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Jesus sends his disciples (v. 16), persecution becomes an opportunity for testimony (v. 18), and the Spirit of prophecy will provide the words (v. 20). Once the church faced persecution but possessed Jesus' power; now the church possesses more of the world's power but less of Jesus (compare Thurman 1981:11-12).
Jesus' Followers Are Powerless in Their Own Strength (10:16)
Sheep, like Israel of old (v. 6; compare 9:36), were defenseless against such predators as wolves (Sirach 13:17). Christians should therefore avoid unnecessarily provoking their opponents (shrewd) while remaining "guileless" (NIV innocent).
Physical Suffering and Shame for Jesus' Sake (10:17)
The hostility of synagogue officials (compare Jn 16:2) would extend as far as scourging (Mt 10:17; 23:34), recalling the more deadly scourging that the Lord himself would undergo (27:26). Local councils probably consisted of town elders, with special privileges for local priests. Synagogue scourgings probably resembled in some respects the custom we know from later sources: a strap of calf leather with interwoven thongs, brought against the condemned person's back twenty-six times and the breast thirteen times (m. Makkot 3:10-12).
God Will Empower the Disciples to Speak Before Rulers (10:18-20)
That this passage speaks of Roman governors in the plural (Judea had only one governor) indicates that Matthew again points beyond the immediate mission of the Twelve to the continuing mission of the church among the nations (28:19). God allows these hearings precisely for a testimony (compare Mk 13:10-11), and God will empower the disciples by the Holy Spirit of prophecy (compare Rev 19:10; see Keener 1997). Thus despite the ancient aristocracy's valuing of rhetorical skills, disciples need not be anxious about what they will say (see also Lk 12:11-12; 21:13-15; Jn 16:1-11).