Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
MATTHEW 9:35-38. A PLENTIFUL HARVEST, BUT FEW LABORERS
35Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people. 36But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion (Greek: esplanchnisthe) for them, because they were harassed (Greek: eskulmenoi) and scattered (Greek: errimenoi), like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers (Greek: ergates) are few. 38Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.”
“Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people” (v. 35). This verse summarizes Jesus’ ministry in nearly the same words as 4:23, the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Note the verbs. Jesus goes about (1) teaching (2) proclaiming and (3) curing. He commissions the disciples to become his partners in these activities (10:7-8), although he will not commission them to teach until after the resurrection (28:19-20). The ministry of the disciples thus grows naturally out of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus provides the shape that their ministry will take—first by the example of his ministry and, secondly, by this commission (10:7-8).
“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion (esplanchnisthe) for them, because they were harassed (eskulmenoi) and scattered (errimenoi), like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36). The word for “had compassion” is esplanchnisthe—an especially strong word which comes from the word splagchna, which means “bowels.” It expresses a compassion that springs from the deepest part of one’s being—today we would call it heartfelt compassion. In other verses where esplanchnisthe is used in this Gospel, Jesus not only feels compassion, but also cures the sick (14:14), feeds the crowd (15:32), and restores sight to the blind (20:34). In other words, esplanchnisthe prompts action.
The word for “harassed” is eskulmenoi, which can describe “someone who is plundered by rapacious men, or vexed by those without pity.” The word for “helpless” is errimenoi, which means “laid prostrate” (Barclay, 363).
Matthew portrays crowds neither as Jesus’ enemies nor as objects of ridicule. Jesus expresses no anger or frustration with them. There is no “Won’t they ever learn!” or “What is wrong with them!”—no rolling of the eyes as he watches them make yet another mistake. Jesus knows that the crowds are helpless—that is the nature of sheep—helpless. Rams can defend themselves against predators and goats can scramble nimbly across perilous rocks, but sheep have trouble even foraging for themselves. Sheep require a shepherd. Without a shepherd, they will perish. “The Pharisees saw the common people as chaff to be destroyed and burned up; (Jesus) saw them as a harvest to be reaped and saved. The Pharisees in their pride looked for the destruction of sinners; Jesus in His love died for the salvation of sinners” (Barclay, 365).
“sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36b). This phrase “is reminiscent of several Old Testament passages that portray God’s people as a flock neglected by its shepherds (I Kings 22:17; Jer. 23:1-6; Ezek. 34:1-10; Micah 5:2-4). Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel present ‘David’ as the future good shepherd of Israel (Jer. 23:5; Ezek. 34:23)…. Jesus is presenting himself as the promised ‘David'” (Hare, 108-109). Jesus’ observation that the sheep have no shepherd is a damning critique of the Pharisees, who should be their shepherds.
“Then he said to his disciples” (v. 37a). These disciples might be the twelve whom Jesus will soon call together (10:1-4), or they might be a larger group.
“The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers (ergates) are few” (v. 37b). We expect Jesus to call the disciples to start work. Instead he says, “Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest” (v. 38). The action is in the hands of “the Lord of the harvest” (v. 38). “We can be encouraged by Jesus’ realism: the task is overwhelming…. But statistics and quantities are not ultimate realities. The only reality worth taking with ultimate seriousness is the Living God” (Bruner, 364-365).
The disciples are to pray for laborers (ergates). Our instincts are very different. We would pray for great preachers—brilliant scholars—talented musicians—wise administrators—effective fundraisers—people of great vision—people of means. Instead, Jesus calls us to pray for common laborers. While God can use talented people, most kingdom work is done by ordinary, nearly anonymous, behind-the-scenes disciples.
MATTHEW 10:1-4. THE TWELVE APOSTLES
1He called to himself his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness. 2Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. The first, Simon, who is called Peter; Andrew, his brother; James the son of Zebedee; John, his brother; 3Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Canaanite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
“He called to himself his twelve disciples” (v. 1a). Until now, Matthew has spoken only of Jesus’ disciples—not of the twelve. He has told us of Jesus calling only five disciples—Peter and Andrew, James and John (4:18-22) and Matthew (9:9), but he has surely called others along the way. This verse sounds as if Jesus is calling together an already constituted group.
“and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness” (v. 1b). Without Jesus’ authority, the disciples would have no power. Jesus gives them authority to exorcise unclean spirits and to heal every disease and every illness—mirroring key facets of his own ministry (4:23; 9:35). “This mission of healing… makes it clear that God’s reign is expressed in the care of whole persons, not (just in) ‘saving souls’ ” (Hanson).
“Both Jesus’ proclamation and practical acts of compassion go beyond what many Christians call ministry today. Our communities are ravaged by demonic forces, violence, injustice, and all kinds of human pain, while the church often remains irrelevant except to the few who venture through our doors. To follow Jesus’ model of ministry, more Christians must stop simply going to church and learn rather to become the church among our communities in evangelism and ministry to social needs” (Keener, 198).
After his resurrection, Jesus will commission the disciples to make disciples, to baptize, and to teach (28:16-20), thus expanding the 10:7-8 commission substantially.
“Now the names of the twelve apostles are these” (v. 2a). This is Matthew’s only reference to the twelve apostles.
“The first, Simon, who is called Peter; Andrew, his brother; James the son of Zebedee; John, his brother; 3Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Canaanite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him” (vv. 2b-4). He groups the twelve in pairs, perhaps as they were sent two by two (Mark 6:7). There are similar lists in Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13. These additional apostles are mentioned elsewhere:
• Matthias (Acts 1:26)
• Paul (Acts 14:14 and Galatians 1:1)
• Barnabas (Acts 14:14)
• James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19)
• The brothers of the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:5)
• Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7)
So we have the names of at least eighteen apostles plus the other brothers of the Lord—altogether close to two-dozen apostles. It is possible that only twelve apostles lived at any given time, but it is also possible that the writers of the New Testament tailored the lists to include twelve apostles. The number twelve suggests that the apostles inherited the mantle of the twelve sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes—in effect establishing the new Israel. Revelation 21:14 says that the names of the twelve apostles will be inscribed on the twelve foundation stones of the holy city’s wall.
We know little from the scriptures about many of the apostles. Tradition fills some of the gaps, but we have no way to judge its reliability. Most of the apostles must have been very ordinary. We might conclude that the lesser-known apostles achieved little, but that is unwarranted. Today, ordinary, unsung Christians do most of the church’s work, and it is quite possible that ordinary, unsung apostles served both faithfully and effectively.
• Peter and Paul were the most prominent apostles, but Paul will not become a disciple until later. Peter is usually first in lists of the apostles. Matthew not only lists Peter first, but also labels him as such—although Bruner notes, “Peter is as often first in folly as in leadership” (Bruner, 369).
• Andrew is Peter’s brother (4:18). His chief accomplishment was bringing his brother, Peter, to Jesus (John 1:40-41).
• James and John are the sons of Zebedee (4:21), and are also known as the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17), perhaps because of their temperament. Herod Agrippa will execute James (Acts 12:2), so it must be a different James who leads the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13; 21:18). John is the man often credited with the authorship of the three books of the New Testament bearing his name as well as the book of Revelation, and might have been the only apostle to escape martyrdom. James and John, along with Peter, constitute the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples—present at the Transfiguration and other significant moments in Jesus’ life (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33).
• Philip was one of Jesus’ earliest disciples (John 1:43).
• Bartholomew is probably another name for Nathanael (John 1:45-49).Nathanael was among the first to identify Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:49).
• Thomas is famous for doubting Jesus (John 20:24-29), but has been credited with establishing the church in India.
• James son of Alphaeus is also known as James the lesser or James the younger (Mark 15:40), perhaps to distinguish him from James son of Zebedee.
• Simon the Cananaean is identified in Luke 6:15 as Simon the Zealot. It is often thought that he was a revolutionary, committed to driving the Romans out of Israel, but are uncertain whether the Zealots, as a revolutionary group, existed in Jesus’ day. It could be that Simon is simply zealous for keeping Torah law. If a revolutionary, he would have been an enemy of Matthew, the tax collector, who collaborated with Romans. However, in Christ, they became brothers.
• Judas, of course, is the one who will betray Jesus (26:47-50).
Of the eight apostles mentioned in verses 3-4, only two (Matthew and Judas Iscariot) are mentioned elsewhere in this Gospel. “The corporate role of the Twelve was obviously more important and more remembered than the individual contribution of most of the members of the group” (France, 378).
MATTHEW 10:5-6. DON’T GO AMONG THE GENTILES OR SAMARITANS
5Jesus sent these twelve out, and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. 6Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
“Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans” (v. 5). These instructions seem odd, because Jesus dealt positively with Samaritans and Gentiles in his ministry (see John 4:4-42; Luke 10:30-37; Matthew 8:5-13; 15:22-28). There are at least two possible explanations:
• The principle at work seems to be, “for the Jew first, and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). This passage may also reflect “a very conservative Jewish Christian community, which confined itself to the circumcised” (Craddock, 329).
• “The geographical terms used here (‘way‘ of the Gentiles,’ ‘town of the Samaritans’…) indicate a restriction on the area to be visited rather than a total ban on contact with Gentiles and Samaritans as such” (France, 382). His purpose might be to focus their efforts in Galilee, the area most responsive to his ministry, before broadening their reach to less receptive areas.
Jesus’ restriction prohibits the disciples from going north into Syria, east into the Decapolis, or south into Samaria. To the west there is only the Mediterranean Sea.
“Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v. 6). The practical effect is to limit their ministry to Galilee. Jesus’ “aim was to concentrate his attack on Galilee, for Galilee…was the most open of all parts of Palestine to a new gospel and a new message” (Barclay, 374).
Whatever the case, Jesus’ prohibition is clearly temporary. Soon he will send the disciples into all the world (28:19-20).
MATTHEW 10:7-10. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND!
7“As you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ 8Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give. 9Don’t take any gold, nor silver, nor brass in your money belts. 10Take no bag for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: for the laborer is worthy of his food.”
“As you go, preach” (v. 7a). Jesus sends the disciples to perform certain tasks. Again, note the verbs. The disciples are to: (1) proclaim (2) cure (3) raise (4) cleanse and (5) cast out, but we could summarize those as: (1) proclaim and (2) heal. The healing ministry not only helps the sick, but also draws attention to the message, which is “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (v. 7b). Both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2; 4:17), but Jesus does not include a call to repentance in his instructions to these disciples.
“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons” (v. 8a). What Jesus is telling the twelve apostles to do here is beyond their human ability. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be helpless to do any of these four things.
Raising the dead, of course, is the most difficult of the four. However, Acts provides two examples of the apostles doing just that. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-41), and Paul raised Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:9-12).
“Freely you received, so freely give” (v. 8b). The disciples received the gospel as a gift, and are to give it freely to others in return. They are not to charge people for their teaching. Verse 10 makes it clear that they are free to receive subsistence, however.
“Don’t take any gold, nor silver, nor brass in your money belts. Take no bag for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff” (vv. 9-10a). Gold, silver, and copper are three types of coins, gold being the most precious and copper amounting to small change. The apostles are to make no provision for the journey—no bag—no change of tunic—no sandals—no staff. The bag may be a beggar’s bag—an itinerant preacher could support himself by begging. Sandals and staff would make traveling easier and safer. The idea here is that the disciples are to depend on the people to whom they minister for their sustenance—but are, more especially, to depend on God to provide what is needed.
Jesus explains, “for the laborer is worthy of his food” (v. 10b). The Apostle Paul expresses the same thought in 1 Timothy 5:18, where he says, “You shall not muzzle the ox when it treads out the grain.” And, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
In an agrarian society, laborers receive not only wages but also meals and sometimes lodging. Unlike the gospel, which is a gift, laborers receive food as their due. They have a contract with their employer, who is obligated to provide food. While this contract is usually unwritten, the practice being traditional, the laborer begins work trusting that the employer will provide what is required. Now Jesus is sending the apostles to work without resources, and asks them to trust that God will provide what is required. We are reminded of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (6:33). The apostles are to focus on healing and proclamation, and are to trust God to provide for their needs. The above instructions are temporary in nature. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the disciples, who have experienced God’s providence, to take a purse and a bag and a sword (Luke 22:35-36).
What do these verses say to us today? They call us to trust God to provide what we need. They call us not to think of ministry as a commercial venture. They call us to adopt a simple lifestyle, free of excess, so that we might be free for proclamation. They tell us that the person engaged in ministry is deserving of that which he/she needs and that recipients of ministry have a responsibility to provide for ministerial needs.
MATTHEW 10:11-15. EXPECTATIONS OF HOSPITALITY
11“Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy; and stay there until you go on. 12As you enter into the household, greet it. 13If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you. 14Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”
“Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy; and stay there until you go on” (v. 11). The custom of hospitality makes this possible (see Genesis 18:1-8; 19:1-1; 24:14-61; Judges 19:10-25; Hebrews 13:2). In Jesus’ day, people assumed an obligation to hospitality not unlike the custom that prevailed in my “student church” many years ago. On weekends, I traveled from my seminary to the small community where my church was located. People in that little congregation assumed responsibility for giving me a place to stay on Saturday nights and a place to eat after church on Sunday. Often they would invite me for additional meals as well, but I could count on a place to stay and Sunday lunch (usually a feast). My salary was modest (befitting my ability), but their hospitality enabled me to serve the congregation.
The disciples are to accept hospitality only in a worthy house. What constitutes a worthy house? For one thing, it must be a house that is receptive to the gospel (Bruner, 377).
For another, it must be a house where the guest’s reputation will not be compromised. Again, my experience in a student church serves as an example. I was young and unmarried, so church members were careful to lodge me in the homes of unimpeachable people—pillars of the church—married couples or grandmotherly widows.
When the disciples accepted lodging in a worthy house, they were to remain there until they left town. In the absence of such a rule, they might be tempted to move to more luxurious accommodations, violating the spirit of Jesus’ concern about materialism. Such moves would also distract the disciples, because it takes time and energy to move.
“As you enter into the household, greet it” (v. 12). In Luke 10:5, Jesus says, “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.'” so we can assume that this is the sort of greeting intended here.
“If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you” (v. 13). The peace is a blessing. It is not simply words, but has substance. Consider how seriously Jacob and Esau took their father’s blessing (Genesis 27).
“Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust from your feet” (v. 14). This practice has its roots in the Jewish ritual of shaking off Gentile dust when returning to Israel—Gentile dust is considered to be ritually unclean. Jesus is sending his disciples only to Jews at this point, so he is telling the disciples to treat unreceptive Jews as if they were Gentiles.
When disciples face rejection, they are not to take it personally or to feel that they have failed. Instead, they are to move to more receptive territory. Laborers are few and time is limited. The kingdom is too precious to waste on those who will not receive it. We are reminded of Jesus’ counsel in the Sermon on the Mount, “neither throw your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (7:6).
The church is always tempted to soften its message or to use other desperate measures to fill the pews, but Jesus calls us instead to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, to heal, and to cast out demons—and then to let the chips fall where they may.
“Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (v. 15). Because of Sodom and Gomorrah’s immorality and breach of hospitality, God destroyed them (Gen. 18-19). “Sodom and Gomorrah showed disrespect to the angels, the Old Testament messengers of Yahweh; worse still is the disrespect shown to the apostles, the New Testament messengers of Christ (John Meier, quoted in Gardner, 173).
Matthew focuses on Jesus’ instructions for the journey, but does not report the journey itself—the disciples’ departure, their accomplishments, and their return. Instead, he concludes by telling that Jesus went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities (11:1).
MATTHEW 10:16-22. SHEEP IN THE MIDST OF WOLVES
16“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. 18Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. 19But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
21“Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved.”
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (v. 16). A mixed metaphor! Disciples are like sheep, serpents and doves:
• Sheep in the midst of wolves are vulnerable, as are Christians in the world. Matthew’s church has begun to experience persecution and is in grave danger.
• Serpents survive by stealth and cunning. Jesus calls us to emulate their “street-smarts.” While we might suffer martyrdom, we are not to seek it. Jesus calls us to avoid danger where possible—but not at the cost of denying our faith (see v. 22).
• The dove is a symbol both of the Holy Spirit and of peace.
“But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you” (v. 17). The disciples will be handed over (paradosousin) to the councils—just as Jesus was handed over (paradosousin) to the authorities for crucifixion (Matt. 17:22; 20:18-20).”The councils are presumably the local sanhedrins, …which functioned in Jewish cities other than Jerusalem…. They probably met in synagogues” (Johnson, 368). “Matthew uses ‘synagogue’ more frequently than any other Gospel writer but always in a negative way…. For Matthew the Jew, the synagogue has become an alien institution in which he no longer belongs” (Hare 115). Jesus pictures Jewish leaders as wolves—a damning indictment of those who were intended to be shepherds.
“Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations” (v. 18). For examples of situations like this, see Acts 12:1-4; 13:6-12; 18:12-17; 23:23-25:12.
“But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say” (v. 19). The disciples are not to formulate their defense in advance, because the Spirit will speak through them. The courtroom will provide an opportunity for them to witness—to proclaim the gospel to governmental leaders who would not otherwise be accessible to Christians.
“Governors and kings understand those who would violently overthrow them. What they cannot face is the power of a people who refuse to fear them because they rightly fear God. The fear of God makes truthful speech possible” (Hauerwas, 108).
“For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (v. 20). The intent here is clearly that the Holy Spirit will speak through the disciples—will furnish the needed words at the right time. The phrase “the Spirit of your Father” is found only in this verse. It is a nice phrase that links the Spirit and the Father.
“Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake” (vv. 21-22a). Jesus alludes to Micah 7:6 in picturing terrible events consistent with the apocalyptic thought of the day. People believed that “the natural structures of the world would break down, and even the most deeply rooted family loyalties would dissolve under the pressure of the approaching end” (Boring, 259).
The events that Jesus portrays in these verses are as terrible as terrible can be. What could be more terrible than a brother betraying his brother or a father betraying his child or a child betraying his or her parents? The early church experienced all these things.
“for my name’s sake” (v. 22a). It is because of their connection with Jesus’ name, which implies a connection with Jesus personally, that the disciples will suffer. The rejection of the disciples is tantamount to the rejection of Jesus himself.
“but he who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22b). While Jesus might intend “the end” to refer to his Second Coming, in this context it more likely means remaining faithful throughout one’s lifetime, regardless of consequences.
The salvation that Jesus promises here is eternal life rather than protection from physical harm.
MATTHEW 10:23. WHEN THEY PERSECUTE YOU
23“But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come.”
“But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next” (v. 23a). Christians are not to waste time struggling against oppression. Time is short, and the work is large. The disciples are to focus on places where their message will be well-received.
“for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come” (v. 23b). The title, Son of Man, comes from Daniel 7:13, which has a vision of “one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. God has given this Son of Man “glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
Son of Man is Jesus’ preferred title (8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40, etc.), in part because it has none of the militaristic connotations associated with the title, messiah. People expect the messiah to raise an army, to drive out the Romans, and to re-establish the great Davidic kingdom. They have no such expectations regarding the Son of Man.
“before the Son of Man comes” (v. 23b). The coming to which Jesus refers here is “the vindication and enthronement of Jesus after his resurrection” (France, 397) rather than his Second Coming.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2009, Richard Niell Donovan