I recently was studying Matthew 10:1-31, and found the context/background information interesting, and thought I would share it. It’s the account of the first time Christ commissioned the 12 disciples to go out and preach the Gospel.
Matthew 10 should not be confused with the “Great Commission.” This account is of an earlier commissioning of the 12 for a short-term mission. There is some discussion as to how far along in Christ’s ministry this takes place, it seems to be well into His Galilean ministry, but at least in the first half of His 3 ½ year ministry.
The account in Matthew 10 is recorded in two parallel passages – Mark 6:7-11, and Luke 9:1-5, but Matthew 10 gives the fullest account.
Matthew 10 is the first time Matthew refers to the “12” disciples as such. It is implied that they were already a group prior to this, but this is the first explicit reference to them as a distinct group.
It’s also the only time Matthew uses the term “Apostle.” We often think about the fact that apostle means “sent one” or “sent out ones,” and leave it at that; but really, it’s more than that – it’s more weighty than that… an apostle is someone who represents someone else to the degree of having their authority… like an ambassador, what the apostle says or does, is to be accepted as though the one whom they represent (in this case, Jesus) was himself saying it.
Just prior to this commission, Jesus has been traveling around Galilee (9:1), preaching the “gospel of the Kingdom” (9:35) in every town. This was the same message John the Baptist preached, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
WORKERS ARE FEW:
What’s going on right before Matthew 10 is that Jesus was basically modeling the ministry His apostles were going to continue – He was teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news, healing every disease and sickness.
But then He says to His disciples that the harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. So this leads into chapter 10, where He actually commissions and sends them as those much-needed workers.
ONLY TO ISRAEL:
In chapter 10 verse 6, we read that the disciples were not to go to any Gentile or Samaritan towns, but only to preach to the house of Israel. That is, not that Jesus ever rejected gentiles or Samaritans – we see Him accepting them graciously as well – but the Kingdom of God was being offered to Israel, it was to belong to Israel, and it wasn’t until the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, that the message was then explicitly carried on to Gentiles as Gentiles (with no need to convert to Judaism) as well.
SHORT TERM MISSION:
It’s important to remember that the immediate context is that Jesus is giving instructions for a short-term evangelistic mission. This is important because it helps us understand a couple things Jesus says to His disciples, such as instructing them to only go to Jewish towns, and the things he tells them to take/not take.
The need to travel light (no extra shirt/shoes/money etc.) is a function of this short-term aspect and the urgency of the immediate mission. Later, we do see Jesus directing the disciples to buy swords, make sure they have enough money, take a pack, etc. (Luke 22:35-37).
The other thing that’s really interesting is verse 14, where Jesus says that if anyone doesn’t accept the message, to leave that town, and shake off the dust from your feet. The Jews considered themselves defiled by the dust of a heathen country. So, to shake the dust of any city of Israel off of one’s clothing or feet was an emblematical action, signifying a renunciation of any further connection with them, and placing them on a level with the cities of the heathen nations. Jesus is saying, “if they don’t accept the message, just move on.” The Jews should have known enough Scripture to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, so if they reject the apostles’ message, it’s not because they don’t understand something well enough, it’s because they are knowingly rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. That’s why Jesus says in verse 15 that it will be worse for them than Sodom and Gomorrah – it’s because of that level of revelation to which they have been exposed that makes them even more accountable.
The more truth you are aware of, the more accountable you are for your response to that truth.
While Jesus is giving instructions for the immediate short-term mission, there are also some instructions regarding what it will be like to be a disciple of Christ in general, even after Jesus is gone – after the resurrection – which would apply to us today as well. I encourage you to study this passage further, and pursue a deeper level of discipleship!