Matthew 10:5–15 (ESV): Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles
In the last passage Jesus called the twelve Apostles. In this passage he sends them out to the “lost sheep of Israel”—specifically not the Gentiles or the Samaritans—to tell them that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (verses 5–7 (ESV)).
He gives them the following instructions for their trip:
- As they’re going they should heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons (verse 8 (ESV))
- Since the Apostles didn’t have to pay to receive what they have, neither should they charge anyone else for it
- They should bring no gold, silver, or copper, neither should they bring a bag for the journey, or multiple tunics, not even [extra?] sandals or a staff. Why? “[F]or the laborer deserves his food” (verse 10 (ESV)).
- Whenever they enter a new town or village, they should find someone there who is “worthy” (verse 11 (ESV)), and stay at that person’s house for the duration of their stay at that town/village.
- Along these lines, when they enter that house, they should greet it (verse 12 (ESV)), and if the house is “worthy,” let their “peace come upon it.” If it is not, they are to let their peace return to them (verse 13 (ESV)). (By “house” I think Jesus means household; I don’t think he’s actually talking about the physical building.)
- If anyone will not listen to the Apostles’ words, they are to shake the dust off their feet when they leave that town/village/house. Jesus tells them that when the day of judgement comes, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for the town/village/house in question.
There’s a lot to think about in this passage—and some things I’ll need to look up before writing them down—so let’s get to it.
Notice that Jesus specifically sends his Apostles to the Jews, not to Gentiles or Samaritans. With a few exceptions, Jesus’ entire ministry was to the Jews, who were, after all, the chosen people of God. In modern times I think we tend to forget about the Jews’ special relationship with God, since He has opened up salvation to the Gentiles. Personally, I don’t pretend to understand the Jews’ current relationship with God; the New Testament makes it clear that God’s salvation is now freely available to everyone—that anyone who believes is a “spiritual descendent of Abraham,” if I might put it that way. See, for example:
- Throughout the Gospels, in passages such as this one, Jesus is preaching specifically to the Jews. Even though the Apostles later brought the Gospel to Gentiles, that didn’t start in earnest until the book of Acts.
- Verses 25–36 of the aforementioned Romans 11 (ESV), which, I’m sure, has been interpreted differently by different people (all of whom are convinced that they’re right, and that I’m an idiot for not seeing what they see), but whatever it means, does indicate that there is a special relationship between God and the Jews, even after Jesus’ sacrifice.
So Jesus sends the Apostles to tell the Jews that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What is the “kingdom of heaven”? (And why am I digging into so many larger topics, for such a relatively short passage?) Well, since he says that it’s “at hand,” I don’t think Jesus is referring to the new heaven and the new earth. I don’t think he’s talking about the post-judgement-day bliss that we’ll have when sin is eradicated, since it’s been two thousand years, and that hasn’t come yet. (Since a day is as a thousand years with God, I can’t fully rule this out, but I don’t think this is what Jesus is referring to.) So I’m assuming that Jesus is referring to the time we’re living in now, after he has died and atoned for our sins and risen again, after the Holy Spirit has been given to His disciples, after the Gospel has been opened up to the Gentiles. Jesus’ death and resurrection was definitely “at hand,” so I think that’s what he was referring to. However, I think focusing on the phrase “kingdom of heaven” probably isn’t the important thing in this passage; the important thing is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that believing in Him will cleanse you of your sins, in a way that the Old Testament religious system never could.
As the Apostles were going, in addition to preaching they were also to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. They weren’t going just with words, but also with power. And as usual (always?) in the New Testament, that power was used to help people with their physical needs. The miracles would prove that the Apostles were sent by God, so I’m sure Jesus could have commanded them to go and preach, and to do things like calling down lightning and do other things like that to prove their power, but he didn’t, he commanded them to heal people, both spiritually and physically. The vast majority of miracles in the New Testament are along these lines; they prove Jesus’ power, but they directly help someone, by healing them, or feeding them, or something along those lines. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m trying to think of any examples in the New Testament of miracles that were performed just for the sake of demonstrating power, but none are occurring to me. (Maybe Ananias and Saphira, but I think that would be a stretch.) That being said, I may very well think of something after I’ve clicked Submit on this post, or someone may leave a comment giving an obvious example, and then I’ll feel foolish for not thinking of it.
As the Apostles go, they are to give the Gospel for free; they’re not to charge people for hearing the Gospel. Conversely, neither are they to stock up on supplies before they go, to keep themselves fed—they are to accept food for their labour. (Or even clothes, since Jesus tells them not to bring an extra tunic or sandals; if their clothes wear out on the way, they should be able to accept replacement clothes that the “worthy” are willing to give them.) Based on the context, since the Apostles are only to stay with the “worthy,” it seems that the sequence is this: First, they are to preach the Gospel, for free; then, if someone hears the Gospel and believes—i.e., they are “worthy”—then the Apostles can accept that person’s hospitality, which would include food, clothing, whatever. Really, this is how the Church should be operating today; the Gospel is free for all, and nobody should ever, ever be charged to hear it. But once you are saved, and join a local church, you should be supporting it financially, because the labourer—your pastor(s), and anyone else whom the church pays for their work—deserves his wages. If the believers aren’t supporting the Church, then how else is it going to go out and preach the Gospel—for free—to those who haven’t heard it?
This passage mentions people who are “worthy.” Again, I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time digging into the word “worthy;” it sounds like Jesus is just referring to people who accept and believe the message that the Apostles are bringing to them. (The ESV Study Bible agrees with me on this one; they simply say: “Worthy indicates someone who responds positively to the disciples’ message.”) Similarly, when Jesus talks about letting the Apostles’ “peace” come upon the house where they’re staying, or letting it return to them if the house isn’t worthy, I don’t think we need to start digging into that terminology, looking for some deep, hidden meaning. All Jesus is saying (I think) is, “Go to a town/village and preach the Gospel. When someone believes, you can feel free to stay at that person’s house, and accept their hospitality, but if it turns out that they don’t really believe you, then maybe it’s not such a good idea to stay there.”
If they go to a town/village and nobody believes them, they’re to leave, and to shake the dust off their feet as they go. I don’t know that Jesus is being literal here (although he might); he’s referring to a Jewish custom at the time, that when a Jewish person would leave a Gentile region, they would shake the dust off their feet. (Acts 13:51 (ESV) has an example of believers doing this, at Antioch.) For the Jews, I assume this would be a sign that they don’t want to be made unclean even by the Gentile dust sticking to them; it’s poignant that Jesus’ followers are to do the same to the Jews, when they don’t accept the Gospel—the Jewish people would know what is meant by that, even if they wouldn’t necessarily believe it.
Finally, Jesus says of such a town/village that Sodom and Gomorrah will be judged less harshly on the day of judgement than that town/village will. That’s pretty amazing teaching—Sodom and Gomorrah are the standard setters for what it takes to be a city full of sinful people. (If you remember the story, in Genesis 18:22–33 (ESV) God agrees with Abraham that if He is able to find just ten righteous people in Sodom, He won’t destroy it; He isn’t able to find even that many righteous people, so Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed in Chapter 19.) The term “sodomy” comes from the city of Sodom, and even today, when a place is considered really sinful, it will be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah. e.g. if a city is located in the South somewhere, it might be referred to as the “Gomorrah of the South” (I’m sure I’ve heard that term before, although I can’t remember in reference to what city/region), or the “Sodom and Gomorrah of the South.” So why will they be judged less harshly than one of the cities/villages mentioned in this passage, that rejects the Gospel? Simply put, if you know that something is wrong and you do it anyway, you will be judged more harshly than someone who doesn’t know that something is wrong and does it. Or, as the ESV Study Bible puts it, “Increased understanding of God’s revelation means increased responsibility.”
This was a long post, and any time I put up a long one like this, I’m always hesitant to click Submit. After a post gets to a certain length, it’s hard to proofread your own work properly, and even more so here, since this is really meant as my own personal Bible study, rather than a teaching instrument. (If I were writing this for others, rather than for myself, I’d set it aside for a while, and come back to it with fresh eyes later, rather than posting it right away.) But that being said, I’m aware that there are a number of people who read this blog, so if there are comments, please leave them “in love” (Ephesians 4:1–16 (ESV)), and I’ll read them all, as I always do.