Last time we closely examined Matthew’s listing of Jesus’ twelve chosen apostles, comparing Matthew’s list with the other listings of “The Twelve” found in the New Testament. At the end of that lesson, we briefly looked at the intriguing mention in Revelation 21:14 of the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem, and speculated about exactly which twelve apostles’ names we will find written on them when the restored city descends from Heaven at the end of days.
Matthew 10:5-15 – Jesus Sends Twelve Apostles Forth – Part 2
We now turn our attention to the instructions Jesus gave these twelve apostles before sending them out to preach the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Israelites. These instructions take up the remainder of Matthew 10. We will examine them a little at a time.
5These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.Matthew 10:5-15 [ESV] (Mark 6:7–13; Luke 9:1–6 )
Recall that the Greek word for apostles – ἀπόστολος apostolos – means delegates, messengers, ones sent forth with orders. Here in this passage, we find Jesus’ orders to “the twelve” before He sent them forth as His delegates to preach the message of His coming. In Mark 6:7-13 and Luke 9:1-6 we find parallel passages detailing these instructions.
NOTE – The passage in Mark tells us that Jesus sent them out two-by-two. Thus the partners in evangelism were able to support each other not only in their Gospel witness, but also encouraging one another in fellowship along the roads as they made their way from place to place on their missions. They would have been able to protect each other not only from physical attacks and hardships along the way, but more importantly from the spiritual attacks of our great adversary who always seeks out the weak and alone as his targets. This is a wise strategy for current day evangelism as well.
5These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.Matthew 10:5-6 [ESV]
Of the three accounts, Matthew’s is the only one that details Jesus’ specific direction for them not to evangelize among the Gentiles. Recall that Matthew is also the only one of the three who was an eyewitness – in fact one of the twelve who were sent forth. Apparently, God’s Spirit impressed upon Matthew in writing his gospel account to include this specific direction from Jesus, although those among the twelve who shared the story with Luke and Mark apparently did not include this detail.
But why would Jesus make such a restriction on the apostles’ missions? Clearly, Jesus didn’t intend for the preaching of the Gospel to be to Jews alone. In fact Jesus alluded to this when he was speaking to the Pharisees after having healed a blind man on the Sabbath.
14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.John 10:14-16 [ESV]
The sheep “not of this fold” Jesus spoke of are the Gentile nations to which the Gospel eventually spread. In fact Jesus Himself preached the gospel to Gentiles of the Samaritan town near Jacob’s well – John 4:1-44. In His healing a Roman centurion’s servant Jesus told the crowd in Capernaum in no uncertain terms that His Gospel salvation depends solely upon a person’s faith, not upon whether a person is a Jew or a Gentile.
10When Jesus heard this [the centurion’s plea for his servant], he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 8:10-12 [ESV]
Clearly it was God’s intent since before the beginning that the opportunity for salvation by faith in His Gospel was intended for all people – not Jews only. Furthermore, before He ascended to His Father, Jesus commanded the very same apostles whom He sent forth here in Matthew 10 to preach the Gospel to people of every nation.
19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19-20 [ESV]
Why then did Jesus command the twelve here in Matthew 10:5-6 not to carry their mission among the Gentiles? Jesus knew that it was not yet time for the Good News to be shared outside the people of Israel. Being Jews themselves, the apostles would have still been under the Mosaic Law – subject to all the dietary restrictions of the Law, and even forbidden to have social intercourse with Gentiles. After Jesus ascended, and His Spirit was given to His Church on the day of the first Pentecost after His resurrection, those obligations under the Law were abrogated (c.f. Acts 10-11), so the apostles were afterward free to witness the Gospel among the Gentiles and accept the hospitality of the Gentiles to whom they witnessed. Praise God for that, because otherwise most of us could never have heard the Good News of salvation in Christ.
7And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’Matthew 10:7 [ESV]
The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is found 31 times in the Word of God – every one in the gospel of Matthew. The first occurrence is found in Matthew 3:2 where the writer quotes John the Baptist.
1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”Matthew 3:1-2 [ESV]
Matthew reports Jesus saying exactly the same thing.
From that time [when Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum] Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”Matthew 4:17 [ESV]
In every other instance, Matthew is quoting Jesus. Most of those quotes are found in the parables with Jesus comparing the “kingdom of heaven” with some earthly simile. The Greek word οὐρανός ouranos translated as “heaven” has a number of meanings. Sometimes it is used to refer to the visible sky. Other times is means the entire physical universe. But when used in the phrase “kingdom of heaven” it refers to the dwelling place of God or to God Himself. Thus, the parallel passages in Luke and Mark most frequently use the phrase “kingdom of God” where Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven.” The key to understanding Jesus’ and John’s teachings is that the “kingdom of heaven” isn’t a place, but rather a spiritual state. It is the holy presence of God Almighty – who being Spirit isn’t confined to any specific place in the universe as His dwelling. Thus Jesus responded to Pilate’s question whether or not He was a king by saying that His kingdom is not a physically bounded area, but rather a state of spiritual being that is “not of this world.“
33So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”John 18:33-37 [ESV]
When Jesus directed His apostles to proclaim “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He meant that they were proclaiming He Himself had come in the flesh as their Messiah in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [עִמָּנוּאֵל ʿimmānû’ēl – God with us].Isaiah 7:14 [ESV]
6For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6-7 [ESV]
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.Matthew 10:8a [ESV]
Along with His orders, Jesus gives His servants the authority we need to perform the tasks He has set before us. Just as Jesus Himself had received authority from God the Father to perform the works of His ministry, so He bequeathed that authority to His disciples before sending them out. It was then up to them to trust in His authority in order to perform the works that He had commanded. So it is with us.
23Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.Mark 11:23-24 [ESV]
To be perfectly honest, I really struggle with trusting God’s authority given to me. Consequently, I am oftentimes quite powerless to accomplish the purposes to which God has called me. I try to accomplish them under my own power and authority without trusting in the power and authority which God has purposed to bestow upon me for His glory. Therefore I fail.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.John 15:5 [ESV]
In this I fear I am not alone. Could it be that the reason we don’t often see miraculous works in our times is because God’s own chosen instruments don’t themselves trust in the authority He gives them to accomplish them? How tragic that many in our world – even among His Church – believe that God no longer performs His miracles because those through whom He has chosen to do His works don’t believe He is able to do His works through them.
8… You received without paying; give without pay. 9Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.Matthew 10:8b-10 [ESV]
In giving this direction Jesus wanted to assure that the apostles He sent forth could not be accused of accomplishing the tasks He had assigned them for their own profit and glorification. One of the things that bothers me the most in the modern church is that so many are making themselves rich through their so-called “ministries.” It’s fine and admirable for one to make his living through the ministry of the Gospel, but there’s a great distinction between making a living from Gospel ministry, and making a killing from it. The real tragedy here is that because so many of the so-called Gospel “ministers” in the modern Church are so busy “fleecing the flock” a great multitude see their hypocrisy and greed, and harden their hearts against hearing the Truth of the Gospel itself. The salvation of God through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is freely given to any who will believe His Gospel. Those of us who have freely received this salvation must not then turn around and demand to be paid for sharing the Good News with others. The story of Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8 is a cautionary tale for us in this regard.
18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.Acts 8:18-22 [ESV]
NOTE – Simon himself was already a believer when Peter rebuked him here in this passage. This story is a lesson for the saints, not for unbelievers!
Having said all that though, Gospel ministers like these apostles that Jesus sent forth still have basic survival needs just like everyone else. Jesus’ directions to them that they should not bring with them any of the means for fulfilling those basic needs had a twofold purpose. First, Jesus wanted to foster in the apostles themselves trust in His provision for them. Right along with trusting in God to empower His works through us goes trusting in Him to provide for our needs and protect us from harm while we are doing His bidding. Thus Jesus sending forth His apostles in this manner without the means to provide for their own needs is also a lesson for us to trust in God’s provision. Secondly, in sending His apostles out without their own means of support, provided an opportunity for those with whom the apostles shared the Gospel to take part in the ministry by providing for the ministers’ needs.
11And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.Matthew 10:11 [ESV]
All three of the gospel accounts mention Jesus’ direction to His apostles not to move around from home to home in the towns and villages they visited. Why? Perhaps the idea was that the host family would learn of the Gospel in more detail from their guests, and would then be better equipped to share the Gospel with others after the apostles departed. Certainly, as was alluded to above, the host family would be invested in the ministry of the Gospel simply through their provision for the basic needs of their guests. In effect, their hospitality to the guest missionaries was their opportunity to sow into the ministry itself.
12As you enter the house, greet it. 13And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.Matthew 10:12-13 [ESV]
I must admit that I am a little confused by Jesus’ direction in verses 12 & 13. What exactly does Jesus mean by this greeting of peace, and the return of peace to the greeter if the house is unworthy? I don’t have a clue from personal experience. I understand that when we are doing some service in Jesus’ Name that is either not ordained by Him or is not at the proper time and place, we will experience a sense of uneasiness in it. I have experienced such a lack of assurance in ministry myself. Furthermore, in such instances the effectiveness of the ministry itself will be limited.
The apostle Paul experienced just such a ministry failure in Athens (Acts 17). Although Paul’s exposition of the Gospel to the Athenians was technically valid – perhaps even clever – his evangelism in Athens bore little fruit. So poorly was Paul’s Gospel message received in Athens, that he determined in his mind to present the Gospel in its purest simplicity when he arrived at Corinth. After his limited success in Athens, Paul realized the basic Truth we looked at earlier that Jesus Himself declared to his disciples in John 15:5 – “…apart from me you can do nothing.”
1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.1 Corinthians 2:1-5 [ESV]
Our evangelical efforts must be guided and empowered the Spirit of God, in His own perfectly ordained time and place. Otherwise they will be ineffective. Perhaps this is what Jesus was alluding to in His instructions to His apostles in Matthew 10:13.
14And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.Matthew 10:14 [ESV]
Occasionally, our Gospel testimony will be met with outright hostility. In fact, according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, every one of the apostles listed by Matthew at the beginning of this chapter suffered a violent death from those who opposed their Gospel preaching with the single exception of John. The opposition to the sharing of the Gospel in this broken world is orchestrated by none other than satan our adversary, and will most certainly become more vehement as he sees the time of his dominion over the Earth coming to an end. Jesus admonished his disciples about this in His Sermon on the Mount.
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.Matthew 7:6 [ESV]
When our evangelical message is rejected with hostility, it does no one any good for us to continue to press the issue. Jesus directs His apostles in these instances to simply turn away and seek out others who are willing to listen. The shaking off of the dust from their feet was a symbolic gesture intended not only for those who reject the message, but also for the apostles themselves to remind them of their conscious decision to take their ministry elsewhere. Luke’s account gives us a little more detail in this regard.
10But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’Luke 10:10-11 [ESV]
15Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.Matthew 10:15 [ESV]
The account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 makes it clear that the only survivors were Abraham’s nephew Lot, and his daughters. So when Jesus tells His apostles that even the judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah was not as harsh as the judgement to come on those who reject His Gospel, it is frightening to contemplate. Jesus alluded to this in speaking to Nicodemus.
17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.John 3:17-18 [ESV]
Next time, God willing, we will continue to examine Jesus’ instructions and warnings to His apostles before sending them out to be His witnesses.