Matthew 10

Jesus sends out the twelve on a short-term mission trip, in preparation for life-long mission. Persecution will come because Jesus did not come to bring only peace, but he came to ply a (metaphorical) sword. In tense times, don’t fear the man who kills only the body but God who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Don’t deny him but acknowledge him in public. People who welcome one of Jesus’s emissaries will receive a reward.

As I write in the introduction to every chapter:

This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.

The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.

The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.

The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.

Links are provided for further study.

Let’s begin.

Authority and Names of the Twelve Apostles (Matt. 10:1-4)

1 Now, when he summoned his twelve disciples, he gave them authority over impure spirts in order to expel them and to heal every sickness and every illness.

2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Comments:

1:

Matthew writes summary verses for Jesus that match this verse for the twelve disciples. You may not know how to read Greek, but you can see the matched-up words in the verses about Jesus and the verses about the disciples.

Jesus

They brought to him everyone having illnesses, various sicknesses [νόσοις] and pains—those being tormented and suffering from being demonized [δαιμονιζομένους] and having seizures and paralytics—and he healed [ἐθεράπευσεν] them (Matt. 4:24)

And so Jesus circulated around all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming [κηρύσσων] the good news of the kingdom [βασιλείας] and healing [θεραπεύων] every [πᾶσαν] disease [νόσον] and every [πᾶσαν] sickness [μαλακίαν]. (Matt. 9:35)

Disciples

Now, when he summoned his twelve disciples, he gave them authority over impure spirts in order to expel them and to heal [θεραπεύειν] every [πᾶσαν] sickness [νόσον] and every [πᾶσαν] illness [μαλακίαν]. (Matt. 10:1)

As you go, proclaim [κηρύσσετε], saying, ‘The kingdom [βασιλεία] of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal [θεραπεύετε] the sick [ἀσθενοῦντας], raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, expel [ἐκβάλλετε] demons [δαιμόνια]. (Matt. 10:7-8)

The similarity of these two sets of verses demonstrates that the twelve were to carry on the ministry of Jesus. In the book of Acts, his ministry expands beyond the twelve, so other commissioned disciples do his works. Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Charismatics) believe that the commission extends even to them today. By God’s grace and power and authority, they too can do these are signs and wonders.

“disciples”: The noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”

Word Study on Disciple

“authority”: it is the noun exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.”

The difference between authority and power is parallel to a policeman’s badge and his gun. The badge symbolizes his right to exercise his power through his gun, if necessary. The gun backs up his authority with power. But the distinction should not be pressed too hard, because exousia can also mean “power.” In any case, God through Jesus can distribute authority to his followers (Matt. 10:1; Luke 10:19; John 1:12).

So do we have the same power and authority that the twelve have in this passage, or are they a special case? Restrictive interpreters say they are special cases with unique callings, while freer interpreters say we too, as disciples of Jesus, can have the same authority. I come down on the freer interpretation.

Jesus will give us authority even over the nations, if we overcome trials and persecution (Rev. 2:26). And he is about to distribute his power in Acts 2. Never forget that you have his authority and power to live a victorious life over your personal flaws and sins and Satan. They no longer have power and authority over you; you have power and authority over them.

For a systematic theology of Satan and demons and deliverance, see my posts:

Bible Basics about Deliverance

Bible Basics about Satan and Demons and Victory Over Them

Satan and Demons: Personal

Satan and Demons: Theology

Satan and Demons: Origins

“impure”: this adjective is added because pagans believed that some spirits were good; no, the spirit was impure. But why not just “evil” spirit? The answer is in the Jewish background of clean and unclean. The impure spirit rendered the people impure.

“heal”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.”

“diseases”: it is the noun nosos (pronounced naw-sauce), and BDAG says it means (1) “physical malady, disease, illness”; (2) “moral malady, disease.” In the Greek written long before the NT (and during NT times), it means (1) “sickness, disease, malady” (2) “distress, misery, suffering, sorrow, evil, disease of mind” (Liddell and Scott). Don’t be afraid to pray against diseases of the mind or moral diseases. Pray, and watch God work in your mind or your child’s mind! Here it just means physical diseases.

2-4:

This verse appears at first glance to be out of sequence. Here he sends them, and in v. 3 he will instruct them. It seems the verses should be reversed. But v. 2 is background material, while v. 3 is in the foreground. A storyteller can vary his technique and sequence as he sees fit.

Jesus was formally separating these twelve from the crowds and any of the other many disciples. Recall that Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) disciples, as well (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20). There are these twelve, who will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28) and whose names will be written on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). This special office can never be duplicated. These twelve have a unique vocation and commission.

However, in the NT there is a lower order of apostles. Barnabas was called an apostle (Acts 14:14); Andronicus and Junia (a woman) were probably apostles, depending how one reads the Greek (Rom. 16:7) (I say they were). Certain brothers, including Titus, were called apostles (2 Cor. 8:23). Epaphroditus was an apostle (Phil. 2:25). Things that mark an apostle are signs, wonders, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12), and men who were not numbered among the twelve could do them (Luke 10:9). Even Philip, who was titled an evangelist, could do them (Acts 8:4-13). Evidently, Stephen could work them in great power of the Spirit, and he became a servant-deacon (Acts 6:5). Surely other men, whose ministries went unrecorded, could claim to do them without being an apostle or titled in some way (Mark 16:17-18). In any case, no one has to be one of the twelve to be commissioned and work miracles.

Do NT Apostles Exist Today?

The point to the linked post is that the lower order of apostles is open to certain men and women today, but be warned! Anyone who claims the title must be checked out, especially if he gave himself this title or allowed some “yes men” to call him an apostle.

GrowApp for Matt. 10:1-4

A.. Jesus knows your name and has a mission for you. Do you know what it is? If not, how do you find it? If you do know, how are you accomplishing it?

Jesus Commissions the Twelve (Matt. 10:5-15)

5 Jesus sent the twelve with the command saying to them, “Do not spread out and go on a road towards the Gentiles and do not enter any town of Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near!’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, expel demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Don’t acquire gold nor silver nor copper for your money belts, 10 nor a backpack for the journey, nor two cloaks nor sandals nor a staff. For the worker is worthy of his nourishment. 11 Into whichever town or village you enter, inquire who is worthy there. Remain there until you leave. 12 As you enter one house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, may your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, may your peace return to you. 14 And whoever does not welcome you nor listens to your words, as you go outside the house or that town, shake the dust from off your feet. 15 I tell you the truth that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that town.”

Comments:

5-6:

“sent”: this verb is apostellō (pronounced ah-poh-stehl-loh), and it is related to the noun apostle, but let’s not overstate things. It means “to send” and is used 132 times in the NT. BDAG says it means (1) “to dispatch someone for the achievement of some objective, send away / out” (the disciples are sent out: Matt. 10:5; Mark 3:14; 6:17; Luke 9:2; John 4:38; 17:18). (2) “to dispatch a message, send, have something done.” Here it could be translated as “commission,” if one wants to be officious.

Key point: the rabbinic text, the Mishnah, says, “the one sent by the man is as the man himself” (m.Ber. 5.5 in Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament vol. 1, [Baker Academic, 1994] p. 542).

Jesus commanded them with instructions. These were not suggestions. His authority is built into his command. Where he commands, he will provide authority.

The reason he told them not (yet) to go towards the Gentiles or Samaritans is that he intends to reach only his fellow Jews. He knew that as a nation they would reject him, though many individual Jews converted (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 6:7 [numerous priests] 21:20). He will soon send his followers to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:18-20); there is a time for everything under heaven.

The lost sheep refers back to Ezek. 34, where the prophet denounces the bad shepherds; and the phrase “lost sheep” and the twelve’s mission to them refers to Jer. 23:4, where God promises to set good shepherds over his flock, Israel.

7-8:

I already looked at these verses in the previous pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section. We Renewalists believe that we can, by God’s grace and empowerment, do these signs and wonders even today. Jesus too commissions us and gives us this authority. The main thing is not to look for signs and wonders or to show off after they are done or to be boastful about them—and so many Renewalists have done this, and that’s a pity. Rather, the only goal is to confirm the message of the kingdom and to help people. They have needs, and it is a blessing that God still wants to meet their needs of healing, cleansing, and deliverance and even restoration back to life.

In this original commissioning, this was a short-term mission trip. They were going to report back very soon (when exactly is unknown to me, at least). Therefore, since the message they preach is freely received, likewise, they should give it freely.

“the sick”: it is the plural of the noun astheneia (pronounced ah-stheh-nay-ah), and the prefix a– is the negation, and the stem –sthen– means “strength” or “strong,” so literally it means “unstrong.” It means, depending on the context, primarily “weakness”; and secondarily “sickness, disease.” The NIV translates it in this way, as it appears throughout the NT: weakness (most often), weaknesses, weak, crippled, diseases, illness, illnesses, infirmities, infirmity, invalid, sick, sickness, sicknesses. Here it means illnesses or sicknesses, as in v. 1.

“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.

Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.

5 The Kingdom of God: Already Here, But Not Yet Fully

Bible Basics about the Kingdom of God

Questions and Answers about Kingdom of God

Basic Definition of Kingdom of God

1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)

9-10:

Jesus lists the things they should not acquire or bring. They simply go into houses and trust God. Should we send out missionaries with the same faith? Remember that this is their home country. There is no language or ethnic barriers. True, they may meet up with hostile or unworthy listeners, but at least they were close by to the epicenter of Jesus himself. He was their lifeline. In contrast, sending someone out across the globe today, where there are all kinds of language and cultural barriers, may require much more sustenance and monetary support. We need to be careful about transferring the details of these two verses to our modern missions. Maybe we can, and if so, we should; or maybe it would be unwise to copy the ancient details and context here.

“no sandals” surely means no extra sandals.

Some see a contradiction on what the disciples are allowed or prohibited to bring, in the Matthew, Mark and Luke. As for the staff, Matthew uses the verb ktaomai (pronounced ktah-oh-my), and it means what they might fund-raise or acquire special equipment for the journey. The whole point is to pack lightly.

Blomberg, who wrote a book on answering the criticism that the Gospels are not reliable and filled with contradictions, now replies to the staff / no staff discrepancy:

A famous so-called contradiction appears between v. 10 and its parallels (Mark 6:8–9; Luke 9:3). Did Jesus permit or prohibit a staff and sandals If Matthew’s account is composite, this verse may have originally applied to the sending of the seventy-two (Luke 10:1–12), which likely included the Twelve, at which time Jesus’ instructions differed slightly from those he gave just to the Twelve. That 9:37–38 and 10:10b find their only parallels in Luke 10:2 and 7b may support this reconstruction. At any rate, all accounts agree on Jesus’ central theme of the simplicity, austerity, and urgency of the mission. The point of Jesus’ strictness is not to leave his disciples deprived and defenseless but dependent on others for their nourishment (“keep,” v. 10) in every area of life. (comment on 10:8b-10)

See my series on the reliability of the Gospels, and begin with the Conclusion, which has quick summaries and links to the other articles in the series:

15. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels: Conclusion

13. Are There Contradictions in the Gospels?

I want to stress here that believers must stop being so brittle when the differences emerge between the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These weak believers’ faith seems to snap in two when they see the differences, but the fact is that these authors gave themselves permission, under the guidance of the Spirit, to include and exclude material, for the purpose of their story, either in a smaller unit or pericope of Scripture, or in the whole Gospel itself. But from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry to his death, burial and resurrection and ascension, the flow of the story is identical.

14. Similarities among John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels

Differences ≠ contradictions, and see the first link for why not and the second link for the coherence or unity of the Gospels, in the big storyline. Celebrate the massive number of similarities in all four Gospels, yes, even John.

Simple addition:

Including data points in one Gospel

+

Omitting data points in another Gospel

________________________________

= Differences ≠ Contradiction

= Differences ≠ errors.

How can there be a contradiction when one Gospel is silent on some minor details which the other Gospel includes? There is no contradiction.

Postmodern critics read these ancient accounts with the subtlety and finesse of a jackhammer. They read the texts in bad faith, assuming the writers are deceivers and plagiarists. They are eager to point out the differences and then proclaim to a “noninformed” world that the Gospels are unreliable, and the younger generation loses their faith. No, the Gospels are reliable. See the critics for who they are and don’t take them seriously. They belong to the spirit of their age.

What Is Postmodernism?

The Skeptical Sneering Age

Now let’s get back to the rich and edifying content of this chapter in the Gospel.

What about freely receiving and freely giving? Blomberg is again balanced, on the topic:

As texts such as 1 Cor 9:12b, 15–18 make more explicit, there are times when Christian ministers should refuse remuneration for the sake of the gospel. When Christians accept money for ministry, they ought never view it as a wage but as a gift. D. A. Carson comments, “The church does not pay its ministers; rather, it provides them with resources so that they are able to serve freely.” (Comment on 10:8b-10)

11-14:

“words”: as I note in many places in this commentary, it is the Greek noun logos (pronounced loh-goss and is used 330 times in the NT). Since it is so important, let’s explore the noun more deeply.

It is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.

Though certain Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics) may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level.) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Jesus’s words also have Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.

People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational and logical side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount was very orderly and logical and, yes, rational, for a God-centered point of view.

On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true.  Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.

Hospitality was important back then. The missionaries are called to inquire for someone who is “worthy” of hosting them. This implies that hostile people may be lurking in the new town or village. Be careful. Examine and look into the people. Just don’t be silly and scattered brain about these things. Then once you find the house, remain there until you leave. Don’t look around for the richer house that offers better food and accommodations.

“Greet the house” means greet the people in the house. I translated it literally.

I really like how Jesus’s authority carries over to the greeting, “Shalom!” Renewalists like this idea of speaking peace and blessing on to people, and then their speech remaining on them. Speaking out is important to Renewalists. There is power in speech (see Prov. 15:4; 18:21).

This mission trip was a faith journey. When they arrived in a new town, the custom of hospitality demanded the inhabitants of the town welcome strangers, something like this:

The missionary arrives and goes to the well to draw up water. Then someone in the town sees him. “Hey! You’re a traveler? New?” “Yes.” “Come into our house.” He enters and says at the very start, “Peace [shalom] be on this house.” If a worthy person lives there, then the missionary’s greeting of peace will remain or rest on the house. Now what if the household is resistant to him, once the head of household learns of their mission? Then the greeting of peace will return on the missionary.

Let’s explore the peace that God brings.

It speaks of more than just the absence of war. It can mean prosperity and well-being. It can mean peace in your heart and peace with your neighbor. Best of all, it means peace with God, because he reconciled us to him.

This word in Hebrew is shalom and means well being, both in the soul and in circumstances, and it means, yes, prosperity, because the farm in an agricultural society would experience well being and harmony and growth. The crops would not fail and the livestock would reproduce. Society and the individual would live in peace and contentment and harmony. Deut. 28:1-14 describes the blessings for obedience, a man and his family and business enjoying divine goodness and benefits and material benefits.

With that background, let’s explore the Greek word, which overlaps with shalom. It is the noun eirēnē (pronounced ay-ray-nay, used 92 times, and we get the name Irene from it). One specialist defines it: “Peace is a state of being that lacks nothing and has no fear of being troubled in its tranquility; it is euphoria coupled with security. … This peace is God’s favor bestowed on his people.” (Mounce, p. 503).

BDAG has this definition for the noun: (2) It is “a state of well-being, peace.” Through salvation we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). We have peace that has been brought through Christ (Col. 3:15). We are to run towards the goal of peace (2 Pet. 3:14; Rom. 8:6). It is the essential characteristic of the Messianic Age (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:15). An angel greeted and promised the shepherds peace on earth for those in whom God is well pleased, at the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:29). In the entire Gospel of Luke, Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God.

Word Study on Peace

What happens when the town or household does not welcome the apostolic missionary? He is supposed to go out into the street—probably the central street going through the middle of the town—and proclaim that the town’s people’s judgment is their own responsibility, by the custom of wiping or shaking off their dust clinging to the disciples’ feet.

Wiping or shaking the dust off of their feet is what Jews did when they left pagan territory, so they could remove the ceremonial uncleanness. But the ceremonial uncleanness is not the point here because the twelve disciples were going into Jewish towns and villages. Instead, it means “you—not we—take responsibility for your decision!” It signifies that rejecting the kingdom of God is deadly serious. Nehemiah shook the dust out of the fold of his garments when he made the returning Israelites give back the property and children who were sold into slavery, in a promise that apparently required the shaking. “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied! (Neh. 5:13, NIV). Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch when they rejected the kingdom, and then the pair left for Iconium (Acts 13:51). In Macedonia Paul spoke to the Jews about Jesus the Messiah, but they rejected and mocked him. “When they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his clothing and said to them: ‘Your blood be upon your head! I am clear! From now on I shall go to the Gentiles!’ (Acts 18:6, my tentative translation).

Then the missionaries are supposed to make it clear that, despite the town’s rejection of them, the kingdom of God has come near. Nothing will stop the kingdom, even when this or that town rejects the missionaries.

However, no one today has to follow the ancient custom of shaking or wiping off dust from the feet. But I have known Christians who do this when they are street witnessing, but apart from the person who just rejected the gospel.

15:

“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France at his comment on 5:18).  The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.

Word Study: Truth

This verse brings up some theology of rewards and punishment at judgment. There will be degrees of punishment on the day of judgment. Those who are especially wicked will receive severe punishment, while those who are socially righteous (good to their neighbors and do acts of charity and hospitality and so on) will receive a lenient punishment.

Are All Sins Equal?

Are There Degrees of Punishment, Rewards after Final Judgment?

Everyone Shall Be Judged by Their Works and Words

Also see my three posts in the series “Hell and Punishment.”

1. Hell and Punishment: Eternal, Conscious Torment

2. Hell and Punishment: Terminal Punishment

3. Hell and Punishment: Universalism

Each theory says that there is punishment in hell, but they differ on the duration or length of the punishment. Surprisingly, the second theory has many more Scriptures than the first or third.

Whichever theory you land on, please don’t call the other theory heretical or heterodox. All three theories have enough Scriptural support to be plausible. We simply don’t know enough about the details of punishment and its intensity and kind to be arrogant name-callers. Don’t believe it? Then take some time to read all three posts. Start with the first one, because the verses that seem to support eternal, conscious torment are not really “slam dunks” after all.

See v. 28 for more details on the three theories.

GrowApp for Matt. 10:5-15

A.. Where is your heart in regards to possessions? You may not be sent to the mission field, but should Christians accumulate lots of possessions or live a streamlined life? Which is better?

Jesus Predicts Persecution for His Missionaries (Matt. 10:16-26)

16 “Watch out! I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be prudent as serpents and pure as doves. 17 Be on your guard against people, for they shall betray you to their councils, and in their synagogues they shall flog you. 18 You will be brought before governors and kings because of my name, for a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they betray you, do not be anxious how and what you might speak, for it will be given you at that moment what should you should speak, 20 for you are not the ones speaking; instead the Spirit of your Father is the one speaking in you.

21 Brother will betray brother to death and a father a son, and children will rise in rebellion against parents and put them to death. 22 Moreover, you will be hated by everyone because of my name, but the one who endures to the end—this one will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in this town, flee to another. For I tell you the truth: you will not complete the towns of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

24 A disciple is not above the teacher, nor is the servant above his master. 25 It is sufficient for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the household Beelzebul, even more so his household members!

Comments:

16:

“Watch out!”: this is an updated translation of the older “behold!” It means “pay attention” or “look!” or “keep your eyes peeled!”

“sending”: it is the verb apostellō (pronounced ah-poh-stehl-loh), and see vv. 5-6 for further comments.

In v. 6 Jesus called the house of Israel lost sheep; now he is sending his disciples out like sheep, and they shall walk among wolves. The wolf imagery refers to the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matt. 7:15; 3:7-8; 12:24, 33).

Therefore, his disciples should be “wise” or “prudent” or “shrewd” or “sensible” or “thoughtful” as serpents. It comes from the adjective phronimos (pronounced fraw-nee-moss), and it means: “sensible, thoughtful, prudent, wise.” It appears in the context of Matt. 24:45-51, in the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servant. A wise and prudent manager of God’s household or portion of his kingdom can figure things out by the Spirit. He knows how to plan and surrender his plan to God. He is in constant communication with God through prayer. God gives him heavenly wisdom to apply God’s kingdom principles to everyday life. It is God-given know-how. It may even include shrewdness (Luke 16:8). He is smart or wise enough to run a household faithfully and with business savvy. Likewise, disciples out on mission must be as wise as the faithful servant, with business savvy and know how. He can size up a situation and not be gullible. He can spot wolves.

The comparison with a serpent probably comes from Genesis 2-3; serpents were believed to be crafty. No, Jesus is not urging his followers to be like Satan! Instead, a proper interpretation just strips away the negative connotation of the serpent and looks at its craftiness. Be “kingdom-crafty.” Once again, Jesus uses a startling image to wake up this listeners.

Doves were believed to be “innocent” or “pure” or “guileless.” The Greek word here is literally “unmixed.” We are never to lose our focus as we watch out for and be on our guard against people; we are never to get distracted or impure when we go out into the world system. People will betray us, so watch out!

17:

Jesus then broadens the warning to include people in general. The Greek word for “people,” often translated as “men” in the more conservative translations, is generic enough in this context to include men and women who are on the verge of betraying Jesus’s missionary followers.

This is especially true in Islamic cultures. If a Muslim girl converts to Christianity, she may be “honor-killed.” Therefore, she should guard herself against unwise decisions, like telling her father she left Islam and converted to Christianity. In fact, if she is old enough, she may have to flee to another town or even another country (v. 23). Or she should keep quiet about her conversion, until it is safe enough to tell her family and friends.

The prediction of flogging before the councils and in their synagogues is unhappy, but the prediction has to be made.

 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes. (Deut. 25:2-3, NIV)

Here this is the flogging prescribed in those verse, not the scouring Jesus suffered Matt. 217:26) (Osborne, comment on 10:17).

It is interesting that he says their synagogues. Why does Matthew keep saying “their synagogue or their city or their teachers of the law (see 4:23; 7:29; 8:34; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; 22:7; 22:16)? My opinion: his community has moved well past Judaism and must distinguish between the newly formed Christian community and the Jewish community.

“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “people.”

18:

In v. 18 Jesus shifts his focus away from the Jews and over to the Gentiles. He himself was betrayed to Pilate and Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. In the last one-quarter of the book of Acts Paul appears before the magistrates, both Gentile and Jewish, so we can have no doubt that other traveling Christians had this happen to them, too. The imprisoned disciples are supposed to offer their testimony to them, not against them. They are called to be witnesses for the gospel. This is part of the mission to Gentiles (Osborne, comment on v. 18).

See Paul’s reflection on his own suffering:

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Phil. 1:12-14, NIV)

Here is what happened to the twelve apostles, when they were brought before the Sanhedrin (the highest council and court in Israel):

They [Sanhedrin] called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:40-42, NIV)

19-20:

Now we have Spirit-filled prophecy, promised to all believers. The Spirit of the Father will speak in the ones who are standing before the councils and the rulers and the kings. So the persecuted don’t need to be anxious about these things. They don’t need to rehearse their speeches. However, if during the night before the trial, the Spirit gives them a dream or a word of wisdom, I trust they will tuck it away in their mind.

“will be given”: this is the divine passive, which means the passive voice in the Greek verb indicates that God is the one giving the content. This does not mean no preparation at all, but one must depend on God. OT parallels: Exod. 4:12 (Moses); Ps. 119:41-46 (when taunted, even by kings); Is. 50:4 (the Servant); Jer. 1:9 (Jeremiah). Those who are persecuted for the gospel can expect the same help.

I really like how the Father is overseeing the troubles of his Son’s followers. He sends his Spirit in their hearts. And he will speak “in them,” which is how the Greek reads, though some translations have “through them.”

Here are some of my posts on a more formal doctrine of the Spirit (systematic theology):

The Spirit’s Deity and Divine Attributes

The Personhood of the Spirit

Titles of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit in the Life of Christ

21:

This verse predicts family division because of the name of Jesus. This comes in a Jewish context. Many Jews today are converting to their true Messiah, and they suffer persecution and family division. It is imperative to choose Jesus over family, if the choice has to be made, because in the OT family is important in normal circumstances (Exod. 20:12; 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 5:16). However, if the family, particularly the father, resists or opposes your conversion to Jesus, then choose the Messiah and Lord.

“name”: Let’s explore this word more generically, to get an idea how it applies here. This noun stands in for the person—a living, real person. You carry your earthly father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. The Father has the highest status in the universe, before and above the entire universe, which he created. His character is perfection itself. Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth through his Son, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you the power and authority of his Son Jesus. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.

I recall sad stories coming out of the communist dominated countries back in the 1970s and 1980s that Christians were betrayed to the state. Some of the Christians were put to death. We were aware of this, and we prayed for them. Some intrepid Westerners went in there and gave them Bibles and hope, anyway.

22:

“end”: this is the Greek noun telos (pronounced teh-loss), and it is used six times in Matthew’s Gospel: here; 17:25, where it means “duty tax” and 26:58, where it means

Peter followed Jesus from a distance to see the outcome of the events. In the prophecy about the end times (24:6, 13, 14) This promise is hard, but necessary. If we endure to the end, we shall be saved. Here the end probably refers to the trials of persecution that last throughout the disciples’ ministry. Or it could mean the time when the Son of Man appears, but this refers to the end of the temple, which coincides perfectly with its use in 24:6, 13, 14 (see v. 23, next). In fact, 24:13 closely resembling v. 22, is also about the end of the temple, just like the next verse here in this chapter.

“As in 5:10–12, disciples are hated and rejected for their allegiance to Christ. Christians will be greatly tempted to apostatize, but perseverance will bring eternal life (v. 22b)” (Blomberg, comment on 10:21-23).

Possible Apostasy or Eternal Security?

Remaining a Christian or Falling Away?

“saved”: Let’s also generically explore this important verb and see how it applies in this context.

The verb is sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times in the NT), and is passive (“be saved”). The noun for salvation is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)

Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”

The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive voice it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).

In this verse, the sub-definitions under (1) fits the best. However, they may not be saved from death. They may be put to death. But enduring even that injustice will guarantee salvation in the eternal kingdom.

Word Study on Salvation

“I tell you the truth”: see v. 15 for more comments.

23:

This is wise counsel. Run! Flee! No one needs to relish persecution, as some Christians seem to do, according to the accounts I have read both current stories and ancient ones.

What does it mean that the disciples won’t complete their task of going through all the towns in Israel before the Son of Man comes? The best solution is related to Matt. 26:64 (and 24:30; 25:31 and 28:18), where Jesus proclaims before Caiaphas the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish Court and Council in Judaism, that from now on they will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. This confession refers to the Son of Man in Dan. 7:13-14, when he comes in clouds of heaven:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14, NIV, emphasis added)

The Ancient of Days is God. Jesus was about to ascend and be enthroned on high, sitting next to God. So his coming here in v. 23 refers to his ascension and enthronement. It is simply a fact that the disciples did not complete their task of going through the towns of Israel before this “coming” happened. Jesus was granted authority over heaven and earth (28:18), before the disciples completed their mission. This makes the most sense of v. 23 in light of Dan. 7:13-14.

France and Carson interpret v. 23 in this way, though Carson expands the coming to mean the partial coming of the kingdom, which is a dynamic concept, and not just to the Son of Man’s vindication fall of Jerusalem. Therefore, both the ascension and enthronement—and the coming kingdom are in view here. (See 12:28, which says that if Jesus expels demons by the Spirit of God, the kingdom has come upon the people of his generation.) And no, v. 23 does not refer to the grand and wondrous Second Coming when the whole earth will be overtaken by his glorious appearing.

See my commentaries on Matt. 24 and 25 for how the coming-in-judgment on the temple and the parousia (Second Coming) are distinct.

Matthew 24:4-35 Predicts Destruction of Jerusalem and Temple

Matthew 24:36 to 25:46–From Second Coming to New Messianic Age

Osborne notes another possible interpretation: Jesus expected a long delay before the end (13:24-33; 18:15-18; 19:28: 21:43; 23:32; 28:19), so the mission to Israel keeps going until the Second Coming (comment on 10:23).

However, I prefer the interpretation that says there was a judgment on Jerusalem and the temple.

Please see this post for a extended commentary of v. 23.

“You Will Not Complete Towns of Israel until Son of Man Comes”

24-25:

Jesus is about to suffer first what the disciples are about to suffer. He is the teacher and master and master of the household, and if he goes through unjust persecution, then how much more will his followers? If they called him Satanic or Beelzebub, the prince of demons (see 9:34; and then 12:22-30), then his followers can be sure that their opponents will call him this ironical name. Many Muslims believe that Christians are deceived. Irony. In fact, it is Islam that has thrown the wool over people’s eyes and deceived hundreds of millions.

4. Either Jesus or Muhammad: Does Islam Improve on Christianity?

Please read Paul’s list of persecutions and hardships for ideas of how much we may to go through:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor. 11:23-29, NIV)

We may not have to go through these things in the free West, but our brothers and sisters are going through such things in communist and Islamic countries.

Should Christians Fight or Flee Persecution?

“disciple”: see v. 1 for more comment.

“servants”: The word servants here is doulos (pronounced doo-loss) and could be translated as slaves, but I chose servants (the Greek is plural douloi, pronounced doo-loi) because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

Slavery and Freedom in the Bible

It is a sure thing, however, that Matthew’s Greek-speaking audience, knowledgeable about Greek culture, would have heard “slave” in the word doulos. So if you wish to interpret it like that, then that’s your decision. But culturally at that time slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.

“Beelzebul”: “The Greek has ‘Beelzebul,’ which could mean “lord of the dung … but is better “lord of the heights”—in fact a play on words with the “lord of the house” in v. 25a. He was the chief God of Ekron (2 Kgs 1:2) but here is the ‘prince’ of demons,’ Satan (9:34; 12:24), a being who had several other names in Jewish circles –Azazel, Belial, Beliar, the Dragon, Mastema. The leaders are accusing Jesus of gaining control over demons by allying himself with Satan. The disciples should expect as much” (Osborne, comment on 10:25).

Some translations have Beelzebub (“lord of the flies”), an ancient insult to the Canaanite deity.

GrowApp for Matt. 10:16-25

A.. In the Western world, we don’t undergo persecution as Christians do in Islamic and communist countries. Can you join organizations or at least get emails from them that expose persecution? How would this help?

Fear God, Not People (Matt. 10:26-33)

26 “Therefore, do not fear them, for there is nothing hidden which will not be exposed, and concealed, which will not be known. 27 What I tell you in darkness, you say in the light, and what you hear in your ear proclaim it from the rooftops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but who are unable to kill the soul. But fear, rather, the one able to destroy both the soul and the body in Gehenna. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And even all your hair on your head are numbered. 31 Therefore, do not fear. You are much more valuable than sparrows!

32 Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge me in front of people I will also acknowledge him in front of my Father in heaven. 33 And whoever denies me in front of people I also will deny him in front of my Father in heaven.”

Comments:

26-27:

“Therefore”: this pericope continues on from the last one. It is all about opposition and persecution, so Jesus intends to teach his followers not to fear people, even if they kill the body. Also, this passage tells us that the teachings that Jesus gives his disciples in private (“in darkness” and “in your ear”) is now to be proclaimed. The good news is not to be concealed or hidden away. It is now time to go public with this.

“in darkness”: it does not, of course, mean moral darkness, but off in a corner that is not public and the lighting is not good. Maybe a room at night with one candle is the right image. They probably did find a room for the night and he taught them there. But of course the text is silent on that, so let’s not speculate too far.

In the rest of the next verses, he is telling us that when we go public with this, we may face martyrdom. Are we ready?

28:

“fear”: This is the standard Greek verb for fear (phobeomai, pronounced foh-beh-oh-my), and you can see phob– in it. It means a wide range of things, like “filled with awe,” but “afraid” is also correct. Let’s become a little more definite. BDAG is considered the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the verb as follows: (1) “to be in an apprehensive state, be afraid”; people can become “frightened.” “Fear something or someone.” (2) “to have a profound measure of respect for, (have) reverence, respect”; a person like God or a leader can command respect.

The Shorter Lexicon says adds nuances (1) “be afraid … become frightened … “fear something or someone” (2) “fear in the sense of reverence, respect.”

The first definition fits in the first half of this verse, but in the second half of this verse, fearing God, the second definitions work best.

“soul”: it is the noun psuchē (pronounced ps-oo-khay, and be sure to pronounce the p in s-, and our word psychology comes from it). It can mean, depending on the context: “soul, life” and it is hard to draw a firm line between the two. “Breath, life principle, soul”; “earthly life”; “the soul as seat and center of the inner life of man in its many and varied aspects, desires, feelings, emotions”; “self’; or “that which possesses life, a soul, creature, person.”

A little systematic theology:

Most Renewalists believe in the three parts of humanity: body, soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12 and other verses). Other Renewalists believe that humans are two parts: body and soul / spirit (2 Cor. 4:16). Spirit and soul are just synonyms, like heart and spirit / soul are synonyms. Surely there are not now four parts, are there (body, soul, spirit, heart)?

Word Study on Spirit, Soul, and Body

Here in this verse it means soul.

“destroy”: it comes from the verb apollumi (pronounced ah-poh-loo-mee), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “to cause or experience destruction (active voice) ruin, destroy”; (middle voice) “perish, be ruined”; (2) “to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates, lose out on, lose”; (3) “to lose something that one already has or be separated from a normal connection, lose, be lost” (BDAG). The Shorter Lexicon adds “die.”

This verse is about the afterlife and what happens there, so the best translation is destroy. God is the one who does the destroying at judgment.

“Gehenna”: it is related to the Valley of Hinnom, which over the centuries was a garbage heap where things rotted and burned, even bodies. Evil acts were done there, like sacrificing children. It was outside Jerusalem. The name got tweaked into Gehenna, and in Jesus’s day it was an image or metaphor for punishment and a hellish place. At this dump wicked kings of Israel / Judea worshipped Baal-Molech, including offering children in fiery sacrifices—they put children to the flames (2 Kings 16:3; 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Is. 66:24; Jer. 7:31-32; 19:4-6; 32:34-35). So it is apt to say that Gehenna is the place where people go who have done wicked deeds and are not saved, after final judgment.

See my post about the Bible basics on hell:

Bible Basics about Hell

Now for even more theology: punishment in the afterlife at judgment. There are three main theories.

First, eternal conscious torment, which says unredeemed people burn forever in the fires of hell, even Hitler and your kind and generous but unredeemed grandmother, bobbing up and down, next to each other. This is the traditional or standard view.

Second, terminalism or conditionalism, which says the eternality of the soul depends only on God or is conditional only on God. The soul is not automatically eternal by virtue of being a soul. People are punished in hell for a time suitable to their bad deeds, but then they pass out of existence or their soul is destroyed. The ending may not be a happy one, but this theory eliminates the eternal torment.

Third, universal reconciliation or restoration, which says that each unredeemed person is punished in hell for a duration suitable to their good or bad deeds; then they are brought into God’s presence and restored and reconciled to him.

So which theory does this verse support? Clearly the second one, without ambiguity. A soul is destroyed in the afterlife; it burns up in the flames of Gehenna like paper.

Once again, please see these three posts on the topic and the Scriptural support for each theory:

1. Hell and Punishment: Eternal, Conscious Torment

2. Hell and Punishment: Terminal Punishment

3. Hell and Punishment: Universalism

Whichever theory you choose, please don’t call the other two heretical or make this doctrine a test for orthodoxy. All three have Scriptural support.

One last word about punishment in the afterlife.

Charismatic and Presbyterian theologian J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:

These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.

One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).

For the record, Williams does not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism).

However, if you want to take the imagery of fire and darkness literally, you certainly can. It’s up to you. However, as noted, the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying: “in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).” Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories.

29:

“sparrows” it could be translated as “small birds,” but sparrows were caught for food for the poor in the Near East, so “sparrows” is a sound translation. Sparrows were sold for two assarias, which is one-sixteenth of a denarius, and a denarius was typically a day’s wage for an agricultural worker. So each sparrow was valued at a few Roman pennies.

Yet when one of them dies, this happens under the watchful eye of God.

“without your Father knowing it”: the Greek does not have “knowing it.” It literally says “without your Father.” Yet that is not enough information in English. So it could be translated as “without your Father’s consent”; “without your Father’s care.” Luke 12:6 says, “not overlooked before God.” So this verb does not settle the issue, because knows about the death of sparrows and he cares about them. Your translation will depend on your theology which you import to this verse. My interpretation: God did not cause their deaths; he didn’t even have to consent to it. Instead, he allowed nature to take her course. Birds don’t live forever. But he knew of their deaths.

30:

Now Jesus employs the image of numbering hairs. Today we might say God has every cell in your body numbered under his watchful gaze. In other words, he knows all about you. He has not forgotten you. He knows the life you lead right now, all the probable trials and persecutions.

31:

The argument goes from the lesser (sparrows) to the greater (humans). If God watches the lesser creatures, how much more does he watch the greater ones, us humans? We are much more valuable than sparrows.

Then once again Jesus ends with fear or reverential awe of God. This time he uses the present tense of the verb “fear.” So we should be in a continuous state or sense of reverential awe towards God or fear of him. Yes, have laughter in your life, but be mindful that God both loves you and is bigger than you are. He deserves respect, even fear.

Even Americans who go to Buckingham Palace should reverence the Queen and nod their heads (men) or do a quick curtsey (women) when she appears before them. You should follow their protocol. Wear the required clothes. Speak only when spoken to. Say “your majesty” at first and then “ma’am” afterwards. Carry a respectful air about you.

God is much more important than any earthly monarch. He is the biggest and most majestic of all beings inside or outside the universe. That’s the reason why Scripture encourages us to fear God or simply describes people who fear God. They tremble when they catch a glimpse of him in his partial glory, as Peter, James, and John did on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13). The shepherds feared when the glorious light shone around them (Luke 2:8-10). People today who claim to see the glory of the Lord manifest before them and do not have the initial response of fear and awe are missing something in their stories.

See my posts about God’s majesty and holiness.

Do I Really Know God? He Is Majestic

Do I Really Know God? He Is Holy

Word Study on Holiness and Sanctification

32-33:

These verses pose two opposites routes Jesus followers can take during stressful times of probable persecution. In light of the Father’s care and knowledge of his followers during tough times—even our hairs are numbered—what do we do when put on trial for their faith? Will they acknowledge and confess and profess Jesus or deny him. Jesus needs to strengthen us during those times. Recall that our Father will speak in us at our trials. So the Father is right there with us.

“acknowledges”: this verb from homologeō (pronounced hoh-moh-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard as in “get”), which is a compound: hom– (same), and log– (speak). It can mean “confess” in the sense of “agreeing and speaking” or “speaking agreement.” BDAG says it means, depending on the context: (1) “to commit oneself to do something, for someone, promise, assure”; (2) “to share a common view or be of common mind about a matter, agree”; (3) “to concede that something is factual or true, grant, admit, confess”; (4) “to acknowledge something, ordinarily in public, acknowledge, claim, profess, praise.” It seems the fourth definition fits best here. We must profess and acknowledge and praise Jesus in public. It is used twice in this verse, so do we dare say that Jesus would profess and praise us before his heavenly Father? Yes.

You can go online and see videos of poor Christians in Nigeria who have to rub shoulders with violent Muslims. One Christian denied Jesus because a hooded Muslim held a knife to his throat. After the Christian denied Jesus, the Muslim murdered him anyway. It’s best not to deny Jesus even during the worst time of your life. It is better to end your life with him, because eternity is endless. You will spend an endless, timeless duration with him, while our lives down here on earth last only eight to ten decades. Choose Jesus.

This warning not to deny Jesus is not theoretical or hypothetical. It has to mean something. It can actually happen. It is possible for a born-again, Spirit-filled, true follower of Jesus to deny him. It is unconvincing to say that when a man denies Jesus, he was not a true follower of Jesus. That sentence seems desperate, as if to protect the hypothesis at all costs. No. The potential can become actual in certain conditions.

Possible Apostasy or Eternal Security?

Remaining a Christian or Falling Away?

The good news is that if someone does walk away, the Spirit can still woo him back. He can return, like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:17-24). He can be restored, as Peter was. He first denied Jesus (Matt. 26:69-75), but Jesus reinstated him (John 21:15-19). Jesus can also reinstate anyone today who denied Jesus and has repented.

God can redeem you too.

God Is Your Redeemer

What Is Redemption in the Bible?

“people”: see v. 17 for more comments.

GrowApp for Matt. 10:26-33

A.. Do you fear people more than God? How does this hinder your walk with him?

Not Peace, but a Sword (Matt. 10:34-39)

34 Do not think that I have come to lay down peace on the earth. I have not come to lay down peace but instead a sword, 35 for I have come to divide people against his father,

And daughter against her mother,

And daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,

36 And a person’s enemies shall be those of his own household. [Mic. 7:6]

37 The one loving father or mother more than me is not deserving of me; and the one loving son or daughter more than me is not deserving of me. 38 And so anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not deserving of me. 39 The one finding his life will lose it, and the one losing his life because of me will find it.

Comments:

34:

Luke version says “division” instead of “sword.” Please don’t pick up your sword and hit people with it because they refuse to convert to because someone has converted. Verse 35 says what the sword is for: to divide people, not literally cut them. It is a metaphorical sword.

2. The Gospels: Was Jesus a Pacifist?

3. Were the Early Christians Pacifists?

“lay down”: it comes from the verb ballō (prounced bahl-loh), and its basic meaning is “to throw,” but it has acquired many other nuances, depending on the context. The mild “bring” does not quite work here. France suggests “establish.” That’s fine. I sometimes believe that Jesus had in mind “throw down the gauntlet” to challenge the world. Let’s face it, before his Second Coming, people will always be divided by the gospel of the kingdom. Either they join it or they don’t. If they don’t they will be the eternal loser (v. 39). If they do, they will be the eternal winner (v. 39). Pick a side. Don’t be a fence sitter.

35-36:

“daughter-in-law” has the connotation of a bridal daughter-in-law, or one who just married a mother’s son. What happens if the new bride were to convert? Apparently, she would feel the wrath of the mother-in-law!

In Israel at this time, thousands of Jews converted to the Messiah in Judea (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20). Then the persecution hit hard, mostly by Saul (later Paul) (Acts 7:8-15; 8:1; 9:1-2). No doubt households were divided. And no doubt fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law did betray each other. So it is very important that no one deny the Lord before people or Jewish synagogue tribunals (vv. 8-9, 11-12).

Sometimes one hears of reports which say that Jewish parents throw out a converted son or daughter from their household. That is one of the main themes of the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Further, this rejection happens in Muslim households. Sometimes a son or daughter who converts is dragged before a shariah court and is punished in some way. A daughter may be “honor-killed” for giving her life to Christ.

In first-century paganism, a son or daughter had to pour a libation before household gods or walk in procession to a local temple, yet a convert to Christianity could not do this in good conscience. So his or her parents would be infuriated (Osborne, comment on 10:35).

During the decades when the old Soviet Union dominated eastern Europe, reports escaped from behind the Iron Curtain that said Christians were being betrayed by other members of their household. It is happening in China now, with the rise of new and severe persecution.

Let’s pray for the persecuted church.

37:

The Greek word for loving is the verb phileō (pronounced fee-leh-oh), which has the connotation of love, yes, but also of friendship. In a culture that did not welcome converts to the Jesus Movement, his converts must not value friendship or love for a mother or other family member over their friendship or love for Jesus himself. If people do value earth-bound friendship more than friendship with Jesus, then this person is not worthy or deserving of the Lord. Now in our culture, often people don’t have to make this difficult choice. Back then, however, they did.

38:

Do we really want to follow Jesus? If we do, then they must die (Luke 9:23 says “daily”). Die to what? Die to their old sin nature, their shortsighted desires and blinded will. And people better not think that their desires and will can lead them to a full life. Their own untamed, unsurrendered desires and wills can lead them only so far, but at the end of their lives, they will come up empty. They will discover that after they were climbing the ladder of success and got to the top, the ladder was leaning against the wrong building.

39:

A paradox takes place when you join two seeming contradictory statements, yet they can be resolved, in a startling way.

Which statement is the paradox?

1.. You gain your life by your own power, drive, and ambition.

2.. You gain your life by surrendering and giving it to God through Christ Jesus.

The world chooses the first one every day. It is not the paradox.

Jesus calls us to the second one. You win by giving up; you win by losing. That’s the paradox.

Now let’s allow Jesus to unpack what he means.

This verse may be the most important down-to-earth verse in the Gospel of Matthew for followers of Jesus. Theological truths are good and necessary, but it is difficult to follow a theology, and easier to follow a person. Many follow a theology and will even die for it. But are they willing to follow Jesus, even to the point of dying to themselves? It is better to follow a person than a theology. However, a word of warning: false doctrines about Jesus have arisen, and false Messiahs will come and deceive many, so be sure to stick close to the biblical Jesus (Luke 21:8). But once you have the biblical Jesus, be ready to give up everything for him.

One has to say something like this every day: “Lord I surrender my life to you. Not my will, but yours be done.” Do you trust him that his will is best? If you do trust him, then you are on your way—his way! It’s an adventure. If you do not, then you will stumble around and get easily angry and frustrated and lose your way.

If you find your life—do as you please—you shall lose it. If you run and manage your life, then eventually you will lose it, despite your best effort to preserve it. When you climb up your self-built ladder, you will have to climb down again or you might come crashing down, depending on how fast and furiously and carelessly you climb.

People nowadays are into “finding themselves,” and to do that they have to avoid or misinterpret the clear teachings of Jesus. Someone even went so far as to leave her husband and get into a lesbian relationship. Apparently, she believed (falsely) that she was being “authentic” to her true self or life or soul. However, she drifted from her anchor—Scripture. She was deceived.

But when you give your soul or life to him, he will give it back to you repaired and even brand new by his miracle. You can be born again.

“life”: it is the noun psuchē, and see v. 28 for more detail.

“lose”: it is the verb apollumi, and see v. 28 for further comments.

GrowApp for Matt. 10:32-39

A.. In our Western culture, we don’t suffer persecution from family members as they do in some cultures today. But have you seen people in your circle of friends and family mock you or put you down for your faith? How did you respond?

Rewards for Treating God’s Missionaries Hospitably (Matt. 10:40-42)

40 Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive the reward of a prophet. And he who welcomes a righteous person because he is a righteous person shall receive the reward of a righteous person. 42 And whoever gives just a cold drink to one of these little ones because they are disciples—I tell you the truth: he will in no way lose his reward.

11:1 And so it happened that when Jesus ended his directions to his twelve disciples, he went on from there, teaching and preaching in their towns.

Comments:

40:

This is the chain of command—or the chain of welcome and love and kindness! Jesus is informing his disciples who are being sent on a short-term mission trip which will eventually lead to a life-long mission (Matt. 28:18-20) that anyone who shows kindness and hospitality to the missionaries are actually showing kindness and hospitality first to Jesus and then, next, to the Father.

I have a post on Jesus’s sense of mission. He knew his Father sent him, just as he is sending his twelve out on a short-term mission, soon to morph into a life-long mission.

5. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Came Down from Heaven

41-42:

Verses 41-42 are difficult to translate, not grammatically, but the meaning is elusive. Here is a literal translation:

41 Anyone who welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person shall receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And anyone who gives just a cold drink to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth: he shall not—not—lose his reward.

The one who welcomes or gives a drink must recognize who the recipient is. And then the hospitable person will receive a reward commensurate with the receiver’s gifting. The little ones are disciples, so the one who gives just a mere a cold drink to them will not lose his (disciple’s) reward. Offering water was one sign of hospitality.

“just a cold drink”: the word “just” could be translated as “only” as in “only a cold drink” or “merely a cold drink.” The implication is that people need to do more than just give a cold drink. They need to supply the emissary with food and probably shelter.

Apart from these interpretation, we have no details on what a prophet’s reward or a righteous person’s reward or a disciple’s rewards are. They are all synonyms. A prophet and righteous person and a disciple are the same person. Jesus righteous prophetic disciples are greater than the prophets of old (5:11-12; 11:9; 13:17), so we must not over-interpret these verses and build a hierarchy on them. But we know the rewards are positive for anyone who receive one of Jesus’s emissaries.

“I tell you the truth”: see v. 15 for more comments.

Keener:

As one treats God’s prophet, so one treats the God who sent the prophet (Ex. 16:8; 1 Sam. 8:7). Matthew repeatedly emphasizes that disciples as Jesus’ agents are his prophets, even greater than the prophets of old (5:11-12); 11:9; 13:17); he thus employs the titles “righteous” and “prophet” interchangeably in this passage (cf. 13:17; 23:29…). This passage probably also evokes the Jewish legal image of the appointed agent, who carried the full authority of the one who had authorized him for the specific task on which he was sent … Disciples were also “little ones,” the easily oppressed and powerless who could not or would not defend themselves (10:42), and hence depended solely on God (18:3-6, 10; cf. 11:11, 25; Mk 9:37; 10:14-15). (p. 332)

11:1:

Please note that most translations attach this verse to this pericope or section of Scripture.

“their towns”: the towns of his fellow Jews.

Let’s not skip over this transitional verse. Jesus had just instructed or ordered or commanded or directed (all sound translations of the one word I translated as “directions”) his disciple about how to do mission work, and now he went out to do mission work! I must say that he was fearless. Imagine what kinds of needs were awaiting him: unclean, dirty lepers, the blind, the deaf, the lame and even the dead. He was totally confident that he could, by the Spirit and the Father’s will, meet those needs. And he did not set up a big building and make people walk to it, but he went to the people. Also, his religious enemies often tagged along just to catch him in some minor flaw (as they perceived things).

He was physically fit and mentally strong and spiritually built up with faith in his Father. He was not lazy. He really was a man of action—not guided by his soul and or soulish “bright ideas,” but by the Spirit and his Father. He did not shrink back from his mission. Often I wonder whether I would have taken two weeks off and gone to the beach on the Mediterranean Sea (beautiful, by the way). I’m pretty sure I would have. But he didn’t. He had to be about his Father’s business.

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but this verse really moved me. Amazing, on a human level.

GrowApp for Matt. 10:40-42

A.. Have you ever shown practical kindness and hospitality to one of God’s laborers in his kingdom? What reward do you envision getting from God?

Summary and Conclusion

This chapter is all about mission and persecution because the message of Jesus can divide humanity.

First, Matthew names the apostles and gives them authority. Names and authority can go together in Scripture, but the connection is iron-clad. It is interesting that Jesus gives the same capacity and gifting to do the same miracles he did, using similar words.

Recall these words, the last words in Matt. 9:

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest, so that he would propel workers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:37-38)

Jesus is carrying out his prayer, by sending out the twelve.

Second, Jesus gives them detailed instruction for their short-term mission trip, like don’t bring a backpack or a money bag for the belt or extra sandals. He also says that to remain in a house until it is time to leave, implying no house hopping or shopping.

Third, in a long and sobering passage, he promises persecution, because his message can divide. It is the road of righteousness, and many people don’t like righteousness. Governors and kings will put the emissaries on trial. Even the family will be divided. In a Jewish culture, many parents won’t like it if their kids convert to the Jesus Movement (and the same in Muslim cultures). Strife may erupt. In fact, betrayal may get to the point of putting family members to death.

Fourth, however, Jesus assures his persecuted emissaries that God watches over them. If he knows about a sparrow that falls to the ground, then don’t they think he will watch over them? Of course, he will! Their very hairs on their heads are numbered, which is another way of saying God is omniscient (all-knowing). He knows what is happening to his kids. Further, the missionaries, when put on trial, should not be anxious about what they should say, because the Spirit of the Father will speak in and through them.

Fifth and finally, anyone who welcomes and blesses one of his missionaries with hospitality will receive a reward. His followers have a righteous prophetic ministry when they proclaim the Word. The prophet, righteous person and “little disciple” are all one missionary, who fits the three-faceted bill.

SOURCES

I refer to a community of Bible scholars. Their excellence humbles me. But they are too technical for many in the laity and pastors around the globe. I hope I have simplified the main points of Matthew 10. And I write from a Renewal perspective.

Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).

Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).

Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).

The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).

Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).

Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).

Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).

Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).

Works Cited

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