1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” – Matthew 10:1-15 ESV
Jesus had just challenged His disciples to be in prayer: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV). This statement was likely expressed to the growing number of people who had chosen to follow Jesus. The term “disciple” was often used by Jesus to refer to more than just His 12 hand-picked followers. But immediately after issuing His invitation for all to pray for laborers, Jesus began the process of equipping His 12 disciples for their future role as those laborers.
Matthew provides us with the names of the 12 men whom Jesus had personally called. These were not random individuals who had showed up somewhere along the way, but the men whom Jesus had personally sought out and to whom He had extended the invitation, “Follow me.” This was a rather motley group of men, made up of common fishermen, a tax collector, and an assortment of other nondescript and unimpressive individuals. They did not come from the ranks of the rich and the elite. They were not highly educated or influential. None were members of any of the Jewish religious sects such as the Pharisees and Essenes. They didn’t rub shoulders with the Sadducees, the prominent Jewish political party of their day. Only Simon, designated as “the Zealot,” had any known affiliation with an established group with political aspirations. The Zealots were a grass-roots political movement with strong anti-Roman sentiments. For the most part, these men were ordinary and unimpressive. But they had each been hand-picked by Jesus.
Now, He was preparing to send them out. And Matthew clearly conveys that Jesus equipped them for their coming mission by giving “them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1 ESV). There is no indication that these men had possessed this kind of power before. Up until this point in any of the gospel narratives, there are no reports of the disciples having healed anyone from anything. They had been mere spectators, watching Jesus display His God-ordained, Spirit-enabled power and confirming His divine authority on earth.
That Jesus “gave them authority” indicates that it was His to give. He had the right to share this power with them. And Matthew provides us with no insight into what this bestowal of power might have looked like. There is no description of any accompanying physical manifestation. Unlike the day of Jesus’ baptism, there was no sign of a dove descending on the disciples. And unlike the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon all of these men, except Judas, there were no tongues of fire present.
Matthew provides us with a subtle, yet highly significant bit of information. It is an important point of differentiation. He starts out describing these men as “his twelve disciples,” but then, when listing their names, he calls them “the twelve apostles.” This is the first time in the gospel accounts when this designation is used. The word “apostle” simply means “one who is sent.” It conveys the idea of someone carrying a message on behalf of another.
More than three years later, Jesus would tell 11 of these same men that they were about to become His messengers again. And they would have a permanent source of power to enable them in their mission.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 ESV
But at this point in the gospel story, Jesus was preparing His 12 apostles or messengers to venture out into the world so that they might experience firsthand what their future role would be like. And Mark indicates that Jesus sent these men out in pairs (Mark 6:7), and Luke adds that they were given very specific instructions:
“Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” – Luke 9:3-5 ESV
Matthew provides further details regarding Jesus’ instructions, adding that they were to focus their efforts on the Jewish communities, avoiding any Gentile regions or those occupied by the Samaritans. They were to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6 ESV). The restrictive nature of Jesus’ command ties directly back to the statement recorded by Matthew in the preceding verses.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36-37 ESV
Jesus had been teaching in the synagogues, a clear reference to the Jews. He had been visiting their cities and villages, performing miracles and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. But He had been disturbed by what He saw, people who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So, He sent His 12 Jewish apostles or messengers into the field that was ripe unto harvest. He provided them with authority to display the power of God among the chosen people of God – the Jews.
But while He gave them the power to perform miracles, He also gave them a message to convey to the people of Israel: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7 ESV). That was to be their primary responsibility. This was the very same message that John the Baptist had proclaimed. And it was the message on which Jesus had begun His own earthly ministry.
The miracles were meant to provide proof of their authority to proclaim this message of the kingdom. Each time they healed or cast out a demon, it would display their God-given power to speak on His behalf. And yet, Jesus seems to warn them that the reception to their message was going to be less-than-ideal.
“…if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” – Matthew 10:14 ESV
People would love the miracles they performed, even offering to pay for them, but the disciples were to accept nothing for their efforts. This was to be a God-ordained, God-provisioned initiative, where all their needs were met by Him. Jesus knew that the disciples would be tempted to downplay the message of the kingdom and focus all their attention on their newfound ability to perform miracles. The allure of the spectacular would overshadow the truly life-changing message of the gospel.
It seems that the number of “worthy” individuals they would encounter along the way would be small. For the most part, they would find people enamored with their miracles but turned off by their message. The majority of the Jews with whom they came in contact would long to see the power of God on display, but reject the news that the Son of God had descended. The presence of miracles would take precedence over the appearance of the Messiah.
In a way, Jesus was giving His disciples first-hand experience with the stubborn hearts of their own people. Jesus had come to the Jews. He had been born a Jew, but as the apostle, John stated, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). This was going to be a painful lesson for the disciples and they would not learn it all at once. It would take years for them to grasp that Jesus, though the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews, had come to be the Savior of the world. And, as John further states, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV).
And Jesus must have shocked His disciples when He announced that any town that refused to receive them and their message would find themselves suffering a fate worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” – Matthew 10:15 ESV
Gladly accepting the miracles of God while rejecting the Messiah of God was going to leave these communities and their inhabitants facing the future judgment of God. Their refusal to recognize Jesus as the chosen one of God would result in their judgment at the hand of God. And, as John made clear, the Jews, the chosen people of God, would refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.