The King Sends Out His Couriers (Matthew 10:1-15)
The calling of the twelve apostles was the initial act of a new and wider ministry. The twelve were disciples before they became apostles. Jesus had been training them for some time, and they were recognized as His disciples or pupils. They were learners in the school of Christ before they were commissioned as apostles and sent out two by two as couriers of the King, to proclaim that the long-awaited kingdom of Heaven was near. Their commission is given in this tenth chapter. It differs considerably from that given in Matthew 28:16-20, after the King had been rejected, and when He was about to return to the Father. This earlier commission had to do with their ministry to Israel only. The later one embraced all nations.
As the King’s messengers to the chosen nation they were to count on the loyal subjects of the King to provide hospitality and to further them on their way. They were to go without purse or scrip or other provision, as though for a long journey. If received in peace, they were to preach the gospel of the kingdom and heal the sick, as empowered by the Lord. If rejected, they were to declare that judgment was about to fall, and were to proceed on their way to other towns and villages. The Lord Jesus forewarned them of the ill-treatment that awaited them in some places, but declared that the heavenly Father would watch over them.
After the cross all this was changed, and they were commissioned to go into all the world and to make disciples of all nations. This commission has never been revoked and is in force today, though it has never yet been fully carried out. If we do not see this distinction we are likely to become confused, for very opposite instructions are found in the Gospels as to the responsibility of the messengers in each instance. It is true that the great majority in Israel had no heart to respond to the message, but the circumstances were quite different. God had foreseen the rejection of His Son, and His sacrificial death was the very foundation of the divine plan of blessing for the world, but that did not lessen Israel’s responsibility, as Peter later declared (Acts 2:23).
It was fitting that the offer of the kingdom should first be extended to the Israelites, for they were by natural birth the children of the kingdom. It was to them that the promises had been given. They looked forward for centuries to the coming of the King and the unveiling of His dominion over all the earth, with Israel as the chosen nation through whom blessing would come to all the rest of the world (Isaiah 60:1-16). When they refused to bow to the message as given by the Lord and His apostles, the kingdom was taken from them and given to another people (Matthew 21:43).
“When he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power [authority].” These twelve had been with Him for some time. Now He separated them from others of His followers, setting them apart as His authoritative messengers. In Matthew 10:2 they are designated for the first time as “apostles”—that is, “sent ones,” or missionaries. Jesus had found them in various walks of life, and had summoned them to be His companions in preparation for the great work with which He was to entrust them. All except Judas Iscariot— that is, the man of Kerioth—proved faithful to their trust.
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles.” The King must first be presented to Israel and the kingdom offered to them. It was not until Israel had rejected both that the gospel was sent out into all the world and to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8).
The twelve were to seek out “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” giving Israel an opportunity to repent of their sins and to receive their King, and so be prepared to enter His kingdom. Their message or proclamation was a brief one: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The nation had been waiting long for this kingdom. Now it was presented for their acceptance or rejection.
“Freely ye have received, freely give.” Miraculous powers were granted to the King’s couriers in order to accredit their proclamation. But they were not to misuse these powers for their own enrichment. They were to give of what had been given them, not seeking any return for themselves.
The Lord sent the twelve without silver or gold for their expenses, or extra garments to wear. They were the King’s representatives, going to His own people, and so had a right to expect to be cared for by the faithful in Israel who were waiting for the King. As they went from city to city and village to village they were to inquire in each place who in it was worthy—that is, who was esteemed as a man of piety and righteous life, waiting for Israel’s redemption. In his house they were to seek hospitality. If such was refused, they were to pass on and shake off the dust from their sandals as a testimony against that house. Those who received them would find blessing. Those who rejected them would be exposed to judgment—a judgment so severe that what fell on Sodom and Gomorrah of old would seem mild in comparison. This was because of the fact that light increases responsibility. They had privileges such as the people of the cities of the plain never knew, and their guilt was therefore far greater if they refused to receive the King and dishonored His apostles.
The King Warns of Coming Persecution (Matthew 10:16-23)
The afflictions Jesus described in these verses go far beyond what the messengers experienced during the short time of their Galilean ministry. It seems clear that the Lord’s words were intended to prepare them for what they would be called on to face after the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, when they continued to witness first to Israel, then to Gentiles. On the other hand we need to remember that the Scriptures indicate a future witnessing to Israel by a faithful group of Jewish believers, the wise (or maskilim) of Daniel 12, in the tribulation period between the rapture of the church and the revelation of the Son of man at His second advent. During that dark hour of antichrist’s rule these verses will be the guide and comfort of the witnesses who will then go forth to herald the return of the once-rejected King.
“I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Jesus would not have His followers under any illusion as to what was involved in representing Him among a people who in the past had slain the prophets and spurned their entreaties to return unto the Lord. The disciples were going to face hostile foes where they might have expected to find cordial friends. Under such circumstances how much they needed the wisdom that comes down from above.
When arrested and summoned before civil or ecclesiastical courts, they need not be anxious or perplexed as to how they should defend themselves. “In that same hour” it would be given them what they should speak through the Spirit of the Father speaking in them. The expression “the Spirit of your Father” is an unusual one, and does not necessarily imply the full truth of the indwelling Comforter, who was not to come until after Jesus was glorified. Therefore, the Lord used this rather ambiguous term, but one that would still be applicable when the new dispensation of the Spirit came (see Luke 12:11-12).
They were to be prepared for family misunderstandings and household feuds engendered by faithfulness to Christ. So bitterly is the world opposed to its rightful King that those who are loyal to Him will be hated for His name’s sake, and so they could expect suffering and persecution such as would turn shallow and unreal souls aside. But salvation is assured to the one who endures to the end. This does not imply that we are saved by our own faithfulness or devotedness. All is of grace. But where there is a genuine work of God in the soul there will be final perseverance, whether in the days of the great tribulation yet to come or in this present evil age.
Nevertheless the disciple of Christ is not to court persecution or needlessly expose himself in a foolhardy way to danger. If persecuted in one city he is to flee to another, even as Paul did when he left Thessalonica for Berea on account of persecution. Later he fled from Berea to Corinth and Athens when the Jews sought to stir up the people of Berea against him.
The last part of Matthew 10:23 is, as noticed already, difficult to apply unless we see that in the coming hour of tribulation there will be a noble band of witnesses acting upon this same commission. The calling of the church has come in parenthetically for the present. When this special work of God is completed, the church will be translated to Heaven and the interrupted kingdom-testimony will be continued.
The King Promises Care and Comfort (Matthew 10:24-33)
In these verses the Lord tells of the Father’s care over all those who are content to be identified with Him in the day of His rejection.
“The disciple is not above his master.” A disciple is a learner. Humility becomes one in that position. Christ’s servants and disciples are responsible to obey His Word. Why should they expect better treatment than that accorded their Master?
“They have called the master of the house Beelzebub.” According to Jewish thought, Beelzebub (a Philistine word probably) was the chief of the demons. There were those who blasphemously applied this name to Jesus.
“Nothing covered, that shall not be revealed.” This is a solemn consideration. All hidden motives and actions will be brought into light in the day when God will judge the secrets of men (Romans 2:16).
“Preach ye upon the housetops.” That which they had learned of Jesus in secret, in hours of wonderful fellowship with the prince of teachers, the disciples were to proclaim boldly in public places.
“Not able to kill the soul.” The death of the body does not result in the death of the soul. After the body dies, the soul lives on to be reunited to the body in the resurrection and, in the case of the impenitent, cast into Hell. In Scripture the terms “mortal” and “immortal” are connected with the body (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:53). But this does not deny the fact that the soul lives after the body dies; and this is what is commonly meant when men speak of the immortality of the soul. Our Lord’s words in Matthew 10:28 are clear and definite as to this. There is that in man which disease cannot affect, which the assassin’s weapon cannot destroy. Man cannot kill the soul. God will deal with the soul of man in His own infinite righteousness.
“Two sparrows sold for a farthing.” A farthing was an infinitesimal coin; yet two sparrows, dressed and spitted, were sold in the markets for this amount. They were used as food by the poorest of the people. Nevertheless, God took note of every sparrow’s fall. Nothing is too insignificant for God to note, and His care extends to the minutest detail of our lives. God cares for all His creatures, but man has a special place in His heart and is valued above all other animate beings.
“Confess me before men.” Christ claims absolute authority over our lives. We are to acknowledge Him openly before others, and He will confess our unworthy names in the day when we are to appear before God. If we refuse to own Christ now as Savior and Lord, He will deny us in the day of judgment.
The King Warns of Conflict (Matthew 10:34-39)
“Not to send peace, but a sword.” This seems like a strange statement in view of the angels’ message at His birth (Luke 2:14). But He foresaw His rejection and knew that the conflict between good and evil must go on until His return. His servants must be prepared to fight valiantly against iniquity.
“To set a man at variance against his father.” The claims of Christ are paramount to all others. His disciples must be prepared to encounter opposition even in their own homes and on the part of their nearest kindred. This was true not only as a result of the mission of the twelve in that day, but also it has been sadly fulfilled throughout all the centuries since.
“Not worthy of me.” If Jesus were less than God, how preposterous would be such claims as He makes here! He demands the supreme place in our hearts. We are to put love for Him before love to father or mother, or son or daughter.
“Followeth after me.” To take the cross is to acknowledge our identification with Him as the rejected One. A man carrying a cross was a man devoted to death. And we are called to die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31) in order that He may be glorified in us.
“He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” To live for self is to fail to recognize the purpose of our creation. But if we give up all that men of the world value for His name’s sake, we gain eternally. Elsewhere the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). These words form an admirable commentary on His teaching regarding saving and losing one’s life. The corn of wheat saved rather than planted is really lost. That which is lost by planting is saved in the coming harvest.
The King Rewards Acceptance of His Couriers (Matthew 10:40-42)
A reward is in store for all who receive Christ’s messengers and aid them in their witness. It is encouraging to note how completely the Lord identifies His representatives with Himself. To receive one sent by Him is the same as to receive Him, and vice versa. To welcome a prophet as one speaking for God means to share in the prophet’s reward. The same principle is true in connection with the reception of a righteous man. What is done for the servant is appreciated by the Master. Even a cup of cold water given to one of Christ’s little ones will not go unrewarded. He esteems all that is done for them as done unto Him. Who that knows Him would not serve such a gracious Lord with gladness of heart?
Obedience is the test of devotion. If we truly love our Lord, we will be glad to yield all we are and have to Him for service. He has entrusted us who are saved with the message of His gospel. This does not mean that we are all called to be preachers or missionaries, but we are asked to confess Him before men that others may be drawn to Him as we have been. We will find life at its richest and best if we yield to His call, no matter how great the cost may seem to be. A life laid down for His glory is a life saved. A life given to the service of sin or self is a wasted life. No sacrifice should be too great for Him who gave Himself for us.