Here is, I. The commission given to the twelve apostles, to preach and work miracles; it is the same which we had more largely, Matt. 10:1-42. Mark doth not name them here, as Matthew doth, because he had named them before, when they were first called into fellowship with him, Mark 3:16-19. Hitherto they had been conversant with Christ, and had set at his feet, had heard his doctrine, and seen his miracles; and now he determines to make some use of them; they had received, that they might give, had learned, that they might teach; and therefore now he began to send them forth. They must not always be studying in the academy, to get knowledge, but they must preach in the country, to do good with the knowledge they have got. Though they were not as yet so well accomplished as they were to be, yet, according to their present ability and capacity, they must be set to work, and make further improvements afterward. Now observe here,
1. That Christ sent them forth by two and two; this Mark takes notice of. They went two and two to a place, that out of the mouth of two witnesses every word might be established; and that they might be company for one another when they were among strangers, and might strengthen the hands, and encourage the hearts, one of another; might help one another if any thing should be amiss, and keep one another in countenance. Every common soldier has his comrade; and it is an approved maxim, Two are better than one. Christ would thus teach his ministers to associate, and both lend and borrow help.
2. That he gave them power over unclean spirits. He commissioned them to attack the devil’s kingdom, and empowered them, as a specimen of their breaking his interest in the souls of men by their doctrine, to cast him out of the bodies of those that were possessed. Dr. Lightfoot suggests, that they cured diseases, and cast out devils, by the Spirit, but preached that only which they had learned from the mouth of Christ.
3. That he commanded them not to take provisions along with them, neither victuals nor money, that they might appear, wherever they came, to be poor men, men not of this world, and therefore might with the better grace call people off from it to another world. When afterward he bid them take purse and scrip (Luke 22:36), that did not intimate (as Dr. Lightfoot observes) that his care of them was abated from what it had been; but that they should meet with worse times and worse entertainment than they met with at their first mission. In Matthew and Luke they are forbidden to take staves with them, that is, fighting staves; but here in Mark they are bid to take nothing save a staff only, that is, a walking staff, such as pilgrims carried. They must not put on shoes, but sandals only, which were only the soles of shoes tied under their feet, or like pumps, or slippers; they must go in the readiest plainest dress they could, and must not so much as have two coats; for their stay abroad would be short, they must return before winter, and what they wanted, those they preached to would cheerfully accommodate them with.
4. He directed them, whatever city they came to, to make that house their head-quarters, which happened to be their first quarters (Mark 6:10); “There abide, till ye depart from that place. And since ye know ye come on an errand sufficient to make you welcome, have such charity for your friends that first invited you, as to believe they do not think you burthensome.”
5. He pronounces a very heavy doom upon those that rejected the gospel they preached (Mark 6:11); “Whosoever shall not receive you, or will not so much as hear you, depart thence (if one will not, another will), and shake off the dust under your feet, for a testimony against them. Let them know that they have had a fair offer of life and happiness made them, witness that dust; but that, since they have refused it, they cannot expect ever to have another; let them take up with their own dust, for so shall their doom be.” That dust, like the dust of Egypt (Exod. 9:9), shall turn into a plague to them; and their condemnation in the great day, will be more intolerable than that of Sodom: for the angels were sent to Sodom, and were abused there; yet that would not bring on so great a guilt and so great a ruin as the contempt and abuse of the apostles of Christ, who bring with them the offers of gospel grace.
II. The apostles’ conduct in pursuance of their commission. Though they were conscious to themselves of great weakness, and expected no secular advantage by it, yet, in obedience to their Master’s order, and in dependence upon his strength, they went out as Abraham, not knowing whither they went. Observe here,
1. The doctrine they preached; They preached that men should repent (Mark 6:12); that they should change their minds, and reform their lives, in consideration of the near approach of the kingdom of the Messiah. Note, The great design of the gospel preachers, and the great tendency of gospel preaching, should be, to bring people to repentance, to a new heart and a new way. They did not amuse people with curious speculations, but told them that they must repent of their sins, and turn to God.
2. The miracles they wrought. The power Christ gave them over unclean spirits, was not ineffectual, nor did they receive it in vain, but used it, for they cast out many devils (Mark 6:13); and they anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. Some think this oil was used medicinally, according to the custom of the Jews; but I rather think it was used as a sign of miraculous healing, by the appointment of Christ, though not mentioned; and it was afterward used by those elders of the church, to whom by the Spirit was given the gift of healing, Jas. 5:14. It is certain here, and therefore probable there, that anointing the sick with oil, is appropriated to that extraordinary power which has long ceased, and therefore that sign must cease with it.