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The Life of Jesus - Series 6: Episode 2

Jesus instructs the Twelve for their first mission

| Martin Charlesworth
Matthew 10:5-23
Luke 9:1-6
Mark 6:6-13

Jesus increases the impact of his mission by commissioning the Twelve. He sees that the mission is great - and still is today. The need for workers is still true today.

Jesus increases the impact of his mission by commissioning the Twelve. He sees that the mission is great - and still is today. The need for workers is still true today.


Hello and welcome to Series 6 and Episode 2, in which Jesus instructs his Apostles, the Twelve, for their first mission. This episode follows on directly from the last one in which we're in the same circumstance, where Jesus is commissioning the Twelve for their first mission on their own. Matthew 10: 5 - 23 is the passage that we're going to look at today.

Introduction and Recap

In the last episode, Jesus began his third tour of Galilee and, if you've been following the series, you'll know that in Series 3 we looked at the first tour of Galilee, after Jesus started his ministry. It was a very intense and powerful experience of travelling, healing, preaching and casting out evil spirits. He gained a tremendous following and many people came from different districts to hear him speak and to see him perform miracles. At the end of that process, he very specifically chose twelve men and designated them as Apostles - this is recorded in Luke 6 and in Mark 3 - and those twelve were commissioned to be special representatives of Jesus in the future; they are going to share his ministry and do his work. The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus gave teaching about the lifestyle of the Kingdom of those disciples who would be following him, followed that moment. Then came a second tour of Galilee (described in Series 5) in which Jesus travelled around with the twelve Apostles, virtually all the time. They've been gathered as a group and he's training them. They're following him; they are seeing the way he operates; and they all know that the time is going to come when they're going to be sent off on their own. That time has now come because, as we begin Series 6, we find that he commissions the Twelve. That's the story that we've been starting to look at in Matthew 10 and also the final few verses of Matthew 9, which we dealt with in our first episode. We found there (in Matthew 10: 1) that Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and ‘gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.’ This is the first time that they're going to be exercising the powerful ministry of Jesus and using his authority to overcome sickness and evil power; they're going to do this alongside proclaiming the message of the Kingdom.

That's the story so far and it's clear what Jesus is doing - he's training his Apostles (or twelve disciples, or the Twelve - as they're sometimes known) and he's preparing them for their future ministry, when they would literally be representing him in all sorts of different nations around the world, as the Church was being formed. We see some of that story described in the book of Acts. This is the first step in that remarkable process, by which Jesus releases these twelve men and makes them the foundation of his Church. 

Now, before he sends them out. He gives them a lot of instructions and the rest of Matthew 10 is devoted to these instructions. We're going to spend some time going through them because they are very important and they form a sort of discourse, or body of teaching (one of five that Matthew draws together in the way he structures his Gospel). Whilst other Gospel writers describe the events, for example Luke describes the sending out of the Twelve but he doesn't give this level of detail. Matthew goes to a lot of detail to describe the particular instructions that Jesus gave the Twelve on this occasion.

The Mission

These are specific instructions for a specific mission, but we will learn things from these if we are committed to the mission of the Church and having a strategy for mission in our communities and the places we are sent to. There's a lot of things we can learn but we need, first of all, to go right into their immediate context and understand the specific application of the things Jesus said to them. We also need to understand that there is a certain prophetic element to what Jesus is saying. Some of the teachings will be beyond the immediate experience of this mission trip, further into their lives, when they are continuing this work; some of these things will take place during that period - as you will see as we go through this teaching.

The Recipients

Let's start with verses 5 - 8:

‘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. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”’

Matthew 10:5-8, NIV

The first thing we can notice here there's a very specific focus of the mission. Jesus describes this focus as ‘the lost sheep of Israel’ and he's specifically limiting the Apostles; he's asking them not to go into the Samaritan communities, or the Gentile communities. This is, basically, a geographical limitation because, in the province of Galilee, most of that community is a Jewish community, most of the towns and villages are Jewish villages and there are lots of them. Around Galilee, to the south, is Samaria - where the population is overwhelmingly Samaritan - so Jesus is essentially saying, “Don't go south of Galilee.” To the north, is the district (or the nation) of Phoenicia, where are the cities of Tyre and Sidon, which are mentioned in the Gospel several times - and Jesus is essentially saying, “Don't go north into Phoenicia, into the Gentile territory there. No, stay in Galilee. Don't go south. Don't go north.” Over to the east, the other side, to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, is the area known as the Decapolis, which we mentioned earlier (where Jesus visited, briefly, and healed two men who were heavily oppressed by demons). That is an overwhelmingly Gentile area as well - and Jesus is effectively saying, “Don't go there either.” Of course, to the west of Galilee is the sea. The instruction focuses them on a particular ethnic task, and a particular social context, in a particular geographical area. He said, “Don't spread yourselves too thinly at this particular point in the ministry.”

The Message

He then gives them a declaration announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is a prophetic statement which, when asked to explain it, they would have to explain by saying, “The coming of the Kingdom is to do with the coming of the King; it's the coming of the Messiah.” In a sense, that opening statement, proclaiming the Kingdom of God's arrival - ‘the Kingdom of heaven has come near’ - that opening statement, isn't all they would say, obviously. It's basically a starter for a conversation with people and an explanation to them that the Son of David (Jesus, the Messiah) has now arrived: “We're his authorised representatives, he's going to bring salvation to the nation.” Allow people to respond to that message. Their ministry was going to be quite dramatic: healing, deliverance, raising the dead, and cleansing people from leprosy. These were not everyday events. These are astonishing miracles. Raising the dead, cleansing the lepers - that's remarkable! People didn't even touch lepers, they kept away from them but the Apostles were going to be cleansing lepers; they were going to be raising the dead (though we have no record of an incident of that nature but we do know that they conducted many healings).

The Attitude

The attitude that they should take was also very important, verse 8: ‘“Freely you've received; freely give”’ - this is a key to mission. We saw one key to mission in our last episode when we noticed that Jesus had compassion on the people who were ‘harassed and helpless’ because they were ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’ The compassion for people in need is essential for effective mission, so also is this attitude: ‘freely you've received; freely give.’ In other words, thankfulness. We have received mercy and grace, if we are believers and, out of thankfulness, one of the best things we can do is to share that good news, and our testimony, and our story with other people. We've received something freely; let's give it away freely. We're not charging them for it; we're not holding it to ourselves - which is the real danger for most people - we are just freely giving away our testimony of God's grace based on thankfulness to him.


Let's move on. Verses 9 - 15 deal with some of the practicalities of their mission:

‘“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. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay (in) 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. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”’

Matthew 10:9-15, NIV

Jesus has a Jewish mission in Galilee in mind, as we've explained just a little bit earlier. In this context, he's basically saying, “Don't go with lots of things that you might need on the way, trust to the hospitality of residents of towns and villages that you're going to. Say to them we're the representatives of Jesus,” whom they will have heard of because he was very well known in the area; he'd been through many of the villages; people from many of the villages will have gone to hear him preach or receive healing from him. Jesus was well known, all through Galilee, without a doubt. They were to say, as they arrived, “We are representing Jesus. We're his Apostles. We are bringing his message and who can give us hospitality?” Jesus basically said, “Trust to the process of hospitality.” Jewish hospitality was well known and well-established, and they were fellow Galileans, in the same district of the country, and Jesus was popular and well-known amongst many people and people were interested in his message. In this particular occasion, though not in every occasion of Christian mission, Jesus says, “Don't take anything with you in order to support yourself, depend on the hospitality.” This is an interesting strategy because those who are hospitable, will also be open to the message. You will have an opportunity, in the home, to communicate to that family and their friends who might come to the home. You can bring a blessing to them and it can be a base for you spending a little bit of time in that town or village. Bearing in mind that many (or most) of the villages or towns in Galilee would probably have a population between say fifty and a few hundred; there won't be many places more than a few hundred, apart from the really big towns and cities; these are small communities that you can access by being based there, in a home, and going out and talking to people in the marketplace and on the street. The intention was that they should stay overnight or for a few days, otherwise this instruction about hospitality wouldn't be relevant. They're not just coming through for a few hours, setting up a preaching stand, preaching on the street and moving on. No, they're going to bed down in the community for a few days and communicate as effectively as they can.

An Immediate Warning

Then in verse 16 is an important warning:

‘ “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”’

Matthew 10:16, NIV

Whilst many people will accept the Apostles, as they travel round, there are also what Jesus describes, metaphorically, as ‘wolves’ - opponents, people who would want to attack them. Who are these? Two groups come to mind. First of all, the Pharisees who, in the last episode (in Matthew 9: 34) had denounced Jesus as a false messiah. We've discussed that fairly fully and they've done it on other occasions too. These are people who are hostile. They will encounter hostile Pharisees and other religious leaders in the communities they go to. They also might encounter false prophets - other people who claim to have spiritual authority but not the authority of Jesus Christ. This is something the modern Church faces frequently: many people claim (especially in developing countries) that they are prophets with unique powers but Jesus says in Matthew 7: 15,

‘“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”’

Matthew 7:15, NIV

He used the same metaphor there, so we can assume he may have had the same idea in mind. These ‘wolves’ could be religious leaders or false prophets, - self appointed prophets who claim some special relationship with God but they have no connection with Jesus Christ and have not experienced his salvation. They need to be ‘as shrewd as snakes.’ In other words, wise in handling complex, and often hostile, circumstances. Snakes are considered to be wise, to be shrewd, to observe and to respond carefully to the environment around them. These early missionaries, the Apostles, needed to be wise and when they experienced complex situations and opposition, they needed to be careful to respond in a suitable way. They needed to be ‘as innocent as doves.’ In other words, to have no deceit, no selfish motivations, and, particularly, not motivated by money, or power - which is utterly contrary to the spirit of Christian mission (trying to get money off people, trying to gain status for yourself). We see this happening in some parts of the world today in the name of Jesus Christ. Notice, they should be ‘as innocent as doves.’ No deceit, no selfish motives, no attempt to try and gain resources or benefit for yourself. You're there to serve. ‘Freely you received, freely give.’

A Prophetic Warning

In our final passage today, final section, we are going to read from verse 17 to the end of this passage, verse 23:

‘“Be on your guard; (or you'll) 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. 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. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. (You'll) be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 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.”’

Matthew 10:17-23, NIV

Jesus sounds a different note, a note of warning, here for the disciples as they're going out on this mission. This is a more prophetic statement and, as I indicated at the beginning of this episode, some of Jesus' statements appear to transcend the immediate first mission and they describe things that are going to happen as they continue on this mission over a longer period of time. It appears to be that this is what Jesus is talking about because this level of opposition that he describes here was not experienced by the Apostles in their first tour, as far as we can tell - we don't have any evidence of that; it's something that accumulated over a period of time. Jesus indicated to the Apostles that they'll be going through the towns of Israel, as part of their mission, for a long period of time, that this would go well beyond Jesus' lifetime. In fact, that's exactly what we see happening and ‘the towns of Israel,’ of course here, is a wider area than Galilee - it also includes the southern province of Judea, which is really the heartland of the Jewish faith with the capital city Jerusalem. We see them doing this, for example, in the book of Acts. We see Peter travelling around (Acts 8, Acts 9) all of Judea with Christian communities developing, and churches developing in all sorts of different towns across that area. He travels round encouraging and supporting the believers there. He is (in the time of the book of Acts) really continuing the process that the Apostles started here, so this prophetic trajectory suggests that the events of persecution and the complex response of the local people is going to continue beyond this first mission, even beyond the life of Jesus himself. There will be persecution, he warns, from Jewish communities, also from the Gentiles, from Romans and other local rulers. When opposition comes, the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit always helps us to know what to do and say. That's a general principle for the Church and that's a really encouraging thing for us to know: when opposition comes, the Holy Spirit will lead us to know what to do and say. There will be division in families and perseverance will be needed.

This prophetic perspective matches the things that Jesus was implying about the fact that the nation of Israel was going to divide over the Gospel and the identity of Jesus. I've mentioned this quite a number of times in the episodes particularly in the second part of Series 5, where we have evidence of the division of the nation emerging. The rapturous welcome that Jesus had in the early days of his first tour of Galilee, gradually gives way to a more complex response where people are taking sides and that gets even more serious, and more well-formed, when Jesus dies. A lot of people decide they don't believe in him and then he rises again from the dead and some Jews follow but there's opposition. Even in the Early Church in Jerusalem, there was very strong opposition from the religious establishment to the early Apostles, led by Peter, as they proclaimed the Gospel throughout the city - there was persecution, there was even martyrdom, in the city as they resisted the Apostles' preaching the Gospel.

These words of Jesus, transcend the immediate experience of what was going to happen in the next few days and weeks as the Apostles travelled around. They might have had some opposition during that period but it was going to escalate, according to the teaching of Jesus here, and it would require perseverance - those ‘“who stand firm to the end will be saved.”’ It's also going to involve the need for wisdom. The Holy Spirit will guide them: ‘“and when (you're) persecuted in one place, flee to another.”’ This is a very important principle that's applicable in countries of high opposition to the Gospel - there sometimes comes a time where you need to move from one place to another (even from one nation to another, as some of you will have done who are studying this episode). That reality was there in the Early Church; it's still there today.

The Coming of the Son of Man

This passage ends with a complex and perplexing statement that people have found difficult to interpret. Let's have a look at that now. Verse 23 again:

‘“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.”’

Matthew 10:23, NIV

What could this refer to, this coming of the Son of Man? There have been all sorts of different interpretations. Some have interpreted it in the sense of Jesus following on into the villages himself, shortly after they have been. Some have interpreted the coming of the Son of Man to be the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Some people interpret the coming of the Son of Man to be the second coming - his return in glory. All of these interpretations are possible and there are arguments, backwards and forwards, as to whether any of these interpretations might be the best.

I'm going to propose to you another one, which I consider to be more appropriate to the context. The Son of Man coming, here, may well refer to coming in judgement. Jesus comes in judgement on Israel, so to speak, through the acts of judgement that were carried out in effect through the war between the Jews and the Romans that took place between 66 and 70 A.D. known as the Jewish War. There was a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in 66 A.D. which led to an escalation and conflict, military conflict, across the whole country. The Romans mobilised large numbers of troops and they brought troops from other parts of the Empire in and, over a four-year period, they crushed this rebellion and eventually it ended up, in A.D. 70, with them capturing the city of Jerusalem which they surrounded and besieged; destroying the city, destroying the temple, and dismembering the whole nation, and exiling tens of thousands of Jews in a dispersion (or diaspora) across the Roman world. Jesus alludes to future judgement on Israel many times in the Gospels and, I think, this is another allusion. Basically, what he's saying is, “You won't have finished going through the towns of Israel evangelising before A.D. 70 (well within their lifetime, 30 or 40 years later) when the Son of Man will come in judgement.” In other words, God will use the events of the Roman crushing of the rebellion as an act of judgement on the Jewish nation because they did not, as a nation, accept Jesus as the Messiah.

We'll come back to this theme later on, where there are more detailed and explicit teachings about this expected future judgement on the nation from Jesus. I believe there is an allusion to this future reality here, that no one anticipated at this time but the history books tell us that this incredible event happened, which really meant the abolition of the nation of Israel. It was really abolished as a nation and its religion destroyed, in all its formal structures, and the people dispersed and many killed. This persecution from Jewish people, and this resistance to receiving Jesus as their Messiah, is the root of the reason why this judgement was allowed. Jesus said to his Apostles, “You'll be persecuted in many places, but you won't have even finished your mission to all the towns of Israel when the Son of Man comes in judgement.” This is a reference to that period of time. So you can see what I mean by the fact that this section, from verse 17 - 23, is prophetic: it is within the experience of the Apostles; it is talking to them individually - this is their life experience, that many of them will experience, those who stay within the country - but it is way beyond the experience of the immediate missionary tour that they're conducting now. It's their ongoing mission that's being described here, where persecution escalates and these points of guidance become critically important.


As we conclude our episode, I just want to make a couple of reflections and observations. Jesus gave specific instructions for a specific mission. As we interpret this passage, we need to keep the context very clearly in mind and we need to realise that we can't apply these exact instructions to modern day mission. We need to look at the underlying principles and we need to apply those but we'll have confidence using this passage, if we understand the original context best.

Every mission needs a strategy; Jesus gave a strategy for this specific mission in Galilee, at this time, by the Twelve. I believe the Holy Spirit gives strategy for mission to the Church, time and time again - every country, in every age, in every cultural context. There is a way that the Church can reach its community. What we must do, when we read passages like this, is be stimulated to ask ourselves the question: what is the strategy, the most effective strategy, for us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those we are seeking to reach? I believe this passage, and this whole chapter, can stimulate the faith of the Church to believe that God will speak to them specifically and give them strategies to help them in that task. Some of those strategies might well be fully in action now in your experience - we need to keep investing - but there might be new things the Holy Spirit wants to say. Some of those may emerge because we've had this time together and we've reflected on this amazing passage, this amazing discourse, that Jesus is giving here. We'll continue this discourse in the next episode but thanks for reading.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Jesus suggests that those who are ‘hospitable’ will be more open to the Good News. Is this what you have found? Are you hospitable yourself?
  • Discipleship
    1. It is important to recognise God’s plan in your own situation. What is God prompting you to do?
    2. Jesus warns that there is opposition and persecution to come. Pray for those experiencing that today.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Although Jesus was preparing the twelve disciples for a specific mission, what general principles can you take from his teaching at this point?
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