A Moment with the Bible
It is amazing that the teaching of the gospel would illicit such strong reactions, even to the point that a man’s enemies would be those of his own household. Could a brother really betray a brother or a father his own child? It not only could happen, it did happen during the Roman persecution of the church in the first and second centuries. There are times, when a person’s own life is at stake, that they feel justified in betraying others in order to save themselves. The apostles needed to be aware of these possible reactions so that they were not taken by surprise and respond sinfully. Thus in verse 16 Jesus said, “Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Though they were not to react to persecution sinfully nor fight back physically (innocent as doves), they were to be smart in how they dealt with the world they were teaching. Paul repeatedly used wisdom to avoid persecution. A Christian must be willing to accept persecution without denying the Lord, but that does not mean he goes looking for it or in any way encourages it.
In the midst of this kind of severe trial, who will be saved? Only those who “endure to the end.” Endurance implies a struggle. In other words, it will not be easy to be in the minority so that even close family members are betraying you. It is as those times especially that a Christian tends to question his commitment and wonder if this is what the Lord actually expects of him. But the only person who will be saved is the person who does not give in to the pressure. There may be a desire to bend to the crowd, but think of where that crowd is going on the Day of Judgment. In a parallel passage Jesus warned against being ashamed of Him (Mk. 8:38).
Thus, when persecuted, the disciples were urged to flee to the next city. No reason to stay and be killed, but do not quit telling the good news. The phrase, “until the Son of Man comes” most likely refers to Jesus’ “coming” to destroy the nation of Israel for their rejection. Jesus talks more about this “coming” when He speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt. 24:3; Mk. 14:61-62). We will discuss this in more detail when we come to Matthew 24.
A Moment with the Bible
As Jesus readied the apostles for their journey in what has been called the Limited Commission, He continued His discourse to include challenges they would face even beyond their immediate mission. What Jesus says after verse 15 has to do with the rest of their lives as apostles.
The apostles are about to bring the good news of salvation to the whole world. What could be better than that? Who could possibly object to such a message? It would seem that the world would readily accept the apostles and anyone else bringing the gospel. At the very least, we would think that a person who was not interested would simply be indifferent. But Jesus shocks us by saying that His message will be received with violence. The apostles would be as sheep (physically helpless to defend themselves) in the midst of wolves (people who were bent on destroying them). But how could people possibly have such a violent reaction to something that is so good? The answer is that we are in the midst of two kingdoms at war. Satan reigns over a powerful kingdom that is bent on destroying the efforts of the Lord to save mankind. This is the reason we do not generally find people or governments indifferent to spiritual truth. The gospel is certainly not a threat to humanity. True Christianity does not force its way on anyone. But that is not Satan’s concern. His concern is the salvation of man and the victory of the kingdom of heaven.
The Lord gave the apostles a special promise in verses 19-20, that is not given to any other disciple. When they faced persecution and stood indicted for preaching the gospel, the Lord would give them the words to speak by the power of the Holy Spirit. You will see this same promise given to them in Mark 13:11. The fact that the Holy Spirit would be their “defense attorney” would be critical to their boldness and success. Though today we do not have that same promise, when we know the words of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures we can be as prepared as the apostles to give an answer to everyone who asks (1 Peter 3:15).
A Moment with the Bible
In this text, Jesus prepares the apostles for how they should go about their work of bringing back the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As they preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, they are to use the powers Jesus gave them to heal those suffering from infirmities. Such use of miraculous powers would not only show the compassion of the Lord but also confirm the teaching of the apostles to be from God. We must remember that the use of the miraculous in the first century was critical to spreading the gospel. Without miracles to authenticate the teaching, no Jew would have given up following the Law of Moses and no Gentile would have been convinced to leave paganism. Notice that Jesus encourages the apostles to freely use these gifts since they had been freely given to them. In other words, these gifts were not for their own personal encouragement or as proof to themselves that God was with them. The gifts were to be used for the benefit of others and as proof of apostolic authority. Those today who claim miraculous powers neither demonstrate such by authentic gifts (“heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers”, vs. 8), nor do they do it for the benefit of others but instead to draw people to themselves and line their pockets with their money.
There is a significant difference in how the apostles were to go on this limited commission to Israel and how they would later go to the whole world in the Great Commission. Since Israel was considered within the covenant relationship of God, the Lord expected worthy Jewish people to provide for the apostles as they did their work: “for a worker is worthy of his food” (vs. 10). However, when the apostles took the gospel to the whole world they would either provide for themselves by their own labor or churches/Christians would take care of their support. They did not attempt to take money from those to whom they were bringing the gospel. This is one of the critical differences between a true teacher of God and a false teacher. False teachers are constantly trying to make money off those they teach (2 Peter 2:1-3). True teachers do not exploit the lost people they teach but instead rely on their own brethren for support (1 Cor. 9:14) or the labor of their own hands (Acts 20:33-34).
A Moment with the Bible
The text before us is the second of the five major discourses of Jesus that Matthew records. In this discourse, Jesus gives instructions to His apostles as He sends them out on the Limited Commission. This commission has been called “limited” because He sent them only to Israel and forbid them to go to the Gentiles. Later, in 28:19, Jesus will give the Great Commission in which He will send His disciples into all the world. This pattern of spreading the gospel was followed later in the book of Acts. The first nine chapters of Acts records the spread of the gospel to the Jews only. When Paul (who was sent to the Gentiles) would enter a city, he would first go to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. The Jews had been prepared for the coming of the kingdom and thus it was only fitting that they be given the first opportunity.
The key to this first mission by the apostles was their message. Israel had been looking for the coming kingdom and therefore Jesus tells them to go and announce that the kingdom is at hand. We need to stop and ask ourselves a question: “Was Jesus right about that? Was the kingdom about to begin?” Surely, you would think, no one would suggest Jesus was in error. But you would be wrong. Most of the religious world believes that though the Lord intended to establish the kingdom, it did not work out because the Jews rejected Jesus and therefore the perfect earthly kingdom He would have started had to be postponed. Instead, as the theory goes, Jesus established the “church age.” This doctrine is utterly false. Jesus never intended to establish an earthly kingdom (John 18:36) and the church was not an afterthought. His kingdom is heavenly, as Matthew states 37 times in his book (“Kingdom of heaven”). Jesus’ kingdom did begin and Jesus is reigning on His throne (Acts 2:34-36), and will reign until death is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:24-26). As for the “church” (that is, the saved), they are the ones who are citizens of this great kingdom. Everything happened just as God planned. If the kingdom did not come (as those who follow Tim LaHaye and the “Left Behind” series believe), then Jesus lied, the prophets who foretold it were false prophets, and God who planned it to take place in the first century is not sovereign.
A Moment with the Bible
After Matthew records nine miracles he offers two reactions. The first is the reaction of the multitudes. They are amazed and say, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” That is the honest and truthful reaction. But more important is the reaction of those who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. For anyone who is interested in examining the evidence of whether or not Jesus is the Christ, the testimony of His detractors is critical. So, what will they say? Will they deny that He ever did anything miraculous? Will they talk about how His miracles were done by slight of hand? Will they suggest that those He purported to heal were really not ill at all? No, they will not say any of these things. Instead, they will admit that He has done the miracles, but deny that the source is from God. “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.” That is an admission that the demons were cast out! Jesus will later expose the foolishness of such an argument. Why would the Satan destroy his own kingdom?
The final verses of this chapter give us a most important picture. How did Jesus see the multitudes? When He looked at the common people, what was His reaction? In John 7:49, we read of how the Pharisees viewed the people: “This multitude who knows not the Law is accursed.” But Jesus saw them differently. Jesus saw them from God’s point of view. He saw them the same way we should see the people around us today. Jesus pictured people as sheep, wounded, fainting, and scattered. They were not in that condition completely on their own accord. They had no shepherd, no guidance, no one to take care of them. But what do we see when we look at those around us? Do we simply think of their sinfulness, shrink back from contact with them, and condemn them from afar? When we do, we are in the same category as the Pharisees.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” The Lord is looking for those who have His heart, who see people with a heart of compassion and are willing to go and help them. Unfortunately, those kinds of people are few in number. Most simply condemn and count others unworthy of the Lord’s mercy. Therefore, pray that the Lord will send laborers into His harvest, and as you do, think about yourself.