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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 10

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-16

The Call and Sending of the Twelve (10:1-16)

The choice of the twelve Apostles is described with more precision in Mark 3:13-19. The choice rests entirely on the decision of Jesus himself (see Mark 3:13; John 15:16). The number "twelve" is certainly a symbol which brings to mind the twelve tribes of Israel. Here is the New Israel, the Israel of the end-time, which, according to the Messianic hope, would serve as a rallying center for all the nations. Hence, it is on Israel that Jesus is going to concentrate at first (see Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 60; Jeremiah 3:17).

The term "apostle" means "one sent," but one sent with a mandate to speak and act in the name of the one who sent him. Jesus gave power to his disciples to preach (vs. 7) and to heal (vss. 1 and 8) in his name. They could do nothing by themselves, they could only give what they had received. But the transfer of power is so real that to reject them would be to reject Jesus himself.

The names of the Apostles are given. The vocation of five of them is mentioned (Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9); that of the others remains unknown. Among them was a zealot, Simon the Cananaean (the term "zealot" signifies "zeal"; see Luke 6:15), an adherent of the nationalistic sect; perhaps Judas Iscariot belonged to it also. The choice of these men by Jesus remains heavy with mystery, for even at this early moment we are informed that one of the twelve intimate ones later betrayed him.

The instruction to "go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans" astonishes us in the light of such words as those cited in Matthew 8:11-13. But it is understood quite clearly by those who take seriously the vocation of Israel in the plan of God. There is no exclusivism involved; it is rather a matter of priority in time. It is toward the people who have received the promises, who have been charged with being God’s witnesses among the nations, that Jesus turns first. This is why his appeals to the leaders of this people will have particular urgency and severity. This is also why he addresses himself with such marked solicitude to the "lost sheep" of the flock which God had declared his own. The hour of final decision has sounded, and all the children of Israel must be warned of it, for nothing less is involved than the coming of the Kingdom, that coming which the most faithful among them have believed in and waited for from century to century (Matthew 10:7; compare Luke 10:8-11). Here again this coming must be proclaimed both in words (vs. 7) and in acts (vs. 8). The Kingdom of God comes with power.

The grace of God is a free gift and ought to be proclaimed "without pay." On the other hand, the worker for God is to count on the necessities of life being given him; he is to have food and lodging.

Why did Jesus demand of his first missionaries such radical privation? How could they travel about this rugged country without sandals and staff? It is important to note that the text of Matthew here goes beyond the thought of Mark precisely at these two points (see Mark 6:8-9). Is it possible that this is a reflection of a Jewish ritual prescription which demanded that one not present himself on the mountain of God (the Temple) "with staff, shoes, purse, or dusty feet"? The meaning would then be: "Behave yourself in all things as it becomes one to behave himself in the presence of God, in a prayerful attitude, humble and exposed; for the whole earth is his Temple." At any rate, it is still true that the disciple of the Son of Man should present himself to those whom he evangelizes as a "pauper," clothed only with the power of God.

This passage poses a difficult question to missionaries in every age. Should they appeal to oriental hospitality, which finds it completely natural to welcome and to lodge a man of God? This can never be a question of external rules, of a forced asceticism. The attitude of Paul shows clearly that this is not a matter of an absolute rule. He did not hesitate, in certain circumstances, voluntarily to deprive himself of this gratuitous hospitality which he considered at other times as a right (see 1 Corinthians 9:3-18). He earned his bread by the sweat of his brow in order to safeguard the freedom of the gospel. With regard to material goods he gave evidence of a magnificent liberty (see Philippians 4:10-13). What must be retained of Jesus’ instructions is, first, the complete casting of every need on the Father, which permits us to face the privations inherent in every authentic ministry without being "anxious" (Matthew 6:25-34). Then, too, there must be retained the simplicity of life which makes the one sent a "neighbor" to those to whom God sends him, integrates him into their manner of life, and disposes him to receive as well as to give.

It is this expandability, this subjection to others, which stands out again in Jesus’ command that they stay in the same house once they have entered it (vs. 11). What is meant by a man "worthy" to receive the disciples? A Jew faithful in the practice of his faith? The expression is a little surprising. Did not Jesus enter into the homes of publicans as well as those of Pharisees? Should we see in this reference a tradition of the Church rather than a word of the Lord? (This note is absent from Luke 10:5.) Nevertheless, Jesus may have enjoined a certain discernment

The familiar Hebrew salutation was, "Peace be with you." That which was too often only a form becomes here a word clothed with power. It effects that which it says. It saves, it heals. Yet it is necessary that it be "received"; if not, it "returns" to the one who has pronounced it. But it is not without effect, for it judges the one who has rejected it (see Isaiah 55:10-11).

The coming of the Kingdom of God is presented once more as a decisive moment which demands an immediate decision. The expression "shake off the dust from your feet signifies that the responsibility of refusal rests entirely on those who have thus been called and have not responded. The hour of judgment sounds for them as it had sounded of old for Sodom and Gomorrah, consumed by the fire of God (see Gen. 18:20-21; 19:22-2S). Corrupt though they were, Sodom and Gomorrah were less guilty than the towns of Palestine, for their time had been a time of ignorance, while today the Kingdom of God is revealed with power and those who reject it choose deliberately to remain in death (vs. 15; see 11:23-24; Luke 10:12; Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus compares his disciples to sheep sent into the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16; Luke 10:3). He has no illusions about the jungle which is the world; he knows that this world is cruel and violent. He delivers his own disarmed to the blows of the enemy, for their arms are of another order. He anticipates that they will be bitten and torn to pieces. Was he not himself constantly in battle with slander, intrigue, and hate?

To this saying Matthew adds another which he alone records: "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." The dove is a symbol of purity and innocence; the serpent of cleverness and craftiness. The paradox which unites these opposites shows that the simplicity of the heart ought not to exclude shrewdness and prudence. One must not seek martyrdom; there will be times when it is necessary to flee danger (see Matthew 10:23; Matthew 24:16), and other times when it is necessary to defend one’s self with the weapons of the wisdom of God (Matthew 10:20; see Luke 21:14-15), and still other times when it is necessary to consent to the last sacrifice, to be a "sheep that before its shearers is dumb" (Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32-35).

Verses 17-23

The Sufferings Which Await the Disciples (10:17-23)

The sayings which Matthew inserts here (vss. 17-22) reproduce exactly those which are found in the last discourse of Jesus on the persecutions to come and the end of the age, where they seem to be more in place (see Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). In fact, the disciples encountered no persecution in the course of this first mission (compare the testimony of Luke on the mission of the seventy; Luke 10:17-18).

It must be remembered that the Gospels have no rigorous chronological concern; they are not lives of Jesus but rather are digests of the essential themes of his teaching. In particular instances they are designed to prepare Jesus’ followers for the struggles to which they will be exposed. Verses 17-18 describe exactly the double persecution which the Church of the first days knew: persecution by the Jews and persecution by the Roman authorities. Those who are thus exposed in persecution for the love of Christ do not need to be in distress over the testimony they will have to render. God himself, when the hour comes, will speak by their mouth. This is a magnificent assurance given to the persecuted in every age. At the hour when the adversary attacks the believers with all his force, the Holy Spirit is present and speaks with power. This is the promise of the Lord; the entire history of the Church confirms it. But attacks will come not from the outside only. The times of struggle will set members of the same family against one another; they will go so far as to inform against one another. The ideological struggles of our own epoch confirm this terrible verdict.

Just as Jesus Christ was hated because of the divine truth of which he was the bearer and the witness, so his disciples will be exposed to hatred because of him (vs. 22; see John 15:18-20). For "men" the natural men of hardened heart do not want God. His word illuminates with too penetrating a light the deepest secrets of their hearts. The more it resounds with power, the more they wish to silence it. Jesus has prepared his disciples for this conflict from the beginning of his ministry; persecution is the lot of the "prophets" of God (Matthew 5:11-12), that is to say, the authentic witnesses through whom the voice of God makes itself heard. Blessed are those who hold firm to the end! Jesus’ warning concludes with an appeal for perseverance; for in the furnace of persecution, he says later (Matthew 24:12-13), the love of many will "grow cold."

Verse 23 is a practical counsel on flight. In a period of persecution it is vain to expose oneself uselessly; the duty of remaining or leaving becomes a matter of discernment. Thus we see the Christians at a given moment with the exception of the Apostles fleeing Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-4) and spreading the gospel far and wide. We see Paul fleeing several times in order to pursue his ministry elsewhere. Jesus himself stole away from his adversaries until "his hour" was come; then he went deliberately to death.

The end of verse 23 poses a difficult question. Did Jesus mean to say that the coming of the Son of Man the end of the age was so near that his disciples would not have completed the evangelization of Palestine before the last hour would have sounded? Numerous texts show that he believed the end of the age to be near (compare Mark 9:1; Matthew 24:32-34), while affirming that no one knew the hour of it (Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:36). At the time when the evangelist cited this word the first generation had passed, Jerusalem had in all probability been destroyed, and the gospel had been announced to the nations "throughout the whole world" (compare Matthew 24:14). But Palestine in its entirety had not been converted to the new faith, and it was to its inhabitants, it would seem, that this Gospel was addressed. Is it possible that Matthew gives to the saying of Jesus another meaning than its original meaning, and recognized with Paul that the final conversion of the Jewish people would happen only at the end of the age? (Romans 11:25-32). Or did Matthew faithfully reproduce this word of his Master just as he received it, without seeking to pierce the mystery of it? Let us have no more presumption than he!

Verses 24-33

Master and Disciples (Matthew 10:24-33; see Luke 12:2-9)

The meaning of verses 24-25 is clear; the disciple cannot expect to be treated better than his master (Matthew 10:22 and John 15:18-21). If men have not hesitated to slander the Master, so much the more will they slander the disciples. Jesus plays here on the word "Be-elzebul," which in Aramaic means "the Lord of the house." The disciples belong to the family, to the house of Jesus. If they have given him the name of Devil, how could this title not be extended to them? Let us note in passing this subtle irony.

The saying on the hidden things which will be revealed is found in Mark 4:22 in connection with the lamp put under a bushel and in Luke 12:2-3 in connection with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Here it is a sequel to what is said of slander. The disciples ought not to fear the judgments expressed about them, for the truth concerning them and concerning their accusers will one day be revealed. Everything which today remains secret will be unveiled. What Jesus is has not yet been revealed, and only the disciples know the mystery hidden in his coming (compare Matthew 13:11). But that which he confides to them in private, in a veiled manner ("in the dark"), must be proclaimed openly when the day has come (that is to say, after his death and resurrection). That will be the hour of the public confession of faith, this confession which is to lead to martyrdom. For men can kill only the body, they cannot kill the soul; that is to say, they cannot kill the true life, that life which God alone gives and he alone can take away. It is solely his judgment that one must fear. If the life of a sparrow is in the hand of God, how much more ours! This concern of God for the least living being how much greater is it for his children! If it is proper to tremble over offending him, it is because he is "our Father" by whom each hair of our heads is numbered. To fear, to doubt, even to betray the love which he has manifested to us, to deny him veritable death consists in such things as these, and it is before this death that it is necessary to tremble.

This saying leads quite naturally to the following, on the confession of faith (vss. 32-33; compare Mark 8:38). Jesus declares that it is not enough to believe on him in some secret way; it is necessary to confess him openly before men.

What is it to confess Jesus Christ? It is to proclaim by our words and our acts that he is truly our Lord, the One to whom we belong, the sovereign Master of our lives. It is to announce his salvation to men, for such a pardon is only truly received if we are eager to pass it on to others (compare 1 Peter 2:9-10; Romans 10:14-15; 2 Corinthians 4:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). We are called to "confess" his name (Philippians 2:11; 1 Timothy 6:12-13; compare Acts 4:9-20). It was the courageous confession of the faith which permitted the expansion of Christianity in the first century; it is this same courageous confession which has drawn persecution upon Christians. Jesus "will acknowledge" before his Father that is to say, will recognize his own who have confessed him by word and in heart before men. But he will not acknowledge those who have denied him, whether the denial be by their acts, their words, or their silences.

Not Peace But a Sword (10:34-11:1)

Verses 34-39 resume the theme begun earlier (vss. 21-22) of the struggles which the disciples will have to endure, even in their own family (see Luke 12:51-53). Verse 34 shocks us by the violence of its paradox: "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Can it be the Christ of the Beatitudes, the proclaimer of peace, who speaks thus? Yes, it is; for to announce the peace of God is to denounce all false ideas of peace, which are only frightful caricatures of it, as when the false prophets say, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14). What passes under the name of "peace" is often only a mask which covers indiscriminately truth and error, justice and injustice. Such peace God loathes (Revelation 3:15-16). Jesus has come to disturb our false quietude, to tear to pieces with the sword of his word all the masks by which we cover ourselves (see Hebrews 4:12-13). And some cruel rendings may be the result The hour may come when the demand to "leave all" may take a concrete meaning which our near relatives cannot accept Jesus himself knew such a painful rupture of family ties (see Mark 3:21; John 7:5). He knew that the disciples would also experience it Jesus demands that he be first in the affection of those who belong to him; their love for him must take primacy over the most legitimate of affections the love of children for their parents and of parents for their children. This demand can be understood only if love for Jesus and love for God are one and the same thing. In this passage it is the Lord who speaks, clothed with the sovereign authority of God himself. Every Jew knows that to love God is the first commandment God alone can demand unconditional obedience. Jesus gives his life for his own. To be "worthy" of him is to be ready to follow him, even though it should be to the ignominious death of the cross.

Verse 38 is found also in Matthew 16:24 (compare Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27). The cross is not only a symbol of death, it represents the humiliated condition of a slave. This condition Jesus had made his own. And here again, the disciple is not above his Master. To follow him is to be exposed to humiliation and outrage. This saying is bound to the following, which is also a key saying cited in all the Gospels and repeated twice in some of them (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24-25; Luke 17:33; John 12:25). To "find" one’s life may be to draw back from the final sacrifice of physical life and for that reason to deny one’s faith. But the term has a larger meaning than that It may mean allowing some dear affections or some human considerations, of whatever sort, to close for us the way of obedience. To do this is to believe one’s self to be living but in reality to be separated from God and thus given over to death. This is to live in illusion. It is to prefer the immediate and transient goods of the present life to the call of Christ who alone can make us "alive" in the biblical sense of the word, as children of the Kingdom.

To the radical demand corresponds the promise, equally radical. Jesus will consider what is done to one of those whom he has sent as done to himself. To receive them is to receive him, and to receive him is to receive the Father who sent him. This leads us back to the initial declaration of the whole chapter: there is a transmission of power and authority from the one who sends to those who are sent (compare 10:1). They do not act in their own name. They give nothing which they have not first received. Those who receive them as "prophets" thereby acknowledge the words which they speak as words of God for the prophet is "the mouth of God" (see Jeremiah 1:9; Jeremiah 15:19) and consequently they are blessed. Those who receive them as "righteous" that is, as faithful believers will receive the recompense which accrues to them. And those even who give them a cup of cold water for the love of Jesus will be blessed by God for this act of love. Note the term "little ones" applied to the disciples. The missionaries of the Early Church were often from among the humble, the artisans, the tradesmen, the slaves, who announced the good news around them. The entire Gospel by Matthew (see the Beatitudes; compare also 11:25) shows that it is the humble of heart to whom Jesus confides the proclamation of his Kingdom. A benediction rests on these ministries, often obscure, as well as on those who, in receiving them, reap the fruits thereof.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 10". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-10.html.
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