10.01.06 Mt. 10:16-33
16 “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. 17 Because people will hand you over to Sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. 18 You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. 19 But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, 20 because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. 23 When they persecute you in one town, escape to another. For I assure you: You will not have covered the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 A disciple is not above his teacher, or a slave above his master. 25 It is enough for a disciple to become like his teacher and a slave like his master. If they called the head of the house ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more the members of his household!
26 “Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known.
27 What I tell you in the dark,
speak in the light.
What you hear in a whisper,
proclaim on the housetops.
28 Don’t fear those who kill the body
but are not able to kill the soul.
Rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. 30 But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. 31 So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men,
I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven.
33 But whoever denies Me before men,
I will also deny him before My Father in heaven.
As the Christian faith spread, persecution increased. It began as Jewish anti-Semitism; Jews persecuting other Jews for their faith in Jesus, (Heb. Yeshua,) during which time the primitive church prayed for boldness (Acts 4:23-31). Those who suffered frequently quoted Psalm 2 as they realized they were witnessing the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Jesus. It is striking how these words of warning expressed the solidarity of Jesus with the early believers and these believers with Jesus.
“Sheep among wolves.” Sheep are peaceful creatures while wolves were among the worst predators in the biblical period. Shepherds were not the only ones who feared wolves; travelers and villagers did as well. Jesus said that believers ought to be similar to sheep in that they are peaceful, causing no harm to anyone.
However, Jesus also told them to “be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves” meaning to be fully aware of their spiritual and social environment including the “wolves” around them. Their enemies were both human and demonic. At no point did Jesus express any comments that ignorance of them is a virtue, but rather He said believers should be knowledgeable and discerning (i.e. shrewd). Christians are to be honest and harmless, but use wisdom with the gift of discernment. In many countries today true believers are being persecuted for their faith in Christ Jesus. They need to be like the sons of Issachar who, understood the times and knew what Israel needed to do (1 Chron. 12:32). Today snakes are seen as being symbolic of Satan; imagery derived from the Garden of Eden narrative. However, during the biblical period, snakes were seen as symbolic of eternal life because they shed their skin every year. That is why Moses placed a bronze serpent on a pole in Numbers 21:4-9. Farmers and shepherds knew from experience that snakes are shrewd and smart.
“Because people will hand you over to Sanhedrins.” The fact that the disciples were to be harmless as doves and as shrewd as snakes did not mean they would not face persecution. Being an evangelist in a pagan world is a life of danger, but one that has its eternal rewards. Jesus was very clear that difficulties would come. And since they had spent three years of training with Him, the promise of the Holy Spirit would give them the wisdom of the right words at the right time. The term “Spirit” (Gk. parakletos) meaning “counselor” would help the believer live victoriously in a world full of dangers and difficulties.
In villages and small cities that had a minimum population of 120 men, there were local councils or tribunals of three judges. In a larger community there was a council of 23 judges known as a “Small Sanhedrin.” Jerusalem, of course, had the “Great Sanhedrin” with 70 members plus the high priest as president. Considering how the Great Sanhedrin treated Jesus and His apostles, it is clear that the disciples would be in for some ill treatment. In fact, except for Judas and John, all were eventually martyred. Persecutions have always separated the true believers from those who preferred luke-warmness.
An examination of the Old Testament reveals that nearly all the great leaders and prophets had been persecuted. Jesus said those who would be persecuted because of righteousness would be blessed (Mt. 5:10-12). The famous “Faith Hall of Fame” of Hebrews 11 is awesome in terms of faith, and challenging in terms of the difficulties and persecutions these men experienced. This writer believes that those challenging days have returned to many countries and will be worldwide before Jesus comes for His Church. The citizenship of true followers of Jesus has always been in heaven (Philip. 3:20; Gal. 6:14).
“When they persecute you in one town, escape to another.” This was a clear promise of persecution. Those who trust and obey God have always been in conflict with the systems of this world. It was intense immediately after Jesus, and it appears to this writer that it will be intense immediately before Jesus returns. While difficulties and challenges will come, wisdom and divine guidance are to be applied to life situations. One should not seek persecution or martyrdom for the sake of persecution or martyrdom. Obedience, love, and faithfulness are to be the hallmarks of those experiencing such trials, and those who endure to the end will be saved (Mt. 10:22). They will receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10), which is encouraging news that none will lose heart or become weary (Heb. 12:3).
“You will not have covered the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” This passage has been interpreted to mean that Jesus promised to return to earth before the disciples completed their ministry to all the communities throughout Israel, implying a very soon return. By the time the apostles died, Jesus obviously had not yet returned. Was there an error as some have suggested? Hardly! The word “You,” was interpreted to refer to the evangelists individually, but evidently, Jesus meant that they would be part of a larger group of individuals who would preach throughout the cities. The passage simply means that Israel would not be evangelized prior to the end of the present age (the Church Age) when Christ returns to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem.
As stated previously, and this point is critical, the phrase Son of Man, or Bar Enosh in Aramaic, in the book of Enoch is a figure who is waiting in heaven until God sends him to earth where he would establish his kingdom and rule over it. This book was common knowledge, so when Jesus used the phrase about Himself, He was clearly claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah. That is quite interesting, because the book of Enoch was written in the Inter-Testamental Period, and the expressions of “Son of Man” and “Son of God,” foretell the deity of Jesus, but the former title also asserts His humanity. How did the writer of Enoch know this? This mystery continues to be hidden Galatians 4:4.
“A disciple is not above his teacher.” Jesus again made reference to the disciple – rabbi relationship. As previously stated, the title “rabbi” literally means “my teacher” or “my master.” This phrase, of course, was in effect as long as the disciple was under the mentorship of his rabbi. Once the student-disciple became recognized as a rabbi in his own right, then they became peers although the mentor-rabbi was always held in highest esteem.
The position of rabbi carried expectations of those who followed him. For example, disciples were always expected to do whatever the “master” requested of them (cf. Lk. 6:46). This was also illustrated when Jesus asked His disciples to buy food (Jn. 4:8) and make Passover preparations (Lk. 22:8). The master-disciple relationship has not changed over the centuries.
“Beelzebul.” Also spelled Beelzebub, the name reflects the interesting and sarcastic attitude the Jews had for their pagan neighbors. This Philistine god was the “lord of the royal palace.” The politically correct name is Baal-Zebul meaning Exalted Baal or Prince Baal. But by a slight change of pronunciation to Beelzebub the meaning was changed to Lord of the Flies (cf 2 Kg. 1:2), referring to flying insects that thrive in summertime manure. There is also a second pun to the change of pronunciation. The word zibbul means sacrificing to idols. Beelzebul meant “chief of idolatrous sacrificing.” Jesus is the rightful “Head of the house,” and He turned that around and said that the head of the house for the Jews was the chief of idolatrous sacrificing to swarming flies upon a manure pile. This illustration demonstrates how puns were used and occasionally had more than one meaning. In Scripture Beelzebul is the prince of demons, meaning Satan.
Between the mentioning of Beelzebul and the warning to fear him who is able to destroy soul and body, is the warning against gnostic teaching. Gnostic teachers claimed they had secret teachings of wisdom and of Jesus not found in the Scriptures. While Jesus did not identify them by name, He did identify them by how they spoke – using terms such as “uncovered,” “hidden,” and “whisper.” He clearly said not to be afraid of them but simply speak His truth so that everyone will hear it.
26 “Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. In these two verses Jesus clearly indicated that all sin will be revealed – nothing can be hidden from God. However, verses 26 and 27 are a clear defense against the growing Gnosticism that was beginning to take hold in the land. It promoted so-called secrets of deeper spiritual knowledge. This influence of wandering Greek philosophers and mystics is often overlooked in the studies of Jesus.
“Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” While it is natural to fear those who would harm or kill us, Jesus clearly stated that He, Himself, should be feared because He is the One who is able to ultimately send unbelievers into the lake of fire. This statement had a profound allusion for the audience, and the word for “hell” has reference to the Valley of Hinnom, a/k/a the Valley of Ge-henna. It was in this valley centuries earlier Manasseh offered living infants in a fiery sacrifice to the god Molech. This is a shameful period in Jewish history. Yet Jesus used this imagery to underscore the deadly powers of Satan. Jesus warned against the appearance of pagan Gnostic, Cynic and Stoic philosophers at least twice:
- When Jesus sent out the disciples on a missions trip (Mt. 10:5-15), He instructed them not to take any traveling bags as these would give the impression they were Gnostic teachers.
- When Jesus told them to be as shrewd as serpents, harmless as doves, and watch out for wolves, He also said that all secrets would be uncovered and whispers would be heard (Mt. 10:16-33).
“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?” This phrase indicates the minimal value of two common birds. Yet elsewhere the price may be different from that stated here. This is not a mistake in Scripture, but rather in ancient times, as in most areas today in the Middle East, the purchase price of any item is frequently the subject of bargaining. Hence, two buyers may make similar purchases and pay different prices. A “penny” is the smallest coin in the British currency, and not an ancient coin. The word is used in this verse to denote the smallest minted coin.
“Everyone who will acknowledge Me.” The phrase literally means “anyone who will confess in me,” which is to identify himself with Christ. The language used by Jesus is not exclusive to the New Testament. Matthew again demonstrated that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
9b If you seek Him,
He will be found by you;
But if you forsake Him,
He will reject you forever.
I Chronicles 28:9b
2b If you seek Him
He will be found by you;
But if you abandon Him
He will abandon you.
2 Chronicles 15:2b
To acknowledge Jesus after His resurrection was and continues to be a confession of His deity, that He is God of creation and, therefore, He is the Messiah. Believers confess that Jesus, in human form, is the Son of God. They believe that He came to earth in human form  and confess the reality of His resurrection and ascension. To confess Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior will inherently make one realize who he or she is and result in the confession of sin. One looks to Jesus for forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:5-10). He receives a cleansing, is renewed, and receives eternal life. This greatest of miracles occurs with a simple prayer. Thereafter, Jesus is the believer’s advocate before the Father who tells Him we are members of His kingdom whenever that accuser, Satan, lies about us. Conversely, just as confession of Christ leads to eternal life, rejection of His love and forgiveness leads to eternal damnation in the lake of fire known as Hell. However, the central focal point of Scripture is one of restoration; the restoration of man to the image of God – the imago dei.
“But whoever denies Me before men.” The Apostle Paul underscored this important thought when he said that if we deny Him, He will deny us (2 Tim. 2:12). The Greek phrase arneomai is translated deny meaning to refuse or to say no to. The English terms denies or denial are often understood as a legalistic terms that one would outright declare he is not a follower of Jesus. While that is true, the Hebraic meaning is much broader and includes several forms. Four of them are:
- Luke-warmness is reflected when one has lost his desire to pursue the desires of God.
- Missed opportunities to speak truth or pray when appropriate.
- To live a hypocritical life where, as in Western culture today, beliefs and lifestyles do not matter in the name of “tolerance.”
- Actions and words spoken that do not reflect His instructions on how to live a life that honors Him.
On the other hand, whatever one does for someone else in the name of Jesus, is equal to doing it personally to Jesus (Mt. 10:40-42; 25:40). Yet the Jewish leadership looked upon Jesus with great disdain, although some admired His ability to perform miracles. This is evidenced by two interesting accounts that happened later – possibly in the second or early third century. In both stories someone is sick and another offers to pray in the name of Jesus, but it is a prayer in the name of Jesus, the son of Pandira, also known as the son of Parthera. Jewish critics claimed that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but of Mary who was a harlot and His true father was a Roman soldier known as Pandira or Parthera. Therefore, these examples of the healing power of Jesus are of particular interest.
- Rabbi Joshua ben Levi had an ill grandchild with a life-threatening disease in the throat. Someone came and mumbled a prayer “In the name of Jesus, the son of Pandira” and the child was healed.
- A certain Rabbi Eliezer ben Damah was bitten by a poisonous snake and a Jacobus Capharsamensis came to visit him. Jacobus offered to pray a prayer of healing in the name of Jesus the son of Pandira, but Rabbi Ishmael denied Jacobus the opportunity to pray. Consequently, the sick rabbi died.
While these accounts occurred long after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, they reflect two important insights:
- The power associated with the name of Jesus
- The ongoing struggle the Jewish people had with the identity of Jesus.
The core issue was that they did not want to admit who Jesus was, even though He had demonstrated all the signs and wonders they expected the messiah to perform with the exception of overthrowing the Romans – an expectation obviously not cited in the Hebrew Bible.
. Mills and Michael, Messiah and His Hebrew Alphabet. 7.
. Gilbrant, “Luke.” 563.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 443.
. Mt. 10:19-20; Mk. 13:11; Lk. 12:11-12.
. Cressey, “Counselor.” 1:325.
. Wijngaards, Handbook to the Gospels. 44.
. Jn. 3:13; 5:27; 6:27; cf. Mt.26:63-64; Tenney, The Gospel of John. 105.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:312.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 10, page 11.
. New International Version Study Bible footnote for Matthew 10:25; See also 09.01.02.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 446.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:60-61.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 149.
. See “Gnosticism” in Appendix 26 and “Gnostic” in 02.02.10.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus, 41; Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words. 97.
. Lev. 18:21; 2 Kg. 21:1, 6; Jer. 7:31-32; Zeph. 1:5; Acts 7:43.
. For more information, see 02.02.10 Gnosticism, 02.02.10 Romans, commentary on “The Word” in 04.01.03, and “Gnosticism” in Appendix 26.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:61-62.
. Mt. 16:16; Mk. 4:29; Jn. 1:1-14, 41; 9:22.
. Mt. 8:29; Jn. 1:34,39; 1 Jn. 4:15.
. Some translations use the word “flesh” for human form. See 1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn. 7.
. Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil 2:11.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 127.
. See the discussion on hypocrites/hypocrisy in 08.03.04 (Mt. :5-15) and in “Pharisees” in 02.01.14.
. See 04.03.08.Q4 “Can the concept of the virgin birth be supported historically?”
. Adapted from Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:150.