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In order to understand rightly the calling and mission of the Twelve prior to our Lord’s crucifixion, we need to bear in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ was presenting Himself to Israel as their promised King. God was dealing with them as a nation, giving them full opportunity to acknowledge the claims of His Son. The Twelve were chosen as His messengers to the nation as such, and their ministry, like His own, was primarily to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 5-6).
The Twelve were disciples before they became apostles. That is, they were learners in the school of Christ before they were commissioned as apostles and sent forth as couriers of the King, to proclaim that the long-looked-for kingdom of the heavens had drawn nigh. Their commission is given in this tenth chapter. It differs considerably from that given at the close of this gospel, 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 go forth counting upon the loyal subjects of the King to provide entertainment for them and to further them on their way; hence, 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 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 This commission has never been revoked and is in force today, though it has never yet been fully carried out.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 declared later (Acts 2:23). It was meet that the offer of the kingdom should first be extended to Israel, for they were, by natural birth, the children of the kingdom. It was to them that the promises had been given, and they looked forward for centuries to the coming of the King and the manifestation 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).
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. (vv. 1-15)
The calling of the twelve apostles was the initial act of a new and wider ministry Jesus had been training them for some time, and they were recognized as His disciples or pupils. Now He commissioned them to go forth two by two to announce throughout all Israel that the kingdom of heaven had drawn nigh.
“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 verse 2 they are designated, for the first time, apostles-that is, “sent ones,” or missionaries. Their names are given in verses 2-4. 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 save 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).
“Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was to seek these out that the Twelve were to go forth, giving to Israel an opportunity to repent of their sins and to receive their King, and so be prepared to enter into His kingdom.
“As ye go, preach.” Their message or proclamation was a brief one: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this kingdom the nation had been waiting long. 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 things for their own enrichment. They were to give of what had been given them, not seeking any return for themselves.
“Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass…nor scrip…neither two coats,… for the workman is worthy of his meat.” The Lord sent forth 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 entertainment. If such was refused, they were to pass on and were to 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 be light 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.
It seems clear that the Lord’s words concerning the afflictions with which these messengers were to be faced go far beyond what they experienced during the short time of their Galilean testimony and were intended to prepare them for what they would be called upon to face when, after the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, they continued to witness first to Israel, then to the Gentiles. On the other hand, we need to remember that Scripture indicates a future witnessing to Israel by a faithful group of Jewish believers, the wise (or maskilim) of Daniel 12:0, 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 sway, 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.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. (vv. 16-23)
“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 had in the past slain the prophets and spurned their entreaties to return unto the Lord. The disciples were going forth 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, for “in that same hour” it should be given them what they should speak through the Spirit of the Father speaking in them. The expression “the Spirit of the 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 uses this rather ambiguous term, but one which, when the new dispensation of the Spirit came, would still be applicable.
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 of all men for His name’s sake, and so they could expect suffering and persecution such as would turn shallow and unreal souls aside; but to the one who endures to the end salvation is assured. 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 in after years when he left Thessalonica for Berea on account of persecution, and later fled from Berea to Corinth and Athens, when the Jews sought to stir up the people of Berea against him.
The last sentence of this part of the Lord’s charge 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, it will be translated to heaven, and the interrupted kingdom testimony will be continued.
In verses 24-39 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, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (vv. 24-39)
“The disciple is not above his master.” A disciple is a learner. Humility becomes one in that position. As Christ’s servants and disciples, they 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, they 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; Romans 1:0 Cor. 15:63). 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 verse 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.
“The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Nothing is too insignificant for God to note, and His care extends to the minutest detail of our lives.
“Of more value than many sparrows.” 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.
“Him will I also deny.” If we refuse to own Christ now as Savior and Lord, He will deny us in the day of judgment.
“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.
“A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” 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 sister or brother.
“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 in order that He may be glorified in us (1 Corinthians 15:31).
“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 assured reward in store for all who receive Christ’s messengers and aid them in their witness testimony is next set forth:
He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward, (vv. 40-42)
It is blessed to note how completely the Lord identifies His representatives with Himself; so that 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; and 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 fail of reward. 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 shall 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 of self is a life wasted. No sacrifice should be too great for Him who gave Himself for us.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Matthew 10". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany