Thoughts from Matthew 10…
“Everything gets better!”
I heard an evangelist preach about how Jesus would make your life better. Everything falls into place, according to him, once you trust in Jesus Christ. Some such evangelists have even brought testimonials from devoted followers. They show the chaos in their lives before meeting Jesus, and then the dramatic improvements afterward.
I was reading through the contents of a Christian Music album recently. The songs were filled with messages about the peace and happiness of knowing Jesus Christ. I am very glad to hear this — He promises to give us a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory!”
But there is more to the picture. There is also a cost to following Jesus Christ. It is rare to hear about it in songs or testimonials, but you are now a target by the enemies of God!
Jesus has been instructing His twelve disciples, sending them out as apostles to preach in His name (see here). He promised to give them His power and authority as they proclaimed His urgent message. The King is here!
But as Jesus continued to teach them, He gave them broader instructions. He showed events that would happen beyond their specific time, and what would happen to all of His followers — not just the twelve apostles. As we look at His message, we see that we will be persecuted for trusting in Him. Our decision to follow Him will cause conflicts — even in our own families! But where are we placing our trust and respect? Should we trust in the power of mankind or in the Almighty God? Whose side are we on when we encounter trouble?
And finally, Jesus promises that we will not be alone. We have help from each other, but even more so, the Father who knows us is with us every step of the way.
Future warning: You will be persecuted
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
As Jesus continued His instructions, He went beyond the specific mission. The apostles were never brought before governors and kings during this immediate mission, yet He was preparing them to take His message to the entire world. They would be going to a world that hates Jesus Christ, and so they would hate His servants.a
This part of the message is directed to them as His disciples and so we can expect the same for any who follow Jesus Christ. He promises persecution in the legal (courts), religious (synagogues), and political realms (before governors and kings). They will even be betrayed by their own family. But the one who truly believes in Jesus Christ will endure to the end, and will be saved.
The persecution will come, but He gave two instructions. First, He promised the Holy Spirit will be with us, giving us the words to say when we need it.b This doesn’t remove the need to study His Word and to prepare for how to speak. But He does promise that the Spirit will direct us with what to say when the time comes.
The second instruction is to flee to the next town. The point is not that we need to run in fear, but rather, do not let opposition stop us from proclaiming His message. The Jewish nation will not fully receive the Gospel until after He returns again.c
He instructs them to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We are to act with wisdom, taking every possible advantage. We are to be shrewd, and not impulsive nor belligerent. Remember that their hostility toward Jesus’ followers stems from their hatred of Jesus Christ Himself.
But we are also to be innocent as doves. We are not to break God’s law. We are to show faithfulness and truth at all times.
“Jesus would not have His followers under any illusion as to what was involved in representing Him among a people who had in the past slain the prophets and spurned their entreaties to return unto the Lord.” – H.A. Ironside2
“The more like Christ you are, the more they will treat you like they treated Christ.” – John MacArthur8
When there is trouble: What side are you on?
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
The followers of Jesus Christ will experience persecution. You will face opposition from the legal, religious, and political enemies. But in the face of these enemies, with all of the horrible things that they can do to you, Jesus says, “have no fear of them”.
Have no fear of them. It is easy to say “Don’t be afraid,” when you are sitting in your comfortable study, but how can we really be fearless when faced with some of the horrible persecutions that we can barely read about?
It is important to remember that the same word for fear, phobeō (φοβέω), can also be translated as “awe” or “respect”. This is the same word in the Bible for when we are to fear God (Luke 23:40, 2 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Peter 2:17). It doesn’t mean, when we fear God, that we should run and be afraid of what God will do to us, but rather that we should treat Him with awe and respect. We owe our allegiance to God Himself!
In this way, Jesus is telling His disciples not to follow or respect those who would persecute them. Those who oppose Jesus Christ do not accord the respect of His followers.
But Jesus then makes this command more direct. In the world of opposition to Him, we must choose sides. Which side will we be on?
He reveals secrets
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
Do not fear your persecutors, for all secrets and hidden agendas will come to light. This is both an encouragement and a warning: their secrets will be shown, but so will our secrets and hidden agendas. If you harbor a hidden agenda in the face of persecution, know that it will be exposed. But likewise, the hidden agendas of your persecutors will also come to light.
The Gospel will expose the secrets and the darkness of men’s hearts. It is not our job to try and draw out everyone’s secrets, but instead we are to preach the Gospel. We are to preach openly what we learned in quiet solitude.
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
He has power over both your body and your soul
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Who should we fear more? The one who can kill us, or the one who can both kill us and destroy our soul in hell? As terrible as human persecution can be, it is nothing compared to the power of the almighty God!
“There is that in man which disease cannot affect, which the assassin’s weapon cannot destroy. Man cannot kill the soul. God will deal with the soul of man in His own infinite righteousness.” – H.A. Ironside2
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
He knows and values you
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Our Father knows all of our intimate details — even down to each hair on our head. He knows the entire lifespan of each insignificant bird, and we are much more valuable than them! Therefore, do not be afraid! (See also here).
Not only does God have all knowledge, but He has all control. Even the smallest sparrow cannot die without His control. He is totally sovereign! Therefore, do not be afraid!
“When He protects His own, He protects them down to the individual hairs (Luke 21:18). There is no need for us to fear when God is exercising such wonderful care over us.” – Warren Wiersbe3
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
He reflects our devotion before the Father
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
This warning is sobering. In the face of persecution, if we acknowledge Jesus Christ, He will also acknowledge us before God the Father. But if we deny Him, then He will also deny us before the Father.d
“One day we shall stand before His judgment seat, where the rewards will be distributed (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10). If we have denied Him, we will lose rewards and the joy of hearing His ‘Well done.’” – Warren Wiersbe3
Even in the face of intense persecution, what side are you on?
2 Timothy 2:11-13
The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself
Don’t expect peace: There will be conflicts
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
To follow Him means that you will face opposition. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will not bring peace but conflicts, even among family members. In the presence of the Gospel, your closest relationships will become your enemies.
But when you face conflicts within your own family, know that Jesus Christ is more important than even your closest relationships. He makes the case even stronger in Luke 14, where Jesus says that you need to hate your own family by comparison before you can become His disciple:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
And finally, long before He even began to teach about the cross, He said, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” No one yet knew that He would be crucified when He used this analogy, but if you are going to follow Jesus Christ, then you need to be prepared to die in the most humiliating way possible. That is what is means to follow Him!
“To ‘carry the cross’ does not mean to wear a pin on our lapel or put a sticker on our automobile. It means to confess Christ and obey Him in spite of shame and suffering. It means to die to self daily.” – Warren Wiersbe3
Future rewards: Those who help you will be rewarded
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
But you will also receive help along the way. God promises that He will reward those who help His disciples, and the reward is commensurate to the amount of respect accorded to them. But even the smallest help — even a cup of cold water — will be rewarded!
When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
Mark Twain added a bitter statement to his book, “The Mysterious Stranger”. When confronted with a statement based on Matthew 10:29, that not even a sparrow falls without God seeing it, Twain’s character then responds with, “But it falls, just the same. What’s the good of seeing it fall?”
How often do we think that? What use is it if God knows all about us, yet we still fall?
Jesus never said that we would not experience problems. See only the book of Job (See also the post here). He doesn’t say here that you need to follow Him because then it will be easy. He doesn’t even say that things will work out better if you follow Him. On the contrary, once you follow Him you can expect persecution, opposition, and conflicts. But in the end, which side will you choose?
If you turn away from Jesus Christ and deny Him, then you lose everything. But if you stay with Him through the persecutions, through the opposition, and through the conflicts, He promises to be with you. He will provide you help along the way.
And may we echo the words of Paul at the end of our lives, I have fought the fight. I have finished the race.
“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“A life laid down for His glory is a life saved. A life given to the service of sin or of self is a life wasted. No sacrifice should be too great for Him who gave Himself for us.” – H.A. Ironside2
1 Peter 3:13-16
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Previous Post: The Twelve Messengers
 Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 10:1-11:1, pages 136-144
 H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 10, The King’s Couriers
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 10, pages 30-33
 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III, CHAPTER XXVII: SECOND VISIT TO NAZARETH, THE MISSION OF THE TWELVE (St. Matthew 13:54-58; 10:1, 5-42; 11:1; St. Mark 6:1-13; St. Luke 9:1-6.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.xxvii.html
 Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 8, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/15-the-unpardonable-sin-and-a-shift-to-parables.html
 John MacArthur, Sheep Among Wolves, Part 1, Matthew 10:16-23, Jun 21, 1981
 John MacArthur, Sheep Among Wolves, Part 2, Matthew 10:16-23, Jun 28, 1981
 John MacArthur, Christlikeness: The Goal of Discipleship, Matthew 10:24-25, Jul 5, 1981
 John MacArthur, The Hallmarks of Discipleship, Part 1, Matthew 10:26-31, Jul 12, 1981
 John MacArthur, The Hallmarks of Discipleship, Part 2, Matthew 10:32-33, Aug 23, 1981
 John MacArthur, The Hallmarks of Discipleship, Part 3, Matthew 10:34-42, Aug 30, 1981
[a] “According to Jewish thought, Beelzebub (a Philistine word probably) was the chief of the demons.” – H.A. Ironside2
[b] Jesus gave a preview of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this discourse. He taught in much more detail about the Holy Spirit at the close of His ministry in John 14-16 (see here).
[c] There are several interpretations of the statement, “for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23):
- Some have interpreted this in the context of the apostles’ current preaching tour through Galilee, where Jesus is currently sending them. In this sense, the message would be that their preaching tour would not be finished before He came to get them. The problem with this interpretation is that He has already expanded His instructions past the immediate tour. The context is about enduring through persecution, which will come later.
- Some have looked for an intermediate event to represent the time that “the Son of Man comes”. These interpretations usually look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the start of the church at Pentecost. The problem with this interpretation is that none of these events fit with the return of Jesus Christ. These are incredible events in the life of God’s people, but they are not the times of His coming.
- There are a lot of similarities between these words and the Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21). Those who see the Mount Olivet Discourse as only a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (in AD 70) also see the “Son of Man comes” as part of the Jerusalem catastrophe. Therefore, they see this destruction as a picture of His returning. Jesus would therefore be telling them that they would not complete the task before the Romans destroy Jerusalem. The problem with this interpretation is that, although the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s judgement, there is more to His coming than simply destruction and massacre.
- I would hold to the final explanation, that this is about the second coming of Jesus Christ, an event which is still to come. This is indeed a close parallel to the Mount Olivet Discourse (see above), but like that Discourse, this is about future events and not simply the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus is therefore telling them that the Gospel will not be fully preached to the Jews until after His second coming. We will study the Mount Olivet Discourse more fully when we get to Matthew 24. See also the post on Daniel 7 here.
[d] 2 Timothy 2:11-13 gives more detail that Jesus will deny us before the Father when we deny Him. However, this passage also confidently asserts that He is faithful even when we are faithless. Therefore, we are not cast away from God when we deny Him. Our relationship with God is broken but we are not removed by disobeying Him (See also John 10:28-29).