It’s tempting to skip over Matthew 10:1-22. Most of this chapter records warnings and promises that Jesus gave His disciples right before giving them a very special mission. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,” He says, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” These promises and warnings apply specifically to the disciples while they fulfilled this mission and we should be careful not to apply Jesus’ words in this section to the Church in general. Nor should we assume that Jesus expected the disciples to totally ignore any non-Jews they might encounter along the way. Jesus himself never ignored anyone. However, Jesus does make it clear that for a short while—until the Son of Man comes (verse 23) — non-Jewish evangelism wasn’t going to be the main focus.
Well, the answer is a little complicated, but the short of it is this: Within forty years’ time, devastation and destruction would be wrought upon Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. In Matthew 24:2, Jesus will prophecy of this coming catastrophe and say, “No stone will be left upon the other.” He will foretell of a day that was coming when it would be terrible for women who are pregnant and nursing little ones. He will refer to wars and rumors of wars and alerts the disciples to the fact that they would see the “abomination that causes desolation” sitting upon the altar (Matthew 24:1-28). We’ll discuss this in more detail when we get to chapter 24. But we’ve got a long way to go between now and then.
Much of Jesus’ prophecy in chapter 24 will be fulfilled in 70 AD when the Roman general, Titus, destroys Jerusalem and, once and for all, scatters the Jews as a people. That’s less than forty years from the events in chapter 10 (our reading for today), and because Jesus already knows ahead of time that time is running short, He gives the Jews priority.
The Jew’s days as the covenant people of God were coming to an end. The Old Covenant was becoming the New Covenant. The Jews were on the last leg of their special status as the chosen nation among all nations, a relationship that started long before (Genesis 12-25), when God promised Abraham that through his descendants, He would bring forth salvation to all the world.
Those descendants would become the people of Israel, who would later be known as the Jews. Of course, you probably know that the Old Testament shows us over and over how rocky that relationship was between God and the descendants of Abraham. Over and over again, the people of Israel were unfaithful, disobedient, and idolatrous. And yet, through it all, God managed to keep His promise to Abraham and brought forth the Savior of the world through the line of Abraham’s great-grandson, Judah.
Those who WERE faithful, put all their hope in God’s accomplishing His promise, even though the history of the Old Testament spans thousands of years. Hebrews 11 describes the kind of faith that Abraham and other faithful men and women had, men and women who did not trust in their own righteous works but grounded their faith in the salvation that God alone would provide.
In Genesis 22, God tests Abraham’s faith in the promise by commanding Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Surprisingly, Abraham does what the Lord commands—or at least he makes an attempt to obey. He takes Isaac to Mt. Moriah, binds him and lays him upon the altar. He raises the knife…
How could he consider doing something so horrific?
Well, right before this, we see the reason why. Abraham tells his servants to wait at the base of the mountain while He and Isaac go up and perform the sacrifice, yet Abraham reveals something about what he hopes will happen on that mountain. In Genesis 22:5 he says, ““I and the boy will… come again to you.” This comment reveals that the only reason he is doing something so horrific is because he is so certain that even if he sacrifices Isaac on that mountain, God would provide whatever was necessary to keep His promise. Abraham knew that if the Savior of the world was going to come through Isaac, then somehow, someway God would bring Isaac back down the mountain, even if God had to raise Isaac from the dead. Hebrews 11:17-19 says: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”
Of course, God did something even more gracious. He saved Abraham from performing such an awful task and provided a substitute—a ram in the thicket. Of course, for you and me, we see it as a powerful foreshadowing of the hope of that promised Savior, who truly would die in the place of all humanity. Even more startling is the fact that Golgotha is located on Mt. Moriah. It means Abraham was standing the very spot where his Savior would die.
Such was the hope of all the faithful Old Testament people. They looked forward to the fulfillment of the promise.
But now, the promise had run its course. God’s special purpose for Israel had run its course. Galatians 4:4-5 says: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” No longer would salvation be defined by Jewish blood and heritage, but through the blood of Christ, alone. All people, would be given access to God’s family through Christ. In fact, we see that all throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were to give this hope to every nation around them, pointing the whole world to Savior to come. Indeed, the Old Testament introduces us to some amazing accounts of Gentile peoples becoming apart the story of salvation (e.g., the story of Jonah and Nineveh, Naaman, Rahab the prostitute, etc.)
However, sadly, by the time of Christ, 2000 years after Abraham, the Jews had lost sight of this hope. They grounded their relationship with God in their ethnicity and outward keeping of the law. They yearned for a Messiah and Savior who would be more political and military rather than one who could save them from their unrighteousness before God. So it was, that they could not accept Jesus. It didn’t matter how many miracles Jesus did.
But not all of them refused to believe. Some did believe. And Jesus gives His disciples the authority to do similar miracles and signs with the hope that even more might believe before it was too late. Like Noah, building the ark for 120 years before the coming of the flood, so the disciples would bear witness to the lost sheep of Israel that time was running short. Or like the angels, who were sent to bring Lot and his family out of Sodom, the apostles were hastily share the truth with a culture around them that was embracing lies.
The New Testament gives us brief glimpses of the kinds of hardship and persecution the disciples would face in the forty years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, much of it coming from the Jews, themselves. For this reason, we should not rush to apply the warnings and promises that Jesus makes in this section directly to the church today. While we might, indeed, face certain hardships or persecutions because of the faith we profess, and even though we will at times feel like “sheep amongst wolves” and strive to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (verse 16), and even though we may find ourselves facing governors and kings who will demand we give an account for our faith (verse 18), our ministry, even so, will never fully reflect the chaos and hatred that the apostles would face in the first few decades of the Church—from both Roman persecution and Jewish persecution.
However, we know full well that in each age the Church suffers its own particular hardships. Today, we can easily see tensions rising as our once “Christian” culture begins to rebel against the very morals that it was built upon. The recent chaos that has ensued because of the leaking of the Supreme Court draft opinions concerning the status of Roe vs. Wade is but one example. Perhaps, the days are coming when Christians like you and me will find ourselves despised and rejected simply because of what we believe about Jesus and the Bible. Maybe we already are!
But we can take comfort in knowing that the same Savior who commissioned His disciples for a mission that seemed dangerous and impossible, is the very same Savior who goes with us and promises to work through us to bring forth His Kingdom. He is the same Savior who promises that not even the gates of Hades can stand against His Church (Matthew 16:18).