When Jesussent out his disciples, he literally "apostled" them. Thus he provides a relevant model for his appointed agents in subsequent generations (whether they are "apostles" in the narrower sense or not). The language used here for "sending" probably connotes commissioning agents with delegated authority. Ancient Israelite circles also used formal agents or messengers (as in Prov 10:26; 13:17; 26:6); agency eventually became a legal custom so pervasive that both Roman and Jewish law recognized the use of agents, or intermediary marriage brokers, in betrothals (Cohen 1966:295-96).
Agents did not always have high legal status; some were even slaves. Yet they carried delegated authority, acting on the authority of the one who sent them. Thus later teachers commonly remarked that a person's agent is "equivalent to the person himself" (t. Ta`anit 3:2; m. Berakot 5:5). How one treats Jesus' messengers or heralds therefore represents how one treats Jesus himself (Mt 10:40-42).
Because the agent had to be trustworthy to carry out his mission, teachers sometimes debated the character the pious should require of such agents (m. Demai 4:5; t. Demai 2:20). This also implies, of course, that an agent's authority was entirely limited to the scope of his commission and the faithfulness with which he carried it out. The fact that Jesus authorizes us to do acts of compassion in his name (Mt 9:36) does not authorize us to use his power to get whatever we want (4:3).
Jesus' agents were not like just any legal agents: in biblical history, God's agents were the prophets. The connections in this text between Jesus' commissioned messengers and prophets should not be overlooked (10:41; compare Boring 1982:89).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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