Matthew 10 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
The Mission of Jesus' Agents
Jesus' instructions here show that the disciples would carry on most aspects of his mission (9:35-38). Even if one started from skeptical grounds, there is good evidence to suggest a historical basis for the account of Jesus' sending his disciples. Teachers could train disciples in part by giving them practice, and that Jesus did so best explains the disciples' rapid imitation of his miraculous ministry in the years immediately following the resurrection (compare 2 Cor 12:12). Yet Matthew provides these instructions not merely as a matter of historical interest-had his interest been merely historical he would not have rearranged the material in this section so thoroughly to be relevant to his readers-but as a living message to his own audience.
Thus he includes some of Jesus' teachings not strictly relevant to the first mission but which his audience would recognize as particularly relevant in their own day, including prosecution in synagogue and pagan courts (10:17-18; see F. Bruce 1972a:68; Morosco 1979; pace Schweitzer 1968:361). Likewise Matthew 11:1, unlike Mark, does not actually report the disciples' mission, because for Matthew the mission must continue in his own generation. Summoning his audience to greater commitment to the Gentile mission, he provides instructions for those who would go forth to evangelize, and in more general ways for the churches that send them.
Jesus Sends His Disciples (10:5)
When Jesus sent out his disciples, he literally "apostled" them. Thus he provides a relevant model for his appointed agents in subsequent generations (whether they are "apostles" in the narrower sense or not). The language used here for "sending" probably connotes commissioning agents with delegated authority. Ancient Israelite circles also used formal agents or messengers (as in Prov 10:26; 13:17; 26:6); agency eventually became a legal custom so pervasive that both Roman and Jewish law recognized the use of agents, or intermediary marriage brokers, in betrothals (Cohen 1966:295-96).
Agents did not always have high legal status; some were even slaves. Yet they carried delegated authority, acting on the authority of the one who sent them. Thus later teachers commonly remarked that a person's agent is "equivalent to the person himself" (t. Ta`anit 3:2; m. Berakot 5:5). How one treats Jesus' messengers or heralds therefore represents how one treats Jesus himself (Mt 10:40-42).
Because the agent had to be trustworthy to carry out his mission, teachers sometimes debated the character the pious should require of such agents (m. Demai 4:5; t. Demai 2:20). This also implies, of course, that an agent's authority was entirely limited to the scope of his commission and the faithfulness with which he carried it out. The fact that Jesus authorizes us to do acts of compassion in his name (Mt 9:36) does not authorize us to use his power to get whatever we want (4:3).
Jesus' agents were not like just any legal agents: in biblical history, God's agents were the prophets. The connections in this text between Jesus' commissioned messengers and prophets should not be overlooked (10:41; compare Boring 1982:89).
To Israel Alone (10:5-6)
This limitation fits the historic priority of Israel in salvation history (compare Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; 15:8-9), was practical (these disciples were not yet equipped to cross cultural boundaries) and would have undoubtedly not been objectionable to the first disciples themselves (compare Acts 10:28). Jesus did see a future hope for the Gentiles in the Scriptures (see comment on 8:11-12), but he limited his own mission primarily to Israel. In this text, however, Jesus' orders may address geography more than ethnicity (NIV mistranslates "way of Gentiles" as among the Gentiles); Jesus merely prohibits taking any of the roads leading to Hellenistic cities in Palestine (Manson 1979:179). Since Samaria and Gentile territories surrounded Galilee, Jesus' orders de facto limited his disciples' mission geographically, restricting their activity to Galilee (see Gundry 1982:185).
In contrast to other commandments in this chapter, however, Matthew indicates that Jesus later revokes this limitation (24:14; 28:19-20), specifically clarifying that this one command was a temporary measure during his earthly ministry. Indeed, by highlighting that the gospel's first recipients are Jewish, hence that even Jewish people may reject the kingdom and be treated as Gentiles (10:14-15), this limitation implies a supraethnic view of the kingdom that ultimately necessitates the Gentile mission.
Good News About God's Impending Kingdom (10:7)
That this good news about the kingdom remains the church's message (Acts 8:12; 20:24-25; 28:31) is clear not only from the fact that Matthew nowhere revokes it but also from the roughly parallel formulation in his Gospel's conclusion: as you go (not the imperative go as in the NIV rendering of 28:19) is a participle in both instances (10:7 and 28:19). We proclaim Jesus' lordship: he has all authority in the universe (28:18; Dan 7:13-14) and appears alongside the Father and the Spirit (28:19). To make disciples for this King is to proclaim the good news that God's future reign is already active in this age (compare 28:20).
Signs Bring Attention to the Message (10:8)
"The disciples' mission (vv. 7-8) replicates and extends the mission of Jesus in preaching the coming of God's kingdom and in healing the sick (see 4:23)" (Harrington 1982:45). Matthew emphasizes the continuity between Jesus' mission and that of the disciples precisely because the model of ministry God had exemplified in Jesus remains important for Jesus' followers (see more fully Wimber with Spring 1986:113-15; Keener 1996:85-89).
Insofar as possible, we should learn to demonstrate Jesus' rule the way Jesus did. Although hardhearted people may never be satisfied with signs (15:37-16:1; compare Jn 11:47-48; 12:10-11; Acts 4:16-17), signs can draw other people's attention to the gospel (Mt 11:3-6, 21, 23; see also Jn 2:11; Acts 4:29-30; 9:35, 42). If such ministry is more difficult in our rationalistic culture, it may be for that reason all the more important. Yet some parts of today's church that are open to miracles unfortunately have missed another part of Jesus' teaching on faith and mission: God's messengers must live simply (10:8-12).
Jesus' Agents Live Simply (10:8-10)
Cynic philosophers and many peasants had only one cloak. More relevant here, some Palestinian Jews known as Essenes showed their devotion to God by a simple lifestyle, especially those who lived in the wilderness (1QS 1.11-13; 6.22-23; Jos. Ant. 18.20; War 2.122). Josephus also indicates that Essenes did not take provisions when they traveled; they expected hospitality from fellow Essenes in every city (War 2.124-25).
Yet perhaps most relevant is the model of Israel's ancient prophets in times of national apostasy (for example, 1 Kings 18:13). One may recall Elisha's unwillingness to accept Naaman's gifts, preferring to allow the Aramean God-fearer to remain wholly indebted to Israel's God; his servant Gehazi, however, determined to profit from Naaman and suffered for it (2 Kings 5:20-27). Elisha reminded Gehazi that the current time of spiritual crisis rendered the acquisition of material possessions a vain pursuit (2 Kings 5:26). In contrast to Elisha, many Western Christians waste their income on worldly pursuits rather than committing all their resources to the kingdom.
On long trips, one typically brought both a change of clothes and money in a bag tied to one's belt or fastened around one's neck (Stambaugh and Balch 1986:38); Jesus here forbids the normal basic apparatus for travel. By prohibiting a bag (Mt 10:10; Mk 6:8) Jesus forbids begging, the survival method of the otherwise almost equally simple Cynics (Meeks 1986:107). Mark allows at least staff (for self-protection) and sandals, but Matthew's demand for simplicity is still more radical, prohibiting even these. This is not a matter of asceticism but of priorities, as in 6:19-34. These prohibitions would distinguish the disciples from other kinds of wandering preachers (like the Cynics in the Greek world) "whose questionable reputation they did not want to share" (Liefeld 1967:260; see also p. 247).
Paul's examples of apostleship in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 and 2 Cor 4:8-12; 6:3-10; 11:24-33 (presented like philosophers' lists of sufferings) show the demands of a true apostolic call. Another early church document warns that if a prophet wants to stay more than three days or asks for money, he is a false prophet (Did. 11:5; compare 2 Cor 11:7-15); Matthew may have even had such false teachers in mind as he dictated this warning (Gundry 1982:186).
Although Christ does not send all Christians the same way he sent these disciples, their obedience to their calling challenges us to consider what we can sacrifice for the work of God's kingdom. Missionaries today will not all follow these specifications exactly (just as Mark apparently toned down Q's instructions for his own community); hospitality is not as dependable in most cultures as it was in first-century Jewish Palestine. Nevertheless, the message of this text summons us to radically value our mission above all possessions and to live as simply as necessary to devote our resources to evangelism.
Those who strive to "witness" to their neighbors by demonstrating that Christ can "bless" them with abundant possessions may unwittingly witness for a false gospel, reinforcing the same materialistic goals that drive many young men in ghettos to sell drugs and many politicians to sell their souls. Non-Christians often have the spiritual sense to recognize what much of the church ignores: tacking Jesus' name onto worldly values does not sanctify those values, it just profanes Jesus' name.
God Supplies for the Mission (10:10-11)
The disciples can travel light because they trust God to supply their needs where they minister. Ancient Mediterranean peoples, especially Jewish people, emphasized hospitality (as in Cicero De Officiis 2.18.64; Ps-Phocyl. 24; Test. Job 10:1-4). Because strangers could abuse this system, however, Jewish people outside Palestine depended heavily on letters of recommendation showing that the traveler was of good reputation. Jesus' messengers had better backing than a letter of recommendation, however; the authority of Jesus himself stood behind them (10:40-42; compare 2 Cor 3:1-6).
Responsibility and the Message (10:12-15)
The hearers would be judged by whether they embraced Christ's messengers. The missionaries were to use one home as their base of operations for evangelizing the community (10:11-12; compare Mk 6:10; Lk 10:7). They would find the home first by inquiring regarding who might hear their message (Mt 10:11), then by finding out if the household welcomed them to stay there (vv. 12-13). Greetings constituted an essential aspect of social etiquette in Mediterranean antiquity, and social convention dictated particular rules for how to greet persons of varying rank (23:7). But Jewish people also viewed their greetings as "wish-prayers": Shalom (salom), "peace," meant "May it be well with you." Just as a curse undeserved will not take effect (Prov 26:2), Jesus declares that the disciples' blessings will be efficacious only if they prove appropriate.
Those who received the agents of Christ ultimately received Christ himself (Mt 10:40-41), even if the only hospitality they had available to offer was a cup of water (v. 42). But those who rejected Christ's agents were to be treated like spiritual pagans (v. 14). Just as Jewish people returning to the Holy Land might shake the dust of Gentile lands from their feet, so Jesus' disciples were to treat those who rejected their message as unholy (Acts 13:51). God would treat these nations not merely like Gentiles in general, but worse than Sodom and Gomorrah (Mt 10:15), for they were rejecting a greater opportunity for repentance than Sodom had (11:23-24).