Notes Matthew chapter 10
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
The Sending Forth of the Twelve Disciples 10:1-16
10:1. He called his twelve disciples. Matthew has not previously said that there were twelve disciples, but takes it for granted. The number is related to the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matt 19:28). The disciples represent the new Israel, the new people of God. The twelve apostles (v. 2) have first been disciples. Those who would be missionaries must first be pupils.
And gave them authority. Jesus, who had previously summoned them now gives them authority over demons and sicknesses. Power here means ‘authority,’ ‘proxy’ (Bauer, s.v. exousia, 3). This mission and authority of the disciple (vv. 1,7,8) are the same as those of the Master (9:35). Note that a clear distinction is made here between sickness and possession. The Greek word for ‘disease’ (malakia) is used for all sorts of weakness in the sense of ‘lack, shortcoming.’
2. The list of the names of the apostles occurs a further three times in the NT (Mark 3:6-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). The apostles are named two by two, perhaps because they are also sent out two by two (Mark 6:7). This is the first time in the NT that the disciples are called ‘apostles,’ a name that means ’those sent out,’ who represent the one who commissions them, in whose name they act. The word ‘apostle’ occurs 83 times in the NT, but in Matthew only in this verse. Elsewhere he speaks of ’the disciples’ or ’the twelve.’
First, Simon (who is called Peter). Simon’s nickname is given to distinguish him on the one hand from Simon the Zealot, and on the other to indicate his position as leader of the twelve (Peter means ’the rock’), cf. Matt 16:18-19. His exceptional place is indicated by the addition of ‘first.’
3. Philip. Philip is a Greek name (as is Andrew) meaning ‘Lover of horses.’ Bartholomew (from the Aramaic bar-tolmaj, son of Tolmai) is apparently the same as Nathanael who was named in John 1:46-51 together with Philip (two names or a nickname occurs frequently). Thomas. The name Thomas is translated by Didymus, which means ’twin’ (John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2).
Matthew the tax collector. Matthew, who also gives his former occupation (cf.9:9), names himself after Thomas, apparently out of modesty (in contrast to the lists in Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15). Thaddaeus. Thaddeus must be the same as Judas (the brother or son of) James (Luke 6:16). Once more it was not unusual to have two or three names.
4. The Zealot. The Greek word for ‘zealot’ is kananaios. This addition to Simon does not mean here an inhabitant in the land of Canaan or the town of Cana, but is derived from the Hebrew qanna’j and has the same meaning as the Greek zelots (Luke 6:15), literally ‘zealot.’ It indicates that this Simon belonged to the party of the Zealots (a political resistance-movement) before he was called by Jesus.
Iscariot. The nickname ‘Iscariot’ can be explained in several ways. It may be Hebrew with the meaning of ‘man of Kerioth.’ Kerioth was a little place in Judea (Josh 15:25). Judas was thus the only Judean. Secondly, it may be derived from sicarius, literally ‘dagger-man’ and hence ‘assassin.’ The nickname means that Judas belonged to the most fanatical of the Jewish parties, the Sicarii (partisans; see Acts 21:38). Thirdly it might be derived from the Aramaic sjeqar, blackguard. The second and third agree with the evangelists’ comment that it was he who betrayed Jesus. The fact, however, that his father has the same nickname (John 6:71) suggests that the first is most likely, but also supports the second.
5. Do not go among the Gentiles. ‘Gentiles’ does not mean individual Gentiles, but (after ’the House of Israel’ and ‘Israel’ in v.23) heathen, Gentile lands. Hence ‘Do not go among (litt. into the way of) the Gentiles’ means: ‘Do not cross the boundaries of the land of the Jews.’ ‘Town of the Samaritans’: if the Greek polis is a translation of the Aramaic medn’, it may also mean province or district (Gesenius, s.v.). Jesus is speaking of the area between Judea and Galilee where a mixed population lived as a result of colonisation (II Kings 17:24-28).
6. The lost sheep of Israel are not a particular group among the people of Israel but all the people of Israel (cf. Ezek 34:5-6; commentary on Matt 9:36).
The prohibition in v.5 and the command in v.6 must not be regarded as a continuing commission. Because the Jews have an exceptional place in God’s plan (they are the people with whom God made a covenant), the gospel of the Kingdom of God must first be brought to them (Matt 15:24, John 1:11; Rom 1:16; cf. Isa 49:6). The wall of partition between Israel and the nations might not be broken down for the time being.
7. The kingdom of heaven is near. John the Baptist and Jesus both preached this message (3:2; 4:17). It indicates that the promised kingly rule of God is about to begin, it has already begun in part (see v.8). Although it was not yet possible for the apostles to teach the deep truths of the Kingdom of Heaven (for example, Jesus’ sufferings), they were nevertheless allowed to preach it and experience its powers.
8. The apostles’ task (to preach and to heal) is the same as Jesus’ (cf. 9:35). Healing the sick, raising the dead and cleansing lepers are signs of the Messiah’s presence and of His kingdom (cf. Matt 11:3-5).
Freely you have received, freely give. The apostles may not trade on their power to preach and to heal, because they have been given it freely (cf. I Cor 11:7). Jewish rabbis too were not permitted to receive money for their teaching. The only exception was when they gave instruction to children. The parents were duty bound to pay for this service (SB I,561).
9. The belt or girdle was broad and was not only used to fasten upper and lower garments together, but also for keeping money and other valuable items safe. This verse does not speak of a prohibition against accepting money for their ministry (v.8), but with an eye to v.10, which is also grammatically dependant on ‘do not take along,’ it speaks of a prohibition against providing oneself with financial means before starting on the journey. The disciples were allowed to take only the most necessary items with them, so as not to rely on their own provision, but on God, Who would care for them.
10. No bag for the journey. The Greek word pra meant a travelling bag, which was hung over the shoulder and in which food was kept, for example, rather than a ‘begging bag’.
Or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff. The tunic (Greek chitn) is an undergarment, like the Roman tunica, over which an outer garment or cloak (Roman toga) was worn.
The intention of this verse is clear. Jesus forbids his disciples any additional equipment (such as a travelling bag, a staff, extra clothing and footwear), for God will care for them (we read how in vv. 11-14). It is also possible that He did not want His apostles to resemble travelling philosophers with their double undergarments, stick and travelling bag.
The worker is worth his keep. The Lord will provide the primary necessities of life through those who are served with the Gospel by the apostles (cf. v.11; Luke 10:7; I Cor 9:14).
11. In vv.11-14 we read that the Lord will provide for those sent out through the hospitality of those who receive the message. Hospitality is an important christian virtue (Rom 12:13; I Tim 3:2;5:10; Titus 1:8; Heb 13:2). The apostles, however, must investigate who is worthy to receive it. This passage is not concerned with well-disposed people but with those who would not only receive the apostles hospitably, but above all would welcome their message (Matt 10:37-38; Acts 16:15).
Stay at his house until you leave. This instruction does not mean that they may not leave the house to preach in the city; it does mean that the apostles are to stay in the same house while they are in a particular town or village and not spent their time going from house to house, or looking for better accommodation. They must be content with what they get (cf. Luke 10:7).
12. Give it your greeting. The duty to speak in greeting and the form of words used are the usual thing in Israel (Peace be unto you, Luke 24:36; John 20:19,21,26). Conventionally this is a wish for someone’s general well-being. But because the greeting is specifically named it must have a deeper significance. Peace is not merely a formal wish, but in Jesus’ name the apostles bring shalom, real peace, i.e., God’s full salvation (John 14:27; Acts 10:36).
13. If a house, i.e., the people who live there, accept this peace, it shares in the salvation. If this blessing is refused, it returns to the person who gave it. This means that the blessing is lost, which is tantamount to a curse.
14. Shake the dust off your feet. The apostles must not waste their time in a house or a city where both they and their message are unwelcome, but must leave and ostentatiously shake the dust from their feet. This last reminds us of the Jewish custom of carefully removing the dust from their shoes and clothing after having passed through a Gentile district and before re-entering Jewish territory, because Gentile areas were regarded as unclean. It is a symbolic action here, signifying that they consider the (Jewish) inhabitants to be heathens, in other words that they do not form part of True Israel (cf. Acts 13:51).
15. It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. The fate of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16-19:29) had become proverbial in OT times (Isa 1:9ff). Sodom and Gomorrah stand for evil (cf. Matt 11:22, 24; Luke 17:29; Rom 9:29; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7), and there will be no hope for them on the Resurrection Day (SB I, 571-574). By ‘day of judgement’ is meant the ‘day’ on which God will judge the world at the end of time (cf. Acts 17:31; Rev 20:11-15).
It appears that there are different levels of suffering in God’s judgement. The houses and towns which have rejected the apostles’ message will be judged even more severely than Sodom and Gomorrah, for where enlightenment is greater, responsibility is greater. If anyone will not listen to the message which can save his life, he must listen to and receive judgement on his life.
16. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. The defencelessness of sheep (lambs) in the face of dangerous wolves is a well-known image (Isa 11:6; 65:25). Jewish teaching was that Israel was the sheep which was surrounded by 70 wolves (the heathen nations; SB I,574). We must understand Jesus’ words against this background. It is He who sends and protects His disciples among the Jews, for He is the shepherd of the people of God (cf. 9:36; 10:6).
Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. The understanding, the intelligence of the serpent is a well-known fact in ancient times (cf. Gen.3:1; 2 Cor 11:3). The Greek word for ‘innocent’ (akeraios) means literally ‘unmixed,’ ‘pure,’ and figuratively it means pure of intention, transparent in appearance, sincere and harmless. It appears twice more in the NT, in Rom 16:19 and Phil 2:15. Jesus says that His disciples must be both wise and harmless. These two characteristics must be present simultaneously. They needed intelligence so as not to become entrapped by the snares of the enemy. But their understanding must not be sly or think evil. Hence there must also be mention made of harmlessness at the same time, purity, uprightness.
By sending His disciples out as sheep among wolves Jesus did not give them the illusion of important results, but on the contrary He emphasises the threatening danger of persecution (see too vv. 17-25).
Persecutions are coming 10:17-25
17. What is said in vv. 17-25 is not limited to this first commission but has a much wider perspective (compare the verbal agreement with Mark 13:9-13 and Luke 21:12-19), although a missionary journey among the heathen is not yet to be understood (v. 23b). The words would remain in force until the destruction of Jerusalem, which replaced the coming of the Son of Man (cf. v 23b and Matt 22:1-14 and 23:38-39).
They will hand you over to the local councils. Apart from the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, which had 71 members, there were little courts (23 members) in every town with more than 120 inhabitants. These were closely connected to the synagogues.
Flog you in their synagogues. Apart from civil judgments the synagogue also had the right to condemn someone to a flogging. The punishment was considered a holy deed and was carried out in the synagogue by the attendants (SB I, 577; cf. Matt 23:24; Acts 22:19).
18. The apostles would be dragged before heathen courts, where the jus gladii (the right to inflict the death penalty) was enforced (John 18:31;19:10). Governors and kings make us think of the Herodian princes such as Herod Antipas (14:1), Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1 ff) and Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26:2 ff), the Roman governor Pilate and the Emperor. When we accept that they, being heathen authorities, represent the Gentiles, the word ’them’ in v. 18b includes the Jews from v. 17. The testimony must in the first place be considered as a proof (see commentary on Matt 8:4); but as the activity of testifying too.
On my account. Jesus emphasises that they will suffer for His name’s sake (cf. Acts 9:4-5). But those who are persecuted for His sake will never be deprived of His love, comfort and power (cf. vv. 19-20: 29-31).
19. The disciples must not be concerned about what they must say or how they should express it. The words will be given them at that very moment (cf. Exod 4:10-12; Jer 1:6-10).
We see this promise fulfilled in Acts (4:8; 6:10; 7:55-56). This promise speaks about standing before the judgement seat, not on the pulpit.
20. The Spirit of your Father speaking through you. It is the Holy spirit, the Spirit of the Father, who will speak in the disciples (John 15:26; Acts 4:8,31). Jesus always speaks about ‘your Father’ and ‘My Father.’ Only when He taught the disciples to pray did He said ‘Our Father,’ but the prayer was intended for the disciples, for in a remarkable way, Jesus is the Son of God. He was the only-begotten Son of God, whereas all those who believe in Him are called children of God (John 1:12). After the word ‘your,’ which indicates differentiation from Jesus, the word ‘Father’ speaks of a close relationship with God as their father. In the service of their Father, the disciples could always count on the leading and working of the Holy Spirit.
21. The idea of legal persecution is maintained in this verse. The reason of the breaking of family ties is the division of the family into believers and unbelievers. This division within the family is yet another sign of the last days (cf. Micah 7:6; Mark 13:12). This word has been fulfilled time after time in periods of persecution.
22. We pass from betrayal by members of one’s family to the general hatred of mankind (cf. John 15:18-19,25), and the possibility of being saved.
He who stands firm to the end will be saved. The end mentioned is either the end of life (some of them will be put to death, cf. Luke 21:16), cf. v. 21, or the return of the Son of Man, v. 23b. To be saved does not imply that they will not die. It has a deeper meaning here (cf. vv.28-33, 38-39; Mark 8:35; 10:26), i.e., a share in eternal life. If anyone perseveres in confessing the Name of Jesus as long as he lives, he will be saved.
23. The disciples must persevere to the end (v. 22a), but with understanding (v.16b). This implies that they are not to seek martyrdom. Jesus even says that they must avoid it if at all possible, and flee to another city, to preach the gospel there (vv. 5-8,16).
You will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.Different explanations have been given here. It is possible that Jesus meant that the disciples must not count on an easy task or that it would soon be done. On the contrary, they will not be finished before the Lord returns. Preaching the gospel to the people of Israel will never be finished. One person believes that Jesus is speaking here about His return in glory; another, that He is speaking about the coming of His successor, the Holy Spirit. A third considers Jesus to be speaking about His Resurrection. Yet another thinks He is speaking about His coming to judge Jerusalem, i.e., about the city’s fall in 70 A.D.
We believe that Jesus was indeed speaking about His coming in glory (Matt 24:30; 26:64), but that by ‘cities’ He in the first instance means those places to which the disciples can flee (v.23a). This then becomes a word of comfort: until the Son of Man returns, you will not lack a city to which you can flee for refuge. Yet the supposition remains that the disciples will travel as preachers throughout Israel until Jesus’ return. How does this agree with Matt 28:18-20? In 22:1-14 and 23:38-39 we find the explanation of how we must regard these and other promises, such as 16:28 and 24:34. Because the chosen People rejects the Messiah and His message, the Gospel will be preached to the Gentiles, the heathen, and the Jewish people will be sidetracked. This rejection is the reason for changing the promise of the coming of the Son of Man in glory into a judgement (apostasy and the destruction of the city, 23, 37-39). But the judgement is not eternal: there is an ‘until’ (Matt 23:39; Luke 21:24). There will come a time when the Lord draws the fate of His chosen people Israel again to Himself (cf. Rom 11).
For the title ‘Son of Man’ see commentary on Matt 8:20.
24-25a. The pupil and the servant can expect no better treatment than that meted out to the master (cf. v.22a; John 15:20; I Peter 4:1).
25b. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub. The Greek text reads ‘beelzebul’. The name ‘Beelzebub’ can be explained in three ways. Firstly it may be a corruption of Beelzebub, which is found in many Syrian and Latin translations. Ba’al Zebb (Heb.) means ‘Lord of the Flies’; this was an eastern god affording protection against flies and mosquitoes, who could also summon these pests (cf. II Kings 1:2). Secondly it may be derived from Ba’al Zibbl (Heb.), which literally means ‘manure-god’, but also Lord of a heathen sacrificial cult. Thirdly, it may be derived from Ba’al Zebl (Heb.), which means ‘Lord of the house.’ The house is the place inhabited by demons. Both the analogy with Jesus as Lord of the house, as Matt 12:24, where Beelzebub is called the prince of the devils, make a strong case for the third interpretation.
There is here a question of an abbreviated and sharper version of an earlier taunt (9:24) that Jesus performed His healings in the power of Satan (12:24) and that He is possessed by Beelzebub (Mark 3:22; John 7:20; 8:48-52; 10:20; cf. Matt 11:18).
Exhortation to Fearless Confession 10:26-33
26. Do not be afraid. Jesus emphasises three times in vv. 26-33 that the disciples need not be afraid. He urges them to confess Him boldly.
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed. Jesus encourages the disciples with the general principle, from which their commisioning in v.27 is derived. It means, all secrets shall inevitably come to light. Jesus is referring to the secrets of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mark 4:11,22; Luke 8:10,17). Truth will always triumph.
27. What is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Much of Jesus’ teaching of His disciples consisted of conversations among themselves. He often took His disciples aside and spoke to them confidentially (cf. Matt 13:10-11, 36).
Jesus wants His disciples to be actively involved in the fulfilment of the principle stated in v.26b. He induces them to preach openly what they have learned from Him secretly. In the east the roofs are used for public proclamations to this day.
Verses 26 and 27 emphasise too that the Gospel cannot be shut away.
28. Do not be afraid of those who … cannot kill the soul. Jesus then returns to the question of persecution, and repeats a reason why the disciples should not be afraid (cf.v.26). He says that the persecuters can only kill the body, but not the life, the soul, the inner man. Rather, they must fear God, who can condemn both body and soul to eternal punishment, in Gehenna (Mark 9:45,47; James 4:12). The Greek apolesai (‘destroy’) must rather be understood in the sense of condemn than destroy (cf. Luke 12:5; Gk. embalein= throw into). Gehenna is the ‘lake of fire’, the place to which all unbelievers will be condemned at the last judgment (Rev, 20:14-15).
29. Verses 29-31 give a third reason for not being afraid, i.e., God’s fatherly care for the disciples. Verse 29a mentions the cheapest thing on sale in the market (two for a penny), that is, little birds which were bought and eaten by the poor people. None of these birds fall to the ground (= caught in a trap, cf. Amos 3:5) without the Father (v.29b), i.e without His leave. The disciples may never think that the Father has forgotten them. He even cares for the sparrows, the cheapest; how much more shall He care for the dearest, the crown of His creation?
30. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. The emphasis is on ‘hairs’ and ‘you'(cf. NEB As for you, even the hairs …). The meaning is that if not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s leave, not one hair will fall from the disciples’ head without His permission. The numbering of the hairs on the head is proverbial (cf. I Sam 14:45; 2 Sam 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52) and means that God’s management extends to the smallest details in the disciples’ lives.
31. The emphasis is on ‘you.’ The Greek diapherete (‘you are worth more than’) is literally ‘ to distinguish oneself from’ and also ‘ to be of more value than’ (Bauer, s.v.). The verse says the same as v.30 in other words.
32. Whoever acknowledges me. The Greek homologein en is the same as the Hebrew hd(h) le, which means ‘acknowledge’, and the Aramean jd be, ‘declare to belong to.’ In some degree it is a legal concept, often used in connection with passing judgment (cf. 7:23; Acts 24:14; 1 Tim 6:12). Here too we must think of Jesus’ acknowledgement of us at the (Last) Judgment (cf.v.28;7:23; Rev 3:5).
Before men. The Greek emprosthen, ‘before’ (originally an adverb of place) stresses that this passage deals with a public acknowledgement before men.
33. Whoever disowns me before men. The verb form of ‘disown’ (aoristus) indicates a total, conscious denial of Christ openly before men (emprosthen, see v.32). The denial by Jesus will occur at His return in glory, at the judgment (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; II Tim 2:12).
The Coming of Jesus Means Division 10:34-36
34. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Peace and the sword are the obverse and reverse of the Kingdom of God. The Messiah’s coming will bring peace and salvation on the one hand, but on the other judgment and separation (= the sword) cf. Micah 5:4,14 among others. Here Jesus speaks exclusively about the second aspect. This judgment is not only in the future but is also operative in the world today (vv.35-36; cf. John 3:18-21).
35-36. Jesus says that His coming will also bring separation and hatred (the sword) even in the most intimate family relationships. Possibly -it has also been the experience of many believers- one may become estranged from his family through his faith, or even what is worse, disowned.
The quotation from Micah 7:6 is not intended to indicate a prophecy fulfilled (Micah 7:1-6 is not prophetic), but to serve as an example of the disproportion the Gospel will bring.
To turn a man against his father. The Greek dichasai (to turn) literally means ‘divide in two.’ The cause of the separation and disproportion is not the righteousness of the believer but the unrighteousness of the unbeliever (cf. Micah 7:1-6).
Conditions of Discipleship 10:37-39
37. If one does not love the Lord Jesus more than anything and anyone else, one cannot belong to Him. ‘Is not worthy of me:’ does not belong to Me and does not deserve to be Mine.
38. Anyone who does not take his cross. Jesus speaks here about following Him by taking up one’s cross. It was the Roman tradition that a condemned prisoner must himself carry his cross to the place of execution. Whoever carried the cross was destined to die. Carrying a cross in those days was no figurative expression for some discomfort or other (illness, for example) but meant that the disciples of Jesus must be prepared to undergo crucifixion. It also indicates that they must adopt the attitude of a man condemned to death, i.e., an attitude of self-denial, considering life in the world to be ended (Luke 9:23-24).
39.The Greek psuch may mean ‘soul’ or ‘life.’ It is the presence of the soul which makes the body a living organism. This must mean in the first instance true genuine life, or what is considered to be genuine. He who would preserve his life in his own way by avoiding self-denial in general and martyrdom in particular will lose it, i.e., at the last judgment, and will have no part in the life of the age to come (cf.John 12:25). But he who is ready to lose his life for Jesus’ sake, i.e., give it up (in self-denial and martyrdom), will find true life, i.e., enter into it. The disciples were often pursued with words about finding and losing life: Matt 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25).
Promises for the disciples 10:40-11:1
40. Verses 40-42 link up with the theme of vv. 11-14. Jesus wants to encourage the apostles by showing them how much they are worth in God’s eyes and how much God is interested in their physical welfare. The passage is not concerned with their being accepted as guests, but as ambassadors for Christ. There is an old Jewish proverb: a messenger for a man is the man himself. As those who were sent they represent Jesus, who in His turn is God’s substitute.
41. The disciples’ task is to be compared with that of the prophets (5:12). They too were called righteous, because they were representatives of the divine Righteousness (5:10). Those who receive them as righteous men and as prophets share in their ministry and obtain their reward. A distinction is to be understood in the wages received (cf. Matt 5:12, 19: 6:20).
Jesus wants to make it clear to the disciples how highly God esteems the hospitality they are afforded.
42. This verse continues v. 41 and suggests that a charitable action for the disciples (the little ones, Mark. 9:41; Matt 25:40), no matter how small it is by worldly standards (a cup of cold water), is great in God’s eyes (he will certainly not lose his reward).
11:1. After Jesus had finished… : see commentary on Matt 7:28. Chapter 11 clearly speaks about the opposition to Jesus in those days. The people (vv. 16-17) and the cities of Galilee (vv. 20-24) refused to repent and believe. Even John the Baptist had his doubts at this moment (v.5). Nevertheless Jesus was convinced that God had sent Him (vv. 25-27).
While the disciples went from city to city (ch. 10) preaching the gospel and healing the sick (10:7-8; Mark 6:12-13; Luke 9:6), Jesus did not remain idly behind. After the apostles had been sent out two by two, He went alone to the cities of Galilee where they had been previously, to continue his teaching.