Matthew 10
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
Chapter 10

This chapter is an ordination sermon, which our Lord Jesus preached, when he advanced his twelve disciples to the degree and dignity of apostles. In the close of the foregoing chapter, he had stirred up them and others to pray that God would send forth labourers, and here we have an immediate answer to that prayer: while they are yet speaking he hears and performs. What we pray for, according to Christ’s direction, shall be given, Now here we have, I. The general commission that was given them (v. 1). II. The names of the persons to whom this commission was given (v. 2-4). III. The instructions that were given them, which are very full and particular; 1. Concerning the services they were to do; their preaching; their working miracles; to whom they must apply themselves; how they must behave themselves; and in what method they must proceed (v. 5–15). 2. Concerning the sufferings they were to undergo. They are told what they should suffer, and from whom; counsels are given them what course to take when persecuted, and encouragements to bear up cheerfully under their sufferings (v. 16–42). These things, though primarily intended for direction to the apostles, are of use to all Christ’s ministers, with whom, by his word, Christ, and will be always to end the world.

Verses 1-4

Here we are told, I. Who they were that Christ ordained to be his apostles or ambassadors; they were his disciples, v. 1. He had called them some time before to be disciples, his immediate followers and constant attendants, and he then told them that they should be made fishers of men, which promise he now performed. Note, Christ commonly confers honours and graces by degrees; the light of both, like that of the morning, shines more and more. All this while Christ had kept these twelve,

1. In a state of probation. Though he knows what is in man, though he knew from the first what was in them (Jn. 6:70), yet he took this method to give an example to his church. Note, The ministry being a great trust, it is fit that men should be tried for a time, before they are entrusted with it. Let them first be proved, 1 Tim. 3:10. Therefore, hands must not be laid suddenly on any man, but let him first be observed as a candidate and probationer, a proposant (that is the term the French churches use), because some men’s sins go before, others follow, 1 Tim. 5:22.

2. In a state of preparation. All this while he had been fitting them for this great work. Note, Those whom Christ intends for, and calls to, any work, he first prepares and qualifies, in some measure, for it. He prepared them, (1.) By taking them to be with him. Note, The best preparative for the work of the ministry, is an acquaintance and communion with Jesus Christ. They that would serve Christ, must first be with him (Jn. 12:26). Paul had Christ revealed, not only to him, but in him, before he went to preach him among the Gentiles, Gal. 1:16. By the lively acts of faith, and the frequent exercise of prayer and meditation, that fellowship with Christ must be maintained and kept up, which is a requisite qualification for the work of the ministry. (2.) By teaching them; they were with him as scholars or pupils, and he taught them privately, besides the benefit they derived from his public preaching; he opened the scriptures to them, and opened their understandings to understand the scriptures: to them it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and to them they were made plain. Note, They that design to be teachers must first be learners; they must receive, that they may give; they must be able to teach others, 2 Tim. 2:2. Gospel truths must be first committed to them, before they be commissioned to be gospel ministers. To give men authority to teach others, that have not an ability, is but a mockery to God and the church; it is sending a message by the hand of a fool, Prov. 26:6. Christ taught his disciples before he sent them forth (ch. 5:2), and afterwards, when he enlarged their commission, he gave them more ample instructions, Acts 1:3.

II. What the commission was that he gave them.

1. He called them to him, v. 1. He had called them to come after him before; now he calls them to come to him, admits them to a greater familiarity, and will not have them to keep at such a distance as they had hitherto observed. They that humble themselves shall thus be exalted. The priests under the law were said to draw near and approach unto God, nearer than the people; the same may be said of gospel ministers; they are called to draw near to Christ, which, as it is an honour, so should strike an awe upon them, remembering that Christ will be sanctified in those that come nigh unto him. It is observable, that when the disciples were to be instructed, they came unto him of their own accord, ch. 5:1. But now they were to be ordained, he called them. Note, It well becomes the disciples of Christ to be more forward to learn than to teach. In the sense of our own ignorance, we must seek opportunities to be taught; and in the same sense we must wait for a call, a clear call, ere we take upon us to teach others; for no man ought to take this honour to himself.

2. He gave them power, exousian, authority in his name, to command men to obedience, and for the confirmation of that authority, to command devils too into a subjection. Note, All rightful authority is derived from Jesus Christ. All power is given to him without limitation, and the subordinate powers that be are ordained of him. Some of his honour he put on his ministers, as Moses put some of his on Joshua. Note, It is an undeniable proof of the fulness of power which Christ used as Mediator, that he could impart his power to those he employed, and enable them to work the same miracles that he wrought in his name. He gave them power over unclean spirits, and over all manner of sickness. Note, The design of the gospel was to conquer the devil and to cure the world. These preachers were sent out destitute of all external advantages to recommend them; they had no wealth, nor learning, nor titles of honour, and they made a very mean figure; it was therefore requisite that they should have some extraordinary power to advance them above the scribes.

(1.) He gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out. Note, The power that is committed to the ministers of Christ, is directly levelled against the devil and his kingdom. The devil, as an unclean spirit, is working both in doctrinal errors (Rev. 16:13), and in practical debauchery (2 Pt. 2:10); and in both these, ministers have a charge against him. Christ gave them power to cast him out of the bodies of people; but that was to signify the destruction of his spiritual kingdom, and all the works of the devil; for which purpose the Son of God was manifested.

(2.) He gave them power to heal all manner of sickness. He authorized them to work miracles for the confirmation of their doctrine, to prove that it was of God; and they were to work useful miracles for the illustration of it, to prove that it is not only faithful, but well worthy of all acceptation; that the design of the gospel is to heal and save. Moses’s miracles were many of them for destruction; those Mahomet pretended to, were for ostentation; but the miracles Christ wrought, and appointed his apostles to work, were all for edification, and evince him to be, not only the great Teacher and Ruler, but the great Redeemer, of the world. Observe what an emphasis is laid upon the extent of their power to all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease, without the exception even of those that are reckoned incurable, and the reproach of physicians. Note, In the grace of the gospel there is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady. There is no spiritual disease so malignant, so inveterate, but there is a sufficiency of power in Christ, for the cure of it. Let none therefore say there is no hope, or that the breach is wide as the sea, that cannot be healed.

III. The number and names of those that were commissioned; they are made apostles, that is, messengers. An angel, and an apostle, both signify the same thing—one sent on an errand, an ambassador. All faithful ministers are sent of Christ, but they that were first, and immediately, sent by him, are eminently called apostles, the prime ministers of state in his kingdom. Yet this was but the infancy of their office; it was when Christ ascended on high that he gave some apostles, Eph. 4:11. Christ himself is called an apostle (Heb. 3:1), for he was sent by the Father, and so sent them, Jn. 20:21. The prophets were called God’s messengers.

1. Their number was twelve, referring to the number of the tribes of Israel, and the sons of Jacob that were the patriarchs of those tribes. The gospel church must be the Israel of God; the Jews must be first invited into it; the apostles must be spiritual fathers, to beget a seed to Christ. Israel after the flesh is to be rejected for their infidelity; these twelve, therefore, are appointed to be the fathers of another Israel. These twelve, by their doctrine, were to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, Lu. 22:30. These were the twelve stars that made up the church’s crown (Rev. 12:1): the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12, 14), typified by the twelve precious stones in Aaron’s breast-plate, the twelve loaves on the table of show-bread, the twelve wells of water at Elim. This was that famous jury (and to make it a grand jury, Paul was added to it) that was impanelled to enquire between the King of kings, and the body of mankind; and, in this chapter, they have their charge given them, by him to whom all judgment was committed.

2. Their names are here left upon record, and it is their honour; yet in this they had more reason to rejoice, that their names were written in heaven (Lu. 10:20), while the high and mighty names of the great ones of the earth are buried in the dust. Observe,

(1.) There are some of these twelve apostles, of whom we know no more, from the scripture, than their names; as Bartholomew, and Simon the Canaanite; and yet they were faithful servants to Christ and his church. Note, all the good ministers of Christ are not alike famous, nor their actions alike celebrated.

(2.) They are names by couples; for at first they were sent forth two and two, because two are better than one; they would be serviceable to each other, and the more serviceable jointly to Christ and souls; what one forgot the other would remember, and out of the mouth of two witnesses every word would be established. Three couple of them were brethren; Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the other James and Lebbeus. Note, Friendship and fellowship ought to be kept up among relations, and to be made serviceable to religion. It is an excellent thing, when brethren by nature are brethren by grace, and those two bonds strengthen each other.

(3.) Peter is named first, because he was first called; or because he was the most forward among them, and upon all occasions made himself the mouth of the rest, and because he was to be the apostle of the circumcision; but that gave him no power over the rest of the apostles, nor is there the least mark of any supremacy that was given to him, or ever claimed by him, in this sacred college.

(4.) Matthew, the penman of this gospel, is here joined with Thomas (v. 3), but in two things there is a variation from the accounts of Mark and Luke, Mk. 3:18; Lu. 6:15. There, Matthew is put first; in that order it appears he was ordained before Thomas; but here, in his own catalogue, Thomas is put first. Note, It well becomes the disciples of Christ in honour to prefer one another. There, he is only called Matthew, here Matthew the publican, the toll-gatherer or collector of the customs, who was called from that infamous employment to be an apostle. Note, It is good for those who are advanced to honour with Christ, to look unto the rock whence they were hewn; often to remember what they were before Christ called them, that thereby they may be kept humble, and divine grace may be the more glorified. Matthew the apostle was Matthew the publican.

(5.) Simon is called the Canaanite, or rather the Canite, from Cana of Galilee, where probably he was born; or Simon the Zealot, which some make to be the signification of Kananiteµs.

(6.) Judas Iscariot is always named last, and with that black brand upon his name, who also betrayed him; which intimates that from the first, Christ knew what a wretch he was, that he had a devil, and would prove a traitor; yet Christ took him among the apostles, that it might not be a surprise and discouragement to his church, if, at any time, the vilest scandals should break out in the best societies. Such spots there have been in our feasts of charity; tares among the wheat, wolves among the sheep; but there is a day of discovery and separation coming, where hypocrites shall be unmasked and discarded. Neither the apostleship, nor the rest of the apostles, were ever the worse for Judas’s being one of the twelve, while his wickedness was concealed and did not break out.

These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
Verses 5-15

We have here the instructions that Christ gave to his disciples, when he gave them their commission. Whether this charge was given them in a continued discourse, or the several articles of it hinted to them at several times, is not material; in this he commanded them. Jacob’s blessing his sons, is called his commanding them, and with these commands Christ commanded a blessing. Observe,

I. The people to whom he sent them. These ambassadors are directed what places to go to.

1. Not to the Gentiles nor the Samaritans. They must not go into the way of the Gentiles, nor into any road out of the land of Israel, whatever temptations they might have. The Gentiles must not have the gospel brought them, till the Jews have first refused it. As to the Samaritans, who were the posterity of the mongrel people that the king of Assyria planted about Samaria, their country lay between Judea and Galilee, so that they could not avoid going into the way of the Samaritans, but they must not enter into any of their cities. Christ had declined manifesting himself to the Gentiles or Samaritans, and therefore the apostles must not preach to them. If the gospel be hid from any place, Christ thereby hides himself from that place. This restraint was upon them only in their first mission, afterwards they were appointed to go into all the world, and teach all nations.

2. But to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. To them Christ appropriated his own ministry (ch. 15:24), for he was a minister of the circumcision (Rom. 15:8): and, therefore, to them the apostles, who were but his attendants and agents, must be confined. The first offer of salvation must be made to the Jews, Acts 3:26. Note, Christ had a particular and very tender concern for the house of Israel; they were beloved for the fathers’ sakes, Rom. 11:28. He looked with compassion upon them as lost sheep, whom he, as a shepherd, was to gather out of the by-paths of sin and error, into which they were gone astray, and in which, if not brought back, they would wander endlessly; see Jer. 2:6. The Gentiles also had been as lost sheep, 1 Pt. 2:25. Christ gives this description of those to whom they were sent, to quicken them to diligence in their work, they were sent to the house of Israel (of which number they themselves lately were), whom they could not but pity, and be desirous to help.

II. The preaching work which he appointed them. He did not send them forth without an errand; no, As ye go, preach, v. 7. They were to be itinerant preachers: wherever they come they must proclaim the beginning of the gospel, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Not that they must say nothing else, but this must be their text; on this subject they must enlarge: let people know, that the kingdom of the Messiah, who is the Lord from heaven, is now to be set up according to the scriptures; from whence it follows, that men must repent of their sins and forsake them, that they might be admitted to the privileges of that kingdom. It is said (Mk. 6:12), they went out, and preached that men should repent; which was the proper use and application of this doctrine, concerning the approach of the kingdom of heaven. They must, therefore, expect to hear more of this long-looked-for Messiah shortly, and must be ready to receive his doctrine, to believe in him, and to submit to his yoke. The preaching of this was like the morning light, to give notice of the approach of the rising sun. How unlike was this to the preaching of Jonah, which proclaimed ruin at hand! Jonah 3:4. This proclaims salvation at hand, nigh them that fear God; mercy and truth meet together (Ps. 85:9, 10), that is, the kingdom of heaven at hand: not so much the personal presence of the king; that must not be doated upon; but a spiritual kingdom which is to be set up, when his bodily presence is removed, in the hearts of men.

Now this was the same that John the Baptist and Christ had preached before. Note, People need to have good truths pressed again and again upon them, and if they be preached and heard with new affections, they are as if they were fresh to us. Christ, in the gospel, is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, Heb. 13:8. Afterwards, indeed, when the Spirit was poured out, and the Christian church was formed, this kingdom of heaven came, which was now spoken of as at hand; but the kingdom of heaven must still be the subject of our preaching: now it is come, we must tell people it is come to them, and must lay before them the precepts and privileges of it; and there is a kingdom of glory yet to come, which we must speak of as at hand, and quicken people to diligence from the consideration of that.

III. The power he gave them to work miracles for the confirmation of their doctrine, v. 8. When he sent them to preach the same doctrine that he had preached, he empowered them to confirm it, by the same divine seals, which could never be set to a lie. This is not necessary now the kingdom of God is come; to call for miracles now is to lay again the foundation when the building is reared. The point being settled, and the doctrine of Christ sufficiently attested, by the miracles which Christ and his apostles wrought, it is tempting God to ask for more signs. They are directed here,

1. To use their power in doing good: not "Go and remove mountains," or "fetch fire from heaven," but, Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers. They are sent abroad as public blessings, to intimate to the world, that love and goodness were the spirit and genius of that gospel which they came to preach, and of that kingdom which they were employed to set up. By this it would appear, that they were the servants of that God who is good and does good, and whose mercy is over all his works; and that the intention of the doctrine they preached, was to heal sick souls, and to raise those that were dead in sin; and therefore, perhaps, that of raising the dead is mentioned; for though we read not of their raising any to life before the resurrection of Christ, yet they were instrumental to raise many to spiritual life.

2. In doing good freely; Freely ye heave received, freely give. Those that had power to heal all diseases, had an opportunity to enrich themselves; who would not purchase such easy certain cures at any rate? Therefore they are cautioned not to make a gain of the power they had to work miracles: they must cure gratis, further to exemplify the nature and complexion of the gospel kingdom, which is made up, not only of grace, but of free grace. Gratia gratis data (Rom. 3:24), freely by his grace, Buy medicines without money, and without price, Isa. 55:1. And the reason is, because freely you have received. Their power to heal the sick cost them nothing, and, therefore, they must not make any secular advantage to themselves of it. Simon Magus would not have offered money for the gifts of the Holy Ghost, if he had not hoped to get money by them; Acts 8:18. Note, The consideration of Christ’s freeness in doing good to us, should make us free in doing good to others.

IV. The provision that must be made for them in this expedition; it is a thing to be considered in sending an ambassador, who must bear the charge of the embassy. As to that,

1. They must make no provision for it themselves, v. 9, 10. Provide neither gold nor silver. As, on the one hand, they shall not raise estates by their work, so, on the other hand, they shall not spend what little they have of their own upon it. This was confined to the present mission, and Christ would teach them, (1.) To act under the conduct of human prudence. They were now to make but a short excursion, and were soon to return to their Master, and to their head-quarters again, and, therefore, why should they burthen themselves with that which they would have no occasion for? (2.) To act in dependence upon Divine Providence. They must be taught to live, without taking thought for life, ch. 6:25, etc. Note, They who go upon Christ’s errand, have, of all people, most reason to trust him for food convenient. Doubtless he will not be wanting to those that are working for him. Those whom he employs, as they are taken under special protection, so they are entitled to special provisions. Christ’s hired servants shall have bread enough and to spare; while we abide faithful to God and our duty, and are in care to do our work well, we may cast all our other care upon God; Jehovah-jireh, let the Lord provide for us and ours as he thinks fit.

2. They might expect that those to whom they were sent would provide for them what was necessary, v. 10. The workman is worthy of his meat. They must not expect to be fed by miracles, as Elijah was: but they might depend upon God to incline the hearts of those they went among, to be kind to them, and provide for them. Though they who serve at the altar may not expect to grow rich by the altar, yet they may expect to live, and to live comfortably upon it, 1 Co. 9:13, 14. It is fit they should have their maintenance from their work. Ministers are, and must be, workmen, labourers, and they that are so are worthy of their meat, so as not to be forced to any other labour for the earning of it. Christ would have his disciples, as not to distrust their God, so not to distrust their countrymen, so far as to doubt of a comfortable subsistence among them. If you preach to them, and endeavour to do good among them, surely they will give you meat and drink enough for your necessities: and if they do, never desire dainties; God will pay you your wages hereafter, and it will be running on in the mean time.

V. The proceedings they were to observe in dealing with any place, v. 11–15. They went abroad they knew not whither, uninvited, unexpected, knowing none, and known of none; the land of their nativity was to them a strange land; what rule must they go by? what course must they take? Christ would not send them out without full instructions, and here they are.

1. They are here directed how to conduct themselves toward those that were strangers to them; How to do,

(1.) In strange towns and cities: when you come to a town, enquire who in it is worthy. [1.] It is supposed that there were some such in every place, as were better disposed than others to receive the gospel, and the preachers of it; though it was a time of general corruption and apostasy. Note, In the worst of times and places, we may charitably hope that there are some who distinguish themselves, and are better than their neighbours; some who swim against the stream, and are as wheat among the chaff. There were saints in Nero’s household. Enquire who is worthy, who there are that have some fear of God before their eyes, and have made a good improvement of the light and knowledge they have. The best are far from meriting the favour of a gospel offer; but some would be more likely than others to give the apostles and their message a favourable entertainment, and would not trample these pearls under their feet. Note, Previous dispositions to that which is good, are both directions and encouragements to ministers, in dealing with people. There is most hope of the word being profitable to those who are already so well inclined, as that it is acceptable to them; and there is here and there one such. [2.] They must enquire out such; not enquire for the best inns; public houses were no proper places for them that neither took money with them (v. 9), nor expected to receive any (v. 8); but they must look out for accommodations in private houses, with those that would entertain them well, and expect no other recompence for it but a prophet’s reward, an apostle’s reward, their praying and preaching. Note, They that entertain the gospel, must neither grudge the expense of it, nor promise themselves to get by it in this world. They must enquire, not who is rich, but who is worthy; not who is the best gentleman, but who is the best man. Note, Christ’s disciples, wherever they come, should ask for the good people of the place, and be acquainted with them; when we took God for our God, we took his people for our people, and like will rejoice in its like. Paul in all his travels found out the brethren, if there were any, Acts 28:14. It is implied, that if they did enquire who was worthy, they might discover them. They that were better than their neighbours would be taken notice of, and any one could tell them, there lives an honest, sober, good man; for this is a character which, like the ointment of the right hand, betrays itself and fills the house with its odours. Every body knew where the seer’s house was, 1 Sa. 9:18. [3.] In the house of those they found worthy, they must continue; which intimates that they were to make so short a stay at each town, that they needed not change their lodging, but whatever house providence brought them to at first, there they must continue till they left that town. They are justly suspected, as having no good design, that are often changing their quarters. Note, It becomes the disciples of Christ to make the best of that which is, to abide by it, and not be for shifting upon every dislike or inconvenience.

(2.) In strange houses. When they had found the house of one they thought worthy, they must at their entrance salute it. "In those common civilities, be beforehand with people, in token of your humility. Think it not a disparagement, to invite yourselves into a house, nor stand upon the punctilio of being invited. Salute the family, [1.] To draw on further discourse, and so to introduce your message." (From matters of common conversation, we may insensibly pass into that communication which is good to the use of edifying.) [2.] "To try whether you are welcome or not; you will take notice whether the salutation be received with shyness and coldness, or with a ready return. He that will not receive your salutation kindly, will not receive your message kindly; for he that is unskilful and unfaithful in a little, will also be in much, Lu. 16:10. [3.] To insinuate yourselves into their good opinion. Salute the family, that they may see that though you are serious, you are not morose." Note, Religion teaches us to be courteous and civil, and obliging to all with whom we have to do. Though the apostles went out backed with the authority of the Son of God himself, yet their instructions were, when they came into a house, not to command it, but to salute it; for love’s sake rather to beseech, is the evangelical way, Philemon 8, 9. Souls are first drawn to Christ with the cords of a man, and kept to him by the bands of love, Hos. 11:4. When Peter made the first offer of the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile, Peter was first saluted; see Acts 10:25, for the Gentiles courted that which the Jews were courted to.

When they had saluted the family after a godly sort, they must by the return, judge concerning the family, and proceed accordingly. Note, The eye of God is upon us, to observe what entertainment we give to good people and good ministers; if the house be worthy, let your peace come and rest upon it; if not, let it return to you, v. 13. It seems then, that after they had enquired for the most worthy (v. 11), it was possible they might light upon those that were unworthy. Note, Though it is wisdom to hearken to, yet it is folly to rely upon, common report and opinion; we ought to use a judgment of discretion, and to see with our own eyes. The wisdom of the prudent is himself to understand his own way. Now this rule is intended,

First, For satisfaction to the apostles. The common salutation was, Peace be unto you; this, as they used it, was turned into gospel; it was the peace of God, the peace of the kingdom of heaven, that they wished. Now lest they should make a scruple of pronouncing this blessing upon all promiscuously, because many were utterly unworthy of it, this is to clear them of that scruple; Christ tells them that this gospel prayer (for so it was now become) should be put up for all, as the gospel proffer was made to all indefinitely, and that they should leave it to God who knows the heart, and every man’s true character, to determine the issue of it. If the house be worthy, it will reap the benefit of your blessing; if now, there is no harm done, you will not lose the benefit of it; it shall return to you, as David’s prayers for his ungrateful enemies did, Ps. 35:13. Note, It becomes us to judge charitably of all, to pray heartily for all, and to conduct ourselves courteously to all, for that is our part, and then to leave it with God to determine what effect it shall have upon them, for that is his part.

Secondly, For direction to them. "If, upon your salutation, it appear that they are indeed worthy, let them have more of your company, and so let your peace come upon them; preach the gospel to them, peace by Jesus Christ; but if otherwise, if they carry it rudely to you, and shut their doors against you, let your peace, as much as in you lies, return to you. Retract what you have said, and turn your backs upon them; by slighting this, they have made themselves unworthy of the rest of your favours, and cut themselves short of them." Note, Great blessings are often lost by a neglect seemingly small and inconsiderable, when men are in their probation and upon their behaviour. Thus Esau lost his birthright (Gen. 25:34), and Saul his kingdom, 1 Sa. 13:13, 14.

2. They are here directed how to carry it towards those that were refusers of them. The case is put (v. 14) of those that would not receive them, nor hear their words. The apostles might think, that now they had such a doctrine to preach, and such a power to work miracles for the confirmation of it, no doubt but they should be universally entertained and made welcome: they are, therefore, told before, that there would be those that would slight them, and put contempt on them and their message. Note, The best and most powerful preachers of the gospel must expect to meet with some, that will not so much as give them the hearing, nor show them any token of respect. Many turn a deaf ear, even to the joyful sound, and will not hearken to the voice of the charmers, charm they never so wisely. Observe, "They will not receive you, and they will not hear your words." Note, Contempt of the gospel, and contempt of gospel ministers, commonly go together, and they will either of them be construed into a contempt of Christ, and will be reckoned for accordingly.

Now in this case we have here,

(1.) The directions given to the apostles what to do. They must depart out of that house or city. Note, The gospel will not tarry long with those that put it away from them. At their departure they must shake off the dust of their feet, [1.] In detestation of their wickedness; it was so abominable, that it did even pollute the ground they went upon, which must therefore be shaken off as a filthy thing. The apostles must have no fellowship nor communion with them; must not so much as carry away the dust of their city with them. The work of them that turn aside shall not cleave to me, Ps. 101:3. The prophet was not to eat or drink in Bethel, 1 Ki. 13:9. [2.] As a denunciation of wrath against them. It was to signify, that they were base and vile as dust, and that God would shake them off. The dust of the apostles’ feet, which they left behind them, would witness against them, and be brought in as evidence, that the gospel had been preached to them, Mk. 6:11. Compare Jam. 5:3. See this practised, Acts 13:51, 18:6. Note, They who despise God and his gospel shall be lightly esteemed.

(2.) The doom passed upon such wilful recusants, v. 15. It shall be more tolerable, in the day of judgment, for the land of Sodom, as wicked a place as it was. Note, [1.] There is a day of judgment coming, when all those that refused the gospel will certainly be called to account for it; however they now make a jest of it. They that would not hear the doctrine that would save them, shall be made to hear the sentence that will ruin them. Their judgment is respited till that day. [2.] There are different degrees of punishment in that day. All the pains of hell will be intolerable; but some will be more so than others. Some sinners sink deeper into hell than others, and are beaten with more stripes. [3.] The condemnation of those that reject the gospel, will in that day be severer and heavier than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom is said to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, Jude 7. But that vengeance will come with an aggravation upon those that despise the great salvation. Sodom and Gomorrah were exceedingly wicked (Gen. 13:13), and that which filled up the measure of their iniquity was, that they received not the angels that were sent to them, but abused them (Gen. 19:4, 5), and hearkened not to their words, v. 14. And yet it will be more tolerable for them than for those who receive not Christ’s ministers and hearken not to their words. God’s wrath against them will be more flaming, and their own reflections upon themselves more cutting. Son, remember I will sound most dreadfully in the ears of such as had a fair offer made them of eternal life, and chose death rather. The iniquity of Israel, when God sent them his servants the prophets, is represented as, upon that account, more heinous than the iniquity of Sodom (Eze. 16:48, 49), much more now he sent them his Son, the great Prophet.

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Verses 16-42

All these verses relate to the sufferings of Christ’s ministers in their work, which they are here taught to expect, and prepare for; they are directed also how to bear them, and how to go on with their work in the midst of them. This part of the sermon looks further than to their present mission; for we find not that they met with any great hardships or persecutions while Christ was with them, nor were they well able to bear them; but they are here forewarned of the troubles they should meet with, when after Christ’s resurrection, their commission should be enlarged, and the kingdom of heaven, which was not at hand, should be actually set up; they dreamed of nothing then, but outward pomp and power; but Christ tells them, they must expect greater sufferings than they were yet called to; that they should then be made prisoners, when they expected to be made princes. It is good to be told what troubles we may hereafter meet with, that we may provide accordingly, and may not boast, as if we had put off the harness, when we are yet but girding it on.

We have here intermixed, I. Predictions of trouble: and, II. Prescriptions of counsel and comfort, with reference to it.

I. We have here predictions of trouble; which the disciples should meet with in their work: Christ foresaw their sufferings as well as his own, and yet will have them go on, as he went on himself; and he foretold them, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise to them, and so a shock to their faith, but that, being the accomplishment of a prediction, they might be a confirmation to their faith.

He tells them what they should suffer, and from whom.

1. What they should suffer: hard things to be sure; for, Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, v. 16. And what may a flock of poor, helpless, unguarded sheep expect, in the midst of a herd of ravenous wolves, but to be worried and torn? Note, Wicked men are like wolves, in whose nature it is to devour and destroy. God’s people, and especially his ministers, are like sheep among them, of a contrary nature and disposition, exposed to them, and commonly an easy prey to them. It looked unkind in Christ to expose them to so much danger, who had left all to follow him; but he knew that the glory reserved for his sheep, when in the great day they shall be set on his right hand, would be a recompence sufficient for sufferings as well as services. They are as sheep among wolves, that is frightful; but Christ sends them forth, that is comfortable; for he that sends them forth will protect them, and bear them out. But that they might know the worst, he tells them particularly what they must expect.

(1.) They must expect to be hated, v. 22. Ye shall be hated for my name’s sake: that is the root of all the rest, and a bitter root it is. Note, Those whom Christ loves, the world hates; as whom the court blesses the country curses. If the world hated Christ without a cause (Jn. 15:25), no marvel if it hated those that bore his image and served his interests. We hate what is nauseous, and they are counted as the offscouring of all things, 1 Co. 4:13. We hate what is noxious, and they are counted the troublers of the land (1 Ki. 18:17), and the tormentors of their neighbours, Rev. 11:10. It is grievous to be hated, and to be the object of so much ill-will, but it is for thy name’s sake; which, as it speaks the true reason of the hatred, whatever is pretended, so it speaks comfort to them who are thus hated; it is for a good cause, and they have a good friend that shares with them in it, and takes it to himself.

(2.) They must expect to be apprehended and arraigned as malefactors. Their restless malice is resistless malice, and they will not only attempt, but will prevail, to deliver you up to the councils (v. 17, 18), to the bench of aldermen or justices, that take care of the public peace. Note, A deal of mischief is often done to good men, under colour of law and justice. In the place of judgment there is wickedness, persecuting wickedness, Eccl. 3:16. They must look for trouble, not only from inferior magistrates in the councils, but from governors and kings, the supreme magistrates. To be brought before them, under such black representations as were commonly made of Christ’s disciples, was dreadful and dangerous; for the wrath of a king is as the roaring of a lion. We find this often fulfilled in the acts of the apostles.

(3.) They must expect to be put to death (v. 21); They shall deliver them to death, to death in state, with pomp and solemnity, when it shows itself most as the king of terrors. The malice of the enemies rages so high as to inflict this; it is the blood of the saints that they thirst after: the faith and patience of the saints stand so firm as to expect this; Neither count I my life dear to myself: the wisdom of Christ permits it, knowing how to make the blood of the martyrs the seal of the truth, and the seed of the church. By this noble army’s not loving their lives to the death, Satan has been vanquished, and the kingdom of Christ and its interests greatly advanced, Rev. 11:11. They were put to death as criminals, so the enemies meant it, but really as sacrifices (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6); as burnt offerings, sacrifices of acknowledgement to the honour of God, and in his truth and cause.

(4.) They must expect, in the midst of these sufferings, to be branded with the most odious and ignominious names and characters that could be. Persecutors would be ashamed in this world, if they did not first dress up those in bear-skins whom they thus bait, and represent them in such colours as may serve to justify such cruelties. The blackest of all the ill characters they give them is here stated; they call them Beelzebub, the name of the prince of the devils, v. 25. They represent them as ringleaders of the interest of the kingdom of darkness, and since every one thinks he hates the devil, thus they endeavour to make them odious to all mankind. See, and be amazed to see, how this world is imposed upon: [1.] Satan’s sworn enemies are represented as his friends; the apostles, who pulled down the devil’s kingdom, were called devils. Thus men laid to their charge, not only things which they knew not, but things which they abhorred, and were directly contrary to, and the reverse of. [2.] Satan’s sworn servants would be thought to be his enemies, and they never more effectually do his work, than when they pretend to be fighting against him. Many times they who themselves are nearest akin to the devil, are most apt to father others upon him; and those that paint him on others’ clothes have him reigning in their own hearts. It is well there is a day coming, when (as it follows here, v. 26) that which is hid will be brought to light.

(5.) These sufferings are here represented by a sword and division, v. 34, 35. Think not that I am come to send peace, temporal peace and outward prosperity; they thought Christ came to give all his followers wealth and power in the world; "no," says Christ, "I did not come with a view to give them peace; peace in heaven they may be sure of, but not peace on earth." Christ came to give us peace with God, peace in our consciences, peace with our brethren, but in the world ye shall have tribulation. Note, They mistake the design of the gospel, who think their profession of it will secure them from, for it will certainly expose them to, trouble in this world. If all the world would receive Christ, there would then follow a universal peace, but while there are and will be so many that reject him (and those not only the children of this world, but the seed of the serpent), the children of God, that are called out of the world, must expect to feel the fruits of their enmity.

[1.] Look not for peace, but a sword, Christ came to give the sword of the word, with which his disciples fight against the world, and conquering work this sword has made (Rev. 6:4; 19:21), and the sword of persecution, with which the world fights against the disciples, being cut to the heart with the sword of the word (Acts 7:54), and tormented by the testimony of Christ’s witnesses (Rev. 11:10), and cruel work this sword made. Christ sent that gospel, which gives occasion for the drawing of this sword, and so may be said to send this sword; he orders his church into a suffering state for the trial and praise of his people’s graces, and the filling up of the measure of their enemies’ sins.

[2.] Look not for peace, but division (v. 35), I am come to set men at variance. This effect of the preaching of the gospel is not the fault of the gospel, but of those who do not receive it. When some believe the things that are spoken, and others believe them not, the faith of those that believe condemns those that believe not, and, therefore, they have an enmity against them that believe. Note, the most violent and implacable feuds have ever been those that have arisen from difference in religion; no enmity like that of the persecutors, no resolution like that of the persecuted. Thus Christ tells his disciples what they should suffer, and these were hard sayings; if they could bear these, they could bear any thing. Note, Christ has dealt fairly and faithfully with us, in telling us the worst we can meet with in his service; and he would have us deal so with ourselves, in sitting down and counting the cost.

2. They are here told from whom, and by whom, they should suffer these hard things. Surely hell itself must be let loose, and devils, those desperate and despairing spirits, that have no part nor lot in the great salvation, must become incarnate, ere such spiteful enemies could be found to a doctrine, the substance of which was good will toward men, and the reconciling of the world to God; no, would you think it? all this mischief arises to the preachers of the gospel, from those to whom they came to preach salvation. Thus the blood-thirsty hate the upright, but the just seek his soul (Prov. 29:10), and therefore heaven is so much opposed on earth, because earth is so much under the power of hell, Eph. 2:2.

These hard things Christ’s disciples must suffer,

(1.) From men (v. 17). "Beware of men; you will have need to stand upon your guard, even against those who are of the same nature with you"—such is the depravity and degeneracy of that nature (homo homini lupus,—man is a wolf to man), crafty and politic as men, but cruel and barbarous as beasts, and wholly divested of the thing called humanity. Note, Persecuting rage and enmity turn men into brutes, into devils. Paul at Ephesus fought with beasts in the shape of men, 1 Co. 15:32. It is a sad pass that the world is come to, when the best friends it has, have need to beware of men. It aggravates the troubles of Christ’s suffering servants, that they arise from those who are bone of their bone, made of the same blood. Persecutors are, in this respect, worse than beasts, that they prey upon those of their own kind: Saevis inter se convenit ursis—Even savage bears agree among themselves. It is very grievous to have men rise up against us (Ps. 124), from whom we might expect protection and sympathy; men, and no more: mere men; men, and not saints; natural men (1 Co. 2:14); men of this world, Ps. 17:14. Saints are more than men, and are redeemed from among men, and therefore are hated by them. The nature of man, if it be not sanctified, is the worst nature in the world next to that of devils. They are men, and therefore subordinate, dependent, dying creatures; they are men, but they are but men (Ps. 9:20), and who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die? Isa. 51:12. Beware of the men, so Dr. Hammond; those you are acquainted with, the men of the Jewish sanhedrim, which disallowed Christ, 1 Pt. 2:4.

(2.) From professing men, men that have a form of godliness, and make a show of religion. They will scourge you in their synagogues, their places of meeting for the worship of God, and for the exercise of their church-discipline: so that they looked upon the scourging of Christ’s ministers to be a branch of their religion. Paul was five times scourged in the synagogues, 2 Co. 11:24. The Jews, under colour of zeal for Moses, were the most bitter persecutors of Christ and Christianity, and placed those outrages to the score of their religion. Note, Christ’s disciples have suffered much from conscientious persecutors, that scourge them in their synagogues, cast them out and kill them, and think they do God good service (Jn. 16:2), and say, Let the Lord be glorified, Isa. 66:5; Zec. 11:4, 5. But the synagogue will be so far from consecrating the persecution, that the persecution, doubtless, profanes and desecrates the synagogue.

(3.) From great men, and men in authority. The Jews did not only scourge them, which was the utmost their remaining power extended to, but when they could go no further themselves, they delivered them up to the Roman powers, as they did Christ, Jn. 18:30. Ye shall be brought before governors and kings (v. 18), who, having more power, are in a capacity of doing the more mischief. Governors and kings receive their power from Christ (Prov. 8:15), and should be his servants, and his church’s protectors and nursing-fathers, but they often use their power against him, and are rebels to Christ, and oppressors of his church. The kings of the earth set themselves against his kingdom, Ps. 2:1, 2; Acts 4:25, 26. Note, It has often been the lot of good men to have great men for their enemies.

(4.) From all men (v. 22). Ye shall be hated of all men, of all wicked men, and these are the generality of men, for the whole world lies in wickedness. So few are there that love, and own, and countenance Christ’s righteous cause, that we may say, the friends of it are hated of all men; they are all gone astray, and, therefore, eat up my people, Ps. 14:3. As far as the apostasy from God goes, so far the enmity against the saints goes; sometimes it appears more general than at other times, but there is something of this poison lurking in the hearts of all the children of disobedience. The world hates you, for it wonders after the beast, Rev. 13:3. Every man is a liar, and therefore a hater of truth.

(5.) From those of their own kindred. The brother shall deliver up the brother to death, v. 21. A man shall be, upon this account, at variance with his own father; nay, and those of the weaker and tenderer sex too shall become persecutors and persecuted; the persecuting daughter will be against the believing mother, where natural affection and filial duty, one would think, should prevent or soon extinguish the quarrel; and then, no marvel if the daughter-in-law be against the mother-in-law; where, too often, the coldness of love seeks occasion of contention, v. 35. In general, a man’s foes shall be they of his own household (v. 36). They who should be his friends will be incensed against him for embracing Christianity, and especially for adhering to it when it comes to be persecuted, and will join with his persecutors against him. Note, The strongest bonds of relative love and duty have often been broken through, by an enmity against Christ and his doctrine. Such has been the power of prejudice against the true religion, and zeal for a false one, that all other regards, the most natural and sacred, the most engaging and endearing, have been sacrificed to these Molochs. They who rage against the Lord, and his anointed ones, break even these bonds in sunder, and cast away even these cords from them, Ps. 2:2, 3. Christ’s spouse suffers hard things from the anger of her own mother’s children, Cant. 1:6. Sufferings from such are more grievous; nothing cuts more than this, It was thou, a man, mine equal (Ps. 55:12, 13); and the enmity of such is commonly most implacable; a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, Prov. 18:19. The martyrologies, both ancient and modern, are full of instances of this. Upon the whole matter, it appears, that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution; and through many tribulations we must expect to enter into the kingdom of God.

II. With these predictions of trouble, we have here prescriptions of counsels and comforts for a time of trial. He sends them out exposed to danger indeed, and expecting it, but well armed with instructions and encouragements, sufficient to bear them up, and bear them out, in all these trials. Let us gather up what he says,

1. By way of counsel and direction in several things.

(1.) Be ye wise as serpents, v. 16. "You may be so" (so some take it, only as a permission); "you may be as wary as you please, provided you be harmless as doves." But it is rather to be taken as a precept, recommending to us that wisdom of the prudent, which is to understand his way, as useful at all times, but especially in suffering times. "Therefore, because you are exposed, as sheep among wolves; be ye wise as serpents; not wise as foxes, whose cunning is to deceive others; but as serpents, whose policy is only to defend themselves, and to shift for their own safety." The disciples of Christ are hated and persecuted as serpents, and their ruin is sought, and, therefore, they need the serpent’s wisdom. Note, It is the will of Christ that his people and ministers, being so much exposed to troubles in this world, as they usually are, should not needlessly expose themselves, but use all fair and lawful means for their own preservation. Christ gave us an example of this wisdom, ch. 21:24, 25; 22:17, 18, 19; Jn. 7:6, 7; besides the many escapes he made out of the hands of his enemies, till his hour was come. See an instance of Paul’s wisdom, Acts 23:6, 7. In the cause of Christ we must sit loose to life and all its comforts, but must not be prodigal of them. It is the wisdom of the serpent to secure his head, that it may not be broken, to stop his ear to the voice of the charmer (Ps. 58:4, 5), and to take shelter in the clefts of the rocks; and herein we may be wise as serpents. We must be wise, not to pull trouble upon our own heads; wise to keep silence in an evil time, and not to give offence, if we can help it.

(2.) Be ye harmless as doves. "Be mild, and meek, and dispassionate; not only do nobody any hurt, but bear nobody any ill will; be without gall, as doves are; this must always go along with the former." They are sent forth among wolves, therefore must be as wise as serpents, but they are sent forth as sheep, therefore must be harmless as doves. We must be wise, not to wrong ourselves, but rather so than wrong any one else; must use the harmlessness of the dove to bear twenty injuries, rather than the subtlety of the serpent to offer or to return one. Note, It must be the continual care of all Christ’s disciples, to be innocent and inoffensive in word and deed, especially in consideration of the enemies they are in the midst of. We have need of a dove-like spirit, when we are beset with birds of prey, that we may neither provoke them nor be provoked by them: David coveted the wings of a dove, on which to fly away and be at rest, rather than the wings of a hawk. The Spirit descended on Christ as a dove, and all believers partake of the Spirit of Christ, a dove-like spirit, made for love, not for war.

(3.) Beware of men, v. 17. "Be always upon your guard, and avoid dangerous company; take heed what you say and do, and presume not too far upon any man’s fidelity; be jealous of the most plausible pretensions; trust not in a friend, no, not in the wife of thy bosom," Micah 7:5. Note, It becomes those who are gracious to be cautious, for we are taught to cease from man. Such a wretched world do we live in, that we know not whom to trust. Ever since our Master was betrayed with a kiss, by one of his own disciples, we have need to beware of men, of false brethren.

Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible by Matthew Henry [1706]

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