Having surveyed the wider biblical teaching on missions and evangelism, we return to the gospel according to Matthew and resume our study at 10:16, right in the middle of Christ’s missionary discourse. Now that He is about to send His disciples into a world hostile to God’s kingdom, our Savior takes time in today’s passage to warn His followers that they will often bring His words to sinners who are all too eager to “shoot the messengers.”
Knowing what is ahead, Jesus describes how we are to conduct our outreach. Verse 16 exhorts us to act with a wise innocence — “innocent as doves that we may not harm anyone; cautious as snakes that we may be careful of letting anyone harm us” (Augustine, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-first Century, vol. 3, 3:189). We are not to be naïve, but we must realize that not all whom we encounter are who they say they are. Still, our mission is not one of subversiveness or automatic mistrust of everyone we meet.
In Matthew 10:17–23, Jesus speaks both of events near in His day as well as things in the distant future. The prophets frequently speak in such ways, describing in the same paragraph judgments that are soon to come for their contemporaries as well as things that are far off. Today’s passage, for example, says the disciples will be unable to visit all of Israel’s towns before “the Son of Man comes” (v. 23). We will explore this idea in more detail when we study the Olivet Discourse (chap. 24), but for now note that Jesus is most likely predicting Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 a.d., an event that happens within the lifetimes of most of the twelve. The reference to Gentile persecution (10:17–18) deals more with oppression after the disciples preach the Gospel to the Israelites, and, indeed, events to occur time and again in church history.
To be a Christian is to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). If many have persecuted Him, so also will many hate us for preaching His Gospel. We who follow Him cannot expect to escape the tribulation our Lord also endured (Matt. 10:24–25). Let us embrace this truth and, as John Calvin says, “be bold and courageous, that [we] may be always ready for martyrdom.”
John MacArthur is forthright about what Matthew 10 teaches the church: “Christ will have no one deluded into thinking that He calls believers to a life free from conflict” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,142). Are you ready for the conflict that comes with following Jesus? If you will not stand up for Jesus today when you talk to unbelieving friends and family members, will you be prepared to stand up against more hostile adversaries?
For further study:
The Bible in a year: