In our study of Matthew chapter ten, we look at the commissioning of the officers that would serve on the front lines of Jesus' ministry to the Jews.
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Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
Jesus selected twelve of his disciples and, as we shall see, He gave them a special mission. They came to Him for this mission not because they had any great personal desire to be a leader or to make a name for themselves but simply because He called them. We remember that, at the end of chapter 9, Jesus told them to pray for workers for the harvest but little did they know that He was going to give them the job of leading the harvest of the Jews. That is a good lesson for us as we should not pray for God to send someone to do what we are not willing and ready to do ourselves. We see that first He gave them the ability to heal and to drive out demons just as He had been doing. This was important as the prophets had said that these signs would accompany the Messiah. Since they were going to be His representatives, the works should accompany them as well so that people would recognize that they were there on behalf of the promised Messiah.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Now, we see the list of the men that were called to be the officers in this mission and they are repeated elsewhere in scripture but in varying orders. The consistent thing about the lists is that Peter is always listed first and Judas is always listed last. Peter would be the first to recognize Jesus as the Son of God which is the foundation of the church. Judas was last as Jesus knew, even as He called him, that Judas would be the one to betray Him. We also notice that they are listed in pairs and are reminded that two was the minimum number of witnesses for something to be accepted as truth under Jewish law.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.'
Prior to their departure to serve, Jesus gave the apostles very specific instructions and they begin with Jesus telling them to only go to the Jews and to only the pure full-blooded Jews. The Samaritans were a mixed race of Jew and Gentile living in the land and so were excluded from this early ministry. This was important to fulfill the Scriptures and God's promise to send a Messiah to His people which were the Jews. Jesus calls the Jews the "lost sheep of Israel" so, what does that mean? A lost sheep is one that has kept its head down to feed and, as it grazed and wandered around, it became separated from the flock. It was so focused on the ground in front of it that it did not see that it was going astray. When it finally looked up, the rest of the flock would be out of sight and the lost sheep would not know which direction to go to get back to them. The lost sheep's only hope was for the shepherd to come and find it and lead it back to the rest of the flock. The Jewish people were much like that in the fact that they focused so intently on the religious laws that they missed the fact that the purpose of those laws was to bring them to their need for a Savior. There are pictures of Jesus Christ all through the Torah (Old Testament) and the entire book speaks of the fact that the Messiah would come. By focusing only on their efforts to keep the tiniest letter of the Law, they totally missed the fact that the Messiah was among them.
'As you go, proclaim this message: "The kingdom of heaven has come near."'
The message that the apostles were to deliver to the Jews was short and sweet. The phrase "kingdom of heaven" is only found in Matthew and it refers to the reign of Jesus Christ in the hearts of men. The Jews were looking for the Messiah to come, push out the Romans, and establish Israel as the home of God and His people. Even though they did not understand it, the apostles were going to tell the Jews that God would be much closer to them than they imagined.
'Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts - no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.'
Jesus continues His instructions prior to the departure of the apostles. He tells them to do the physical signs that He has been doing and to do so without charge or reservation. We see that this was necessary when you remember that the Jews were already thinking that they had to do something or to give something to please God. Jesus was sure to tell the apostles that they were not to ask for anything in return as an example to the Jews of His grace. We also see that the apostles were not to take spare provisions for their journey and this would have been a big deal in that country. The terrain can be rugged and rocky and the food could be sparse but Jesus was going to help the apostles to grow in their faith as they see that God will provide for all of their needs. That reminds us that all of us have a need to grow in our faith (trust) of the Lord and this only happens by stretching such as the apostles were going to do. This passage brings up the question of what the title "Apostle" means and who gets to use it. In the most basic sense, it means someone that is sent and, in the case of a Christian, that means they are sent by God. Many have taken that fact and so added it to a list of titles on their names but the "job description" does not end there. As we see here, the apostles were a very specific group sent to a very specific people with very specific instructions. They were to be a living example of God's provision to the Jewish people and to tell them how to get that provision. We see that a big part of this example was the fact that they took nothing with them and asked for nothing in return. Today, there are many who use the title as a means of fundraising or as a way of exalting themselves above the rest of the people. We are reminded that Jesus did not tell the apostles to go to the Jews and tell them that they "were apostles".
'Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.'
The apostles were to enter a Jewish town and search for a "worthy" person to stay with but what does that mean? As we will see later on (in Matthew 16:24), Jesus is talking about being ready for the gospel of the kingdom by denying their own ability to reconcile with God. The apostles were to pray and to seek out the person that God was preparing (through the Holy Spirit) to deny their religion and to accept His grace. When they went to this house, their first words were to be "peace to this house" if the person that God prepared was there, they would answer with something like "and peace be with you also". If this did not happen, the apostles were to leave the town behind and move on. This is a reminder that the coming and going of the apostles was based on whether God was already at work in the place through the power of the Holy Spirit. We also see that they would recognize God's presence by the fact peace was there which is only possible through the presence of the Prince of Peace. If the people were not prepared to listen to the apostle's words of peace, then, they were to have nothing to do with the people as symbolized by stamping the dust of the town off of their feet. This is also a reminder that even the slightest amount of religion (trusting in our own efforts) has to be avoided in order to be saved. If the people were not ready the apostles were to simply move on and let God continue to deal with them through the power of His Spirit. We must remember that they were going to go to very religious people and preach a message that was the total opposite of religion. Only God could make the people see that it was the truth and the same thing is true today. There are even more people caught up in a religion and their own efforts to bring peace. We are to tell them how they can receive true and lasting peace but, if they are not prepared to hear, we are to move on and let God deal with them.
'Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.'
This verse is all about responsibility as we see that the judgment on those that refuse to accept God's grace will be much worse than the destruction that was rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 19). Their judgment was an end to this earthly life and we must remember that they were judged for their corrupt actions even though they did not even have the Law of Moses much less the testimony of the apostles. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not have the good news of the grace of God or the signs that were to accompany His messengers. They rejected the basic sense of right and wrong that is given to every man at birth. That made them guilty and responsible for their actions on this earth but they were given the opportunity to see the Messiah after Jesus' death on the cross. In that, they would have still had the opportunity to accept His grace and to be saved. All people that have been born after the time of Jesus' life, death, burial, and resurrection have a much greater reason to see and accept His grace. By not accepting His apostles, the people of the towns would have been rejecting Jesus as well. Their judgment will not only be a physical death but also eternal punishment in Hell.
'I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'
Jesus reminded the apostles that they were going to be going into hostile situations but, like sheep, they were to not worry about the danger but to trust in Him as the shepherd that protects the sheep. We also see that they were to be aware of the dangers much like a snake is always aware of its surroundings so that it is not stepped on and crushed. They were not to react harshly to those that rejected, opposed, or even attacked them as they were to be as "innocent as doves". Like doves, they were merely to move on instead of standing to fight.
'Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.'
Jesus went on to tell the apostles that this opposition to His grace would lead to them suffering for the sake of sharing the gospel. The phrase "be on your guard" is not talking about preparing to defend themselves but is merely telling them to expect the things that He is telling them that were to come. This suffering would take the form of being whipped in the local synagogues where they would be given 39 lashes which is what became the standard punishment. We also see that they would be judged by not only the Jewish leaders but also the Gentile leaders. This was due to the fact that the land was occupied and ruled at this time by the Romans. We see that even though they were told to not go to the Gentiles, they would be brought to the Gentiles for judgment and that the purpose was so that they could hear about God's grace as well.
'But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.'
I am sure that the apostles did not understand what Jesus was talking about here. He was pointing to the fact that, after He had returned to heaven, they would not be left alone to face these authorities. He promised that they would be directly connected to the Father in heaven through the Spirit living in them. Although most of us do not have the same mission as the apostles or have to worry about appearing before religious courts, that promise still applies to us. As with the apostles, Jesus promised us a Defender in the presence of the Holy Spirit and that Spirit will defend us against the attacks of the world as well as the schemes of the devil.
'Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.'
Jesus describes how bad the battle between grace and religion will be as He explains that it will rip families apart. This is something that Jesus knew was going to happen very shortly in His own "earthly family" (see Mark 3:31). His own family thought that Jesus was crazy and wanted to quietly sneak Him off to hide somewhere. He goes on to explain that religion will cause people to hate them because it is not compatible with salvation by grace. The phrase "the one who stands firm will be saved" has been misinterpreted by many as being able to "lose your salvation" which is not what Jesus was talking about. He was talking about the fact that they were not to get into battles with the religious people or big debates about points of their religion. Instead, they were to demonstrate the power of the gospel through the signs that they were to perform and their attitude of peace. When they faced the physical and verbal attacks, they were to simply trust in Him to deliver them from the hands of the leaders.
'When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.'
Jesus reminds them that they are to proclaim the good news and it is not their job to force someone to believe. When faced with hostility, they were to simply move on and tell someone else. He went on to tell them that they would not be able to complete the job and that Israel would not truly see until His return for the Millennial Reign. This would have been a relief to the apostles as you can image the weight of the burden if the success of the mission was up to them (or to us). The phrase "you will not finish" has confused many people as they miss the fact that, in the Jewish mindset as well as in the workings of God, "you" is used to not only describe yourself but also those that continue the family line. In this case, it is talking about the fact that God would send the workers to the harvest field that they prayed about at the end of chapter 9.
'The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!'
The goal of following or learning from someone is to follow so closely that the only one that people see is the one that is leading. That is the mark of a good student or a good servant. With that in mind, Jesus explains to the apostles that the persecution that they are going to face is because of the fact that they are doing a good job of representing Him. He reminds them of the fact that the Pharisees had accused Him of being the "prince of demons" and so they will face the same type of thing. That reminds us that, if we are not facing opposition, then, we are probably not representing Jesus very well. In our world today, it seems like everyone wants to "get along" no matter what it costs and to "live and let live". That is ok, if you are not called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but, as Christians, we are to tell people the truth. Our hope is that they will turn from their ways and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Those that God has prepared will do so while others will choose to attack us. Like the apostles, we must be ready to move on in search of those that he has prepared. In our world today, others might not call you "Beelzebul" but, if you are truly trying to follow your Lord, they might call you something like "Jesus freak", "radical", etc. We should be prepared for this and to even wear it as a sort of "badge of honor". That means that we are closely following our Lord and that is a good thing. Many times, those that call you names and such will come to you later when they are facing troubles. At that time, you might have the opportunity to tell them more about Jesus. As Jesus told the apostles, we must be ready to face all of the things that He faced on our behalf.
'So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.'
Jesus goes on to explain to the apostles that we are not to be afraid as we face those who persecute us for His sake. He goes on to say that fear produces silence but faith produces boldness. That faith includes knowing that God sees all things and knows all things including what you are getting ready to face.
'Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.'
Is Jesus really telling the apostles to be afraid of God? Many have misunderstood this verse by thinking that, as Christians, we are to walk this earth fearing that we might not "make it to heaven". That is not what Jesus is saying at all; He is telling the apostles (and us) that we are to respect God and the fact that He is in control. The "worst thing" that a persecutor can do to you is to take your earthly life but they cannot do anything that has a lasting consequence. Only God has the power to decide a person's fate for eternity.
'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.'
Jesus reassures them (and us) that we are more valuable than sparrows and that God even knows each hair that is on our heads. We kinda take this for granted sometimes because we are used to this concept but it would have been a radical concept to the apostles. They were Jews and had gotten used to the idea of a distant God that cares for them but Jesus was describing the care of a close personal God which is the opposite of religion.
'Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.'
Jesus was explaining to the apostles that, when they were rejected by the religious people of Israel, it was Him that was ultimately being rejected. As we can see, the stakes are pretty high as the rejection of Jesus is reported to the Father in heaven. So, what did Jesus mean by "acknowledges me before others"? Did he mean that anyone who admits that He exists is granted access to heaven? That cannot be as we see that the demons that He had been chasing out of people knew that Jesus existed and they even acknowledged that He is the Son of God. They certainly are not going to be counted as His in heaven. Jesus is talking about those who accept and testify to His identity as the Son of God and Messiah. The vast majority of people on the earth will admit that Jesus existed and was "a good man". Most of the people will go on to say that He was a great prophet. But, many stop there and that is the great dividing point and is what Jesus is talking about. He was and is not just a man or a great prophet but the very Son of God and the Savior of the world. There are considerably less people that will make that confession concerning Jesus' identity. The second part of His identity is that of Messiah which means that He is the one that will bring about a restored relationship between God and man. This title points out the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ as He is the only way for that relationship to be restored. This whittles the population of heaven down considerably as only those who accept the fact that there is no other way to gain entry are counted as His. So, what did Jesus mean when He said that He will "disown" them before the Father? He meant that they will be denied access to heaven and eternal life with Him. This means that they will be thrown into darkness for an eternity of suffering.
'Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.'
This verse seems like it contradicts other parts of the Bible that describe Jesus as the Prince of Peace but it does not. Jesus did come to bring peace between God and men as well as among men but that was an individual peace and not the world peace that will occur during the Millennial Reign with His second coming. The sword that Jesus speaks of is the very words of God as we see in Revelation 19. Why was Jesus quick to point this fact out? The Jews were expecting a man (messiah) to come and to re-establish the kingdom of Israel as a mighty nation and bring lasting peace. Although He will do that in the future, that is not why He came this first time.
'For I have come to turn "a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household."'
Jesus goes on to describe just how bad this time between His first and second comings will be as He quotes from Micah 7:6. We see that His words would cause division even among the family and that is hard for many to accept today. We hear so much about how the family is the most important thing in many people's lives but, here, Jesus said that He would turn the family against each other. This is a reminder that acceptance of the Word (that He is the Son of God and the promised Messiah) is a personal decision and, like any decision, the choice you make can cause problems with others.
'Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.'
This verse may seem harsh but what Jesus is doing is telling the apostles that, anyone that loves their earthly legacy more than Him, is not ready for the Kingdom of Heaven. This refers to the family religious traditions as the people that the apostles would come into contact with were Jews. They had their faith passed down to them from the forefathers and a big part of their life and obligation was passing it on to their children. Anyone that could not break free from those traditions would not be able to accept the grace that was being offered through Jesus.
'Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.'
Jesus continues to tell the apostles about the cost of following Him and, if family problems weren't enough, He now speaks of the cross. This is the first mention of the cross in the book of Matthew and so we need to understand a little more about it before we continue. Most of us probably associate the cross with the death of Jesus Christ for our sins which is true but it is not the entire story. It is believed that the practice of crucifixion began with the Assyrians who were known for their brutality and torture methods but the practice of hanging a dead body in a tree as a warning to others was prescribed in Deuteronomy 21:21-23. The practice was refined and used by the Romans to discourage their non-citizens from causing problems. It was meant as a means of humiliation as well as a slow and very painful way to die. So, why was Jesus telling the apostles that it was necessary to take up their cross? Was He warning them that they would be killed? No, as Jesus had already told them that they would not be killed unless it was the time that was designated by their heavenly father. Jesus was talking about the shame and humiliation that they would face at the hands of the Jewish leaders. He was describing the fact that, in order to be worthy of Him, men must be humble and care more about the way that Jesus sees them than the way that other men do. The last part of the passage speaks of the fact that the way to eternal life is exclusively through Him. There are many religions around the world with each of them providing some hope of living on forever. Those who fall for a religious philosophy will, in the end, find that they have a future of pain and torment. In contrast to that, are those who accept the grace of Jesus Christ and decide to follow Him no matter what type of persecution or humiliation they may face. They have found the exclusive doorway to everlasting life.
'Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.'
Jesus begins to conclude His commissioning of the apostles with some encouragement. He had explained that there was going to be much opposition and persecution but now He reminds them that ultimately it is the Father in heaven that they are representing. This would be very reassuring during those times when they didn't know what they were going to eat or where they were going to sleep. The same thing can be said of us as Christians that are going about our commission. We represent the Father in heaven who owns everything and is in control of everything.
'Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.'
To understand this passage, we must first fix our minds on the "rewards" that Jesus is talking about. Many have mistakenly confused this with salvation but salvation is not a reward; it is a gift that is presented through the grace of Jesus Christ. So, what are these rewards? We do not really know the answer but we know that they are good things that are given to believers based on what they did in their life after accepting Jesus. We see that these rewards are handed out just before the new heaven and earth are revealed (see Revelation 20). We also see that there are different rewards for different levels of service but that is just about all that we know.