for them). They would not shame the poor by having more than they had (they were taking Good News to the poor - Isaiah 61.1). They would demonstrate their willingness to live at the same level as those who received them. They would not be tempted from their goal by extraneous things. And they would not be a target for bandits, who seeing their defencelessness and poverty would leave them alone. Bandits would recognise that no man who was carrying money would be without a means of protecting it, thus lack of a stout staff would suggest no money. Furthermore in all this they would be constantly relying on God for both food and protection, something that could only contribute to their spiritual welfare. Included also may have been the idea of not delaying their activities for selfish reasons, and of not being weighed down by ‘other things’ (compare Mark 4.19).
So the point was that they were to go as they were, without making extra provision for themselves, because of their trust in their heavenly Father. This is probably the explanation for the staff/no staff. Some always carried a staff because, like a walking stick, it gave them support. They could therefore take it with them. But those who usually managed without a staff should not make special provision of one for themselves for the purpose of protection or extra strength. They should carry on trusting in God for both.
10.11 “And into whatever city or village you enter, search out who in it is worthy, and there stay until you go forth.”
This verse further explains the situation. They were going in the Name of the King. They should therefore expect provision of their needs by the King’s subjects. Thus their very way of travelling in itself was to declare that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was now present. In each city or village they should therefore seek out ‘who in it was worthy’. This probably signified someone who had already demonstrated their worthiness by showing a responsive interest in the message of Jesus (there would be many such. But some would be prominently so as a result of their witness and their lives). Or it may be that they were to ask who it was in the town who was looked on as the most hospitable and godly. Such people would be the ones most likely to be open to their message. We can compare how in the Old Testament there were always the few who showed special hospitality towards strangers, even in the worst of places (e.g. Judges 19.16-21). But the principle was important. They were not to accept hospitality from just anyone, or look especially for the wealthy. They must rather seek to stay with someone of good reputation. Their acceptance by such a person would then enhance their own acceptability, and let all see that they were worthy men.
Once, however, they had been welcomed they were not later to move to somewhere else. They were to be satisfied with what God had first provided. Indeed to move on would in fact cause great offence and hurt. It would be an abuse of hospitality. If they found themselves turned out, of course, that would be a different matter. But that would presumably be a signal to move on (verse 23). However, if they had chosen well and prayerfully the hope would be that that would not happen.
There may also be the indication here that they were not to outstay their welcome. Once they had been in a place long enough for the original hospitality to have worn thin they should move on. Later, in the Didache (a late 1st century Christian writing) a Christian prophet would be judged by how long he stayed. If he stayed longer than three days it suggested that he was a sponger. That would not, of course, necessarily apply here, but it may bring out the principle in mind.
10.12-13 “And as you enter into the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”
As they entered the house that welcomed them they were to salute it, probably with the words ‘shalom elechem’ (peace to you), a regular Jewish greeting. But in their case it would signify more, for they were the representatives of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.7). Thus their granting of peace carried His authority with it. And if the house proved worthy, presumably by its response to their message, God would ensure that their words would then result in their own fulfilment. At their word God’s peace would come on the house. Indeed all within it would find peace, for they would find it in response to the words of Jesus through the Apostles. But if the house did not respond to their message then it would be rejecting God’s peace, and the peace would therefore return to them. The idea is probably that the disciples should take back their peace, either by leaving and going elsewhere, or by shaking their dust off their feet against them (verse 14), or indeed both. But in the end the message is that men are blessed by God, not on the basis of what they do, but on the basis of how they respond to Him.
10.14 “And whoever will not receive you, nor hear your words, as you go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet.”
These words are very solemn words and indicate the seriousness of the situation they speak of. If they were not received, whether by house or city, they were to shake their dust off their feet. This would be an act of rejection. When Jews left Gentile territory they would regularly shake the dust off their feet for it was seen as unclean. It belonged to a land where God’s laws of cleanliness were not observed, and was thus ‘unclean’. When a man entered the Temple he was to shake the dust off his feet. He was demonstrating that the world outside was not worthy of God. The situation here then was similar. But the uncleanness indicated would not in this case be ritual uncleanness, but sinfulness. By this act this house or city was thus being shown to be cut off from Israel. It was an indication to God that they were not worthy, because they had rejected the messengers of the King. They had refused to submit to the Kingly Rule of Heaven. They were thus being committed to God’s judgment.
10.15 “Truly 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.”
And so serious would be their crime that in the Day of Judgment the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah, who had shown scant hospitality to Lot (Genesis 19), and had become proverbial for sinfulness (Isaiah 1.9-10), would come off better than that city. For they had only rejected Lot, the nephew of Abraham, but this city would have rejected the representatives of the Coming One. There could be no more specific indication of Jesus’ unique claims for Himself. And it will be noted that His claims were just assumed as evident. It was all matter of fact. There was no arrogance or boastfulness about them.
The Dangers That They Will Face In The Future.
Having declared the positive side of what their experiences will be Jesus now turns to the problems that they will face. For while they go trusting their heavenly Father for His provision, and as representatives of the Coming One, they must not thereby think that they will be immune from men’s hatred. For just as John’s teaching, and His own teaching, have produced hatred in men, so will theirs. They must therefore expect the worst. They will find themselves up against both religious and civil authorities, and will have to cater with family divisions caused by the attitudes of people towards Him. This had already been seen in what had happened to John the Baptist under the very ‘king’ who ruled Galilee (Mark 6.14-29). It was to be seen in the attitude displayed by the Scribes and Pharisees towards Him (9.3, 34; both serious charges). It was to be seen in such attitudes as that of Nazareth (Luke 4.28-30). And it was as clear as day from what was promised in the Old Testament that it would happen to all righteous people who sought to walk with God, often expressed in extreme terms as here (e.g. Micah 7.5-6; Isaiah 66.5; Ezekiel 22.7; Zechariah 7.10-12; 13.7-9).
We may see in Jesus’ words an element of deliberate exaggeration in order to bring out the significance of what He is saying, for this was a regular feature of Jesus’ teaching (compare 5.13-16, 22-26, 29-30; 6.2; 7.3-5, 6). His words are to be thought about and not all to be taken literally. They are not all aimed at pedantic minds. (Although He does also awesomely provide for pedantic minds as well).
Analysis of 10.16-23.
Note that in ‘a’ the sheep go among the wolves, and in the parallel they are to be hated of all men. In ‘b’ they will be delivered up to face the Jewish courts, and in the parallel they will be delivered up to them by their own families. In ‘c’ they will be brought before even the highest authorities, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles, and in the parallel it will not be their testimony but the testimony of their Father in Heaven Who speaks in them. Centrally in ‘d’ God will give them the words that they are to speak.
10.16 “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
Jesus introduces His warnings about the future by likening their going forth as similar to that of sheep going among wolves. This in itself is a reminder of the uniqueness of the event. No one sends sheep among wolves. Only God could do that. As those who are poor in spirit (5.3) and meek (5.5) and compassionate (5.44) they will find themselves having to face the arrogant, the proud and even the violent. They will thus need to be shrewd, to know how to pacify, and to avoid confrontation. The vivid contrast demonstrates that He is speaking in exaggerated fashion. The extremes would not always be quite as great. This was the worst case scenario (but they would often feel like sheep among wolves).
‘Wise as serpents.’ The serpent keeps out of sight and moves around unobserved, and then suddenly it strikes. Both its safety and its effectiveness depend on its subtlety, its seeming non-existence, and its speed of action. In Genesis 49.17-18 it is thus linked interestingly with salvation. Its subtlety is proverbial.
‘Harmless/innocent as doves.’ The dove is harmless, causes no trouble, is sweet and gentle (and thus used of Solomon’s beloved - Song of Solomon 1.15; 2.14; 4.3 etc), open and honest, and is non-violent. The combination of subtlety and wisdom, swiftness and sweetness, rapid reaction and gentleness, reveals those who are shrewd, wise, and quick and decisive in thought and action, and yet reliable, gentle, honest, kind and compassionate.
10.17-18 “But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you, yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”
Thus they are to beware of men, for they are ‘the wolves’ that He had in mind. And they are to recognise that many of these will be so incensed against them that they will accuse them from beast-like hearts and have them brought before the courts. They must expect that their message will arouse opposition. The councils are the local sanhedrins, where they might well be accused of heresy and even blasphemy for preaching Jesus. Beatings in synagogues were a common punishment for Jews who were seen as being troublemakers or not sufficiently observant of the Law (compare 2 Corinthians 11.24; Acts 26.11). The use of the scourge here suggests an official verdict. These experiences will demonstrate that at least the Jewish authorities will have had to take notice of them. And they will also be evidence of the opposition that they will face from Judaism as a whole. The Galilean Jews were indeed so nationalistic and fervent (compare Luke 4.28-29)that it was inevitable that someone who brought a new message would have to face up to, and accept the consequences of, fanaticism in some quarters, just as they would experience rejection.
‘Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.’ Many claim that such words go beyond what Jesus could have said in a charge to men going out to preach in Galilee and its surrounds. But a little thought soon brings out that that is not so. It need be saying little more than that they would have to face both the authorities put in place by Rome (by Kings Herod and Philip), as well as those established by the synagogues or local Gentile authorities. In 2.6 Matthew has already spoken of the ‘governors’ of Judah (compare Psalm 67.27 LXX), as representing the authorities over Jewish towns and cities. The word is also used regularly in LXX of the tribal leaders of Edom (over a dozen times in Genesis 36. See also Exodus 15.15; 1 Chronicles 1.51. It translates alluph which can mean a chieftain, captain, etc). It need not therefore indicate Roman governors. And apart from these, He is saying, they may even be brought before the kings (e.g. Herod and Philip) to whom such governors are subject. This may well have in mind Psalm 119.46, ‘I will also speak of your testimonies before kings, and will not be ashamed’.
We need not limit ‘governors’ to Jewish authorities. Galilee contained many Gentiles, and the larger towns and cites abounded with them, and there would be Gentile courts and ‘governors’ there as well as Jewish ones. (The term can also mean a Roman appointed governor like Pilate (27.2, etc), but he would not be involved here). Thus as the disciples sought out the Jews in these places many of these Jews who were antagonistic might also well turn to Gentile courts or to civil authorities in the hope that they would deal firmly with these men who came introducing a new King and spreading ‘revolution’.
We must recognise in this that some of the synagogues in Galilee, especially in the larger cities, might well have been as much against Jesus and His followers as the later Hellenistic synagogues in Jerusalem (Acts 6.9-10) and in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13.50). And some outright Gentiles might also be offended by them and wish to take action against them, as they would later. But how were these dangers to be represented by Jesus to disciples who had had little experience of either Jewish or Gentile courts, and knew very little about the judicial system? Jesus does it in terms they would have heard of, such terms as ‘governors (local authorities) and kings’. These were the very kind of judiciaries that His disciples might know of and would appreciate the seriousness of.
And, of course, there were ‘kings’ threatening on the horizon in Herod (who had already imprisoned John) and Philip, who while not as unreasonable as Herod could certainly be heavy handed at times, especially if disturbances had been caused, while ‘governors’, a word which has been used of the ‘governors (princes) of Judah’ in 2.6, who acted under these kings, would abound.
Indeed ‘Governors’ was probably a deliberately loose description for both Jewish and Gentile authorities of which there would be a number in both territories, spoken to those who would have little knowledge about the varied details and ranks of such people. The Apostles were unlikely to be in a position to discriminate between different types of authority. Once they left their own neighbourhood they would be on new territory. All authorities would then appear the same to them. The thought is thus concentrated on the fact that it would be the representatives of the kings that they knew of, that is their ‘governors’, as well sometimes the kings themselves, who would mainly be responsible for calling them to account.
Jesus’ description would convey exactly what He wanted them to consider, that they would be judged by various rather vaguely described Jewish and Gentile authorities. Indeed, He Himself had probably not had much experience of them either. He too was a provincial. He would thus be speaking in very general terms. And His point is that if this happened they must see it as an opportunity to testify to the Gentiles, who would in many cases be involved. So while they were not to seek Gentiles out, they did have a responsibility to testify to them when they could.
We really cannot turn round and say, ‘but this did not happen to them at this time’. The truth is that we do not know what happened at this time. In an area where feelings were high and tempers easily aroused anything was possible. Thus these things might quite well have happened. In fact it must be considered doubtful if they could have gone out into a hotbed of fanaticism like Galilee and its surrounds without experiencing such things, at least to some extent. For they must have caused quite a stir with their proclamation of the coming Kingly Rule of Heaven, while their healings would have drawn great crowds. Such great crowds being gathered in a number of places at once would not have escaped the notice of Herod’s spies, and they might well have reported back to Herod, especially when the disciples in their teaching concerning the Kingly Rule of Heaven (about which they themselves still had wrong ideas) forgot to be as wise as serpents, thus putting some of the disciples at least in danger of being brought before him. It was certainly something that they must have feared.
Indeed it might well be because one or two had been brought before Herod or his judges that Jesus withdrew into Philip’s territory later on. But the Gospel writers would not want to mention it in case it took the attention off Jesus, as it surely would. It should be noted in this regard that this reticence is so much the case that we are nowhere told in Matthew that the disciples did actually go out on their mission (this is in fact typical of ancient Jewish writings. See for example Exodus 17.1-6 where the actual drinking of the water which was ‘miraculously’ produced is never mentioned, only the directions as to how to obtain it. The rest is assumed). It is just assumed in 11.1. Thus we have no record at all in Matthew of what happened on this campaign. He is deliberately silent about it, in spite of the fact that remarkable things would have happened. His readers did not want to know about what was commonplace to them (Galatians 3.5). They wanted to learn about Jesus. But see Mark 6.12-13, 30; Luke 9.2, 6; and note the connection with Herod in both accounts. Herod may have heard more of Jesus precisely because he had called in some of the Apostles for questioning. Jesus’ words in fact suggest that this is what did happen.
‘Governors and kings.’ Jesus used the concept a number of times as a general way of warning His disciples concerning the opposition that they would be up against (see Mark 13.9; Luke 21.12). In the end it represented all earthly authority.
10.19-20 “But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious how or what you shall speak, for it will be given you in that hour what you shall speak, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”
And when these dreadful experiences did happen they were not to be afraid and anxious. Nor should they be afraid as to what defence they should put up. Rather they were to recognise that in that very hour God will give them the words to speak (‘it will be given you’ - the divine passive). For they will not speak on their own. It is the Holy Spirit Who will speak through them. It should be noted how well these words suit these humble, inexperienced men going out on a task that must have appeared so huge. Then the thought of those courts would be terrifying. The words might not be quite so important when they were more experienced (although they would still important, even if in a different way). Luke cites similar words, but he never specifically suggests that they were fulfilled in Acts, even though Paul did appear before one king and a number of governors. He too could thus have seen them as at least partially fulfilled on these first ‘missionary’ journeys.
‘The Spirit of your Father.’ This is the only place in the New Testament where this phrase is found, but it was a reminder to them that all the time that they were on their journeys their Father would be watching over them, providing for them both bread and clothing (6.30, 32), and now the very words that they should speak when put on trial. As they stood alone before these governors and kings, they would not be alone. Their Father would be with them through His Spirit. Where other would be tongue-tied, their tongues will be freed with the wisdom of their Father.
Note how in the chiasmus this verse parallels that which speaks of their testimony before the highest authorities and before the Gentiles. Here above all they will need the Spirit of their Father to guide their words.
10.21 “And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death.”
Jesus then moves His attention from the judges to the ones who will cause His disciples, and those who hear and respond to them, to be judged, or indeed might judge them themselves by popular opinion on the basis of Deuteronomy 13.1-11. Considering that He Himself was almost put to death by His own neighbours in Nazareth (Luke 4.28-30, something be it noted that we only know of because of Luke), it was very likely that in hot-headed, fanatical Galilee He would expect similar things to happen to others. And while these words might appear to us as extreme, they are in fact simply indicating that these people will call on the Scriptures, as interpreted by them, to support them in what they do (Deuteronomy 13.1-11; 18.20), and will act accordingly, for these verses in Deuteronomy specifically included instructions as to what they should do to close relations whom they saw as apostasising, and they tie in with what Jesus is saying here (13.6-11).
On the other hand we need not deny that Jesus was also seeing further ahead to what would happen in the future. He wanted to give His Apostles a foreview of what following Him might bring. That is why He later warns them that they must take up the cross and follow him, that is, recognise that following Him might result in death.
So what Jesus is simply saying is that they will treat His disciples and their own kin in accordance with their view of them as false prophets and conveyers of false teaching, and that by proclaiming Jesus the disciples must recognise that they will be in danger of being treated in this way as apostates. Even under the Romans it was allowable to put a man to death for blasphemy. (Of course, the putting to death might have been largely figurative indicating that they would ‘treat them as dead’, but it must be seen as very likely that some who proclaimed that they were men of God did on occasions ‘disappear’ at the hands of lynch mobs or particularly zealous fanatics. Deaths were much easier to arrange in those days, especially if no one complained. And rightly worded accusations of treason to the civil authorities indicating that men were reactionaries and conspirators might well have occasionally resulted in the death penalty).
It is true that His language may be intended to be extravagant in order to get over the point (as in 5.21 onwards), for to a certain extent people would be restrained by Roman law, but it was certainly not beyond a possibility, and it echoed such behaviour described in the Old Testament (Micah 7.6; Isaiah 66.5; compare Psalm 50.20). The main point behind it, however, is as a vivid warning to the disciples that all those who followed Him must expect to be treated like false prophets.
It is also true that there might well be something deliberately prophetic about it, as Jesus saw ahead into the future, and recognised that the restraint of Rome would not always be present, but He certainly had good cause to recognise that it could happen even now in the present to these brave men whom He was sending out into the virtual unknown with a message that would arouse strong feelings.
Note how these words parallel their being brought before Jewish courts and beaten in synagogues. All will be, for similar reasons, caused by the hatred of many Jews for Jesus and His words.
10.22 “And you will be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved.”
Note how in the chiasmus this parallels their being sheep among wolves. The hatred of ‘all men’ (whether Jew, Samaritan or Gentile) because they went out in the Name of the Messiah was something to be expected (Isaiah 66.5) from wolves. But whatever they faced they must recognise that they must endure. For final salvation waited ahead for all who would finally endure (and thus Judas was excluded). That would be the test of their genuineness, that they were ‘confirmed’, made strong, to the end (1 Corinthians 1.8-9), kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (1 Peter 1.5). There must be no turning back (compare Luke 10.62) or quailing before them. His disciples must be firm and courageous, and endure to the end (compare Joshua 1.9).
We can certainly see that Jesus was similarly preparing them for the more distant future, but it was also very relevant to that time. Up to this time they had been sheltered by Jesus. But now they would have to face the wrath of man on their own account. His words were therefore intended to enable them to face whatever was thrown at them, both then and in the future
‘To the end.’ This might simply mean ‘as long as is necessary’, but He would undoubtedly have been aware that one day many of them would face death for His sake, and might well on this first be facing near death situations. He is thus boosting their courage and confidence. ‘Will be saved’, that is, will enjoy the future Messianic kingdom. Those who are His are revealed by this fact, that God never lets them go (John 10.29). They are His sheep (verse 16). They are thus known by Jesus, they hear His voice, they follow Him, and thus they will never perish and none will pluck them from His hand (John 10.27-28).
‘Will be saved.’ This would later be shown to reveal that they will be presented holy, unblameable and unreproveable before Him (Colossians 1.22), will be testified to by Jesus before the Father (verse 32), and will enter with triumph into His presence, along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (8.11). They will be taken to ever be with the Lord (John 14.1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4.17).
As They Go Out They Are To Preach Boldly, Remembering Whose They Are, And Are Not To Be Afraid (10.23-33).
Having warned His disciples of the opposition that they will face, Jesus now puts everything in the light of eternity. When they are persecuted they are to consider everything in the light of eternal realities, and recognise that there is nothing more important than proclaiming His message to the world, remembering also the watchfulness of their heavenly Father over them.
Thus: 1). They must expect persecution because they are dealing with those who have already written off Jesus as ‘Beelzebub’, but must not fear it because in the end the whole truth will be known (verses 23-27). 2). They must recognise that mere death is not important, but that what matters is to be loyal to the One Who controls men’s destinies (verses 28-31). 3). They must take account of the fact that He will confess before His Father those who are faithful to Him, while denying those who are not (verses 32-33). He thus intends His words to be seen in the light the final consummation.
Analysis of 10.23-33.
Note that in ‘a’ their mission is not finally to end, and will not be completed, until ‘the Son of Man be come’, and in the parallel that is when men will either be confessed before the Father, or denied before Him by His Son, the Messiah. In ‘b’ disciple and servant have a close relationship with their teacher and master, and must expect similar treatment, and in the parallel they need not be concerned because of their heavenly Father’s watch over them because they are members of His household. In ‘c’ they need not be afraid because in the end what they do will be revealed in its true light, as will what their opponents do, and in the parallel they need not be afraid because the One to fear is the One Who has power over the eternal future, and knows the truth about both, and will deal with them accordingly. Centrally in ‘d is the necessity to widely proclaim Jesus’ words.
10.23 “But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for truly I say to you, You will not have gone through (literally ‘finished’) the towns of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”
The disciples are not to allow the persecution which they will face to depress them, rather they are to see it as a spur driving them on. The principle is clear. Where a whole city is against them they are to move on to the next. For the task is so great, and the labourers are so few, and there are so many towns to be reached, that they will not have covered all that need to be covered prior to the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man. It should here be noted that the emphasis of the words in this case is not on the coming of the Son of Man, but on the urgency and size of the task ahead. He wants them to recognise that it is a never ending one which will never be fully accomplished, and one in which all fruitful opportunities must be taken, while on the other hand the dogs must not be given what is holy, and pearls must not be cast before swine because the time is too short.
Note especially Jesus’ command not to invite persecution. They are if possible to flee from it. Not because they are cowards but because they are thinking of what is best for the spreading of the truth (compare how Jesus also knew how to strategically withdraw - 12.15; 14.13; 15.21; 4.12; John 7.1). Many a Christian has died in persecution who should have fled and lived, just as many have lived (by renouncing Christ) who should have died. Some have stood and bravely faced martyrdom because they felt that their position required it of them. It encouraged the flock who might have been devastated by desertion. And in many cases they were right. Others would go into hiding so that they could encourage their flock from their hiding places. The balance is a fine one, but we must ever remember that Jesus did teach us to pray, ‘do not lead me into testing’ (6.13). Courting persecution for its own sake is not godly. Accepting it humbly and with joy when it necessarily comes is extremely godly. Then we should ‘rejoice and be exceedingly glad’ (5.11). (Although in the end our judgments on others in this regard, once their decision is made, should be left to God. He guides some in one way and some in another. None, however, should actually seek persecution).
This ‘difficult’ verse has been interpreted in a number of ways because of its final words, although the principle behind it is clear, that there were so many towns and villages in Israel that there would not be time to evangelise them all. Thus they must make sure that they make the best use of their time.
The main difficulty rests on the meaning of the words ‘until the Son of Man comes’. This must surely be seen in the light of the context (as revealed by the chiasmus) where there is a great emphasis on heavenly realities (verses 26, 32-33) and on eternal judgment (verse 26, 28), and on man’s accountability to the Father in Heaven, where the ‘confession’ or denial by the Son will be so important to every one (verses 32-33). This suggests that the term ‘Son of Man’ must be seen in this ‘apocalyptic’ context, the point being that the towns and villages will not all have been evangelised prior to that Judgment. As always Jesus wants them to see that as a possible near event.
Having that in mind we must now ask ourselves, what does ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ refer to?
But whatever view we take it was probably no problem to the disciples. They would simply see it as signifying that they did not have very long in which to carry out their task. They would know that Jesus was the Son of Man, and assume that He was indicating that time was limited by this factor. In our view, in view of the apocalyptic nature of the passage, Jesus was thinking of His final coming, having a premonition that Israel would never be fully evangelised before that coming, but knowing that His disciples would recognise that it made the situation urgent. Neither He nor they knew the time of His second coming at that time (Mark 13.32).
EXCURSUS. The Coming Of The Son Of Man In 10.23.
We should notice that the connection of the siege of Jerusalem with ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ might also be seen as further supported in the context of chapter 24, in that it then speaks of the Son of Man manifesting even greater power in a further glorious appearance (24.30) when the believers among those scattered people who have since been evangelised have to be gathered in (24.31). We should note in this regard that Matthew uses the expression ‘the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule’ where Mark 9.1 speaks of ‘the Kingly Rule of God coming in Power’ (i.e. in the resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit), and Luke speaks of ‘seeing the Kingly Rule of God’ (Luke 9.27; compare Matthew 26.64). The idea there would seem to be of the manifestation of His Kingly Rule in power by the events that result in Acts onwards. But it certainly supports the idea that to Matthew ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ is parallel to ‘the coming of the Kingly Rule’. But Jesus would hardly have expected His disciples to see the phrase in such terms.
Taking this view Jesus may be seen as arguing for the need for haste, with no delay, because of the fact that the scattering of the lost sheep of the house of Israel far and wide at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem will leave even more towns to be visited. Indeed He may be seen as declaring that in order to reach them it will then be necessary for the Gospel to be proclaimed in ‘the whole inhabited earth’ (24.14; compare Acts 2.5), with the final result being that at His second coming He will have to gather the elect from the four winds of Heaven.
That being so the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ here in 10.23 may be intended to signify that the Son of Man will shortly come in speedy judgment on Palestine and Jerusalem (24.27, there could be no siege of Jerusalem without a bitter war throughout the whole of Palestine, as events would prove), which would explain why at present there can be no delay allowed in their outreach. For once the people are scattered to all nations (Luke 21.24), and that happened to a shattered Galilee as well as to a devastated Jerusalem, the evangelisation of them will depend on going to all nations (Mark 13.10).
For while it is true that He has not yet spoken of it we must remember here that later on He will make clear in no uncertain terms the devastating judgment that is coming on Jerusalem (23.37-24.22) and should note in this regard the warning that He will give to the chief priests concerning their seeing ‘the Son of Man come to receive heavenly power on the clouds of Heaven’ (26.64), an event which will in some way be manifested to them. And what greater demonstration could there have been than the destruction of their holy city?
Whichever view we take we should note the truth behind all the views. There were certainly so many to be reached that they would not be able to cover them all on their present mission; the shadow of the destruction of Jerusalem and Galilee by the Romans certainly did hang over them until that destruction was accomplished, note Jesus words in chapter 24, and it did catch the towns of Galilee not properly prepared and certainly not sufficiently evangelised (otherwise they would not have rebelled) and it did result in the mass slaughter of many of their inhabitants and the scattering of others; the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus did certainly reveal a new impetus in carrying forward the Gospel, which would include the insufficiently evangelised towns of Galilee (Acts 9.31), and would then result in going beyond Galilee so that if all the towns had not been ‘finished’ it would be too late as far as the Apostles were concerned; and finally we are reminded that even today the evangelisation of the towns of Israel is one of the urgent tasks facing Jesus followers. For the more that His disciples have sought to evangelise them the more their sinfulness and stubbornness towards the Gospel has been revealed. And it is so to this day. Thus Jesus’ words have indeed proved true, fulfilling His expectations. And it may well be that He intended it to have plural application, so that the Apostles could take it with a local reference, and then when they later thought about it in the light of all that happened, an eschatological reference.
End of Excursus.
10.24-25 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzeboul, how much more those of his household!”
Indeed, the disciples must expect persecution. For Jesus, their Teacher and Lord, is being, and will be, persecuted, and thus they must expect to be so too. For a disciple is not more important than his Teacher (for Jesus as Teacher see on 9.11), and a servant is not more important than his Lord. Rather they should be happy that in this they will be parallel with Him. And as their antagonists have called Him, as the master of the house, Beelzeboul, they of His household must expect to be called so too.
Note how Jesus now sees His band of disciples as a ‘household’. They are the new ‘house of Israel’, or, as He will later speak of them, the new ‘congregation’ (ekklesia - church). It was the households of the Patriarchs that made up the old Israel (Exodus 1.1). Now it is His new household which makes up the new Israel. Note also how it is therefore ‘like Teacher, like disciple’, and ‘like Lord, like servant’. They are one with Him in His persecution, (compare ‘I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting’, spoken by Jesus of the persecution of His disciples - Acts 9.5). In the same way those who receive them receive Him (verse 40), and those who do good to them by that action do good to Him (25.40). He and they are one, because the household is one, and they are united with Him in it (as they are in the true Vine - John 15.1-6).
‘Beelzeboul.’ Compare 12.24; Luke 11.15. Different manuscripts and versions present the full name differently It is given as ‘Beelzebub’ in the Syriac and Vulgate versions (probably as taken from the name of the oracular god in 2 Kings 1.2-3), and as ‘Beelzeboul’ in most manuscripts. It is given as ‘Beezeboul’ in only a few manuscripts, but these include weighty ones (Aleph, B). The latter may, however, simply have dropped the ‘l’ because ‘lz’ was difficult to Greek speakers.
The correct name may well thus be Beelzeboul. ‘Zeboul’ may represent ‘zebel’ (dung) or ‘zebul’ (dwelling). Thus the name may mean ‘lord of the house (or dwelling)’ (see verse 25b which seems to confirm this). Or it may be ‘lord of dung’ as an insulting name for Satan. The former would explain the stress on ‘house’ in Jesus’ repudiation. The name Zbl is also found in a Ugaritic text, linked with baal, where it may be a proper name or mean ‘prince’, and thus ‘Prince Baal’ (but why is it then changed to ‘zeboul’). Verse 25b thus suggests that Beelzeboul is seen as master over a household of demons (compare ‘Lord of the house’). The thought was horrific. Jesus being compared to the Prince of Demons. But it was clearly set policy for His opponents (9.34; 12.24). They had to have some explanation for the wonders that they saw in front of their eyes and could not explain away. As the narrative goes on we learn that this is a synonym for Satan, as we would gather from him being the prince of the demons.
10.26 “Do not be afraid of them therefore, for there is nothing covered, that will not be revealed, and hid, that will not be known.”
Thus in the light of eternal realities they are not to be afraid of them. They persecute Him, they will therefore persecute them. But in the end all truth and falsehood will be revealed. Then they will be glad indeed that they were on the side of truth, whatever the cost. In the Day when everything will be laid bare, their truth and honesty will be manifested, and their actions will be justified while those of their opponents will be seen for what they were, and will be condemned. For all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do (Hebrews 4.13).
Alternately, with the following verse in mind, He may be indicating that whatever men do to them they will not be able to prevent the truth going out. What is at present covered up will have the cover taken off, what is at present hidden will be made known (compare 2 Corinthian 3-4).
‘Do not be afraid of them.’ Note the threefold ‘do not be afraid’, here and in verses 28 and 31. Because they are His and His Father’s they need fear no man, neither their accusations, their calumniations nor their threats, because He is watching over them. The only One therefore Whom they must reverently fear is God, their Heavenly Father, and His Father.
10.27 “What I tell you in the darkness, speak you in the light, and what you hear in the ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”
So what He is telling them ‘in the darkness’ they must speak out in places where all can see, and what He as it were whispers in their ear they are to yell out from the housetops. For that indeed is the purpose for which He has called them. It is in order that they might be His witnesses. News was regularly literally shouted from high housetops so that it could reach as many as possible.
The reference to darkness and light looks back to 4.16. ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death life has sprung up.’ Jesus here confirms that Matthew has taken that idea from His own teaching (as well as from Isaiah 9.2). His disciples had been in darkness, but He has come as a light to speak to them in the darkness (compare John 3.19-21) so that they might become a light to others (5.14, 16). As the light of the world (John 8.12) He has spoken to them in the darkness, so that they might be filled with light (6.22).
The ‘hearing ear’ is also a favourite idea of Jesus (13.16, contrast 13.14-15. See also 13.43; Luke 14.35; and compare Mark 4.18, 20, 24; Luke 8.18). What you hear in the ear is an indirect way of saying ‘what God has said in your ear’ in a similar way to the divine passive.
10.28 “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
For they are to face up to final consequences, and therefore not be afraid. What does it matter if the body is killed off? What they should remember is that anyone who touches them cannot touch their inner life within them. Thus if they are martyred they will simply go on to be with Him. So they need not fear those who have the authority of life and death, because that is all that they can do. Marcus Aurelius would later try to go one further. He ordered that the bodies of Christians martyred in Lyons should be ground to powder and thrown into the river with the intent of preventing their resurrection. But he failed to achieve his aim, for all God requires for resurrection is their ‘dust’ as found in the dust of the ground (Isaiah 26.19, compare Genesis 3.19). The One Whom they therefore need to be in awe of is the One Who has the power of eternal life and eternal death. Let them therefore be in awe of Him, the One Who can destroy both body and inner being in Gehenna.
We are reminded here of the Old Testament wisdom teaching, ‘the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil that is understanding’ (Job 28.28; see also Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 1.7; 9.10; 15.33; compare Isaiah 33.6), by which of course is meant the same reverent awe as we have here.
Note on Being ‘Destroyed’ in Gehenna.
With regard to those who will be ‘destroyed in Gehenna’ there are conflicting views. In his book on Immortality Plato regularly used this verb ‘to destroy’ in order to signify final death resulting in total lack of consciousness and being (he clearly did not feel that any other Greek verb quite conveyed this idea). If we accept his use of the term, ‘destroy’ here would signify what we call final annihilation after judgment. But the judgment cannot be made simply on the basis of Greek terms alone.
In Jewish tradition, as in other Greek works (not all followed Plato), there were suggestions of eternal (or ‘age long’) punishment (e.g. Judith 16.17; 2 Esdras 7.36; Assumption of Moses 10.10). And some Greeks spoke of Tartarus as the place of eternal conscious punishment, at least for some. In 2 Peter 2.4, however, that term is used of the intermediate state of the fallen angels. But none of these speak of that punishment as ‘destruction’ when spoken of in these terms, and such ideas are not found in the Old Testament.
There are only two places in the Old Testament where the fate of the wicked after resurrection is described, and those are Isaiah 66.24 and Daniel 12.2. In Isaiah 66.24 the wicked are cast bodily into the valley of Hinnom where they are consumed by eternal maggots and eternal fire. But it is the maggots and the fire that are eternal, not the consciousness of the dead. In the case of the dead it is their carcases which will be abhorred by all flesh. And it is their carcases that the righteous will come to look on as a reminder of God’s judgment. The valley of Hinnom was the place where the dead bodies of criminals were thrown to be burned and eaten by maggots, and where the fires were continually burning in order to dispose of the rubbish of Jerusalem, so the point here is that the unrighteous dead are classed with the criminal fraternity and have become so much rubbish. But the everlastingness depends on the everlastingness of the lives of the righteous. While there is clearly the intention of indicating something rather more than the old Valley of Hinnom, it has not become what we think of as Ge-henna, ‘the ‘Valley (ge) of Hinnom’.
The same is true in Daniel 12.2. It is the shame and everlasting contempt which is everlasting, as in Isaiah 66.24. But it is only the righteous who are seen as having a conscious future.
Interestingly when we come to the New Testament Paul actually says nothing clear about the destiny of the wicked apart from to call it ‘death’ (e.g. Romans 6.23), although he does speak of their being ‘eternally destroyed from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power’ (2 Thessalonians 1.9). Jesus on the other hand certainly speaks of conscious punishment beyond the grave, but He nowhere says that the consciousness will be everlasting (Mark 9.43, 48 merely applies the concepts of Isaiah 66.24 to Gehenna. It says nothing about the consciousness of those who are being punished). Indeed some argue that the whole point of ‘destruction’ is that after their punishment all the unrighteous are destroyed. It could for example be argued that such verses as Luke 12.47-48 must be seen as pointing to the opposite of eternal conscious punishment. Furthermore while Matthew 25.46 speaks of ‘eternal punishment’ that is in contrast to ‘eternal life’ and could thus tie in with Plato’s concept. There is no suggestion of it being conscious, except in the giving of the sentence. Nothing is more eternal than destruction and annihilation. Besides the main use of ‘eternal’ in Scripture is in order to indicate quality, not duration, compare eternal judgment (Hebrews 6.2) which cannot mean an eternal judging. ‘Eternal judgment’ is judgment by the Eternal One, thus some see ‘Eternal punishment’ as indicating it consequences, punishment by the Eternal One.
The only place where more detail is given in is Revelation. There we read of the Lake of Fire. But we must beware of reading this too literally, for Satan is thrown in there and Satan is a spirit being. Real fire would not worry him at all. The point of it for Satan, and for the wild beast and the false prophet, is that they are thrown alive into it. Thus they are punished for ever and ever (Revelation 20.10). But that is apparently in contrast with the unrighteous who are thrown into it dead (compare the similar contrast in Revelation 19.20-21), and are not said to be punished for ever and ever. They are not in the book of the living (Revelation 20.15). And it should be noted in this regard that Death and Hades are thrown in with them at the same time, and the only point behind that must be that they might be destroyed (Isaiah 25.8). Death and Hades have no consciousness so they cannot be consciously punished.
Some have pointed to Revelation 14.9-11 to support their position. But that in fact supports Isaiah 66.24 as indicating that it is the means of punishment that are eternal. It is the smoke of their torment that arises for ever and ever, a reminder of the trial by torture that they have faced. ‘And they have no rest day or night’ (or more strictly ‘they are unceasing ones day and night’) is a translation that assumes what it wants to prove. Exactly the same Greek words are used in Revelation 4.8 where they cannot possibly indicate anything but continuing joy. So the real point is the comparison between the two. Both those who worship God and those who worship the Wild Beast do so continually. But clearly the worship of the Wild Beast ceases after the events in Revelation 19.20-21.
This all suggests that we must be very careful before we claim that Scripture teaches eternal conscious punishment. While the fate of the unrighteous is clearly intended to be seen as horrific, it is nowhere spelled out that it is a matter of eternal consciousness. Many would feel that ‘destruction’ must be given its obvious meaning as in the end resulting in the removal from God’s fullness, when God will be all in all, of all that offends. Perhaps we should consider that the wisest course is to teach what the Scriptures positively say and leave such matters to Him.
(Of course those who believe in an ‘eternal soul’ that even God cannot destroy will already have made up their minds. They are bound by their doctrine (which is nowhere taught in Scripture). But such a concept may seem blasphemous to many. Can there really be anything that God cannot destroy? If it were so then it would seem (and I say it reverently) that God has then surely ceased to be God. We do well not to use such arguments).
End of note.
10.29-30 “Are not two small birds sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall on the ground without your Father, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
So let the disciples remember Who this One is Who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. He is their Father Who has counted the hairs on their head. This picture may indicate the proud and loving father who as he watches his baby son grow really does seek to count the hairs that begin to appear. Not all babies are born with a full head of hair. Or it may simply be a description of God’s detailed concern in observing the loss of each hair as it ‘falls on the ground’, just like the small birds sometimes falls to the ground. But whatever may be the case God does know exactly how many hairs they have, and He will ensure that none of those who are His own perish (Luke 21.18, compare 1 Samuel 14.45). Absalom preened himself on his own hair, and it brought about his death, but when God takes note of our hair it is a very different matter. We may not even like our hair, but He treasures even that, and He counts every strand because if we are Jesus’ disciples He loves us so much.
Indeed they only have to consider the ‘small edible birds’ (not necessarily sparrows) which can be bought for food. They are sold for two a penny (a penny signifying a coin which was sufficient to buy one day’s portion of bread) for food for the poor, (and five for twopence in the right season (Luke 12.6), when it is buy four, get one free because there is a glut). But ‘your Father’ (not the Father of the sparrows) knows when even the sparrows fall to the ground. How much more then does He know what happens to those whose very hairs are numbered by Him. There is no guarantee that they will necessarily live and avoid martyrdom. But they can be absolutely guaranteed that they are safe within the Father’s will and knowledge, and that underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33.27).
10.31 “Do not be afraid therefore, you are of more value than many small birds.”
The third reason why they do not have to be afraid is because they are of more value than many small edible birds which can be bought at a penny a time. And yet, as Deuteronomy 22.6-7 makes clear, God was concerned enough about these small birds to legislate for their preservation. How much more then will He preserve those whom He loves.
10.32-33 “Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
And they can be sure of one further thing, and that is that if they confess (acknowledge their oneness with, and bear witness to) Him before men, they can be sure that He will confess (acknowledge positively) them before His Father in Heaven. The ‘I’ is emphatic. He will not only own up to them as His own but will positively stand with all His authority as their guarantor. The assumption here is clearly that they are to see that final confession of them by Him as having eternal significance, demonstrating therefore that Jesus Himself has eternal significance. Note also His powerful distinction between ‘My Father’ and ‘your Father’ (verse 30). As ‘their Father’ He watches over them, but it is only because He is Jesus’ Father that He can finally accept them. For their acceptance is through Him.
Note how in the chiasmus this is paralleled with verse 23. Thus their being confessed before His Father in Heaven will connect in some way with the coming of the Son of Man. But that is not conclusive of the meaning of verse 23, for this confession of them might be in the near future after His resurrection, or after death (verse 28) or in the far future at His second coming, or indeed all three.
It should be noted that when in Mark 8.38 (compare Luke 12.8-9) we have a similar statement to this, but in terms of ‘the Son of Man’, the words were being spoken to the crowds, not specifically to the disciples alone. This tends to confirm that when speaking to the crowds Jesus was not quite as openly outspoken as He was with His disciples. Before the crowds He spoke of Himself as the Son of Man.
The whole concept is similar to that found in 1 Samuel 2.30 where it is God Who says, ‘those who honour Me I will honour, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed’. Thus Jesus is aligning Himself as on the divine side of reality.
What Will Result From His Coming, And What He Requires Of Those Who Would Follow Him (10.34-42).
As Jesus comes to the end of His instructions He wants His disciples to be aware of the waves that they are going to cause. He wants them to know that what He has come to bring will not result in peace but a sword. Rather than expecting perfect harmony to follow, they must expect a world divided in two as though with a sword-stroke (into those who walk in the broad way, and those who walk in the narrow, those who build on rock and those who build on sand). By their very success in their witness they will produce a world at war with itself. For in that world so bitter will be the feelings that arise, that the very ones who are dearest and closest to their converts will be the ones that they might well discover to be their enemies But if they are faithful in their response to His disciples, then they will not lose their reward.
He describes vividly on the basis of Micah 7.6 what the effects of their witness will be, even on family relationships. So great will be the divide between what their families hold on to and cling to, and what He has brought, that their families will act towards their believing relative with enmity. He will find himself at odds with them all, even those who should be closest to him. But that will be the test of his worthiness. For if he places them before Jesus then he is not worthy of Jesus. What he must therefore do is pick up his cross, turning his back on all that his relatives cling on to, yes and on his own old life as well, and follow Jesus. Otherwise he is not worthy of Him. For by losing his life in this way for His sake he will find it, while if he clings on to his old life, ‘finding his life’, he will inevitably lose it in the end.
These thoughts are 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake. 12 ¶ Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father. expressed in an intermingled series of threes. Firstly there is a threefold description of those against whom the believer will be ‘set at variance’ (put in a position of disagreement with) as a result of their witness (35), then a threefold description of those who will not be worthy of Him because they are unwilling to turn their backs on their old lives (37-38), then a threefold description of those who by receiving the servants of God will receive their reward (40-41), followed by a threefold promise of such rewards (41-42).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus coming will set the world in turmoil and in the parallel those who in the midst of the turmoil give a cup of cold water to a child believer will not lose their reward. In ‘b’ we have a picture of belligerence among family members, and in the parallel we have a picture of ‘family’ harmony. In ‘c’ those who put others before Him are described, and in the parallel those who put Him first. And centrally in ‘d’ is the picture of what being a disciple means.
10.34 “Do not think that I came to send peace on the earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
These remarkable words appear to set at nought what has He has previously taught, and yet deliberately so, for they describe the means by which the ends will be reached. Note first the statement ‘I came’. It is a claim to uniqueness. No one else but Someone Who was unique could claim that they had come for such a purpose, for He is not talking about a local situation but a worldwide situation.
That Jesus has come to bring peace was made clear in 5.9, (although that was immediately followed by warnings of persecution - 5.10-12 - so that what is said here was inherent within it). It was then confirmed in 5.44-48. Thus He makes clear that the lack of peace will not arise as a result of the attitudes of His followers, but as a result of the reaction of others towards what they teach. Yet His point is that so reactionary are His words and teachings that that is what will inevitably happen. The world as a whole will not like them and will react against them. And that world includes their own families!
The whole of the Messianic hope for Israel was based on the expectation of a world of peace and harmony, although often preceded by a time of trouble. That peace was epitomised in the beautiful words of Isaiah 11. Not only would justice prevail among the poor and the meek (Isaiah 11.1-4; compare Matthew 5.3, 5), but even nature would be at harmony with itself (Isaiah 11.5-9). However even there that could only be achieved by first smiting the earth and slaying the wicked (Isaiah 11.4).
But the Jews thought that they had it all sorted. In the end the harmony and peace would be among them. It was the Gentiles who would be smitten and slain. So what Jesus is now saying conflicts with their ideas. For he is saying that the truth is that the very Jews themselves will be divided because of His words, and this will be because they themselves are unrighteous. And it is only out of the divisions which will arise as a result of that unrighteousness, and their resolution in God’s way, (by salvation and judgment), that in the end peace will come. So they must recognise that as a result of His coming it must be sword first, and then peace.
We should perhaps note here that Jesus is not saying that He has come with the deliberate purpose of bringing a sword. He has come in order to bring truth. But His point is that His truth is a sword (see Hebrews 4.12) and thus by bringing truth among the unrighteous He will divide them, simply because the unrighteous will react against His truth by using the sword. That is regularly unrighteous man’s way of resolving a problem. So as a result the paradoxical thing will be that the very truth that was aimed at bringing peace, will initially have the very opposite effect because of man’s sinfulness and rebellion.
(Note the pattern, which will be repeated again twice below, a threefold statement followed by a conclusion).
The sword will divide and even slay. But the picture here is not of warfare. It is of a world at war with Christ. ‘At variance’ does not in itself signify fighting. It signifies being in disagreement with and having different conflicting views. The fighting comes from the other side, and from their reactions. The idea is that the belligerence that results will all be on the side of the opposing family members. It is they who will become the ‘foes’ of the disciple, not he of them. But Jesus’ warning is that often that will be the sad result of a disciple believing the truth and holding to it, as he must. But there is no thought here of him fighting back.
For fighting in the name of Christ is never justified. When men choose to go to war for what they believe in, they do not do it as Christians, even though sadly they may often have thought that they did so. It is true that Christians may have to fight in order to defend themselves and their families and allies against attack. They have a right to defend themselves. But they should never fight in order to defend what they believe in. That should be ‘fought for’ by revealing love and suffering for Christ’s sake.
So the point here is that by receiving the truth and believing in Christ, men and women will find themselves disagreeing with their families in a spirit of love, but will often find in return that the reaction will be a spirit of hate, because of the strong feelings involved as a result of cherished ideas being set at nought. In this case the following of Christ will be seen as an attack on the old beliefs, and may result in difficulties, persecution or even worse, as He has already warned (5.10-12). And it is at that point that the crunch choice will have to be made.
The relationships described are the deepest known to man, and were sacred to the Jews. A man must honour and respect and give filial obedience to his father. It is central to the covenant (Exodus 20.12). A daughter must honour and respect her mother who, until she is married, rules the female side of the family. A daughter-in-law must honour and respect the one who has become to her as a mother in the place of her own mother. And Jesus agreed with all three principles. But nevertheless when it came to honouring them or honouring Him, He must come first. Loyalty to Him outranked them all. For as He will now point out, their love and respect for Him must exceed that for their dearest and closest relatives. While the Rabbis to some extent put the Teacher in a more exalted place than the father, they would never have been as extreme as this.
It is at this point that a disciple has to choose what he will do. If he would be ‘worthy’ of Christ (deserving of His interest and saving concern) then he must put his love for Christ before his love for his father or mother. He must put his love for Christ before his love for his son or daughter. Still filled with love for them He must go forward in love to obey Jesus’ words. He must take up his cross (dying to his old life) and follow Jesus. The taking up of the cross refers to the fact that when a man was sentenced to crucifixion he himself had to take up and carry the crosspiece of the cross on which he was to die. Thus to take up the crosspiece signified deliberately taking the way of death. In this case it is used to parallel the choice between Christ and relatives. So here he is choosing to die to his relatives and the ways in which they want him to walk rather than forsake Christ. This may result in actual death through martyrdom, but not necessarily. The emphasis is on a dying to the old life and its claims upon him, for now he is following Christ, and Christ alone.
At this point he is again confirming his choice of the narrow way. If he seeks to ‘find’ his old life again by turning his back on Christ and His truth, then he will undoubtedly lose it (or ‘destroy it’). He will lose all his hopes for this world and the next. He will destroy all that is good and right in his life. But if he loses his old life for Christ’s sake (whether by a life of obedience to Christ or by actual martyrdom) then he will find true life both in this world and the next (19.28-30). Note the emphasis on ‘for My Sake’. For that is the point. He is not doing it in order to gain eternal reward, he is doing it for Jesus’ sake, because of his love for Him, but it is that that is then the guarantee of eternal reward.
It must be considered possible that ‘taking up the cross’ had in Galilee become a way of speaking of total fidelity to God. In their recent past men had risen up against the Romans because of their love for God, and the result had been that they had been crucified. Jesus might well have seen such things as a child, as men were crucified on the main road that went through the valley below the mountain on which Nazareth was built. And each time it had happened the conspirators had been aware that they were, as it were, taking up their crosses, as they followed their leaders. They were committing themselves to a way that might end up in crucifixion. And as such things will it may thus have become a grim jest among them, with the result that conspirators began to describe their commitment in terms of ‘taking up their cross’. It is quite probable therefore that the cross had become a symbol of fidelity to God, and that ‘taking up the cross’ had come to mean choosing to face up to the enemy head on in God’s Name. The symbol does, of course, gain new meaning in the light of Jesus’ cross but that was not directly in mind here.
And what comes to the disciple as a result of choosing to take up his cross and follow Jesus will come because he ‘receives’ (welcomes and responds to) the Apostles and their fellow disciples, and thereby he both receives Jesus and the guarantee of His eternal reward. For by receiving the messengers of Jesus and responding to their words he will himself be receiving Jesus. And the result of receiving Jesus will be that he will also receive the Father, the One Who sent Jesus. Thus their response to the preaching of the Apostles will result in their belonging to Jesus, and being accepted by His Father, the greatest of all possible rewards. Note how this ties in with verses 32-33, they will be acknowledged before the Father, and by the Father, and with verses 24-25. Just as they have suffered with Him so will they share with Him His life, and His Father’s presence. Notice again the emphasis on the fact that Jesus is ‘sent’. He is the One sent from God. That is why to ‘receive Him’ actually results in ‘receiving’ the Father. It should be noted that while this verse is the first in the threefold ‘receiving’ verses, it is not conjoined to the others by a conjunction (as previous threefoldness has been). Thus it stands on its own, and the main threefoldness is therefore found in the next three statements which deal with receiving reward.
But then Jesus wants to emphasise that what is done to the least and smallest of His disciples is also done to Him (compare 25.40). And in order to do this He first cites a well known proverb concerning prophets and wise men and how response to them brings a special and commensurate reward, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet, will receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, will receive a righteous man’s reward.” The principle behind these words is clear. Identification with God’s messengers brings commensurate rewards to what they receive. Then He points out that, in the same way, if anyone gives to the youngest and smallest of His disciples just a cup of cold water, because he is a disciple (in the name of a disciple), he will not lose his reward. And what is that reward? It is far greater than that received by those who received the same reward as the prophet and righteous man, it is to receive Jesus as in verse 40.
Under this interpretation then verse 41 clearly cites a well known saying. And that must be so, for it cannot refer to disciples (or future church prophets) because the reward for receiving them is receiving Jesus (verse 40 - just as to persecute them would be to persecute Jesus - Acts 9.4), and that is beyond just receiving the commensurate reward for a prophet or righteous man. But if we see verse 41 as simply stating an important principle we can then read into verse 42 the full blessing of verse 40, as a confirmation that a receiving of them even in a small way, even though they are the least, produces the reward of being received by Jesus and His Father (and this also ties in with the abba structure of verses 40-42).
Taking it in this way Jesus must either be looking back to prophets and righteous men of the past, or those of the present when He was speaking, who while preaching truth were not yet following Him (compare Luke 9.49-50). And the citation then introduces a recognised principle that to receive and respond to a true representative of God like they were is to share their reward, whatever it be. After all, that is why those who receive His disciples receive Him, and those who receive Him receive His Father. It is because He and His Father are the disciples’ reward.
And this then gives added and important force to the statement that follows in verse 42. Instead of being a kind of add-on, it becomes the focus. It is then seen as underlining the principle that even to show the least form of kindness (in a hot country like Palestine to withhold water would be a crime) to the very lowest and smallest of His disciples, because they are His disciples (in the name of a disciple), is to be certain of the utmost reward, receiving Jesus and His Father. It makes it a fitting end to an important discourse.
‘He who receives a prophet.’ Jesus may specifically have in mind here John the Baptist, although indicating that the same applies, and always has applied, to all true prophets, for the saying is immediately followed by Jesus’ statements about John the Baptist (11.4-19). And the point is that to receive such a true prophet because he is a true prophet (welcoming him and hearing his words) is to be deserving of receiving a true prophet’s reward. For by receiving such ‘a prophet’ because he is a prophet (‘in the name of a prophet’) they would be doing what the majority of Jews had not done. They will have stood out against their fellows and will thus be deserving of a prophet’s reward.
‘He who receives a righteous man.’ And the same principle applied to receiving a righteous man because he was a righteous man (‘in the name of a righteous man’). By a righteous man is meant one who truly abides by the Law and is faithful to God, and whose righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees (5.20). He is a recognised ‘righteous man’. For such ‘a righteous man’ we can compare Proverbs 10.11, where his mouth is a wellspring of life; and 13.5 where the righteous man hates lying. Thus a righteous man was seen proverbially as a source of truth, and men looked back to such righteous men in the past, and honoured them. We can compare here also the roll of honour in Hebrews 11.32-38 In essence such a righteous man can be compared with one who truly follows Jesus and enters the Kingly Rule of Heaven and is thus truly righteous (5.20). And by receiving such a one those who did so would be doing what the Jews had not done (even when they had professed to do so, for their failure is evidenced by their unwillingness to receive Jesus) and will therefore receive a righteous man’s reward. This proverbial nature of the prophet and the righteous man comes out in the fact that they are cited by Jesus in 13.17 as people of the past (compare also 23.29).
Even more so is it true then that he who receives even the smallest child or least of men who is a disciple of Jesus Christ Himself (depending on who were in the listening group), and gives him but a cup of cold water because he is a disciple of Jesus Christ Himself (in the name of a disciple), will in no way lose his reward. For to receive those who belong to Jesus Christ, however seemingly unimportant they may be, is to receive Him. And to receive Him is to receive Him Who sent Him. Such people become sons of God (5.9, 45). That is the ultimate reward. It is an even greater reward than that receivable by the prophets and wise men and their supporters.
And on this encouraging note, which would greatly help all who felt themselves the meanest and the lowest, Jesus ends His instruction to His disciples.
Note. We must, however, point out that there are a number of other interpretations of these verses proffered by commentators which see verse 41, with its reference to ‘prophets and righteous men’, as referring either to the disciples, or other later Christian witnesses, or both. However in our view all these fail on the fact that to receive a prophet’s or a righteous man’s reward is to fall short of what is promised in verse 40. It was fine as a pre-Christian promise, but falls far short of receiving Jesus and His Father (or if we see it as additional to that it offers far more, which is surely impossible). Such interpretations also leave the reward received by the least disciple standing in mid-air undescribed.
There can of course be a case made for the disciples being seen as prophets. In 5.10-12 they are undoubtedly seen as prophetic men; in 7.15-22 the idea of false prophets suggests that the disciples should therefore be seen as true prophets; their casting out of evil spirits and manifold healings would almost certainly have suggested to the crowds who gathered to them that they were ‘prophets’; and certain men in 1st century AD such as Theudas and ‘the Egyptian’ would be later called ‘prophets’ for accomplishing far less. And the disciples could certainly also be called ‘righteous men’ (25.37, 46), as Jesus Himself was (27.19, 24; Luke 23.47). But our point above still holds.
End of note.
11.1 ‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished commanding his twelve disciples, he departed from there to teach and preach in their cities.”
Then once Jesus had given His instructions to His twelve Apostles He left them in order to preach and teach in their cities.
Matthew give no indication either that the Apostles went out, nor what happened to them on their missions, nor that they returned. That is all assumed on the basis of the instructions given for the purpose. His concern was not with the Apostles but with Jesus. And while Mark and Luke give a little more, they are also very reticent. None are interested in the detail. The assumption should therefore be that much of what His words said did happen, but was so much like what later happened to the Apostles that it was not see as worth mentioning.
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